Friday, June 27, 2008

"Hello In There" Part II: Crying not mandatory

(This is a follow up to the below post, so unless you like to Pulp Fictionalize everything, I suggest reading that post before this one.)

Would you believe that last post was an intro? I *barely* broached the point I was going to make. RAMBLING VERBOSITY IS WHY I AM SO POPULAR!

The real story here is that I'm taking action to de-rut myself and try that strange thing that people do... moving forward. I'm going to stop actively sucking! To contradict myself immediately, I will continue with this post.

Big changes have come to my schedule. I finally got permission to cut my work hours back dramatically. Sad to say, it had been suffocating me. It's not that the work was hard or overly was just there. Always. And it was early. I worked there over two years and my body never adjusted to a 9am starting time. Every day was a miserable scramble arrive somewhat close to 9am, followed by half-awake drudgery. Around 11, my body would *actually* wake up, and I'd suddenly want to conquer the planet and do something productive. That means exercise or drawing, not translating a formatted Word document into a clumsy web page. Unattended inspiration has a way of turning on its master. When stimulation fails to come, inspiration turn into fatigue. At the end of the day, regardless of how much I actually did, I was exhausted. My energy didn't start returning until midnight, when I had to sleep. DO YOU SEE THE PROBLEM HERE?

Is that last paragraph dickishly whiny? Oh, you betcha! Hey, I knew long ago what I needed to be happy and I took efforts to set my life up so I could succeed. I know I have too much stubbornness to change and fit a normal mode. I *am* too selfish, and I'm running with it!

When I took my job, it was part of the long-term plan. I needed to raise money to support myself in grad school, I wanted to learn web design skills *and* the place was wonderfully flexible with hours! Work was great to me and I hope I did enough to make my presence worthwhile. Problem is, when I went full-time, it took up way more than an extra 20 hours a week. It became my life. I became what my 15-year-old self vowed never to become!

So now I have "free time" - a term that is a filthy liar! This is the time for me to do all the soul- and future-enriching tasks that I need to survive. I'm working less but busier than ever. Oh, and since I'm now working according to my natural sleep schedule, I'm now awesome for all my waking hours. (I remain a pathetic create when asleep.) Yeehaw!

So what was the point of all this rambling? I was bored and work (and later at home) and the blog had been neglected. ENJOY MY SOUL!

* * *

Oh, and I did locate the glorious copper hair. It is a flower among weeds, you see. If you spray a weed with herbicide, it's the flower five feet away that dies. Flowers are precious and delicate. Weed, having not been subject to eugenics, retain the hearty strength that flowers sacrificed for likability. On my face, about half a centimeter from the offending white-ish hair, is a beautiful copper hair half the size of those around it. Quality take time to grow, while garbage is available immediately. (That seriously needs to be my motto as an artist, no?)

I command you to listen to "Hello In There" and start crying

I used to have the most beautiful red hair. The color was perfection - a glowing copper one projects onto the fetishized, fantasy Irish woman of one's dreams. It was a natural red hair without the consequences of the "redhead face" that non-fetishied, actual Irish women have. This quality of this hair was a Hollywood interpretation of what red hair should be.

Now I know you're puzzled, seeing as there's a picture of me over on the right. While I am Hollywood sexy - they still film low-budget porn in Hollywood, right? - my hair is clearly non-copperish. Perhaps I am referring to my childhood hair, from a time before the ravages of age stripped me of my cuteness. This is also not the case. A mere child could not appreciate this hair. This hair, friends, was on my chin.

Normally I despise facial hair. It is my curse in life to have a dinkly beard that turns hideous when allowed to grow out and is incapable of ever achieving an acceptable level of bushiness. Should I forgo shaving for too many days, my face rapidly degrades into one that those who are kind would describe as of a degenerate slacker and basement-dwelling loser. Those who are unkind would instead think of a back woods molester or a 16-year-old that tries too hard. I hate facial hair and it hates me. For normal people, this is a conquerable demon. I, however, am severely wrong in the head. I hate shaving almost as much as I hate my beard - if one could call the mange-ravaged dog look of my chin a beard.

