Monthly Archives: June 2014

Comics! Part 3

I’ve probably drawn hundreds of one-panel things that are like surreal cartoons, I’ve never quite gotten the hang of telling a story in pictures. My words tend to overwhelm the pages, I can never make the characters look like the people from panel to panel. And I’ve tried.

Crack Cats in Suburbia. Unfinished, but a high-res scan. If you blow it up, it’s possible to read.

These two unfinished comics, Crack Cats in Suburbia, were drawn in 1996 or 1997. I was heavily immersed in the counterculture at the time. We didn’t watch TV or listen to the radio. The strip was about a sense of alienation in a mainstream world, but also about finding a person to be an outcast with, as Dr. Seuss said: someone with a compatible weirdness.

I wanted so badly to draw this comic but could never get it right, and the more I worked at it, the further it was from completion.

I didn’t try to draw a full-page comic strip again until 2010, when I read this funny article by Shalom Auslander. I actually really enjoy his writing, but there was something so upsetting to me about the “loathsome writing jobs” reserved for people who didn’t know enough about writing, because of course, I was working at one of those loathsome writing jobs at the time, and I was ALSO writing fiction. Which no one liked. Whenever I read published authors with actual audiences complaining about how hard writing is or how they are crippled by their own self-doubt, I want to find and punch them. Although I did find it amusing that one of his demons was whether or not Philip Roth had done it first, since he’s easily compared to Roth. Anyway, I don’t want to hear any successful artists complaining about being successful artists, especially if they have spent years doing a loathsome job in the field.

I must have tried a dozen different punchlines but they never came out right. I was searching for that balance between comedy and outrage.

I must have tried a dozen different punchlines but they never came out right. I was searching for that balance between comedy and outrage.

Comics! Part 2

Early 2010, around the time my husband and I first moved in together and I had just started the mandala project. Some of the gold plate/lettering has turned green because my gold Crayola was VERY old and some of the old Crayola metallics used actual copper to get the metallic hue. So, literally, this drawing has begun to tarnish.

Early 2010, around the time my husband and I first moved in together and I had just started the mandala project. Some of the gold plate/lettering has turned green because my gold Crayola was VERY old and some of the old Crayola metallics used actual copper to get the metallic hue. So, literally, this drawing has begun to tarnish.

My natural style, I guess, is a bit cartoony. My people never look like real people, my subject matter runs toward the fantastic, and I tend to add a lot of words. I wish that my work looked serious, but this is what I have. The artist Phil Foglio (whose work I didn’t appreciate when I first saw it in conjunction with Robert Aspirin in the 80s, but later enjoyed on Magic: The Gathering cards, and now, naturally, adore on Girl Genius) is famously quoted as saying that his art career originally stalled because publishers found his work “too cartoony” (except for cartoon publishers, who told him he wasn’t cartoony enough) after which he and his wife won so many Hugos that they had to refuse the nomination to give someone else a shot at the award.

Absent-minded sketching during the world's slowest Scrabble games. Jack and Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, a random chick on a dragon, and proof that I usually win at Scrabble.

Absent-minded sketching during the world’s slowest Scrabble games. Jack and Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, a random chick on a dragon, and proof that I usually win at Scrabble. Rapunzel is wistfully dreaming of a prince, which suggests to me that I was probably single when I drew this. I’m guessing 2007 or early 2008.

Even when I wasn’t doing a lot of art, I was always doodling in margins. This kind of work is less polished, but sometimes it seems to have more life to it than some of the stuff I worked at.

Another little piece of fantasy from the edge of a Scrabble scoring sheet.

Another little piece of fantasy from the edge of a Scrabble scoring sheet. I won that game, too.

It’s almost a nervous habit; if there’s a pen in my hand, I want to use it. I think this is actually some of what Bantock was getting at in The Trickster’s Hat. If you can draw like this, without any attachment to the outcome, but a unshakeable attachment to the process, then you can keep yourself from getting hung up on whether or not it’s good enough and just make art all the time.

I’ve dated a lot of engineers. The mechanical bit in the center here is something that a guy I dated was working on. When he finished, I added me as an angel and him as a devil to the design. Just draw on everything is my point here.

Comics! Part 1

Characters from Bloom County: I never did a lot of copying of other people's work, but there are ways in which is can be useful/interesting.

Characters from Bloom County: I never did a lot of copying of other people’s work, but there are ways in which it can be useful/interesting.

