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  Howie Green Interviews

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

Allen: Tell us something personal about yourself, your family life, schools you went to, etc.
Howie: I grew up a cool neighborhood called Concrest in East Rochester, NY and then we moved to Clarence Center, NY which is in farm country out side of Buffalo, NY. Clarence Center's only claim to fame is that Joan Baez's family lived there for a while when she was a teenager. I'm the oldest of 4 kids - typical 1950s post WWII family. I had never showed any interest in art - I was too busy playing baseball and being a kid - until we moved out to Clarence Center and being an adolescent in such an isloated place I had a lot of time on my hands. Our first or second Christmas there, I think I was 12, I got a pad of multicolored newprint paper as a gift and I started drawing...and I've never stopped. My parents were dead set against me being an artist so I was never allowed to take any art course in school and I had to draw in secret. I was the dorky kid under the covers at night with a flashlight in my mouth drawing comics. If my mother found me drawing she would have a fit and insist I do more homework or mow the lawn or paint the house or some other task. "Art" was considered a waste of time and the fact that they forbid it made it all the more interesting to me. Forbidden fruit is always tastier to a rebellious youth! Of course now they love the fact that I'm an artist and my mom even became the coordinator for the annual arts and crafts show on Conesus Lake after they moved there. My dad especially now seems to get a kick out of all my wacky art projects.

Yea so anyway by the time I was a senior in school I had all the credits I needed to graduate but I still needed to be at school for an entire day so I filled my time with any fun course like short hand, basketweaving, bead stringing, jewlery making and every art course the school would let me take. I got on well with my art teachers and they encouraged me a lot. I applied to R.I.T. for art school, much to my parent's chagrin, and got turned down because I didn't have any art credits from high school. But they said my portfolio was great so if I took a set of night courses at R.I.T. for a year I could start school the next fall. I moved back to Rochester and lived with my grandparents for a year, worked in a department store in the now defunct Midtown Plaza and went to night school 3 nights a week and started art school the next fall. Meanwhile the 60s was raging around me and I was having the time of my life!

When school started I was a bit scared because I thought I would be sadly lacking in skills but I was soon to learn, all modesty aside, that I was one of the best artists in my class. It was funny how the kids who could actually draw quickly formed into a nice friendly clique. Freshman year in art school was like a weeding out process and by the end of the year it was clearly apparent who was going on in art school and who was not. I went on to graduate from R.I.T. with a B.F.A and I can honestly say I had fun while I was there but mostly because I was a young hippie kid enjoying all the 60s cultural revolution had to offer. After a while I found art school a big joke. The only concrete thing I can point to that I learned was how to open doors with my feet - arms always full of supplies and books. I did get exposure to Josef Albers and Hermann Zaph and Wendall Castle and Bob Conge and a few other brilliant artist and designers but the actual day-to-day school stuff was a drag. It was the era of "do your own thing" and "find your own path" etc. so I was never actually taught any specific skill or processes. Luckily tuition was only $1800 a year so I was able to pay for the entire thing myself with my part time job. I feel bad for kids going to school today who are paying upwards of $40,000 a year for the same thing. Watch the movie "Art School Confidential" and you can see exactly what art school is like. That movie captures it perfectly.

The best thing about my time in school was my job. I got a job running the in-house exhibit service for the school which gave me free reign to an entire shop full of tools and a complete silk screen facility. So my friends and I spent a lot of time there working on our own projects and printing pieces which the school was totally cool about. It was a great resouce and I learned more on the job than I did in classes so for that I think my time in school was worth it.

Allen: What was the first comic book you ever read?
Howie: Probably one of the Disney ones from the 50s... or Nancy and Sluggo or Little Lulu. We had pretty vanilla stuff in the house when I was kid.

Allen: When did you first decide to become an artist?
Howie: My adolscent scratchings got a lot of good reviews from my relatives and school chums and I realized I had found my calling. I could draw Dick Tracy (my favorite comic strip at the time) and Archie and others pretty exactly so I kept drawing constantly and eventually I got one published in the school paper which was the turning point for me. When I saw myself in print, well that was it! I think it's probably similar to when singers first hear themselves on the radio.

Allen: Tell us about your art style.
Howie: I heard my style described as pop art fauvist... who knows? I think of it as painterly pop art with a touch of impressionism and expressionism tossed in to keep it loose and fun.

