Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Be fruitful and multiply

These designs are hardly set in stone, but I've made my first attempts at drawing ALL the Et children. Going by age (right to left), here are the kids:

Tiffany, age 9 - Yeah, I think we know her. This is an old sketch. I added it just to show relative size.

Michelangelo, age 6 - Mostly he is the "extra" kid pulled in if I need another for a story. He's innocent enough to provide a contrast when needed. For his look, I went with a gray tabby kitty look and an old school TV cowlick hairstyle.

Frida, age 4 - As of now, her sole purpose is to exacerbate situations. If her surroundings are quiet, she is quiet. If kids are going crazy in the room, she adds to the chorus of insanity. For her look, I wanted to do a tortoiseshell cat, but that proved difficult. The final Frida will probably look completely different. This sketch was the second I made, where all the black patches were eliminated. I choked. I might not even keep the dual braids, as they conflict with the tiny figure. *sob*

"This" & "That", age 2 - I'm not sure what exact age they'll have, but terrible twos sounds right. They were going to be tabbies, one orange and one gray, but I decided simplicity was the best bet with my fumbling fingers for now. They exist to make adults regret procreation. Like the rest of their siblings, they are named after artists Gene and Sky admire (don't asked about Tiffany...), but we'll never know which artists as they are always referred to with duo nicknames. (Yes, they are often called Thing 1 and Thing 2.)

Overall, the goal is to use the extra Ets for general background chaos in family scenes. If I want to use them, they're there, but mostly they are just really annoying pieces of furniture.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Disrupting the food chain

Look what I caught! That doesn't look like the sketch at all!

Last night, after celebrating a glorious day of football (FINALLY), I settled into my bed to read a bit before falling into the cylon-powered sleep cycle. (Three Battlestar Galactica dreams so far - all of which either had me helping the cylons or discovering I was a cylon. My subconscious is a villain.) Around 1am, the rustling began again. How cute!

But what followed the rustling was a loud crash and scrambling. My cats had been downstairs earlier, but I thought I'd sent them all back up to the surface before shutting myself off for the night. Clearly, I was wrong. A certain black cat of destruction - the hunter in the house - was down here and had found some prey.

The mouse made a valiant effort and escaped three attacks. The fourth, however, caught her trying to cut across open area. I jumped out of bed to find the mouse bouncing towards cover (cute) only to have the cat circle around and swat her back. My arrival distracted the kitty long enough for the mouse to break for the unsure cover of the Mario Kart Wii Wheel box. As the cat waited on one side, I watched the mouse poke her head out from the other... right next to the bag holding the digital camera accessories. I slid the bag over slightly and lifted the box. The mouse had no choice but to jump in as the cat lunged. Mwa ha ha!

Mousie looked a bit worse for wear, but seemed to have suffered more psychological damage than physical. I let her go outside. Sure, she's likely already back in the house - but for now I HAVE DISRUPTED NATURAL ORDER! Sorry, kittie, but I'd much rather have a live mouse running around than a dead one with parts spread to places unknown.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

...and every day the rats eat a little more of my foot!

This is what I get for living in a basement.

Tonight has been the full brunt of the subterranean lifestyle. First, I was forced to bail water from the stairway leading to the basement because it was raining biblically hard (and the roof was dumping directly onto the stairway) that the drain couldn't handle everything. I managed to clear enough debris to get the drain working properly and prevent flooding.

THEN came the the real joy of living in squalor! As the weather gets cold, nature tends to sneak into the warm confines of the house. Naturally, my vermin peers ended up in the basement as well. Tonight, they got BOLD!

Early on I heard rustling. Uh oh. Later came the visual confirmation... as a mouse bounced around my bed! I saw it scurry off towards the TV... so it's a Battlestar Galactica fan, I guess. Or maybe not, since it chose to double back and CRAWL ON MY FOOT! My kicking only seemed to embolden it, as I caught it later wandering around behind me. I cornered it under the dehumidifier.

IT IS ADORABLE! Not as cute as the one I caught in the bathroom a while back. That one was black and the cutest mouse ever. This one was gray and only adorable. But she is my bedmate, so I should be thankful for any bedroom action no matter the definition. (Now I will call it a "she" because somehow it seems less gross. I don't know why.)

She got away (not that I was prepared to catch her) when I shifted my weight to get a better look. That was hardly enough to intimidate her, as she's been happily scurrying about as I type this post. I just gave her a scare by taking a flying leap onto my bed. This is called coping with one's environment. (She's already running about again! This is going to be adorable right up until my face is eaten in my sleep.)

Anyway, instead of just making mouse jokes alone, I figured I'd try to draw a cute cartoon mouse girl. It's my first ever, so be forgiving. I have zero intention of drawing anything but doggies and kitties, so moving beyond species is weird for me.

Edit: So it's 4am now and I've seen this mouse bouncing around this room without a care in the world. Oh, and I do mean bouncing. She's like a rubber ball, that mouse. SO CUTE! It's amazing what the creatures do during the hours humans should be asleep. (I didn't take my sleep meds today, 'natch. 4am + bottle of wine = not remotely tired. I flunk at life math.) I just had her walk right up next to me. I could have reached out and grabbed her if I wanted. Instead, I leaned over and asked, "What are you doing?" Off she went!

Oh, I even braved the night to wander out to the mailbox. Since today was marked by the cataracts of heaven, no one got the mail. Surprise: NEW NETFLIX DVD! Battlestar Galactica is seriously awesome. Lucy Lawless as #3 is proving to be a massively compelling character. Rock on, Xena!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Link to the present

Here's a compilation of some banners I constructed to advertise Precocious, using all recycled material! That was the *fun* part. The next part is creating and uploading the linking page that will host these banners. Coding something that will have code for others to copy and paste on their website is not that fun. Sigh. Web design is my punishment for uninspired days. At least *something* gets done...

