Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chinese Theater

I was looking over my book tonight and I realized that so much of my material deals with far-away cultures. Here I am, a humble western guy, raised in California since birth; and I'm trying to pay homage to Eastern Masters, Samurai, Ninja, Silla Knights, Sultans, and War Chiefs? Knights and Kings are foreign enough to California! Therefore, I feel that I must gently tread on this foreign cultural turf, and with all due respect. But how? I can only charge ahead, and attempt to show my love for the subject matter. But will the honorees be pleased or perplexed?

How will my illustrated admiration be embraced when it’s enthusiasm more than expertise that drives my pen to paper? I've traveled far and wide, and taken tons of Art History, and History; reading book after book after book, but I am also a product of my upbringing. One can only hope these varied cultures will indulge me, since I am undeniably influenced by less than reliable sources, to be sure. Hollywood is bad enough, but foreign B-movies made a giant mark.

Take “Eastern Masters” for instance - by this I mean my chapter about Chinese masters of sword fighting and martial arts. I've always been infused with a love for this stuff!!! Oh my God, how I grew up on a steady late-night diet of Chinese Kung Fu Theater! I saw endless heroes battle to avenge their slain masters... I watched them suffer, and overcome, in badly dubbed English... They kicked butt and I couldn't get enough of it.

Often, in my mind, I WAS a Chinese hero (a little blond, Californian Chinese hero, no less), jumping around my yard, imagining that I could endure as these men endured. I wished that I could improve as these stubborn Kung-Fu heroes improved. I even longed for some wizened teacher to arrive, whose cruelty would be a secret kindness - meant to hone my skills and make me strong… And if you hurt my elder master? Look out! It’s a rumble at the temple, buddy.

When I was done making a bloody fool of myself, kicking and tumbling about, I would continue to express my fascination by drawing. I even accompanied my sketch-work with awesome sound effects. Things haven’t changed much since then, except that I jump around a lot less now – though I have some pretty epic Kung-Fu battles with my kids before bedtime. But while I’m drawing, I’m usually pretty calm, and you won’t even catch me making any sound-effects (unless you sneak up carefully). So here I am; older; yet still a kid at heart.

When I painted the chapter for Eastern Masters, I still played out a bit of Kung-Fu Theater in my mind. I’ll admit it! This is not exactly the cool science of anthropology at work, but it's what drives me. I am a strange mirror, after all, through which some folks are going to see their culture reflected back at them. I really do hope the result will bring a smile to the people I intend to honor. That would make me happy.

Okay, it’s late and I need sleep!


Anthony S Rivero said...

Hey Ben, I just found your blog. Awesome! Can't wait for the book, man.

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