RAY BRADBURY is nearing ninety, almost completely deaf and physically infirm, as he sits hunched over a tiny snack tray in the crowded den where he spends most of his day. The room is cluttered with innumerable stacks of photographs, papers, figurines, books and videos. The big screen TV is silent, but the images of a Turner Classic film noir illuminates the room.
I am here for the signing of the new giclee prints that we have created from Ray Bradbury’s original art. It is a moment almost beyond comprehension. From the time I was eleven or twelve, no writer was more important to me than Ray Bradbury. Growing up in Illinois, I knew the small towns that he wrote about in Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I knew those calm Midwestern exteriors could hold darkness and mystery. Especially at night. Later, I fell in love with the fantasy of The Martian Chronicles and the prophetic Fahrenheit 451.
“Over there!” Ray barks at me, pointing at one of the piles. I reach for an old picture frame wedged under some books. “Those are the photographs I took in Paris. We used to go every year.” As I study the dusty pictures, he orders me to reach into another stack. “I want you to see this. It’s the cover of my new collection, coming out this year,” he says. As I stare at the art of the vibrant, glossy sheet, I realize Ray knows what and where everything is in this tangle of ephemera.
As he painstakingly scrawls his name at the bottom of each print, Ray stops to admire his own work. “I painted this for the cover of my first book, Dark Carnival. I loved it, but the publisher rejected it.” In fact, it’s a rather poorly kept secret that one of the world’s greatest authors was always an accomplished painter and cartoonist, often creating works for family and friends. Not surprisingly, Ray’s surreal art style and primitive innocence was a perfect complement to the dreamlike and magical prose of his stories.
The original Dark Carnival painting was, for many years in the collection of Ray Bradbury's longtime friend, the late Forrest J. Ackerman. Eventually, it wound up in a farm house in Indiana. With the help of Ray’s friend and archivist, Donn Albright, the painting was located and digitally scanned for the first time.
The signing of the prints takes hours, frequently interrupted by Ray’s diversions into his own past: his life in Hollywood, his literary friends, his passion for the written word, the stories he is working on, the plays he is staging. Walt Disney, Charles Laughton, Steinbeck -- the names and places roll off his tongue. When we’re finished for the day, Ray Bradbury thanks me (!) -- for the beauty of the final product and stows away a couple of the prints to show his next guests. He tells me how much he loves our little illustration gallery and kisses me on the cheek.
I was fortunate to visit with Ray Bradbury several more times until just before his death last year and every time was like a visit to that old Colonel in Dandelion Wine -- the one they called the “time machine.” He had become the character he had written about as a young man: the old timer grandly imbued with history, art, passion and love and he was eager to offer it all to one awestruck visitor.