Edit: The linking page is up

Missed it by *that* much

Aww, my daily streak is over. It would have been so easy to change the time stamp on the previous update to yesterday - especially since I edited it to add in more images at 1am - but where's the fun in that? Are *you* going to judge me harshly for spending the day in DC visiting my dying grandfather? Yeah, I thought so.

I wasn't planning on any update tonight, but I'll put forth a token effort. Netflix came through for me today and sent me the last two discs of Battlestar Galactica season 2 in two days instead of three. Score! I put in the first disc, settled down with my sketchbook and worked while I watched.

The episode involved the evil black market, profiting on the desperation of others. Naturally, the resulting sketch was Dionne in a schoolgirl outfit. Not only is she using a cuteness tactic to sucker people, but she's STEALING AUTUMN'S BIT! How evil can you be?

This was also the first BSG episode I've watched that I can say really sucked. One of the guest stars was the same dude from the infamous "shake the bunny" episode that was so awful it nearly destroyed LOST. Bill Duke, you are the destroyer of good shows!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sock it to me!

As I'm still having a crisis of confidence with my Autumn drawing, she's filling my sketchbook pages. Not so great, but I have been having fun with the new fashion play.

Check out that awesome tie-dye shirt! Groovy, man. Obviously, these are not viable comic outfits. Eh, there's always Halloween!

Edit: Here's some more Autumn sketches that have nothing to do with this post's premise. I just liked my scared sketch and wanted to share.

You should be glad I resisted it this long...

In case of emergency, break glass. (Gently.) LOLcats and Tiffany go together so well.

In theory, Mega Man 9 shouldn't be a problem. It's not addictive, because it's HARD AS FUCK! I haven't played it that much, but today it's the only thing in my life that's shown progress. Seven robot masters down! (Fuck you and your spiky floors, Plug Man!)

Without any *actual* progress today, I did at least capture my ineptitude in picture form. So I got that going for me, which is nice.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More thrilling tales of web design

The Precocious website officially has all its links working! Even if the "linking" link only points to a "coming soon" page. The "about" pages have been added - the artist page includes the intimidating WALL OF ART above. I'm not thrilled with the pages, but they'll do as space fillers for now.

I also finally updated some stuff on my art website. Mostly it was eliminating my promises of Precocious launching in August. *sigh*

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Subject is sleeveless! Repeat: Sleeveless!

More from the Autumn's autumn casual line. I was thinking, "Hey! I finally got a good sketch done today!" Then I realized it was tomorrow. So long, Monday. Good fucking riddance. Hello, Tuesday of unlimited opportunity!

Time to go waste my moment of rare drawing competence by sleeping it away.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The new fashion for Fall! Er, Autumn.

It's the first day of autumn, so it's only fitting that I get to make that gag.

I'm been drawing Autumn over and over these past couple days, and I just can't seem to get her right. Granted, *none* of my characters have looked any good recently, but she was bugging me the most. If I get a nice face, I botch the ears. If the ears work, I ruin her mouth. If the head works, I suck on the hair. If it's fine from the neck up, I fumble on the body. (Those last four lines also double as a creepy poem.)

Amid all the chaos, my focus turned to the damned... SHOULDERS! I'm still no good at shoulders on any characters, but Autumn is double touch because her standard shirt has a collar. No hiding the details in a cute puff of chest fur like the rest, AND the collar often makes me give her 80's pad-enhanced shoulders. Add to that my inability to draw short sleeves (see: Autumn, Jacob, Max...) and I'm all about the frustration. Sleeveless outfits are where it's at!

So I started playing around with other looks for Autumn. As I can't draw to save my life today, only one sketch was deemed scan-worthy. Drawing Autumn in a normal shirt and pants is easier, but she loses her feminine mystique. Solution: SCARF FOR NO REASON! I might resurrect this look down the road, once the characters are established enough that I can switch up the standard clothing.

It can also start the inevitable transition into winter clothing. While I'm so behind the current strips take place in July, the time will come when the weather turns cold and the kiddies bundle up. I'm not saying I'm going for realism by any means. If I was, I wouldn't have all my characters running around in long pants despite it being mid-summer. (I draw shorts even worse than I draw short sleeves.) Still, it's fun to have a design set.

Edit: Here's another with Autumn in her (proposed) autumn standard. It looks more smock than sporty, but whatevs.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Continuing to hammer out the website

How does one do something productive when one's brain is encased in concrete? After completely butchering the drawing and inking of strip 24, I gave up on the art side of productivity for the day. This meant it was back to coding!

I've switched the domain forwarding now, so going to precociouscomic.com will now take you to the actual comic. Considering the only visitor might be the one reader of this post, I'm not risking anything here. I suppose that's a benefit that comes with being so unpopular.

Aside from adding the wildly-disappointing strip 24, I've also added a cast page and changed the menus a bit. While I hope to eventually expand the cast section as more and more characters get introduced, I figured it couldn't hurt to put up summaries for the elite eight. I'm not thrilled with the page, but it's fine for a placeholder. I debated over including Roddy or not, as he doesn't show up during the pilot arc, but decided I wanted the balance of having eight cast members. Roddy will be introduced when I start whoring out my strip anyway.

On positive news: I have a buttload of new art supplies! Should my brain get in gear, I'll at least be prepared for it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

This was in my dream...


It's official: I've had a Precocious dream. It has finally taken over my life.

This experience was spawned by a morning of random, unfocused dreaming. Eventually, I ended up on my grandparents' (mom's side) deck for an Oven family picnic thing. I was Bud, naturally, and mostly I observed this strange Oven convergence. (Again: The Oven family is NEVER together!) Sydney (mom) was setting the table with typical (and lackluster) picnic sides. Joseph (dad) wandered out from the kitchen with a sad plate that featured cheap local pizza as the centerpiece. Casey (sis) was lounging in the corner, less than thrilled with dinner.

And then the music started! Sydney and Joseph started dancing to the groovy tunes of Garbage's "Why Do You Love Me?" (which, of course, was playing on iTunes at the time) while I watched in confusion. Sydney was jokingly mouthing some of the lyrics to Joseph, which is something inappropriate to do in front of one's children. (Although it's completely in-character for the Oven parents.)

