The Mayor You Deserve (AKA ‘The Batman’)

“Science fiction shows us how we can improve quality of life through technology, but it’s so important that we properly channel the tools and the knowledge that we gain so that we don’t suppress ourselves as individuals of freewill.” — Ron Nirenberg

SAN ANTONIO: Want to see ‘Batman’ become the mayor of your city? Vote for Ron Nirenberg, and you can make that happen.

I first heard of him when he was being dubbed ‘The Batman’, back when he was saving the world’s largest summer home for Mexican free-tailed bats from urban sprawl. Since then, I’ve gotten to know Ron a bit, and found him to not only be a world-class critical thinker who views issues from all sides — but he’s also a profoundly hardcore geek and passionate science fiction / fantasy fan. He puts a deep value on collective vision and looking forward, without forgetting the inhabitants that make a place what it is.

So if you’re like me, and you proudly count yourself amongst the legions of San Antonians who love genre films, collect comics, or play D&D — this guy is one of us, and that’s a beautiful thing. In a time when public officials wrongly view citizens as inferiors and lessers — Ron realizes voters are the Board of Directors, and we need someone who will look out for the inner city, the Southside, the Westside and the Eastside, just as much as the Northside. As our federal and state government officials have become increasingly abusive, we’re going to need strong local government that protects not just citizens’ legal rights, but their human rights as well. I think Ron possesses that social vision, and being that I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life as a Hugo Award-winning cover illustrator in the science fiction / fantasy publishing industry, I wondered if his immersion in sf/f helped shape that.

We sat down in early April for a one-on-one conversation about science fiction, fantasy, San Antonio, and the future present.

John Picacio: Your campaign embraces the slogan ‘The City You Deserve’ which is an interesting phrase because the voters decide what kind of city they deserve, and in San Antonio, that means a leader not only better funnel hopes and dreams into cohesive vision, but also swing the doors of perception *wide* open so voters can actually envision what IS possible. I’ve heard you say that science fiction is the literature of possibility and vision. What was the first sf/f narrative that captured your imagination?

Ron Nirenberg: Oh man. It’s interesting you used the phrase ‘the doors of perception’. That was one of my favorite books I read for pleasure in college. That’s Aldous Huxley. My love of science fiction definitely comes from cinema though, and that happened before I even knew how to read.

I was born in 1977, and we all know what happened that year. So STAR WARS was one of the first eye-opening experiences I can remember, and it also gave me my love for cinema, even beyond genre. The other big cinematic experience I can remember was with my uncle, when we were visiting family in Massuchusetts. We walked into a movie twenty minutes late, and that was E.T.: THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL. That was such a captivating story for someone who was around five or six years old. It’s always stuck with me too.

JP: Is there a particular image from that movie that still resonates?

RN: Yeah. I remember it clear as day. It was when that government agency had attached those big tubes to the house, and we see those guys walking through the smoke, and they looked so otherworldly. That was what Elliott’s perception was. That was how the boy perceived these people, and he associated these agency guys as the danger, while relating so much more to this extraterrestrial who needed his help.

JP: We’re experiencing the world through a child’s eyes, where the concept of ‘alien’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘enemy’.

RN: Yeah. His connection with E.T. was familial. It was close. It was compassion, despite the fact that the two were from completely different planets. It was the opposite of how the technocrats saw the alien, with this sort of amoral approach. The alien was more like Elliott than these supposedly more familiar humans that were barging into his house.

JP: You’re a batman of sorts. Thankfully, you’re NOT a billionaire vigilante psychotic who prowls the streets. We already have enough psycho politicians. What makes the Batman character resonate with so many though is he’s a dedicated protector of his city and its inhabitants. You have a legacy as a guy who saved the summer home of the world’s largest bat colony — 10,000,000 Mexican free-tailed bats near Bracken Cave — and somehow you balanced their preservation with the needs of human neighbors that co-habitate amongst them.

RN: <chuckles) Yeah, they still call me ‘Batman’ sometimes.

JP: <laughs> How did the bat issue become a priority for you?

RN: I like difficult challenges. I’m not scared off by what others perceive as lost causes. When I first came onto the campaign trail and into office, I became aware of that situation and was told it couldn’t be saved. My son and I went to the cave, and it could be best described as an otherworldly experience to watch those bats emerge. I got educated about what they meant to the ecosystem, to the protection of our water supply, protection of our crops, etc. And frankly, those bats were here first.

