Saturday, September 29, 2012

Happy Autumn!

Hi everyone,

I'm drawing in slow motion lately, but I'm chipping away at a few new pieces. They'll be posted in the next week.

To get started, with the change of the seasons, I thought I'd spruce up Melissa's Kitties with a new blog banner. What do you think of it?

Although, I meant to make a small image, it turned into a full-pager. Here's the finished product:

Autumn (September 27, 2012
(Autumn blog banner: September 27, 2012)

Look over here!
Some other updates are included in my blog's sidebar:
  • After a few months of reading nothing but magazines, I'm finally eager to pick up a book again. Amid the negative, nonstop talk about the impending election and state of the country, I hope A Reason to Believe by Deval Patrick will keep me optimistic. I haven't started it yet, but I'm on it!
  • Below my book selection, if you haven't noticed before, I list my favorite recently watched movies. Because updating this movie list has been sporadic at best, I'm now making it a monthly routine. I'll update it on the first of each month, noting my favorites from the previous month. Catch August's picks while you can. I'll update it with September's choices October 1. (How is it October already?!)
  • Scroll down a bit more and you'll see a few links to my "popular posts." It appears that Johnny Kitties will always have that title in the bag! (Of course.) Thanks for visiting, Johnny Fans! 
Old news is new again.
I updated one of my posts from earlier this month: In my tribute post to animator Chuck Jones, I added links to the list of my favorite cartoons, something I meant to do the first time around. Please revisit my post here and enjoy! 

Also, I mentioned last month that I'll be celebrating Gene Kelly's with a new blog series. I still plan to do so! But I'm finding it hard to get started when I'm still in the middle of Johnny Kitties. (I have about 15 Johnny Movies to go!) While I have plenty of ideas in my head for this project, getting them on paper is proving more difficult. Considering my day job and my need for sleep, I may not get to these drawings until next year. While I wanted to join in on the fun of Gene's centennial celebration this year, I think his wife, Patricia Ward Kelly, has that covered. Look for Kelly Kitties: Celebrating Gene Kelly in 2013! 

That's all for now. As always, thanks for visiting!


Monday, September 24, 2012

Museum Feasts for the Eyes and Ears

Hi everyone,

I put down my markers and got out of the apartment this month to see some nearby exhibits. Once I heard that The Art of Video Games exhibit at the American Art Museum was hands on, I had to go! But, since a bunch of little kids were swarming around Pac-Man, I didn't end up playing.

Instead, I traveled through the 40-year history of video games. Although my 8-year-old nephew sometimes pulls me into a random game on wii, he knows how to use it better than I ever could. I think the last video game I played well was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for Windows, so this exhibit was mostly a journey in foreign territory.

It was really fun too! Entering the exhibit was a bit like entering an arcade – remember arcades? – with the same kind of noise and lighting, but you get used to it. One room included actual artwork, such as drawings of game characters, a timeline of the technological advances of video graphics, and a fascinating video that filmed the facial expressions of individuals as they played these games. In the next room, Pac-Man wasn't the only game you could play yourself. You could also play Super Mario Brothers and three other games I'd never heard of – Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower. (Am I showing my age?)

The next room spanned the history of video games from its beginning in the '70s. Tall columns, organized by playing device – from Atari to PlayStation – each displayed images of four games. You could push buttons to hear the history and impact of each one. I was most excited to see Space Invaders in the Atari display. I loved shooting at those aliens. Those were the days....

Earlier in the month, I toured the Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This exhibit, organized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, was Cyndi Lauper's idea: When she visited the rock hall in Cleveland, she asked, "Where are the women?" This exhibit answers that call, highlighting the role of women in rock history and celebrating how they made their mark.

Lady Gaga's childhood piano and mementos.
It's a cheery, colorful, mini Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the girls. As you stroll through to the tunes of all the women being celebrated, you'll find costumes, artifacts, hand-written lyrics, personal notebooks, and videos. The exhibit, which showcases the history of women's impact on music since the 1950s, provides short biographies of girl groups, songwriters, divas, and legends. On the walls, year-by-year timelines listing significant accomplishments by women in music were complemented by notes on what else was happening in the world at the time. These not only included world events but accomplishments by women (and men) outside of the music business.

