Omaha Perez is a gifted artist with a considerable reputation in the world of comic books, illustration, and graphics for the entertainment industry. He spoofed Sherlock with a Victorian drug comedy called Holmes, created The Drude Series, and recently launched his first Kickstarter project - a psychedelic suspense thriller, Bodhisattva: Instant Karma, which mixes a lunatic who can see into other dimensions, an immigrant from India who falls apart with a guilty secret, and a deep survey of Hindu mythology. It’s beautiful and mysterious, and it ends with a terrifying encounter that is in fact a collaboration between Omaha and Robert Hunter. Yes, that Robert Hunter.
As it happens, Omaha’s mother, Lauretta Walkup, was part of the Grateful Dead family, often as a nanny, later in the ticket office. So Omaha did not have a conventional upbringing, and grew up with people like Hunter as surrogate Uncles.
My earliest memories are of the Grateful Dead. My mom babysat Donna Jean’s son Zion, so by age three I remember Donna walking me on stage, sitting me down off to the side. I remember watching her long hair sway as she sang next to Bobby. That probably only happened a couple times, but that memory is so vivid it seems like it was a regular occurrence. Running around backstage and going from the stage to the kids’ room, and seeing all the other kids—it really didn’t strike me as unusual.
We spent a couple years living up in the hills and when we moved back to Marin I was in the fourth grade, and that’s when it really hit me. I was in the midst of all these regular suburban families, on the outside looking in. This was late ‘70s, early ‘80s, and the Dead were not hip by mass standards. Deadheads were kind of looked down upon. Then in high school “Touch of Grey” hit and I was like, ‘you got to be kidding, they’ve been playing this for years, and you think they’re cool now…” The same kids who previously gave me shit about my association with the band were now hitting me up for tickets.
I learned to read from comic books, my mom and dad had stacks of old underground comix, R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton. I was always drawing, and after high school I took some art classes at SF State and then transferred to the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I had a couple of amazing teachers but mostly it was just doing it. You learn by doing it, being in front of live models every week and painting them and drawing them, the repetition of doing that really developed my skills. As it does with almost everybody. I’ve taught drawing classes and I really believe that almost anybody can learn to draw if they stick with it. Like almost anything, it just takes practice.
My comics are self-generated. I develop the concepts until they’re ready to take to script. My writing always returns to the illusion of reality, the notion of Maya (Hindu term for illusion). That’s the theme that comes up in pretty much all of my writing. What is reality, after all?
Visually, my main influence was Jack Kirby, who’s one of the true founders of comic books, having created virtually the entire Marvel Universe. Stan Lee gets all the credit, but Jack was the creator. From a very young age I was struck by his work—you know, he had such a bold, graphic style. You always knew when it was a Kirby. And also Gilbert Shelton—I didn’t realize until after the fact how much my Holmes and Drude books (both drug comedies) were influenced by the Freak Brothers. In the ‘90s there was a fine art approach to graphic novels. There were a lot of painted comics at the time. David McKean and Kent Williams, those guys.
Q: What took you into Hindu Mythology?
I was always fascinated by the culture—I particularly loved the Hindu sculptures and their gods, all those multi-limbed figures, and Ganesh with the elephant head. I love that kind of stuff. When I started Bodhisattva I wasn’t actually thinking along Hindu and Buddhist lines. The short piece I did with Bob (Hunter) was the seed of the character. I had this name - the Many Eyed Man, who had a third eye, and eyeballs in his hands, and the character just kept developing. He was a supernatural character and he would show up in strange spots. I didn’t really have a story yet. I just had this character I was developing.
I knew Bob growing up, but as a kid I didn’t spend a lot of time with him. When I was 20 or 21, the Leshes were going to Maui and they brought my mom and invited me to come. They were always really good to us. So I went, and it was great. There were the kids, who were little kids, and then all the other adults were… 20 - 30 years older than me. During the daytime I was often wandering the beach by myself but most evenings everybody would get together. I didn’t know they would all be there, but Jerry and Hunter and Bobby were there, too. So we would get together for dinners, which was how I was kind of reintroduced to Hunter, as an adult and not just this kid running around.
I spent a lot of time with Jerry as a kid, ‘cause I was friends with Annabelle, so I knew Jerry was a comics fan, but I was happily surprised talking with Hunter to find out he was a big comics fan also. We didn’t do the comic for a couple more years, but I guess that got it started. When I did send him stuff, he was up for collaborating.
I sent him the visuals you see in the comic. There is not really a story there, I just had a sequence—a guy getting beaten up in the alley and the Many Eyed Man shows up and some weirdness happens. Just visuals. Bob wrote the captions over it, which I kind of felt were like lyrics. There’s not really a rhyme scheme to speak of, but after all, it’s Hunter. We both were happy with it, and I printed it originally in this comic book called Raw Periphery, which also featured a collaboration I did with a guy on the other end of the spectrum, punk rock star Richard Hell. A very cool clash of poet-types! I always wanted to do more with Hunter, but I moved to L. A. shortly after that to work at Disney Interactive. It was before email was common, so we exchanged letters in the mail. I’ve got a few of those from Hunter still.
I originally tried to get him to write the whole graphic novel, the script for it, the dialogue and captions. I sent him some thumbnails of scenes I was working on and I got a letter back from him saying you don’t need me for this, you got it all covered. We had vague plans to develop something else together - a full scale graphic novel, but it never happened.
I should also add that at a comic con I met a professor of Asian Studies, Richard Raleigh, and we really connected. I had attempted to draw the whole book out first, scripting it after the fact—and I wasn’t happy with the result. (Now I always begin with a tight script!) I was fortunate to have an expert in eastern mythology handy to clean up the script!
I’m excited to work on the sequel finally. I did this one (Instant Karma) many years ago and the reason I’ve relaunched it in color is because I got excited when I went back to my notes for the sequel. I found almost a fully formed story—it’s like a gift from my younger self... The next one is called Shiva the Destroyer and it demanded to be in full color. I knew I couldn’t do the second one in color and leave the first one in black and white... and it’s been so many years... so it seemed a good idea to relaunch the first one in color and include the Ganesha short, and the short I did with Bob.
Bodhisattva: Instant Karma is funding on Kickstarter with 23 days to go: