…Fuck, man. This piece got heavy.
In other drafts, I quoted both Shakespeare and James Baldwin. I referenced masterworks of other art forms. I talked at length about intention and execution; about the difference between “lust” and “love”, about suicide and intention and a life well led (and how that’s only possible after leading it poorly)…
So much unnecessary stuff… All just to talk about my relationship with Akira and the art that made it.
So here I am starting over. Starting from the beginning, in so many different senses. But definitely starting over on writing this piece; this letter to you, from me, about why I donated a whole bunch of Akira art. And to discuss that honestly — without all the pretense of the events of my life (both good and bad) as they were intermingled with my collecting and exhibiting Akira art — I have to go back to 1991, at a little ante room of a theater in Athens, GA, where a gang of college kids decided to screen the film.
I was fortunate enough to have been given a flyer to this screening of the insanely different, hugely buzzworthy film Akira by the owner of my local comic shop. An old guy named Jay. I never knew Jay’s last name. I didn’t really know his actual age until his passing in 1994, when he died at the age of 78. Which would have made him 71 when I met him in 1987. Jay was an old man who loved comics. But more than comics, he loved introducing people, both young and old, to comics. He had been pulling comics for me for a year or so when, on a whim in July of 1988, he decided to slip a copy of Akira #1 inbetween my monthly requests for Wolverine and The Punisher.
“It’s got motorcycles and explosions,” he said when I questioned him. “You’re going to love it.”
The old man was right. I loved the crap out of it. I loved it so much, I decided to add a comic which cost $4.95 to my monthly subscription, amongst four other $1 comics. Nine dollars a month I was indebted to the comic shop for, and my allowance was one dollar a week. I had to mow lawns to cover the spread.
There you go, the first real touchpoint of “The Life Of Joe Through The Lens Of Fandom” — I learned how to work to pay for my addictions.
I tore through Akira #1 and needed — not wanted, but needed, deep in my very soul — to read #2. And then #3, and #4… Pretty soon, I was caught up. I had read all of the Akira that Marvel had decided to share with us, the “better not call it ‘manga’ reading market” here in America in the late 1980’s. But I was hooked. Every single month, I eagerly awaited the trip to the comic store to clear out my box and get my next big fix of Akira. And it didn’t take long for Akira to slip from being “monthly” to “whenever Steve Oliff finished coloring the next set of pages” which, having met the man, I can tell you isn’t his fault. He’s a workhorse and a genius, and he took a lot of blame for things that weren’t really his fault. OH, AND ALSO: he invented digital coloring process for comics. He wasn’t just the first guy to do it; he invented the way it’s done which is, from a core color separation at print standpoint, is still the theory used today for digitally coloring comics. The guy deserves even more awards than he’s gotten.
In 1990, between the pages in Akira #10, I found a hand-drawn fanmade flyer for a screening of Akira, put on by the University of Georgia’s Anime Club, on Friday October 26 at the Tate Theater in Athens, Ga. Athens was a 2 hour drive from my house on the southside of Atlanta (a town called Jonesboro, which if you’re a Gone with the Wind fan, I’m sad to say isn’t anything like the movie). My father drove me after school to check it out, because he loved me and he knew I loved it. A depression-era WWII veteran and not at all into anime, this man who chose to adopt me drove me two hours each way to see an animated film based on a comic book that had no dubbing or subtitles, wherein a boy murders people with his brain (and before that, a pipe wrench) and then becomes a gigantic blob baby.
There’s your second big point about me: an adopted kid, who was passionate about things that were uncool to literally every generation on the planet at the time, had the entire direction of his life paved by two old men who thought “hey, this kid likes this thing, maybe we should support that?” And honestly, if there’s any one thing I want you to take from this, it’s this:
SUPPORT THE YOUNG PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE WITH WHAT THEY LOVE.
You never know — they may one day get the fucking OSCARS to recognize that thing they love as not only valid, but a monumental work of artistic achievement in spite of 99% of society not seeing the merit in it for 20+ years. Seriously, I cannot fucking stress this enough. I never in a million years thought this would ever happen, and it wouldn’t have if two old men, otherwise unrelated, hadn’t decided to give a shit about one kid’s passion in a comic book. YOU DO NOT KNOW THE POWER YOU WIELD WHEN YOU SUPPORT A CHILD IN THEIR PASSION. Do not slouch on this responsibility.
