Vampires’ Union

November 30, 2011 - posted in sundries

I’ve always been the sort who’s more awake at night than in the day.
I do try to get up and work among the decent, respectable people.
But it is unnatural, and I fail daily
to override the circadian rhythms which have been hard-wired into me.

It’s difficult to have a nocturnal orientation around these parts.
I sense a proud agricultural/industrial work-ethic.
And “Early to bed and early to rise” is a fine way of life,
but does it follow (screw Ben Franklin)
that working late into the night and then struggling,
with your eye-bags and cowlicks,
to join the living at sunrise
should inherently be counted as sloth?

What difference does it make nowadays,
with the illumination available from our modern electrical light-bulbs,
what time of day a man chooses to work?

But night owls have always been seen as deviant; possibly immoral.
Alas, even the stuffier poets have been slow to accept our ways,
as we see with Rillsbrook:

Who flower ‘neath a different Sun;
A cold and pale and ferrous One

But, Rillsbrook, you idiot!
Are we insomniacs not human, just like you?!
Do we not hope and dream?
Do we not love our children?
Of course
would if we weren’t so damned tired.

Maybe we should organize,
we creatures of the night,
and show them what we’re made of!
Maybe form a Vampires’ Union
and lobby for siesta rights!

Who’s in?*


*No meetings! I don’t want to meet any of you creepy-ass, milky-eyed weirdos!

Poet name “Rillsbrook” comes from Scott Emmons’ poet name generator.

What I Am Thankful For

November 22, 2011 - posted in sundries

I was reading these fun observations about American culture as perceived by non-Americans living here:

“What Are America’s Quirks?”


Some recurring themes:
– Americans are blatantly religious, nationalistic, hard-working, polite, and still a little Puritan
– American customer service is superior (really??)
– Everyone is terrified of medical bills (we had some recent first-hand terror with this)


But this one made me think of something:
“When Americans kid one another, they will wait a few seconds and then let the kidee know that they were just kidding. Every time. This shocked me for a while.”

That’s an interesting observation, but I don’t know… it hasn’t been my experience at all. Growing up, no one in my family ever said when they were kidding. There was almost never a wink. (My wife’s family is similar). The word “kiddee” above is appropriate– the dry humor could be very confusing when you were little.  But much appreciated once you were in on it.

To me, it was wonderful to be trusted to figure out the joke on your own. It made it yours. It made you feel respected. It taught you to parse everything people said very thoroughly– there was treasure everywhere. It also made you intolerant of ever being talked down to by grown-ups (or newscasters, or advertisers…)

My grandmother is the best at this. I don’t know anyone who can work little twists into the conversation so gracefully. She can tell you exactly what she means without even saying it. She can use the verbal negative space. It’s so rich.

That’s what I’m thankful for.

Growing up, we had humor. We had the fun of expressing love and respect through teasing.

So Happy Thanksgiving, America, you gonzo-religious, gun-stroking, truck-humping, flag-flailing, no-vacation-taking, broke-ass, fat, drunk sons of Jefferson! ♥

Very Ancient Things

November 7, 2011 - posted in sundries

A weekend of very ancient things: fire, earthquake, time, clay, charcoal, and raw wood.
Today: blood, tears, and primitive screams.

Now it’s time for candy.

Olden Days

November 5, 2011 - posted in sundries

Tonight we’ll sit around the fire and listen to stories like in the olden days.
If the stories aren’t good, we’ll club and eat the person telling the stories like in the olden days.

Yesterday: Migraine?

November 3, 2011 - posted in sundries

Yesterday I had the worst headache ever known to man.

There was a brief dimming of the light, and then it was the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where they opened the crate and the air was filled with shrieking demons and lightning, and the Angel of Death was melting my face. There was thunder and fog and locusts, and time and space cracked open and Elmer Fudd was singing Wagner operas. I opened my mouth to scream but there was no sound; shut my eyes to pray but there was no god. The devil laughed and women and children cried. Birds scattered into the sky! Fish washed up dead on the beaches! I saw fountains of molten earth and plumes of ash and human sacrifice, and all at once it was raining frogs and blood and fire and I heard a voice say “Zuul!”

