2,000 Words or Less: “The Girl With the Red Book”

Neat and assembled, but not manufactured, not sterile and meaningless in perfection. Cutely matched socks to blouse, young but not juvenile, with that unknowable something instantly recognizable in those who possess it and yet never missed from those who don’t. She just was – quiet but noticed, tucked away in a corner and yet unmistakeably at the center.

She sat silently with her book, a red book, a red that matched socks and blouse. Headphones on, streaming distractions from her erroneously purple iPod Nano. Interrupted only by the occasional chirping of a cell phone, demanding seconds to stab out a reply into the text-message ether.

The children arrived with their mother in a three, the first small and quiet, confined to his stroller, the others larger, louder, seeking mastery of their still-developing voices and mobility. Loud calls of “mama,” tugs on the robe of a dark-skinned woman with a head scarf, followed by chatter in an indeterminate tongue conjured up half a world away.

The girl with the red book took a moment to examine them, and in a fluid movement withdrew something from under her chair, stood and headed toward the family. By the time she reached them, it was as if she’d known them forever: a lifetime of friendship developed in the three seconds it took her to traverse the row of chairs.

With a smile, she reached into the box she’d almost unconsciously produced from the backpack beneath her chair. To each of the two oldest children, she presented a package of unopened Granola bars.

“These late flights are hard,” she said to the mother, who wasn’t quite sure what to make of what was happening. “It’s not easy to find something for the little ones to eat at this time of night.”

The random and unexpected display of kindness from the girl with the red book, socks and blouse at first caught the family off guard. The children shyly accepted the gifts and their mother said “thank you” with a smile. The girl with the red book, smiling as well, was back in her seat and quickly and as fluidly as she had left it; barely 30 seconds had passed.

Then, as if simply to prove this episode not an anomalous and accidental show of compassion for the tiny strangers, just minutes later she again looked up from her book and said “Bless.” The young guy, early 20s, who invoked the reaction with a thunderous sneeze was some dozen yards away, was off to her right on the opposite side of the waiting room. He was distant enough from the pleasantry that it took him a few seconds to even realize it was meant for him.

She smiled and returned to her book, pausing only to stab brief replies into the cell phone that continued its occasional demands for attention.

Her seat was right next to mine on the plane. We chatted briefly; I recapped my journey, and she spoke of her return from some unspecified activity in Dallas. She closed her eyes to rest; I made another fruitless attempt to sleep. The plane landed in Minneapolis and as she made her way down the aisle with her luggage, she briefly peeked back over her shoulder and said “It’s so late; bless whomever is picking me up tonight. And I hope you can get some good rest.”

With that she was gone, off to bless whomever was waiting for her on a rainy curb beyond baggage claim.

2,000 words or less: “Skimming the Clouds”

Though not the worst of the several contenders for the title, Tuesday easily ranks as one of the more tiresome travel days I’ve had in my life. I was about three-quarters of the way through my second of three flights for the day, a triple-header that was bookended by a four-hour drive on the front side and, eventually, a two-hour drive as a final knockout nightcap, and was making an effort to fight off that drunken oxygen depravity brought on by stale recycled plane air with the pages of William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition.” That plan was marginally successful; I was making progress with the book, but after a time the poor air, bumpy ride and general over-exhaustion that already had set in. I looked up from Cayce Pollard’s globetrotting to refocus my vision.

The flight had been mostly through overcast skies, but as I looked up from the book I saw that we had cleared the haze and were briefly above the clouds. Above, perfectly clear blue was fading away into dusk, with a splash of orange and yellow on the horizon showing the sky’s final attempts to extend the sun’s efforts for the day. Below, snow-covered landscape, roads and squared-off plots of land, borders dimmed and hazed by the frozen cover.

The plane was beginning its approach to Chicago. For a few moments, it seemed to skim just over the tops of the clouds, as if the pilot was intentionally trying to ride their crests. Fog billowed up from below the wings, most just grazing the bottom of the engines. Some managed to spill over onto the tops of the wings, and some reached high enough to temporarily block the view from my window.

As we descended, the clouds eventually overtook the windows and damped out the sky, leaving only the winking of a white light at the tip of the wing visible in the fog.

A few dark minutes later, we were on the ground.

Fun things I did this week

Things I did this week:

