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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Interview with Comicbook.com, October-- 2014


A recent Interview at one of the Wizard Shows, featured here. Thanks to Jerry Milani for setting it up. --R. 

Link to Original Post:  http://comicbook.com/2014/10/29/interview-with-author-and-editor-renee-witterstaetter/

Interview with Author And Editor Renee Witterstaetter



Renee Witterstaetter is the author of Excess: The Art of Michael Golden,  the critically acclaimed Nick Cardy: The Artist at War, Dying for Action: The Life and Films of Jackie Chan, Kerry and the Scary Things, Nick Cardy: Wit-Lash, and many more. More recent projects include James O’Barr: Uncoffined and Michael Golden: Dangerous Curves.

Witterstaetter began the comic phase of her career working on titles such as Superman, Silver Surfer, Conan the Barbarian and Conan Saga, and then went on to spearhead the reintroduction of She-Hulk at Marvel. She then moved on to Topps Comics, where she was the editor on X-Files, Jurassic Park, Xena and Hercules, and was the co-creator—with artist Michael Golden-- of the Spartan X.
In addition, Witterstaetter has worked as the colorist on hundreds of comics from the Avengers to Spider-man to Captain America, and many, many more. She then went on to work on music videos for Madonna, Seal, Ben Harper and Usher, as well as the feature movies Crime Story, Rush Hour Two, Red Dragon, and among others.

A member of the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan, in addition to on-going film work, she is the President of Little Eva Ink Publishing and Little Eva Ink Toys. Witterstaetter is also currently working in artist management via Eva Ink Artist Group, and is the co-producer of the DVD series highlighting creatives in many fields.

While appearing at Wizard World, Witterstaetter took the time to answer a few questions.

 

Describe your introductory experience to the world of comics.

I like to joke that it started when I discovered some old Jerry Lewis and Spider-man comics and "Mad Magazines" in my brother's bedroom when I was 7 or so.
But in reality, it was one of these situations where one door opens and you decide if you will walk through it or not. That one decision can, and often does, decide the course of your whole life.
I became interested in Journalism while I was in Junior High School, when my brother Robbie took me to one of his High School Journalism parties, trying to recruit I suppose. I was already the editor of my Jr. High newspaper, and was already producing slide show documentaries-- most often relating to history.

The one I was most proud of in Jr. High was on World War II, documenting the whole conflict on slides, timed and accompanied by a cassette tape recording. The nice German lady who helped me with the voiceover recording had actually been a concentration camp survivor. I won an award for that.

But basically, what I'm trying to say is that I was interested in storytelling-- all forms of storytelling-- from an early age. And art is storytelling.

I was the kid that would sneak out of bed every night to watch the Midnight Movie (we only had three channels), while my parents were asleep. So that was my film education, and I saw everything. I think that my Dad thought it was funny. I'd often stay awake until the channel went off the air after the movie, by showing a huge picture of the American Flag and playing "The Star Spangled Banner." Dad was a postman--back when that was a wonderful job--and would wake up early at 4 am to go to work, turn off the TV and put me to bed.

So, starting off that way, being a shy kid-- you tend to spend alot of time in your head using your imagination. Drawing as a kid, reading all the books in the library subject by subject, eventually finding an outlet for creativity in the Jr. High newspaper, continuing with editing my High School newspaper, then my college newspaper and art magazine... I think my path was laid to be involved in storytelling in one manner or another.

What influences have shaped your work as a writer, editor or colorist?

All the experiences in my life really. I spent many years as a colorist, but now I am mostly a writer and editor. But when I was doing alot of color art, my color influences were people like Maxfield Parrish. I love his work and how he creates a sense of place with his color palette. Writers that I love are people like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. Modern writers-- I enjoy the humor of Carl Hiassen. I run all over the place with my reading tastes. I don't stick with one genre. But I believe I find my most inspiration just in my life and people around me.

I was lucky enough to have some very wonderful people helping me learn along the way--they shaped me-- Craig Anderson, my first boss at Marvel, followed by Spider-man editor, Jim Salicrup and Vice Editor in Chief, Mark Gruenwald. Marvel during that time period was a very creative place and a great home. They were my influences. They taught me about being an editor-- what all these people taught me--being an editor requires you to think creativity if you are going to be good at it. Think on your feet. And I believe it's imperative to have a good artistic eye yourself. At any given time, I'd have 6-9 books a month or more to get out. Considering that you have 5-7 creatives on each of those titles, that's alot of working with various personalities and addressing various needs to keep things running smoothly.

Working in movies--which I did after my years as a comic book editor-- seemed to be the same thing to me, and not much different than being a comic book editor. Organization, organization, organization.

How did you “break in” to the industry?

While I was in college at East Texas State University, some of my friends from Texarkana told me they were going to a convention in Dallas, Texas called the Dallas Fantasy Faire--- one of the premier shows of the time--and asked me if I wanted to go. So we loaded up the truck and drove to Big D. I had an amazing time talking to writers, artists and other creative types, and met friends at that show that have remained my friends until the present.

In fact, my first job out of college ended up being as the "Girl Friday" for the Dallas Fantasy Faire working with the owner, the late Larry Lankford. I think my official title was "Assistant Convention Coordinator" or something like that. But it entailed everything from making phone calls to acting as a guest liaison, to taking and developing photographs, writing press release and articles. Laying out the program books. You name it. Whatever needed to be done.

From that experience I met many people in the comic book industry and landed a job as an assistant editor at DC Comics on the Superman books with editor Mike Carlin. Carlin taught me a great deal about comics storytelling and putting together a comic book, and I'll always be grateful to him for that.



From there, I moved over to Marvel Comics for five years, starting out as the assistant editor for Craig Anderson on the Silver Surfer books. I was the editor on "Conan Saga" then too, and assistant editor for "Savage Sword of Conan." Soon, I became a full editor, and had my own line of books, including "She-Hulk," "What The?" "The Impossible Man Summer Special," "The Marvel Holiday Special," and numerous others.

When my friend ,and one of my mentors, Jim Salicrup, became the head at Topps Comics. I joined him there for 5 years, editing such books as "Xena," "Hercules," "Jurassic Park," "Jason Vs. Leatherface," and I can't remember how many other books. It was a fun time.

After this run of comic jobs, I worked exclusively in film for five years, on such movies as "Rush Hour II," "Red Dragon," "To Ease the Lose," and dozens of music videos for talents like Madonna, Seal, Usher, and of course too many commercials to count.

The funny thing about all my various jobs, be it working at a small newspaper, doing PR for a convention, editing comics or working in film, the attention to detail, and the eye for storytelling and graphics--the skill set required was the same. My skill set served me well at each of these jobs, I think. It's about adaptability, I suppose.

I've been an agent, in addition to everything else, since 2003, when an artist friend of mine asked me to start repping him because of my knowledge of comics (I was working exclusively in film production in LA at the time, so comics sort of "pulled me back in.") And again, I'm using all those same skills I used as a comics editor or a crew member.

Are there any current trends that have changed your outlook of making art?

I don't tend to follow trends with my writing. I like to write things that I myself would be interested in reading. That's how my book "Nick Cardy: The Artist at War," came about.  I was visiting Nick in Florida and he brought out all these sketches that he'd done during World War II. Now, it you don't know who Nick Cardy is, he set the standard for cover design at DC Comics for decades. This was art of his, that nobody had ever seen! And of such historical significance. I immeditalty decided that we needed to write a book. Nick said "Renee, do you think anyone would want to read it? I said, "Nick, if I want to read it, others will to."  It sold extremely well, and the UK edition has just been released from Titan Books. Nick passed away last year, so I'm so happy you got to see this before he died.

How does an idea for a piece begin? What are the steps to your creative process?

In my writing process, the ideas are easy to come by. I stumble on them-- just like the idea for the Cardy book. The trick is recognizes that what you tripped over could be something. Then, it's finding the time to do them all. I have 4 books I want to work on right now. The first thing you have to do, is write down your ideas. You think you'll remember them, but I'm here to tell you, you don't always do that. Ideas slip through your fingers like water.  So, write them down.  Then the research phase begins, and that requires alot of note taking. I still use index cards to write down all the details and organize the thoughts and facts into chapters and groups after compiling everything. Then, your prose is the glue.

 

What projects are you currently working on?

