Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Night Man, Pt. 2 (or "How to Stop Being a Wannabe")

Way back in 1994, when I was finishing my BFA in Communications and Fine Art at the University of Memphis, my senior lab partner Lee introduced me to a friend of his who was making a living drawing comics professionally: Dean Zachary. Dean, like me, had grown up in dull Mississippi and loved comics.

Unlike me, Dean was ultra-cool and very disciplined: a black belt in karate - whereas I had only been a blue belt; a professional illustrator -whereas I only did some sketches of heroes now and then - but then we discovered we had a mutual friend: Roland Mann. I knew Roland from my days in Hattiesburg, while attending the University of Southern Mississippi.

Roland was his editor at Malibu, and these two Mississippi boys were now working on The Night Man, one of the few Malibu properities that later went on to become a TV series. (Steven Butler and Mitch Byrd, along with Thomas Florimonte, Jr. were all on the same campus at USM, all went on to comics. Man, God was TRYING to get me into the good stuff and I missed it! Arrrgghhh! Or did I?)

I envied Dean. He had the cool Midtown apartment, a tasteful studio from which he daily drew superheroic action, and cute chicks... *ahem* well, all the things I thought I would one day have to make me happy. I got close to having a creator concept or two get out and be developed, but I always pulled back for some reason.

A divorce was one. As I struggled to recover emotionally, I simply could not give myself to artwork. (In retrospect, the best thing my wife did was encourage my art - one of the coolest superhero group drawings I ever did was with her hovering over me with admiration. )

We artists are a funny group. We cannot help but be moved by our hearts to do wonderful or awful deeds. We get wiser as we get older, but having a lyrical heart in a fallen world is dangerous. Its like walking around in the dark with a candle over puddles of gasoline. You lean too close to see what is bothering you with those big, bright eyes and...

....well, it ain't pretty. The list of artists self-immolating is too long and tedious to recount. Musicians, painters, sculpters, novelists. We bleed our lives into our work - if we are of ANY quality at all - and the world gasps and moans and embraces the thing we made and lauds us and then we go try to find a muse to fill in the emptiness that is left behind.

I was pursuing art. I wanted to be like Dean, to be a successful artist. But I knew it was not enough. I knew it was good and said something true at some level but it was not enough to fill my soul. I felt like I was a kid looking through a plate glass window at a world I could never enter. I was the child not invited to the party. Crud, I didn't just want to draw a superhero, I wanted to be a superhero -even The Night Man! (He never needed sleep, did you know that?)

Oh, I so wanted to live in the worlds I created. I SO wanted to be heroic and matter and do daring deeds and fight evil. But all I could do was draw it? Imagine it? Just imagine earth-shaking events with fictional characters?

I would not tolerate that. It had to be real somehow. There had to be a place where men gathered together for what was right and had great power to change the world. Men who were willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING to know the truth, to have a purpose in their lives.

Christ put that desire in my heart. My taste for the truth and for selfless heroism was to be found especially in one scene in the Bible. I was so arrested by this passage I think I actually put the book down. The pathos and pain of the Hero is so clear it hurts.

Jesus starts by saying something very artfully: He talks about eating and drinking Himself. He's using a metaphor to show how desperately we need Him. Though some sects of Christianity turn this into a ritualistic requirement (if you don't have communion, you go to Hell) I think Jesus is trying to show how VITAL He is to us, to humanity. He's the whole package so to speak.

He gives us what we REALLY need - spiritual food for our hungry, damaged souls.
John 6:53-71
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Many Disciples Desert Jesus
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Jesus is not being obtuse to be cruel. He's being mysterious to see who really gives a rat's behind. Who really cares enough to stick with it, though they do not understand fully. Then - here comes the pathos - He asks His closest companions if they want to leave too. Peter's answer is cool. Muy cool. Peter says, "Look, Jesus, where are we gonna go? You're it. We know it."

"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.
Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Then Jesus replied, "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

I think Jesus grinned big when He replied to Peter. And then shook His head 'cause some "hangers on" are only hanging on to see you hung out to dry.

The point I was making and is made here is that Jesus says He's the whole ball of wax. He is what we need to find fulfillment, life, satisfaction, and heroic purpose (read the book of Acts and imagine doing what the disciples did with NO weapons, NO spellbooks, NO training except 'being with Jesus').

I love good art wherever I find it - in comics, in literature, in film, in paint. But I must say I like the Artist who knows all hearts even more. The One who bids me to follow with crazy metaphors and wild actions and utter abandon.

If you think Jesus wants you to go to church and say some prayers, and this is all He wants you to do, you are completely nuts.

He wants you to pray and talk to Him, mano-y-mano. He will build a holy place RIGHT were you are standing, warrior.

Day or night. Day or night.

"I'm Justice Carmon, friend of real artists and Night Man-wannabes, and I approve this message."

Amen.

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