Ivan and Tchaka in: The Mask of Zemo


I posted this on my personal Blog on my birthday June 18th… but I feel like this belongs on this page…

So… it  started in  Mrs. Mitchell’s Algebra class. I was making a habit out of not paying attention – doodling drawings of super heroes on my math pad. I had just finished a picture of Wolverine – from the X-Men in all his savage glory , when, suddenly, some shadow obscured my light.

“Is that Wolverine?”  I heard someone say. “That’s cool, yo.”

I looked up and it was some  over zealous, eager looking guy. Seriously? I was in 8th grade and  I had no time for groupies. There was SERIOUS work to be done if I was to ever become a Fine Artist with a Capital “A”.The clock was ticking  and I certainly wasn’t getting any younger. I was almost 14!

“Thanks” – I said.

I wanted to say “of course” but I was at least trying not to be a jerk.

“Check this out” – and he reached into his bag and pulled out his own defaced math pad. Oh sure, there were numbers and equations on the first few pages, but like me I could see his attention waned in class too. There were the prerequisite signs of a teenage geek artist: Super heroes and villains beating the Sh*^ out of each other  page after page.As I flipped thru the pages there were some pretty decent images. One picture in particular stood out though.

“Is that Baron Zemo?”

“Yeah! You know him?”

Ouch – totally Busted. Baron Helmut Zemo – son of villain Baron Heinrich Zemo was one of the most persistent nemeses of Captain America. Also one of the lamest villains EVER. An evil Nazi with a mask glued to his face? How did he even eat? LAME. And I totally knew who he was. But the flip side of that was: Who the f**k draws Baron Zemo?

Still, I had to admit – lame villains aside, he had some skills, so i guess we HAD to be friends.

So I flipped thru his math pad, and we exchanged comic books and became fast friends.

In case you didn’t know – for guys that’s pretty much how it’s done.

And art wise he did OK at copying comic book art -could have been looser, more dynamic anatomy…it was cool I guess. But then I saw his original material in the art room – it blew my mind .  This guy, Tchaka, was a walking talking “Fine Artist” – not an illustrator/cartoonist like me –  He was doing things with pastels and paints that to this day I STILL have to work at. He was a natural  in that realm and in that realm…I couldn’t hold a torch to him. Well at least I drew a better Zemo.

And yet he was STILL my friend. And years later, whenever we were hanging out in AP art classes, or when we killing time in the dorms at Pratt Institute, or killing mice in our shared apartment, Tchaka wouldn’t hesitate to compliment me on the work I was doing – even if I sometimes didn’t see the merit myself. There was no ego involved with Tchaka, the critique was the critique – but delivered so graciously so as not to offend. And these critiques were SO valuable because they inspired me to do better without making me feel bad. Believe me ,I’ve  worked as a teacher for several years – do you know how hard that is to do?? Again as I said the guy’s a natural.

Also he inspired me to push the envelope, pretty much across the board, in ALL categories- not just art. When I considered moving to Alaska for the summer to work on a fishing boat…he was totally supportive. Everyone ELSE was NOT. Maybe is wasn’t the best idea, but I knew he had my back. If Tchaka knew anything it was how to say “F*&^ it !” and take a chance. I credit him with the inspiration of jumping out of a plane…He never TOLD me to. But I knew he’d be one of the first to want to to see the video…

I can honestly say I learned a lot from this guy. He was the Best man at my wedding for a reason.

We grew up and apart more or less (he eventually ran away to work in the circus, while I worked in the circus of Freelance Illustration) but whenever he was in town we picked right back up where we left off.

“Remember Uncanny Xmen # 187 by John Romita Jr.?”he would start,”…That shit was tight!” (tight was the new cool) Honestly he loved that book – and for good reason – the shit was indeed tight

Anyway just last week I was working on a gig and he stopped by, looking over my shoulder as he did so many years ago –

“That’s hot, yo!” (‘cool’ is now ‘hot’) referring to this ‘happy’ surfing picture I’d done; where this girl is surfing with an octopus.(Long story.Don’t ask) and it felt right that after 27 years of friendship we could still talk about art, comics, women,and movies. Just pick right up  where we left off…

At any rate, I planned on celebrating my birthday this weekend on Sunday – looked forward to seeing Tchaka again as we’d chuckle and talk and laugh over some burgers and barbecue. But this was not meant to be. He passed in a tragic accident on Saturday, leaving me to wonder if he’ll still look over my shoulder and offer critiques from whatever dimension his energy is in.

