If dogs run free, then why not we?

If dogs run free, then why not we?

 I got a few interesting responses to the last Blahg, the part about race and all. I hear there was more discussion on the forum, but I don't know HOW much. I'm at a place in my head right now where I need to be alone so I can think straight and not just react to things. This Blahg was started as a catharsis joint, and it's still that way, but I try to bring in a variety of topics that I think you'll find interesting (and I always do). It is liberating for me to know that you're not paying for this. I'd feel so bad.


One of the strangest, maybe the strangest Bob Dylan song is If Dogs Run Free, on the New Morning album, released in 1970. Rolling Stone, who voted Like a Rolling Stone as the No. 1 rock song of all time (maybe because their name was  in it? Maybe they named their magazine after it?) listed If Dogs Run Free as one of Bob's 10 Worst Songs. I think their more-qualified dogs should have gotten a vote.

I can't find a YouTube link to the album version, but it's on Spotify. My daughter found it for me there, maybe you're fluent in it. Listen to it. On New Morning.

I didn't like it or get it when I first heard it. I was really weirded out and disappointed, and thought who's that lady making those funny noises and why is she doing that? What are you doing, Bob? It took me 40 years to warm up to it, but it was worth the wait.

When I found out there was a children's book illustrated version of If Dogs Run Free, I got it right away. I have a sense of ownership when it comes to Bob Dylan songs. So when I saw that there WAS an illustrated If Dogs Run Free, I felt that somebody had crossed the line.  But the cover converted me, and every page in it and the following pages too, on and on. I had to tell the illustrator how much I liked his drawings, and that lead to me asking for a short interview, of the illustrator, a fellow named Scott Campbell. It is followed by several pages from that book.

How'd you become a book illustrator, and a children's book illustrator in particular?           I studied children's book illustration and sequential art at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.  I had originally wanted to be a comic book artist.  RIght out of school I came real close to pencilling an Aliens vs Predator book for Dark Horse comics, but I got lazy and dropped the ball.  It turned out well, because I began working in video games as an art director/concept artist, first for Lucas and then for Double Fine Productions. Alongside that I still made indie comics and paintings for art shows around the bay area.  I didn't get around to illustrating picture books almost 15 years after college. So it took me awhile, but I learned so much about character design and word building from video games that helped my transition into children's book illustration tremendously.

 Do you have a degree in some kind of art?         Yes!  I got an illustration BFA from the Academy of Art college in San Francisco. 

 Do you draw or paint recreationally, too? In this style?       Yeah, I paint watercolor paintings for fun and for exhibitions at galleries in various towns. I've been doing that for the past 15 or so years.  Usually happy little character-based scenes. Sometimes original concepts and sometimes more pop culture-inspired pieces. 

I have a series online called the Great Showdowns, a simple concept, really—just memorable moments in film with two opposing characters or objects just standing there happily. There are a few book collections of these out and about for people to enjoy.  

In a book like this, are you paid by the job, or by royalties? Which do you prefer? And how did you get this job? And how did the idea come about?       I have a literary agent that helps work out the deals and connect me with good editors and manuscripts. Usually we try to get paid well up front because royalties rarely kick in unless the book is a real hit. So better to get it up front! 

I got the job because I had already done a couple books with Simon & Schuster—Zombie In Love and East Dragon, West Dragon. Both books were with the same editor, Namrata Tripathi, and and art director, Sonia Chaghatzbanian, so we all enjoyed working with each other quite a lot. 

Namrata had mentioned that S&S owned the rights to Bob Dylan's library of work and wanted to match me up with one for a new book. They thought it would be a fun match up. And I agreed. I enjoyed Bob Dylan's songs.

Which BD song book was first? (Forever Young, Blowin' in the Wind, If Dogs Run Free...)            I think those two came before If Dogs Run Free. That’s why they were eager to do another. 

I don't follow. Because the other two sold well?

