Okay, I’m feeling lucky. I think you guys are liking this and so I will post yet another chapter in less than a week! My goal is to entertain you. If you keep reading, I think you’ll get hooked as you learn more about our hero, Fernando, and his misadventures. Consider purchasing a Kindle edition (at the nice price of only $2.99) and leaving a review at Amazon. Just go right here.
Fernando had this recurring dream of floating away in a big beautiful balloon. Just like that famous pop song from the Sixties, “Up Up and Away,” by The 5th Dimension. It came out in 1967, the Summer of Love. “Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?” is how it began. What a glorious poppy sound full of bubblegum optimism! It made no sense but it felt so right. “Up Up and Away—for we can fly!” Fernando would have been all of twelve years-old, an innocent little bright-eyed boy ready for Jupiter to align with Mars. This was, as everyone knew, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
What stuck with Fernando about the Age of Aquarius was reincarnation. It was believed by many that the Second Coming, the Reincarnation of Jesus Christ, was aligned with the passing of the Age of Pisces giving way to the Age of Aquarius. Each age being over 2,000 years, Pisces represents the great age of travel on water; and Aquarius represents the great emerging age of travel in air, and in space. The Jet Age and the Space Age! What an incredible time to be alive! If there was to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ, then surely there was to be a reincarnation of Dale Carnegie! Anything was possible. It was both a time of fanciful hot air balloons and the most sophisticated rocket science.
Fernando’s father had built a hot air balloon in the final years leading up to his disappearance. It was meant to promote his musical act. Over the years, relatives mailed that same hot air balloon to Fernando in various parts. The guards never bothered to ask about it. They even helped Fernando find a few missing parts on eBay.
Fernando grew up in an era full of turmoil but also great optimism, one that could sustain groovy dreams for many years, even decades. The image of a miraculous hot air balloon persisted in Fernando’s mind day and night. A most magical balloon would be his means of escape!
Honestly, I don’t see why I shouldn’t spring another chapter on you ahead of schedule if you’re ready. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, well, I just can’t see why that should be. I am dying to know what you think. And I’m even thinking of knocking the price down on the Kindle edition if I’m talked into it. Anyway, enough of that for now.
Remember, all you really need to know is that our hero, Fernando, is a rogue immigrant from Cuba. He means well and, in fact, he has a pretty darn important purpose in life!
Manuel and Paloma did have a son. However, their good fortune would not last. In 1959, Castro took control. Artists, intellectuals, and activists were all in danger. And, as the years passed, Castro and his regime would pluck out dissenters. One day, in 1967, Manuel was plucked and never seen again. And, when Fernando came of age, in the prime of his life, in 1977, he too was thrown into a prison cell. It was now 2017 and Manuel Rivera’s son, so full of promise and supposedly with a special purpose, had been languishing in a Cuban prison for the better part of his life. This is where our story of Fernando begins.
So many years locked away. Oh, the horror. Fernando, if he ever dared to dream, had lost much of his youthful spark, almost forgetting how to dream. If he had ever known his true calling, it had been buried deep inside him, beyond reach. Perhaps his father had only hinted at what lay ahead in Fernando’s future. But, for now, he was not much better off than a dog. And what could he possibly do now at this point in his life? Was he already too old? Were his best days behind him? Had he ever had better days? Still, like a dog, he had a strong survival instinct fully intact—and he had not completely given up. In fact, he remained a crafty little devil.
Fernando had been plotting his escape for years. Unlike many prisoners, Fernando valiantly did all he could to hold on to his soul. He had seen what had happened to many of his fellow Cubans. Many of them blamed themselves for getting locked away in prison. Somehow, there was a peculiar mindset that believed in Castro and that, no matter what he did, Castro had a very good reason for it! This was the control that an authoritarian had over his people. It exists to this very day and not only in Cuba but around the world, even in the United States of America. Hard to believe—but true. Fernando had enough to worry about just being in prison but he knew that Castro was wrong and that others like him were also just as wrong.
Fernando’s father, before he disappeared forever, had told his son that he was the reincarnation of Dale Carnegie, the world-renown motivational speaker. But what did that really mean? So many years later, was that supposed to be accepted at face value or was it just a metaphor, a symbol of hope? Fernando stirred at night trying to understand what it meant and what was to happen to him. Did he have any hope left? What helped him out a lot was the fact he had become a fixture in the prison system. He had been around for so long that he could pretty much come and go as he pleased—at least that is what he thought.
Sometimes, Fernando was locked into his cell with great ceremony. Other times, it seemed that, if he wanted to, he could walk right out of the prison. It was a big game with the guards, he was sure. It went unspoken with little rhyme or reason. No one seemed to care much what Fernando did. The guards were an odd mix of utter incompetence and light thinkers with glimmers of philosophical insight. “Let him walk right out of here,” Fernando overheard one of them say, “and he will run right back to what he knows best, his dull but familiar prison routine!”
Finally, the day would come when Fernando would have the last laugh. Before it really became too late, he would escape and never return.
