A Menagerie Mystery Tour

Aw, two of my favorite subjects brought together, The Beatles, and animals (not The Animals, sorry Eric Burdon)! I remember reading a review of The White Album in The Rolling Stone magazine's 10th anniversary issue opining that not since Aesop's Fables, or Toba Sojo's rabbit and frog scrolls of the 11th century, had animals commingled their lives with humans so revealingly. Although that might be a bit of a stretch, it is certainly part of the legendary Liverpudlians' charm and appeal that they spiced up their repertoire with such whimsical oddities as "Octopus' Garden" and "Hey, Bulldog!" More so than other bands of the time, and perhaps before or since, they were fabulists at heart, and that is a key part of what makes them so endearing and enduring.

Dylan was cleverer. Hendrix rocked harder. Pink Floyd was weirder. And the Stones were just plain badder! But The Beatles captured the energy of their time better than any of their manifestly talented rivals. With titles such as "Magical Mystery Tour" and "Come Together", they seem to have clearly, almost mystically, understood and embraced their roles as cultural guides through a period of mystery and excitement and wonder. The times were fraught with peril, but The Beatles, accompanied by their animal familiars, were charging out in front, wanting to hold our hands as they guided us on a journey that included herbs, gurus and revolutions.

So, here then, is my tribute to the Fab Four and their four legged (or eight tentacled, etc.) companions. Fans will have fun picking out the songs the critters are culled from, and will also be aware of what is about to befall poor Edgar Allan Poe!


Animals & Books

Anyone who has followed this blog will have noticed that I love putting animals into my illustrations! Another thing that has occasionally popped up is literature. So, I am very happy to be working on a project for a bookstore in Tokyo that has me merging the theme of animals and books. Here are a couple of the sketches I have produced so far for the project. Although technically they are just "roughs", I feel that the breezy, simple rendering nicely enhances the whimsical theme. 


I Think, Therefore I'm Nuts!

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.

- Genesis 6

I'm an ape man, I'm an ape ape man, oh I'm an ape man

- The Kinks

Recently, I wrote a post (Sade and the Body)proffering the idea that the roots of sadism, and peoples' fascination with it in films and literature, can be found in the nature of our consciousness, specifically that we humans are acutely aware of just how much our bodies are capable of suffering, under certain unwelcome conditions. In that essay, I referred to the mind's "hatred" of the body, a kind of psychosis arising from the mind's  awareness of this worrisome aspect of its nature. In the interests of fairness, I would like, with this essay, to consider the human body's predicament, the raw deal it gets from being attached to a mind that operates like no other in the animal kingdom.

As bodies go, yours and mine are nothing more than variations on a theme. They are closest in form to the chimpanzees and other higher apes, of course, but in fact they are not so different from hundreds of species having vertebrae, internal organs held within a rib cage, extenders such as arms, legs,  fingers, toes, etc. Our pinkish pigmentation can be found under the fur of numerous animals, from pigs to guinea pigs to dogs to prairie dogs. In terms of design, I think it fair to say that we have more in common with squirrels, physiologically and stylistically, than a Model T has to a Ferrari, and than either does to a bulldozer or a city bus. Our bodies are just another example of The Mammalian Success Story that has been going on since ancient cataclysms laid the dinosaurs low.

If a chimpanzee were to wake up one morning, and find it's body transformed, a la Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, into that of a homo sapiens, leaving aside the muscular strength it would be sacrificing, we can imagine that it would be able to find its way around its new contraption fairly easily. If it felt an itch, or an urge, it would pretty much know what to do about it. And the alternative would be true for us as well. All that chimp hair may take some getting used to, as would being able to effortlessly rip doors off their hinges, but on the whole we'd probably be able to master our new equipment, eventually. Learning to function in our chimp body would probably be considerably less difficult than learning to fly an airplane or navigate a submarine.

