Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I came back from a long weekend at home in rainy Ohio to sunny early summer in D.C. The Kitties are so excited about this week's warm weather that Simon dug out one of his old circus bikes, perfectly fitted for nine riders.

They caused quite a few traffic jams when they took it out for a spin yesterday. I'm not sure who was in charge of the brakes.

Bicycle (April 22, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: April 22, 2011)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


When I read this week's Illustration Friday topic, "Journey," I instantly got a Sting song in my head. "The Book of my Life" is a song about Sting's struggle in dealing with his memories while writing his fantastic autobiography, Broken Music.  (I highly recommend it!) I'm not quite sure how to draw life's journey, so I moved on to "Secret Journey," a song he wrote with The Police in the early '80s. Even more abstract, this song is about discovering your path in life, becoming a wiser, older soul, and ultimately achieving peace.

While I was contemplating these big ideas, I overheard Gordon, who was still telling The Kitties about his recent trek through the Sahara Desert. So, I moved on to another song called, "Tea in the Sahara."

Inspired by a story by Paul Bowles called The Sheltering Sky, Sting wrote "Tea in the Sahara" with The Police, and it ended up on their last album, Synchronicity, in 1983. (He still sings it often these days.)

Although I haven't read The Sheltering Sky yet, I can guess what it's about from Sting's song. Three sisters meet this guy, and they try their best to make him happy. In return, they ask him to meet them in The Sahara Desert for tea. He promises that he will join them, and they wait and wait and wait.

Sting says that this story ends tragically, but Gordon disputes that claim.

On the contrary, he ran into the sisters last week. They were all fine--and thrilled to have company. 

But the tea, he says, was really, really strong. 

Journey (April 15, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: April 15, 2011)

Friday, April 15, 2011


Bottled (April 8, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: April 8, 2011)

Gordon just got back from the Sahara Desert, so The Kitties gathered to hear about his travels.

Upon summoning the Kitty Genie, Norman guessed that Gordon's third wish was for three more wishes. Why doesn't everyone do that?

(For a crazy cat, he is smart sometimes. But there must be rules.)

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #7--Arizona Dream (1993)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Johnny's in your dreams.
"This is your brain on drugs." 
©New Line Cinema
After Edward Scissorhands, Johnny Depp showed up in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare--a thank you to the people who cast him in his first movie. In this funny cameo appearance, he makes an anti-drug public service announcement on late-night TV. It's only a few seconds before Freddy interrupts the commercial with a classic slapstick move. I didn't draw anything for this--I don't want to ruin the surprise--but I thought I should mention it. If you're not an avid follower of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, you can find Johnny's cameo on YouTube. I was going to post it here, but Freddy Krueger makes The Kitties and me nervous.

Johnny has his own weird dream.
With that, we move on to Johnny's next movie. Yesterday, I found a 12-page research article, printed in the European Journal of American Studies in 2010, that analyzes how Arizona Dream reflects the director's European view of America and details all the intentions and symbolism that go into that. Maybe I'll read it someday, but my short analysis is that Arizona Dream, the first American project by Serbian film director Emir Kusturica, is a work of art. It sparks all sorts of emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, unease, confusion. The director manipulates the film throughout--smearing and blurring images, highlighting reflections, or maneuvering objects for a dreamlike state. The characters and situations are absurd, and there are flying fish and Eskimo dreams. I may never understand this movie fully--maybe I should read that study--but every time I play it, I find something new. Whatever it really means, Emir Kusturica's ingredients make this movie highly entertaining.

Johnny as Axel Blackmar, fishing in New York
©StudioCanal Image/Hachette Premiere
In this coming-of-age story, New Yorker Axel Blackmar (Johnny Depp) is dragged back home to Arizona to attend his uncle's wedding. Uncle Leo (Jerry Lewis), a used car salesman, guilts Axel into staying in town to help him run the business. On his first day, he meets Elaine (Faye Dunaway) and her step-daughter Grace (Lili Taylor). The three become involved in a relationship that is at times sweet, weird, hilarious, and toxic.

At their first meeting, Emir Kusturica and Johnny hated each other, but they shook off their first impressions and got along fine during their second meeting 3 weeks later. (Today, they remain great friends.) For unexplained reasons--Johnny doesn't even know--Johnny saw his character as a chicken, growing up and becoming a rooster. You'll notice this in his hairstyle, mannerisms, and impeccable impression. "He lets you do anything--anything!" Johnny said of working with Emir Kusturica. "If you go to any other director and say, 'I'd like to seduce her by becoming a rooster,' that's it. You're fired. Get out!"