Secretly, I’m really into comics, and always have been. Publicly, you’ll only see me with books of course. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to comics as a kid; there was no one to share them with me. Of course, I was lucky enough to grow up in the time period when Bill Watterson, Gary Larson, and Berke Breathed were writing dailies, and I still own many of their collections, but I never had access to comic books when I was little. I remember owning maybe one issue of Superman that a babysitter gave me.

Detail from Little Nemo by Winsor McKay. My theory is that everybody is influenced by Winsor McKay, whether they know it or not. So much of what we know of fantastic art originated in his pages. This drawing is from the early 90s, when I was in college. 

In high school and college I developed an interest in the history of comics: Robert Outcault and the Yellow Kid, the Katzenjammer Kids, Krazy Kat, and all that. I read everything the library had to offer me, and I did end up reading some classic comic books. A volume of the first Wonder Woman comics stands out in my mind.

Another college-era sketch. I had done a stunning poster for a guy I liked: it featured 3 views of Death looking adorable. I put it in a poster tube to keep it safe and my mother threw it in the trash because obviously if I put a poster tube on the mantle it must because I wanted her to destroy it, and there certainly wouldn't be any point in opening it up to see if there was maybe a poster inside it. I never could recreate that work. I gave the guy a less awesome picture of Death I drew, and later we dated for almost a year.

Another college-era sketch. I had done a stunning poster for a guy I liked: it featured 3 views of Death looking adorable. I put it in a poster tube to keep it safe and my mother threw it in the trash because obviously if I put a poster tube on the mantle it must because I want her to destroy it; it’s not like I was capable of throwing out my own trash, and there certainly wouldn’t be any point in opening it up to see if there was maybe a poster inside it. I never could recreate that work. I gave the guy a less awesome picture of Death I drew, and later we dated for almost a year.

Sandman was probably the first graphic novel I ever read, and of course the storytelling and the artwork are both stunning. After that, I read every graphic novel anyone gave me, a rather eclectic assortment. It wasn’t until grad school that a guy introduced me to Alan Moore. I read The Watchmen first. Talk about amazingly good storytelling! I’ve read a fair amount of his work. My favorite is definitely Promethea, which might not be as objectively good as his other stuff, but which I adore. It’s the catalyst for my Alphabet of Desire.

Kitties!

If your cat requires entertainment and Animal Planet does not capture its attention, you can always get a fish.

If your cat requires entertainment and Animal Planet does not capture its attention, you can always get a fish. This is a watercolor I did in my late 20s. I’d like to offer this design on a T-shirt.

I’m in mourning for my cat right now. Algernon was geriatric at 17, and he suffered from a rare slow-moving cancer called multiple myeloma, and, at the end he was deaf, and blind, and incontinent, but he was the best cat, absolutely full of devoted love. In fact, he was my husband’s cat, and had been since he was young. My husband had Algernon before he met his first wife, but once we moved in together, the cat decided to love me best. He would purr so loudly you could hear him from twenty feet away whenever I walked into the room. He used to sleep next to my head (he had his own pillow) and purr into my ear when I had a headache, and he would head butt me repeatedly if he didn’t get enough pets. He was also prone to tender love bites.

Fast cat

Fast cat

I can’t find the sketch I want to include here, of my friend’s imperious cat, Suna. I know it’s around somewhere, because it’s one of the nicest cat sketches I’ve ever done. Possibly, I gave the picture to my friend. Instead, here is a super-fast drawing I did on the Wacom tablet in a minute or two. I was trying to look at the proportions of a child’s body, and the cat was a convenient way in.

Another fast cat

Another fast cat

Cats make terrible subjects. While they may lie, unmoving, for hours a day, the second you try to sketch one, it will move. You have about fifteen seconds to limn a cat before it changes poses.

I miss him a lot. You were a good cat, Algernon.

I miss him a lot. You were a good cat, Algernon.

 

 

Words Fail

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 3.56.04 PM

 

This is among the first drawings I did on the Wacom Tablet: rough, but effective. There’s me—I can draw a fairly decent cartoon representation of myself, or a representation of what I picture as my best self—and there’s my stepdaughter getting her hair combed before bed, smiling because I’m showing her a funny cat video on YouTube. Working from a photograph would probably render better results, but this is drawn from memory, ninety minutes after she went to sleep. It’s flat; the proportions are off. I must live with my faulty perception, and my unpolished ability.

