Sunday, August 31, 2008

A justification for navel-gazing essays

A forum like this, read by *maybe* four people - most of them forced by my needling or through guilt of ignoring me - is still a nice thing to have.

I think about the ezboard universe (now Yuku), where the bigger board personalities would create their own forum and posters would bounce between each newly-created in-group. What started as the internet cesspool that was/is Survivor Sucks - a collection of unwashed, unapproved and barely-moderated reality TV fans, either too stupid or too late to get into the exclusive Plant Sucks board membership - eventually exploded because the use of ezboard was so easy and the board was so open. Unlike the quality controlled land of Planet Sucks (my origin, and inspiration for the message board I ran), everyone on ezboard knew the forum was for spillover - so they treated it as such. I've seen accounts describe the insanity and inanity as that of the old Wild West.

As with any community, personalities began to emerge as the major posters became familiar with each other. Around the, Sucks became *the* place to go for irreverent reality riffs - at least for those not early/awesome enough to get into the quality places. Once it grew big enough to have its share of board wars and cliques, something very strange happened: It began to splinter. Each board personality would go off and create their own ezboard, populated by the poster's friends, admirers, well-wishes and the occasional assailant. Sucks was *too* big and it required far more patience that I'd ever have to sort through it and get to the good stuff. By creating a splinterboard, you could invite the posters you liked and ban anyone you wished. Over and over this happened, until it was sort of a rite of passage. You get big on a board, you fork over $30 to get the "Gold" features needed and you get your own board for six months! Dozens of these boards existed, with their own rules, language and logic.

I was happy running my own kingdom at Realiiity, and had no desire to dumpster dive into the Sucks land - but not all of my friends felt the same. Eventually I was dragged into the mix to take part in what could be called the Survivor off-season Olympics: Spoofs! It was mostly a contest to out-funny and out-in-joke the other teams, making filtered and hand-picked talent from my group highly valued.

During this time Riii was having server issues, so I bit the bullet and created my own ezboard, flatly titled "Riii's Down Again." When the next Survivor off season arrived - a time when the show was off the air and boards had nothing to do except implode - I imported a crew to the "trash board" and claimed it was a splinterboard to get into Spoofs. We naturally crushed the competition, getting second only because we took two challenges off thanks to some board drama. (It's inevitable online - someone is always good enough to get through even the best bullshit filters, and all it takes is one of these crazies to bring a board down.) More importantly, we established a new board identity: Woeful House. As a frequent Waffle House patron in those days, I had used the diner to create a jokey team identity.

At the end of this spoofs, Woeful was getting visitors from the splinterverse and we were enjoying a fair amount of respect for our wit. To explain how a board of people who had never once posted on Sucks could be part of the splinterverse, I made my infamous remark: "If you have a huge ego, a mental condition and $30, you probably run a splinterboard."

Nowadays, we nutcakes blog. This circumvents the need to actually have followers or enough friends to sustain conversation. It's you and your ego, allowed to run wild! On message boards, you were only interesting if people replied to you. With blogs, you can be the entire fucking universe!

It's why I resisted blogging for so long. No one really cares about the emotions and stuff of other people unless there is a personal connection or the content is especially well-written. I wasn't going to blog just blog about myself. It's sickening! There had to be a reason for me to be interesting, which began to emerge as I fixed my head and got back into art. Still, it wasn't until I was tasked with learning how to stylize one of these blogs that I started this thing. It gave me a place to practice and a location where future fans could find me. While I'm of no interest to anyone at the moment, should I ever win over people with my art or cartooning, I thought it would be cool for them to see me as I was just starting out.

I was blogging, intentionally, to no one. With Precocious, I want my 60-strip archive done before I began with my daily publishing because new readers need to see enough to justify a return visit. If I go advertising myself around, and interested parties come to see only three strips on the site, what is there to tell them the strip will continue? The internet is littered with webcomics that didn't even last a month. I have to show the audience I am serious and professional. I want to confirm to everyone that I am the new badass on the scene! The same principle is at work on this blog. You don't advertise something without a product being it! (If you have a soul, that is.) By creating blog archives, I'm proving my determination to achieve eventual awesomeness. I blog for the future.

