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  Howie Green Interviews

Interviewed by: Allen Klingelhoets - February 2009
Jazma Field Marshall
www.jazmaonline.com

Allen: Welcome back to Jazma Online Howie Green. It is a joy to have you back at Jazma Online for a new interview. Tell me about origins of Howie Green.

Howie Green: Well, I started out as a fetus and slowly grew into a young man with a passion for drawing and creating cool art things.

Allen: How long have you been professional artist?

Howie Green: Pretty much since my freshman year in college. I lucked out at the end of freshman year and landed a job working for my school (RIT in Rochester, NY). I ended working for the school for the next three years part time and full time during the summer and had a nice workshop set up that I used for my own projects as well. We served as the school's exhibit and trade show workshop, which was an awesome thing to have full access to. I did all kinds of designs and artwork for posters and promotions including full-scale trade show booths to promote the school.

Allen: Which artists attracted you to visual art field?

Howie Green: Well my list of folks who inspired me to get into this crazy field is long but it started with Chester Gould the guy who did Dick Tracy. It's all his fault. I started copying Dick Tracy strips when I was about 11 or 12 and I had found my calling. I still love looking at those old strips from the 1950s and 60s. They were so odd and distorted and weird. Love it.

Allen: Tell me about tools that you use in your trade.

Howie Green: I use anything that works. I have several computers and tons of software and all that stuff we have to have now days but I don't use any of it to create my artwork. Mostly I use pretty traditional materials, pen, ink, pencils, paint brushes... the usual stuff. Once I have the art completed then the computers and scanner and software and printers allow me all kinds of ways to manipulate the images and print then on different surfaces and all that cool stuff. But it all starts with just a pencil and paper.

Allen: Tell me all about some of your favorite comic book artists.

Howie Green: I mentioned Chester Gould and after that it's a long list including Jack Kirby, Gene Colon, Frank Miller, Carl Barks, Alex Ross, Jeff Smith, Charles Burns, Jason Pearson, Phil Hester, Darwyn Cook, - I could go on forever. I like guys who draw like humans with pens and ink and not machines. I'm not a big fan of the slick shiny over-muscled over-Photoshoped type art. Alex Ross is pretty slick but his work is just breathtaking and beautiful on a whole different level from everyone else. I see a lot of people try to duplicate his style with Photoshop and it's not the same.

Allen: Have you ever thought about including any of your art in comic books?

Howie Green: I would love to but no one has ever approached me and I don't have any contacts in the comic book world. I've tried over the years but with no luck. It seems to be a pretty small and very closed off field. And I know enough about publishing to be wary. I have a good friend who owns a very large book publishing company so she's educated me over the last few decades all about publishing. I continue to do comic book art for myself just because its fun to do. It is interesting to me that my comic art page on my web site is one of the most popular pages.

Allen: What are some of your favorite comic book characters like to draw?

Howie Green: Superman and Captain Marvel / Shazam are my all time favorites. And the Hulk is always fun because you can never to too far with him.

Allen: Do you presently read any comic books?

Howie Green: I just finished reading the whole stack of World War Hulk comics which were great and the whole Death of Capt. America right up through when Bucky takes over the job. Great stuff. Other than that I just pick up comics that catch my eye when I go to the comic books stores. Literally anything might grab me. I am fond of a new book called LobsterMan Johnson and I keep finding Scrooge McDuck books I missed and old Steve Canyon and Terry and the Pirates and Little Nemo and TinTin and such. I love the fact that everything seems to be getting reprinted.

Allen: Do you look forward to seeing comic book related movies?

Howie Green: Are you kidding? I live for those movies. I love them all even the really bad ones. I have a pretty thorough collection on tape and DVD of every single comic based movie I have been able to find going back to the old Blondie and Dagwood films from the 1930. Love Ironman and Hulk and I always buy the Marvel and DC animated films the day they hit the Best Buy store near me. I've been working on book a for several years that is a complete listing of movies and TV shows based on comic book characters and sources. Well over 300 so far and still counting and I have watched every one of them - good and bad.

Allen: Have you ever created a movie poster used for promoting theatre release?

Howie Green: Yea I've a done a couple in the last 2 years for movie producers but they didn't make the final cut. I'm not sure my style is suited to what they are looking for but it's fun to give it a try. They want to see all kinds of possible poster designs but they always chicken out at the end and go with something that looks like every other movie posters. The last great movie posters and promotional materials that were done were for Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy Film back in 1990. Since then it's been pretty boring and predictable stuff.

Allen: Tell me about some of other projects you did for Mellow Mushroom. I really like Fleming Island murals.

