Thanksgiving

I graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1995 with a degree in Illustration. I doubt that my family would have been able to afford SVA without the help of my mom’s parents, who put away college funds for all of the grandchildren.

When I was a kid my dad introduced me to Piers Anthony’s A Spell for Chameleon.

I met Daniel Rivera, Matt Sommers, Rob Conte, and Henry Martinez at a comic book show when I was about 16, and we became fast friends.

I met Rick Bryant and Marc Pacella around the same time, and they went out of their way to help a kid who wanted to be a comic book artist.

It was around that time that my dad bought me the first piece of comic book art I ever had, a Hellraiser piece by Ray Lago. We met Ray through Rick Bryant.

When my parents divorced, my dad lived in an apartment in a building his mother owned, at 1374 Dahill Rd, in Midwood, Brooklyn. He lived there until he met Eleanor, with whom he spent the rest of his life. He left his belongings in that apartment, and when I turned 18 and went to college, I was allowed to live there, rent free.

In that apartment, I was surrounded by an enormous amount of books, movies, and comics.

When I was 17, I read A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, on a lark. I was working at the Syosset Library at the time, and found the cover of the book to be interesting. When I was 18, I found a number of PKD books in boxes littered throughout the apartment. He quickly became, and still is, my all time favorite author.

I was heavy in high school. When I went to college, all of the walking I did back and forth from classes, I lost most of the weight.

In my first year of college, I met two friends who made the entire experience worthwhile. Jeff Ellis and Thane Gorek.

My high school friends helped make my time at SHS fun and worth while. Bryan, Paul, Dave, Dave, Dave, Josh, Mary Ellen, Alex, Ali, Mike, Jack, Roy…

I was lucky to pass many street book sellers on my way to and from college. I discovered Elmore Leonard and Michael Crichton, and read their entire catalog of books, along with old standbys like Stephen King and Clive Barker.

This was, of course, all pre-internet. I do not read as much as I used to.

I wish I could remember the film that made me say “I want to be a filmmaker.” I can’t. But the first film that really opened my eyes to how married both comics and film are was Marathon Man. I watched that film after renting it from the local Midwood library in my Grandmother’s den, and was completely blown away.

I remember the artwork I saw that swayed me from traditional pen and ink drawing to painting. It was from the Hellraiser comic book, issue #3, and the story was Songs of Metal and Flesh by Dave Dorman and Lauren Haines. That illustration work changed my life.

From there I checked out the artwork of Kent Williams, Jon Muth, Scott Hampton, John Van Fleet, and George Pratt. And then I worked backwards and learned, through Rick Bryant, about The Studio. Barry Windsor Smith, Jeffrey Jones, Mike Kaluta, and Bernie Wrightson. This was in high school.

Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Dave Gibbons followed, along with Howard Chaykin, Brian Bolland, Simon Bisley and a score of others.

When I was 16 or I walked into a comic book store with my friend Kevin Chan and saw this on the adults only rack. I went to buy it. Kevin told the guy behind the counter I was 16. He said ‘anyone who is taller than me can buy this comic.’

Tim Vigil became a hero of mine that day. I have been a fan of his artwork for over 20 years. In 2003, with money from the sale of my apartment, I was lucky enough to purchase the cover to issue #8 of Faust and it is still my most prized piece of comic book artwork I own.

In 1992 or 1993 I watched Reservoir Dogs and fell in love with independent film. Around that time, Jeff Ellis introduced me to Ren and Stimpy.

In 1991 I did a shit pencil version of Gustav Klimpt’s The Kiss for a project in my freshman life drawing class. It was part one of a triptych. I’ll never forget the nervousness I felt the day my teacher looked at it without the accompanying poster of the actual piece. He said “I can’t critique it without the poster. But I’m concerned.” I went home scared shitless and redid the pencil piece, and followed it with a painted piece and an ink piece. It was the first real project I put in almost 60 hours on. It was also the first A I would get in his class.

My first summer home from school, my sister got me a job at a veterinary clinic. She wanted to be a vet. I won’t get into it, but remind me one day to tell you the story of Billy Kaplan. It was my introduction to working with the type of asshole who simply does not give a shit about anyone but himself. I would find myself in the employ of many of these types of people over the next 15 years. But I learned a lot about taking personal responsibility, even in the face of lies.

When I graduated college I had enough money from my college fund to try my hand at making a film. My first script was called The Difference Between, and was molded on a solid 3 acts, very much like Pulp Fiction. I got a cast and crew together and it seemed like something was going to happen. The thing was, I had NO experience with film. I just loved film.

I met Ron Buse around that time at a Kinko’s on 24th St and 7th Avenue. He became a friend and introduced me to James Ellroy, my favorite living writer.

At that same Kinko’s, I met Bess Cutler, who got me my first illustration job with Guitar World Magazine.

I had my high school friend Alex come out from California to help with the film shoot, and shut it down in a matter of days. I was in over my head, and afraid of failing. I broke up with my first real girlfriend, Trissa, perhaps a year later. I could not have gotten luckier having Trissa as my first girlfriend.