 Who picked IDRF as a song to illustrate?   Namrata and the gang at S&S chose that song. I would have liked to do one of his more famous jams, but they felt there were too difficult to turn into a good playful children's story. I think they felt this song could be fun on the account of everyone loves dogs running around having a good time!

 You may not know this, but Rolling Stone named If Dogs Run Free one of BD's ten worst songs. I happen to love it, but it took me 40 years to get to love it, and I'm still not sure I understand it, and I don't want to read online interpretations.

 How much did you think about the song before you picked the scenes you illustrated?                 I sure had never heard of it and many of my friends hadn't either, so I really had to dig deep in order to interpret it. It was a tough nut to crack because it kind of meanders all over the place without much of a linear story to it. So I had to figure out a way to make the pictures grow and change with it. 

That’s why I chose the two kids and the main dog to take us through the world with some scenes that could ground their day and make sense. Dogs just being themselves rolling around and doing ridiculous things. I like giving animals and objects human attributes in my stories. That way, I could have dogs playing instruments, having bbqs, and roller skating. They can do whatever they want in this world!  

 You've said you're not a BD scholar, so--did you at least listen to IDRF before illustrating it, or did you read the lyrics?           I did listen to the song, but I wanted to focus on the lyrics first, so it wasn't until the first bunch of pages roughs were done that I actually listened to it.   

 As an illustrator, are you edited as heavy handedly as you might be if you wrote a book? I mean, do editors tell you that your dogs look funny, or you need to work on your human hands, or something?           I love feedback. Namrata and Sonia gave me great feedback on gags and elements that could make the scenes read better. They rarely give feedback on hands and dogs that looks strange. The funnier the better, really. My style is quite juvenile anyway. There are about 4-5 versions of the book sketched out before I go to final paints. We keep working it together. It's a fun process when we all respect each other's opinions as much as we do.

 I really loved the constellation spread. How much did you vacillate in the picking of the constellations? Did you nix one or two at the last minute? Did an editor have input?           Oh, I did a bunch of those before we picked our favorite ones. It was fun to make everything dog inspired. Once the rules are set in this world, in this case it was dog gags, we just plug that into everything! We had to have some of the Greek gods and goddesses as dogs, dog interests like bones and dog bowls, and just some pretty things like a diamond. Actually, I don't know why we chose a diamond. Just cool to throw an arbitrary fancy thing into the mix, I suppose.

 What other children's books illustrators do work that you like?                 Christian Robinson is my current favorite children's book illustrator. He's got such great texture and shapes in his work. There are so many new and wonderful artists all the time. Isabel Arsenault, Matt Forsythe, Jon Klassen are some more faves of mine. And the classic inspirational ones like Richard Scarry, Lane Smith, Maurice Sendak, and Edward Gorey.

 There are several bicycles in there--none anatomically correct, but all your super duper style. Bob is an artist, too, and he also draws anatomically  incorrect bicycles. Do you draw from your head or do you look at bikes?                 I do look at bikes at times, but I like to draw them out of my head, so they look more ridiculous! I enjoy drawing strange machines. 

 Do you ride a bike more than a mile a month? (Please don't feel like you're disappointing me or our readers if you say No.)                   I rode a lot when I lived in New York, but I haven’t quite warmed up to the idea now that I live in Los Angeles.  It's not really a biking town. I have ridden up and down the L.A. River a bit.  I need to just get a new bike out here. Then I’ll get back on it. I miss it! 


 Yeah, but bikes have to make sense for where you live. Sometimes you have to find a way to make them make sense, and maybe that's not easy down there. I don't know, Have you seen Bob's The Drawn Blank Series paintings? They're in a book of that name? Whatcha think of them?         I don't think I have actually. But I am intrigued!

 Have you met Bob? I'm guessing No.                 I have not. We dealt mostly with his camp, his people. But they were veI did want to work little Easter eggs into the book as much as I could, so I asked friends who were big Dylan fans about it. I listened to most of the songs that I do already know and pulled things out of them to include, like the brass bed, Napoleon in rags, and the dog tangled up in the blue leash.  


