I’m working on something big again! No, not lizard porn. This is just a little distraction from the big project. I took a photograph of some lizards copulating in a bush and it was blurry and unusable but the arrangement of their limbs was so cunning I had to make this little sketch to memorialize it. Anyway, the thing I’m working on is much, much worse than lizard porn.
I started a webcomic but for some reason–probably terrible sleep patterns combined with weird eating patterns combined with stress–I got light-headed and dizzy and cross-eyed and exhausted and had to lie down for an hour and now it’s late and I can’t even imagine staring at Photoshop for a couple hours; I also seem to be nursing a low-grade migraine. The Man told me to take it easy and skip a night if I didn’t feel well, but somehow that seems like a copout. Like, if I made this commitment I should be able to honor this commitment, or what’s the point? One piece of original art a day is really not that much.
So instead here’s a little peek at something else I’ve been working on when I have some time. This project doesn’t have a name yet. I’m thinking it might ultimately just be named after the characters, but they aren’t named yet either. Possibly, writing about it will jinx the project, which I think is about 25% sketched out. Who knows?
I’m still working on the Prince of Darkest Agola project but that’s a really big and complex one; this one is more medium sized. I foresee it as coming out in blocks of 4 panels, so that each line of panels is one webpage. Could also be a printed book. Already there seems to be a fair amount of nudity, as my characters are apparently opposed to wearing clothes at home, so I’m not sure if I even want to put it up on this blog. Not ready to say too much about the story, but it is a genre bit. I suppose you’d call it paranormal romance, in the sense that it’s about a relationship between 2 supernatural creatures, but it’s not about the beginning part of the romance; it’s a story about a crisis in a longterm relationship. Even without names, the characters are really unfolding themselves, and there is some interesting backstory coming out, too.
These are just thumbnails, of course. I want to start working on character design. It will be black and white, and I want it to look kind of simple and rough, like a woodcut. Lots of long lines, really making the most use of the black and white spaces: chunks of darkness, slabs of light.
In case you missed it, here’s the article I wrote this week for Panels, which is about comics and refugees.
I honestly couldn’t tell you where this stuff comes from. I mean, like most creatives, I suffer from depression, but that doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Socks are extremely meaningful to me. My grandfather was a hosier–he sold socks and underwear–and when I was little we regularly received shipments of same. My grandfather retired when I was in elementary school, and the stream of undergarments dried up. I don’t think my mother realized how often little kids require new socks and underwear, because for the rest of grade school I never felt that I had sufficient.
As an adult, naturally, I overcompensate in the other direction: 5 overstuffed drawers full of socks and underwear.
Submitted for your approval: a few more degrees of weirdness from my fevered brow.
The idea of invisibility is a tempting one, but obviously, people don’t use it for anything other than breaking the law. Sure, some of us are Harry Potter and we’re just employing our ultimately power for the purpose of sneaking into the restricted section of the library, but, by and large, people want invisibility for the purpose of spying. By and large, people want invisibility for the purpose of spying on people in various states of undress. The Invisible Man is not, in fact, someone you’d invited into your home. Of course, if I were invisible I would totally Robin Hood it. Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor would be my calling in life. For real.
I like his leather boots and gloves, and his trench coat and empty scarf. He’s totally inconspicuous in that getup. No one would ever look twice.
Here comes Tax Day. This year I swore that I would file early. I really have no idea what to expect. We have with withholding incorrectly since we got married and there’s a strong possibility that we’re going to owe the federal government some sum of money we do not actually have on hand. The worst part is that I hire someone to do my taxes every year, because it’s cheaper than spending 3 days crying about how much I hate doing taxes. And I’m still not ready to file, even though I brought him our 1099s and W2s in February. This is 97% my fault.
Anyway, this ballerina, with her oddly muscular arms and her surely uncomfortable thong leotard had to settle for her second choice career. Stay in school, kids!
Fire hydrants are like newspapers for dogs; everyone knows that. They read smells. I think I read that a dog’s nose is 10,000 times more sensitive than a humans’. I guess this dog is maybe a dalmatian/beagle mix. A dalmeagle? Or a beaglematian? At any rate, he’s picked up on something, recalled that it’s something he’s picked up before, but decided to resmell it. You know, just like some people do with books.
See, the fire spirit is hitting on the ice cream cone. And the ice cream cone is interested, but ultimately knows how things will end between them. Better safe than sorry, ice cream cone.
Yep. I have like a million of these things. And it absolutely doesn’t matter if anyone else likes them, or even understands them.
If your car has to break down in the middle of the desert on a summer’s day someplace you don’t get any cell reception, a national park is a good place for it to happen. Instead of dying of dehydration or getting stranded for the weekend, you can get federal employees to make phone calls and bring you ice water. If you’re lucky, a kindly family of Dutch tourists will invite you to share their picnic lunch under the ramada.