We lost a great artist this weekend – an artist so good he made ME better by looking over my shoulder. Here’s to an everlasting artist with infinite vision – may we continue to see this world through your eyes.

Syr-Ivan Bennett


If I were to describe Tchaka…

If I were to describe Tchaka I would say he was an artist. He took such pride and care with everything. We were at a bar and I was trying to explain to him that I couldn’t draw. To prove this I drew a tree on a napkin, it looked like a three year old drew it. He looked at it, said it wasn’t that bad then added a few lines of his own. Instantly the tree was transformed. It had branches and leaves and now grew out of grass. He even added a path with a little hut. It  took him all of 2 seconds. I had put it there, but he made it beautiful.

We were having an argument a couple of weeks ago about The Grapes of Wrath. I said it was the most boring book I’d ever read, he said he loved it. We went back and forth shoving our points a each other. After a time it finally came to light he’d only seen the movie….

-Renee Levine

I don’t know …


I don’t know about stories, but I certainly have memories.  When I first started at the Big Apple Circus, he was the Spot Captain.  After a few months he was promoted, so I took his spot.  I knew it was big shoes to fill, but I wasn’t scared because I knew he was right there to guide me.

I remember riding the bike trail in Dulles, Virginia with him.  We had a show later that day so we had to turn around, but we almost made it the 20 miles to D.C.  He could’ve made it, but he had to keep stopping and waiting for my slow ass.  He still had the Nishiki at the time.  I was honored when he sold it to me, and I’m honored to say I use it often, as it is an excellent way to get around town.

I remember when he taught me to make sock monkeys.  All these tough gangster wanna-be dudes would walk into the cookhouse and see us two grown men sewing dolls and they’d be like, “What the hell are you doing?”  And Tchaka would be like, “If you can sew a sock monkey, you can sew a wound.”

We had headsets that we’d communicate to each other with during the shows.  Often I’d become bored and one day I decided to make nicknames for everyone.  The spot op to my left was “Jameson” because he dropped a brand new bottle of Jameson and shattered it.  The spot op to my right was “Iceman” because he was Russian.  Our boss was “Mother” because “You don’t want to make Mother angry.”  Tchaka was “Short Bus” for obvious reasons.  I didn’t know what to name myself, but Tchaka said, “For the PBS documentary I’m going to buy you a pirate’s hat with a giant sequenced skull on it and call you ‘Captain Sparkles.’”  The guys thought it was fucking hilarious and the name stuck.

I remember when he got his short bus.  He let me ride in it from Queens to Long Island because it still had seats in it.  People in other cars stared at us, so I put on one of Tchaka’s bike helmets and acted “Special.”  It was cool.  When we got to BAC headquarters in Walden, I’d go to the warehouse late at night to shower, and Tchaka would be in there, working on the bus.  When people ask me what the circus is like, I always tell them about the guy who gutted a short bus and installed bamboo flooring, track lighting, custom-carved cabinets, computer desk, etc.

One time the Head Electrician threw us a party.  Every time we’d go through a bottle of Tequila, Raul would come out, crack another bottle, and put in Tchaka’s arms.  I went light on the drinking and was the only one to show up to work on time the next day.  Our boss told me to go get the rest of the guys.  I went to Tchaka’s room (he didn’t have the bus at the time) and knocked on the door.  One of our spot op’s shirts was hanging on his dresser because the previous night Tchaka had been standing up next to the guy who was sitting, and vomited all over him!  I didn’t know this, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to make a gay joke at his expense.  I pointed at the shirt and said, “Oh, it was that kind of night, huh?”  ”Fuck you, Jay,” he retorted.  ”Hey, just because one Mexican made you sick (referring to Jose Cuervo)  doesn’t mean you have to take it out on this Mexican”

Every town we went to, BAC would hire temporary workers.  It’s a shame that it’s so hard for a person to get a full-time job nowadays, but one look at most of the temps that come through, and you can tell most of them don’t want to work at all, and love temporary work, because it is exactly what it is: temporary.  Anyway, we had these two mammoth-sized temps.  One of them starts yelling at the other: “You ain’t doing shit!  You’re doing absolutely fucking nothing!”  So they get into a fight and I look over and Tchaka is in the middle.  Tchaka is not a small guy, but at that moment he looked like a mouse between two elephants.  And Tchaka’s like, “Look, I know it’s tough, but everyone’s doing their time.  Everyone’s working, then we’re all going home, okay?”  And these two gigantic humans just turn and walk away.  If i had half as much bravery as Tchaka has in his left testicle, I’d be one courageous nut.

