"A sketchbook is a secret thing, a collection of unfinished and often times abandoned ideas never intended for public consumption—at least not in their current state. It’s a private space for honing one’s craft and workshopping, separating good ideas from those best left unexplored." -Brian Heater at The Daily Cross Hatch.
Time, is not on my side.
As a "hobbyist" illustrator, the exigencies of family and work come first- and at my age (as noted by a recent study) it is very difficult to find time to pursue one's passions.
However. I'm still here.
The above work-in-progress is a portion of an illustration for a book I'm going to review (At Drake's Command by David Wesley Hill). So, bear with me.
I'll probably be posting more doodles- as those are the only "real" pieces of art that I do on a regular basis.
Wow. Was my last post on here in October? Been a while. But, as work is slackening up, I'm starting to gear up for "drawing" season.
So, here are some very raw sketches done during lunch at work.
Clockwise, starting in the upper left hand corner:
A RN officer in a Duffle Coat
An Argyll and Sutherland Highlander, circa Korea. (OK, not a sailor, but Argyll's are cool.)
USN Enlisted Sailor circa 1920ish
Gilliat, from Victor Hugo's "Toilers of the Sea"
Thanks for dropping by...I've got much planned this summer. Lot's of potential obstacles. Hope I can pull it off.
Shipmates, I'm on hiatus. I'm working on a fantastic commission that's going to take a while. But, I'll be back.
(Above is an illustration I did a few years ago for a friend who made a website called "BudDry.Com" (NSFW) in the hopes that Anheuser-Busch would buy the site and we could all retire with a fat payout. Didn't happen. ...YET. Hope springs eternal.)
In conjunction with author Roger Crossland, I'm proud to announce that
"Jade Rooster" t-shirts are now available on the "Cold is the Sea USA" store on Zazzle! Sporting images inspired by Crossland's excellent 1913-era Naval thriller "Jade Rooster", you'll cut a fine figure everywhere from the darkened streets of Olongapo to sunny, seaside New England!
Available in an array of colors on various styles of garments- everything from American Apparel tees, Baby Dolls, Ringers, Baseball Jerseys- you name it. Each shirt has a "Jade Rooster" logo on the front, and either one of two illustrations on the back portraying various scenes from the novel.
Cheaper and less permanent than a tattoo! Perfect for Crossing the Line! Get yours today!
one other reason for dressing well, namely that dogs respect it, and will not
attack you in good clothes.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson obviously didn't know Stumpy.
start on a more philosophical note.
between a man and his dog is perhaps unlike any other. Profound minds across
the centuries from Martin Luther to Mark Twain to Edward Abbey have often cited
mutual dependence as the foundation of this phenomenon, and perhaps it's true. However,
adjacent to the simple relationship between a man and his pet, is the
"working" relationship. In a military context, dogs perform a variety
of functions- guarding prisoners, detecting weapons and explosives or tracking.
(In the parlance of the British military, dog teams with those skill-sets are
respectively known as "Snappers", "Wagtails" and
The bond between
a soldier and his soldier-dog is more intense than that between a man and his
pet. While virtually every pet owner I personally know respects their animals
and cares for them deeply, military dog-handler teams- especially those
deployed to conflict zones- endure significant danger, stress, hardship and
violence, which creates a different kind of connection.
and the Auld Sapper" is a memoir about two soldiers, one of whom happens to be
serious build-up in this review, this is a funny
book. Uncontrollably laughing out loud, nearly pissing yourself, coffee coming
out of your nose, funny. Rab Orr is a natural. Reading his book makes
you feel like you're sitting in a bar, with a Veteran who keeps you riveted
with his war stories. The punchlines either make you shake your head in
disbelief at the ridiculousness of it all, or laugh 'til you cry (which I did
at least a couple of times). It is a profane book however- and if you have
delicate sensibilities, I recommend avoiding it.
work of "fiction" (I assume to protect the guilty), the narrator, The
Auld Sapper (a Royal Engineer by cap badge) tells of his time in the Bandit
Country of County Armagh, NI as one half of a Wagtail team seeking out weapons
and explosives with the aid of his half-pit bull, half Yellow Labrador, Stumpy.