My newest books are "Michael Golden: Dangerous Curves" and "Mark Texeira: Tempest." Two art books that have just hit store shelves this  month. Michael Golden is a renowned illustrator and storyteller and his work is just amazing. This is a look at some of his key pieces over the last few years.  I am also working on a deluxe package of the aforementioned book "Nick Cardy: The Artist at War," to commemorate our friend Mr. Cardy.

Are there any mistakes that you frequently see other creatives making? If so, what are those mistakes and how do you think they can be avoided?

Oh sure. All the time. But I'm making mistakes too, so it's better for me to focus on my own work and improve what I'm doing. Hopefully we all become smarter as time goes on.

What are your favorite characters you like to depict, and why?

I have an idea for a detective series that I'm itching to write. I can't tell too much about it, but it's a combination of things and people I love from history, and putting a fantasy aspect to it all. If I have to spend alot of time with the characters I'm making into flesh and blood, they might as well be characters I like.  Of course you have to throw in a few you don't like so much as well, to stir the pot.

What kind of stories are you looking to tell through your work?

Oh Gosh! That's hard to say. I've worked on so many things I love. I feel I've been very lucky to live a life where I can work on projects, be creative and say one day, "Ya know, I'd like to write this book," or "I'd like to produce this toy," and then I find a way to make it so.
Every project I'm currently working on is my favorite project and is a story I want to tell.

I'd have to say for me though that some of my favorite books have been about people I care about-- "Dying for Action: The Life and Films of Jackie Chan," and our comic book series "Spartan X," inspired by Hong Kong movies, for one.

I have also loved learning about the subjects of my art books-- Michael Golden,  Nick Cardy, James O'Barr....finding out what makes them do what they do, and how they do it. That is my journalistic background coming into play.

In my film work, I have enjoyed being a part of every movie I've worked on, and contributing to those stories becoming solid. It is this bizarre reality where you live, eat, sleep to make a movie for six months, and the people you are working with become your surrogate families for that unique time. When the movie wraps, you almost feel like you are going through some time of mourning or withdrawal. The first morning you don't have to get up at 4 am and go to work for 20 hours, you don't know what to do with yourself!

I was lucky enough to work with some fantastic crews, with directors like Brett Ratner, and AD's like Jamie Freitag-- a few bad ones too. When those productions end, you can't WAIT to get away. :-) You are almost ready to chew your arm off to do so! But lucky most production jobs are not that way.
Of all my movie experiences tough, I think I loved working with Jackie on "Rush Hour II" and Anthony Hopkins on "Red Dragon." You remember the ones who are class acts, and I knew Jackie long before I worked with him on that movie.

So, what stories am I wanting to tell? New ones are always popping up and can come from any or all of these experiences and often do.




Are there any characters or stories you're dying to do?

"Kerry and the Scary Things," is a children's book that I developed with my friend and talented artist Keith Wilson, many years ago. Probably over 2 decades ago. It had a long and winding road to being published-- i.e. picked up by two companies that then went out of business. And Keith and I got a little frustrated to see many of the ideas we had for the book, starting to be mirrored in other pop culture projects and movies. So, we felt we really needed to get out our book and introduce it to the world. So we did.

Kerry, our hero, is a little boy who loves monsters. So, he puts together a monster fighting backpack in case he ever meets any, with all the things he'll need in order to fight them. In the course of the book, you'll see if he actually does meet any monsters, how he deals with them if he does, and what he has in his bag of tricks. It's really a story about kids using their imaginations.

I think we've lost a lot of that--kids have toys or video games that play "for them," and it's important to not forget to foster creativity.

There are several sequels planned. The next, which also was written many years ago is "Kerry and the Dreadful Dragon."

My intent is to pursue animation with these properties as well.

What future projects are you currently working on?

I'm waiting for the next door to open. And it will. More comics, more books, more movie work, more writing. More fun.

I have a few other books I can't announce yet, but I think they will be fantastic to bring to life. And a few more documentary projects a well.

In the world of comic books, what liberties and restrictions do you observer?

I often have folks asked me if it's been a disadvantage--or been restrictive-- being a women in comics. Well, I never had a problem with it, and I actually never even think about being at a disadvantage or being restricted. I like being a woman. And, I have always tried to go out and make my own opportunities. Granted, however, it's true there were not that many women in the comic book industry when I first started. I can probably count with one hand the women that I knew that were working in the industry. But remember, you didn't really have very many women even going to conventions at that time either.

As far as working in the industry, me personally, I was given so many opportunities: to be an editor, to learn and to work with some amazing people. If I did have a bad story or two, I probably wouldn't tell it. No need.

All my bosses in comics were men. (Conversely, working in film, most of my bosses were woman.) In comics, Mike Carlin taught me a great deal about putting together comic books when I started at DC comics as a green assistant editor on the "Superman" books. And from there my friend and mentor Jim Salicrup at Marvel comics was a great teacher, he was the "Spider-man" editor and later my boss at Topps; my immediate boss, Craig Anderson on the "Silver Surfer" books at Marvel was amazing; and another one of the best bosses I ever had was Mark Gruenwald at Marvel, who really took everybody--all the assistants--under his wing and taught us all his passion for putting together comic books. By that time there were a lot more women in the industry.  I never felt like I was ever being discriminated against, and I was also given plenty of opportunities to do female oriented books. I was the editor on She-Hulk for a long time. Xena later, etc.

Now the field has changed so much! SO many women in the industry now as compared to years ago.
As far as liberties? Well we have an amazing life. I love my work. It makes me happy and I look forward to doing whatever I'm doing every day. I travel with creative people. I make books and stories and events happen. I feel blessed. There's nothing, for me, like working in a creative industry. That's a gift.

And with the internet and digtial publishing, the field is wide open. There are so many avenues now for folks to get their stories out there. It's wonderful.

Any advice you'd like to offer for up-and-coming creators?

Sure: Breathe. Dance more. Laugh often. And take notes.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Dark Dreams"--James O'Barr Reception and Art Show at UMES Starts Oct. 6!


Princess Anne, MD-- A new art show, "Dark Dreams: The Art of James O'Barr" will be opening with a reception on October 6, at the Mosely Gallery on the campus of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. 

The art show will feature 30 originals by O'Barr, the creator of "The Crow," as well as the writer on the hit series "Skinning the Wolves," "Curare," and "Pestilence." 

The show runs from Oct. 6-30th, with an opening reception from 4-6, on Oct. 6th. A film screening of "The Crow" will follow at 8 pm in the SSC Theater, followed by a Q & A with O'Barr. Prints will be available for signing at both events.

The closing reception will take place October 30th from 4-6 with a Halloween costume Party. (Note that Mr. O'Barr will only be in attendance on Oct. 6th.)

The Mosely Gallery is located at UMES; 11931 Art Shell Plaza; Princess Anne, MD 21853. www.moselygallery.com

For more information on James O'Barr contact: evaink@aol.com


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Artist Konstantin Komardin to make US Appearances in Sept/Oct






New York--This just in. Artist and animator Konstantin Komardin will be making several appearances in the United States in September and October, where he'll be accepting commission requests, as well as screening several of his animated shorts.



Konstantin Komardin is an award-winning Russian sequential artist, graphic artist and animator currently living in Moscow. This marks his second only appearance schedule in the United States, providing a rare opportunity to see some amazing originals never before offered. Konstantin was born in Ekaterinburg, where he fell in love with sequential art as a child, and went on to attend the Academy of Book Design. And has worked with numerous publishing houses on book covers and interior illustrations, while also working with anthology magazines in the role of graphic artist.

Some of his published work includes the BD magazines “Veles,” “Hacker,” “Max Cooler,” “Moulin Rouge,” “Timof” which published his story “Siberian Dreams,” and the renowned comics “Agent Z,” “Sit-o-city,” “Gate of Alice,” and “Mechanics of Senses.” Other works include the Russian/Polish project “City Stories.” Konstantin was awarded the Grand Prize for “The Site of Polis” at the Moscow Comics Festival in 2003.

A talented illustrator for print, Konstantin is also an award-winning animator as mentioned. His works include the concept designs on “Elka,” “Man with the Wind in his Head” which appeared in the Suzdal Film Festival in 2008, “Tram,” “Spindel” which was honored at the Moscow Short Film Festival in 2010, and “The Man in Penze Nez,” which screened at both the Suzdal Film Festival and the Moscow International Film Festival in 2010.