Shaving is a morning thing. It requires time and planning to do. For normal people, that's fine. Get up a few minutes early and use the razor blade on the face instead of the normal cutter actions. One of my corrosive abnormalities, unfortunately, has my circadian rhythm firmly set in a non-Eastern time zone mode. In my 9-5 job, 99% of the time I am at least 5 minutes late. Doing something extra like shaving is just not an option. Shaving is a weekend-only task, and even then I can be so lazy that I miss my window of opportunity. When my beard is allowed over a week to grow unchallenged, disaster strikes.

But at least I had that red hair. Among the brown, straggly horrors was this shimmering symbol of awesome. That my malformed and grotesque jaw could produce something so perfect gave me hope. I did have potential! I was capable of creating something wonderful! If my chin could do it, maybe my fingers and brain can join that club. THIS HAIR WAS INSPIRATION!

As it is Friday, it's been almost a week since my last shave and the hair has begun to assert itself. I've gone past "clean shaven" and "somewhat sexy" (even I, with my pathetic hair production, can achieve the seductive stubble - if only for a short time) and into the beginnings of the "lazy grooming practices" phase. As I viewed myself in a mirror earlier with dismay that shaving must soon commence, I sought comfort in the red hair which was my only source of facial pride.

I couldn't find it.

Instead, in the place normally red, was a stand that also boldly stood out on my face. This strand was bright white. Oh. Oh fuuuuuuuuuuuck.

THIS ISN'T HAPPENING! Please tell me that hair - THE ONE HAIR ON MY FACE THAT I LOVED - has not succumbed! I just missed the copper hair, right? I was so shocked by the white hair I overlooked it, right? Right? RIGHT!?

And so I examined my beard further. As always, it was a multicultural garden of colors and shapes. The beard always had its representatives from the hair rainbow milling among the flat brown majority. The random blonde strands reminded me of my Scandinavian roots. The less-interesting reds still reminded me of my inner sexiness. They spiced up a joyless jaw while never being too conspicuous - with exception of that one, glorious hair. But something was off this time. There were far more blonde stands that I remembered. Some of the blondies were awfully light as well. They *were* blonde, right? Hmm.

Only time will tell if this panic is justified. I've spent a lot of time in the sun recently and many of those hairs *do* look more blonde than gray. But still, this is a grim reminder that I am time's bitch. In a week when my life has begun a dramatic - and hopefully positive - shift, my face has become symbolic. I'm growing up by the hair of my chinny chin chin.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fathers Day

As promised, here's another Precocious parent. Originally Harvey Linkletter was also going in this post, but his sketch was lost to a tragic Photoshop accident. Oh well, gives me time to make better sketches to share. (It'd been about a year since I last drew Harvey.)

Gene Et, Tiffany's dad, is a blessed soul. His unnatural good luck has allowed him to find success without even trying. Currently, he's a VP in some big corporation and lost in the bureaucracy. He's too highly ranked to take the fall for small mistakes and not ranked high enough to take the fall for big ones. In truth, he has no clue what his job actually is! All he does is show up, play online for eight hours and go home with glowing performance reviews. Sitting a desk with nothing to do may not be your definition of blessed (it's not mine either) but Gene makes the best use of his time. Oh, and pay is excellent! Like any blessed individual, Gene tends to be more fun-loving and irresponsible than most. Still, things always work out in the end for him.

Gene is a character I struggled with in designing. It would be a cop-out to just make him an older, male Tiffany. Yes, it's cartoon logic to have parents look exactly like their children - and, yes, I know it's the other way around, but in these cartoons the kids are designed first - but it bugs me so. When taking on Precocious, I wanted to mix things up. In fact, the idea of family likeness is the center of Precocious' second story arc.

When it comes to kid/parent clones, you have the Pingo family. As they are red foxes, there's only so much wiggle room there. At most I will play with the coloring of each individual Pingo, but their similarities are something I will use in storytelling. Autumn is the spitting image of Ivy as a child, much to Ivy's chagrin.