I was happy to find that the exhibit not only focused on the music but also on how these powerful women were driven to do what they love. Everyone from Wanda Jackson and The Runaways to Aretha Franklin and Taylor Swift were included, showing that girl power was and is a force to be reckoned with.

Dresses! (Tina Turner's and Aretha Franklin's to be exact)
Of course, I loved all the clothes – Tina Turner's shimmery minidresses, Cyndi Lauper's red dress from the "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" video, a concert outfit of Gwen Stephanie's own design. My favorite exhibit case was Marianne Faithfull's. I don't know much about her or her music, but her silver bejeweled outfit was designed by Karl Lagerfeld, who creates all of her outfits. It must be nice to have the head/creative director of the House of Chanel as your friend. Aside from his work of art, there were other envious items in her case: two hand-written faxes from Keith Richards and an old photograph of her with David Bowie. I'm not a singer and don't play any instruments, but can I wear that dress and hang out with those people?

In conjunction with the museum, a slew of special events and workshops will be offered by Girls Rock! DC. This grassroots organization provides week-long camps for girls age 8 to 18 to support confidence, creativity, and a sense of community as they educate and showcase aspiring musicians. You can find information about the museum's Girls Rock! DC workshops here.

While there, I attended a Girls Rock! DC concert. Teen group, Bass be Louda DJ Crew, successfully transformed the museum's auditorium into a hopping club, inviting volunteers and the rest of the audience to dance by the stage. Downbeat Beatdown, a band of the organization's own founders and volunteers, also played their own compositions. But my favorite performance was by Nox, a band of four 12- to 14-year olds who follow in the footsteps of post-punk rockers. They had me with their cover of Blondie's cover of "Hangin' on the Telephone" and David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel." Even more impressive than their good taste was that they could play their own good songs. Rest assured, women will continue to rock well into the future!

Catch The Art of Video Games at the American Art Museum while you can: The exhibit closes at the end of this week, September 30! You have more time to visit the Women Who Rock at the National Museum of Women and the Arts, which closes January 6, 2013.


Photo credits: Video game image © Smithsonian American Art Museum, Women Who Rock images © Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and Girls Rock! DC logo © Girls Rock! DC.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Happy birthday, Chuck Jones!

Hi everyone,

Earlier this month, TCM ran a half-hour documentary called Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood. I'd seen it before long ago, but by the time I finished re-watching it last week, I was so inspired that I planned to sign up for a bunch of drawing classes, get a job at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, and turn Melissa's Kitties into an empire!

So, maybe you're wondering who Chuck Jones is, especially if you didn't grow up as I did on a healthy diet of Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. Chuck Jones is the guy behind most of those classics, featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and others who make up that fantastic cast of characters! People have asked me where my drawing style comes from. While I'm not quite sure how to answer that question, I consider Chuck Jones a huge influence.

From this documentary, I discovered that he and I have a few things in common: We both fell on our heads as babies (he off a second-story back porch and I down the basement stairs--twice). He said that's probably what led him to become an animator. (My falls can't live up to that.)

He also met an interesting stray cat when he was a kid. This cat walked like a bulldog, had an evil eye, a bent ear, and loved to eat grapefruit. He had a raggedy tag around his neck with "Johnson" written on it, a prized possession he wouldn't let anyone touch. Johnson would follow Chuck to the beach and swim with him, starling everyone else in the water. When he grew tired out there, Johnson would sit on Chuck's shoulder and wait. "I learned something about cat behavior at that time--and animal behavior--because I didn't realize that cats were individuals," Chuck Jones said. "Maybe that enabled me to be a better animator than I ever thought I'd be."

Tragedy strikes Marc Antony in Feed the Kitty.
All those classic cartoons of the '40s, and '50s were group efforts, and Chuck Jones was just one member. There were other directors of equally hilarious Looney Tunes adventures, such as  I. Fritz Freleng and Bob Clampett, and  I encourage you to check them out too. But Chuck Jones drew the best faces! Sometimes, I draw The Kitties and recognize their expressions as a salute to a Chuck Jones moment. And, sometimes when I'm stuck on how to draw something, I wonder how he would do it.

While I'm already celebrating Gene Kelly this year, I'm adding Chuck Jones to the party because, today, he too would have turned 100. (1912 was a good year!)