It's not always pretty. For every artistic update with insightful commentary, there is another post full of navel gazing, emotions and desperate attempts to be interesting. It's weak, but it's something. I'm a temperamental artist who tends to work in inspired bursts. That's great, but they are unpredictable. If weeks or months go by before I do a big update on my website, then people will only check it every few months - if they even remember I exist! The blog is proof I am trying, whether I am active or not. Sketches prove I am doing lots of conceptual work on my projects, even if the final result gets postponed. Even if the post is the most self-indulgent garbage out there, it's something to read and an indication I'm alive.

To think that some future person would spend and afternoon going through this blog to see all my old sketches is comforting. Before, I would hide or destroy my old stuff, because my skills were not as strong and it was embarrassing. Now I see the value in showing the process. I love reading other artist's commentaries on their work, and I hope people will enjoy reading mine. I'll assume they'll skip the essays that don't have pretty pictures with them, which is generally a good thing. The only thing worse than blog emotion is AGED blog emotion. Lame!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The nerdy equivalent of a hangover?

Usually when I try to do a commentary thing, it's an attempt to flex my muscles and see if I can channel my egotism and self-serving ways into essay that's worth read. Last night I had a bunch of ideas that, in a perfect world, would have all folded into each other nicely and make me look like an untapped literary superstar. This didn't happen. As he who cannot dance blames the floor, me who cannot type blames the keyboard. I don't know if I could have pulled it all together, but technical difficulties (everything in this room is dying on me) stopped me from even trying.

Either way, this worries me. My life mostly hinges on me having more natural talent than everyone else. I need to write better than writers, market better than marketers, network better than agents, talk better than orators charm folks better than scumbags.

All I'm trained in is art, and the thing with art is... it's kinda hard to out-art other artists. Those bastards just keep changing the definition! Sustaining oneself as an artist is about becoming a generally skilled (note that I didn't say talented) illustrator or carving out your niche and desperately hoping there's an audience. I can do everything right in presentation, speech and skill-level; but if my "brand" of art isn't what the charge wants, I'm out of a job. Crap artists end up doing ad layout for bad newspapers. Good artists end up unemployed until they find a working balance of niche market and willingness to be a whore - man, I need to paint more chicks - or give up by designating art the side-business or a hobby

All my training is in a field where one's good angle could circumvent another's skill and talent. This is why I must blather here, give lectures to my poor friends, research the creative process behind disciplines and work on my many thousands of potential writing projects. I need to be good at *all* these things to overcome the cold hard fact that I am not remotely trained in any of 'em!

Trained professionals: I am coming to destroy you!

(If I don't die in the gutter first.)

I need to stop watching movies with subtitles

Yes, fresh off my "problems with minorities" post, we get the "speak (American) English, you bastards" post!

Now, my quarrel with subtitled films is purely artistic. Poor subtitling - I'm looking at you, Juliet of the Spirits - can seriously mute a film's impact. More importantly: I CAN'T SKETCH WHEN I HAVE TO READ A FILM!

Movie people: We are in the Instant Gratification Age!* I am a dude with three weeks of Big Brother saved up on his DVR because I find it appalling to have to deal with the distraction of having to fast forward through commercials I refuse to sit through. (The brain-deadening recaps that take up much of those shows fail to help the situation.) To expect me to pay full attention to a two-hour movie is just cruel. I can't microwave my dinner without losing patience! (I'm not kidding. I've been living off leftovers for days and the two minutes it takes to get sub-standard food - thank's mom! - is excruciating.)

(*term capitalized out of cynical optimism that history will remember us this way.)

If you've noticed something from my examples, it's that I cannot stand inferior quality when I have to wait. Big Brother is inferior in every way, while my mother's baked spaghetti is just as lackluster as my own. If am going to invest my PRECIOUS TIME - I could be taking up a new destructive habit like cutting myself! - the quality better be great!

Without subtitles, I can "watch" a film while sketching. I sketch while people are talking and look up when they stop to see why. Knowing I have to stare at the screen and read, I feel helpless. I find myself trying to get some doodling in during musical numbers or extended pauses, often resulting in me having to rewind and read what I missed. Stupid language! BE MORE ENGLISH!

The joke here is that the movie that set me off was all about language barriers: Babel. Here's another surprise: It was actually good! While other movies of its type (Traffic, Crash) failed because they hit with the subtlety of a giant anime mallet, Babel overcame its issue by... well, mostly telling a story and ignoring the point. It had its pretentious bloat, but far exceeded expectations so it pleased me.