Afterward, there was a rainbow-– God’s promise to humanity that this kind of thing would never have to happen again. But after this, I don’t know if I can trust that guy.

I didn’t used to get migraines, but lately I think I’ve had a few.

(some of you will notice I used roughly the same words on facebook the other day talking about diarrhea. I have no qualms about stealing from myself with regard to describing bodily afflictions. Next week I’ll use it to describe a sneeze or an orgasm.)

The Frog Fountain

September 5, 2007 - posted in sundries

Between a pile of freelance work and my usual day job, I’ve continued creeping along on the non-animated facet of the Mystery Work In Progress, which I still hope to launch this fall.

I was doing more writing than I had time to animate, and most of the writing seemed to center around the same themes and characters. So now I’ve got all this material and I need to put it somewhere. It’s a little bit like having to poop… except for the impulse to share it with the public… which in both cases is unhealthy…

A lot of this writing was done at a certain coffee shop (I won’t mention its name because all you have to do is look out your window and there’s probably one there). Normally, I’d hang at one of the local joints. But this particular location, in a busy shopping district in Kansas City, has a special feature that I enjoy.

This bizarre fountain, brought back from Italy in 1928 by a major Kansas City land developer, depicts a frog squirting water straight into the crotch of a cherub, who looks absolutely ecstatic about the whole thing. (who wouldn’t?)**

About two feet above this lovely scene is a large window and a comfortable table inside the coffee shop. Beyond that is a fireplace. There is no better place in the world to write cartoons.

A constant stream of tourists and suburban shoppers passes this fountain, holding their shopping bags and cameras. As I sit there, every few minutes I’m treated to the sight of a family doing a double take, stopping in their tracks, pointing, smiling, joking amongst themselves, and then snapping a picture.

Kids under a certain age don’t find it funny or odd. (why on earth wouldn’t a cherub have a frog squirting him in the junk?) Older kids find it hilarious. Most adults do too. Some of them try to hide it. Once in a while a pack of high-school kids will walk by and struggle to maintain their fragile teenage composure. Few can resist smiling as they pass.

Nothing washes out the wretched stench of cynicism that can come from working in commercial art like spending an hour next to this statue. People are caught off guard, and for a brief moment they stop trying to look cool and just smile and point like first graders. It’s an oddly beautiful thing.

You can keep your Rodin and your Michelangelo and your Lipchitz and Moore. Give me Rafaello Romanelli’s masterpiece, “Frog Spritzing Cherub In Wee Wee.”

So that’s where I sit and write sometimes. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, come say hi. Better yet– let’s have a secret code so I’ll know it’s you!

If you see a guy sitting at the table by the fountain, watching the people and scribbling in a notebook, come up to him and say this Secret Production Log Pass Phrase:

“Excuse me. I’m looking for Mr. Romanelli.”

If he replies with the Secret Production Log Answer Phrase:


then you’ll know it’s me… or some unsuspecting, foul-mouthed stranger…

The Insects

April 19, 2007 - posted in sundries

Here are some specimens from the ol’ robot entomology collection. Might these have anything to do with the Mystery Work in Progress? Probably not. But I’m not sure yet. The words that best describe the Mystery Work in Progress are: a) “Mysterious,” and b) “In Progress.”

A Shark Dream

April 9, 2007 - posted in sundries

I dreamt that I was scheduled to give a lecture on the subject of Sharks at some university in St. Petersburg, Russia. I showed up at the campus with some friends and family. They were planning on going to a museum while I gave my talk. I hate giving talks and I wished I could go with them instead.