Harvey and Deirdre Linkletter also have a clear resemblance to their child. To illustrate how well they match up, each parent has one floppy ear. Their son, Jacob, has both. Physically, Jacob and Harvey are both cream-colored mutts. The difference, non-floppy ear aside, is that Jacob is far fluffier. Said fluffiness comes from Deirdre, who is modeled after a border collie. The family ties are visually obvious, but the characters still have their unique looks. I'm happy with this balance.

Both of my kitty families were modeled after actual kitty genetics. We all know that house cat litters can contain several coloration varieties. In the Oven family, Bud does have a clear resemblance to his mother, Sydney. (The Scottish fold ears go a long way.) Joseph Oven, however, is a giant, hulking white feline. Father and son look like they have nothing in common - but that's kitty cats for you, right?

For the Et family, I went for the general mix. Gene is a buff-colored cat. Sky is a simplified gray tabby. (I refuse to draw all those stripes!) Tiffany is a simplified calico, who might get more noticeable patches of color on her paws/tail as time goes on. The rest of the Et children will be traditional cat variances. While they haven't been designed yet, I'm thinking one will be a tortoiseshell and the rest will be a mix of gray and orange tabbies.

Have I put too much thought into this stuff? I'm sure. Still, I hope that by planning things out like this I can create a rich strip with more sophistication and depth. Only time will tell if this strange ambition pays off.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My, How You've Grown...

(You should be humming the 10,000 Maniacs song while reading that title. If you aren't, then an overhaul of your musical tastes is in order.)

Sometimes I get frustrated with what seems like a glacially show progression in my artistic abilities. It's my nature to hide away and practice like a madman so I can emerge fully formed. Letting people see the rough edges is weakness! So one obstacle of mine is to suck it up and admit that I can't be perfect instantly. Sharing rough sketches on the blog is one way of involving the others in my artistic process. It's a sweet deal: I get therapy by blog and you don't have to read emo, navel-gazing crap. (Mostly.) You should be glad I am using this as a sketch blog and not a brain dump, for I *love* to complain about petty stuff. It's a hobby of mine.

Little things such as body proportions, unusual perspectives and where exactly spots and stripes should be placed confound me. Even though the clubhouse scenes in the debut arc barely show any background, I went through several drafts of potential floor plans so *I* would know. Characters that don't appear for over a year (or ever!) get fleshed out because I can't have them wandering around the background doing non-canon things! It's my neurotic, controlling nature to understand and control every little detail.

It's what happens when goal-oriented people are doing it wrong - I forget that skills and ideas need practice and development. Yeah, I love all these comics - but every one of them started off with raw visuals and underwent MASSIVE changes in their first few years. I *know* my characters are going to get sleeker and streamlined soon - and instead of enjoying the process and development, I WANT IT RIGHT NOW! My debut comic must look like an elite strip during years 5-10!

The strip I'm hung up on right now is one that features unusual perspectives (both character and setting), a challenge of character proportions (kids' heights in relation to an adult) and a house setting I have yet to design. I love to challenge myself, but I fear that if I fall short then I've got four panels of Peter Gabriel video.

But, hey, I have grown. I'm getting better every day and going back even two sketchbooks I can see a dramatic level of growth. Being an idiot, I look at that and say, "Gee, I'm still progressing too fast so I have to keep practicing until I get more consistency." Considering this post began with frustration over the perception of moving too SLOW, you can see the nasty cycle that appears.

Let's take a look at where I was one year ago and where I was one month ago...

A year back, I made my first attempt at producing Precocious strips. When I began I hadn't even designed all the characters (the first ever sketch of Jacob was presented as a character sheet for a critique) and I had no idea how to write for comics. I knew this, so I intentionally took on a story line that I could easily toss aside. It was to be a way to cut my teeth and get experience by doing instead of hiding myself in a sketch book all day.