Several shorts by Konstantin will he aired at the convention, including “How I Lost 21 Grams,” and “The Man With the Wind in His Head,” so check your programming for time and place. Konstantin will be in artist alley sketching throughout the show. 


His schedule of shows for this trip includes:

Wizard World Richmond-- Sept 12-14
Wizard World Nashville-- Sept 26-28
Wizard World Austin-- Oct. 2-4
University of Maryland Eastern Shore- Oct. 7
Store Appearance  in Maryland TBD, Oct. 8
New York Comic Con-- Oct. 9-12





For more information on Konstantin and his work be sure to visit him at his table in artist alley. For information on ordering sketches before any show, contact Renee at evaink@aol.com

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Poe and The Crow: An Evening with James O'Barr" -- Richmond, Sept. 11th





Richmond, VA-- Separated by 100 years of time and place, you might not at first see any connection between James O'Barr and Edgar Allan Poe...but it's there.  Even if you distill it down to just the fact that one created "The Raven," the other created "The Crow." Both iconic works using these avian symbols as metaphors for something far more deeper, darker and richer than one realizes until the stories take flight, transcending the mediums of their own times with creations that indeed took on a life of their own.

For one night in Richmond, Virginia,  these two creators-- will converge-- Poe in spirit, and Mr. O'Barr in the flesh-- with "Poe and The Crow: An Evening with James O'Barr," beginning at 6:30 in the evening with a signing and Q and A, and ending with a screening of "The Crow" starring Brandon Lee-- An appropriate look back, with a new Crow movie currently in pre-produciton.

O'Barr's visit to the Poe Museum coincides nicely with the facilities current exhibition, "The Living Poe," which deals with Poe in popular culture. In recent months, they have had a series of speakers on the topic of Poe's continuing influence on today's arts and culture, and his influence on the modern horror genre. In October, they'll host Vincent Price's daughter Victoria Price, who will share her experiences with her father and his love of Poe. And while O'Barr and Mr. Poe are vastly different in their approaches and influences, this evening continues an homage from other creators, be they writers, actors or artists, who strive in the creative process and respect the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

In addition to creating one of the best selling graphic novels of all time, James O'Barr is also the writer of several current hit series, including "Curare," "Skinning the Wolves" and "Pestilence." While also serving as a consultant on the upcoming Crow movie.  His recent artbook "James O'Barr Uncoffined" has already sold out, and a new book is in the works. During the evening at the museum, James will be signing prints, available at the venue, and talking before the screening of "The Crow."

While there, attendees are also encouraged to look over the Poe Museums vast collection of rare artifacts and manuscripts relating to Poe, all housed in a historic building with direct connections to the writer. 

For more information on Mr. O'Barr, contact evaink@aol.com
For more information on the Poe Museum, this event and others go to: poemuseum.org.

(A fan homage, interfacing the image from "The Crow" movie poster, with the likeness of Mr. Poe.)


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Michael Golden: Dangerous Curves" to Debut at Wizard Chicago!



Chicago-- Fresh off the presses, the new hardcover, deluxe format, full color sketchbook by Michael Golden will debut at the upcoming Wizard World Chicago show, Aug. 21-24, at his table in the Featured Artist section of this year's show.


"Michel Golden: Dangerous Curves" is a lush book, at 48 pages, full of powerful pieces by this renowned artist and storyteller.

But why call it "Dangerous Curves?" 

Because the name is multi-layered. Golden is known for his strong female characters with their piercing eyes (and yes, curves). And indeed, Michael always says that the first thing he draws for any female character IS the eyes--the window to the soul. And each of Golden's women express their own strength and individuality on every page, drawn in an authentic and complimentary style.

But "Dangerous Curves" also features other characters--those that lurk around the corner as well as those that seek adventure--providing a good sampling of familiar characters, human and otherwise, providing the drama and/or confronting it.

Being the master storyteller that Michael is, known for his work on "G.I. Joe," "Spawn," "Bucky O'Hare," "The 'Nam" and much more, of course each piece in this book tells a story of it's own on each page, with a solid and substantial art style that roots them firmly in your imagination. 

In addition to the new book making it's debut at the show, with the artist in attendance to sign it, all VIP packages for the show will include a free Michael Golden poster in a  limited edition.  Ask for details on the Wizard World convention website!


"Michael Golden: Dangerous Curves" is limited to 1,000 copies. So, if you haven't ordered yours from Diamond Distribution, you can still order one while supplies last from evaink@aol.com

For more information on the artist or for ordering, contact evaink@aol.com




Saturday, March 29, 2014

James O'Barr VIP Prints Now Available at Wizard World Shows in 2014!

James O'Barr, creator of The Crow, and writer on "Curare" and "Skinning the Wolves" will be making a select number of Wizardd World conventions this year to commemorate the 20th Anniversary release of "The Crow" movie.

Starting off with Wizard World Louisville this March 28-30 and Wizard St. Louis April 4-6!

Get your VIP print while supplies last, along with lithographs, silkscreens, books and sketches.

Contact his booking agent at: evaink@aol.com




Thursday, March 13, 2014

Highlight Reel: Easter Island and What Jack Kirby Knew!


Me and my Moai.

I'm not saying Jack Kirby was hiding something... but...maybe more just giving us hints, you know, bread crumbs...

...like we wouldn't really get it if he just came out and said, "You wouldn't believe what I just saw on Easter Island." You know... kinda like Jimmy Stewart in "Harvey" talking about that big rabbit? Bring out the straight jacket and all of that bother. Smart to avoid that, Jack was.

But I've never been able to break this feeling that Jack was trying to tell us something!

I mean after all, for some reason in 1959, he penciled two classic comics, focusing on the same theme, from TWO different companies. So it couldn't have been Stan Lee, the writer of one, trying to give us clues to some great cosmic mystery? It must have been Jack!

I am of course referring to: "House of Mystery," #85, April 1959 DC Comics; And "Tales to Astonish" #5, September 1959, Marvel Comics. In both of these books, the giant heads (which do have bodies attached, by the way), come to life with various agendas. Not any that mean good for mankind.

They are called Moai.


Moai on the move in various comics!

Two stories in one year! The pattern was forming! Jack had Rapa Nui (Easter Island) on the brain for SOME reason.

Granted, giant stone monsters coming to life is not something one sees every day. One doesn't generally look out ones window and see a stone behemoth lopping about out by the bird feeder along with the squirrels and the blue jays.

But you can't rule out possibilities.

So, when the opportunity presented itself--all nice and gift wrapped with a bow on top--to go to Chile last year, it seemed that a stop over on Easter Island was most definitely in order.

Taking my job as an investigative journalist seriously--because that is what I studied in college-- I felt it my sworn duty to follow all leads, right?

Jack drew with too much conviction, too much detail.  Stan wrote with too much being unsaid, too much innuendo... for there not to be something behind the book!

As soon as I landed on this pinhead point of treeless land in the Pacific Ocean known as Rapa Nui-- I'm serious, when you are landing, you see ocean from end to end on the runway-- I knew I was on a grand adventure. I was whisked up by a local guide who immediately took me off to see my first Moai. No time to lose!

He was rather non-committal. (My first Moai,  not the guide.) The strong silent type. Back towards the ocean,  gazing straight through me as if I wasn't even there. Rather rude I thought. Not to mention there was no offer of cookies or even tea, or polite conversation, as one is accustomed to when visiting. (Of course I didn't bring anything either, so poor showing on my part as well. One should never show up empty handed.) And if I'd been portrayed as harboring evil in every comic written about me, I might be a little gun shy too, so I forgave him.

But the lack of modesty was another matter. Well! He didn't even dress for dinner--that's not how the Moai roll (No pun intended...well maybe a little)-- but more on that later.

Beginning my investigation straight away, the niceties being non-existent, there was no evidence  of my Moai having gone on a walkabout anytime recently. i.e. no scuff marks on the bottom, as I assume he would have if he'd been thrusting himself along the stone paths of the rocky island, no evidence of the moss growing at his base having been displaced, no unpacked suitcases etc. etc.

The first thing you'll notice, although you'll try not to, averting your eyes here and there, is that unlike the Scots, there is  no need to wonder what's under the kilt. The Moai, you see, are quite nude. Why bother with clothes! The weather is wonderful! Their typical stance is to stand, hands on hips, pointing down to their private parts, which of course, are always depicted as up for bat. While the Moai, are non-chalant, starring straight ahead through orb-less sockets.