Now, on the other hand, stick that chimpanzee's body with a human mind and tell me it wouldn't freak out! "What are all these...things?" They're called abstract thoughts. "WTF am I supposed to do with them?" Uh..., this is going to take some time. Our minds, with their abstract, logical, inventive, metaphoric, etc. ways of operating represent such an anomalous feature of evolution that if even our closest relatives were to suddenly come into the possession of one they would likely go flat out insane in a matter of seconds! We, fortunately, have had all of seven million years (since we broke off from the chimps, a mere blink of an eye in the history of evolution) to get used to our minds. We're comfortable with them, or are we?

It's not so much the minds themselves, which, unique as they are in the Wild Kingdom, nevertheless have clearly aided our survival and expansion over the various terrains of the earth. You don't find chimps living in harsh, dry deserts or frozen hinterlands, after all. But what we have done with our minds, how we have shaped our environment with them, has surely put tremendous strain on our poor animal bodies. Consider our eyes, hardly different than a chimp's, which evolved while looking at relatively few color schemes, primarily the greens of the jungle, the blues and grays of ocean and sky, the browns of the earth and mountains, etc. Seeking out the sudden stimulation that comes from finding attractive fruit, or the sudden rapid movement that alerts us that prey or predators are about. This is what our close relatives see, what they use their eyes for, up to this very day. Whereas we, on the other hand, are constantly blitzed with a mad barrage of colors, flashing images, tiny backlit characters on a computer screen that we put together to make words, etc. Other senses are similarly blitzed; our ears, certainly, to say nothing of our taste buds! We are a hyper-stimulated species, made so by the downright freakish environments we've built and placed ourselves in.

We spend so much time in boxes; buildings, rooms, cars, and, perhaps, that most unnatural environment of all, fifty thousand feet above the earth, in airplane cabins. Our air is conditioned, our light is electric, our drinking water comes to us through pipes. Our contact with other species is extremely limited. Our natural patterns of sleep and movement are severely compromised by the demands of the unnatural world we've engineered for ourselves. Oh, the poor human body! So near, by its very structure, to the natural world, and yet so distant!

It's bad enough that we modify our own bodies. We have gone further, employing our minds to mould oddities of biology that Natural Selection would have, er, naturally selected for extinction tout suite. Consider the poor pug, which sounds asthmatic as it manages to breathe through a flat apparatus that was meticulously squashed from a wolf's long snout by generations of breeding. Consider as well ears of corn with husks wrapped so tightly around the seeds they can't possibly be dispersed. Or bananas with seeds so useless the plants must be grown by cuttings. Cows with udders so huge, and geared toward milk production, they would possibly explode without human assistance. I wonder, if the beauty, vulnerability and exquisiteness of our own human bodies was fully appreciated and honored, would such manipulations of other creatures even be thinkable?

in 1968, Erich von Daniken published a book titled Chariots of the Gods. In it, he referred to certain passages from ancient literature, such as the one I begin this essay with, as indicating that human beings are in fact manifestations of an experiment of sorts, a hybridization of terrestrial ape bodies with highly intelligent aliens (the "gods" who came by "chariots" to the earth). Whether or not there is any truth whatsoever to the claims the book makes, the metaphor of "sons of Gods" (minds) mating with "daughters of men" (animal bodies) quite poetically describes our predicament, I feel. We are, by all accounts, an oddity of nature. Ours is an uncomfortable marriage of raw, animal senses and sensitivities, to abstract, intellectual sentience. For now, our minds have succeeded in constraining our bodies within an environment and lifestyle that no stretch of the imagination could argue they were evolved, over the course of millions of years, for. One can only hope that as the human mind continues to evolve it will work out a happier medium for the animal it lives its life contained within.


Regal Lady

Today I taught another "Old Masters" course in Tokyo. A small group, but a really dedicated bunch. One guy was an assistant to a top Japanese manga artist, so I was a little leery (feeling like I should just hand teaching duties over to him!) but all went well, and everyone was very satisfied with the progress they made. This is the one I did as the demonstration, after a painting by Velasquez. I'm quite pleased with it.