What excited me most about this film was the people involved. I hadn't heard of Emir Kustrica at the time, but Johnny was working with Faye Dunaway, Jerry Lewis, and Lili Taylor! I was sold. Faye Dunaway is brilliant as Elaine, and while I never caught on to Jerry Lewis's trademark humor, he's really good as the grown-up in this movie. In a dream sequence during which Axel and Uncle Leo are Eskimos fishing in Alaska, they have a conversation in the native language. On the set, Jerry stopped Johnny from learning his lines in proper Eskimo, saying that they could just make it up during filming. (I think the Eskimos would notice, wouldn't they?) Johnny was terrified, but did his best trying to keep up with what Jerry Lewis could probably do in his sleep. I think it works, just as Jerry said it would. There's some talent in that, but you've got to love Johnny's preference for authenticity. The Eskimos probably would have appreciated that more too.

What's Tom Petty doing here? 
Amid filming, Arizona Dream was stalled a bit due to illness. During the break, Johnny made a quick trip to star in Tom Petty's latest music video, "The Great Wide Open." At the time, MTV was still playing videos, and Tom Petty was riding high as one of the art form's pioneers. His videos are like short films, and they became increasingly star-studded. Johnny plays Eddie in this story, but you'll also find him making a quick cameo as the tattoo artist working on Matt LeBlanc's arm. When Johnny asked Faye Dunaway if she would like to "meet my friend Tom" and shoot the video with him, he said she turned into a squealing teenage girl. Of course, Comet just dug this video out of the archives, and The Kitties are already singing along. Here it is:


Everybody get back to work! 
After that side job, Arizona Dream was completed. Johnny looks back on the film fondly: "Everybody in Hollywood, in the movie business, is always concerned about how much a movie's going to make in the box office and how many theaters it's in, how popular it becomes," he said. "Who cares about the numbers when you're able to experience something like this, live through something like this, and be involved in something as magical as this."

©StudioCanal Image/
Hachette Premiere
Though Arizona Dream did have a limited theatrical release somewhere in the world, I couldn't find it. "I imagine that when Warner Brothers saw this film, they must have been shocked,"Johnny said. Its sudden appearance on video and DVD 3 or so years later must have been a result of Johnny's increasing popularity. I think I bought the video through eBay, but I also saw the movie on cable, which gave me the full picture. Sadly, the video and DVD versions are not adjusted for letterbox format, a frustrating lapse. For example, you miss the full humor of the scene where Uncle Leo and Elaine are discussing Axel's future over a civilized cup of tea because Axel and his cousin Paul (Vincent Gallo)--who are rolling around in the dirt beating each other up in the background--are cropped out of the frame. The DVD is also missing the subtitles for the conversation between Uncle Leo and Axel in the final Eskimo dream sequence that I mentioned earlier, a conversation that touches on one of the film's main themes. Dedicated to the memory of his father, Emir Kusturica's film reminds us that, in order to grow, you need to remember your roots, respect your elders, and learn from your ancestors.

Despite these flawed products, the film still comes across well. I was absolutely thrilled when Roger Ebert featured the DVD on At the Movies, calling it a whimsical love story and pointing out the fine performance by rising star, Johnny Depp. (Why do I remember these things?) People listen to Roger Ebert, I thought; the movie will be seen now.

The Kitties and I are unanimous.
For Johnny Kitties, the scene to draw was clear: Axel and Paul enjoying their first dinner with Elaine and Grace. One of the great things about this movie is that so much is going on in each scene, and this 15-minute, hilarious, crazy scene tops them all.


Elaine (The Mother Kitty) spends the evening talking about one of her obsessions, Papua New Ginea, a topic that is killing her step-daughter Grace, who threatens to yank the tablecloth off to destroy the table setting if she mentions it one more time. Meanwhile, Axel is explaining his recurring Eskimo dream (while keeping his eye on Grace's pet turtle, who has his mind set on escape.) Paul is focused on Elaine's legs--and the big plate of spaghetti in front of him--and Grace is playing footsie with Axel under the table. Through it all, the wobbly ceiling fan is threatening to crash on the party, and Django Rhinehardt's fantastic song "Minor Swing" is whirling in the background.

The Mother Kitty insisted on playing Faye Dunaway's role. No one could deny that she's perfect for it, though I hesitated considering Axel and Elaine's romantic entanglements later on in the story. But, if we're just doing this scene, I suppose it's okay. Simon was supposed to play the part of Axel's wily cousin Paul, but was bullied out of his seat once Norman saw all the food on the table and found out that all he had to do in the scene was eat the spaghetti. Ashes, who loves Lili Taylor as much as the rest of us, was excited to play Grace because she couldn't wait to smash the dishes. (She's disappointed that we didn't get to that point.)

I added some windows in the background to highlight some other interesting movie moments: The first introduces Uncle Leo (B.J.) and his new wife Millie (Paulina Porizkova/Lily) next to his newly planted cactus on the front lawn of his flamingo pink home. The middle window shows the Eskimo family in Axel's dream after Dewey, the dad, returns home with fish for dinner. (Simon was happy to switch roles with Norman and play in the snow with Mini here.) The last window displays one of Elaine's beloved flying machines, which Axel keeps building and Grace keeps destroying in this story.