When it comes to people, I take pride in giving voice to the voiceless, but also protecting the habitats that balance our environment. Ya know, even bats play an important role in our world, and I became keenly aware of that when I posted my video of them on my Facebook page. I woke up the next morning and there were hundreds of shares and comments from people all over the world. I couldn’t even read all of the languages in the comments, but it further reinforced that what happens in our small corner of the universe is impactful everywhere else. So we have to act that way — especially elected officials who create policy.

JP: What’s your favorite Batman memory?

RN: In 1989, two things happened. One — my parents separated. And two — I spent that entire summer walking back and forth to the movie theatre. The two films I watched most were the Tim Burton BATMAN film that came out that year, and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. Both of those movies — over and over. Also, when I would come home…..I don’t remember what station it was, but it was some kind of classics channel……they showed the re-runs of the old Batman TV show from the sixties. I remember I also borrowed a Sega from a friend, and those games and those particular films……that BATMAN film…….they got me through a tough period.

JP: You once said that THE TERMINATOR changed your life. I NEED to hear more about that.

RN: First of all, it was a forbidden movie. My parents wouldn’t let me watch ‘R’ movies when I was growing up. So as soon as it came out on VHS, we went to our rental store and rented it. I remember my mom let me watch it, but she made me walk out when it got to the love scene. <laughs> At that time, some of my friends were also dubbing videos. So she found a way to get a dubbed version made with that part blanked out. <laughs> I watched the heck out of it. A friend of mine who actually became a filmmaker himself…..he does a lot of work with Richard Linklater now…..we used to make films just for fun, and we watched so many films together. THE TERMINATOR was our favorite and we would watch it over and over again.

I fell in love with the story. I fell in love with how cool Arnold Schwarzenegger was, of course. I picked up a novelization of the film and it made me say ‘wow’. I mean, there’s so much more to this freaky nightmare that James Cameron had. It was such a tightly-conceived storyline, and it just blew my mind. So ever since then, THE TERMINATOR has been my favorite movie — EVER. And it had just the best elements of the best sci-fi movie you could ever think of. It had great actors, great characters, but in terms of cinema, it had this incredible soundtrack. I’m trying to remember……did Danny Elfman do that one?

JP: Elfman did the ’89 BATMAN soundtrack. I’m trying to remember who did the original TERMINATOR music….

RN: Fiedel! It was Brad Fiedel. It was this incredible synthesized soundtrack. Very Eighties. I still listen to it, just on its own. That movie had everything.

JP: The other thing about that film was it was this seemingly impossible low-budget exercise in problem solving. I don’t know what the budget was for that film, but it had to be less than $10 million, which is minuscule for an effects-heavy film. And with such a low budget, the production design, the effects, all of it…..it’s just masterfully composed.

RN: It made James Cameron. I was just enthralled by it. And like a lot of kids my age, I would play with G.I. Joes. So me and my buddy Justin would make stop-animation films…..some really cool ones. We made up our own stories, but we also re-created THE TERMINATOR stop-animation style using G.I. Joe men. <laughs>

JP: Did you guys find any inspiration from Ray Harryhausen and the old SINBAD films?

RN: Not so much SINBAD, but CLASH OF THE TITANS is one of my favorite films — the original one from ’81.

JP: There you go. Yeah, that was the last film Harryhausen worked on.

RN: Yeah, that’s definitely one of my favorite movies ever. And that was one my mom was OK with me watching.

JP: When that movie first released in theaters, my mother stood in line forever with me to see it. I remember her covering my eyes during certain parts of the film, like when the Medusa came out. After a while, she stopped covering mine, and just covered up her own.

RN: <laughs> Yeah, I love that film.

JP: We’re finding more and more of the world’s great leaders and thinkers possess deep roots in geek culture, and they proudly fly the flag. Barack Obama has been an unabashed Spider-Man fan since childhood. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a devout Trekkie. National Book Award Winner and Macarthur Genius Ta-Nehisi Coates is now writing Black Panther for Marvel. These are people who are driving the ideas that shape the way we see the world and universe. Are there any works of science fiction / fantasy that currently inspire you as a leader?

RN: I still like the classics. I’m inspired by stories about people who overcome long odds. We waited until my son was old enough to understand STAR WARS. So we’re bigtime STAR WARS fans in my house, and we experience those together.

JP: How old is he?

RN: He’s eight. He actually started when he was three or four.

JP: Yeah, we’re about to start watching RETURN OF THE JEDI with my daughter. I waited a while before we finally watched EMPIRE together. There are a lot of daddy issues in that film, so I didn’t want to rush into that one. <laughs>

RN: We let him watch the first one when he was three. We made him wait a little bit for RETURN OF THE JEDI. My wife wanted him to watch the prequels in order. So that meant he had to wait quite a while before she was comfortable with us all watching REVENGE OF THE SITH together.