After a productive week on retreat (15,000 words, 47 layout thumbnails, 5 blog posts, and 3 book reviews, and 1 workshop plus the side trip to the Grand Canyon), my husband instructed me not to come home too fast, so he could have a chance to clean up the evidence of his bachelor lifestyle before I arrived. I decided to check out the Eldon Pueblo before I left Flagstaff. It’s an extremely accessible site compared to a lot of Sinagua ruins, and fairly extensive, and also more pleasant to visit than many, since it’s in a grassy and wooded area rather than on a barren, treeless hill.
From there, I drove 50 miles to one of my favorite places on earth, Montezuma Well, which houses another lovely set of ruins. This is where my car stopped working. Eventually my car and I were towed to a garage, where I spent a cheerful 4 1/2 hours sitting outside (they didn’t have any AC!). Staying true to the spirit of retreat, the first thing I did was sketch my sad, broken down car, sitting in the parking lot, next to some agaves. You can also see the back end of a horse up on the hill.
Mainly, I just tried to stay hydrated and calm and trust that everything would be OK as I drew, read, and wrote. I was lucky to find a decent mechanic willing to put in the overtime to make sure I got home on a Friday afternoon! I was lucky to get an extra 5 1/2 hour adventure in the American southwest. It could have easily been much longer, and much more expensive.
No matter how I try, I will never draw people like Frank Frazetta or Burne Hogarth (sob) (but I keep trying) and similarly, I’ll never draw dragons like Michael Whelan or Donato Giancola (seriously, love the hyperrealism). I may never even learn how to paint, because painting is a fairly expensive hobby, and this experiment is acquainting me with fairly impoverished circumstances.
At the same time I started drawing mandalas, I also started dragons that allowed me to let go of my preconceived notion of what dragons had to be. This series imagines a wide range of dragons, and most of them are very distant cousins to the dragons you know from modern fantasy art. They’re not quite cartoons; although some of them are funny, they’re pretty serious in their own right.
Unlike the dragons I labored over in adolescence, these dragons aren’t trying to make the covers of obscure trade paperbacks or adorn the walls of adolescent boys’ bedrooms. They’re just going about their dragony existences, unconcerned with how glamorous they appear in comparison to their more popular cousins.
It took me 17 years to write the first draft of my first novel, and while the storytelling came hard, the characterization and world-building came easy. I lived in that world for years, and it’s an easy one to go back to. I believe I did sketch out at the major city at least once, but it was a picture drawn from memory; I didn’t need or use it as a reference, because I knew exactly where everything was. I knew it so well that when I wrote the sequel, I still didn’t need the map, even though the characters spent time the other side of town, where Jacks rarely ventured in the first book. I wish I still had that map, but I have a feeling it’s long-gone; I haven’t seen it in years. Possibly, it was done in a notebook, in which case it might turn up.
Mallory’s mansion was the first time I needed to sketch out a scene I couldn’t hold in my head. It’s a sprawling, one-story adobe, built around a series of inner courtyard gardens, and this drawing helped me keep the protagonists’ progress through the building straight in my mind. Kaija, the eponymous hermit of the novel, knows the building well, but she hasn’t been there in years. Mallory has passed away, and Kaija and her friend, Little Brother, are systematically searching the rooms for a message they believe Mallory may have left.
When I started Greenpunk, I knew it would be at least as complicated as The Girl Who Followed Her Own Counsel, and also that it wouldn’t be a world I could live in. First of all, it’s a dystopian novel and not as pretty as Jacks’s world, and second, my aging brain can’t handle spending 17 years on a first draft. The 2 years it actually took really wore me out; I still haven’t started revising, because it was so cumbersome to gestate (800 pages!). To keep the details straight, I used 2 visual mnemonic devices: a timeline, and a family tree. The timeline actually starts a hundred years before the novel; it’s a murder mystery, so the backstory needed to be firmly in place before the writing began. I started the timeline before I started the novel, added to it as I became more familiar with the world, and then set it aside about 2/5 of the way through the story, once all the characters had met. At that point, I mostly only consulted it to remember the ancient history, the things that happened before the main characters were born.
The Collier family tree was a document I consulted frequently as I wrote. Not only did it help to keep the history of the city’s most illustrious family straight as Rip, my protagonist, began to sort it out himself, it also gave me easy access when I needed to bring in new characters. Looking at this chart, which I drew before I started writing, allowed me to answer questions such as, “Who are so-and-so’s confidantes?” and “Which characters are most likely to rebel against the patriarch?” and “Who dislikes whom?”
I’m excited, because the night before last I drew the above map. The first week of August, I’ll be taking a writing retreat to Flagstaff with another writer, where I hope to draft the entire script for the graphic novel I want to start drawing in the fall. This map helps me envision a lot of the story. My protagonist, Prince, is 10 years old on page 1. He lives on his family’s farm, but he envisions it as a magical world where he can set the rules. The upper right hand corner represents the part of the farm his grandmother sold off before he was born, which is now a suburban cul-de-sac. Obviously, a lot of the story’s conflict takes place at the border between these 2 worlds.
A lot of the writing is done in my head, often long before words get committed to paper. Maps, timelines, and family trees help cement the details so they’re firmly drafted before the actual draft.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.