Sunday, October 19, 2014

NEW YORK TRIP PART 1: The Henson Company and artist alley

I'm finally getting caught up with life after the whirlwind trip last week to New York City. My time there  was such a tremendous experience, filled with such wonderful moments, that one blog post alone cannot contain it. So, I'll give you two!

My trip to NY served two purposes--the main one was for me to set up in artist alley at New York Comic Con. But just as importantly, I had been invited to tour The Jim Henson Company, courtesy of Karen Falk, archivist for the Jim Henson Company. Visiting the shop was a lifelong dream come true, and I say that in absolute honesty, and without exaggeration. Five year old Jay wanted to see where the Muppets came from. Forty year old Jay got a private showing, when he was old enough to fully appreciate it, and better yet, remember every little moment and detail with the same vivid hues that imbued the puppets there on display.

Along with my friend Kelly (who I have to thank for documenting the entire NY trip), Karen showed us the puppet builders at work, costuming existing characters, and in one case, building a photo-ready Cookie Monster for a publication. We saw drawers of puppet eyes and noses. We saw Grover, Mr. Johnson (the blue, round-headed customer Grover torments at his restaurant job), and we saw a Prairie Dawn puppet being specially built for her performer, Fran Brill, who just retired this year after 44 years with the Henson company. What a great and fitting retirement present!

We saw stacks of sketches done by Jim, Muppet design Michael Frith, and many other puppet designers throughout the company's history. We got to peek at Jim Henson's personal files, that had items ranging from his driver's license, to notebooks containing ideas for puppet productions and daily reminders. And in one particular file, which Karen had sitting out for my arrival, I got to see the original letter I'd written to Jim back in 1986 when I was eleven years old. Jim had even kept the manila envelope that I'd drawn Animal on. That was pretty breathtaking. Karen had found that letter, and a photocopy of Jim's response to me, over a year ago. She had sought me out online to tell me about the find, which is how we became friends and how I ended up at The Henson Company. It's amazing how that all came together, and just in time for my 40th birthday. Karen and Jim gave me the best present ever with the combined experiences they'd provided me.

Understandably, the inner workings of the Henson Company are pretty secretive, so photo opportunities were few. But the few that I was permitted to take were golden, and all I'll ever need to symbolize this incredible experience.

Here I am with none other than Cookie Monster. Cookie has always been my favorite of the classic Sesame Street characters, and one I could identify with (c'mon--who doesn't love cookies?).

Me and Snuffy. Just as soft and loveable as he is huge! 

And here I am with Karen Falk. That wonderfully ornate chair I'm sitting on is the actual throne that the Emperor Skeksis sits on in Jim's first fantasy film, "The Dark Crystal" (1982). The proximity that I was allowed to come within these classic bits of Jim's films was mind boggling, and such a grand gift.

The rest of the weekend was dedicated to my other purpose--attending New York Comic Con. The show is put together by Reed Pop, the same company who puts on C2E2 in Chicago. Both shows are huge in size and attendance, but somehow manage to be run like a small, personable comic con, which is so rare. Mike Negin , who runs artist alley, knows every artist, and offers up himself to take care of the smallest tasks rather than assigning it to one of his assistants--also a true rarity. Based on those factors alone, I would love this show. But beyond that, the fans, my fellow creators, and the overall vibe of the con made this the biggest and best show I've done all year.

Here are a few pics of some commissions I drew at the show:

Batman villain, Poison Ivy...

My characters, Bodie Troll and Baby Fat Scott...

Bodie trying to move Thor's hammer...

And Calvin and Hobbes as Green Lantern and Green Arrow.
A huge thank you to Karen Falk, Jim Henson, Mike Negin, and all involved in making this weekend so wonderful. I'm still shaking my head in disbelief that so much awesome could all happen at the same time. But it did, and there's more to share.

See you in part two of my New York trip blog post!


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