JP: Some heavy moments in that one.

RN: Yeah, there are parts that my wife didn’t want him to watch until we thought he was ready. My house is very STAR WARS-centric though.

RN: Movies aside — my favorite comic book is CONAN THE BARBARIAN. I would also say that the Schwarzenegger CONAN film is a close second in favorite films. I don’t know how I got away with watching that movie. <laughs> But as soon as I saw it, I was in love with the character, and as a kid, I became a voracious Marvel Comics reader, especially their CONAN comics. To this day, I still have a huge collection of those. I started with THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN — the big magazine size. I read them all out of order because they predated me. I still read them even now. I was completely disappointed in the new remake film. But yeah, as far as the comics, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, CONAN THE DESTROYER, RED SONJA…..all of it.

JP: I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never read the Robert E. Howard source material. I really need to do that.

RN: Yeah, when I was a kid in school, I did a poster board presentation of the life and creation of CONAN THE BARBARIAN.

JP: <laughs> That’s cool. Were you ever into Frank Frazetta?

RN: He did a couple of covers for SAVAGE SWORD and I have those. Looking back, those were considered pretty risqué for me. I’d go look for those issues at trade shows, and I almost considered them pornography. <laughs>

I also used to stay up late and watch movies like EXCALIBUR. Every now and then, when I was a kid, for some reason at 11 or 12 o’ clock at night, there was a station that would air EXCALIBUR, and I remember watching it late at night when my parents were asleep. That movie enchanted me as a kid. So yeah, CONAN THE BARBARIAN and EXCALIBUR were the two things that dragged me into a love for fantasy. I’m still a huge film buff, and my wife and I watch movies together all the time.

JP: Is she into sf/f?

RN: Even moreso. Erika loves cinema and theatre so much that she can tell where a movie is going before it gets there. I knew I was marrying the right person the first time we watched STAR WARS together. She’s a huge geek. We both are.

JP: Alright, last question — are there any works of science fiction / fantasy that depict an urban or cultural image that inspires you toward the San Antonio of YOUR best dreams?

RN: Hmmmm. Tough question. I don’t know if there’s a specific film, but there’s a pretty common theme that I’ve detected in sci-fi films — and that’s that people are scared of the future. The cities we see in these stories are so often NOT the kind we want — places where government has overreached and people’s freewill has been suppressed. I think THX-1138 was one of the first films I saw where a society disrespects the individual so much that we end up with Big Brother. I think that science fiction has been a lens for us to look through, showing us what can go wrong if we don’t get things right presently. It’s hard to watch a movie or read a science fiction novel and say, ‘hey, that’s the future I want to live in’ because so often they’re dystopias. They’re warnings to us. I rewatched TOTAL RECALL recently, and sure there are a lot of elements of a city that make me say, ‘hey, that would be awesome.’ I mean, I would love to jump into a Johnny Cab. <laughs> Science fiction shows us how we can improve quality of life through technology, but it’s so important that we properly channel the tools and the knowledge that we gain so that we don’t suppress ourselves as individuals of freewill.

Vote for Ron as San Antonio’s next mayor, beginning Monday, April 24th at your nearest early voting site. Bexar County’s 2017 Mayoral Election Day is Saturday, May 6th. Find your precinct and your voting sites here!

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RON NIRENBERG’S ALL-TIME SF/F FAVES:

Favorite comic book character:

Favorite sf/f book:

All-time favorite sf/f films:
THE TERMINATOR
CONAN THE BARBARIAN
STAR WARS
BLADE RUNNER
FLASH GORDON

Worlds Beyond Gallery • Thank You, SA!

The Worlds Beyond Gallery Artists / Alamo City Comic Con 2016: Ruth Sanderson, Brom, Peter Mohrbacher, John Picacio, Todd Lockwood, and Jeffrey Alan Love.

The Worlds Beyond Gallery Artists / Alamo City Comic Con 2016: Ruth Sanderson, Brom, Peter Mohrbacher, John Picacio, Todd Lockwood, and Jeffrey Alan Love. (Photo by Sara Felix / ASFA President)

If you saw the Worlds Beyond Gallery this weekend at Alamo City Comic Con, you experienced something that hasn’t quite been done before at a major pop culture convention — a museum-level exhibition of original contemporary sf/f artwork with the creators live and in-person all weekend, meeting fans and signing merchandise within a custom-built museum environment. True — there are amazing illustrator lineups at San Diego Comic Con, NYCC, and other major cons, but none of those experiences coupled the art and the talent with the architectural and spatial experience that was just produced within a media con like ACCC, with the invaluable sponsorship support of The Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists (ASFA).