The pair endures all types of folly, and not a little bit of danger, with humor,
stoicism and humility.
I think the
genius of this book is Stumpy's voice. Admit it. If you've ever had a close relationship
with an animal, you've often imagined what they were saying at any given
moment. Rab Orr brilliantly demonstrates his comedic chops by articulating
Stumpy's voice and personality. You will come to know and love The Stump.
The rest of
the comedy is provided by the British Army and the nature of conflict in
general. This book is not a madcap," M*A*S*H-style" send-up or satire.
It's funny because you can really imagine these things happening. And it's not
all shits and giggles either. If you enjoy military memoirs that lack bombastic
Rambo-style action (even though the SAS does make an appearance), I highly
recommend this to you.
It's probably not a mystery that early and repeated exposure to the film "Apocalypse Now" made me develop a longtime fascination with the Brown Water Navy. And, I love working with the color palette of photos from that era.
Here's a sketch I did to help familiarize myself with the tablet and Photoshop. Sure a lot neater to use than gouache or Dr. Martin's inks...
Here's another piece inspired by the novel "Jade Rooster" by Roger Crossland. I'd like to explain it- but I'm on the run right now and I wanted to put the piece up. (I know, I have no ability to delay gratification...) Anyways. Check back for an edit tonight or tomorrow. My review is down the page a little bit. Or, you could just click here.
Hm. Where to begin...To explain the phenomena of Stumpy and the Auld Sapper would necessitate an explanation of the phenomena of ARRSE... ARRSE, simply, is "The Army Rumour Service", a forum for former and active British servicemen, well-wishers and those species of civilians known as "Walts", of which I am (sort of) one. The members of ARRSE expound on a wide variety of topics on a daily basis, all of which enlighten the uninitiated about the exotic and arcane mysteries of the British Army.
These stories...to put it lightly...are absolutely hilarious. For several days at lunch, I sat transfixed in front of my computer screen, absorbing each tale, laughing heartily and occasionally swallowing my coffee down the wrong pipe. The author, Rab Orr has a brilliant comedic voice and I hope that his book receives some attention beyond the confines of ARRSE. (If you want to buy the book, the MLRS site does not offer an order form that works for us Septics, but the staff is extremely helpful and accommodating if you contact them. Thanks David W.!)
So, here's my tribute to Stumpy and the Auld Sapper. There are several inaccuracies in the kit and equipment, but those will be sorted out in due time.
The penultimate novel of the US Navy is Richard McKenna's The Sand Pebbles.
For those of you who haven't read it (or haven't seen the movie), it
takes place in 1926 China, on the cusp of (and during) a period of
upheaval known as "The Northern Expedition".
In this time-frame, Chinese Nationalists lashed out at Western powers
and Chinese warlords alike, in an effort to unify the country. The
(anti) hero of the book is a sailor whose home is whatever ship he's
stationed on. He has an empathy for his engine room and indigenous
personnel alike, in radical contrast to his shipmates from whom he
becomes increasingly alienated. McKenna wrote it when he arrived on the
Asiatic Station, ten years after the events of the book took place. I
seem to recall reading a quote attributed to him saying something to the
effect of, "All the guys who had been here during the trouble were
still talking about it."
