Nostalgia Ink


I’ve been thinking a lot about comic books lately. The driving factor is that the comic book store of my youth, whose sign over the door even today is one I hand painted many years ago, is closing up shop. Leonard Litteral the proprietor is retiring after 35 years in the business.

The things I discovered in Leonard’s shop Nostalgia Ink have shaped a great deal of my life. In small town America being exposed to culture isn’t exactly on the priorities list of the town council. There are no museums in which to view masterpieces, no cultural centers in which to be exposed to great thinkers. Yet in my youth there was the comic book store.

I started out when Leonard had just opened his shop in its first location on Mechanic St. Coverless and torn copies of Kirby era Thor from the ¢10 box was my original fix. Eventually my allowance grew to better conditioned pieces and broadened to the Avengers and Dr Strange with the occasional Spiderman or XMen in the mix. But about age 13 my tastes started to change. I happened upon what is arguably the first “steam punk” literature in the form of a black and white comic called “Baker Street” (punks rockers in a 70s Britain where WWII was won by Germany. Dirigibles in the sky, hound’s-tooth coats and black bowler hats on citizens in a gritty postmodern world fought with straight razors and irony.) This led down an increasingly narrow road – through Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, to the works of Alan Moore, Bill Sienkiewicz, Grant Morrison, and others more obscure and obscene.


Through the pages of these comics I discovered a taste for anarchism, for beautifully wrought panels painted and scratched, and a profound distaste for Reagan and Thatcher and the cold war that filled the minds of my generation in our fitful slumber. I discovered chaos magick, cockney rhyming slang, incredibly detailed nightmares that reflected a world beyond the one in which I lived. Yet more than anything else the seeds of an artist were sown into my soul by the words and the images I devoured as fast as my humble allowance would allow.

I remember the day that, a week before I was to go off to university, Leonard finally offered me a job. I was crushed to think that my dream of working there would never come to pass, as I was about to take flight finally from that small town. The irony of that last temptation to stay coming from the very place that fed my need to go still sits inside of me.

As I grew I continued to return even after moving away. Each holiday visit to my parents only an excuse to go see Leonard, to discover boxes of Drawn and Quarterly in a back storeroom, to raid his “adult” section of Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez, and Robert Crumb comics – to fill out my collection with Zap, Weird, Fantagraphics and many other titles. I traded the sign above the door sometime in the early 90s for a box of first edition of Robert Williams comics.


In this age of internet boundariless society it is hard to understand the importance of the comic bookstore to a place like Jackson, Michigan. Comic book shops were vast repositories of challenging ideas, of endless masterpieces of aesthetics, page after page of imagery to feed the mind. Words that mingle with the emotions of youth to stir up untold potentialities. Libraries of uncensored revolutionary ideologies masquerading as merely heroes in capes, giant green men smashing things, Nietzschean superhumans as a caricature for modern governments. Comic book shops were the secret underground meeting places of generations of cultural revolutionaries. And Leonard was among the gatekeepers to this hidden world.

It is no exaggeration to say that I owe my life, the travels and experiences I have so far enjoyed, the heartaches and dramas that have unfolded, the desire to escape that small town and see the world that had so far only been framed in the exquisite panels of those comics, to Leonard. Just as a boy that yearned so much to visit one day the London of those comic book pages I now write from my garden in London as an adult. I would not be here if it wasn’t for Leonard and his shop. I would not be who I am today.

Thank you Leonard. For bringing into my and many other’s worlds a joy that has no equal. For lighting the path of a darkened town devoid of culture and providing us with access to the stuff that dreams are made of.

Thank you.


August 24, 2013


The Verdict Isn’t Always the Truth

 The Verdict Isn't Always the Truth

Spent the last 3 days in the heat of the sun working on this monster. It reflects the shifting and often disappointing events of the world. The illusions of justice and democracy that have been sold to us, the forms beyond our senses that tell us of other things, other truths too real to be considered by most sane people.