"I think you're sleeping with a friend of mine. I have no proof, but I think that I'm right..."

For the song's finale, Casey joined in with the dancing. Face with my strange family cutting a move in front of me, I decided I needed to participate as well. I was not much of a dancer, so I mostly jumped up and down. Casey, picking on Bud like always, mocked my weak moves. "You dance like a construction site!"

I should explain that statement. An earlier dream, when I was still playing Chris, involved my asshole brother sustaining a neck injury at a construction site. He was so stupid, he refused medical assistance and was going about his life as always. I was very happy to know that one trip would likely kill him or paralyze him for life. It was like Christmas Eve! (For those hypothetical future readers who don't know my brother: Trust me, the world would greatly benefit from his death.) ANYWAY... The insult meant I had dance moves akin to a quadriplegic.


What are Friday nights for again?

Friday is a dead day. Friday TV is a barren wasteland. Friday on the internet is when site updates tail off. Even the message boards empty. On Friday, you have to make your own fun. You are EXPECTED to make your own fun. No matter how pathetic you are, you have to have some social thing to do on Friday. It's natural law!

And then there's me, sitting in my mother's basement, cursing Netflix for now moving instantly and leaving me without the comforting space opera - a genre synonymous with lonely Fridays. (TNT's ST:TNG marathons on Fridays were awesome for making me forget I was friendless until my junior year of high school.)

What else could I do? CARTOONING! I finished the Jacob ramble strip and went on to the Max ramble strip before my brain shut down. So. Much. Text. At this point I could have tried to move on and draw something to excite me, but instead I decided to harvest my misery and use it as the fuel to sustain me through MIND-NUMBING TEDIUM!

Yes, friends, I worked on the Precocious website! Coding tedium aside, I *also* had to scan, size and photoshop all the comics. It took a while to figure out the proper method, but I chose not to look back. Yeah, the first strip didn't come out well. Yeah, I never went back and fixed Suzette's yelling in strip #17. Fuck it! If I stopped to think I'd just collapse in a dull heap!

So now I have 23 strips on the site for the viewing pleasure of the person who reads this. Man, I hope they're good enough. I have my doubts.

My hope is that, as the creator, I am just too close to the work. All I can see now are the thousands of errors and failures in the strips. Too many strips fail on comic timing. Other strips lose their impact because I can't quite get facial expressions correct. The lettering is unprofessional. It's sloppy drawing all around. ACK! Should I be feeling *pride* instead?

Granted, a lot of these problems are due to the inevitable pilot problems. At this is the first look into Precocious, I have to forcefully present the premise and the characters in a way that establish an identity immediately. Instead of nuance, I have to introduce personalities in bullet point format. Thus, as each character appears they inevitably monologue. I *have* to get this stuff down and it's up to me to do my best in making it work. The clunkiness is the consequence of creating a pilot. The BEST creators make it look easy... but I won't get there until I have more experience. Even the most skilled creative types need some trial and error to figure out the best use of their immense talents.

Sadly enough, I chose the *worst* time to post what I had on the web. The introduction strips stop at... strip 24, which will likely be posted later today. Starting at 25, the STORY begins to move and the characters are freed to interact without the "THIS IS WHO I AM AND THIS IS WHAT I DO!" shackles restricting them.

Just remember: For many quality TV shows, a clunky pilot is often followed by a CLASSIC second episode. I sincerely hope that the upcoming strips will make the reader forget the choppy pace of the opener. I'm not saying I will magically become an expert cartoonist overnight - only experience can help me fine-tune the drawing and timing - but if I can end this "pilot" arc on a high note, then there will be hope for Precocious yet!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The wrath of text

(Again, I hate sharing the examples from the actual strip. My hope was that it would reduce small enough to make the text unreadable, but to get that point was to make my cute Jacob drawings too tiny. My solution was to cut out panel four and the punchline, even if said punchline is fairly easy to figure out.)

It's official: Text-heavy strips take longer than art-heavy strips.

Granted it is mostly mental, but morale plays a large part in art. Complex drawing is ART, so it is worth the time invested. Doing my best to write legibly while trying to keep my pen from smearing due to my left-handedness is a CHORE, so any time spent on it sucks by definition.

Another factor is how I prefer to work. For art, I am best when I've got a DVD going. TV on DVD is the greatest thing ever. So much of my art has been produced with Lost, Rome or Grey's Anatomy in the background. I avoid most comedies, as they are either too engaging or not striking enough to occupy my stray thoughts. Futurama is the exception, as it's amazingly rich *and* I've seen every episode so many times I can easily tune it out if I need to focus on art. Re-watching stuff is key, since the DVD is a distraction and not my main focus. (When watching things for the first time, I work in my sketchbook instead of on the *real* art.) I don't need quality programming either - the almost-good Babylon 5 works, as does a reality TV marathon. Sports I don't give a fuck about are awesome as well. I loved the World Cup, even though I hate soccer. I also have a reason to watch college sports, even though I find them sick, amoral and cheap. On the flip side, I can't work on Sundays during the football season because I'm a NERVOUS WRECK!

My recent spurt of productivity has come from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Battlestar Galactica. Well, LOTR mostly. Galactica is a bit too engaging, which means I hit my sketchbook instead of the drafting table. Even worse, all my text duties happen at the light table - meaning I can't look up at the TV whenever the music indicates I have to *watch* something. Instead of working by the show, I found myself pausing it and going off to do the text work because I was scared I'd miss something. Drawing during BSG is a piece of cake... but I'm fragging monologing instead!

Maybe it's the option to watch that makes all the difference. Working to music is a deadly folly for me. I'm fanatical about my music and I easily get lost in it. I can listen to a play list repeating for hours and not notice the passage of time at all. Maybe it's the time frame. With a movie or TV show, I have to make the conscious decision to stop working and watch for an extended period of time. With music, it's easy to say, "I love this song... what's four more minutes?" over and over and over...