When I first saw Akira, my brain could not handle it. My jaw was on the floor the entire film. I gasped about 200 times, sometimes because of the plot, but often simply out of disbelief at what I was seeing on the screen. Now, being 12 years old, I knew jack shit about anything related to art. My appreciation for the sheer artistic depth and insane, never-to-be-replicated-before-or-since technical excellence of this film was lost. But my apprecation for explosions, motorbikes, and the words “Fuck you!” spraypainted on a wall? Those were in high gear. And I fell head over heels in love.
Akira was my favorite movie. Akira still is my favorite movie. And this is where I skip past about 30 years of stuff that you can read about in articles elsewhere, documenting The Art of Akira Exhibit and my involvement. And in fact, if you’re at all curious, I encourage you to do a quick google search and see the evolution of those articles, from tiny writeups in a local paper about a small cartoon museum’s exhibit, to CNN and a hundred other places between. And I want you to note the sudden and sheer discontinuance of any media related to “Joe+Peacock+Akira” in your searches, because that’s literally the point of all of this.
I worked so, so hard to get people to appreciate Akira. I spent a lot of money touring my little animation collection around the world, and at some points clung dearly to the appreciation of the fans that would show up to see this collection, because it became all I had to live for.
And then, I lost my will to live. And by not succeeding in that, a new path became carved into my story: the path of figuring out who I am, and what I want, and what I really want for my life.
To say anything more really undoes the point of letting go of this collection. And that’s why I’ve had to re-write this a few times, because I found that as I retold the story — even to myself — I was betraying the point of the donation. I was betraying the decision I made this year. I was forgetting the one and only reason to ever do what I did:
To let go. To set it free. To allow it to be what it is, without any further need to qualify that.
I got that chance for myself a few times in life. I’ve had the opportunity, through sheer luck and good fortune, to decide a few times what I really want to be. And in prior iterations, it was always tied to something external. Say, a massive collection of Akira production cels and backgrounds, for example.
It’s 2019, the year Akira takes place. I spent a decade exhibiting and talking about and evangelizing Akira, so of course, the year 2019 should mark something truly special and unique and amazing in celebration of this movie I have loved my entire life. And so it has. It’s the year I decided it was time to be a fan again.
To love this art again. To appreciate it the way I did in my youth — without attachment, and without labels. To not need Akira to be a part of ME, and just let it be something I love.
The rest of this story has been documented by the Japan Times in a few articles put out this year, and has dominated almost every waking hour of my life from June of this year until literally last week (as of the time of this writing, on December 25 of 2019… My Christmas gift to myself: not revisiting subject matter already covered with far greater writing talent elsewhere).
Part of the reason I donated a collection of thousands of cels, backgrounds, and production art from the film Akira to the Oscars because it needed to be preserved, maintained, and exhibited by an entity with the financial, technical, and logistical means to properly care for it. Because the art that Otomo and his team deserves that, and I cannot provide that anymore.
The other part is the gift I gave to myself: getting everything I’ve ever wanted for this art and this film. How many times in life do you get to have EVERYTHING you wanted? Well, here’s some good news: I get to see a huge portion of the movie preserved as one unified collection, forever. It’ll never be sold. It’ll never be parted out. It’ll be maintained and cared for by the worlds’ foremost experts in cel and art preservation. It’ll be permanently exhibited in the new Margaret Herrick Museum of Film. It’ll be digitized and made available for free for the rest of eternity to anyone interested in the movie, the art, or the collection. And as a result, the movie Akira is now officially recognized and honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — something absolutely ABSURD to consider in 1988, when it was released.
It’s everything I ever wanted. And I had to admit to myself that I, myself, could never make any of that happen. I gave myself the gift of letting go of that obligation, to get what I wanted.
And to address the obvious: yes, I know exactly how much it was worth, and that I could have made a lot of money selling it.
I like money. But I LOVE Akira.
Would you sell your child? Your mom? Your dog or your cat? For how much?