What's also notable is that I *was* able to get some sketching in during the film. Yes, this was mostly during the English scenes - but I was pleased to be able to understand some of the Spanish and Japanese too! Not full comprehension, of course - I should note I failed Spanish - but considering lots of the Spanish was simplified because it was addressed to English-speaking children, I was alright!

Following this was 2046, which was a true mind trip when it came to language. At first, I was totally lost. All the 2046 parts were done in what sounded a lot like Japanese...but something was off about it. Wasn't this a Hong Kong film? About two-thirds of the way through I got my answer: 2046, a fictional story in the story, was written to feature Japanese characters. I *was* hearing Japanese, but with the Hong Kong accent! This was a neat discovery for me, while any native would immediately know what was up, as only the Japanese was originally subtitled. (The scene with a Hong Kong girl learning basic Japanese for her boyfriend was awesome, since she moved slow enough that even I could understand it!) Sprinkle in 2046's tendency to use songs from at least three other languages, and my world was a subtitled mess today!

I should have followed this up with The Science of Sleep, a Michel Gondry film that is about a Spanish dude and French Chick (whose song immediately came on my random iTunes playlist when I mentioned her) compromising by speaking English between their native tongues and weak attempts to crossover to the other's language.

Don't you love how the premise of this post keeps changing? Subtitles ruin my sketching! I am too impatient to do anything inconvenient. Subtitles can open the door to interesting language experiences! Subtitles can add a new level of depth to a story if used correctly! I like all the subtitled films I'm suppose to be railing against, while dumping my contempt on decidedly American atrocities.

Speaking of American atrocities: I'm tired and my wireless keyboard keeps dropping letters. I apologize for the massive typos and mangled sentences that likely appear. Maybe I'll do some editing tomorrow.


I had commentary, but I've rambled enough as is... and typing this sentence is taking so long it is a perfect example of taxing my attention span for something NOT WORTH THE EFFORT!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Missing Persons

These are not the best sketches to show, but I wanted to cover a couple characters mostly ignored here so far.

Yes, it's yet another family portrait formed by combining various sketches that results in a strange scene. Why are the normally cheerful Linkletters concerned? Heck, even Harvey's smile is far too subdued for him! What is wrong? Well, tonight I am a shitty artist!

I thought I had inspiration, but then I watched a Wes Anderson movie. When will I learn that man is creative DEATH? The crappy painting I made while watching The Darjeeling Limited got rejected from the Mill show - even after I reworked it. Now, The Life Aquatic has sapped the joy from my cheeriest of characters. Wes, dude, you're going Tori Amos on us. You've reached the point where no one questions you... so no one tells you to EDIT YOUR SHIT DOWN! Tori's been making double albums...with about half the songs good. That's dumb, yet forgivable, because iTunes allows me to strike her failure from the record. I can't do that with a DVD, Wes. Stylish filler is still FILLER and it seems to drain my soul. AND THIS IS COMING FROM *ME* WES! MOST OF MY POSTS ARE USELESS BLOAT AND EVEN *I'M* TIRED OF YOUR SHIT! This is why Cracked wrote an article about why the movie didn't work!

Wow, that was... uh... unplanned. Oh well. Anyway, there's a poor version of Harvey Linkletter - but he's finally on here! Fun fact: In the post introducing Gene Et, I also had a image of Harvey Linkletter ready to go and fill in the final missing parent. All it took was one misclick in photoshop and I was left with... an image of Gene with Harvey's name on it. Whoops. Of course, I had closed out of Photoshop before I realized my mistake. I didn't go back because, well, that Harvey sketch kinda sucked too. The dude is just hard to draw! I have come to rely on cranial fluffiness to draw my characters...and Harvey is supposed to tallish, thin and *regular* animal fluffy. Deirdre must be noticeably fluffier! The fluffiness change throws my already weak proportion control out of whack. The silly oversized bow tie doesn't help either. Deirdre's sketch is weak too, but considering I just posted an awesome one of her below - even if she's missing feet in said sketch - I'm content that you know I *can* draw her well.

Suzette has only made one appearance so far, for a far different reason. While I'm total weaksauce in drawing Precocious parents, I've got Suzette down. Because of this, I practice drawing her far less - which means fewer chances of a fully-rendered Suzette working. (For me, having a character "down" is still equivalent to, like, a 10% success rate. Dammit.) This isn't the best Suzette either (again, I blame Wes Anderson) but her angry face is always fun - and far more common than the innocent look she sported in her other appearance here.