Alright, enough time wasting. I'm not really so self-absorbed that I'd think anyone would find this interesting. I'm just typing until my sleep med kicks in. Although, if anyone is still reading at this point, I appreciate it. A good friend sits and listens even when a friend is being a bore. I'D DO IT FOR YOU! Hey, just be glad you didn't have to sit through this in person. (Uh...again.) Ahh, blogs: Places to talk about things that would ruin verbal discussions. THERE IS NO SHAME ON THE INTERNET!

Man, maybe I should have tried to get a worthy post to keep up my daily trend. Whatevs. Chances are my *big* plan won't get done in a day, so filler is the only solution. No, I am not adding a "filler" label. At least not yet. I don't want to have to make that "Is this filler?" call every time I write something. It'd be hell on the self-esteem. The "Fail" tag already causes enough hardship.

Oh, and this rambling, text-heavy post is ALSO reinforcement of the post's original premise that text-heavy stuff is less fun than pretty pictures. THIS POST IS META! SURPRISE!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Boys Wanna Fight

But those girls? They appear ti be happy to dance all night.

While they average out to a combative group (Bud, Roddy, Quincy, Xander = Fight. Jacob = Toss Up. Vincent = Space Cadet. Max = Filthy Pacifist.) the title is just me reaching for a song with "boys" in it to match the girls post below. Since I have been on a Garbage binge today, it was all too easy. Note to world: Version 2.0 is one of the best albums EVER!

The boys of the Poppinstock Academy 4th and 5th grade class, clockwise from top left: Bud Oven, Roddy Finnegan, Xander Upton, Jacob Linkletter, Vincent Iddenstein, Quincy Wozwax, Max Zeit.

Unlike the girls post, this was not an inspirational page where everything went right. Instead, my sketching has been rather icky the past few days, so I had to cherry pick. Xander and Vincent are OK (both sketches done the same night as the girls post, of course) and Bud and Jacob are within the standard deviation; but I'm unhappy with the other three. For one, Roddy is rarely that pleasant. I went through a day where I drew all my characters chubby for some damn reason, and this Roddy was the only one thin enough to scan. Quincy is *almost* there, but his nose should be shifted more to the right. He's a German shepherd but the nose placement makes him look somewhat feline. For Max, star of the current strips in production, I had tons of better sketches for him due to relevance. This one is rather weak, but the others were too good to fit in with the rest of this wonky crowd.

One thing I tried to do with this crew is line up the kids according to height. This mandated the separation of doggies from kitties due to ear discrepency. (It also meant using photoshop to shorten some sketches.) Bud's Scottish fold ears means he'll be the shortest no matter what, even though body-wise he's taller than both Jacob and Vincent. Roddy and Xander are average height for cartoon kitties, whatever that may be. On the doggie side, Max should be the clear tall one. Quincy is a bit too tall, but I was too lazy to fix it. Jacob and Vincent are both tiny (they're 9, while the rest are 10) with Vincent coming in as the shortest in body. Luckily for Vincent, he is a fluffy dude and his ears give him a boost.

Yes, this post is filler done only to keep the streak going. That is, unless you really wanted to know about cartoon animal height. If so, I guess it was fascinating.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Death to the poofy dress!

Yet another roadblock in comic creation has been overcome: The strips featuring Dionne's ridiculous dress have been completed!

While I'm glad to be done with it, I do regret my failure at dress design. In reality, young pageant girls dress revoltingly slutty. (Note to feds: My research only went as far as a Little Miss Sunshine vidcap. I chose the the least-frightening dress, added ruffles and closed my browser feeling violated.) I tried to go for the ridiculousness of the costumes while filtering out the creepy factor - hence the tutu thingy. I probably should have added more bows, but they would conflict with the spots and ruffles and spots and curls and sucky drawing.

That brings the completed strip count to 22 - only 40 strips and a few months behind now! That's... fairly horrible, considering the strip was supposed to have launched its regular updates on Monday. I'm almost tempted to finish building the site to do the regular updating and just fill in the summer stories as they get done. Oh, ambition, you are such folly in the hands of an idiot! I have stories set in July (Gender Wars), August (Meet the Parents), September (Back to School, Birthday Parties) and October/November (Class Elections). At one point I actually thought I'd be *ahead* of schedule. What a moron I was. Of course, this "start now, work on the backlog" plan isn't going to happen, as I need to actually SCRIPT the opening strips first! I have 4 scripted, but the arc is likely 8-10 strips long. Oy.

Oh well, all I can do is keep pressing on with the original plan. Max's introduction is up next, which consists of several monologues. Easy on the drawing, but hell on someone who seriously sucks at lettering.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The subconscious is one's worst critic

OR, how to start one's day in the most inauspicious way possible!

The culprit this time was a dream. Usually I have dreams of brain-numbing repetition or ones where I'm continuously hunting for candy. (Thanks, shameless sweet tooth!) When stress or gluttony dreams aren't in the rotation, it's usually mind torture in the form of anxiety dreams - where everything goes wrong for me. As noted before: My brain hates me.

In today's dream, I was shipped off the convention for people with personality disorders. The goal was to isolate us from society and teach us how to stop being drains on the world. My group was seemingly the worst of the lot. After all, our "invitations" were done in sinister black. The other defect groups had bright cheery colors linked to their disorders. Mine was black. Like, death and depressing black.

This awful group you see, was the COMPLAINERS! We were the cynics and sourpusses who lose their cool at the slightest irritant. We were mean, bitter and no fun to be around. If we didn't fix ourselves, we'd be doomed to a life of sad ostracism.

Proving the event organizer's point, I didn't take my invite well. I, well, COMPLAINED about being singled out as a bad person and admitted I felt persecuted because the black envelope let everyone else know (people who were just as dysfunctional as me - if not more so) that I was the worst of all! I was being avoided! The told me I didn't have to eat in the cafeteria with the rest of the nuts - I could help myself to candy in the guest room. (Yes, even in this dream I desperately needed a chocolate fix.)