Howie Green: I love those Mellow Mushroom folks. They have an interesting franchise set up which allows each of their respective owners to try to come up with the coolest and most fun environments they can create. They are all wildly different and that's part of the fun. Any Mellow Mushroom you see is worth a visit because it's going to have a lively and exciting interior dˇcor. The guys in Fleming Island (Jacksonville) found me online because they were looking for some album covers to use and we ended up becoming friends and they hired me to do the whole place. I did several murals and about 60 individual paintings that are all hanging up in the place.

Then I did another Mellow Mushroom last year down in Delray Beach near Ft. Lauderdale which has 2 large murals and 30 individual paintings. I love doing the projects because of the scope and scale of them.

Allen: How long did you work on Fleming Island 36' mural? How did you decide what characters would appear in 36' celebrity bar mural?

Howie Green: The celebrities at the bar mural took about two weeks to complete and they are all just about painted at life size. I let the Mellow folks pick whoever they wanted to include so it was fun to paint because I had never painted any of those celebrities before.

Allen: Do you have to ask publisher permission when you do mural like The Beatles Abbey Road cover?

Howie Green: That's a question for the lawyers. I know the Mellow Mushroom lawyers approved the art and signed off on it so I assumed it was all OK.

Allen: Do you have plans to do other murals for Mellow Mushroom businesses?

Howie Green: Right now the same guys who did the Fleming Island location are doing a new Mellow Mushroom right near Jacksonville Beach and we have been discussing various ideas. (NOTE: since this interview Howie completed painting a schoolbus in the Mellow Mushroom at Jacksonville Beach - click here for photos)

Allen: Tell me about your pop art murals for theme restaurant chain Kahunaville.

Howie Green: Kahunaville was started by the guy who owned the art gallery in Boston where I showed my work. He is one of the most original and creative thinkers I have ever met. I got hired on day one of the Kahunaville project to do all the design and I worked very closely with them for the first several years on everything from logos, and menus to the murals. And I even wrote the "Legend of Kahunaville" that explained the characters I created and how the whole thing came about. When they opened the one in Korea the owners did an animated cartoon based on my story.

The murals were all done as hand drawn art, then scanned and converted into digital art files and colored. Then we had them all printed out like billboards and mounted on the walls. That method is very cost effective and allowed us to totally control the entire process from long distance.

Allen: Tell me about your love for classic cars. Do you like to paint many vehicles?

Howie Green: This is a particular sore point with me. I love the line in "Sin City" where the guy complains that all modern cars look like electric shavers. I agree. I currently drive a 10 year old Jeep and before that I had a vintage Volvo I drove for over 300,000 miles. I really hate modern cars. They are the totally boring combinations of the worst of Detroit and the worst of technology. I hope to never own one. I grew up in the 50s when cars were moving scultpures and they all looked different and the designers came up with new and memorable designs every year. I could tell every car on the road and what year, make and model it was. I still love cars from that era. Until very recently I owned several Nash Metropolitans which are my favorite cars of all time. I had to sell them because garage space in Boston has gotten to be very rare and insanely expensive. It was so much fun to drive around in them and see people react.

Nowadays you can't even tell what car you are driving when you are sitting inside of them. They are all putty-colored and it feels like you are sitting in a giant vat of tan Play Dough. All the computer technology they have built into today's cars doesn't add up to a warm pile of spit as far as I'm concerned. They still all get crap gas mileage and still all burn fossil fuel. Where is the improvement? And have we all become so feaking stupid we can't read maps anymore. Who on earth needs a CPS in their car. What a load of nonsense! I have a friend with a new Jaguar with all the bells and whistles - I would rather drive my old Jeep. The only new car I would own is a Smart Car but I think it's very disappointing they get such low gas mileage. A car that new and that small should be getting 60-80 mpg not the 35-40 they get. Very disappointing!

I did paint an old Crosly station wagon a while back and I would love to paint another actual car or school bus or something. Ever since I painted the three cows I did in the 2006 Cow Parade Boston I am constantly looking for large 3-D things I can paint. If anyone out there wants their vehicle painted let me know. I would do it for free just to get some fun photos for my portfolio. I'm planning on painting my Jeep this coming summer. What the hell the resale value of the thing is pretty much nothing at this point so I might as well make it look outrageous.

Allen: Tell me about "Madonna Smoking' portrait. Where did you get that idea?

Howie Green: That one came from an image that I saw promoting her "Erotica" album back in 1990 or whenever that came out. I was fascinated by her face and the shadows and the cigarette - although I would never smoke. My painting got featured in a British art book called "Madonna In Art" by Mem Memhet.

Allen: Tell me about some of your favorite portraits you have been lucky enough to work on. How many portraits of celebrities have you created?

Howie Green: My favorite celebrity portrait is of my friend Alison Arngrim who played Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. I met Alison back in the mid 80s and we have been friends ever since. I painted her as Nellie for a fundraiser thing we did together. I did an edition of prints and the whole thing sold out. I'm very proud of that.