Allen: What artists influenced you to do your origional style?
Howie: My style developed from all my favorite artists. My first ambition was to be a cartoonist so I developed a stong cartoon style that incorporated all the guys I liked - Chester Gould and the Disney guys and whoever it was that drew a strip called "Smitty". Then Peter Max and Milton Glaser and the Push Pin Studios guys caught my attention and I incorporated that sensibility into my own work. And then Wes Wilson and Victor Moscosso and the San Franciso Hippie poster guys blew my mind when they hit the scene and I incorporated their style into what I was doing. And then Yellow Submarine stopped me in my tracks and I've never gotten over it. I still watch it 2-3 times a year. Its so visually rich I still find new stuff in it.

Meanwhile behind all this was Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenberg and the Impressionists and good old Norman Rockwell. So my style is really a lot of styles rolled into one. I can paint very realistically but I don't care about that style. I would never be better than Wyeth or Rockwell so why bother. It was good to learn how to do that but I was more interested in paint and brushwork and using all the colors I could use and doing art that was fun.

Allen: I noticed that you have drawn comic book characters for fun. How many characters have you drawn?
Howie: I love to paint comic characters. I've done hundreds. Literally. I lost count years ago. I love that Warhol and Lichtenstein did it first and their treatment of comics as art had a huge influence on my thinking about art. I remember as a kid walking into the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo when the first traveling Pop Art show came to town when I was just starting to draw and seeing Dick Tracy and the same subjects I was drawing up on the walls on canvas. Seeing that stuff changed my life.

Allen: Who are some of the characters that you have drawn?
Howie: Everyone from Betty Boop to Mickey Mouse. A while ago I got hired to do a bunch of paintings of comic cats for a nightclub so I did big paintings of every cartoon cat I could think of.

Click here to see some of my more recent comic character paintings

Allen: Tell me about your story Jazz Fish Zen: Adventures in Mamboland.
Howie: Mamboland and Jazz Fish dropped out of the sky into my lap from the muses. I was on the phone one day in some boring conference call about a design job and I was just doodling and I looked down and saw that I had drawn a fish with a beret playing a saxaphone. I honestly have no idea where it came from - totally from my subconcious. I thought it was funny so I put it up on the wall and kept looking at it for months.

As for Mamboland - for as long as I can remember I have been drawing odd shapes and sort of cosmic Tinkertoy looking things. I even did a big painting of one back in art school. Occassionally I would look at them and think that I should do something with them but never did. In 1990 some of my work was in a show in a gallery in Boston and at the opening this guy started talking to me about my work. Turns out he was a publisher and he loved my stuff and wondered if I had a book in me? Did I ever? Of course not but I told him I would see what I could do because what fool would ever turn down a chance to do a book? I went down to Cape Cod for a couple days and did a creative retreat - just me and a sketchbook - and I came up with the idea of Mamboland and worked in the Jazz Fish and wrote an outline for the story. The publisher loved it and off I went. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating the book and am currently working on a few more book ideas. The book is now out of print but its still available on Amazon.com and I get email regularly from people all over the globe who find a copy and write to me about the book. I love it!

Allen: Would you please talk about your gallery?
Howie: My online gallery started in 2004. I decided to do for myself what I had been doing for all my web design clients. I created my online gallery to show my work and its evolved a lot over the last 3 years. I regularly spend time reworking the text and format of it so it will be of interest to the search engines which in turn continues to drive a lot of traffic to my site, which has had great results for me. A lot of people find me online and that has lead to my being able to paint pretty much full time and things are looking great for the future as well. Having the online gallery has enabled me open up opportunities which otherwise would never have come my way - and thank goodness for Ebay. What a great venue for artists to sell our work!

Allen: I noticed that you did 101 record album art covers for show. Would you consider doing comic book covers if given chance? What would be your dream character project?
Howie: I would LOVE to do more comic paintings. When Steve Kaufmann was doing art for the Warner Bros. Stores in the 90s he did a bunch of comic cover paintings - I own one - and I've always thought that would be a fun project to do... maybe I'll start doing some? I would love to do 101 comic book cover paintings for a show - anyone out there with a gallery?? Now that you have given me the idea I'm going to start painting a few.

Allen: What gallery shows will you be attending or have attended? Is comic book art present at shows?
Howie: I go to gallery shows all the time. I go to comic cons and science fictions cons all the time too and I've had art in lots of those shows, but I mostly go to see all the other art that was on display. I have a huge art collection. I love comic art!

