I miss my friend.
About ten years ago, five wanna-be artists packed their drafting tables, art supplies, reference and comic books, toys and knick knacks, cork boards and NERF guns, and whatever else into a small converted two car garage in Lakewood, CA. I was...am... one of those wanna-be's.
The side of the garage where I set up shop, where I left my stink, had three of those god awful, standardized drafting tables (you know which ones, right? Black or white tops - depending on how you set it up out of the box - with the metal legs? Ugh.). There was Jonard's table; to whom the garage belonged to, my table, and between the both of us sat our friend BYRON PENARANDA.
Byron or "B" (as we referred to him) was inspired. BTW, I don't know why it degraded to just the one letter. I guess there was some sort of syllable shortage in the mid to late 90's and we all suffered from it. That, or boys just have this way of simplifying each others names into the smallest grunt or sound that we can come up with and still manage to get that person's attention. I was called "Ece" - like in the word 'fleece'. To this day a select few will *still* call me that and I will still respond like a well trained dog. Jonard was called "Jun" - pronounced "jooon". If you've ever heard Filipino moms call out his name, you'd know where this came from.
Byron was inspired. Before the semi-supposed craze of manga and anime influenced art, he was already doing it better than the guys who were out there just barely discovering it. Before I knew how to say Otomo or Shirow, like a good illustrator, he was already picking the parts he needed from those guys, trying to incorporate it into his own work , soon grew tired of it and stopped. He introduced me to "The Incal", "The Airtight Garage", "The Silver Surfer" and a painting of Iron Man that will never be surpassed, all done by the incomparable Jean "Moebius" Giraud.
He watched movies that were beyond my comprehension at the time. "M", is one that still comes to mind. Oh, and "Flash Gordon" too - but that movie has since endeared itself to my heart because of the Queen soundtrack.
But beyond all of that, Bryon was ahead of his time because he drew what he wanted to draw. If you're young and just breaking in, you may not know the weight of that statement and that's okay. You will someday... hopefully.
He wasn't rich, so the luxury of being able to just lounge around and draw pictures for the hell of it wasn't available to him. He didn't have anyone subsidize his income so that he could be so cavalier with his standard of living. I think the only time he ever illustrated for any company is when he had to. Let me say that again:
HE DREW FOR SOMEONE ELSE ONLY WHEN HE HAD TO.
It was quite silly to think about back then. It's brilliant to me now. I've met too many inspired illustrators and artists who end up getting work, who then make it their life, and it becomes less of a passion and more like a job and well... it's just sobering and sometimes a little sad to think about.
The point is, he just drew. Sketchbooks and sketchbooks full of stuff - and once in a while, a comic book. And in all those fronts, they were uncompromising and inspired. The works you'll find in the link I've posted above is a disservice to what he's capable of. It really, really is.
We'd all sit around the garage, watching kooky movies, we'd eat food in the quantities and quality that only a younger man's constitution could take, and while I'd be in the middle of drawing some Danzig/Verotika title, Byron drew what came into his head. I wasn't equipped to tune into the phantom frequency where his inspiration came from, but what he put to paper was marvelous. It was, and still is, pretty unparalleled in my eyes. But because I couldn't see what he saw, the best I could do was to try and emulate what he did. I didn't do it well, but I tried and that's the "style" that I ended up with. And for those of you who have said that I had a pretty original look back in the day, let me be frank with you now - I DID NOT. I still don't. I steal everything from everyone, and in the specific case of the late 90's through the early part of the new decade I stole as best and as much as I could from this man.
We'd all be up until 3 A.M. or later, because that's what the deadlines dictated and that's what young guys do. We talked about art and hated on the popular guys drawing the comics of the day - I guess that's what young guys do too. But most of all, we drew. I drew for money. Byron drew because there wasn't enough room in his head for all the crazy stuff being pumped into it and he needed to put crazy on paper. With their art, the other guys in the garage kept me on my toes, but Byron's work kept me honest. "I will never be as good as this guy," I secretly thought to myself once. And that was okay. I believed then, as I do now, that everyone needs to have a White Rabbit to chase. He set the example even when I didn't know that's what he was doing. And even if I didn't have the foresight to think of the influence he would impart on me then, I can look back now and curse myself for not paying closer attention. He got it right without trying.
"...have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
That's part of a quote my friends and I were talking about a few weeks back; how we need to start incorporating that way of thinking into how we proceed with our work from here on down, how we should never hold back when we realize what we want (I'm talking to YOU - you know who you are), and to never blink at the idea of what will give you your definition of happiness and ultimately moving towards it. I think Byron had this inherently programmed into system from the beginning. He wanted to draw what inspired him. And that's what he did. Such a simple, lucky bastard.
"What if we were driving down a highway in the middle of the dessert and my car broke down? And when I got out of the car to check what was wrong, a snake suddenly bites me in the ass and poison was coursing through my system? You'd drive then, right?"
"F*ck that. I'd carry you on my back first and run to the closest town before I drive a car! I will NEVER drive a car in L.A!"
That's part of an actual conversation Byron and I had back in the day, just outside the garage door, as Byron took one of his many smoke breaks. Keep in mind, he was smoking a lot back then and considering I was 70 lbs. heavier, I either think he or I would've died first before he and his deficient lungs would get near any town in hopes of rescue from a poisonous snakebite in the ass.
Byron is married now. He's got a beautiful, charming wife who he was relentless in going after when he realized how badly he loved her. They have new baby. And I'm laughing as I type this because I think in life there are certain inevitabilities. Death, Taxes and because Byron lives in L.A. he has to drive. But at least he doesn't smoke anymore. He's won much more than he's lost and it's because, like he's done with his art, he did what inspired him. He's Sinatra all over.
So to him, I dedicate this post. Because even after he learned to drive, even before we lost contact - for a good long while, I don't think "B" ever stopped carrying me on his back.
Thanks, man. I really appreciate it.