Here's looking at you kid.

Not sure why the emphasis on manliness?  Surely some fertility thing, or macho comparison. But the eyes....

 Indeed, the theory is that the eyes of the Moai were made of shells, which the priest of the village only put in during religious ceremonies. (You'll see a few with painted on eyes, but these are not the original orbs. For tourists only.)  The eyes represented the departed leader, residing in the likeness of the statue, coming back to life to look over the village when needed. When not in use, the shell eyes were stored away for future, evangelical work. Villagers from local tribes during times of conflict, would of course always try to steal the eyes of Moai that belonged to rival tribes. Because we all know the eyes have "it."

And in this case, the "it" was that embodiment of the soul of the departed leader. Pretty important when you are into power and such.

While they were at it, they'd also take the time to  topple the rival Moai as well, always taking it a step to far. Oh, and then sometimes they also practiced cannibalism, which was not because of famine as some like to speculate, but more because it represented devouring the soul of your enemy.  You know... the usual stuff.

Or else!

During my investigation though, I did indeed discover some other odd tidbits to mull:

1.) There is in fact ONE female Moai. Instead of hands on hips pointing down at a flag pole, she does in fact have female attributes. That leads one to speculate that in fact there was at least one revered female leader on Easter Island at one point in time. I'd love to know HER story.

2.)  There is one Moai that actually had TWO sets of hands on his hips.  This one is particularly interesting to me, as, unlike other Moai, it's not placed along the coast, but is placed inland, looking out to sea, and lining up perfectly with the Winter Solstice. I'm concocting my own theory for a scholarly paper that it has something to do with the phases of the moon or planting or some such. Either that, or it could represent twins. Or hey... maybe the person actually DID have 4 arms.... anyway, my paper will set the scientific world on it's ears.   (I'll make it more interesting than that of course.) Either that, or it's some alien messing with us again. Which of course they love to do. (I often think the aliens of yesteryear had nothing better to do, but come down here, and laugh about what cryptic clues they were going to leave for future incarnations of us, the lower life form.  Laughing in their alien way-- whatever that is-- saying, if they speak-- "Yeah, let's make big carvings in the floor of this valley, that can really only be seen from above. That'll perplex 'em." Or, "Let's give this statue two sets of hands. They'll spend years thinking about that one! Har." Aliens it seems had alot of time on their hands. )

3.) Easter Island, has nothing to do with Easter. Imagine my surprise. Why name it something that is so deceiving, eh, island  namers? Although, I did find a rather large round rock that looked like an Easter egg, and seized upon it as proof that there is a cover up of some kind. Again. I'm not saying it's aliens, but...

Dang right it's Easter Island!

4.) There are wild horses everywhere on Easter Island. Just roaming about. I bet you didn't know that. The locals seem to love to have horses, but at some point they just let them all go, and now there is an overpopulation tromping about. To add to the trouble, there is one yellow flower, which the horses sometimes eat, which is terribly poisonous to them. Once eaten, like the apple in Eden, there is no going back. They stumble around like drunkards for a few days and sadly die. As a result, you see horse carcases quiet often in various stages of bloating or decay. One wonders why they just don't cut all the yellow flowers, or corral the horses, but that hasn't dawned on anyone yet.

5.) As mentioned the Moai are all facing in. Not facing out to sea. The theory is that since they represented dead leaders that they were overlooking whatever village they belonged to. There is only one set of Moai seemingly facing out to sea. Nobody of course knows why. That's the rub about this place: Nobody left a manual.

Rush Hour

6.) Not all Moai have top hats. And these are carved from a different quarry on the island than Moai themselves. I think it was a fashion statement. You know, Roger died, and his tribe thought he'd look fetching with a red top hat on his noggin. So then everyone else was jealous, and their dead friends had to have top hats too.  Maybe they even poisoned a few leaders early, just so they could get in on the top hat craze sooner. Fashion is like that you know. It's why we end up with padded sleeves and parachute pants.  (Another theory is that the top hat's aren't hats at all, but top Knots! There may have been a time when the leaders used red clay to cake their hair and tie it on top of their head. Could be. Heaven knows they didn't spend that time making clothes.)


7.) The Moai, top knot down, were carved in a quarry on another part of the island. Whatever the reason for the Moai, the practice appears to have ended abruptly. You'll find many Moai in various stages of construction, and hundreds of completed ones, half buried in the ground up to their shoulders and leaning in various directions along the quarry trail up the mountain, like a marching band toppled by one tuba player that lost his step. This to me was one of the most interesting mysteries on Easter Island. Why was the practice ended so abruptly? Did they stop honoring their leaders? Did the tribes disband? Did all the master craftsmen die? Did someone decree "We don't need no mo Moai. Let's make origami instead."

Abandoned Moai quarry.

8.) All those theories about the Easter Islanders cutting down all their trees to move the Moai, appears to  not be true. Evidence suggests that the statues "Walked from the guarry where they were formed to their resting place by the sea." (See I'm telling ya, Jack knew something.) The new theory is that a system of ropes and pulleys were fastened to the statues, and they were made to simulate walking, even over vast distances. There is no theory as of yet, on where these so called ropes came from. 

9.) I'm sad to say that while I was there, I did not observe any Moai moving. I tried. And although they are dang spooky at night, I didn't see one budge an inch. Although I'm not entirely sure one didn't blink.

10.) There is a large round stone, the make-up of which does not match any other stone on the island. They call it the "Belly Button of the World." Supposedly if you sit there in a circle with your hands splayed, you can feel the vibrations of the mystical earth. I tried it. I'm not sure what I felt, but my stomach did growl.

With friends I met on the trip. Nothing says "bonding" like putting your hands on a belly button.

It all just deepens the mystery, no?

I spent  several magical nights on Easter Island mulling over all that I'd learned, while sitting in a thatched roof restaurant, paying way too much for tuna steak and ceviche, watching the sunset linger on a vast horizon, and feeling --because, well, you are-- cut off from the rest of the world.

It gives one time to think. To speculate on this unique culture that is Rapa Nui, and wonder just what it is that we'll never know. Because unless it's found on a stone tablet, we just won't.  It's all guessing in the end.

A template for a myriad of dreams.

Or will we not? Jack knew! Yeah. He knew something. He just wasn't telling. Wanted us to figure it out for ourselves. Thought we wouldn't believe him...

Perhaps there is a clue in the plot of "Tales to Astonish" #5:  "A pilot crash lands on Easter Island where he observes the statues rise out of the ground and discuss invasion plans of their home planet and enslavement of Earthman (This always seems like a faulty plan, do they not know how much we eat?). He flees the pursuit of the statues and attempts to warn the proper authorities, but no one believes him. Eventually he begins to doubt his story as well, and unobserved, the statues who had been following him return to Easter Island safe in the knowledge that no one would believe such an outlandish tale."

Unless you put it in comic book form perhaps! Hum... 

I'm listening Jack, I'm listening.

--Renee
Tongue in Cheek, NYC
2014




+++++++++++

Easter Island/Rapa Nui has been portrayed in many comic books, including titles as diverse as: "Tomb of Darkness," Marvel, 1975; "The Incredible Hulk," #261, Marvel 1981; "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" #3, IDW, 2013, "Uncle Scrooge Adventures," #3, Gladstone, 1988; and most recently in "Deadpool" #20, Mavel 2014 (Although they have the statues facing the wrong direction.) In fact, it was Chad Grothkopf who has the distinction of being the first artist to draw the Moai in "The Easter Island Gods," in Action Comics #28, with appear two years after The Man of Steel.

