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This Year’s Christmas Cover: And The Winner Is…

December 24, 2014

A very Merry Christmas to all my friends, fans, and followers! If you don’t celebrate Christmas, I wish you a very happy holiday season. Thank you for supporting my blog.
I’m a lucky guy to know so many wonderful people.

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As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite jobs every year is a Christmas cover for the Inland Register, the monthly publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington. It’s a great match for me: I’m a Catholic, I love Christmas, and it’s one of those happy occasions where my vocation allows me to proclaim my faith.

I must confess, however, that the assignment would not be nearly as much fun if Eric Meisfjord weren’t the editor of the Inland Register.

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I’ve known Eric for many years now, and it’s a little scary: it’s almost like we’re twins separated at birth. We both love pop culture and trivia: the more obscure, the better. We also love puns, jokes, and witty repartee. Our senses of humor are almost identical– and that’s more than a little scary.

What this means is, I have some extra leeway when it comes to cover ideas and rough sketches. I’m always careful to include some fairly conservative ideas, but I’ll also include some that are a little zany. And there’s usually one that’s way out there.

I submitted the following six ideas this year. I’ll describe them briefly. See if you can guess which one Eric chose.

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The Star of Bethlehem? It was really a hot-air balloon guided by an angel, who reported to Heaven on the progress of the Three Wise Men.

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rough sketch of Christmas cover angel in Star of Bethlehem hot air balloon over globe Bethlehem manger below Wise Men approaching on camels pyramids in background

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A city street scene, with a church on the corner of a busy intersection. A lone Christmas shopper has stopped to say a prayer at the creche at the top of the church steps.

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rough sketch of Christmas cover city street scene with church shoppers guy kneeling at creche top of church steps saying a prayer

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A packed church, filled with parishioners singing the opening hymn. A woman in the front pew is sporting a hat crowned with a manger scene, complete with Wise Men and camels. I probably should have included some palm trees on the right side to balance things out.

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rough sketch of Christmas cover people singing hymn in church woman in front pew wearing large hat with manger scene creche wise men camels on brim

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Catholicism spans the globe, and here we have people of every nation, race, culture, ethnicity, etc., forming a human Christmas tree, with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as the
base. The presents under the tree spell out the Good News.

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rough sketch of Christmas cover people of world in shape of Christmas tree Mary Joseph Jesus as base presents spelling out Good news of great joy for all the people

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A luminaria is a paper lantern– usually a white paper bag anchored with sand, with
a lighted candle inside. One often sees them lining church walkways for the nighttime Christmas Vigil Mass.

Here we see a guy sitting at a church luminaria control board, watching the monitors. A crisis has arisen: the board shows that two of the luminaria have gone out. Time to call luminaria security.

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rough sketch of Christmas cover guy eating donuts in front of church luminaria control board which shows two of the candles lining the steps and sidewalks have gone out

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And finally, here’s this year’s way-out entry: a giant hand has picked up an entire shopping mall, and is emptying it like a salt shaker. Shoppers, packages, and shopping carts are falling into a church, whose roof is conveniently propped open. Shop ’til you drop, indeed…

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rough sketch of Christmas cover giant hand in sky emptying out people from mall building like a salt shaker, pouring them into a city church with roof propped open creche in front tall buildings in background

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Those were the six cover concepts. Can you guess which one was selected? Place your bet, then scroll down for the winner.

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#2 got the nod. I think it was a good choice. City street scenes make appealing covers. This one shows a lot of familiar Christmas images: trees, wreaths, shoppers, falling snow, etc. It also shows a church and a creche. It juxtaposes both sides of Christmas, the commercial and religious.

It doesn’t say the commercial side is bad: the man kneeling by the creche has clearly been doing some shopping. But it does suggest that for the Christian, the primary focus should be on Christ’s birth, and God’s intervention in human history.

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City street scene church on corner people Christmas shopping snow falling store windows decorations man kneeling by creche saying prayer by Mary Joseph Baby Jesus

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Here’s a detail image. I like the kid walking through the puddle.

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detail image of Christmas cover city street scene church on corner people shopping snow falling store windows decorations man kneeling by creche saying prayer by Mary Joseph Baby Jesus

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It’s funny: I’ll sometimes omit certain details when I ink my pencil drawing. It’s a subconscious thing. I don’t catch the omissions until I’m done.