The Verdict Isn’t Always the Truth

(48×60 inches – oil, emulsion, aerosol on cardboard)

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On being alone.

I sit here in my London home, thinking of the thousands of things I need to do. Plus the other hundred things I want to do beside them, and ultimately I end up on the internet doing approximately nothing.

As I sit here I realize that increasingly people are never alone. Oh they may be able to walk around the house naked and drink coffee out of a dirty cup without the fear of social impropriety, but that sense of alone. Of being factually, not just emotionally or mentally, disconnected from all of the other beings on earth, is being lost.

I spent a lot of time alone as a kid. I had friends, particularly as I got older, but since I lived in the countryside I found myself outdoors surrounded by green with the nearest neighbor 500 meters from my door. But when I wasn’t at school or over visiting a friend’s house (which always required a car ride) I was outdoors listening to the sounds of the world or hiding in my room reading a book.

I came to the internet early. At a time when most of the rest of the world had no idea that the internet existed I was busy on bulletin boards and logged onto the educational dial-ins of the 80s internet. Telnet, Archie, Gopher. I know what the word ping actually means. I remember being given Timothy Leary’s email in 1991 by Steve Aukstakalnis and thinking I had just gotten the key to a secret cult.

There was no google then; hell there was no such thing as a browser. But there was IRC (Internet Relay Chat) which gave rise to chat boards both on the internet and on offline hubs (BBS). People had much the same communication they do now with facebook, but with fewer pics and no video.

Even then I didn’t really like chatting. I would join a group to ask a tech question and then log out. I just wasn’t interested in group discussion. I wanted to sit and think out some problem. To paint or to make something or most importantly to read. To be in my head and without any intruding opinions or thoughts from the outside world.

Times have changed. I find myself on the internet every day. Responding to people’s questions about my work, talking to people about future projects. Coordinating the madness of my schedule between large doses of coffee. I get drawn occasionally into an public exchange. Especially those created by a handful of artists and writers who I find interesting. I even try to start a conversation once in awhile.

Any time of the day or night, there are people online. But this isn’t just true for a few of us, its true for everyone. As time goes on we find ourselves always able to go online and talk to people. To have ideas and exchange words. To argue and discuss and make each other laugh.

While this forum of constant 24 hour a day communication is great in that it allows those of us isolated by distance to communicate with the world, and while access to information provided by the world is an amazing gift that in my youth was just a fantasy, we have forgotten the art of being alone.

When was the last time you couldn’t pick up a phone and call, or go on the internet and communicate with someone? A half day on a vacation some months ago? When you forgot your phone at home before going out for a night of drinking? We have, in the modern world, the ability to be constantly in touch, constantly without the feeling of true isolation that being alone provides us. We no longer know the pain and pleasure of having no one to talk to, of being forced into ourselves to confront who we are.

We are a society that does everything it can to avoid introspection.

The older I get the more I long for the great disconnect. To move someplace outside of the reach of the internet, of mobile phones, of fiber optics. But these places are ceasing to exist. Even in the remote jungle you can use the phone, check your email. So I realize that in order for me to have distance, to be able to return to those extended periods of contemplation I will have to choose to disconnect. To choose not to communicate, to extract myself from this wonderful world of endless conversation and simply think without the urge to reach out for human interaction.

Until then I will continue to move about my day fully aware that millions of minds are in the world, talking and discussing and engaging. Debates and arguments from continent to continent raging, illict messages sent and plans made. The world is happening and in order to live in it we find ourselves having to swim in this stream of personalities, in this conversation of life.

But we must remember what it means to be alone. How left to our own measure we begin to question who we are, what we believe, and how we intend to live. It is in these moments of silence filled only with the hum of our own mental processes that we can fully approach an understanding of ourselves.