I found this great list of all that is Easter Island in comics, compiled by Philip Sites below and on the link provided, where he relates his own Rapa Nui experiences.  


http://weekendroady.com/2014/01/15/easter-island-a-journey-through-comics/



Comprehensive list of EI in Comics:
By Philip Sites

Cover and story:


(These stories feature the famous Easter Island moai or a similar “stone man” likeness or reference on the cover as well as a relevant story in the issue. Some stories are reprints from prior issues)

Batman Adventures V.2 #4 (DC – September 2003)

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #5 (DC – July 1982)

Chamber of Chills #11 (Marvel – July 1974) (same story as Tales of Suspense V.1 #28 (Marvel – April 1962)

DC Comics Presents V.1#46 (DC – June 1982)

House of Mystery V.1 #85 (DC – April 1959)

Joker: Last Laugh #3 (DC – December 2001)

Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures #12 (Dark Horse – September 1997)

Justice League of America V.1#15 (DC – November 1962)

Kona #13 (Dell – Jan/March 1965)

Spike #5A (Dark Horse – December 2012)

Strange Adventures #16 (DC – January 1952)

Super Powers V. 2 #3 (DC – November 1985)

Tales of Suspense V.1 #28 (Marvel – April 1962)

Tales to Astonish V.1#5 (Marvel – September 1959)

Tales to Astonish V.1#16 (Marvel – February 1961)

The Incredible Hulk #261 (Marvel – July 1981)

The New Teen Titans Annual V.2#2 (DC – August 1986)

The Mighty Thor #318 (Marvel – April 1982)

Tomb of Darkness #16 (Marvel – September 1975) (same story as Tales of Suspense V.1 #28 (Marvel – April 1962)

Uncle Scrooge Adventures #3 (Gladstone – January 1988)

Weird War Tales #34 (DC – February 1975)

Where Creatures Roam V.1#3 (Marvel – November 1970) (same story/similar cover as Tales to Astonish V.1#16)

Where Monsters Dwell V.1#24 (Marvel – October 1973) (same story/cover as Tales to Astonish V.1#5)



Story only:

(Many of these issues contain full stories directly inspired by Easter Island, the moai/stone men and related imagery. All of these issues contain at least some visual reference to the island or moais)

Action Comics V.1#28 (DC – September 1940)

Action Comics V.1#180 (DC – May 1953)

Beware the Monsters are Here DC Special #11 (DC – April 1971) – same story as House of Mystery V.1 #85 (DC – April 1959)

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #6 (DC – August 1982)

Dazzler V.1 #18 (Marvel – August 1982)

Deadpool V.3#20 (Marvel – February 2014)

Donald Duck Adventures V. 2#15 (Disney Comics – August 1991)

Donald Duck and Friends #317 (Gemstone – July 2004)

Donald Duck and Friends #326 (Gemstone – April 2005)

Doom Patrol Vol.2#25 (DC – August 1989)

Doomwar #1 (Marvel – April 2010)

Doomwar #4 (Marvel – July 2010)

Fathom #4 (Top Cow/Image – March 1999)

Fathom #5 (Top Cow/Image – April 1999)

Fathom #6 (Top Cow/Image– May 1999)

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #14 (DC – January 2013)

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #15 (DC – February 2013)

Gold Digger V.3 #8 (Antarctic Press – February 2000)

JLA #36 (DC – December 1999)

JLA #37 (DC – January 2000)

JLA #38 (DC – February 2000)



JLA #39 (DC – March 2000)

JLA #40 (DC – April 2000)

JLA #41 (DC – May 2000)

Joker: Last Laugh #4 (DC – December 2001)

Jon Woo 7 Brothers: Son of Heaven, Son of Hell #1 (Liquid Comics – October 2012)

Laugh #141 (Archie – December 1962)

Maximage #1 (Image – December 1995)

Mickey Rat Comix #2 (Kitchen Sink – January 1972)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman #2 (IDW – December 2013)

Mystery in Space #40 (DC – October 1957)

Mystery Tales #24 (Marvel – December 1954)

Seaguy #2 (Vertigo – August 2004)

Spike #5B (Dark Horse – December 2012) – Note: same story as Spike #5

Steve Ditko Omnibus V.1 #1 (DC – September 2011) – Note: contains reprints of older stories
Super Powers V.2 #1 (DC- September 1985)

Super Powers V. 2#2 (DC – October 1985)

Supergirl #9 (DC – December 1973)

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #53 (DC – November 1964)
Teen Titans: Year One V.1#2 (DC – April 2008)

Whiz Comics #13 (Fawcett – February 1941)

Wonder Woman #65 (DC – April 1954)

X-Force #124 (Marvel – March 2002)

X-Men #33 (Marvel – October 2012)

X-Men: Blank Generation #1 (Marvel – January 2013)

Cover only:

(These comics contain visual references to Easter Island or the moai on the cover only, containing no stories or references inside the issue).

Archie #242 (Archie Comics – March 1975)

Mickey Mouse and Friends #275 (Gemstone – March 2005)


The Ineffables:

(The main characters are the moai (or is a moai). A comic that has been independently produced over the last decade or so by Craig Bogart.)

The Ineffables #1

The Ineffables #2

The Ineffables #3

The Ineffables – Parallel Universe

The Ineffables – Patriot Act

The Ineffables – Political Science

The Ineffables – Prime Mover

The Secret History of the Ineffables

The Second Part of the Secret History of the Ineffables

The Ineffables – All of Creation



Other:

American Splendor #16 (Dark Horse – 1993) – The great Harvey Pekar penned a story called “Easter Island” for his American Splendor comic. Haven't seen the issue so can’t confirm if there is any Easter Island related-imagery or associations in the story itself.


+++++

Wanna add to Philip's list above. E-mail me here on blog!


Maybe it all started as intrigue over the theories of Thor Heyerdahl, but whatever it was, Easter Island is "a head" of the game in comics history: 

--R.
:-)


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Golden, Zeck and Witterstaetter to be at Baltimore Comic Con in September!


 

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - March 10, 2014 - The Baltimore Comic-Con makes its annual return to the Inner Harbor the weekend of September 5-7, 2014 at the Baltimore Convention Center for its first 3-day event!
  

In addition to adding the much-requested Friday to our pop culture weekend of comic book goodness, we are excited to welcome back Michael Golden and Renee Witterstaetter to the show, and present the premiere appearance of Mike Zeck at the Baltimore Comic-Con!

  

Mike Zeck began his storied career in comics with Charlton Comics with their animation-related line of titles before moving to Marvel Comics to leave an indelible mark.  Zeck provided art to unforgettable characters and titles such as 1987's "Kraven's Last Hunt" in the Spider-Man titles, "Circle of Blood" in The Punisher, and the classic Secret Wars featuring Zeck's design on the classic black costume for Spider-Man (and later adopted by Venom). Zeck's work has graced the pages and covers of Aquaman, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Green Lantern, G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe: Special MissionsLobo, Deathstroke The Terminator, The Eliminator, and too many titles to mention here.  His creator-owned project Damned , recently appeared from BOOM! Studios. And a new sketchbook is in the works from Eva Ink Publishing.



Artist/writer/creator Michael Golden is a legend in the comic book industry, but one that has never stopped adding to his legacy as a storytelling professional. Co-creator of the X-Men's Rogue character, Spartan X, and Bucky O'Hare, Michael is known worldwide for his groundbreaking work on Marvel's The 'Nam, Micronauts, G.I. Joe Yearbook, and Dr. Strange, and is counted as one of the best cover designers and illustrators in the business. Golden's work can be seen on the covers of Spawn, Nightwing, Iron Man, Heroes for Hire, Exiles, Demon's Regret, Spider-Man, Vampirella, Captain American, The Punisher, and The Hulk. Recent books covering the colorful life and amazing art of Michael Golden include a Manga version of the Bucky O'Hare series, as well as the top-selling art retrospective Excess: The Art of Michael Golden, written by Renee Witterstaetter, which sold out and has gone into a second printing, as well as his recent sketchbooks Heroes and Villains, MORE Heroes and Villains, and Michael Golden: Alchemy. His upcoming book is entitled Michael Golden: Dangerous Curves.

Renee Witterstaetter, author of Excess: The Art of Michael Golden, Tex: The Art of Mark Texeira, the critically-acclaimed Nick Cardy: The Artist at War, and Nick Cardy: Wit-Lash, began the comic phase of her career working on such titles as Superman at DC Comics and Silver Surfer, Conan the Barbarian, and Conan Saga at Marvel, and then went on to spearhead the reintroduction of She-Hulk at Marvel. She then moved over to Topps Comics where she was the editor on X-Files, Jurassic Park, Xena and Hercules, and the co-creator (with artist Michael Golden) of the successful series, Spartan X.  In addition, Renee has also been the colorist on hundreds of comics from The Avengers to Spider-Man to Captain America, among many, many others.  Her newest books include Santa Confidential, by Hagar the Horrible artist Chris Browne and the sketchbook James O'Barr: Uncoffined.
"We're so pleased that Mike Zeck has opted to join us in a rare convention appearance," commented Marc Nathan, promoter of the Baltimore Comic-Con.  "Along with Michael Golden and Renee Witterstaetter, we have some titans of industry coming to our show this year, and we're excited to present them to their fans!"
For more information on commissions and on this appearance, contact Renee at: evaink@aol.com

Monday, March 3, 2014

Michael Golden Covers "Daredevil #1" for Marvel Comics and Wizard Louisiville!