As may be apparent to readers, I’ve never had an art lesson in my life, save for grade school and camp curricula, and a couple semesters of pottery. What I have studied, extensively, to abstraction, to the exclusion of vast swaths of normal human existence, is writing. I have toiled well over my ten thousand hours to mastery. I have taken ten Iowa-style fiction workshops. I have taken craft classes. I have studied with acclaimed writers, and considered their feedback, received their approval. I have organized my own workshops, created circles of writers who read and critique each other’s writing. I have revised and revised and revised.

I could describe for you, in broad brushstrokes or pointillist detail, the way the light plays on my stepdaughter’s hair, how the blond strands glow with natural rivers of platinum and strawberry, the way the tangles of her youthful athleticism smooth out into silky sheets of gold under the thick teeth of my wooden comb. I could show you the surface: the cinnamon freckles blooming across pink cheeks, the cool ice of her sparkling blue eyes. I could show you the hidden details: the wine-colored birthmark just under her hairline at the nape of her neck, the cracked white leather places between her fingers where her skin at times dries out so completely that blood seeps from the gaps. I could write a book about her: the way she chatters about cartoons no one else has seen, the way she hold her nose not only when she jumps into the pool, but also when she swims, one-handed, beneath the water.

The image is what it is.

All my life, my writing has been characterized as remarkably good. Qualified writers who have achieved recognition in their art have told me that I write well. I have sold a couple short stories. In the corporate world I have supported myself solely through this craft since I finished my MFA, ten years ago, but publishing four short stories in a decade while writing web content at $100 an hour is not quite the same as selling a novel.

I cannot sell a goddamn novel. Another successful writer, a close friend, suggests I don’t submit enough, and so I polish my queries and hurl them out in the universe. Some agents, some publishing houses, can’t afford the courtesy of a rejection note. Most are kind enough to offer the form rejection. Occasionally, an agent will ask for some piece of a manuscript before rejecting me. Whenever I get a little traction, the dream gets pulled out from under my feet. My work is not viable, or commercial, or accessible, or whatever it is they seek.

Originally I considered calling this blog “Words Fail,” which I’ve kept as a tagline. Words fail, but not because of my ability. With modesty and humility, I can state that I probably write in the objective ninety-ninth percentile of people on the planet. But that is not, apparently, good enough.

And here I’ve decided to share my infant scribbles, little amusements in which I’ve invested one fraction of one percent of the effort that I’ve put into ten novels, two full-length stage plays, and countless short stories, and already, before I’ve even officially launched my brand or shared this URL with friends and family, people seem interested in what I’m trying to do.

My drawings only hint at their intentions; I can only polish them up to the point where my ability falters, while I’ve acquired the ability to burnish my writing to a fine, mirror-like glow. But words fail.

QWERTYvsDvorak, The T-shirt Shop Part 2

To bulk up the shop while I was creating new designs, I added some old designs. These are colored versions of the initial caps from the Alphabet of Desire.

These are also available in the original black and white. Everything’s easy to customize (color, product, style, size) in my online shop.

QWERTYvsDvorak, the T-shirt Shop Part 1

My first T-shirt design

My first T-shirt design. Buy it here!

If I had all the time and money in the world, I would have gone back to school and studied visual art or graphic design, but that simply wasn’t an option, and I had a pretty good idea of what I need to do anyway. The Trickster’s Hat was simply the first few credit hours in my personal graduate study of art. With my husband encouraging me, I gave up my day job devoted myself to drawing. I calculated I could cover my expenses from savings for two years, and if I couldn’t make some kind of impact in two years, I would move on and figure out something else to do with my adulthood.

I love my giralicorn!

I love my giralicorn! Available for purchase here.

Instead of creating art in a vacuum, which had been my basic MO for most of my life, I decided to publish my final products, here in this blog, but also on some T-shirts. I liked the quality and artist-centric philosophy of RedBubble.com and found the site easy to navigate. I acquired a Wacom tablet and forced myself to learn how to use it. Then I began drawing like my life depended on it. I knew that my work would be imperfect, and I embraced that. Whether or not people loved it, I was going to take this chance seriously.

Squid vs Whale, the struggle

Squid vs Whale, the struggle. Show your love with a T-shirt! 

You can acquire any of these designs, and more, on a variety of products: shirts of every size, style, and color, plus sticker, device covers, pillows, tote bags, greeting cards, and poster. Visit my online shop for more details.