There's good news on two fronts... Most important, granddaughter Lliralyn, the families, and the Vashon community are all slowly recovering from the horrendous trauma of Ryan’s death. People are moving past those tearful hugs and glacial silences, edging out into sunlight, laughing briefly once more.
And during the interim my other good news got even better:
It's remotely possible that a few readers of this blog may have been on board as far back as September of 2007, but for most of you my piece on artist and illustrator William Stout (go here) could provide some useful background regarding his training, subsequent experience, and present reputation.
Stout has several books in his resume, most of them dinosaur or fantasy-related. But for the past five years or so, he’s been spending his down-time hours researching, designing, and then finally painting, watercolor portraits of his favorite Bluesmen (and Women)--significant, sometimes truly legendary, African-Americans who made and played the Blues. The “comic arts” division at Abrams, respected publishers of regular Art or Photography books mostly, had issued a very successful collection of Old Time musician portraits created by maverick-gone-mainstream comix artist R. Crumb, and the Abrams editors embraced the notion of Bill’s sort-of sequel presenting a hundred Legends of the Blues.
Contract in hand, Bill worked steadily, polishing and preparing and painting his chosen hundred--ranging wide and far, Robert Petway to Robert Johnson, Cow Cow Davenport to Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters to Ethel Waters, Bessie Tucker to Bessie Smith, Lonesome Sundown to Sunnyland Slim, Georgia Tom to Mississippi Fred, and Tampa Red to Bukka White and Blues Boy King.
He also sought to line up a “name” musician or movie personage to write the book’s Introduction. As Bill says (approximately; my memory of our phone conversations): “Jimmy Page, the great guitarist and leader of Led Zeppelin, agreed to write one. So I kept painting, and three years went by, and Jimmy kept assuring me he’d send something soon... Finally, with all the paintings finished, with a week left till my contractual deadline to submit everything at once, Jimmy confessed he had written nothing and was now too busy to produce anything at all!”
Stout paused, then: “Three years, right? And suddenly he’s too busy. Well, I called just about every Arts person I knew, directors and producers and cartoonists and musicians and... nobody. No one able or willing to help. So there’s three days left... and then I thought of one more person I could ask...”
I’ll let his voice trail off, because I get to take over the story. Yeah, me, "Joliet Ed (Jr.)," a little brother to the Blues, for sure, but Bill’s grasping-at-straws last hope, and an "Old School"-credentialed friend. Bill explains the situation he’s in and tells me that if I agree to help, I’ll have three days total to come up with some wonderful intro. No time to ponder alternate possibilities, do research, interview anyone else, decide to start over. Just time to go for it--start writing and hope for the best. Oh, and as Bill sheepishly added, “If Stephan King or Jon Landis or--why not?--Spielberg suddenly calls me back with a last-minute attempt, well, I’ll have to go with the celebrity name, and scrap yours... That’s the ugly reality. Some deal, huh?”
Hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I’m pretty sure I can come up with something, so why not try? (Besides, he’s offered me my choice of a Legends original--the art work--as thanks just for trying!)
I won’t drag the story out... Short weekend shorter, on Sunday night, half a day early, I emailed Bill with my attempt at an Introduction attached, expecting him to respond quickly with suggestions for revisions, but... Nothing, no response, complete computer silence...
No word come Monday morning, and still no word by Monday night... I figure Bill must hate it, now is so busy scrambling and arguing with Abrams that he doesn’t want to get into it with me on the phone too... I’m bummed. Hate it that I’ve failed to deliver, that I’ve let my old friend down... and of course there’s no way I’ll accept a painting as payment for failing. Moping and cursing, I drag myself off to bed.
Tuesday’s still the same. No word. Morning drags on into afternoon. Then, finally, comes the dreaded email... except... I’m reading that “Abrams loves it, no changes needed, thanks for coming through just as I knew you would,” etc. (Mr. Stout apparently is one who believes--oh, don’t we all?--that no news equals good news.)
So we are both now fair-haired boys once or again (even those of us who lack hair--naming no names, of course). Moreover, the publishers want to pay me “a small stipend” (their words), for last-ditch effort in a worthy cause perhaps. (“I want to thank the Academy--and my third wife Margo Malwear for being such a bi...ggg, uh, helpmate!”)
Anyway, smooth sailing thereafter. I do change a sentence not quite clear, but otherwise all’s well up till now, when first sample copies have arrived and been distributed only to those closely involved. In fact, I’ve just used my sprightly single one to offer discreet peeks at a few of the hundred Black and brilliant Legends (every painted image copywrited, be it known, by William Stout and Abrams Books), soon to be drawn large as well as writ, in the hallowed annals of the Blues--such a circumstance devoutly to be wished for the meager Introduction too.
Look for Legends of the Blues in alert bookstores, comix shops, and music sources--and from equivalent on-line sellers--starting in late April or early May. (And if you think this post looks wonky, you are spot on. See previous post below for explanation of sorts... which is exactly what I am out of!)