I read The Sand Pebbles at
the age of 16. It's a powerful and very evocative book. The milieu of
1920's East Asia has a strong allure. Dangerous, exotic, a clash between
tradition and modernity. A man could be a man, etc. Who wouldn't want
to visit, even if only in their mind's eye?I searched and searched in vain for a similar book. Notwithstanding McKenna's disappointingly briefThe Left Handed Monkey Wrench it wasn't until years later that I stumbled on Delilah, by Marcus Goodrich. Here was another novel, as authentic as The Sand Pebbles, about
life in the Asiatic Fleet. The author had run away from home as a teen
and wound up enlisting in the Navy at 16. He later on he went to
Columbia for undergrad, became an officer and eventually married actress
Olivia de Havilland. As an enlisted sailor, he found himself in the
Philippines, and if we are to surmise from a character in the novel
similar to the author, a little too smart for his own good. Published in
1941, Delilah is about the crew of a destroyer, from the boilers
to the ward room, on the cusp of WWI. Admittedly, some parts of this
novel were tough sledding for me. Goodrich uses words that I never knew
existed. His characters take some dizzying philosophical flights. None
the less, it's a phenomenal novel. If you're a "COIN guy", you might be
interested in the fact that Delilah's primary mission was to conduct
population-centric counterinsurgency operations in the Sulu Archipelago,
where American troops are still involved today. Given that we're leaving Okinawa, our presence in the Philippines may become important again.
Which brings us to Jade Roosterby RL Crossland.Jade Rooster is a novel also set in the same East Asian milieu as The Sand Pebbles and Delilah.
The book is ostensibly a "hard boiled murder mystery" that roams
between Japan, China, the Philippines and Korea, with an equally compelling enlisted
anti-hero sailor (and a cast of comparatively fascinating characters),
yet...there's more. The author is a former SEAL, with experience in
Vietnam and beyond. This experience counts and enriches the novel
significantly. Though he transplants his novel to another time, you can
tell that the author understands that fascinating nexus between the
spheres of the diplomatic, intelligence and military communities. What's
more, Crossland's knowledge of seamanship, diving, martial arts, East
Asian history, maritime history and culture, and revolutionary warfare
elevates this book above and beyond the mystery genre. Much like reading
George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series,
the author's real-life experience in harm's way informs the action
sequences of the novel and gives them a realistic feel. All of these
characteristics combine to make this a piece of historical fiction that
breathes in a way very few other novels do. I was leery at first, then
drawn in completely. I couldn't put it down.
The above image was inspired by the novel. Too even describe the context, would provide too many spoilers.Take a look at Crossland's site, Dreadnaughts and Bluejackets. His links section contains articles on Naval Special Warfare that he's written for Proceedings and an op-ed for the New York Times.
I found a Wacom tablet in my Easter basket today, bringing me kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It's an understatement to say that working with a Wacom is vastly different than traditional media, and I have a lot to learn...The above images were created entirely on the computer. Couple of things didn't work out for me...but, there's always next time.
In 1990, I wrote a term paper for my high school AP US History class comparing the Malayan Emergency to the American experience in Vietnam. My optimistic thesis was that if the United States had only learned something from the British victory in Malaya, we could've won the war in Vietnam. (I probably cribbed the idea from an incomplete reading of Noel Barber's War of the Running Dogs).
Little did I know that I was ahead of the curve, and that a succession of academics would make that same case into a cottage industry during our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (I shoulda gone for that PhD...) At the tender young age of 17 I became a full-fledged believer in the British "way" of fighting guerilla warfare. So, naturally after the last 11 years, I was eager to read Losing Small Wars for an evaluation of the GWOT from the British point of view.
I got much more than I bargained for. Frank Ledwidge, a former British Army intelligence officer (with service in Iraq and Afghanistan) and currently a lawyer, lays out an impassioned critique of the British art of counterinsurgency in theory, history and practice. Page by page, he stripped away my illusions about the British military's adeptness at small wars, and deconstructed some cherished illusions I had about counterinsurgency in general.
The quotes in the above illustration (from TE Lawrence and Maximillien Robespierre - Robespierre is saying, "Nobody likes an armed missionary.") sum up the bottom line of Ledwidge's book very succinctly. Additionally, Ledwidge attributes the British Army's poor showing in the GWOT to a bloated corps of senior officers, short regimental tours in theater (making continuity of mission impossible), an inability to project influence beyond the wire, and a bad habit of backing the wrong indigenous actors in any given area of operations as the causes for their failure.
Ledwidge describes the British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan as being a "self-licking lollipop". Its only mission, protecting itself from problems of their own creation. (That would've made a more interesting illustration, actually.)