-RSH March 21 2013

A trip through the heart of my youth

We are, each of us possessed by a kind of magic. A way in which we navigate the world everyday, dealing with thousands of things without thinking, just drifting through the field of existence like butterflies in a high wind. Preparation is an after-thought brought on by necessity. We do, because there is no other possibility.

After a trip through the heart of my youth, arriving in Chicago, train to Michigan, a bit of paint and then long drive to upstate NY i found myself married. She and I have known each other forever. And we always will. But honeymoons end and her return to the UK left me behind to dance with the bureaucratic nonsense of nations. I was in NYC alone. Drifting again against a backdrop of randomness and want. So I found myself something to do.

In an abandoned firehouse in the Bowery I spilled colour and danced with paint. Listening to the endless conversations outside the door go by into the early hours. Colour becoming an atmosphere, a shape that is more than the room can contain. Finally the room dissolves. The shapes linger on the horizon, the light bare and unassuming, the walls still smelling of age and dust.

When it is finished I show it to my friends, the party ends, the food later is good. The show will run for a week. But then a hurricane descended on the city.

Rain and wind brings this metropolis of 21st century to a standstill. Streets fill with water. Power ends, darkness begins. Subways grind to a halt. I am stranded, immobile and even if I wanted to go someplace where do you go when nothing is open, all lights out and everyone is cowering inside?

After a day or so the storm has ended but the city still cleans itself, hobbling back to normalcy like some crash victim. Broken bones mending slowly, movement difficult but no longer impossible. It is Halloween night and I am in the heart of Brooklyn, buildings tall around me, a shadow from a former time returning to claim its throne. People walk the streets but still the subways are closed. Parties cancelled, ribaldry called off.

Soon I will return to London, the home I imagined as a child, now a reality. The music and the lights of NYC fade as the winter wind takes me back they way the crow flies. A New Year is coming, and with it new possibilities, new adventures filled with endless discovery.

I find it irredeemably frustrating to try to take pictures of my paintings, and yet I constantly attempt this seemingly Sisyphean task. New patterns are emerging, forms being born behind closed eyes.

More than anything its the way that digital captures the colour range. All of the intensity is gone from neon colours, all of the warm and light gone from metallics. I feel like I am painting more and more in colours that can only be seen with the naked human eye. Colours that have to be experienced in person to be understood and truly seen.

In the end these are just fodder for the scissors and part of the new dimension the work is taking, but I long for the ability to really represent what it is I am doing in the digital domain.

RIP Adam Yauch

Two days after moving to NYC in the mid 90s I found myself relating the story of how my guitar and all my gear was stolen off of a greyhound bus on my recent move to a very familiar stranger in the Rogue Music shop in NYC.

We chatted for about 30 minutes, mostly about moogs and pedals and total music geekery. Toward the end of the 30 minute conversation, feeling that I must have met this guy someplace before (thinking likely in Ann Arbor where I had just moved from) I extend my hand and introduced myself. He said “I’m Adam” and just in the split second it took for me to realize this was MCA of the Beastie Boys Mike D came running up shouting “It’s White! It’s White!” I proceeded to follow them both to a back room where they had just purchased a custom white vintage Moog Liberation keyboard as a birthday gift for Adam Horowitz. We stood around in awe and laughing at the insanity of how cool it was. I rode the elevator down with them out of the building and said goodbye on the street as I went off to have dinner with some friends.

That was my introduction to NYC. MCA was a polite and unassuming person who gave much of his time and effort to many good causes. It is an incredible shame that he is gone now at such an awfully young age.

Adam, you will truly be missed in this world.


The death of an old friend.

I just discovered that the first person who ever bought my art, who also was my first art dealer, passed away just over a year ago. He was a Danish surrealist who had somehow found himself living in the desolate Michigan town I was born in. Without his cantankerous wit, world worn humor and many long conversations about the world, life, and art I would have lost my mind as a young man. He once imparted a truth I till hold onto – that if you are going to be an artist, you have to make it your job, you have to live art, it has to feed you. RIP Helmuth.

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