Has a major American city ever commissioned a graphic novel as a public art piece before? Seattle is on board! Cartoonist David Lasky and writer Mairead Case have been selected (from 71 applicants) by the City of Seattle to create a fictional graphic novel centered around the historic Georgetown Steam Plant. The goal is to increase awareness of this unique landmark with a graphic novel geared toward young adults.
Panel from “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song”
David Lasky is the co-author (with Frank Young) of the Eisner-Award-winning graphic novel biography, “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.” Chicago writer Mairead Case is the author of the acclaimed prose novel, “See You in the Morning.” A story by Lasky and Case, “Soixante Neuf,” was featured in Best American Comics 2011.
West elevation exterior of engine room. The Georgetown Steam Turbine Station, built in 1906 is now a National Historic Landmark. The plant is owned by Seattle City Light and has been working to restore the plant. It is open for tours the second Saturday of each month and is occasionally used as a teaching facility for steam power engineers and hobbyists.
Here is a brief email interview I did with Mairead Case today:
What went through your head when you got the news about being chosen for this special graphic novel project?
Well I was, am, sincerely grateful: to be from a city that celebrates public monuments with comics, and to have visibility and support for the creative relationship David and I have pretty much always had, even when nobody else was looking. Grateful to have work that includes time for oral histories and site-specific research (no screens!). And aware of the responsibility to accurately represent Georgetown’s diverse history—we want to use this platform to amplify and illuminate the stories that are already here, not co-opt them. For real. (Also, I was really happy to have news that would make my mom proud.)
Are you already envisioning what your routine will be like with the project?
David and I are both pretty focused, detailed nightowls so I expect we’ll have a focused, detailed, nightowl routine. That said, it’s amazing to have financial support for this project so it’s really exciting to think about how we might work in new ways with that gift. (We might even work in the daytime, ha!) But no matter what we’ll be collaborating closely. And we will probably listen to Bowie at some point.
Did you ever think you’d be creating a graphic novel about a steam plant?
I feel like I’m supposed to say no here, but why not? When I was a kid I wanted to be a tightrope walker so maybe this is not that far off.
What do you think this project might say about the role of graphic novels in America?
Ah, I think our role is to make the book and then other people can tell us! But it is terrific terrific terrific that Seattle is supporting a project like this—it’s really wonderful that an American city in 2017 is using art to build community, as defined and remembered by that community. I’m used to telling (maybe yelling a little too) at the government about that, and am still gobsmacked that this time the government was all “we know. Go.” I hope that other cities say “Go” too. The talent is here! American cities, if you want me to send you lists about the talented storytellers I know in your neighborhoods, just send a flare.
You can keep up with this intriguing project right here.
And, if you’re in Seattle this weekend, be sure to stop by and see David Lasky at the annual comic arts festival, Short Run.
Sprint finish: Dunaden (top) beats Red Cadeaux to win the 2011 Melbourne Cup at Flemington racecourse (Photo: Reuters)
It has been some years since I’ve gone to the races. Here in Seattle, the racecourse to head to is Emerald Downs. I will be making a return to it on opening night, for the first live race of the season, which is set for April 8th. The race will kick off the 22nd season and it starts at 5 pm. There will be a fireworks show presented by Washington Cedar & Supply to follow. I will place my bet. And I sure hope to be counting my winnings followed by a good cocktail. Such is the plan. For now, I can share with you a story about horse racing.
Now, any sports bet is a highly sophisticated endeavor. Even if your betting is based upon a feeling in your gut. Most likely, you’ve done some sort of research and/or are following some reasoned logic. Maybe it’s just the fact that you always bet on your favorite team. Maybe your dog touched your sleeve and it was Wednesday, your lucky day. Whatever works for you.
How about horse racing? Now, that seems pretty exotic for some folks. You could rely upon the name of the horse for good luck. That’s a start. Following the odds is good. Researching is good. Add whatever extra sprinkle of good luck, and hope for the best.
Ah, then there’s the classic nail-biter of a race with a couple of horses neck and neck. It happens more often than you might think. The horses are out their giving it all they’ve got. They’re competitive in their own way. They’re in it to win it! There are no ties, only one winner. And the photo finish results can prove it down to the slight tilt of a nose.
But getting back to what happened to me. I was a young carefree guy with a bit of a swagger and attitude. This was back in my college days in Houston. We were at Sam Houston Race Park. And I decided that day to place a good healthy fat bet on a horse that caught my fancy for some reason. Hey, I’m no horse guy. I’ve never ridden on a horse. I don’t know that much about them one way or another. But I was there with a few guys and I was dating a girl who I wanted to impress. This was many years ago, mind you. And then the race began. They were off! Sweat was already rolling down by back as I took in the scene and my girlfriend gave my hand a squeeze.
Just like you’d expect, the race got tighter and the real contenders closed in towards the last leg of the track. It was a fierce competition. The horses, the four that had emerged as the finalists, were tearing down the course. It was literally a blur. The announcer rattled off the names of each so fast as to mimmick what we were all seeing. In those seconds I lost myself in the sensation of primal competition. What goes on in the mind of a horse?!