Agree with it or not, it's a stimulating book and a great addition for any COIN bookshelf. I look forward to reading Rob Dover's rebuttal against the book on Kings of War .
After I wrote the bulk of this review I found a piece with a similar structure, using an American political figure to illustrate the plot of “Norwegian Ninja”. That piece is here. I debated changing mine, but I believe my analogy is more apt, so I’m keeping it. Enjoy:
Ok. Speaking to my fellow Americans, imagine this for the plot of a movie:
It’s 1985. Chief Warrant Officer John Anthony Walker, a sailor in a sensitive communications billet for SUBLANT (Submarine Force Atlantic) is being arrested for one of the worst acts of betrayal (if not the worst- and certainly the one with the largest possibility of mass destruction) in American history. For 17 years he has been giving away classified information to the Soviet Union for filthy lucre. Through Walker, the Soviets have gained so much knowledge about our submarine capabilities, they have been able to engineer a new class of boat- able to outfox ours -and as a result, redress the imbalance (skewed towards us) in nuclear warfare capability. They can now sneak around our underwater defenses and put missiles closer to our shores than ever before.
Following me? It’s a movie plot. Stay with me.
Ok. Here’s where the movie gets weird…John Anthony Walker turns out not to be a traitor- but a patriot. For years he has been leading a clandestine force of ninja held in readiness to engage in secret combat against those who would threaten the American way of life. In this case it is a shadow army of villainous men who would dubiously lead us into war to maintain global hegemony. (You caught the part about the secret Ninja force, right?) So, in this movie, why does our "hero" Walker end up in jail? Well…to tell you that would be a spoiler, but it’s a necessary part of the plan.
Got it? Sound like a good flick? Something you’d see?
Well. You can. Sort of.
Just substitute John Anthony Walker (I spit on the ground at his name!) with real life former Norwegian Labour Party diplomat Arne Treholt and you have Thomas Cappelen Malling’s film “Norwegian Ninja”. Treholt was caught in an act of espionage with the Soviets that was severe enough to put him in prison for 20 years. (He was pardoned after 8).
Enraptured by a trailer I couldn’t understand, I eagerly awaited the film's arrival at my local art-house theater. If it showed up, I missed it. “It’ll be be on Netflix for sure.” I thought. No dice. Why, why, why!? I wondered. Who wouldn’t want to see a Norwegian action flick that bucks the Viking stereotype? The trailer gave me tantalizing glimpses of Ninja commandos clad in amazing knitwear, doing battle amongst picturesque Norwegian fjords...I had to see it.
So, eventually I caved and I bought it. (Who has the money for frivolous DVD purchases in this day and age?) Turns out if I had waited a little longer, I could’ve gotten it on Netflix. Oh well.
But, I think I have an answer as to why it didn’t immediately break big into the American film scene. There is a bit of…how can I say this? “Anti-American Sentiment” in the film. It’s subtle. You have to read between the lines but it’s there. (I’m kidding, it’s actually very obvious.) It was soon very clear that this was not a silly film about Ninjas and spies. Malling’s Treholt is Noam Chomsky in tabi boots. (with throwing stars and a Mauser, riding a Maiale.)
In the film, Arne Treholt’s Ninja Force is desperately trying to prevent a CIA-sponsored campaign of propaganda-by-deed/false-flag-terrorism (the alleged “Operation Stay Behind”) intended to draw the Scandinavian countries (Norway in particular) closer to the American bosom and further from their Soviet neighbors. Sound like a good Psy-Op?