So, yeah, I seem to be posting whatever I can to make up for lost time after my tooth explosion. I even had another self-indulgent rambling ready for later... but Wes Anderson has ruined those for me. At least for today.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The strip that broke my brain

Since my work area is currently plunged into darkness, I'm going to combat the situation with something that won't solve anything: WORDS! (And, later, sketches!)

There was a reason the first batch of Precocious strips ended right before things got complex. Not only was I about to take on complex perspective, but the hard-to-draw Dionne was about to take center stage. When it came time to rise to the occasion, I instead ran and hid in my sketchbook. Awesome.

During the gap caused by fear, I took time to reevaluate the whole of the first storyline. While I'm still very proud of it, I wasn't satisfied with the transition between the recruitment of Suzette and the soliciting of Dionne. Originally, after Suzette signed up and I would cut to Bud and Jacob peering out a window at the scene, alarmed to see the enemy's numbers growing. It was fine, I guess, but it felt like it came out of nowhere. *I* may know Jacob's house is located in the center of the neighborhood, but a reader doesn't find that out until later on. (Yes, since this storyline is meant to establish the characters and settings, there is a strip devoted to where everyone lives in the neighborhood. I am awesome like that.) Abruptly showing the boys in a house without any establishment seemed like lazy writing. To add to the confusion, Jacob's mother pops up for one line later on in the story without any prior introduction. It became clear to me: I needed to add in a strip to establish Jacob's house.

The timing wasn't going to be a problem. The new strip would appear before the girl's recruitment drive, establishing that the boys were watching Autumn's effort with puzzled curiosity. By introducing Jacob's mother at the same time, not only do we establish the house as Jacob's, but we know who she is when she leans out her window later to ask why Autumn is trampling her petunias. ("Collateral damage, ma'am!") Even better: By having the eternal optimist that is Deirdre Linkletter point out that the neighborhood is full of children - they're just not students of the Poppinstock Academy - I get to reinforce the insular and elitist nature of my children. Perfect!

Here is where my brain exploded. How the heck do I cram all this into four panels? We need the establishing dialog to cover all the pertinent points, but no so much it obscures the complex perspectives this strip requires. Draft after draft went by where something was just missing. I debating splitting the topic into two strips, but there really was just one worthy punchline. The current version works well enough, but it's best told with five or six panels. Too much for one strip; too little for two. I think I can do it, but it requires masterful use of space and perspective. So, yeah, a master cartoonist could pull this off. I am decidedly a n00b here.

Here's the current incarnation:

Panel 1:
(Jacob and Bud peer out a window in Jacob's house)
Jacob: I'm confused.
Bud: What are those girls doing?
Deirdre (entering): What's wrong, boys?

Panel 2:
(The boys and Deirdre look through the window to see the girls in the foreground working on the booth.)
Jacob: They've set up a booth, mom!
Bud: There's no one to recruit here!
Deirdre: Actually, the neighborhood is full of children your age.

Panel 3:
(Back to the interior of Jacob's house)
Deirdre: Just because they don't go to your school doesn't, heh, mean they don't exist!
(Bud and Jacob give her a blank stare)

Panel 4:
Bud (turning back to the window): What are those girls doing?
Jacob: There's no one to recruit here!

Ok, it's not the strongest of strips, but it's vital connective tissue. I *should* just plow through and get it done, but the perfectionist in me is both frightened of failure and unsatisfied that I couldn't solve my problems with more grace.

My solution to everything is MORE SKETCHING and MORE PRACTICE - which is great but also means NO RESULTS! Below I share a bit of the sketchbook effort to solve my brain rot.

This is a rough of how the first panel will look. This is doable - speech bubbles and character heights align perfectly.

This sketchbook page chronicles a few failed attempts. Panel two is friggin' complex and I can't even set up my characters in their window yet. The stare down - which *should* be its own panel, but can't for space reason - shows how I still lack a full handling on my characters' proportions. Bud's feet appear while Deirdre's body continues. That, frankly, will not fly. Only time will fix that problem, but that is just not soon enough for me! PRACTICE IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE PERFECT! All I'm doing now is unlocking more and more ways to vary how my characters look, thus muddling the issue.