None of this makes much sense does it? Well, I don't always say this, but listen to Roger Ebert and rent Arizona Dream. It still might not make complete sense, but it'll be worth it.

What's coming up? 
Simon is busy teaching Gordon his favorite circus tricks. He's practicing his pratfalls now.  
Next month, Johnny channels Buster Keaton in Benny and Joon. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Who is Arthur Rimbaud?

Hi everyone,

I meant to start reading a new book sooner, but I didn't want to interrupt the Meet the Kitties series. Check out my new Meet the Kitties page!

So, I pile up nearly as many magazines on my floor as I do books. Since finishing Paul and Me by A.E. Hotchner, I've read through my stack of magazines, which included British Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue, Total Film, and Real Simple. (Vanity Fair always takes me weeks to finish reading. Do you have the same problem, or is it just me?)

Now that that pile is gone, I am about to start reading A Season in Hell and Illuminations by French poet Arthur Rimbaud. I must admit that this is a Johnny Recommendation. Last year, Entertainment Weekly published Johnny Depp's list of essential movies, music, and books. (Thank you, Entertainment Weekly!) While I don't run to the bookstore every time Johnny mentions a book (which is often), I bought this one because 1) I had Borders credit to use up, 2) you can't really go wrong with a book of poetry, and 3) how can I deny such a glowing recommendation?

Along with Charles Baudelaire's The Flowers of Evil (which I've also never heard of or read), Johnny calls Arthur Rimbaud's A Season in Hell and Illuminations "possibly the most divine writings in the history of the world." I'll take it.

This book is only about 100 pages. I decided to read it now, thinking it'll be a quick, easy read. But it's probably the kind of book professors choose to study in class for an entire semester. And, considering it's taken me more than a week to get through the 8-page author introduction by translator/editor Wyatt Mason (I've been sleepy!), this one might take me a while.  Here goes....

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Meet The Kitties: Mini

Mini spends a lot of time on the stairs.
Years ago, my sister Julie moved from Cincinnati to Columbus, and Mini showed up at her work place in early 2010. Like B.J. Mini was a stray living outdoors and off the kindness of strangers. When she also contracted FIV, her original caretakers no longer wanted her because of her bothersome disease. Although sad and angry, she brushed off this rejection and instantly regained her sunny disposition in her new life with Julie. In Julie's house, she found several friendly cats, including a huge one who looked just like her! Like a long-lost relative, Norman saw her and called out, "Mini-Me!" He raced up—as much as Norman can race—and gave her a bear hug. They were instant friends, bosom buddies, and definitely an odd couple!

Much like Norman's kitten ways, but with unvarnished sweetness, Mini spends her days climbing, attacking, and exploring. She fears nothing and is ready for everything. She cannot grow up fast enough, and there is not enough time in the day for playing. She spends them chasing and attacking Norman, to the great amazement of everyone around her. She loves games, gossip, social engagements, and basically anything and everything exciting. At the moment, she is obsessively investigating the workings of the living room's mysterious giant clock. (It sets itself at random times—but why?) Her role models include Tallulah Bankhead, Oprah Winfrey, Shaun "The Flying Tomato" White, and James Dean.

Chicken (January 15, 2011)
But she eventually makes her way downstairs to great you.
(Illustration Friday--January 15, 2011: Chicken)

Monday, April 04, 2011

Meet The Kitties: Lily

Lily, seeing the world from her top perch

On a visit to my sister's office, I met Lily in October 2009. While it was love at first sight, it took a month or so before Lily could make the move by car, plane, and elevator from Columbus to my apartment in Washington, D.C.

We are best buddies, with daily games of Chase and Hide-and-Seek. She's proficient at batting practice and an expert at Dad's Blanket Game. While The Mother Kitty is the staring champ, Lily is a close second with her unprecedented dilated eye tricks. Currently studying the phases of the sun and moon, she spends her days researching the changing lights, shadows, and sounds throughout our apartment.

She loves jigsaw puzzles and brainteasers, movies, music, and hosting company and social events. Though she enjoys our quiet life, she chronicles the endless outdoor activities of the bustling city from the vantage points of her window seats. Like Mark Twain, she plans to have her radical findings published 100 years after her death.

Though she hates computers and wishes I'd throw mine out the window, she helps with sorting my markers and scanning my artwork. But she's really all about the breaks, often sabotaging my blog posts and stealing my sketchbooks to get her way. Her idols include Martha Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Rosie Perez, and Amelia Earhart.

Dusty (January 21, 2011)
Lily is completely innocent here. (Illustration Friday--January 21, 2011: Dusty)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Meet The Kitties: B.J.