Malling does a good job of integrating real terrorist events (and other suspicious looking calamities) into the plot of his film. Did the CIA blow up the Bologna train station and the Alexander L. Kielland drilling rig in 1980? I doubt it. It may have been the Cold War, with a lot of intelligence agencies doing nutso stuff out there in Europe, but I don’t think that the CIA would have gone to those lengths to turn the Norwegians (or Italians) away from the Soviets. Certainly, we wouldn’t have wanted Soviet sub bases in Norway. However I doubt that Norway was a strategic priority that would have necessitated measures of that severity. (Can I see the CIA asking Norwegian citizens like Hans Otto Meyer, to cache weapons for a “stay-behind” guerilla force in case of actual Soviet occupation? Yes, I can. )
The premise of the film raises an unpleasant specter for Americans. Do we secretly sponsor terrorism to achieve our national security aims? Was the scene where a "Stay Behind" pilot aims his plane at Oslo's two-towered City Hall Malling’s way of saying that 9-11 was an “inside job”? I have always rejected that theory and its inclusion in the film deeply soured it for me. It's easy to embrace conspiracy theories when you're predisposed to do so. I mean, by that same logic, one could connect the dots and work out a theory that Anders Behring Breivik conducted his massacre at the bidding of a secret cabal of left wing Norweigan politicians, in order to create an atmosphere of empathy that would be conducive to pushing legislation through for looser immigration laws. It makes total sense, right? (For the record, I don't really believe that.) Truth is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.
I can understand where Malling is coming from though. Remember those submarines with nuclear missiles we were talking about at the beginning of the review? During the Cold War their patrol areas skirted Norway. Neighboring Finland was, for all intents and purposes, a dormant Soviet satellite. The potential threat of invasion to Norway was as real as anywhere in Europe. I can understand why Arne Treholt (the Ninja version) would want to balance with the Soviets, instead of against them. In America, protected by two oceans, a Soviet invasion would have been impossible (despite Hollywood's attempt to convince us otherwise) and accorded us a certain degree of emotional insulation. The fear and paranoia in 1980's Norway must've been palpable.
What comes through in this film is a strong sense of Norwegian pride and independence. They can afford to have it- they aren’t dependent on anyone for oil and only 2% of their population is non-European, which allows them to emotionally disengage from the world to a certain degree. The standard of living for Norwegians is good, due to an equitable distribution of tax rates. They aren’t a member of the EU and apparently they are incredibly self-sufficient. This, primarily, is why the threat of being suborned by the CIA is anathema to (Ninja) Treholt. After a long history of occupation (first the Danes, then the Swedes, zen ze Germans) it’s no wonder that (Ninja) Treholt puts his life on the line to "beat the shit out of those who [would] mess with the Norwegian way of life”.
So, aside from the conspiratorial insinuations, I enjoyed the film. Stylistically, I loved it. At first, coupled with soft lighting and faux-80’s aging, it had the feel of Megaforce (Deeds not Words!) meets the Royal Tennenbaums. Treholt’s top-secret Ninja commandos train on a peaceful island (Grassy Island in Oslo Fjord) protected by a Feng Shui force field. In lieu of the Megaforce’s flying motorcycles, they have maiali and amphibious cars. Each member of the team has a specialty- from sharpshooting to combat driving to pacifism. (And, believe it or not, the pacifist ninja plays a key role). King Olav V (The People's King) is also a character in the film. He is often seen relaxing at Grassy Island and conferring with Treholt.
In terms of “action”, there’s enough of it, though I wouldn't classify this an "action film". There's an intense “selection” scene, where two apprentice ninjas vie for full membership in the Ninjatroppen (which also makes you wonder what selection for Norwegian SF must be like- skip ahead to 3:01). There are plenty of fight scenes, especially when Operation Saga Night really begins. But I don’t want to ruin too much. (If you rent the DVD, make sure you watch the extras for how they filmed the squirrel suit footage.)
Once I put aside my feelings about the anti-American tone of the film, I was able to enjoy it. (It's always instructive to know how the world views us). It was exceedingly well done for a movie that probably had access to an infinitesimal fraction of a Hollywood budget. And, I'm always a sucker for labors of love that come to fruition. Despite my mixed feelings, Malling's Norwegian Ninja is a fantastic entry into the genre of Cold War films.
I only (virtually) met Kim Carver a couple of years ago, but at that time it seemed she had already been well into the effort of bringing her vision- a maritime culture magazine- into physically tangible existence. Well...now it's here and available at MagCloud. (Also available digitally.)