Let me also point out that I draw one lousy water balloon, which is also a bad sign as this storyline revolves around a water balloon fight.

I know what you're thinking. Filtering out the insults about my character, you're wondering why I don't just skip the strip and move on to easier tasks. Well...

1. It's not like the layout is getting any easier. I've been quite ambitious with my design.
2. Since I'm still relatively early on in development, my drawing technique is still changing with alarming frequency. It's been a few months since I last drew a strip already, should I press on and come back later, the stylistic evolution would be alarming clear. When one works with cartoon animals, one should avoid doing something that will jar a reader out of their suspension of disbelief.
3. I'm crazy. Rationality has no impact on me!

There. Another inspirational post from me. YEEHAW!

Meet Ze Monsta

An alternate title could be "Hot for Teacher" - but why reference Van Halen over the lovely PJ Harvey?

This comely lass is Bette Monster, the educator for my little hellions.

Like the rest of my crew, she is a victim of my love for silly names. Her first name is a reference to the Precocious class' 13 kids first and last names all starting with a different letter of the alphabet. The surname Monster plays in wonderfully with the role of an authority figure. When you're literally under the command of a Monster, what are you to do? There's also the connotation that monsters are hideous beings, while Bette is clearly hot. (Cartoon collies might not be your thing, so trust me that she's the animal equivalent of a babe.)

The role of a comic teacher is key to adding a new dynamic to a strip. In Calvin and Hobbes and Ozy & Millie, the teacher is an exasperated educator at the mercy of the precocious characters - with only the power of grading and threat of detention to protect them. In Peanuts and Fox Trot, different instructors had different personalities. Fox Trot's professors were mostly of the sarcastic variety (with their own subtleties), but Bill Amend did make a choice once to shake things up. Precocious Jason Fox loved exasperating his teacher with his irritating genius, but when she retired his life was thrown into chaos. The new teacher, Miss O'Malley (I think) was young and on the ball. Jason at one point cried out in horror, "She's challenging me!" Miss O'Malley could get thrown off by Jason's excesses, of course, but I really liked the idea of someone in authority who could put him in his place. With Peanuts, while educators eventually warped into trombones vexed by Peppermint Patty, it should be noted that earlier instructors (around the 60's strips - which is as far as the published archives currently go) were very human. Charlie Brown, Linus and company watched them fall in love, get heartbroken, get married, crack up, learn life lessons, leave and return. I enjoy the idea of such rich characters existing purely off-panel. (See: every verbose post about my minor characters who won't appear for years or ever.) My own Monster is very much inspired by Miss O'Malley and those of the early Peanuts universe.

Bette has long since learned that the best she can do is let the kids choose their own directions and try to nudge them towards the right path. While she does remarkably well in keeping her class in a productive, controlled-chaos state, it's only natural that she can be exasperated at times. At least she's been teaching this group long enough to know how they tick; she knows when to step in and disarm them and when to step aside at let the inevitable explosions happen.

She's also single, fellas! At 29, Bette has the fear of old in her. With her private life, she alternates between convincing herself she's still a young soul and freaking out about becoming a full adult (getting married, owning a house, having kids) before it's too late. While I am not a furry pin-up girl, I *am* 28-going-on-ancient and hopelessly behind in such growing up things. Bette is my outlet for my own frustrations with aging.

Now, this usually doesn't come out in a classroom setting. When a teacher lets students humanize them or look at them as friends, the balance of authority becomes skewed in a way Ms. Monster can't afford, considering this batch of crazies! The way the human side of Bette emerges comes from her friendship with another couple that's going into maturity kicking and screaming: Gene and Sky Et. Despite them having a huge family, they are only 33 and 29, respectively. The Bette-Et combo allows each side to see each side of responsibility, and also provides the enabling element to run away from responsibility on occasion. (Alcohol *is* a factor.) If they aren't careful, Tiffany is going to have a *lot* of blackmail material...

Oh, Gene and Sky, you two are going to ensure my strip will never go into mainstream publication with your naughty antics, aren't you?

The problem with minorities...

Hey, let's talk racism! Oh, yes, let's do!

By introducing kitties that are black and Siamese, I open myself up to dangerous racial undertones. It can be, dare I say it, a tar baby of a situation!

OK, have I used enough language to make this post show up on some inappropriate Google searches yet?