The main reason I was upset was because they organization just didn't get it - there are two types of complainers: Zesty and bitter! I complain a lot, but I do it as a purge and I try to find some humor in it. I think running around proclaiming the sky the to be falling is FUNNY! My fellow black-labeled wretches were clearly on the bitter side. We had the old ladies who had nothing to do with their lives but yell at people for being noisy during their naps. We had TONS of repressed conservatives and Christian fundamentalists - who hate themselves because their values are so strict any deviation from them must make them horrible people, so they judge everyone else harsher in retribution. We had the general sad sacks who were so beaten down they'd lost their sense of humor. Basically, I was surrounded by BAD CONVERSATIONALISTS!

We had a private pool just for us sourpusses, but it was very unfriendly. The old ladies wouldn't get in the water for fear of getting their hair wet. The conservatives all inched dangerously close to each other in the hot tub, filled with sickening tension. The sourpusses would dog-paddle around by themselves. I was the only person to take a leap into the water and make a splash. The rest silently walked into the pool from the shallow area - doing all they could to be silent and keep the water calm. I splashed around and tried to get the people to play a game. No response. This was went I went off to complain about my "peers."

At least my brain was telling me I don't belong on that group. As the dream went on, it became clear I was the star of my crew. My fellow complainers - while still hating each other as much as themselves - all warmed to me and my charming ways. I had become a leader and I was fairly respected by everyone in the reject convention.

The next morning, I got a visit from Dana - who was wearing adorable jammies for some reason. Seems she was taken away too, as part of the "obsessive" camp. We happily chatted about sneaking off to get breakfast away from the rest of the wretches. Conversation then turned to the old lady in the bed beside mine. She was frustrated with inconsiderate people making too much noise as she slept. When Dana asked if I was causing problems - as I'm an insomniac and I toss and turn like mad - the old lady said I was the only one she liked. I was never a problem and I didn't make any noise to disturb her. It was a good self-esteem boost.

Eventually, I found some kin in the complainer group in two women. One was a pushy New Yorker whose tongue was sharp enough to disarm all those not tempered to absorb "New York charm." The other was a tall woman - well over six feet - with a loud voice and a pushy attitude. She seemed like the lawyer type. Together, we decided to write a letter to the organization explaining the two types of complainers. We might bitch and moan, but the others in the program are not our people. Line by line we laid out why they suck and why we are simply misunderstood. At one point, I sat back and wondered if what we were doing was too self-serving or something that would make us far more irritating in the organization's eyes than the wretches we found to be vastly inferior. The New Yorker could see it happening, but the other lady (who seemed less self-aware and probably wouldn't be in our group if there had been anyone else slightly worthy) got a bit self-righteous, claiming truth is truth.

At that point the dream trailed off and fell into the standard surrealism/stress dream stuff, such as me trying to reach the pool on the ground level from my floor and managing to end up hanging off a balcony a few stories up. This happens all the time in dreams, of course. Instead of going into the elevator, I ended up outside it and I had to strategically drop down floor by floor, getting me in tons of trouble for the disturbance. During this, another dream standard was at play: I was trying to travel with a gal (generic hottie) and no matter what I did, we'd be separated. I reached the pool and jumped in, only to find she had made it down with me... but forgot her suit. Once again, the pool symbolized isolation!

Overall, I think the meaning is fairly straightforward. The dream was more of a highlighter and exaggerator of stress than one hiding it in symbols. At least it was creative in handling it. I take it as failure when my brain only offers up cookie cutter dreams. Anytime I'm flying or my teeth/hair fall out, I wake up embarrassed for my brain.

Still, it's rather depressing to wake up after a dream where you are officially labeled a black-level asshole. Hey, maybe something reassuring could happen as soon as I wake up to make me feel better about myself.

I woke up to see a GIGANTIC FUCKING SPIDER on the ceiling directly above me. It waited until it was sure I saw it, before it scrambled into a vent. Thus, this arachnophobe now knows there is a GIGANTIC FUCKING SPIDER in my room that is just WAITING FOR ME!

There is no way this day can go well now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Where the magic happens

I'm going to try and keep this daily posting trend going as long as I can! (I give this one more day before I fail.) The consequences of the trend: GLORIOUS FILLER!

I don't want to share the actual strips as they are completed, since they'll (hopefully) all be online in a few weeks, so when I'm being productive it means I have no stupid sketches to share.

Therefore, being the attention whore I am, I took photos of my work areas. Think of it this way: When I am rich and famous and awesome, you can all come back and look at the pathetic origins of Precocious. See, people one day might care! I'm sure of it! It's blogger solipsism plus artist arrogance! MY EGO IS OUT OF CONTROL!

Seriously, I spent a half hour earlier today Googling myself. I'm link #5 when searching for "Chris Paulsen" and #1 with "Christopher Paulsen." Woohoo! I'm also pleased that an image search for "Bud Oven" hits this blog as result #1. I'M #1! I'M #1! ROCK ROCK ROCK!

Anyway, on to the magical mystery tour...

My drafting table is located at the foot of my bed. If I was a hard worker, I could say I wake up, slide over and start working. In reality, I sit down to work, grow frustrated, slide over and cry myself to sleep. It's awesome in reverse!

While it normally isn't covered in comics laid out in an attention-whoring manner, the thing is always cluttered. The right side is the "staging area" - with templates, drawing supplies, my trusty ruler, a cutting mat and various knives. (This is an upgrade, as I used to keep my knife on the floor by my feet. No, really.)

I use a mechanical pencil for my drawing. It's whatever brand was offered at Costco. It's not top quality, but I'm used to its feel at this point. If you look at the comics, you can see some were done with red pencil lead and some with a blue. This is my damned if you do, damned if you don't situation...

The red lead is easy to find and I have a setting on my scanner allowing me to filter it out. This makes scanning a breeze! Problem is... the templates are no-copy BLUE, so I'd have to draw out my own templates. Also, the red doesn't erase, which is a BIG problem for someone still in the early stages of comic drawing. I don't even know how to draw my characters WALKING yet. If this last strip - with three characters walking in a line - was done in red, it would likely be an unsalvageable mess.

