Kool Kat of the Week: Poppin’ in with Dante DeStefano on Her Way to DragonCon’s Comics and Pop Art Alley!

Posted on: Aug 27th, 2014 By:

dante_heroes_tableTo some, Dragoncon (Aug. 28-Sept. 2) is a five-day visual feast of costumery, to others a cosplay playground. A chance to meet, listen to and get the autograph of a favorite celebrity. Or the ultimate marketplace for all things phantastique. Sooner or later, however, all the Kool Kats find their way to Comics and Pop Art Alley. Two levels beneath the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

Here you’ll find not only top nationally known comics artists but some of Atlanta’s finest creative talents from Kool Kats Chris Hamer to Derek Yaniger, aka DerekART, who designed ATLRetro’s swingin’ logo.

One of our favorite local artists who’ll be lurking in the Alley this year is Dante DeStefano, the dark art mistress extraordinaire of Rag Bone Studio. Dante began her art career as a freelance illustrator focusing on painting with traditional media and illustrating children’s books. She developed a signature style of spooky-cute art, which she displays in galleries and conventions around the southeast United States.

ATLRetro caught up with Dante to find out more about what attracts her to creepy things that go bump in the night, what she’ll be doing at DragonCon and her latest excapades honing her skills as an animator and visual development for film, television and new media.

ATLRetro: How did you get into art and comics?

Dante DeStefano: Like many artists, I’ve been drawing and making things since I can remember. I’ve never been one to stick to any one medium for very long. I love creating and I want to try everything. I’m an illustrator, painter, animator, sculptor, puppet builder and seamstress. I got into making art because it feels good to create and to enjoy the creations of others. My brother, Nic, is also an artist, cartoonist and game developer. He helped foster my love of drawing. I got into comics by visiting comic book stores with him when we were kids.

giant bunny lrWho are a few of the artists who inspired you then and now and why?

My favorite comic when I was a kid was Walt Kelly’s POGO. I didn’t get a lot of the political jokes then, but I loved copying the characters from the strips, and as a native Georgian, the fact that it was set in the south resonated with me. Around that same time was when I heard my first Tom Waits album, THE BLACK RIDER. The imagery that danced around in my head was so vivid. I still draw inspiration from those daydreams and his music. Synesthesia is a great tool for me.

As far as comics go, I discovered Dianne DiMassa thanks to Charis Books when I was 15. HOTHEAD PAISAN is still my favorite comic book. It was my gateway into underground comix. As a young, queer, Italian myself, Hothead became a sort of demented role model for me. DiMassa and Allison Bechdel were great queer cartoonist trailblazers for the pre-web-comic era.

I also admire Wayne White for his uncontainable body of work and multiple careers. From puppets to animating to sculptures, I love artists who to do everything they can get their hands on.

How would you describe your own work, and what might ATLRetro readers be familiar with?

My own work is definitely on the cartoony side. I’m all about designing original characters. A lot of my characters have a heavy Fleischer animation influence. A lot of my paintings and animations feature monsters, freaks and spooky things. I have displayed paintings in some local galleries, including Homegrown Decatur. Readers might be interested to know that I illustrated album covers and T-shirts for Blair Crimmins and the Hookers.

StateHotel_cover webMany of our readers indeed are big fans of Blair Crimmins. Any story behind how you met him and your work with him?

I heard “Old Man Cabbage” on WRAS a few times. Whenever I heard that song, a brilliant haunted house scene that looked like it came right out of Fleischer Studios would play in my head. I didn’t catch who the band was until I heard an interview with Blair on that same station. I bought that album and immediately began drawing and painting the characters that popped into my head while it was playing. I emailed him pictures of the paintings that were inspired by his music. Before I knew it, I was meeting with the music man himself and painting a cover for STATE HOTEL featuring those characters.

There’s so much to do at DragonCon. Why should attendees be sure to visit Comics and Pop Artist Alley?

Everyone should visit the Artist Alley because that is the heart of the so-called “comic convention.” Before costumes, movie stars and parties, there are the artists who come to show you their original content. This is where the creators are, newbies and old pros. Artists’ alley is where you can meet and support artists directly. We come out to table at these cons because we are excited to meet you and to show our work. It’s especially a great way to discover your new favorite artist. Plus, you might be able to get a custom commission right at the con!

style_frame_001_lrWhat are you bringing to Comic and Pop Artist Alley?