Allen: Tell me about some of your recent charitable causes.

Howie Green: There is a large care facility in Boston called the Dimock Center and last summer I did a series of murals there to liven up the place including one that is 72 foot long. I was asked to get involved by the nice folks at Sun Life Financial who set up a group of volunteers to help me and then I have continued on doing additional murals there on my own. Its all volunteer and they pretty much let me do what I like to do. I'm planning a new hallway set of murals as we speak that hopefully will get painted this spring and summer.

Allen: Tell me about art you did for 2007 American Idol finalist Chris Sligh.

Howie Green: That came about through a friend of his who frequents the Fleming Island Mellow Mushroom. She loves my album cover paintings in the Mellow Mushroom and she called me and asked if I would do a painting of Chris to celebrate his first album release. The timing worked out pefectly because I was driving a set of murals down to Delray Beach from Boston. So I went right through Jacksonville and we met up at the Mellow Mushroom and I handed off the painting to her and had a nice lunch of Mellow pizza - seriously the best pizza in the world. I was supposed to meet up with Chris on his tour but I couldn't make it happen so maybe next time. By the way his album is great!

Allen: I am curious if your art has appeared in recent television shows like Desperate Housewives.

Howie Green: Not that I know of but your question made me watch a couple episodes. I do have a friend working to get my art in some films so maybe something like that will happen. That would be very cool! Did you see something on TV that looked like mine?

Allen: Tell me about your cover painting for the Biggie Smalls tribute album "Unbelievable". How did this cover come about? Tell me also about award you won for cover.

Howie Green: I keep joking with my friends about my success with that cover. Nothing says hip hop street credibility like me, a middle aged white guy. I love the way Biggie looked. I saw some photos of him and I knew I had to paint him. He had a flair for style and attitude that reminded me of the old blues and jazz guys. Most rappers look like escapees from a clown factory but Biggie had a whole other thing going on.

So I did several paintings of the big man and I was happy with them. The producer of the album found my painting online and asked me if he could use it on the cover. I agreed and when the album came out he got more reaction to my art than to the album which is pretty funny. The company who makes the sweaters that Biggie used to wear wanted copy of my painting because they thought I captures the texture and look of their clothing perfectly. I ended up painting that cover's image a bunch of times for people who wanted to own one. And the album just got re-released. I have a huge version of the painting hanging up in my studio as we speak.

Allen: Tell me about Mamboland. Are you still doing any work on Mamboland?

Howie Green: Well Mamboland is a long story. Back in the late 80s when I was trying to get a foothold in the gallery world I needed to find something that was unique and totally mine. The gallery owners I met loved my work but wanted me to keep going and find my own world of images - which I agreed, would be a good thing. So I kept drawing for months and nothing happened. Then one day I was on the phone with a client in a boring group phone call and I was doodling and I drew the jazz fish with his beret and saxophone. I have no idea where he came from but I thought he was a cool comic character so I stuck him on my office bulletin board and everyone who saw him asked about him.

At the time I had a time-share condo down on Cape Cod right on the ocean in mid March which is a great time to go to there. It is totally desolate along the beaches with only the hardy souls who actually live there year-round in residence. The place I stayed was always empty then so it was a great quiet getaway for me to use as a creative retreat. I took Jazz Fish with me along with some movies and sketch books and for a week I was by myself drawing and thinking and meditating and totally self-absorbed in my work. At the end of the week I came back home with a sort of raw outline of this world known as Mamboland.

I actuality I have been drawing the 3-D shapes that make up most of Mamboland since I was a kid. I love doing them and I can do them forever but it never occurred to me that they might actually be something in and of themselves.

So I started drawing the Jazz Fish with the 3-D shapes and it worked. I loved and got really inspired and out of all that work evolved the idea of Mamboland being Zen-like world filled with odd characters and that Jazz Fish wasn't really part of it but merely a strange visitor from another place. The whole thing made a peculiar sense to me so I wrote a rough story so I could figure out who was who and how it all worked. I started doing paintings to show in the gallery in Boston and one day I was there and this guy came over to me and started talking to me about one of the Mamboland painting. Turns out he was a book publisher and love my art and wondered if I had a book in me. Really it actually happened just like that. That sort of thing NEVER happens but it really did. So of course I said yes indeed I had a book and a week later I presented him with a pile of Mamboland art and the first draft of the story. From there on the book developed and got published and took on a life of its own. It's called "Jazz Fish Zen: Adventures in Mamboland". It is out of print now but still available through my web site or through Amazon.com

I still hear from people now all over the world who read the book and ask me all kinds of questions. The book was pretty successful and I wrote a follow up to it but it's never been published. I'm seriously thinking of publishing myself now that full color book publishing-on-demand has finally become a reality.