The story focused around the Pingo family's first tour of the house they would soon call their home. The goal was to give a basic introduction to the characters. Bud and Jacob, having bugged the house, swoop in and abduct Autumn to give her the neighborhood tour while a strange real estate agent named Mr. Dobbs takes the elder Pingos around to meet the other Precocious parents.

It was awful. The drawing style was far too raw. My letting was atrocious. The comic timing was way off. Visually, the strips were too simple or too chaotic thanks to my lack of skill in juggling elements. I believe it went for 21 strips (out of a planned 42) before I gave up on it. It was so poor, the mountain of work I displayed for the critique was not enough to offset it. I got a B, which was a dagger in my heart.

What came from that attempt, however, was the experience I needed. While executing the test arc, I began scripting the arc that would become the debut story of Precocious. On one magical night, I sat down to draw and three new characters appeared on the page: Dionne Crup, Max Zeit and Suzette Grady. They emerged fully-formed and haven't changed at all aside from minor design tweaks. Once they existed, the entire storyline fell into place. It served as a perfect introduction for the kids AND, most importantly, it was actually FUNNY!

By sitting down and DOING the strip, I was able to learn HOW to draw the strip. Sitting back and practicing how to draw the strip means I might never DO it. It's time to suck it up and move forward.

Look how far I've come in a year. I chose the old strip with the best comic timing and matched it with a current strip I feel is a tad clunky. Click the images to see them full-size.

Mothers Day

Ok, so technically that day has passed and Fathers Day is closer. Whatevs - I hope to have the daddy sketches ready for display soon enough.

Continuing to share sketches of the Precocious Cast, I offer the two main moms yet to appear on the blog. They also happen to be the last two characters that appear in the first arc of the comic strip. While the first arc is all about the Poppinstock kids, a cross-neighborhood epic tale invariably passes through the homes of our players. As three of the four houses are fairly hetero-normative - with the husband out working and the wife at home - it's the mommies that play the parental roles in this case.

Granted, these women don't always enjoy the housewife role. Ivy Pingo is "between jobs" and refuses to say that keeping the home from disrepair is a valid career option. (Don't glare at me, housewives of the world, that's *Ivy's* cognitive dissonance there!)

Deirdre Linkletter, however, is the natural homemaker. She cooks, cleans, organizes, enjoys charity work and is active with the PTA - all the wonderful mommy stuff. Even better, she does it with cheerful and bubbly innoncence. This is not your typical bored housewife harpy trying to grab any power she can. Deirdre is a sweetheart despite working in a realm where sticks up one's rear are common. It's so improbable; she might just be a robot.

Sky Et is the other true stay-at-home mom. Unlike Deirdre, Sky never saw her life taking this path. She was going to be a biologist... maybe a doctor... cure cancer... do awesome science stuff! Then she got knocked up. Ok, that's fine too! The former free spirit now has five children (aged 9, 6, 4 and a double-dose of terrible 2's) and spends her time wrangling brats.

Let's put it this way: At a PTA meeting, Deirdre can effortlessly maneuver through the egos and bureaucracy to get things done. Sky would sit to the side, make sarcastic remarks and sip from the flask she sneaked in. (If you're wondering about the other moms: Ivy would only attend if someone else volunteered to drive. Yes, the school *is* within walking distance. Sydney Oven would send a check to fulfill her obligation.)

Here's another set of sketches I did last night. Like my constant botching of Tiffany's details, I forgot to color the tip of Sky's tail. Deirdre is also a bit thin, but who doesn't want *that* bank error in their favor?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

So, wait, how does the Ducky handle again?

So much life lost to playing Mario Kart...

But, hey, I've almost triple starred everything! I'll get geek cred!

I'd love to post something more, but work is not cooperating. (I have to work at work? I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THAT!) As a filler post, here's a shot of the fearsome foursome made from sketches I drew while watching There Will Be Blood. (A phenomenal movie that made No Country For Old Men - another great film - look like Gigli.)

Ooh...tonight is R.E.M. night! Form of....NEW WAVE MUSIC FANBOY!