B.J.'s chillin' out.
B.J. was tired by the time he decided to move into my sister Julie's home. At the time, he was living on the streets of Cincinnati with other alley cats, fending off his territory and scraping up any leftovers he could find. Julie fed him whenever she saw B.J. in her driveway, which he always appreciated. 

One day, he caught a cold, and Julie took him to the vet's office. He didn't like her as much that day, but it was a good thing they went. It turned out that he had contracted FIV from his pals, and his immune system had taken a recent hit. While B.J. dismissed this news as an annoyance, Julie insisted he come live in the safety of her warm, dry house. Always a lone traveler, he preferred the open air and sky. He had travelled all the way from the Wild West, and his early days under stars on the prairie forever remained in his blood. Still, although he was afraid he'd miss the outdoors, he couldn't pass up such a generous offer.

To his great surprise, being an indoor cat suited him just fine. Eternally grateful for his good fortune, B.J. became an increasingly happy-go-lucky cat. Named Bob, Jr., after Bob, an identical orange kitty Julie used to care for before he settled into a friend's home, B.J. shared Bob's good nature. He got along with everyone, except for Norman. (Comet and Ashes assured him that Norman rarely got along with anyone, but B.J. always tried.) He also loves watching Paul Newman and Jimmy Stewart movies, playing board games, and weight lifting. He most enjoys conversations covering the day's events. There's nothing better than a sunny spot by a window so he can keep up with his old pals, spy on new ones, and check out his neighborhood's happenings. He'll tell you all about it.

Strong (September 4, 2009)
B.J. says hello!
(Illustration Friday--September 4, 2009: Strong)

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Meet the Kitties: Norman

Norman, ready for his close-up. 
Norman muscled his way into my sister Julie's life after spotting her on a bike trail in Cincinnati, where somebody "took him on a little trip" and promptly disappeared. Confused and unsure of his situation, he spent hours trying to snag passersby, but to no avail. By the time he saw Julie on her bike, he was desperate and ran for it! Julie, hearing a constant pulsating cry, finally looked behind her and discovered she was being chased.

Once home, Norman immediately settled in—to the great dismay of Comet and Ashes. Julie named her new kitten Norman after Psycho's "Norman Bates" because he was and is completely mental. As a kitten, he attacked everything with a feverish, unsettling look. He jumped after anything, with no consideration of how or where he might land. Norman is a survivor.

The early trauma Norman experienced in that open field planted deep-seeded insecurities about belonging. Analysis was useless. Once he had the constant guarantee of scheduled meals, he also began his lifelong struggle with weight. The older he gets, the more of a bully he becomes to ward off any potential teasing in these sensitive areas. And, he doesn't always need to be provoked to lash out. While lazily content in his new life of luxury, he still gets that crazy glint in his eye every once in a while, so watch out!

Norman loves laps but not to be pet. He spends his time napping and eating or eating and napping, sitting, and randomly smacking whoever crosses his path—cat or human. Norman's heroes are Marlon Brando and Mike Tyson.

Of course, Norman has his good, lovable side too. Since his birth, Liam—Julie's now 7-year-old son— has been Norman's favorite person. They bonded and are best playmates, who over the years, have fought many dinosaur and Star Wars battles. Norman's newest dearest inseparable friend is Mini, the latest addition to Melissa's Kitties. Although he lights up at the mention of his new friend, Norman can't talk now. He's off to defend Iron Man against Liam's Harry Potter wizardry. I'm not sure who's winning yet.

Crunchy (December 4, 2009)
With strategic flair, Norman picks out his own Halloween costume.
(Illustration Friday--December 4, 2009: Crunchy)

Friday, April 01, 2011

Meet the Kitties: Ashes

Ashes, keeping the bed warm for my nephew Liam in 2002
Ashes spent her early life in a Cincinnati cat shelter, uncertain of her future and always planning her escape. When my sister Julie brought her home, she happily found only one cat to deal with and room after room full of things to explore, climb, and possibly destroy. Every time she accidentally ruined something, she got warnings of returning to that crowded cat cell from which she came, but she could always talk her way out of that. Besides, she knew Julie was too kind-hearted to follow through with any such threats.

Ashes's bold, infectious personality is undeniable. Soon, everyone warmed up to her, including her best friend Comet. She's never understood the reasons behind Comet's shyness and spends her days trying to snap him out of it. He, on the other hand, teaches her the joy of sitting quietly for reflection. Typically, for Ashes, with some much to do and topics to discuss, there are never enough hours in the day. Some of her hobbies include singing, sewing, jewelry-making, and floor hockey. Some of her idols include Janet Jackson, Tim Gunn, and Joan Crawford.

Magnify (August 28, 2009)
"Good morning!" (Illustration Friday--August 28, 2009: Magnify)