Ruth Sanderson, Brom, Peter Mohrbacher, Todd Lockwood, Jeffrey Alan Love and I were the six artists featured, and wow, there was some artistic firepower on those walls and tables. I said it earlier today on Twitter, but I felt the world tilt a little after watching thousands of people flow through the walls of this exhibition this weekend, eyeballs popping wide, mouths agape. I saw thousands of people stunned by the work of illustrators creating their own intellectual properties and telling their own stories in words and pictures, and I saw those thousands spending money strong and steady on this, instead of row after row of knockoff licensed property art.

If you weren’t there, you truly missed one of the best sf/f art happenings of 2016. From my vantage point, it was a joy to see my artist pals succeed. I loved watching Pete sell out of his ANGELARIUM card decks. I loved watching Brom sell out of all of his books. I loved watching Jeff sell out his copies of NOTES FROM THE SHADOWED CITY. I loved watching Todd sell almost every copy of THE SUMMER DRAGON. I loved watching big gaps open up on Ruth’s display as artworks sold to happy collectors. And I loved watching the first series of my Loteria Grande cards completely sell out forever.

The camaraderie amongst the artists was one of my very favorite experiences of recent years. We helped each other. We rooted for each other. We ate and drank together. We talked shop together. The ‘we’ was bigger than the ‘me’. While the initial spark of this venture may have been my idea, it was teamwork that made the whole thing work. It was fun watching representatives of other conventions wonder how this was done, and ask what it would take to have our lineup appear at their show with an experience like this.

After it was over, we ventured to the home of a world-class sf/f art collector here in SA, and it felt like we all went to church together, mesmerized by the original works of Virgil Finlay, Richard Powers, Ian Miller, John Berkey, Don Maitz, Michael Whelan, Bernie Wrightson, J. Allen St. John, Ed Emshwiller, and so many more art legends. It took so much work to make Worlds Beyond Gallery happen, but it was all worth it.

Where does something like this go from here? I don’t know yet, but I will soon. I’m still assessing what just happened in the months leading into this show, as well as the show itself. I do think the key word is ‘evolve’. I purposely wanted this exhibition to celebrate the works of contemporary fantastic artists creating their own properties and I know that was the right call, and it will continue to be the right call moving forward. Anything less than that is selling this short, within pop-culture convention environments starved for this kind of originality and art value. Major applause to Apple De La Fuente, Sara Felix, Austin Rogers, Wes Hartman, Merlin, Elaine Ryan, Becky Searson, Pete Barnstrom, Jose Guajardo and all of the people who helped make Worlds Beyond Gallery not only a reality, but an unqualified success for fans and artists alike. And most of all, thank you to all of the art lovers who experienced an sf/f art happening that will likely reverberate for years to come.

Worlds Beyond Gallery!

SIXPACKworldsbeyondHRIf you love science fiction / fantasy art, San Antonio, TX is the place-to-be this Halloween weekend. Alamo City Comic Con and the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists are bringing together six major fantasy illustrators for an unforgettable weekend of original art, merchandise, and autographings. The event is called Worlds Beyond Gallery and it features a lineup of professional art talent unlike any previously seen in San Antonio. I’m proud to be part of this inaugural art roster, joining Brom, Todd Lockwood, Ruth Sanderson, Jeffrey Alan Love, and Peter Mohrbacher as this year’s guests. Your WBG admission is free with the purchase of an Alamo City Comic Con admission badge, and it all happens at ACCC this October 28-30 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

ACCC and ASFA are offering San Antonio the chance to help expand the arts tradition and expectations in this city. As a native San Antonian, I’ve often heard locals lament that big cities such as New York, LA, Seattle, and Philadelphia score the coolest new art happenings, while SA misses out. Opportunities are rare for a city to prove itself as an arts leader and build a burgeoning fantasy art market for which other cities can only dream. That’s the opportunity facing San Antonio this October. What can you do to further the cause? It’s easy.

BE THERE. Get your ACCC badge today and make Worlds Beyond one of your must-see Halloween destinations this year. Be inspired by some of the most imaginative artists working in sf/f, and enjoy one of America’s fastest-growing pop culture conventions.

SPREAD THE BUZZ. Visit the Worlds Beyond Gallery Facebook Page and give it a ‘Like’. To receive updates on the show, visit the Worlds Beyond Gallery Event Page and let them know you’re ‘Interested’ or ‘Going’. These gestures may seem super-easy, but they’re both a big boost. If you don’t do Facebook — no worries. Use your favorite social media to tell your art-loving friends about Worlds Beyond.

