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.