Around that time I met Chris Shane and Pete Migliorini, and their cast of characters. Jeremy, Walter, Herman, the Albanians… and more, along with a bunch of other friends through the APA. Later I would meet Al Rotches, Andy Gyves, Geoff Webber, James Ellis, Julie Madlener, David Padilla, and more.

My father passed away when I was 23. He taught me a lot, showed me a lot of the things I still love today, but not enough of both.

With money I received from an inheritance, I was able to secure the purchase of the first and only piece of property I ever owned. A co-op in Park Slope. I loved that apartment.

I sold the apartment in 2002 and went through the money with the foolishness of a person who believes in his heart that no bad times could possibly befall him.

After the failed film I took a job at a printing company. Out of necessity, I learned Quark and Photoshop. I could not find work as a comic book artist, or as a failed filmmaker.

Job after job, I worked for people who simply did not have the capacity or the ability to hold the position they had, whether for reasons of personality or megalomaniacal tendencies… who’s to say. Probably a bit of both. I’ve seen egos that seemed insurmountable. Each subsequent job was worse than the last. And paid more.

In 2000 I started Words From Here, a website for screenwriters. I really enjoyed my time doing that, and have friends still, from those days.

I shut it down in 2004 or so because I was devoting too much time to it, and making no money.

After writing The Difference Between I wrote 8 feature length scripts and never marketed myself. I never tried to sell them… except one time.

In August of 2002 I went to Las Vegas to talk to the American Poolplayers Association (APA) about a feature length script called 8 for Vegas. I pitched it to the head of marketing, I think… and never heard from them again. Until April of this year. The same person had watched the web series 8 for Vegas and wanted to promote or sponsor or both a second season. Hurray.

Months later, they would pass… not being able to take a chance on something as R rated and alienating as our series.

In October 2010 I ran into an old friend, Nicole Poole. After hanging out a few times, we shot the first episode of Thrift Store Confidential with her friend Ian Bjorklund in December, at the Salvation Army Coat Drive. And then another video at another thrift store. Then another.

I shot it with a co-op sale purchase from 2003, a Canon GL1… a camera that had not been used in years, and subsequently was working just fine.

I quickly got the bug and re-wrote 8 for Vegas to be a web series, something to be shot and produced cheaply.

Around that time I met Julie Sisson, my producer. She joined my pool Tuesday APA pool team. We became fast friends.

8 for Vegas was born out of necessity. Nicole and Ian were cast. Seneca Burr, an old acquaintance from the APA came on board. Some others, too, including Sloan Seaborn, whom I met outside my apartment building while she was handing out flyer for Au Bon Pain… The rest of the cast, they have fake names. Long story.

I’d never been behind the camera before, not like this, and after the first week, history was about to repeat itself. The first week was a nightmare and I was ready to quit. My friend Todd, who’d donated money to the series, said, before we even shot “Just finish it. So many people talk about doing things and never finish. Just finish it.”

I started calculating if I could afford to give everyone their money back. And then we shot episode 2, and then 3.

We finished the series, released 9 episodes, and then shot the first episode of The Difference Between. Kept the title, re-wrote the whole story.

Stephen Bittrich, an old Words From Here friend, trusted me to photograph his web series Off Off. I met Dave Marantz, Rob Wilson, Kendall Rileigh, Lisa Peart, and Katie McHugh on those shoots.

Katie got me work on Internet Affairs with Johanny Mota, Chantal Ngwa, and Heather Cambanes.

From there, I met Marc Palmieri, James Honderich, George Demas, Spencer Aste, Joe Fuer, Lynn Mancinelli, Jeremy Johnson, Curzon Dobell, Crystal Vagnier, Britt Genelin, Amber Snider, and more. This was through a connection with Stephen Bittrich. The people I’ve met while working on the thing have all been phenomenal people, and we’ve all become fast friends. We work on The Thing. In October we had a screening of the first three episodes. More than 100 people showed up.

Marc and I recently produced two Doritos spec commercials, and wrapped up episodes 4 and 5 of The Thing.

For each and every person mentioned, I owe a debt of thanks. They have helped alter the course of my life, whether they know it or not. Mainly for good.

The thread, connecting all of that, may not seem apparent to you.

None of this would have been possible without the love and support of my mother. If you strip down the role of motherhood to its basics, leaving out ego and personal human issues that we’re all burdened with… that may give you an idea of simply how wonderful my mom has been over the past 20 years… 20 years being the majority of my creative life.

I owe her, and continue to owe her, for her support and kindness.

I must say that I can say the same thing about Karen, who has been wonderful these past 5 years. That’s two women who’ve made the last two years possible. I hope they know how important their support has been.

I am thankful for my old friends, my new friends, my family, my mentors, my sister, my girlfriend, and my mom. I am thankful for the time I had with my father.

I am optimistic for the future, and if you know me well enough you’ll know that’s a new feeling.

And if I missed you, it’s only because we’re topping out at 2,000 words here. Please don’t take it personally.

Particularly ex-girlfriends, an ex-fiance, and an ex-wife. That a whole ‘nother post.

John Painz

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