I have an exciting new line of limited edition art toys that my partner Colin and I have made by hand. Each one is based off of an original character and hand-painted. I will also have original paintings (large and small), a series of art prints, T-shirts and greeting cards. Most importantly, I’ll be offering sketches and commissions on-site!

Do you do commissions outside of conventions?

Absolutely! This is a great time of year for commissions. I do a lot of them around the winter holidays. One of my specialties is spooky skeleton portraits. I like doing portraits and caricatures in general. If you have any requests, you can send them to dante@ragbonestudio.com.

starlight_mural_screenshotWhat else are you working on now? I understand you have an exciting new animation project.

Yes! I am making a film called MUSEUM OF MONSTER ART. It’s a short 2D traditional animation, based off of MONSTERS, my first art show at Kai Lin Art (Gallery). In this version, a young artist meets a monster who helps draw a crowd of his monster friends to her show. It features a lot of my characters from paintings that I made for the exhibit, both in the characters and the backgrounds. My crew and I are finishing up the rough animation at the moment. I’ll be submitting my film to festivals in the winter, but ATLRetro readers can see more at www.monsterartfilm.wordpress.com.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Blair Crimmins Promises Prohibition-Era Pandemonium at the Plaza Theatre Premiere of OLD MAN CABBAGE Sat. Feb. 4

Posted on: Feb 3rd, 2012 By:

Blair Crimmins and the Hookers. Photo credit: Scott McKibben.

With HUGO and THE ARTIST nominated for a bevy of Oscars this year, silent films seem to be getting a lot of love lately reimagined in creative ways for the 21st century. From what we’ve heard about OLD MAN CABBAGE, a short film co-produced by popular neo- ragtime band Blair Crimmins and the Hookers and Atlanta’s Ninja Puppet Productions, it sounds like a fantastic local addition to the oeuvre and a great reason to come out to the historic Plaza Theatre again this Sat. Feb. 4 at 10 p.m. But the night’s much more than just seeing a cool movie – Blair and the band will be playing the soundtrack live as the film unwinds on the big screen and then a complete concert afterwards in the alluring art-deco setting of the Plaza stage.

Based on a Blair Crimmins & the Hookers song and set in a farm forgotten by time, OLD MAN CABBAGE tells the tale of two dust bowl farm kids who find their lives flipped upside down when they are caught in an accident with an abusive father. Like so many classic children heroines, they run away to join the circus, only this particular one is distinctly supernatural. Without giving too much away, the cast features performers from the Imperial OPA Circus, well-known to the steampunk community. OLD MAN CABBAGE is directed by Raymond Carr, the founder of Ninja Puppet Productions, a collection of artists and professionals dedicted to the creation of innovative art and storytelling of all sorts.

As we pointed out in a previous short feature on Blair, you might think of ragtime as kind of quaint, but you wouldn’t be talking about his and the Hookers’ take on this 1920s form of jazz. Remember that they didn’t call the Twenties Roaring for nothing. In fact, you might even describe Crimmins’ high-energy style as “in your face” as rock ‘n’ roll. Except the groupies would be flapper girls, and the band is playing instruments your grandparents would approve of from banjo to accordion, saxophone to piano, trumpet to trombone—and may be accompanied by antics inspired by the best vaudeville comedy. Oh, did we mention that while the music swings, the lyrics to many of the songs are also delightfully decadent and dark.

ATLRetro has thought for a long time that it’s high time for Blair to be Kool Kat of the Week, but this week we had no excuse but to catch up with one of the Atlanta Retro scene’s most talented performers to get a sneak peek into what promises to be a sensationally surreal Saturday night at the Plaza. Tickets to the screening and concert are just $10 in advance and can be purchased here or $12 at the door.

What’s the story behind OLD MAN CABBAGE and your involvement with Ninja Puppet Productions?

“Old Man Cabbage” is a track off THE MUSICAL STYLINGS OF, which tells the story about a young man who moves into an old house and becomes possessed by the ghost of an old ragtime musician who lives there. It’s a biographical dramatization on how I became so enamored with early jazz. Raymond Carr took that ghost story and expanded it to give more backstory to the characters, and instead of the haunted house created a whole speakeasy of specters who reenact their gruesome demise every night. Quite a story. I won’t give the whole thing away.

So is it an extended music video or is it a movie? And what’s the running time?

Raymond calls it a short narrative film. I jokingly refer to it as my jazzy version of “Thriller.”  The film runs about 15 minutes long.

Is it performed with puppets or human characters since Imperial OPA is involved?

