He messages me this on October 20th: “Listen. A western is coming out that looks amazing. Bone Tomahawk. Look it up.”
Me: “Oh nice. I’ll check it out. Hateful 8 looks good too.”
He: “Don’t backtalk me, son.”
I don’t watch the movie and the following week he messages again. “Do yourself a favor and watch Bone Tomahawk.” Then another week goes by.
Luckily one day I get sick enough to stay home from work and finally I get a chance to see it. Good movie. There’s a scene with a man sawed in half hanging upside down, entrails plopping out onto the cave floor.
It makes sense that Michael Seymour Blake likes that movie.
All his cartoons feature bodily mutation. Always present are muscles stacked like bowling balls, or links of sausage. Limbs stretched like rubber. He seems to be animating the struggle of having a body on this troubling planet, how to cope with eyes searching your every move if you happen to have the misfortune of leaving your bedroom. Melting faces, cracked teeth, etc.
Michael Seymour Blake is a glorious weirdo, and so am I.
I’m always on the lookout for other weirdos.
Michael illustrated a tweet from the author Brian Alan Ellis. That was the first drawing I saw. It was a thing he was doing at the time, illustrating tweets. He started with a tweet from Mira Gonzalez, where she said that her boyfriend’s dog was sexier than her. He put up a notice on his Instagram that you could submit a tweet and he would illustrate it if he liked what you sent. I liked the idea so much that I sent him a hundred potential tweets to illustrate. He illustrated zero.
“I love westerns,” Michael Seymour Blake writes to me. “Yeah. Unless they’re specifically going for realism.”
“A bunch of people slowly going somewhere in a wagon?”
“Those aren’t really the westerns I watch.”
I ask him what he watches.
He continues: “What comes to mind, in no order: Rio Bravo, For a Few Dollars More, Magnificent Seven, Tombstone, Johnny Guitar, new and old True Grit…basically all three Man with No Name. I haven’t seen Once Upon a Time in the West in way too many years so I can’t count it. Then there’s The Great Silence, Shane, etc. So many. I fucking love westerns. Why? No clue.”
“You like reading western books?”
“I would LOVE if they made Hawkline Monster into a movie and did it right, but it would be damn near impossible.”
And there it is, Richard Brautigan, one of my favorite writers in the universe and of course MSB loves Richard Brautigan.
His email is Brautigan-related too, but I won’t type it here in case he starts getting flooded with spam.
Michael Seymour Blake loves westerns and Richard Brautigan.
This all makes sense to me, because I think Michael Seymour Blake is illustrating a universe without conventional rules and that is what westerns are. They are fantasy representations of an America that never really happened.
He is illustrating a world made of watermelon sugar and six shooters.
He calls it doodling but there’s something bigger going on than that.
Often he turns the spotlight back on the artist himself with popping pimples, beads of sweat, grotesque self-portraits that reflect the emotional response to being an individual in society rather than a face in the mirror.
My favorite drawings have people staring into cellphones, punk rockers with safety pins in their faces checking for Twitter retweets or Instagram hearts. A smiling cat on a skateboard with a t-shirt covered in bones. The cat is saying, “I can’t really skate I’m just drawn this way.”
His characters always have the best t-shirts.
Jason Voorhees in a Minor Threat t-shirt had me busting a gut for three whole minutes.
The best drawing he ever did was of a car with all kinds of cartoon characters riding on it, but all the characters are distracted by their cellphones. Including the rabbit, staring at his phone while he’s driving and then you focus in a little deeper and realize the car is a cellphone too.
MSB puts out a lot of work. Drawings pop up regularly on his Instagram and his Facebook and if you talk to him about how good they are, he doesn’t believe you. That’s fine.
What it does, though, seeing somebody put out that volume of wild work, it just makes me want to do the same thing.
Case in point: last year, I saw his posts and started using them as prompts for stories, then sent the collab pieces out to lit magazines.
Here are some of those pieces:
We also did this column for Real Pants about getting wasted at work:
Michael Seymour Blake says: “If you want to create, do it. The very act of making is a beautiful thing. Make ugly art, make refined art, make anything art. Throw your expectations in a pot and let them simmer on the stove for a while. It’s tough when you’re not considered good at what you do, but know that you have at least one person who’s got your back. Express what you can, however you can…and if you can’t, do it anyway.”
Somebody out there, make Hawkline Monster into a movie, please.
Bud Smith is the author of novels F250, Tollbooth, I’m From Electric Peak and others. He works heavy construction in NJ.
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