VIP Attendees Receive Free Copy, March 28-30


 Marvel Comics & Wizard World Reveal ‘Daredevil #1’ Exclusive Variant Cover By Michael Golden For Louisville Comic Con



Marvel Comics and Wizard World, Inc. (OTCBB: WIZD) today revealed the latest edition of its 2014 series of exclusive variant covers of the best Marvel titles with the unveiling of Daredevil #1, drawn by veteran artist Michael Golden. VIP attendees at Wizard World Louisville Comic Con, March 28-30 at the Kentucky International Convention Center, will receive a free copy of the limited-edition book at registration.

Golden is scheduled to be on site at the event to sign copies (autograph fees may apply). Leading professional comic grader CGC will also be on hand to accept books for grading and Signature Series.

The colored version of Daredevil #1 will be limited to 3,000 copies and provided free at registration to all Wizard World Louisville Comic Con VIP attendees, including any celebrity VIP packages. The Black & White sketch version is limited to just 2,500 copies and will be available for sale at the Wizard World Store on the convention floor. Quantities per purchase may be limited.

Golden’s Daredevil #1 follows the first three entries, Miracleman #1 and Miracleman #2, both drawn by Eisner Award Hall of Famer Neal Adams for Wizard World Portland Comic Con (Jan. 24-26) and New Orleans Comic Con (Feb. 7-9), respectively, and Wolverine #1, illustrated by noted cover artist Greg Horn, for Wizard World Sacramento Comic Con (March 7-9). Artwork is also complete for Wolverine And The X-Men #1 by David Mack for Wizard World St. Louis Comic Con (April 4-6).

“Having the entire Eisner-Award Winning Daredevil creative team back to help bring the series into All-New Marvel NOW! has been a real treat for us,” says Marvel SVP, Sales & Marketing David Gabriel. “We’re proud to partner with Wizard to commemorate the launch of this exciting new title by having the legendary Michael Golden contribute an exclusive variant.”

Golden, co-creator of the X-Men’s Rogue character, Spartan X and Bucky O’Hare, is known worldwide for his groundbreaking work on “The ‘Nam,” “Micronauts,” “G.I. Joe Yearbook,” and “Dr. Strange,” among many other works. He is counted as one of the best cover designers and storytellers in the business.

“Michael is one of the most popular artists to attend Wizard World Comic Con events, as evidenced by his very well-attended ‘Storytelling’ panels and the lines of fans at his table.” says John Macaluso, Wizard World CEO. “Daredevil #1 is a perfect addition to what has proven to be Marvel’s very successful series at our shows.”

Join Marvel’s fearless hero as he begins his most awe-inspiring adventure yet in the sunny city of San Francisco! Gifted with an imperceptible radar sense and a passion for justice, blind lawyer Matt Murdock—a.k.a. Daredevil—protects the Golden City’s streets from all manner of evil. But big changes are in store for Matt Murdock as old haunts and familiar faces rise to give the devil his due. Hold on tight, because here comes Daredevil…the Man Without Fear! Written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Chris Samnee. 32 PGS./Rated T+

For more on the 2014 Wizard World Louisville Comic Con, go to http://www.wizardworld.com/home-louisville.html.


For more information on Michael Golden, contact his agent at: evaink@aol.com; Eva Ink Artist Group

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Highlight Reel: Witterstaetter of Arabia!



Wadi Rum.


My journey to the desert began when I was eight.

I can pinpoint the year, by what I was wearing: A flannel nightgown, with a pink rose motif, and lace around the collar. Probably too warm for Texas. My Aunt Margaret sent me one almost every year. 

I was not really aware-- like most children aren't-- that the things I was watching, the choices I was making each day, would somehow wear a groove in my path before I even reached the  crossroad, an unerring wagon wheel line that would guide me thus far in my life. 

Little choices…. for example, my yearly goal was to check out as many books as I could from the school library, usually tackling one subject at a time, such as dinosaurs and archeology, or life in the Old West. Sometimes it would be by author-- all Dickens, all Twain, all Arthur Conan Doyle.  And when that subject was exhausted move on to the next. Keeping a detailed list of each book as I went… It was a way of remembering the experience. 

Book keeping even then, you might say. (Much as this blog is a way to keep alive a moment that was special to me somehow. )

At the time however, my face lit by TV glow, I was oblivious to all that. I had discovered a new movie, for me...something called  "Lawrence of Arabia."  (Who by the way was not Peter O'Toole, but in fact a real person.)

Remnants of Lawrence. 


It was not my first movie of course. That would have been "The Jungle Book."

I was three. I do not remember what I was wearing, but being a tomboy, most likely it involved dirt. 

My recollection of that movie is of my Mother combing tangles out of my hair, while I screamed to the heavens, and then ending up miraculously in the balcony of the old Saenger Theatre in Texarkana, and laughing at and loving a character named Baloo.

Later, the love affair continued, after school-- more afternoons than not--with me catching the "Afternoon Movie"--Tarzan, Vincent Price, Godzilla… a new cast of characters paraded by me every day. 

(And this continued for some time, until my neighbor Bill and I decided that it might also be fun to recreate "Star Trek" episodes in the back yard each afternoon. Most of the time I was Spock. Since it was his yard, I suppose he had dibs on Captain Kirk…not fair if you ask me.  But I suppose it's too late to bring it up now. )

When I was a little older, and my bedtime a bit later, I'd still have to sneak out of bed to watch the Midnight Movie, keeping the volume really, really low, so as not to wake my parents (I figured my brothers could handle it). 

My Dad was a postman with an early call, and he'd often get up at 4 a.m. to find me fast asleep on the sofa, wake me up and send me to bed. I remember the drowsy zombie walk to my bed even now.

But he never told me not to do it.  

It was during this time that I discovered the musicals, the westerns, the epics: "Gone with the Wind," "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," "Singing in the Rain," "Pride of the Yankees," "Philadelphia Story," "It's a Wonderful Life," "Harvey,"  "An American in Paris," "Guys and Dolls," "Jason and the Argonauts"…and of course, "Lawrence of Arabia."


The story structures, the cinematography, music as a character...it all was so interesting to me--it stirred my imagination.  Still does.

From those moments on, I would always gravitate to art , creativity-- classic illustrators, classic movies, reading… to the point that when it came time to pick my career, it was as if there really was no choice at all. 

Years later, when I was an editor at Marvel, and that wonderful, truly epic, David Lean movie was being remastered, and screening at the Ziegfeld in New York where I live,  I had the opportunity to meet Omar Sharif, the interview set up by a mutual friend. I wasn't sure what to expect, but he turned out to be one of the most charming people. 

I can pinpoint it again by what I was wearing, a sensible blue blazer and white skirt. My hair still growing out from that awful mullet I had in the 80's. I was so young... When you are in your early 20's you think you are old and wise, when in reality you know nothing at all.  Mr. Sharif treated me as an equal, but thinking on it now, I wonder if I looked like a little girl playing "dress up." 

Our first meeting  took place over afternoon tea, Mr. Sharif a classic gentleman as he poured my tea and answered all my carefully thought out questions. I always prided myself, in interviews, on never asking a question that could be answered with a "yes," or a "no." Because sometimes, depending on your subject, that's all you'll get. And that would be bad journalism, you see.  (I still have the whole interview on tape somewhere. Something to transcribe  again for the future…)

For some time after we kept in touch on business, exchanged birthday cards, etc. He is an Aries. Just like me.  I'll always remember him as showing kindness to someone still finding their way. (That and he really loves Bridge.)

O'Toole and Sharif pick up on my color theme.

I'll also never forget his remembrances of the desert...

Interviewing Omar was not an unusual thing.  I'd interviewed many celebrities at that point with my journalistic background, and have worked with many more since. 

But somehow, if you'd asked me then if I'd ever go to the desert-- go to Wadi Rum--where the actual movie had been filmed-- of course this was long before I traveled to places like Hong Kong for film production myself-- I would have said, "Wow, that never even crossed my mind. It's so far. " 

And in fact, in 1989, it seemed much further away than it does now. 