You must know his cartoons: Even if you don't think you do, I'm sure you'd recognize them. Here's a list of some of my favorites that you can look up on YouTube. (Beware, you'll get lost in Warner Brothers' cartoon awesomeness that extends far beyond this list!)
Since I can't post every cartoon Chuck Jones worked on here, I've settled on one. Bully for Bugs (1953) never gets on any Top 10 lists that I've seen, but I've always rooted for the bull. I love all of his expressions and reactions. This cartoon has some great lines too! My sister and I still quote these cartoons in everyday conversations, and we probably always will. (We're ultra-maroons.)

© Warner Brothers

Chuck Jones's cartoons always lift my spirits. No matter what mood I'm in, they'll put me in a better one. I think the same will happen for you, so wish Chuck Jones a happy birthday and have fun watching the gifts he gave us!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012


This Illustration Friday topic is from two Fridays ago. Thanks to our Willy Wonka upbringing, The Kitties and I have been singing "Pure Imagination" every day since first seeing the word. Comet was all over filling in for Gene Wilder here--a perfect match that no one could argue.

Imagination (September 18, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: September 7, 2012) 

Here's a treat, the original Willy Wonka singing the song:

From Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory © Warner Brothers

Is it stuck in your head now too?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #24--From Hell (2001)

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

It could have been anyone. These girls might have very well known the guy, and at the same time, it could have been some major conspiracy. It's impossible to know.  Johnny Depp on Jack the Ripper

It's gruesome.
The Hughes Brothers, best known for depicting ghetto life in films, such as Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, take their talents to 17th century England in From Hell. The film chronicles Jack the Ripper's five serial murders of prostitutes in London's Whitechapel District from August to November of 1888. (The film's title comes from pieces of evidence--letters supposedly written by the killer and signed, "From Hell.") Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, From Hell follows Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp), a clairvoyant drug addict enlisted by police sergeant Peter Godley (Robbie Coltrane) to help solve the mystery and prevent more murders from happening. As Abberline uncovers the conspiracy, he falls for Mary Kelly (Heather Graham)--one of the women targeted by the killer--which makes this assignment a personal race to save her.

But The Hughes Brothers got style!
Why was I so concerned a few months ago about revisiting Before Night Falls, a beautiful film about a struggling poet, when I had a disturbing movie about Jack the Ripper to soon follow? I must have blocked this one out of my head. I remember seeing From Hell in the theaters but forgot how gritty and realistic it all was. Heather Graham explains that Hughes Brothers touch: "I think they're bringing to the movie a real rawness. Instead of this overly precious period feel, I think they're bringing a raw, emotional, passionate, exciting take."

While this isn't typically my kind of movie, I always love that kind of detail in films and admire what The Hughes Brothers made. They rebuilt Whitechapel to a tee: They showed what the world was like then--how it looked, felt,  and smelled. Johnny agrees: "What was really impressive about it is that the Hughes Brothers, Allen and Albert, were really, really, really sticklers for details and for the truth--the exact position of the body, the exact position of this window here, where the window was broken in Miller's Court--I mean, down to the cobblestones!" But all that hard work didn't weigh down the set: "They're so fun," Heather Graham says of the directors. "They're so well prepared and everything is so well thought out that, when they came to work, they're just incredibly relaxed."

Like Before Night Falls, this film is not always pleasant to watch, but it's got great style. When I dreamt up Johnny Kitties, certain movies lent themselves well to drawing: I got instant ideas. Surprisingly,  one of them was for From Hell. I remembered a few exterior shots of Whitechapel silhouetted against a blood-red sky (and the grapes, more on that later). Another cool touch the directors added was showing the passage of time by literally speeding up the film or having people appear or vanish like spirits. They also lit all the nighttime scene naturally with streetlamps, candles, or other lighting props on the set, which I think adds to the atmosphere. And, they even made some mini-movies within this movie: One of the plot points is that Abberline is struggling with his chronic depression by feeding his addiction to Absinthe. This addiction would be hard to kick, even if  he wanted to, because it turns out that the drink sparks his clairvoyant dreams, in which he sees the killer's next move and gets that much closer in solving the case. These dreams present entire scenarios in artistic, surreal flashes of images.