  • On Tuesday, I spent almost 16 hours traveling from Bemidji to Kansas. I scribbled out something silly about how the sky looked out the window of one of my three flights that day; I’ll post it here after I revise it a bit.
  • On Wednesday I had an interview for the position of Director of Alumni Communications at Emporia (Kan.) State University. I think the interview went exceptionally well; I had a great time and met some incredibly nice people. Now I get to wait.
  • Also on Wednesday, I wrote a rough two-page story about a girl I saw in the airport who just randomly gave two packages of granola bars to some kids on our flight. I’ll also post that here after I revise it a bit.
  • Wednesday night in the Milwaukee airport, I finished a book for the first time in I honestly haven’t the slightest idea how long. I won my years-long battle against William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition,” I liked it, but I wasn’t blown away by it or anything. I’ll say more about it if anyone cares; leave a comment if you do. I scraped the price sticker off of Gibson’s “Spook Country” and will now effort to complete that novel in less than the approximately half a decade it took me to finish “Pattern Recognition.” And no, that isn’t an exaggeration; I purchased and began reading that book something in the neighborhood of six years ago.
  • Yesterday, I had a pumpkin muffin from Breadsmith for breakfast; if there’s a more compelling reason to move to Minneapolis other than “easier access to these muffins,” I challenge you to find it.
  • Yesterday, I found four G.I. Joe figures on clearance at Target for $1.48 each; I promptly purchased all four and am awaiting an opportunity to put them somewhere other than the floor of the passenger side of my car.
  • Today, I received news that my parents and daughter had departed Kansas and are on their way up here for a week. This is excellent news. They can visit and will get a chance to meet their new sister/granddaughter in approximately six days. I’m supremely excited about everything I just wrote in that previous sentence.

Things I’m still waiting for this week:

  • I’m still waiting for my new MacBook Pro from work. I’m contemplating a ninja raid on Computer Services to rescue it from its obviously dastardly and evil captors.

Something was weird here this week

If you’re one of the one person who visits this site regularly, you may have noticed that the blog was temporarily hidden. As I write this, I’ve just finished the process of hiding the blog behind a splash page for Emporia State University.

Why is this? I am interviewing for a job there as director of alumni communications on Wednesday (which, if you’re seeing this, means I’ve put the blog back up and “Wednesday” was actually at some point in the relatively recent past). I wanted to make it easy for people on the screening committee down there to access and download a PDF copy of the notes I prepared for my presentation on their alumni magazine, “Spotlight.” At the same time, I didn’t think they needed to be distracted by things like Gundam Bad-Assery or my “Avatar” review.

I should probably consider splitting off my andybartlett.net and andybartlett.com domains; that’d come in handy for this – leave the blog up at dot net, and put the splash download up at dot com.

Source material: RX-178 MkII

RX-178 MkII, originally uploaded by AndyBartlett.

I dug two of my remaining Bandai Master Grade Gundam models out of the basement tonight; this is my RX-178 MkII. I also pulled out the mecha and backpack for my Nu Gundam (but none of the weapons). Photos of the Nu and another picture of the MkII are up on Flickr; you can check them out in the sidebar or by directly visiting my toy collection gallery on Flickr.

I’m going to try and draw a bunch of pictures of these over the next few days and use their structure as a base for the Transformers pictures I’m also working on. Even though these models don’t have a tremendous amount of detail, working out some of the basic mechanical features and proportions will be hugely beneficial to my Transformers efforts. The Mark II in particular will be a great model to work from, as it’s bulkier than the more-athletic Nu Gundam.

The only bad part about all of this – I now desperately want my Perfect Grade Mark II back…

Optimus Prime sketches: 3/3/2010

This is the two-page sketchbook spread I did at lunch today; I’m continuing to work on Optimus Prime from IDW’s ongoing Transformers comic series. The one on the left was done first and is pretty bad. The head is huge, the arms are too short and since I drew everything else so big I ran out of room for the legs. I gave up on it pretty quickly. The second one is better; head proportions are better, the chest and lower torso seem to work better, too. The arms aren’t good (too short, again), and the legs feel a little stumpy. But it’s a marked improvement over the first attempt, I think.

As I was about halfway through the second sketch, the parallels between the character designs in this book and Gundam became more blatantly clear to me. The basic skeleton and the elbow and knee joints have so many similarities to Gundam mecha that my next step in working on these should’ve been obvious to me a few days ago – drawing the posed, armor-free skeleton of my Master Grade Nu-Gundam model kit. That should provide the perfect base, from a structural perspective, for continuing to learn how to draw these damn things. I just have to dig that mother out of the basement tonight…

This makes me wish like hell that I still had my Perfect Grade RX-178 MkII

Drawing Transformers

I spent some time at lunch today goofing around with my sketchbook in between bites of leftover chick pea and tomato stew doing terrible little sketches of Optimus Prime out of the first issue of IDW’s ongoing “Transformers” series. The story is set a few years after the events of the “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” movie and the design is a nice combination of the classic Generation 1 look and the movie external aesthetic. The skeletal frames of the Transformers are tighter and more solid, similar to “Gundam,” actually, but the way individual parts of the vehicles separate and rotate to provide more depth and geometry to the exterior definitely owes itself to the film designs. Overall, I really like the style; it’s a nice balance between the simplicity of Generation 1 and the overwhelming complexity of the films.

There are several excellent drawings of Prime in the book; I have the second printing, so he’s featured solo on the cover, and there’s a full-page, full-body panel (albeit from a low ground perspective) as the issue’s last page. Several other good shots are scattered throughout the book as well.