I don't think anything else I could say would do it justice. Head on over to Jack Tar's virtual home to read Kim's rationale for creating the magazine.
So again, congratulations Kim! Looking forward to a long run in print (not to mention, more calenders). -CITS
(Captain Edward L. Beach Jr. Submarine commander, Author. Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.)
While things are slow here at Cold is the Sea, I thought I would reprint a comment that was recently left in a post that's almost exactly 51 weeks old. The aforementioned post was my take on Captain Beach's novel "Cold is the Sea", which I appropriated for the title of this blog. The author of the following comment is a former Navy scientist, and I figured since he knows of what he speaks, it was worth reprinting in its very own post. There are SPOILERS within, so be warned. So here you go Topper, you have your very own guest book review on Cold is the Sea (the blog, not the novel). Thank you for your service!:
"It's almost a year since I made my first comment following your post about "Dust on the Sea." (DOTS) It took me a while to find a copy of "Cold is the sea," (CITS) and when I finished it I decided not to immediately come back to your site to give you my update, as you had invited me to do, but to wait until I reread "Run silent, run deep" (RSRD) again, to try and find some overall perspective. Here is what I now think:
(1) RSRD is a truly excellent novel. It draws on the authors extensive experience of undersea warfare, and his evidently deep technical expertise, which are then coupled with a remarkable narrative flair, to produce a deeply convincing and enjoyable story.
There is only one slightly critical comment I can find to say about RSRD, and I think I am really being unfair in even raising it. Beach, in his prefacing remarks to the novel, states that all the events portrayed are fictional, although technically feasible. He obviously based them on his own personal experiences, as well as those of other submarine commanders that he heard about, or was told about, during his period of service. He then, very cleverly, arranged and fictionalized them to construct his narrative. The main character, Richardson (clearly based on Beach himself), is the main protagonist in most of these events. However, there are so many of them that, as I approached the end of the story, I find my credibility being stretched a little to believe that one man could have accomplished so much. At the very end, when Richardson personally directs his sub, alone on the bridge, to ram the lifeboats in his fanatical quest to kill Bungo Pete, and then (a few pages later) jumps off the sub to save three airmen from drowning, and then (a few pages again) goes to Washington to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, I really thought Beach might be succumbing to the temptation of self-glorification.
The reason I say this comment is "unfair" is that Beach, of course, was trying to create an exciting story for his readers, which he clearly succeeded in doing. The positive qualities of the story overwhelm such trifling quibbles.
(2) It is clear from the finale of RSRD that Beach did not originally intend to write a sequel. But such was its success, that his publisher probably offered him a lot of money to do so. He may have had the problem that he had used up most of his best material on RSRD, and therefore had to resort to more pure invention (which he wasn't quite so good at) in DOTS, which didn't quite ring true when compared to the authentic stuff related in the first story. It is perhaps for this reason that you found: "the book took on the turn of a Boy's Own adventure and just became so unbelievable I couldn't really get into it." I still feel more forgiving though, probably because I am enthralled by the technical navy stuff (I'm a retired navy scientist).
(3) CITS is clearly a work of pure fiction, as far as the naval action goes. Beach, however, again uses his ability to weave in his own personal experiences, together with his expertise, in a very engaging way. I found the interactions with Brighting (i.e., Rickover) absolutely compelling, and very believable. While I never met anyone as exalted as Rickover during my career, I did deal with several people of that personality type. The navy bureaucracy has (or, at least, had) many prickly martinets, both in and out of uniform. They could be difficult to work with, but they got the job done!
I also read the articles on both Beach and Rickover on Wikipedia which, if you haven't already seen them, are worth a visit. The interaction between the two of them is covered in the Beach article. I didn't realize that, at the time of his retirement, Rickover was the longest serving US Navy officer ever (63 years). Nobody was able to retire him! Finally, it took a gentle nudge from President Reagan (who Rickover probably liked and trusted) to get him to go. He sure left a great legacy for the United States."