As the killer descends into madness, the murders become increasingly grisly. More than anything, I appreciated that the directors didn't show as much as they could have! The point is made more effectively because your imagination goes wild about whatever might be going on. Still, you see enough to know the murders are disgusting. And, knowing that Jack the Ripper was a real psychopath who terrorized London and escaped capture--that the mystery remains unsolved--compounds the shock.

But what I found almost more disturbing was the bigger picture. The Hughes Brothers painstakingly recreated how people lived in Whitechapel, showing how they suffered, with social barriers, prejudices, and racism, and dealt with their own vices. Meanwhile, across town, high society was exploring medical breakthroughs and oddities: In one scene all the rich doctors are gawking at the Elephant Man. In another, they're calmly demonstrating a new experimental procedure, giving terrified patients lobotomies! Those scenes freak me out more than hearing Jack slashing whatever off-screen.

You get a real feel for the atmosphere and realize the sad circumstances these women--the murder victims--were in during that era, dealing with the hypocritical connection that wealthy society had to them and the overbearing control men had over their lives. The film presents a conspiracy reaching as far up as the royal family. Seeing From Hell this time around, I was intrigued by the murder mystery.  With so many suggested suspects, it'll keep you on edge and guessing till the end.

And Johnny's in it--and into it!
Brad Pitt was originally slated to play Abberline. Can you imagine!? Luckily, it wasn't meant to be. When Johnny signed on for From Hell instead, those in charge at the studio were worried--as usual. "Studios love Johnny, but they're scared of Johnny too," Albert Hughes says. "They don't necessarily see him as a bankable star because of his own choices. He's made interesting choices instead of the obvious choices." 

On the set: Johnny with Allen and Albert Hughes
As a kid, Johnny was fascinated by the Jack the Ripper story. (Do you think his parents were ever concerned?)  "The guy was serious!" Allen Hughes confirms. "He actually did own a lot of the books for many years and knew a lot of the theories. He was a buff!" 

Everyone was impressed with Johnny's work. While they all admired him as an actor already, working with him on this project took their opinions to another level. Having worked on From Hell for 5 years, Allen Hughes explains that Johnny's excitement about it was contagious and boosted both directors' confidences, helping them to keep going and get the movie made: "Everyone's all over him as an actor, but when it comes to the script, when it comes to ideas, when it comes to overall energy and intelligence and what he brings that's intangible to the project, it's like, wow, this guy doesn't get enough credit!" Not that he ever slacks in the acting department: "The thing about Johnny Depp is that it's cliche to say that he's a great actor who doesn't appear to be acting, but he really doesn't!" scriptwriter Rafael Yglesias says. "I'm convinced that there's 60 to 70% of him that isn't even working most of the time because he can so quickly reach a performance that's absolutely excellent." Agreed!

The Kitties are on the lookout.
What I like most about this movie is the historical accuracy, the details involved, and the overall style. You feel like you're there and you're always on edge. Like the Hughes Brothers, instead of depicting all the blood and guts, I opted for atmosphere and surroundings in this tribute.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #24--From Hell (2001) [June 17, 2012]

The Jack the Ripper case was one of the first to be fully dramatized by the media. Here, Abberline investigates one of the murders amid a growing crowd who want a glimpse of the sensational crime scene. (You can find Norman, Simon, and Comet policing the crowd of onlookers, including The Mother Kitty, Mini, Lily, and Ashes.)  Amid the chaos, he discovers grape stems and shows them to Sergeant Godley (B.J.), explaining that this clue points to a killer who is wealthy enough to afford such luxurious fruit. It must be someone from the other side of town!

What's Next?
Johnny teams up again with Terry Gilliam, but they get Lost in La Mancha!

All film images © 20th Century Fox; on-set image © unknown (courtesy of; illustration © Melissa Connolly

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


B.J. stands for Bob, Jr. Although he was not related to the original Bob Cat--who my sister cared for in Cincinnati for a while before he found a permanent home with one of her friends--B.J. earned his name because he was not only similar to Bob in looks but in temperament too. These two cool kitties bring in the sunshine. Maybe that's explains their cheery coats. (B.J.'s on the right...I mean, the left. No, the right....Um....)

Identical (August 31, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: August 31, 2012)