When I first began designing characters, I was advised by a classmate (who is a better cartoonist than I'll ever be - and thankfully on hiatus so I have less competition) to work with blacks in making my characters stand out. With that enabling, I set about designing my characters to really stand apart from each other. Bud's vest went black and his ears went darker, Autumn's extremities went black, cream-colored Jacob's shirt gained stripes and Tiffany...uh...Tiffany got one shaded ear and a ring around her eye. Thankfully, Tiffany is one to accessorize, so she gets her shot at tonal variance in other ways.

But did I stop there? Oh no! For my other classmates, I really went wild! Suzette, Max and Vincent have lots of shading. Dionne and Yvette have spots and stripes, respectively. Xander's design is still not finalized - as he might never get a line in the strip - but most of his coloring will come via clothing.

Then I went really nuts: CHARACTERS IN BLACK FACE! Sure, it makes sense for those kitties to appear, but cartooning is a black and white thing. When the most expressive parts of a character would appear as a flat black blob, that might not be the best planning. Hey, I'm all for an artistic challenge and I'm up to figuring it out! It just absolutely terrifies me to know I'm just two story arcs away from needing a solution.

That I'd create these characters was inevitable. On that same magical night when EVERY Gemstone Estates support characters emerged fully formed, along with the bulk of the initial Precocious storyline, the rest of the class was named.

Kaitlyn Hu was easy. With my love of giving my characters silly names, the temptation of the "Hu's on first" baseball gag was too great to resist. Also, how I could I *not* include a Siamese kitty after spending so many years around Dana's Siamese brigade?

Of course, by creating Kaitlyn I opened the race box. She is obviously of Asian heritage in a world of cute animals. Does that apply to all critters? Is Dionne African because she's a cheetah? Is Quincy proud of his European heritage as a German Shepherd? (Quincy's also a black faced character, but the secondary racial implications don't exist in his situation. Who doesn't love the Germans?) How global am I going?

This is not an issue with which I want to deal. All I wanted was the Hu name so I can make puns! Kaitlyn Hu ("'K, who?"), her brother Wen Hu ("Who? When?") and mother Shii Ann Hu ("Who is she?" "Shii Hu?" "That one over there!" "Shii Ann." "No, just her.") are just too fun to drop in now and then. All I can say is that I'm going to keep Kaitlyn away from chopsticks until I figure it out.

This also brings up the racial purity issue. In order to invoke specific species, the parents must naturally be the same. The Pingo family is pure red fox. The Hus are pure Siamese. (Siamese kitties are easily mixed in with regular kitties, but Dana's kitties were racially pure and I followed suit! Way to make me a furry racist, Dana!) All the other families are mixed. Even Dionne - clearly a cheetah - has markings that don't match the normal cheetah look, which is meant to show she's *not* a purebred. I slightly tackle this in the second story arc, but I still fear the Aryan race implications. It's the role of the creator to fret over every little detail - even though almost all readers will never think of such things - right?

Roddy is my way of countering the Kaitlyn problem. His name is! Finnegan! He's Irish! Like the Et and Oven families, Roddy is just a normal house cat when "race" comes into play. In real life, it seems there's *always* one black cat in a litter. That's all Roddy is. (Although the idea of "litter" isn't valid in my strip as my characters are merely humans disguised as adorably cute critters.) Neither of Roddy's parents are pure black. One might be a boots kitty, but that's as far as I'll go.

The reason Roddy is black is because of the bad luck connotations. Roddy's life kinda sucks. He's on the outside and always ends up in second place. Overall, being second-best in everything makes Roddy a very talented person, but he never gets any respect. Scrappy losers don't make it into record books. Is there any wonder he's bitter and belligerent?

Yes, I am aware this means I am keeping the black man down. And creating an angry black man. I can't win, can I?

All I can do is ask for you, the reader, the know my strip is about CLASS WARFARE and not RACIAL DIVIDES! I'm all about getting into issues about money and intellectual differences, and I do know in real life these issues do have some overlap - but my world is one of critters! This is supposed to give me a "get out of race issue free" card.

But then I went and made Kaitlyn Hu. I wanted to have cake and eat it too.

AND I have no idea how to draw these animals with India ink yet. Way to go, Chrispy!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Graveyard of Light

Above is my favorite comic strip of all time. Charles Schulz' Peanuts is easily the biggest inspiration for Precocious and with all my recent health issues I've had the time to reacquaint myself with my archives. I've also been reading Schulz' biography - although it's much harder to read that than four-panel strips when doped up - so you can say the man's taken over my life.

