James Blagden, best known for his triumphant Dock Ellis and the LSD No-No short, as well as the animation in Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes and Life documentary has recently released another beautifully drawn short, based on the 1986 National League Championship Series. The series in which the New York Mets beat the Houston Astros and in celebration, destroyed the inside of an Ozark Airlines DC-10 airplane during their flight back to New York.
Blagden captures the chaos of this historic tale through his animation and is accompanied by some of the 1986 NY Mets narrating the tale, including Darryll Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell, Lenny Dykstra, and Dwight Gooden. Similar to the Doc Ellis short, Blagden has a talent for bringing attention to detail within simplistic illustrations.
I sat down with Mr. Blagden to gather some info on how the short was created, his influences, and what’s in store for his future. Here’s what he had to say.
Listen to the full interview below or read the simplified version.
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How’d you decide to animate this story? What are its origins?
My friend Chris Isenberg (Producer of TBLBPRE) knew this story from his days of being a teenage baseball fanatic. As an adult, he came to realize what a special team the 86' Mets were. Chris and I started working together in the mid-2000's and our first project was this article about recreational drug use in sports. Chris is more into sports; I’m not really into sports in any serious capacity. I couldn’t tell you any particular stats of teams. I get into it for more of the drama. The stuff going on around the game than the actual competitive sport. So, the more I got to know the 86' Mets and all the different characters on the team, the more I thought they were an interesting bunch. Also, that era of New York, the music and style is what made it interesting to me.
Long story short, the project we worked on after the recreational drugs in sports article was a poster for the 20th anniversary of the Mets winning the National League Championships. Ten years ago we worked on something for this! So it was cool to finally get the story told and put it out for the 30th anniversary.
How long did this short take to create?
There was all that time it was being thought about (throughout the early 2000's) but the actual labor and process began in late summer of 2015. Chris gave me the interviews the first week of November last year. We interviewed five dudes from the Mets but the fifth teammate had a strange buzz on his audio, so we cut it down to four. That process took a while. I worked on the edit for a couple weeks and finally came to something close to this final version. It’s definitely time consuming. It took most of the year to finish. All in all, it took a better part of a year.
Who and what are your influences?
Man, there’s so much stuff. Growing up, my dad had Bernie Wrightson drawings and Carl Barks prints up in the house. As well, Swamp Thing comics and Heavy Metal magazine and all that 70’s and 80’s underground comic book art. That had a big impact on me, although I didn't realize how influential it was for me at the time.
As I got older, I was more influenced by artists like Cheri Samba and stuff like hand-painted movie posters from Ghana. People that use incredible color. That stuff influenced my illustration more, that sort of full-color figurative work I was doing. There’s tons of artists, fine artists that have influenced me as well, like Charles Burchfield and Phillip Guston, fuck, there’s so many.
William Klein is a big influence, filmmaker wise, and Frederick Wiseman. I recently got into old Disney cartoons with my boys. Goofy and Donald Duck cartoons from the 40’s. Just absolutely gorgeous. You take it for granted that these things exist but when you watch them now and think about the work that went into them, they're so incredible! They're very musical too. Disney's sense of musical timing has made me aware of how important the role music plays in animation. Music videos were such a big influence on me as a kid. So much inspiration.
Do you have any advice to fellow upcoming illustrators and animators?
Haha. Yeah, I do. Just work. Work, work, work. Work really hard. I say that as advice to myself. Keep working. It’s easy to get distracted by everything that comes along with a creative occupation. You’re always second-guessing or judging yourself. There’s a lot of weird head shit that goes along with being creative. Never make excuses, just work.
I feel like you and I have talked about the hours that you have to put in. It really has a lot to do with the hours. Just be inspired and feed yourself good food. What I mean is watch good films and read inspiring literature. There’s something about reading that really channels your imagination.
It’s fun to watch junk, gossip, and bullshit but don’t concern yourself with it. Don't concern yourself with your peers and people that are doing it that are younger or older than you. Fuck all that shit. Just do your thing. Think about the people that created art that you really admire and try to imagine how much work they put in.
Don’t get hung up on shit. It’s good to have a lot of ideas and be willing to move on. I think that’s something that’s been good for me at this stage in my life. Having deadlines and having to finish things and move on.
What’s on your horizon?
I shot this documentary with my boy Roni, Nick Strini and my friend Ben in Flint Michigan back in 2012. We went and shot for three weeks around the prom at Flint Northern high school, which I guess got shut down since then. I started editing it while I was in London in 2014 and we finally got a cut that I was happy with but then I got all stressed out about it.
We were getting some feedback about it that was tailoring it to how you would sell it to film festivals. I was feeling kind of grossed out about it and had to put it down for a minute. Nick and I watched it recently and agreed to put it out ourselves, cut it how we want and put it out independently.
I’m also focusing on moving into narrative films and live action films. Not that I don’t love animation. I love animation and am happy to keep experimenting but I've got some dream projects that I'm putting some energy into starting. I’ll let you know when the time arises.