About an hour before the lecture I realized I had forgotten everything I ever knew about sharks. (In the dream I had apparently given this talk before) So I sat in the hallway and tried desperately to remember something– anything– to say about sharks. All I could come up with were vague feelings of awe and fear.

Then I remembered that I had been faking my way through the previous lecture as well. I know nothing about sharks and never have. And I remember thinking that these people were easily fooled– not only had they failed to call my bluff the first time, they’d actually invited me back to speak again!

When it was time for the lecture I said to the students, “Rather than listening to me drone on and on about sharks, let’s make this an open discussion. I want to hear what you all have to say.” And it went pretty well. I faked my way through it yet again!

I only mention it because somehow, deep down, that dream probably had something to do with pretending to be an animator.

Jaron Lanier, Adapted for Storytelling, with Apologies

March 29, 2007 - posted in sundries

A bastardized quote:

How do we make beautiful films? General animation principles… are good enough to create elegance, but not beauty. Beauty requires an awareness of human affairs outside the studio.

…and another one:

When storytelling decisions aren’t made in reference to human concerns, they can only be made in reference to each other, leading to a self-referential bundle of nonsense suspended by a sky hook…

When we treat our stories as no more than conduits between human imaginations, grand vistas open up.

I’m far, far removed from the main animation community, being an amateur who lives in the Midwest. But I do read some animation blogs and books here and there. Many seem to be concerned with industry related matters, or with craft, or with technical issues. Rarely do any of them talk much about why in the hell anyone would make or watch cartoons in the first place. Where does the original impulse come from? What is their real, useful function in the world, and how are they different from live-action films, comics, theater, and music?

I find thinking about this stuff helps me to put off doing my work.

Jaron Lanier is a computer programmer, musician and humanist. Oddly, I think he has produced more inspiring and useful writing on these matters than most people — even though he’s usually talking about software. He has a beautiful mind. (also, he’d make a wonderful cartoon character, wouldn’t he?)

The bastardized quotes from above are from an essay he wrote for the Association for Computing Machinery, on the subject of “hope in the next 50 years of computing.” With apologies to Mr. Lanier, I replaced a few words (”software” with “film,” etc.) and presto! the quotes seem to apply to animation.

I suppose these particular excerpts might apply to just about any creative profession.

Still, there are some strange parallels between the software and animation businesses. Both are faced with figuring out how to make money when everything can be duplicated and downloaded easily… Both are perpetually locked in a struggle between the needs of large, industrial proprietors, and those of small, independent or individual innovators… If they expect to thrive, both industries must figure out how to escape the shadows and defy the legacies of some powerful, looming corporations.

There might be real human usefulness to be found somewhere in both fields. Maybe (as Mark Mayerson has suggested) animation has never warranted this kind of consideration. Maybe it’s all just childish little drawings made by lonely introverts. Ugh. It’s so easy for animation to lapse into self-reference. Our cartoons are way too often derived solely from older cartoons.

I don’t know what my point is. I’m just putting off my work. I hope I have helped you put off your own work for a few minutes.

Below are the real quotes from Lanier’s essay.


How do we make beautiful software? General engineering principles… are good enough to create elegance, but not beauty. Beauty requires an awareness of human affairs outside the computer.


When software design decisions aren’t made in reference to human concerns, they can only be made in reference to each other, leading to a self-referential bundle of nonsense suspended by a sky hook…

When we treat information systems as no more than conduits between human imaginations, grand vistas open up.

Sketchbook Assortment #1

December 29, 2006 - posted in sundries

The Mystery Work in Progress is still in progress and still a mystery. It’s going very slowly. I’ve been working on and off on this project, at night, in my basement, for about 2 years now, with huge breaks for other work and life-living. It’s hard to keep the momentum sometimes.

In the mean time I’ve scanned in lots of random pages from sketchbooks I can post here, just for the hell of it. Some of these are many years old, but they’re just laying around, so…

Here is Random Sketchbook Assortment #1:



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