 Longterm plans, dream job?                     I moved to Los Angeles this past summer, so everything is new and exciting! I am working on new book pitches at the moment in addition to character concepts for a sequel to out first game at Double Fine Productions called Pyschonauts 2. It’s a fun time to be here in LA. I may pitch cartoons and moving pictures. Some solo exhibitions should happen at some point this year either here in LA or in Austin. We shall see!


Now here are some pages from the book. 



What kind of Picasso-like animal is that on the left side of the pool with three ears and a sideways mouth?             I'm not sure which dog you are referring to?  The Spuds Mackenzie guy?

 No, in front of him. Oh—what I thought was another ear is a dogsnout. The girl throwing the ball for the enthusiastic dog is really giving it all she's got. Did you get her on your first try?           I drew a bunch of kids before we settled on those two as the main characters.  But yeah!  They are real excited to be there.   


Oh my--I am the only one in the world who recognizes the diplomat on the chrome horse with his siamese cat? (a line from Like a Rolling Stone). Good job! Did you hope people would find that?               Oh!  Haha!  There are so many hidden things in there! I was hoping people would find them! I should have made a master list, but I didn't.

The Blowin’ in the Wind book has a list like that, a key, in the back. Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Allen Ginzburg… What's the significance of the street sign--4th and Montp--something?         Oh, man.  Now I am forgetting.  It may be a lyric?  or a song?  I think my uncle helped me out with that one. 

There is a song called Positively 4th Street…and the cover of his second album was shot from the corner of Jones and West 4th street, but I doubt your uncle knew that.


The little white dog is bushed but so happy. You put so much emotion into the faces of these cartoony dogs. The gray wolfish dog is proud and taking a rest after climbing so high.       Yeah, those dogs work hard at playing.   


What a magnificent tumbling of dogs! Did you draw them in those positions, or turn them that way? Digital or analog drawings?               I drew a bunch of dogs rolling around and composed the drawings in photoshop.  Then I printed them out and traced them onto watercolor paper in pencil! Then I painted the heck out of them.



 This page (and all the others, but this one especially) parents and children could have fun with, asking each other to "find the crayfish holding the drum" and "do you see a frog playing the flute? a harmonica?"         Exactly my hopes! I always loved discovering things in my Richard Scarry books as a kid.  That is my favorite thing.  Leaving treasures for kids to find! 


 Is that the Red Baron? That whole left lower corner is amazing, isn't it? A kite-bone?         You got it.  I love drawing flying things in the sky. 


...If dogs run free. (not appropriate to show you the whole book here)

A roller skating dog eating a chocolate chip cookie! That would be fun for a child to find. This book would be so, so fun to read to a little one. A foxish dog as a tank?               Yeah, why not? 


 What are a few of your favorite pages or scenes or animals?             I love the dog park one.  I felt like that one came together real well.  I love imagining being there hanging out with everyone. 

 Is that the one with the rings and swings, or with the Frisbee?  

 Which one made you laugh the most?         I think the frogs playing horns are pretty funny looking. 

 Which was most challenging?             The constellation spread took awhile to get right! It's darker than I usually get with my paintings.

 I love your clouds on the back cover.       Oh, thanks! 

 Which illustration do you think will be the most...underappreciated?       The spread of them running along the top of the hill with the town in the distance perhaps?  It's a good, cool down spread.

"Down spread" is new to me, but looking at it, I can get it. It is extra good. There's a lot going on there, even in such a simple drawing. I'm glad you called my attention to it. Not going to show it here. We're getting in 24 books. I wonder if we can sell them.


This is a mediocre phone picture in fantastic light. I couldn't back up enough to "split the handlebar)---make it look like the bike was split lengthwise down the middle---and I needed the crank in that position to put it at the right angle...but the main thing to look at is the light. The best light is side light, which you get when the sun's rising or setting. I need to cut the rear struts of the rack there. I often have a saddlebag on it.


