Wednesday, June 6, 2012

R.I.P. (Rocket Into Paradise) Ray Bradbury

Seventh Grade, Language Arts class. The teacher told us to pick a book at random off the classroom shelves to read for our next assignment. I browsed idly for a bit, and then I saw the words, "The Halloween Tree" and grabbed it before anyone else could. I was a huge Halloween fan and though I'd heard of Ray Bradbury, I'd never (knowingly) read any of his stuff at that point. So I started reading the book that night. Turns out Bradbury was a huge Halloween fan too. I was only a few sentences into the book before I was hooked. And I've been hooked on Bradbury's writing ever since.

Cut to 2003. I was just starting to fiddle around with digital illustration. One of the first things I experimented with was an interpretation of Bradbury's Halloween Tree. Still trying to figure out what all of the tools in Photoshop did, working on an uncalibrated monitor with no idea how to use the opacity option, I took an unforgivable amount of time to cobble together this barely passable illustration of Moundshroud and Tom Skelton, standing beneath the Halloween Tree. 

I was just callow enough to think it was half-decent, and just arrogant enough to send a copy to Ray Bradbury himself. Nothing came of it and I forgot all about it, diving back into my digital experiments. But then, one night, I was checking my email and saw one from Ray Bradbury. No artifice or internet code name. Just Ray Bradbury, writing to me, thanking me for the card, telling me how wonderful it was and -- here's the part that still astounds me -- asking for 25 copies of the card to send to his friends and family. Yes. Ray Bradbury, one of the foremost experts on Halloween and author behind some of the greatest Halloween stories ever, wanted to use my illustration as his personal Halloween card.  As I said, this still astounds me.

For a few years after that, there was an email in my inbox from Ray, every fall, requesting more cards. Sometimes I'd get an email from his daughter, Alexandra, and I think that was because Ray's health wasn't what it used to be. Once he sent me my own card back with a delightfully illustrated envelope (Ray was a first-class doodler) and an encouraging messages inside. 

After a while, I got busy with assignments and Ray was busy with whatever he was doing, and the back-and-forth emails stopped. My plan was to surprise him with a new, much better Halloween Tree illustration now that my skills had improved. I'd started a few, trashed them as "not good enough" and moved on to my other assignments. Every once in a while I'd sketch out an idea or two for the Halloween piece, but time and circumstance just never allowed me to finish it. Then, today, I got the news that Ray had passed. There's a lesson in that somewhere. You can piece it together. 

I'm hoping that his daughter, Alexandra, is doing alright and imagine she's basking in all of the praise and kind remembrances of Ray that I see all over the web today. And I hope she knows how many people her father influenced -- writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers and more. And I hope that Alexandra knows that her father's work will continue to inspire whole new generations of creators for a long time to come. I'm confident that Ray knows all of this already, as he rockets around us in space, smiling the way a kid smiles on Halloween night. Thanks again, Ray. -v 


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