The blue lead is imported from Japan, since America has no use for STANDARD NO-COPY BLUE in mechanical pencils. I have several traditional no-copy pencils, but the constant sharpening drives me crazy. The problems with the blue is the cost and, uh, my scanner's complete failure to filter out THE UNIVERSAL NO-COPY COLOR! Still, a simple "select color range" in Photoshop easily bypasses that issue; and, most importantly, I can *erase* the blue! Despite all the hoops I must jump through to use it, erasing is enough to keep me a solid blue user now that I have it. I'm sure this story was very interesting to you.

If you look closely, you can see my attempt at drawing the comic in a block format in the pile. This format is the only way to fit the entire strip on my scanner at once. Drawbacks here mostly revolve around tracing errors. For that strip, I made the bottom panels too tall *and* managed to trace the template about one degree crooked. What that means is I spend the same amount of time correcting my shortcut as I would scanning the properly-sized templates twice. Yeehaw.

I also tried to fit two of the block templates on a sheet of Bristol board, only to learn I'm about a half-inch shy of the margins I need. The leftover from the sheet I used became a scratch pad for a few illustrations shared on this blog. If you examine the photo, you can see how my "For Sparky" illustration was made in parts and pieced together in Photoshop later. Only an artist would think this is cool enough to share. For everyone else: Doesn't it suck to learn that the magic is all man-behind-the-curtain lameness?

The light table - a brilliant birthday splurge for myself a while back - is where the lettering takes place. Using lines on the templates I bought as a guide, and splashing in some good ol' math, I came to the conclusion that my comic should have room for 14 lines of dialog space. I checked it out by analyzing an Ozy and Millie book and found... 14 lines of dialog space! Win!

With my standard set, I printed out a sheet with guide lines. Come lettering time, I throw the sheet under the comic, turn on the light table and it keeps my pen from straying. With the printed script at my side, I first do my lettering in pencil to see if it will fit. If it doesn't, I'll try to re-write the dialog or cut some lines on the spot. I do my letting with a .08 technical pen. Never one with any handwriting talent, this is still my weakest area. I can only assume I will gain skill through repetition.

For inking, I use a pen I found in a box of my father's art supplies from the 60's. As I am not an expert, my nib of choice is Hunt Globe 513 EF - which is a very adaptable nib, allowing for good control on thick and thin lines. I had used my dad's for years before I stabbed myself with it and broke it. (It was an accident, I swear!) It took months and several rejects before I found my model again. The company that produced the nibs had long since ceased to exist... as it had been gobbled up by pen giant Speedball. Turns out I can find my nibs hanging on a rack in friggin' Michaels now. It's convenient, but it just doesn't feel as special as it once did.

So there's my low-rent operation as it stands. One day I will have a real studio, with proper lighting. One day I will have a professional scanner, which can filter out the no-copy blue. One day I will have an assistant, whose job will be to create block templates correctly and scan my work so I can focus on being purely creative. (I hope.) One day I will be able to switch between nibs with ease - maybe even switching to using a brush like the pros - allowing me more depth in drawing. One day I'll be over my newbie jitters, with muscle memory and enough skill to produce better quality strips in a fraction of the time. One day, Precocious might actually be a real friggin' strip and not just a silly gleam in my eye.

Man, I hope that day gets here soon.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Girls! Girls! Girls!

Dude, they're 9 or 10.

(Clockwise from top-left: Kaitlyn Hu, Autumn Pingo, Dionne Crup, Tiffany Et, Suzette Grady, Yvette Nutley.)

I really wanted to get some work done today, but I couldn't resist the depressing allure of football. At first, things were looking up! The Redskins won a thrilling and fully-enjoyable game! (It'll never happen again.) Then I made the mistake of watching the 4pm games... which curb-stomped my soul.

I am going to be angry at the bullshit officiating of the Chargers game until the day I die. REPLAY EXISTS TO REVERSE BAD CALLS! DON'T COME BACK, ADMIT YOU FUCKED UP AND THEN SAY YOU FUCKED UP SO FUCKING BAD THAT THE FUCKING BRONCOS GET THE FUCKING GAME HANDED TO THEM! WHICH IS THE SECOND FUCKING TIME IN THE FUCKING GAME THE FUCKING REFS FUCKED UP ROYALLY! FUCK! Norv Turner should have been allowed to beat Ed Hochuli to death with his clipboard for those obvious crimes. Yes, Ed is a refereeing beefcake, but I think an anger-fueled Norv could still do some damage. Seriously, if there ever was a case for justifiable homicide...

(You don't want to know how much football-related ranting was edited out of this post...)

ANYWAY, I WAS ANGRY! Instead of smashing things, per norm, I tried to calm down and numb my mind with lame sci-fi. Enter: Threshold! Oops, I mean Fringe. Fox decided to show the premier again with extra bonuses, like a teaser for The Day The Earth Stood Still remake which looks like it might as well be Threshold: The Movie! (To future readers not in my inner circle: Threshold was a sci-fi show that was so poorly written that it became awesome in its incompetence. It's like Showgirls, with fractal patters instead of boobs. And, yes, Elizabeth Berkley does show up in both.) Anyway, Fringe was enough to kill my angry brain cells, allowing me to get to work. I only drew one more strip, leaving me still HOPELESSLY behind, but I did get something productive from my misery. YAY FOR MY NEW POSITIVE OUTLOOK!

Still pissed, and unwilling to start inking things, I turned to the warm embrace of my sketchbook. First came a nice sketch of Dionne. Then a nice sketch of Autumn. Then an OK sketch of Tiffany, which is good considering I've been struggling with her. Well, fuck it.. LET'S GO FOR IT! I drew every girl in our smarty class, and together they average out to be a decent sketchbook page. Fuck it, it's enough to keep my string of half-assed daily posts going! Enjoy!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nothin' says Luvin' ...

...like Joe and Sydney Oven!