In trying to work out the shapes today, I immediately noticed that he’s drawn with four entirely different shoulders in the book. On the cover they’re boxy and square without a lot of detail on the front face other than Autobot logos. Inside the front cover they’re similar in shape, altough a hexagonal inset detail has moved from the top to the bottom. On the two-page spread on pages 3 and 4, the shape is similar but the left-shoulder logo is gone and the inset detail is now on the outside; I wrote this off to the panel being a flashback. When he appears “for good” about midway through the issue, his shoulders are radically different – they’re six-sided instead of square and have two significant “panel line” details running through the front face. They remain with this design throughout the rest of the issue, including the last-page full-panel splash.

The differences in the design are going to make working this guy out to be a little more difficult; I’ll need to make sure things are consistent if I’m using one drawing as a reference to a hidden part of another.

I wish I was as good at drawing this stuff as I am about finding nit-picky little differences in the drawings like this… Even the four or five sketches I’ve done is a reminder of how insanely talented the original artist is. Practice, practice, practice.

March 1 update

I haven’t updated for awhile; I haven’t done much to update about, so there hasn’t been much to race over here and talk about.

Some things:

I’m trying to get back into drawing. I’ve picked up some more source material and have been scouring them there Internets for things to inspire me. There are a couple of books I’d like to check out, also – although it may be closer to my birthday in April before I actually buy any of them. So far, I’m running into the same sorts of things that I knew about me and drawing in college. I’m a respectable mimic – I can see something that another person has produced and I can make a reasonable copy of it (like the Boba Fett drawing I’ve been posting in-progress shots of on Facebook). But I haven’t done the work to develop the “artist’s memory” needed to conjure up much of anything on my own. I need some back-to-basics work on perspective, etc., and I want to put some more work into figure drawing and anatomy, starting probably with a crapton of stick-figure poses to work out relative size of body parts, etc. Lots to do; I just need to start making the time to do it.

I went into a comic book store yesterday and actually emerged with comics, which is probably the first time that’s happened since I was at a convention in Philadelphia about five years ago. I picked up the special Tomax and Xamot issue of “G.I. Joe: Cobra,” which is an OK story saved by a brilliant layout gimmick, and the first four issues of IDW’s “Transformers” series. I loved the character design and art in the Transformers books, and since they’re early issues there are a lot of full-body “hey, we’re introducing this character” drawings of the major Transformers like Optimus Prime, Jazz, etc. At first glance (I haven’t spent much time with the books), the design is a combination of the old-school Generation 1 stuff and the more modern and realistic Transformers from Michael Bay’s movies without being that over-the-top and ridiculous. I’ll spend more time with those this week.

I was also tempted by some “Aliens” and “Predator” books from Dark Horse, but thought I was spending enough on the G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff as it was without going completely insane in there.

Buying comics again was fun; I even had a little chat about comics in general with the wife of the guy who runs the comic store while she was ringing up my order. I was big-time into collecting comics in high school and college until the secondary market blew up like the Hindenburg around 1995. At one point, I probably had in the neighborhood of 5,000 books, although the vast majority of those were sold off almost 15 years ago. I brought the 150 or so that I didn’t part with home with me out of my parents’ basement and have had fun looking through them, and my resurgent interest in drawing has brought back my appreciation for the talent of the people who provide the art for those books; some of them do really amazing work. It also made me want to dump a bunch of money into the Batman trade paperbacks and graphic novels at Book World downtown, just because of the art. I held out — for now. I’ll probably try to hunt them down for cheap on eBay.

I saw a couple of movies with Mel this weekend – we rented “Inglourious Basterds” and “Black Dynamite” (well, I rented Dynamite; Mel had nothing whatsoever to do with that). “Basterds” was an OK movie that could’ve been amazing, suffering greatly from Quentin Tarantino’s excessive need to hear his characters talk about absolutely nothing that serves to move the film along. It was similar to “Death Proof” in many respects; when Brad Pitt’s character was on screen, “Basterds” was fantastic and, often, absolutely brilliant. When he wasn’t on the screen, the film was a nearly-insufferable bore fest that caused me to question the necessity of entire scenes. Death Proof was similar with its presentation of Kurt Russell’s character; when he was on screen, it was amazing. When he wasn’t, it was mind-numbingly boring.

“Black Dynamite” is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. It was an absolutely perfect sendup of 1970s Blaxploitation films, and I laughed like an idiot through most of it. It was at the same time a detailed and meticulous tribute to an era that brought the world films like “Blacula” while at the same time being a straight satirical sendup of those same films. There’s a hilarious scene with an intentionally-visible boom mic and, later, a fabulous missed flim edit during a fight scene that reflect just how carefully this movie’s creators worked to replicate some of the absurdities of 1970s-era low-budget action movies. Those two scenes alone are worth the time spent to watch the movie; they’re amazing. “Black Dynamite” also features impossible trans-oceanic helicopter travel; teleporting heroes during kung-fu scenes; fantasic one-liners; and a closing fight scene with the film’s ultimate villain that you really just have to see to believe. I absolutely loved this movie.