On Superb Owl Sunday Dan and I rode on Mt. Tamalpais, because it's mostly rocky where we rode, and sand, so the rain didn't make muck like it does around here. I don't like to show pix of me, but Dan got this one with his iPhone, my Clem L just outside the frame.



Here's a thing that came to my inbox this morning from that other paradigm, from a distant world.


As far as I can tell, it makes breathing more difficult. There must be uses for it. I'm pro-small business. If it's something you can use, go for it.


Mark is working on a bike now, kind of an overhaul  that will include a new wheel, new bars, new lots of stuff, and he showed me pedals and asked, "What do you think did that?" My first thought was a hammer followed by a file, but that seemed like a longshot.


Supposed to be round and have a cap on it. but it got squished and popped off.

I had to interrupt his work to call him. After the introduction and apology, it went like this (I should say, because the script won't convey it, that "JK" is super mellow, friendly, open book...an "it's all good" kind of guy, and a joy to talk to:

Me: So--what's the story on your pedals?

JW: What do you mean?

me: What do you mean, "what do you mean?" You don't know?

JW: No...but I'm curious now.

me: You aren't the most oblivious bike rider I've run into—

JW: —but I'm one of them?

me: Well, yes. I'll send you a couple of images. (the ones above)

JW: something  must have smashed it.

me: it looks like longterm abrasion, then thinning, then collapse of the cup at the end, to me. You didn't notice anything?

JW: No, I just ride, that's all. I never look at my pedals.

me: what shoes?

JW: Normal shoes. Not dress shoes. I got them on Amazon a few years ago. I'm going to be honest here, though: I'm really strong.

me: Well, that wouldn't do it.

JW. About half the time I wear mtn bike shoes, the kind with recessed cleats.

me: Aha. How many miles does the bike have? {Overall, it's well used}

JW: Well, I got it in 2012 and ride about or maybe a bit more than 1,500 miles a year commuting, and then I do some longer rides and some trips on it. Great bike! {It maths out to maybe 10K miles, but maybe 2,500 with the mtn bike shoes).

..... We kind of wrapped it up there, and he gets new pedals NOT because they're defective, but because we kind of like having some thrashed parts around, and they contributed to this BLAHG and an instagram post. There's not policy to do that. You can't send up your worn out part and get a free replacement. There's nothing defo about these pedals.

The opposite, in fact. The dustcaps that keep out the elements and not just dust, disappeared a while ago. There's some unusual rust on the spindle, but that's no biggie. It would bother some, but it's not going anywhere. Rust's bad rep is Neil Young's fault. Here's Neil and his band in the early days:

Back to the pedals. MKS pedals have never been the snob's choice. They've made and still make Keirin (Japanese track racing, fancy) pedals, but are most known for their middle-end pedal, which came on middle-end Japanese bikes from the '70s. The MKS star faded in the mid'-80s, but they kept on keeping on despite fading from consciousness in America. Taiwanese and Chinese pedals chock full of tech and buzzwords with fancy private labels rage on and are good and all, but MKS seems to operate unaffected and -- like JW -- oblivious to stuff happening around them. I say this as a good thing, not a disparagement.

These pedals, which we named "Grip King" but MKS calls "Lambda" after the greek L, I think—why would they not name a pedal after a greek letter, and I'm no one to talk when it comes to naming bike things.

I LOVE MKS, the company, people, and pedals. They take forever to develop new things. A year longer than first predictions and reasonable expectations. They listen to requests, say YES, but when a Japanese person says Yes...welll, there's a whole book about that:

 When I got hired at Bstone in late '84 I was advised to read this book, and found it helpful. So maybe I'd forgotten its message: In Japan, hai ("yes") is used like, "I am still here and I hear what you are saying, and if you are asking a question, I literally hear your question"

One of my bosses used to say hai about 20 times a minute in bursts of two or three, during overseas phone calls. When speaking English, "yes" is used as liberally, and that's the problem. My problem, not theirs. It's part of the charm, but it's why you can't take Yes for an answer.