The reason I share today is to curse the darkness like my favorite character of all time, Lucy Van Pelt.

Following up on the reemerging inspiration of yesterday, I decided to try and get some cartooning done. Then I remembered that I LIVE IN DARKNESS! Now, my natural habitat is one not unlike that of a vampire's - but the key is that I *could* obtain light when needed before. It's one of the benefits of electricity. Those times are over. I thought electricity was my friend! Then, just like it was one of my friends, it had to become unreliable for me; helping me only when it chose to, before finally leaving me helpless and alone.

First the stands of Christmas lights I'd hung around began to die. In what was surely a healthy set-up, the Christmas lights provided enough ambient light for me to function during the day and sleep at night - a perfect situation for the pale and lazy! In an electrician's nightmare, I had them strung all around the room in one big loop. As one could expect from cheap lights purchased at dollar stores after holiday seasons, these lights were not meant to last. First the lights at the corner went. Well, the only reason I'm over there is to use to the light table, so that's no biggie. Then went the ones above the doors. Fine, I still have enough light. Then went the strands over my bed. Welcome to darkness town! Half my room was now officially dark.

As an artist, one of course needs more light than holiday novelties can provide; so I would bring in unused lamps from around the house. Man, they did *not* last long. One had one of those non-standard light bulbs, so fuck that extra hassle once it exploded. The next was so old, the bulb and lamp had fused together. Once it died, there was nothing I could do to save that ancient bastard.

So then it was on to the unreliable flood lighting. I've long known the wiring of this place was screwy, but that's why I had brought in all those extra lights! Now I was at the mercy of the cheap jerk who build this house.

Despite using energy-efficient, long-lasting bulbs, my ceiling would consume them with alarming frequency. For the most part, I tried to move the lights around so the non-burnt out would light useful areas, but this compromise was not to be. One light would die. I'd replace it. It would die a day later. I'd plug in more Christmas lights. It was the natural order of the room, y'know?

As the wiring got more and more messed up, I'd notice the lights would burn out in order. My guess was the power was being distributed unevenly between the live and the dead, overloading the temporarily-living. (Electricity probably does not work this way, but I don't *really* care to know one way or the other.) The solution seemed clear: replace EVERYTHING! It seemed to work!

Things were going well until everyone died.

Entering the room, I'd flick the light switch and head a sickening electrical buzzing sound. The lights would flicker and go dark. Flicking the switch off and on again would fix that. For a while. Like pancreatic cancer in my ceiling, the time between diagnosis and death was short and painful. The switch no longer works. My lamps are dead. My eternal Christmas has gone the way of the belief in Santa.

This makes it exceedingly hard to, oh, work on art. My lone lighting hold out was this fluorescent desk lamp thing I had rigged above my bed for reading. You can guess what happened to that. It didn't *die* like the rest - it's just dying in the way fluorescent bulbs die... with that sickly strobe effect.

So now I am either living in darkness or the WORST TECHNO CLUB EVER. I eat by the light of my old piano lamp. I work by the strobe of the relocated lamp. (In theory, as I have yet to do any work thanks to this situation.) I read by a tiny light that I had used to light the fold-out shelves in a kitchen cabinet. It provides the strength of four candles, but *also* has the added annoyance of being above my head, looking like an alien invasion. (Or that much-mocked Star Trek: TNG episode. "THERE! ARE! FOUR! LIGHTS!")

You know, maybe those karma-obsessed, chakra-loving moonbeam huggers are right after all. This room's health is uncannily related to my own physical and mental state. Look, universe, I'm all for controlling my environment, but I want that control to be in the form of TOTAL DOMINATION! If it gets broken when I do, we're going to have problems. It's one thing to be the universe's scratching post - you get to blame it for all of your problems! BUT, if my environmental breakdown is entirely tied to my actions, that is JUST NOT COOL!



It's been a disastrous July/August for me, resulting in total physical breakdown these past few weeks. These are indeed times for concern.

But I'm starting to pull out of the funk - physically, at least. What remains are the mental scars that must be overcome. Those don't go away nearly as fast, but all I can do is hope I break out soon. The urge to create is starting to buzz inside me again... can productivity be far behind?