Allen: Please talk about your charitable causes. I noticed that you raise money for some wonderful causes.
Howie: Well I would love to be all altruistic and tell you I'm "giving back" and all that crap that people ususally say but the truth is that its fun, its great exposure and I get to meet all kinds of folks. I don't do a lot of charity work because I got taken advantage of several times and it made me cautious. I have celebrity friends who get involved in various organizations and I tend to work with them. Celebrities love having me do their portraits then they donate the art to the charity and they auction it off, make prints - whatever - to raise some money. Everyone wins and like I said it's usually a lot of fun. I did three of the cows in Cow Parade Boston 2006 and I got more media exposure for those than for anything else I've ever done...and they raised a LOT of money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Like I said everyone wins if its done correctly.

Allen: What are your hobbies and recreational activities?
Howie: When I have spare time I love classic cars to the point of obsession. I have owned 6 Nash Metropolitans and a Crosley Estate Wagon but am currently car-less due to the insane cost of parking and garaging a car in Boston. I also serve as a media critic for a content company in Boston called edgeboston.com - so I see a lot of movies and theatre and do a lot of writing. I also spend a lot of time with my 2 amazing foster grandkids who are tons of fun. I spend as much time as I can with them because they are more fun than anything in life and they are both better artists than I am. And then there's my toy collecting but that's a whole separate interview.

Allen: If you can have 6 dinner guests, 3 fictional and 3 real-life from any time period, who would those 6 people be and why?
Howie: Marilyn Monore, so I could see for myself what she was like and so I could see her face in person - George Washington, because I have been obsessed with him for my entire life - Ben Franklin, for laughs - Huck Finn, because he's my favorite character from fiction and I would love to spend time with him - Harry Potter so I could give him a hug and let him know how important he was to my foster grandson - Groucho Marx, because he and Ben Franklin would be a riot together

Allen: If you could go into any time machine, what year would you stop at and tell us why.
Howie: 1776 - I have been a rabid student of the founding fathers for my entire life and I would love to exprience that period of time when nothing was certain, everything look like a disaster, but knowing what I know and that it would all work out in the end...well kind of.

Allen: What TV shows, movies, cartoons do you like?
Howie: At the moment my favorite show is Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide - I watch it every day. It's like a cartoon come to life and Devon Werkheiser is a riot. He's the funniest kid on TV. I also love The Batman, The Legion of Superheros - both for the way the way they look - mostly the stories suck and they are just a lot of noise but they look great. Same for Teen Titans. I have watched all the Ben 10 series which is pretty good and all the ongoing series of Marvel and DC animated feature films... love those! I loved the Justice League and all the Bruce Timm produced shows from a few years back. I miss Pink and the Brain and the Animainiacs but I have them all on DVD.

Movies are a passion of mine so I have a thousand favorite films. I must own easily over 1000 movies on DVD and I'm addicted to Turner Classic Movies Channel which I have on all day long when I'm painting. Mae West, Marlene Deitrich and Garbo are my favorites so any time I can watch them I'm happy. Love the XMen films, Love Harry Potter, Love Star Wars, Love any movies based on cartoons or comics - Sin City, The 300, whatever. Even if they suck like the Fantastic Four films I sill love them. I never saw a Bogart film I didnt like and I love big stupid biblical epic films - they're the best comedy films ever. I also love Warhol's films and I wish they would release them on DVD. I've actually seen the 6 hour version of "Empire" his movie of the Empire State Building. I love the idea of that movie. He really was a genius...or an idiot savant, not that there is much difference.

Allen: What books do you enjoy?
Howie: Anything by Michael Chabon - The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay is an astounding book - and all the comics he's been producing about his character The Escapist. And any historical books about the founding fathers. And the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. And Harry Potter. And the Eragon books. And anything by Phil Pullman or Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke.

Allen: Do you read comic books now? If so what is your favorite character or story line?
Howie: I look for anything featuring Shazzam. He's my fave. I go to comic stores all the time and anything might catch my eye. I'm not much interested in overly muscled air-brushed crap. I look for the hand drawn stuff like Sin City where I know a real person did the book.

Allen: What gives you your creative energy?
Howie: The need to pay the rent and feed myself! After that its the kick I get from seeing what I can create. It turned me on when I was 12 and it still gets my juices flowing.

Allen: If you had any super powers what would they be?
Howie: I would love to be able to fly. That would just be the best.

Allen: This ends the interview, any encouraging words of wisdom?
Howie: Do what you love and try to avoid people who drain your positive energy. And, to quote Dolly Parton, be nice to people - it don't cost nothin'. I've always thought that most people work with me because they like me. My work is good and all that but the real reason I get hired is because I'm fun and I love what I do for a living. Enjoy!!

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