(I wouldn't have said it was "impossible". I guess it's that Aries nature that I always assume that anything IS possible. And I forge ahead. I have a few skinned knees and broken hearts to prove it,  but overall it has served me well.)

So fast forward to 2013. 

An invitation came. One that  had me contemplating getting on a plane to go the Middle East-- one of the relatively peaceful parts-- for an appearance. I looked on the map, checked the web  for flights, and I noticed that many flights stopped over in Jordan.

It sparked!

The land of the desert. The actual filming location of Lawrence. "If I have a layover of a few hours, why not make it a week!"

My friends and family, I must say, were a little less than thrilled at my plans. One did exacting research on women traveling alone in Jordon, and what to do and what not to do.  He informed me not to show any arms or cleavage or leg.

I listened. Kept the notes. I went anyway. 

Instead of arranging an organized tour, I booked a car service to pick me up at the airport and drive through the dark night, the three hours to Petra-- yup that Petra, famed filming location for "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." 

That facade is no set. It does really exist, carved into the beautiful rose colored limestone. 

I was determined to see it. 

And it was. 

He, the driver (sadly I don't remember his name), at first seemed suspicious of me, a woman, traveling alone, but  two hours in, when it become obvious that I really was here to see the historical sites, he offered me a bit of advice.

"You seem like a nice lady, so I'm going to warn you...If anyone offers to cook you a barbecue in a cave, don't do it," he said earnestly.

"Well, I certainly won't," I replied, thinking it a joke. 

He then explained that some women traveling alone here are thought of as possibly "looking for something other than seeing the history," and that the cave scenario was really a code word for something else.

"Got it," I said.  Thinking "This will never happen to me."

Arriving in Petra, and checking into my mid-budget hotel, however, the cave wasn't what I had to worry about! 

The night clerk, my having traveled so far, asked me if I wanted to book a massage at the spa. (Now keep in mind, I found this place on booking.com-- they have standards, you know.)

"That sounds great," I said and went to my room.  

He called 10 minutes later and informed me that the Spa was closed after all, "Would I like the masseuse to come to my room?"  Sure, why not. They do that in the states all the time.

Then, 20 minutes later, the night clerk is at my door with a jar of Nivea Body Cream.

 "Huh, is she, the masseuse,  going to use that," I asked. "Where is she?"

"Oh, I thought I'd do your massage for you, he related."  Of course the answer was "NO thanks" and I bolted the door. 

Ten more minutes later, another knock. 

This time it was the bell man who brought my luggage to the room an hour before. Inquiring with much concern if I'd had my massage, and if not, he'd be happy to do it for me.  "No thanks," AGAIN.  

And this time when I locked the door, I also put a chair underneath, AND checked the windows.  

Well, that was the annoying part of the trip--almost as annoying as the fact that the Tabasco at breakfast was brown and caky and looked 20 years old-- but I put it all out of my mind, as I headed off to Petra early in the morning for a horseback ride through what was once one of the major stops on the Silk Road. 

In search of the Treasury. Below, the path to get there, and the place in al it's glory.

I viewed the Treasury, ala Indy,  first from a mountain top, my heart pounding, as on hands and knees I inched to the canyon edge until it came into view... Your eyes adjust and then, like magic, it reveals itself from the stone. An illusion come to life. But I saved standing in front of it for last! And yes, strains from the movie--so much a character in that film-- were echoing in my head, as I rounded the corner through a steep passage and the facade came into view.

The discovery.
I found myself gazing upon statues that once hovered over a bustling square, full of color and merchants and camels, maybe even elephants, silks, spices and smells wafting up to the world outside the canyon walls. 


Petra


It's all imprinted there still.

It's amazing to think that each day the desert takes it back little by little. The Treasury I saw, will never be seen again... 

Leaving Petra behind, my  driver-- nice young student named Assem-- transported me to Wadi Rum, the desert of Lawrence. I had booked a tent at a Bedouin camp. 

My camp hosts arrived, like a mirage on the desert, one second absent, the next minute materialized, wearing long flowing Dishdasha, and leading two camels on a rope. The steeds ruminated, eying me to see what was what. Assem said goodbye, he too voicing concern that I was a woman traveling alone, giving me a few words of advice. 

And off I went. 

Ship of the desert.

The camel kneeled down, I hoped on, and I did my best Omar Sharif impersonation, looping my legs around the horn as he did in the movie (Royal Jordanian was actually showing it on the way to Jordan on the plane, so I watched again, just to bone up!).  

Many tourists sit with their legs dangling to the side. Uncomfortable. No Control. They look terrified-- both the tourist and the camel. For me, I found the camel to be an extraordinary animal and when you get into the stride, the loping gate is relaxing. It's a piece of cake.

When my guide saw my technique, he smiled and said "You ride like a Bedouin." I smiled too. And he treated me with nothing but respect for the rest of the trip.

Who says you can't learn something from a movie! 

And then the desert spread out before me. 

I remember what I was wearing, my trusty traveling green linen cargo pants, long sleeve multi-pink shirt, my green and white checkered scarf, and a straw hat ala Huck Finn. And sunscreen

But how do I describe the adornment of  Wadi Rum? 

I can't adequately describe...

A dry heat during the day, with sand, sometimes gently, sometimes, with passion, carving out castles in the mountains of rock--some so tall they punch a hole in the sky--and making temporary islands with the dunes, flowing as if they are a reddish brown body of water. 

"The desert is an ocean into which an oar has never been dipped..." 

You think perhaps the desert is devoid of life, but not true. 

The more you look, the more you see. Flowers growing from stone. Crevices hiding reservoirs. And in fact, one of the first things a Bedouin will show you, if they trust you, is where they have their water source. 

It's more valuable than gold. 

My  Timberland boots were amazing! (If only I'd remembered that for the Inca Trail. Sigh) Mountains that at the bottom looked impossible, gave way, inch by inch, when I climbed them, seemingly teleporting me to the top in no time at all. 

...the vastness of the desert.

Within my short time in Wadi Rum, I rode through blood drenched  battlefields of the Arab uprising, saw the remains of Lawrence's house, and Lawrence Spring (his name is on many things here.) I climbed the highest peak in Jordan from which I could gaze upon Egypt and the Red Sea, and made a pot of tea on a campfire at the top, meeting several hikers from England and chatting over a spot and a biscuit. We shared what we had.; I walked across rock bridges , and explored mysterious caves on my own..My trusty guide by the camels, as I went off like a mountain goat; We stopped at shaded outcroppings each day, making a fire and cooking lunch from scratch. Careful to take with us all that we brought. 

At night… the stars and moon are the biggest and brightest you'll ever see. And the desert becomes very cold. You seek out a fire and Turkish tea. As your eyes adjust, you see the outlines of hills, and  silhouetted herds of camel, babies and all, wondering by almost silently, trustingly, punctuated by the plaintive cry of one as he looks for his brethren, somewhere outside your encampment of tents woven from goat hair-- both black and white.  Another item of great value. 


Views from the night.

Each night our guides cooked a full meal with hot coals buried under the ground, chicken and vegetables laid on metal racks, pulled from the earth fully cooked. And then they'd play traditional music and danced until lights out. Genuine joy. Interested to show you something of their life.. in a place that was…and is... much unchanged.


Top: Cooks uncover dinner, simmering beneath the sand. Bottom: From the plateau. 


People will tell you about the beauty of the desert, but you won't understand. 
I didn't until I was there. 
And then it touches your soul.

It's like the colors of the Bedouin tent, the black and the white, clearly defined. The dark and the light. The yin and the yang.  

I could only imagine the trials of a film crew working here. The feelings of both love and hate. The hardship of keeping the cameras sand free, staging battle scenes in unbearable heat, creating something of such beauty out of the worst possible conditions. 

That duality.  The dark and the light. 

The difference between life and death.

My story that defined the dark for me: 

I found a hidden reservoir when exploring a mountain floating in the sea of sand,  covered with wind carved houses that were surely the inspiration for the desert houses in "Star Wars."   Windows and doors perfectly, organically, formed as if a divine, patient,  hand had reached down and sculpted them with absolute forethought, one grain of sand at a time. 