Considering my track record with optimism, I'm not making any promises until I have real results.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

If you're wondering what I've been up to...

I may write more about my long and painful descent into dental hell later, but this picture says enough for now.

Note: Sad part is these drugs have been NOT NEARLY ENOUGH TO HELP!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's like an unfinished symphony...

...but instead of brilliance I have infused my work with halfassitute.

"Scandal" is diamond in this rough. I consider it one of the best paintings I've done. The colors are great, the composition is almost there (like everything in this post, it's only finished enough to pass the Mill admissions test) and the face is exactly what I wanted. Yay me!

Hey, remember the Queen of Clubs? (Scroll down a couple posts if you don't.) Well, fuck her. I tried and I tried to make her work, but instead of playing card wardrobe I ended up with pure Chrispy doodling. You know what? The doodling was *way* better than that awkward face. Out goes the temptress and in come the mecha-swirls! (Bad name for a band: The Mecha Swirls.) You know, if you didn't know the failure that preceded it, this would be a decently snazzy abstract work. But I reminded you. And told you scroll down and see the initial abomination. You know its shameful past. Fuck.

The tile is now "All Roads Lead to Rome" - chosen in hopes it could ascribe some meaning to a viewer. Deep, I know.

Expecting "Risk Key" - my 70's temptress? SO WAS I! What happened was a pitfall all artists know too well: The sketch was too good. I got just what I wanted in my blue boozer, so adding anything just make it look worse. With no idea where to go, I bailed after marring it only slightly. It's no where near refined enough to ever pass for finished, but it will take a major effort to work it out and keep the vibe. Fear of failure level at maximum!

So now I was down two temptresses. It was time to make more! At midnight! With the application due the next day! After starting on a Generic Medieval Babe, I was not thrilled; it seemed far too bland and felt like a unicorn - surrounded by fairies - was going to gallop into frame any minute. In other words, it resembled my target idea so much that any satire I wanted became sincerity. Onto the junk heap it went.

Its replacement... has the same problem. This piece - "Who Knows You Best?" - is also meant to capture a romanticized image. This time it's the poor servant girl. She's always there to tend to your needs. She doesn't have expensive clothing or accessories, so she makes due with what she has. Her face is round and sweet. Her eyes are sincere. She doesn't have the ruby lips of a starlet, but does it even matter? She stands by obediently, waiting to attend to your wishes. (Any wish? Hmmm...)

But is it too sincere? The static post was meant to evoke the stiff stance of servant waiting for action, but it makes for a non-dynamic composition. The flat expression is meant to show dutiful kindness without love. The view of her entering from the curtains is meant to evoke both a breech of privacy and an intimate knowledge of the charge's needs. It's a reverse Stockholm Syndrome: Her job is to be the perfect woman for you; how can one not entertain the thought? It's a nice sentiment, but is it art?

Granted, the work is obviously unfinished. There simply wasn't time to add depth to the colors and tweak the face to my liking. It reached a point where, instead of adding more paint to the palette, I just added water and smeared color around until it (mostly) filled the lines.

It should also be noted that this work, like the rest of my temptresses,was brought about by a great film. This time it was Far From Heaven, a movie that mimics the classic Douglas Sirk films in style. If you haven't seen a Sirk film - and I haven't - the style is of a wholesome 50's environment with several complex underlying issues. Visually, all colors in the film are oversaturated and bright. Suddenly the painting makes a lot more sense, eh?

Out of time and with "Risk Key" out of the picture, I was one painting shy and had to do something quick. With The Fountain - my go-to movie for painterly inspiration - I attacked Generic Medieval Babe and drowned her in broad strokes of green. The inspiration for this painting came from the "Suburban Sprawl" sketch a few posts down. Once it became clear that I can't work a paintbrush enough to do detail work, the initial drawing was toss out and pure Chrispy doodling took over. Once again, The Fountain turned my work into something about nature and plants. (It's that whole Tree of Life thing.) What is nature's version of suburban sprawl? I went with the old growth forest tapering off to fresher, greener thickets. And so "Old Growth" was the last-minute addition to my parade of failure. Yes, it is also noticeably unfinished. Whee!

Notice how I kept saying I needed one more painting? Actually, I needed two - but I quickly realized that was just not going to happen, so I went with my one remaining hot chick painting not on display anywhere. Oh, Cheerleader 3, your love of Swedish football pads my roster.