Time in the circus is not like real time.  A day feels like a week.  A week feels like a month.  A month feels like a year.  I spent two and half years serving as his Spot Captain.  I could do a hundred more.  Though I left the circus and resigned my official title, I will always and forever be Captain Sparkles.

A co-worker played this the other day.  It came from Tchaka’s music library.  I think it’s very fitting.

-Jay “Captain Sparkles” Maul


The Thing about Tchaka was…


he loved to tell stories. Seriously. Did he ever tell you the one about how he and I had our Movie Idea stolen by Hollywood?

We were hanging out in the village one night, doing who knows what – I just remember it was late and at West 4th St.Station. Back then on Friday nights it was wild with activity – Police everywhere, with paddywagons and spotlights to attempt crowd control for the rowdy college kids at NYU. We didn’t go to NYU, but that didn’t stop us from hanging out there.

Anyway, it was somewhere around 2 or 3 in the morning and we were waiting for the “A” train on the platform… A light started to come down the tunnel, and we thought we’d be able to escape the late night rats and vomit that go hand in hand with Friday nights. No such luck.

Instead, a short (2-3 car) shining silver train pulled in to the station – looking antiseptically out of place in the bowels of the city. Disneyland would have been a better fit. The doors opened and four uniformed men got out. There we two heavily armored men on the outer flank , while what seemed to be two patrol officers on the inner flank. They marched directly to the toll booth as another uniformed man shut the train doors sharply behind them. And then the magic happened – The two inner flank guys proceed to empty all of the change/tokens  from the turnstiles into a couple of large buckets. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars of coinage filling two large pails as if we were peeping at the end of a rainbow. Tchak and I looked at each other and jumped to the same conclusion.

“There’s a train that collects money by going station to station? They should make a movie about that yo – somebody steals the train after the last nights pick up and try to make a break for it.” I forget who said “yo” but it was pretty much the same thought out of both of our heads. We bantered back and forth trying to hammer out the plot on the platform while we waited for the real train. Two brothers: one light /one dark talking about a great heist movie.

Fast forward a year and a half, and Tchak and I are hanging out watching tv when we saw a commercial for “MONEY TRAIN”; with Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson – one light one dark. The Internet Movie DataBase describe the plot of Money train as follows: “A vengeful New York transit cop decides to steal a trainload of subway fares; his foster brother, a fellow cop, tries to protect him.”

Seriously? Maybe we should have shopped it around,got agents, or a manager or a manager AND an agent. Maybe we should have sat down and actually wrote the script. Whatever. All we knew was that a great crime was perpetrated, and that there was someone on that platform who Must’ve heard every word we said.

But the movie had a young Jennifer Lopez so of course we saw it anyway.

From that point on we learned to keep out ideas to ourselves…although we did make it a habit to look over our shoulders first before we discussed any upcoming plans. Still it didn’t stop Tchaka from becoming an avid storyteller in his own right…and I’m sure he’s shared a few with you. Which brings us to the whole point  of this blog.

This blog should be a place where we can post memories of Tchaka: funny quirky heartwarming stories. Where did you meet? What did he give you for Christmas? How did he influence your life?  I suppose you can post the sad ones too – he was a human being after all and you can’t have the light with out the dark. Especially if Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson say so…

So POST YOUR STORIES – Let celebrate him as a REAL Human Being! The Service for him is Monday July 2 from 4 – 7 pm at Benta’s Funeral Home (630 St.Nicolas St. @ 141 St. in Harlem) so we’d like to have as many post as possible by then so everyone can share their experiences with Tchaka. We’re running on the honor system and letting YOU post YOUR OWN MATERIAL!!! So get cracking and Share the love!!


Thanks for listening and here’s looking forward to reading each other’s memories of this guy that we know and love so well!


Syr-Ivan K. Bennett

Pixel Pusher and Blogger