But let me rave about MKS's almost blandly fantastic pedals. The roughest they'll ever be is when they're new, and they get smoother over time. I've never felt a rough MKS pedal. Don't send me yours if you have one, I'm just saying I've seen and felt several hundreds or a couple of thousand over a few decades, and never a rough one.

JW's seen-better-days pedals felt smooth, but you don't have to take my word for it:

here's the proof:


I'm working on a Gus Boots-Willsen brochure; a combo brochure and Hillybike riding manual. I think a lot of people will disparage "Hillybike" as a concept, saying, "it's just an underevolved mountain bike." And that is exactly the point of Hillybike. It isn't. Mountain bikes have become uber-cycles, seem to be engineered for the apocalypse and made for showing off superheroes or just land-combatting bikes. The Gus (and CLEM) are an alternative, and no less able on any trail. They're just not for maximum downhill speed on rough courses. They're stable, fun, and way better on those things than --- well, MB-1s or anything else out of the '80s, though. We expect to have the second round of samples by end of Feb, and inventory in August.


In the making of the catalog, I think, despite my nervousness that comes from predicting reactions that haven't happened yet, that some readers will be surprised to see a lot of minority riders. Various ages, skin colors, and body types. They may make something bad of it. At one time I wanted all African-Americans (or black people whatever their cultural heritage), but they're not that easy to locate. The local high-school mountain bike teams, even in cities with a high percentage of black people, are bereft of any on the squad. I have seen one in my life--which is one more than I've seen fly-fishermen.

Trying to find one feels like a fishy thing to do, anyway--like I'm shooting for the skin color (there's some truth in that) rather than the person inside. But this is where the concept of "positive discrimination" comes up. It's from the book I posted about in the last BLAHG, and it IS discrimination, but it's kind of like reparations for past opposite discriminations. I am wrestling with if and how to do it, and am not sure I won't bail on it. The easy thing to do is shoot us here. We can go at the drop of a hat, locally or maybe to Mt. Tam, but few logistics problems. No waivers, no talking to parents ("Is it OK to take (son, daughter) off to the hills, perhaps have them ride without a helmet in safe conditions, and be a black person in a catalog that will be read almost entirely by white people? And this is no major cash cow. We'll buy them lunch as needed and pay them part cash, part products. They won't get rich. Rivendell is not Ralph Lauren."


You know Major Taylor?


You might wonder how he managed to even get a bike back then. The 1890s were the peak decade for lynchings, after all. White people were ticked off when slavery was made illegal, but private businesses could discriminate all they wanted, so they did a lot of that. Anyway, Major (born "Marshall" Taylor -- he got a bike only because his dad was a coach driver for a rich guy out in the boonies who wanted his son to have a playmate, so he took Marshall in for about four years. Both boys were home-schooled with a private tutor and when Danny Boy got a bike, so did Marshall, and guess who was fastest? Eventually the white family moved away and Marshall went back home, where he didn't exactly fit in anymore because he'd taken on the speech ways and mannerisms of his white temporary family. He got really fast and good, and at one point was the highest paid athlete in America, but he was between cultures and not at home in either. The obituary tells most of the rest.

The point is, up until the mid-'90s only rich people could afford bikes, and when black people started buying cheap used white people's bikes in 1894 or so, they were buying older technology and some dilapidations. Major Taylor got a pro track bike because he was a he made money for white race promotors and his (nice guy) coach--beside for himself. But that wasn't available to any other black people of the time.

Then the 1900s came and cars took over and no adults of any color wanted bikes anymore, at least not in the U.S. There was still some track racing. But basically, adults didn't get back onto bikes until the '70s, and black people weren't a big part of that for reasons related to opression, income, where they lived, and general life struggles that made voluntary exercise and equipment-intensive sports less accessible. So that's why recreational riding of any kind, and especially trail riding, is still so white. There may be details I've left out, but what I've included accounts for most of the phenomenon.


 Hey, three people send in old wallets for us to remake. Thanks. You all got $25 credits. Here's what they look like:

They're useful for certain other small things. Bike tools, tubes..

That's all for now.









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