To this day, I don’t recall the exact details, mostly the blur and excitement. At that very moment, I let out the highest pitch shriek I have ever yelled. It sounded like a little girl screaming at the top of her tiny little lungs! It was horrible. The race, ultimately, was not quite as close as we thought it would be. Close but not photo finish close.
My girlfriend gave me a wink. “I’ll have to make sure you man up tonight!” Wow, such a crude remark, in retrospect. But, we were crazy kids. My horse, whatever it was called, had lost. But I had come out the winner after all.
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written by Frank L. Baum and illustrated by William Wallace Denslow, first published May 17, 1900.
It was during high school that I got the idea of trying out for the role of school mascot. This was years ago but that does not matter very much. The story itself is rather timeless. It could happen now or it could have happened, I don’t know, a hundred years ago. I was simply a fresh young and naive kid. It was my last year in high school but my first year at this new school. We constantly moved. My father didn’t think it was such a trauma to uproot us every few years. But that’s another story. This is more or less a sports story. Not exactly football and basketball, although that’s part of it, right? This is mostly a story about the sport of cheerleading. Yes, cheerleading is a sport. Fans of cheerleading are currently seeking an official sport status from the NCAA. Anyway, I did not really know what I was getting myself into when I decided to try out for school mascot.
We had a cool school mascot to rally around, a lion. Lucky for some lion, we did not feel any compulsion to keep a caged lion on campus. That was a different story in college. I went to a university were we actually had a caged cougar. I always liked cats…and lions. I loved the symbolism. I love all the variations on lion designs. I still want to get a lion tattoo someday. So, to get to be a lion seemed pretty awesome. Being a lion mascot would be serving some need I wasn’t fully aware of.
I couldn’t help thinking of the Cowardly Lion. Even with such a compromised character, Bert Lahr in the 1939 MGM classic, “The Wizard of Oz,” retained the energy of that noble animal, the king of all animals. To take on that sort of role spoke to my primal instinct! And then it all came down to a big reality check when I tried on the huge head mask, followed by the rest of the costume which was heavier and more cumbersome than I had ever imagined. How do you walk in this thing? I guess I didn’t exactly feel like I was running wild in the jungle. But I had to get my priorities straight and so I persevered.
When did I see my first lion? This is intergenerational. My father, and his father, and I saw the very same first lion! The Cowardly Lion from the original book, “The Wizard of Oz,” first published in 1900! Those distinctive illustrations by W.W. Denslow captivate any child, even today. Maybe you’d need to be a little patient and seek it out. But just toss aside all the digital clutter we subject ourselves to each and every day, quiet things down, slow things down, and you would have a child caught up in that magic all over again.
Back to my story, thanks to my being part of the journalism staff, I had a certain amount of authority. It was enough to convince Jamie, in charge of the cheer squad that year, to give me a hand. Tryouts were coming up soon. The mascot costume was currently in storage. She was more than happy to let me try it on for size. Better yet, she was all for guiding me through cheers and all the right moves. I followed her masterful instruction every step of the way. I started to feel like a lion—right before I wasn’t.
I wasn’t planning on doing anything fancy inside this big catsuit. I wasn’t going to be doing any cartwheels but that was okay. I had never done cartwheels before so why start now? Mostly, I sweated a ton. And then, I had a rude awakening. I discovered how much I was out of my element when I took an abrupt wrong turn and rolled on my ankle all the way to a major sprain!
What went wrong? Maybe I should never have gotten Jamie to give me a personal tour of the school mascot. Maybe if I’d properly trained. Maybe if I’d been part of a team. Well, all that theorizing could go out the window. What was done was done. I put myself in this situation. I ended up sprawled on the linoleum in a lion costume. But I had Jamie by my side.
Jamie was truly very attentive. What a godsend! I remember her pulling that stupid lion head off me. “Are you alright, Henry? Are you alright?” she kept asking. I pointed down to my giant lion paw feet. “Sprained ankle! Sprained ankle!” is what I kept saying. She looked like an angel, so beautiful and sympathetic. An impulse must have taken over and she passed her hand across my hot and sweaty face. “You poor thing,” she said. I could only close my eyes. I was mortified. I was happy too, all things considered. But I was definitely mortified.
Then she reached down and kissed my cheek. “Call me when you get better, tiger,” she said.
I perked up right away and absent-mindedly blurted out, “But I’m a lion!”
“No, you’re not,” said Jamie, “but that’s okay. I prefer men.”
The Girl in the Cafe and an Ionized Environment
Art and fiction by Henry Chamberlain
She sat at her regular table on the second floor of her favorite cafe. It was the same old crowd. It was a steamy summer day. She had the whole world before her. There was the Space Needle right out the window to keep her company. She made herself comfortable. She wiggled her toes. Someone was overheard saying, “An ionized environment really helps.”