If you answered “nothing, ever” then you get it. And if you didn’t, you don’t, and that’s fine. We’ll probably never be friends, but I get it. But I’m not like that. I can’t ever be like that. And I refuse to let this thing I spent my literal ENTIRE LIFE be parted out and ruined.
I had a moment in my life once where I had to ask myself, genuinely and not at all trivially, if I intended to continue living. After some thought and an actual attempt not to, I came to the conclusion that yes, I will continue living. And that meant also figuring out what it was in my life prior to that moment that lead to that moment, and how was I going to change my life so it didn’t repeat?
That change resulted in the complete and utter collapse of the life I’d led to that point. I learned that I had given far too much of who I am as a person to everyone else in my life. Reclaiming that cost me my wife, my career, and a lot (A LOT) of “friendships.”
I live a very simple life now. I tolerate very little in the way of bullshit — most especially from my own self. And when January of 2019 rolled around and I asked myself if I was truly up to the task of celebrating and honoring this thing I loved more than anything else in the world, I had to answer “no.”
I knew in that moment that I had to let this collection go, and with it, any concept of maintaining identity I’d created for myself surrounding it.
It was not a loss. It was a gift I gave myself. And it has made me very, very happy.
So there you go. Well, honestly, there I go; finally writing out the thing I’ve been laboring over for months: my reasons for donating my Akira collection. I suppose this is also kind of a “decade recap” as is popular in this year before the next decade. I’ve not read back any of this, and so it’s not edited at all. It’s straight from the hydrant, so to speak. I hope that it’s given you some insight. It was not a joy to write. It was painful for weeks, up until I did a quick CMD+A and DEL and started over with the intention of posting this before midnight on Christmas Day, 2019.
There’s so, so much else I thought I’d want to say. Being 2019, the year of Akira and Blade Runner, and also a year of SO SO SO SO SO MANY political and sociological and technical oddities, there’s a lot of allusions and allegories I wanted to cram in here to make it all so much more meaningful. But it all poisoned what was really the only points I wanted to make:
You have no idea how much power as an adult you have in shaping the path of a child.
You have no idea how important and massive your work is in life until well after you stop caring about your legacy.
You have no clue what you can achieve with honest passion.
All these dreams I’ve had my entire life, and the only one to come true is the one I never, ever, in a billion years, thought was even possible.
Me, a kid from suburban Atlanta, Georgia who saw a random student screening of a VERY UNCOOL AT THE TIME thing called “anime” got the fucking Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — THE OSCARS, MAN — to officiall honor it, and permanently exhibit it in a museum.
You just don’t know how absurd that whole thing is unless you’ve lived it. So if it seems a bit lost on you, I will ask you simply to take my word for it: your passion for something is POWERFUL. Any derision it may get is from confusion, ignorance, or jealousy. Those who do not understand it will try to dissuade you from it — even family and friends.
So long as you are not hurting anyone else in the process, FOLLOW YOUR DAMN PASSION. Do your thing. Do it unapologetically. Do it to the point of exhaustion. Question it, you will. But don’t give up. DON’T EVER GIVE UP. Work a third or fourth job if you have to.
And if you have to give it up, give it up entirely. Let it go. Not because you can’t achieve it, or because you suck, or it was never meant to be…. I mean set it FREE. Put it on the internet FOR FREE. Give it to another artist who will take it and run with it FOR FREE. Let your darlings go and be darling, my friends. Without attachment and without remuneration and without malice. If you love it, set it free. Give it life. Let it live.
If for no other reason than because you love it, let it fucking go. Because that is true love. Having is not love. Possession? That is not love. Letting something be exactly what it is, without your own gain, and empowering it to be that?
We need more love right now. We need more art. We need more connection. We need old people who love young people enough to give them free comics and a 4 hour drive to see a movie they don’t understand. We need genius digital color experts to take a shot on something and change the face of it forever. We need producers to spend their own money to bring the cels of a strange new art overseas and give it away to get people interested in it (paging Jerry Beck!!) We need teachers and we need artists and we need to connect with one another, now more than ever. Give what you got to give, and do it with everything you fucking are.
Trust me on this.
December 25, 2019