Why do I enjoy drawing characters who rarely appear in the comic? Alright, so I only enjoy drawing Sydney, but I need practice on Joseph. As I've mentioned before, it's far easier to draw chicks. A few curves and eyelashes and everyone knows it's a babe. For dudes, I have no easy shortcuts. Joseph is even scarier - he's all big and burly! How do I draw furry muscles? At this point... Popeye arms?

While I like these sketches, there is a major flaw with 'em: They look waaaay too young. It's the big, adorable eyes. Both these darlings are over 40, and I am not getting that across at this point. So...uh...this is a portrait of the two from when Bud was just a baby? If Precocious starts with Lost-style flashbacks, I'm set!

Seriously, I need to control my eyes when I draw parents. A subtle shift in eye size makes all the difference. It requires finesse and control...something I lack, considering I very rarely sketch the parents. Oh well, maybe it's good that their arc had to be cut. It takes place in August, so that ship has sailed. I'll have to do it and insert it into the storyline at a later date, I guess. This is what I get for having a breakdown and losing three months of work. The first arc (which I am not even halfway through drawing) takes place in July. The second arc takes place in August. The regularly-updating strip was supposed to begin...uh...in three days. Yeah, I'm missing that deadline. My kids are going back to school starting in October, I guess. Whatever. I am numbering my comics sequentially and not by date. I'll retcon when the time comes to post things.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Once more unto the breach

The first page of the new sketchbook is done. The cherry is popped. It is defiled by my pencil. No self-respecting collection of paper will have her now. Mwa ha ha ha.

There's nothing truly special about this page, but any artist would know you don't want to waste page 1 on something...experimental. You experiment in sketchbooks so you can keep your failures HIDDEN - who wants to be reminded of the sucking every time the book is opened?

Sure, I played it safe, but at least it's not *too* painful. Hey, even if the page is unremarkable, I still know what book it is because I wrote the date on the page! (What an auspicious day!) It only took me, uh, four years before I took my professor's advice to start dating my sketchbooks... even if I still only note the dates the book were started and finished.

My sketchbook etiquette overall is far improved. Last night I did an inventory: 17 sketchbooks completed in this modern era. I thought it would be more, but then I realized I had drawn on the front and back of pages for the first dozen books. (Revisionist history: I am now working on skethcbook #30!) This is an artist no-no - it's very hard to scan pages when they have the impressions of the next page on them. When I was still developing my style, this was helpful. It was like a slash and burn effort, obliterating my early work as I moved forward. Now, it would just be sloppy. It's still best to scan pages fresh, as graphite is a smudgy thing. This is such an uninteresting paragraph to anyone but me, but I made you read it anyway. Sucker.

Aaaannnnnddd... since I'm covering sketchbook pages, I would like to revisit one I posted for the heck of it a while back. Mostly I want to put proper labels in the post so someone could do a character search on this blog and find the image. Hey, I was on fire that day! Let the people know my awesomeness!

The mission of the day this page was created was to go Charlie Brown on my characters: BIG HONKING HEADS! My character proportions are already wildly inconsistent, so no one would know I did it on purpose. Now, if you're looking at the sketches and thinking, "their heads don't look so huge to me," that's the POINT! It ups the cute factor if done right. It's creepy as fuck if done wrong. Lord, I hope these kids are cute. The parents, I admit, are bit much, but it was fun to experiment.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Another one bites the dust

Tonight I put another sketchbook to rest. It took slightly under two months to finish it. In theory, this is a good thing. I had burned through the my last few sketchbooks in under a month, meaning I had done no *actual* work. In theory, moving at half that speed should mean I've been doing actual work!

OR, it means my tooth exploded a month ago. :'-(

Eh, I got *some* work done during this sketchbook's reign of power, which is an infinite amount more than with the previous ones.

Woo, kids! I like this collection because it shows how much taller Max is compared to the others. Aside from that, it's just the "best of" from my Rome watching marathon.

I found a sketch I'd made of Autumn with her hair unrestrained. I liked it, but it was just a head - so I played Dr. Frankenstein and threw it on a body of Autumn with her, uh, autumn gear on. (Autumn of autumn's head was fine, but not as interesting, so off it went!) This Dionne is inferior to the one in the first image, but it was scanned before I found the better one, so enjoy it anyway! (For the record, Dionne tends to point in sketches so I can practice drawing the spots on her arms.)

Finally, here's some more of Bud's mother, Sydney. This batch of sketches shows off her ponytail a bit more. Since she appears so infrequently, I have the freedom to change her hair length as I please. I should note that the most interesting sketches - which had her hair down and gave her more fashionable dresses - were all poorly placed on the page. Oh well, these two full-body shots are fair enough.

Overall, a very depressing and sad month was reflected in a very depressing and sad sketchbook. My characters, as always, stood around with benign smiles or slight confusion - so the subject matter didn't change. The execution is what depresses me. I should be taking more risks and creating more dynamic poses with my characters, but it's all I can do to keep the static blah-ness together.

To fully commit to the role as a reflection of my mood, there is a point in my sketchbook where I suffered such a jolt that I somehow go switched around and began drawing from a different end of the book. Two thirds of the way through in my current direction, I ran into my drawings from a few weeks ago. They are much cleaner and more controlled. All my recent stuff is loose and unfocused. Gee, I wonder why.

Another inspirational pep talk from me to me!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Continuing my corner cutting campaign

Throwing ambition out the window, I turn to the Precocious script to evaluate my characters' costume changes... to see how I can avoid them! For instance, here is a future strip as scripted:

(Bud is going through his supplies in the Et's backyard.)
Bud: Gotta hurry. Gotta hurry.
Bud: This is very delicate plan and everything must go as planned.
(Bud puts on his combat gear.)
Bud: It is time to enter the fray.
Sky (walking in): You look adorable, Bud!
Bud (fastening his helmet): I KNOW!

I love this strip, but drawing Bud in combat gear fills me with horror. So screw the outfit - the hat is enough! And, hey, if Bud's helmet *accidentally* flies off as he scurries around soon afterward... OH WELL!