If you look at the #2 rough sketch, you’ll see I have some traffic signs and a pedestrian crossing signal box. I put them in my final pencil drawing, but “forgot” to ink them.

I’ve learned not to correct these “mistakes.” My subconscious is smarter than I am. It’s telling me I’m trying to cram too much into the illustration. That less is more.

Here’s another detail image.

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detail image of Christmas cover city street scene church on corner people shopping snow falling store windows decorations man kneeling by creche saying prayer by Mary Joseph Baby Jesus

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Did you guess Eric’s pick? Which one did you like best yourself?

Ever had an experience where things worked out better because you “forgot” to do something?

Are you a luminaria fan? Ever been dumped out of a mall or other public building???

Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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Peace On Earth: You Can’t Get There From Here

December 17, 2014

Here in New England, you sometimes hear the disconcerting expression, “You can’t get there from here.” It’s something said jokingly to a stranger who’s lost and has stopped to ask for directions.

It doesn’t really mean you can’t get to your destination from that point. It means you have to backtrack, and take a different route.

I thought of that expression in a different context while I was illustrating a very somber essay for The Rumpus. I thought about how difficult it is to find peace when one has gotten hopelessly lost and mired in hate and violence. You can’t get there from here.

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The essay was written by a Kashmiri expatriate.

Kashmir has a convoluted history. India and Pakistan have fought at least three wars over the region, the first in 1947. The two countries (along with China) control different parts of Kashmir. There are Kashmiri insurgents who favor independence. The author of the essay shares the latter’s wish for self-rule.

The author goes back and forth in time, sharing memory fragments. One involves his grandfather, a devout Muslim, whom he remembers “seated quietly on a woolen rug in
his room, surrounded by an army of cats he fed with pieces of lawas bread.”

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Muslim prayer rug showing image of old man surrounded by cats symbols lawas bread

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I sometimes need photo references to fine-tune an idea. In this case, I googled “prayer rug” and “old Muslim man,” and used the following for inspiration.

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photos of Muslim prayer rug and old wrinkled Moslem man with turban

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Here’s a detail image. The rug “squares” were completely ad-libbed. I drew them as fast
as I could, dashing off whatever popped into my head.

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detail image Muslim prayer rug showing image of old man surrounded by cats symbols lawas bread

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The rest of the essay is unremittingly bleak, and centers on betrayal: a childhood acquaintance (a Kashmiri) joins a militia group to fight for Kashmiri independence.
The group is ultimately “co-opted by the Indian army” (this is never explained) to
fight against the insurgents.

The traitor is later killed by Indian soldiers who mistake him for an insurgent– which conjured this image about the dangers of joining the “wrong club.”

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pigeon with snake club membership card about to be eaten by rattle snake with big fangs

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There are several references to pigeons in the essay. I used that to advantage here, since “pigeon” is also an American slang term for a dupe: someone easily taken in, deceived.

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detail image pigeon with snake club membership card about to be eaten by rattlesnake with huge fangs

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The saddest aspect of the essay is its familiarity: we may not know the details of the Kashmir conflict, but we recognize the entrenched cycle of atrocity and revenge that makes peace so hard to attain.

Near the end of the essay, the author makes an allegorical reference to daggers “cutting wounds in the red dome of the sky.”

It conjured up this image. Violence feeds on pride. It’s always an easier choice than the slow, arduous work of peace and reconciliation.

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daggers of war hate piercing cloud raining blood on dove killed hope of peace

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If this were a stand-alone statement on violence, I would have made the victim a dove– the traditional symbol for peace. Instead I used a pigeon, to keep the imagery consistent.

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detail image daggers war pierced cloud raining blood on dove killed chance for peace

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Are you familiar with the Kashmir conflict?

Have you ever been personally touched by sectarian violence– conflict based on religious or political differences?

Any thoughts on how individuals might strive to effect peace on earth?

Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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If you enjoyed this post, please click the Like button below.

If you’d like to share this post with others, please click Tweet or Facebook or StumbleUpon or one of the other Share buttons.

I also invite you to get updates. Just click the Get Updates button in the sidebar below the Portfolio Thumbnails, or click + Follow in the blog menu bar.

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