You won’t find any puppets or ninjas in the film, although we did use some sets built in miniature and green screens.  We brought in a lot of other local talent and used the video as an vehicle to showcase our Atlanta favorites. The circus group Imperial OPA, the cabaret troupe Davina and The Harlots, some aerial acrobats and a number of fantastic swing dancers all put their talents in the film, not to mention the people behind the scenes in makeup and costume who brought the prohibition style to the screen.

There seems to be a rebirth in fascination with circuses and carnivals, from the popularity of Cirque de Soleil to books like THE NIGHT CIRCUS, by Erin Morgenstern, which explore their darker, more mysterious side. There’s even that surreal, crazy Guinness commercial. Do you have any thoughts on the current appeal of circuses and where does OLD MAN CABBAGE fit in?

There certainly seems to be a renewed interest, and I’m glad to see troupes exploring all the different facets of the circus tradition. From the classic freak and sideshow acts to the more bohemian variety stuff, many young performers finding their place on the periphery of mainstream performance theater. I don’t know if that’s entirely new, but I can say I [have seen] a lot of very interesting [acts] just in the last few years.  I do think that Atlanta is grabbing a place in art and culture that can now compete with some other big cities.  There is a very youthful and unjaded excitement in the artistic community here.

How did you prepare for scoring OLD MAN CABBAGE?

I prepared for scoring the film by watching other silent movies. Of course, the classics METROPOLIS and CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, which are always fantastic, but I also watched THE GOLEM for the first time, which was one of the earliest monster movies ever made. It was filmed in 1920 about a rabbi who makes a giant man out of clay and brings him to life to protect the Jewish neighborhoods of Prague. I really dug that one and would recommend that to anyone with an interest in silent film.

Anything you’d like to share about the why behind the 1920s speakeasy setting and what the filmmakers did to ensure set, costumes and music were authentic?  

There wasn’t a lot of discussion on why the film should have a Prohibition era style.  That’s where my inspiration lies. That’s where home is for me. I know Raymond did a lot of research and studied old photos to ensure that film looked authentic.

And it’s silent, which seems even more apropos given the popularity and Oscar nominations for THE ARTIST and HUGO, two movies that pay tribute to the silent era. I’m supposing that was just lucky timing? 

Current trends always herd people to different areas to search for new life, to find something that they’ve been lacking, an oasis. I can see people who are finding that needed refreshment in the silent film era. Being beat over the head with the GLEE stick and AMERICAN IDOL will get anyone to pay for a ticket to silence.

Blair Crimmins. Photo credit: Katie Bricker.

What else do you have planned for Saturday night at the Plaza and do we need to dig out our bowties, golf caps, spats and flapper dresses?

Seeing a well-dressed crowd always brings a smile to my face. You won’t be the only one dressed up if you choose to do so. Davina and The Harlots will be dancing onstage and throughout the room in full flapper gear. The OPA will also be working the crowd in their usual fashion. The whole evening promises to be taste of pandemonium.

How did you personally discover and fall in love with ‘20s ragtime music and vaudeville?

It’s just music that endlessly amuses me. You know when you’re doing something you truly comfortable with as an artist because you never get tired of it. Once my writing steered in the right direction, the ship took off on its own.

Your gigs are always packed and your music and performances embrace the past but sell so well in the 21st century. Are you surprised to see how many people enjoy a musical style that’s nearly a century old in a time of fast-passing fads? Any thoughts on why Retro is so hip?

I don’t think it’s a fad or new thing. I feel as if people of every generation reach an age when they discover something cool from the past. Chances are, if you find something that you identify with, you’ll find a whole group of people that love it, too. As you watch new people discover it, there is a tendency to think “Wow, this is really catching on”; the reality is that it has never gone anywhere.  Its popularity is always fluctuating but never dies or becomes reborn. Some of the bad trends die and hopefully never wake up, i.e. polyester suits, but the really good stuff sticks around forever for generations to enjoy.

After Saturday’s screening, will OLD MAN CABBAGE be heading out on the film festival circuit or what are the plans for the film?

Yeah, Raymond is going to talk more about that at the film premiere.

And of course, what’s next for Blair Crimmins & the Hookers? 

We have a lot of great touring on the books for this year. There will definitely be new singles out this year and maybe a record. I’ve already been talking with some of my favorite local artists about the next music video, and I’ve got some other film opportunities in the pipe. Things are about to get real busy for The Hookers. I’m trying to do as much as I possibly can and never lose an opportunity to let the music take me somewhere new.

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