SEIZE THE MOMENT. Start planning your Worlds Beyond visit today. This will be the first appearance in San Antonio for many of the featured artists, and their art is coveted by collectors throughout the world. If you’re an art collector, this will be a rare chance to acquire originals and prints directly from the artists without the perils of online buying and shipping. PRO TIP: When you come to ACCC, make WBG one of your early booth destinations. The artists are bringing a limited supply of originals and merchandise with them, and much of it will likely sell quickly. If you’re an aspiring illustrator or student, bring your portfolio. Socialize. Ask questions. Use this opportunity to improve your craft. PRO TIP: Be courteous, and choose the time wisely when asking for portfolio advice. If an artist has customers waiting, let he/she attend to those transactions. Be patient and wait for an appropriate moment to approach for advice. 

CREATORS FTW! Yes, all of the artists in this WBG lineup are major professional artists who have enjoyed successful commercial art careers, but all of the artists were chosen because they’re each developing their own creative properties. Some are writer / illustrators. Some are developing intellectual properties and merchandising lines. Some are doing both. All are building creator-owned careers and Worlds Beyond was designed by ACCC and ASFA to celebrate that. It’s true that amongst the six, you’ll see artwork commissioned by familiar franchises such as Star Trek, the X-Men, Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, A Song of Ice and Fire, and many, many more, but what sets this event apart is it’s an exhibition of contemporary fantastic art and storymaking wholly owned by the visual creators. This isn’t just the future of art, folks. This is the now, and I’m proud to be part of a growing number of pro artists helping to blaze that path for others to follow and succeed.

HALLOWEEN COSPLAY ON THE RIVERWALK!! Need I say more? How epic is the cosplay going to be at this show?? Show off your costume with all of us at Worlds Beyond, even if your best disguise is yourself. 🙂 We can’t wait to see who you become. We can’t wait to see you there.

(Video by Pete Barnstrom for Alamo City Comic Con.)

The SA Express on Loteria Fest!

MYSACOMpicacio32715

Can’t wait for tomorrow night at Salud Tequila Bar. The San Antonio Express-News has a writeup about Loteria Fest in today’s Weekender section. I’m hearing that we may have some Game of Thrones fans arriving in costumes inspired by my A Song of Ice and Fire artwork? So good. Cosplayers — bring it. All costumes welcome. And if you’re like me and you won’t be in costume, you’re still gonna have a blast.

Be there tomorrow night, San Antonio. Play Loteria. Enjoy the best tequila selection in town. Win prizes and get your Loteria Grande cards and posters + A Song of Ice and Fire art prints. I’m stoked. 🙂

UPDATE: My Loteria Grande ‘Once’ card sets will be available at the signing for only $20, while supplies last! Limited-run posters of my ‘La Luna’, ‘El Corazon’, and ‘La Calavera’ art are no longer available online but they WILL be available at this event for only $15 each.

And Game of Thrones fans — BONUS: I’ll have a special reduced price on my 17″ x 22″ signed and numbered A Song of Ice and Fire archival prints. These retail online for $125, but at Loteria Fest, they’ll be available for an exclusive event price of $80 each (including free archival bag and archival backing board). First come, first served, please. I’ll also have a limited supply of archival 11″ x 14″ prints (which are not available online) for only $25 each.

So if you or your friends are Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire fans — see you at Salud Saturday night!

AetherFest 2014

Good news for all Steampunk fans in the southern USA — AetherFest is coming to San Antonio! The historic (and reportedly haunted?) Menger Hotel is the place and it all happens on November 21-23, 2014. AetherFest is billed as “Texas’ premier Retro-Futurist convention, put together by fans for fans.”

I’ll be Special Guest there, and none other than Michael Moorcock will be the Author Guest of Honor, along with Steve Jackson as the Gaming Guest of Honor, and more!

They’ve just released their programming schedule — and it’s loaded with retro goodness.

I’ll be doing several panels and programming events, highlighted by Loteria! on Saturday from 2p-3p where I’ll be conducting an hour’s worth of this classic Mexican game of chance (think Mexican Bingo) for fabulous prizes. Come on out, have fun learning a new game, and score cool sf/f loot!

MY AETHERFEST SCHEDULE:

FRIDAY

3pm: The Worlds of Michael Moorcock

SATURDAY

10pm: AetherFest Opening Ceremony
1pm: The Art of John Picacio
2pm: LOTERIA!
4pm: The Picacio-Moorcock Hour
5pm: Guest of Honor Meet and Greet
6pm: VIP Dinner

Additionally — AetherFest will be the last convention of 2014 where fans will be able to purchase my Loteria posters, including the new one, ‘La Calavera’.

Register now and be there for an amazing weekend, SA!