The success of the book inspired me to do all kinds of other things with the art and characters and we did a CD-Rom game and toys and other cool goodies. Hasbro even licensed the whole thing from me for a year but the couldn't figure out what to do with it all so nothing ever came of it which was disappointing for me. I still think Mamboland and all that stuff is awesome and the best thing I have ever done and I'm still waiting for the right connections to bring on to a larger stage and get the exposure it deserves. But that's just me. I could go on forever about it but I will stop now.

Allen: What do you feel are some of most unique items you have created?

Howie Green: I think the whole of Mamboland is pure genius and so cool. I just wish someone else felt the same way. I use Mamboland's Mayor Noodle as my signature character because he's just the best thing I have ever created. The world would love Noodle if he ever gets the chance. I've been thinking a lot about Mamboland recently and I'm ready to go back into it and rework the ideas and update them and create a whole new thing. If I was 20 I would be out drawing Noodle on every building I could fine which would be a cool way to re-introduce him to the world. Hey Keith Haring had his crawling baby, Shepard Fairey has the whole Andre the Giant/Obey thing and I have Noodle.

Allen: Tell me about best way to contact you. Also, tell me about your website location?

Howie Green: The best way to contact me is to call me or email me. My website is www.hgd.com and started out long ago as my graphic design company site but over the last 5 years has transformed into my art and gallery site. I was an early pioneer in the web back in 1993 and as far as I know I was the first graphic designer to ever do a web site. Seriously! I was in the right place at the right time and working with the right group of people.

Nowadays my web site is my face to the world and I use it to publicize my work and I sell my art to people from all over the globe... even Shanghai.

Allen: Do you sell your art or do commissions?

Howie Green: Absolutely! I sell my art and I love doing commissions. Visit my web site to see what I have done and what I have for sale... which is pretty much everything I do.

Allen: Do you have many exhibitions planned for future?

Howie Green: As a matter of fact I do. I have been approached by a group of people putting together a traveling art show and they want me to be involved as an artist and as a consulting curator. Should be fun. It hopefully hits the road in the fall of 2010 traveling to over 100 cities around the world. But with the economy going off a cliff these days who knows if it will actually happen or not.

Allen: What do you do to relax?

Howie Green: I read, watch movies, go for walks, go swimming, go shopping, visit museums, and I paint. I love painting. I would rather be painting than almost anything else.

Allen: Tell me about your family life.

Howie Green: I have two sisters and a brother. I was the only one in my family to be an artist and I think I became one because my parents were dead set against it. I received no encouragement at all when I was growing up but I was determined and I followed my dream in spite of all the odds. Some days I think it worked out for the better. I actually thank my parents for trying to prevent me from being an artist because it just made me all the more determined. It took them a long time to warm up to the idea but they eventually came around. My mother even ended up producing outdoor art shows in their town for a decade or so.

My foster son is a phenomenal wood worker and carpenter and I have a foster grandson who I hope is going to follow a creative path in life because he's very gifted kid. I have been drawing with him since he could hold a crayon and I have tried to keep his mind open to all sorts of possibilities. He's almost a teenager which is when a lot of creative ideas get shut down so hopefully he'll keep going in a creative direction.

Allen: What sort of novels have you been reading?

Howie Green: Just finished the latest in the Eragon series and the Maximum Ride series and the Percy Jackson series. Most of the fiction I read is aimed at adolescent kids and seriously they are the best books being created these days. Oh yea and I love the Skullduggery Pleasant books. Other than those I read mostly history books about various subjects.

Allen: What sort of movies do you like to watch?

Howie Green: I love old movies from the 1930s and 40s. That is probably my favorite era for films. But I like action films and spy movies and I'm always happy to watch any animated movies. Loved "Hellboy and the Golden Army"! That director is a brilliant visual guy but his "Pan's Labyrith" film was a really unpleasant experience to sit through. I try to avoid "Chick Ficks" as much as possible. Not really concerned about overly emotional women and their convoluted thought processes. Saw "Coraline" the other day and loved watching it but man, what a creepy story. Not a kid's movie at all!

Allen: What is your mission statement when creating new Howie Green projects?

Howie Green: "Have fun and create stuff that makes people stop, smile and go "WOW"

Allen: What inspires your creativity?

Howie Green: Honestly I never know. My inspirations seem to come out of nowhere. At the moment I am consumed with the work of the Art Deco British pottery designer Clarice Cliff. I just discovered her work a few months ago and it has inspired me to create hundreds of drawing and paintings on paper, canvas, china, wood bowls and on and on and on. Last year I was consumed with Orson Welles. I never know what's going to hit me.

Allen: Thank you Howie Green for participating in new Jazma interview. I look forward to future interview with you. Would you like to leave readers with any insights that we can close interview with?

Howie Green: When in doubt, use Helvetica.

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