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Interview

Lou Brooks on his art and reading. – Page 3

Lou Brooks on his notebooks, car racing heroes, skating stars of the golden era, and some art tips….

READERSVOICE.COM: What goes into your notebooks?

LOU BROOKS: Well, if I’m preoccupied with a certain project that I’m writing, it could be just ideas that solve large problems, like plot structure, which is the hardest thing for me to do.

Writing isn’t like visual art. You can’t see the entire canvas all at once, so it’s easy to get disoriented. Often, I’ll just hear the greatest dialogue in my head, and I’ll write it all out. A lot of the time, I don’t even know who’s saying it, but I eventually will meet them down the line as I go. Maybe years later!

Or it may just be the way somebody’s pointed chin chops at the air like a hatchet as they talk at you. And sometimes it’s simply an idea or a truth. The truths seem to satisfy me the most. Now that I’m older, they’re wonderful to embrace. Not so much when we’re younger.

RV: Does Photoshop get the same results for you as pencil and inking? Which do you prefer?

LB: I’ve always done a tight pencil drawing on paper first. Futzing around with sketch ideas on the computer is crazy, because there are too many endless possibilities to choose from, and you can go in circles forever.

But up until maybe four years ago, I was creating my final “inked” art as vector files with Adobe Illustrator. Very small and handy files, but very boring to work on, and actually very time-consuming to do well. And I think the world has gotten very tired of flat, perfect, computer-generated art. It’s too easy to do these days, so, there’s a lot of it. God help us.

Now, I do all my inking with a pen on paper. What I do with it from there is a secret family recipe.

RV: Can you give some advice on pencilling and inking? What should artists avoid or make sure they do?

LOU BROOKS: During my one stab at teaching at School of Visual Arts in NYC, I saw a lot of “screw the work, I wanna do the fun part.” And the work is drawing and composition. You’ve got to know it as well as

you can — which only comes from doing it. It’s the same with writing: a lot of goddamn hard work. Especially when you’re getting paid to do it, and things are being expected of you.

Simenon used to sometimes interrupt a conversation and announce: “Excuse me — I’m about to have a novel!” He’d rush to see his doctor and make sure his stamina was up to it. He was known for writing each book in under nine days, and he wrote hundreds of them.

So, my advice would be: draw, draw, and draw, then draw some more. You may not ever become a great draftsman, but you could be a very good one. Bill Plympton has become an amazing draftsman, simply from drawing tens and tens of thousands of animation drawings. It’s plain hard physical work.

As far as inking, I am far from being a master. I skritch my way along with a pen until the lines look like somebody actually knew what they were doing.

RV: What got you interested in the Golden Age of skating, and made you decide to create your book Skate Crazy? Where did you find the stickers and other graphics?

LB: Sorry, but I didn’t “spend a lifetime” collecting memorabilia from roller skating’s golden age. I bought the collection at the 26th Street flea market in Manhattan. There it was, about 2,500 items, all Scotch taped into a large book. “This’ll make a great book someday,” I thought, which it did.

But I did a lot of roller rink skating when I was a kid. While living in Philly, I threw a bunch of rock ‘n’ roll skating parties at a little old rink on the Main Line. This was years before the roller disco thing. Then, I got back into it in New York when roller disco was happening. Both on the street and in rinks.

As far as roller rinks, that all ties in with my lifelong passion for amusement parks, carnivals, fair grounds, race tracks, etc. Thanks to Aunt Clementine.

RV: Do you ever track down people from skating or motor racing in previous eras, and if so, what were they like and what did they say?

LB: That’s an interesting question. With the skating, I’ve become good friends with Gloria Nord. For more than a decade, she was the star of Skating Vanities (roller skating’s equivalent of The Ice Follies), and was discovered by Mickey Rooney at the Hollywood Bowl Skating Rink. There are several breathtaking photos and paintings of her in my book. She’s in her 80s now and lives down below Long Beach, and we chat on the phone now and then. Lovely woman from the golden days.

I’ve also become friends with Peggy Wallace, who took Gloria’s place in Vanities when Gloria went to become an even bigger star over in England. Funny thing is, Peggy lives a block away from where I lived in New York, although we never met until I was living out here in California. She and Gloria are still good friends, so it’s a cozy little group. Fans still come up to the both of them.

As far as the motor racing, I got to travel down to California Speedway a few years ago when I was writing for Vintage Oval Racing Magazine. There was a vintage Indianapolis race car gathering and exhibition there along with the regularly scheduled modern Indy Car race. I got to meet a lot of my heroes from the ‘50s and ‘60s. When I said to Roger Ward, who won the Indy 500 twice: “You were my biggest hero back then,” he quickly answered with: “I was my biggest hero back then, too.”

It had taken an unimaginable “me first” ego for him to come out of that life still alive. Of the 33 driver who started the 1955 500, over half of them were killed in race cars over the years that followed.

RV: What plans do you have for books or other art-related projects?

LB: Right now, I’m writing several books which also involve my art. I can’t discuss them just yet, but I’ve always been lucky enough to not know what I can’t do. Ignorance can be useful, as far as that goes.

-See www.loubrooks.com.

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