The cistern was a deep perfectly hidden body of water, unseen from the desert floor, and only revealed by climbing a long way up, and knowing the way to go.  I didn't know, but I was led there anyway. A little postage stamp of a rounded, wind sculpted house was empty near it, with remnants of occupation-- a blanket, some tools, a bowl-- showing that someone had been here, but when?  Last year? Ten years ago? Twenty?  I wondered who had dammed the wall? Who had used it last? Where were they now? 

It's impossible to judge the weathering of time in a place that is timeless. 

Fearing I'd been gone far longer than I thought, feeling the need to see a human face, and climbing back from my ghost reservoir,  not 500 meter away near an old pool, were the remains of a small baby goat, nothing left but fur and leather and bones. In the quiet of the moment--the eerie silence of the place, only frequented by a subtle hum of never ending wind-- I lamented the poor thing, probably left behind when a caravan came through, and thus, finding no one,  it settled here, day after day, as the small pool dried up and went away, the rings left behind marking the days. He rested near the final, darker ring…

Life giving water, that with a fickle whim, also takes it away.
The Bedouin colors.


The dark and the light. My desert home.

The desert changed me in some way. That I'm not even now sure I really know. 

The red sand sinks in, and it won't came out, no matter how much you shake your shoes...

Leaving Wadi Rum, other stops followed--  Little Petra, Amman, the Roman cities of the country, Mt. Nebo--the mountain from where Moses viewed the promised land… 

Gazing on grazing.

Eventually I I boarded a plane out of Jordan and ended  up at my destination for my appearance. 

But I still think of Wadi Rum. 

When they say "once in a lifetime" this is the kind of place they are referring to.

Would I go back?…Isn it the best thing to keep the ideal of what was a perfect gem, in your mind,  without revisiting and suddenly realizing  the flaws in the cut the second time around?

I don't know…I think perhaps that would be… limiting. 

Instead, go with the knowledge that of course it will be different… it might even be... better. 

++++

Oh, to round things out, you know that foreboding warning about outdoor dinning…in case you were wondering....

While in Petra, my horse guide for one of those days, told me about another archaeological site, extolling it's loveliness, the majestic nature of the place, ending by saying , "You know, if you want to go there, I can take you tonight and…hey, I can make you a barbecue in a cave."

I kid you not!!

I almost laughed-- I think I did blow water out my nose (since I was chugging some at the time). So this really does happen! Wow! And what percentages of women say "Why yes. A barbecue in a cave would be simply lovely, my dear man." Sigh.

My answer: "No thanks. I'm fine." 

He doesn't define Jordan for me, though. This is a moment I will throw away. 

What defines the trip for me are the other people occupying this current layer of this ancient, layered, land.  

I think, with thanks, to all those I met  who took an interest in my well-being-- my first driver from the airport;  The folks at Bedouin Directions (look for them on booking.com, not kidding--wonderful); Assem who drove me several days and refused to leave me anywhere until he knew someone was there for me, who found food for me when I was hungry, who still is my friend-- a fine young man; The shy Bedouin, who had me for better or worse, as his charge for 4 days and never complained about my constant desire to climb the next mountain or see the next sunset; My guide and driver, the wonderful Muslim fellow who protected me for 3 days tooling around ancient Roman ruins, and reminding me each day, twice a day, when he needed to stop, turn to Mecca and pray--A peaceful, honest, man; The jolly and gregarious merchant who melted when he realized my guide was an old friend he hadn't seen in 20 years. At one time they'd both worked at the airport. He invited us in for tea, and told delightful stories, as I was surrounded by stunning Roman art recreations,  in his mosaic shop; The schoolchildren at Um Quais, who were thrilled to see me, and who all wanted their picture taken with the person from another land...I was exotic to them. 

The light. 

One photo of many with the school children of Jordan. 


The moment I will keep: 

Standing in front of the treasury, surrounded by images carved into  ancient walls-- their names lost in the ages--if you listen, you can hear that echo of merchants and  the ghosts of a past that are faintly there, sandstone flaking away a little each day, tackling time in reverse. But they remain. Bearing annoymous witness...

I probably wouldn't have been that surprised, at that moment in my journey, if indeed a Knight Templar had walked out of the weather beaten arch of the old Treasury, below the faces of statues, worn away by the carving hand of God, looked at me and said:

"You have chosen...wisely." 

And I realized that what I appreciated the most here, was the chance to be… 

The lovely thing about the desert is the silence: You can hear yourself.  

Yes, my journey to the desert started when I was eight, and a groove in the road led me here for some reason. 

Was it written? Perhaps. 

But, If so, it was written by me.  


Petra.


--Renee
New York, NY
2014




______________
And now, for something completely different. Folks were kind enough to look out for me, so if you plan on going yourself, here are a few tips that you may find helpful: 


A Few Tips to Gals on How to Travel Alone in Jordan:


1.) Arrange all your transfers in advance, through a reputable company. I did this for three transfers, and each person was great, was where they needed to be, and got me there on time.

2.) Dress modesty. Even if you think you are dressed modestly, look again. Cover your chest, arms and legs when in public, as a sign of respect.

3.) It's not necessary to cover your head in Jordan. But of course the Islamic women that live there do. Sometimes you may want to, just because of the sun, or because you'll fit in a bit more on a crowded street in Amman. 

4.) Like in any country, insist on a room with a safe. I learned this the hard way in Mexico last year. If there isn't a safe in your room, ask for a different room. (More on this in a different post).  Note: This may not be possible in a tent. 

5.) If someone asks if you are married, consider saying "Yes". Even if it may not be true. This will save you some hassle. You might even consider wearing a wedding ring, since it's unfathomable to them that someone over 30 would not be married, and therefore must be looking for a husband. Boyfriends don't count. But, it doesn't always work…one Egyptian fella asked if I was married. I lied and said I was. He looked very sad, and still asked, "But do you love him?" 

6.) Don't be afraid of the camels. Do not miss the chance to ride one in the desert. In Jordan it's an authentic experience. The Bedouin you stay with own these camels and raise them from babies. They know each by name. (I also rode camels later at a canned event in another country. Treated so poorly.  I wanted to save one of the poor creatures and run away.) 

7.) You can buy a camel. They only cost about 3K for a baby. Customs however, might be a pain. 

8.) Barter, barter, barter. Nothing is the price that they say. If the "final" price doesn't suit your liking, walk away. Either the price will miraculously come down, or you'll find something else.

9.) Apparently asking for a massage conjures up all kinds of enthusiasm. Maybe it means something else? I'd suggest just having sore muscles for a few days.

10.) If you later end up going to a Turkish spa, ask for a female attendant up front as I did, unless you are not a shy person. They don't ask, they just take the towel. It may not even be your birthday, but suddenly you are dressed for it.

11.) Although you don't have to, get one of those head wrap things. A keffiyeh. They are light and made of cotton, and serve a wonderful dual purpose. They can keep the sun off your head when wrapped as a turban, they can keep you warm when the desert cools off at night, and most importantly, during a dust storm wrap it around your neck, and pull it over your mouth. Later they make nice table clothes. NOTE: Get one made in Jordan. Read the labels. There are many inferior imports here, just like in the rest of the world. And the merchants will swear, especially around Petra, that it was woven by their mother. Read the labels. 

12.) There is no alcohol served in most places, wine or beer drinkers, so get use to it. Not going to happen. There also appears to be no such thing as a new bottle of Tabasco sauce.

13.) Coffee drinkers, you however, are in luck! About every 3  miles on the highway, there is a Turkish coffee stand. Look for the large neon coffee pot attached to every hut. It's made with cardamon, thick as oil sludge, and tastes wonderful!  

14.) Wear Sunscreen. I repeat: WEAR SUNSCREEN.

15.) Get yourself a proper hat with a wide brim. No need to advertise your favorite baseball team, get a Tom Sawyer job like I did. You'll be glad. And nobody will ask you to paint a fence. Most likely. 
My nemesis. 

16.) Heed this warning: Riding a donkey up the mountain to the Monastery in Petra, is MUCH easier than riding a donkey DOWN from the Monastery. Especially after many donkeys have shat on said slippery stone path. (This is not a metaphor. I'm talking about an actual donkey and the actual Monastery. If you've done it, you know what I'm talking about.)

17.) Whatever you do, whatever you do, do NOT accept an offer to have a barbecue in a cave. 

18.) And, if Omar Sharif ever invites you to tea, well then, you should most certainly go. 



--Renee
:-)