Keeping the Full Metal Jacket helmet is vital. It gives me a fun reference, it makes the strip above work and it puts Bud in a hat! Bud having a hat for all occasions is a visual theme I'd like to use as the strip evolves. His Scottish fold ears make him the one character who can actually handle head gear - at least to the point where accepted cartoon wardrobe logic allows the reader to overlook that even Bud's ears couldn't fit in such chapeaus.

There is precedent for my cranial cop-out already: Tiffany's beret shows up for a few gags, then gets left behind. That decision wasn't as deliberate - I merely forgot to draw it on her for one strip, and covered it up by drawing it in her hands after the fact. Eh, the less work the better!

Autumn's costume change can easily be simplified. She'll switch to a t-shirt and pants, making her combat outfit EASIER to draw. Yay!

Edit: Here she is! The poorly-rendered thing she is wearing is a backpack. I've discovered tonight that I can't draw backpacks at all. The thing she's holding is a water balloon with her name on it, which is also poorly-rendered. Damn details.

Dionne originally showed up to fight in a girly outfit, but I can switch that to her standard outfit without the story losing anything. As long as she's still carrying a cumbersome purse, it works!

I haven't planned costume changes for Jacob or Suzette. Maybe I should. White white beaters and plain slacks for all! Fuck it, ALL MY CHARACTERS SHALL BECOME STICK FIGURES! XKCD was right all along!

Anyway, if I am going to make my new "I suck" deadline, I need to be averaging two strips a day. All this doodling is nice, but hardly what I need to do for productivity - especially since I'll be losing a day or two to finish my paintings this week.

In my defense: It's really hard to do anything with the whole root canal thing. My tooth had been acting up big time over the past few days - and it's going to be doubly sore considering my EPIC root canal today. While a glass of wine can help with inking of strips, being wonked out on vicodin is no good for anyone. My life is sabotaging itself!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Lucky number 13

13! 13! 13! Yes, I am re-watching Rome!

Yes, September is clearly the month of cursing, crying and bad omens.

Presenting, for the first time ever, Xander Upton: The 13th member of our class o' smarts.

His last name is no coincidence. Xander is not only emotionally distant, but he lives the farthest away as well! Even so, it's just not enough for him. Xander does not see his brain as an asset. By attending the Poppinstock Academy, he is kept away from social circle back home.

And don't you dare ask him to make friends with his fellow...NERDS! Xander is preppy snot through and through and wants as little to do with his classmates as possible. He caucuses with the outsider crew when push comes to shove, but that's it. Like the rest, he's an elitist...but not in the zesty way. Xander is a fiscal elitist - part of the country club set. My darling hellions believe in elitism through quality - a meritocracy! It's the same rudeness to others, but this way it's justified!

I've scribbled several Xanders over time, but this was the first I liked enough to scan. I think the preppy, shirt-tied-around-the-neck look won me over. Also, the slicked-back hair is a lot less forgiving to draw that my usual floppy or fluffy hairstyles. His normal look is not so wide-eyed; instead, his eyelids tend to sit at an unamused half mast. But that's not as cute!

Don't expect Xander to do anything but sit unhappily in the background for a long time. Even when he's discussed (which is rarely) he doesn't speak. He just glares. Then he leaves as soon as he possibly can.

The black cat is always a good sign

A note about fate: Fuck it!

I am not one who believes in fate. When a person makes a decision, it inevitably whittles down the possible outcomes. This choose-your-own-adventure path is not fate. I am also not one who believes in self-determination or making one's own luck. One only controls so much destiny, as each person's whittled outcomes tend to smash into the whittled outcomes of others. And, thus, chaos flows from logic and order. Welcome to the universe!

Let's recap: I vowed to work through the pain, only to receive my comeuppance with the death of my beloved cat. (While I use the word "comeuppance" and curse the universe, I know it's not fate - it's rather a horrible coincidence that supremely sucks. It's just far more to fun to rant against the universe than to coldly shrug things off.) Now I am a mess and I do try to keep my promise and work through the pain. The universe again chooses to reward my attempts at success by kicking me in the balls.

It's football time! I adore the sport, and losing myself in the games and fantasy football provides a nice distraction. Of course, the teams I love are blown out. The teams I admire are brutalized. The teams I hate all thrive. The obnoxious fans online make all sports sites I visit disgusting with their spiteful gloating. So much for *that* bit of escapism.

Back in reality, I am the typical wretch - the one shown in the movie when the sad violin music is playing. Peri always clawed at the basement door when she wanted to come back inside. She trained me well, and I jump to attention whenever I hear that sound. I did hear the sound, and I did jump to attention. Like a true wretch, I even went to the door despite knowing no cat would be there.

Turns out that sound I heard was a bird hitting the glass and dying. Now I ask you...ISN'T THIS GETTING A BIT OVER THE TOP? Can't I get some good karma thrown my way?

So today I took my mom to the hospital. She was diagnosed with ulcers, brought on by the stress that comes from the Paulsen life. I can whine all I want, but my troubles are nothing compared to the ruthless savagery dealt out to her from the universe. This speaks to her strength over mine. My upcoming root canal (part 2: revenge of pain!) is nothing in comparison.

A note about ambition: Fuck it!

As previously mentioned, I am ready to resort to talking head syndrome. Until I learn to letter with more discretion, draw my characters smaller in the panels or learn to use nibs of different sizes in my drawing, I am not going to bother with backgrounds in the comic. Right now the focus needs to be on getting the stuff done, and cutting corners is fine by me.

The scene I am working on originally had Dionne offering Bud and Jacob milk and cookies as they sat to chat. This is far too difficult to draw, so they will now be just standing around. Besides, most of the snack scene ended up being cut from the final script anyway. My vow is now to make drawing the strip as easy as possible. FUCK MY AMBITION! NO ONE HAS TO KNOW!

A note about productivity: Fuck it!

I'm trying. Man, I'm trying. I've tried drawing out strips, but I'm not up to the task of trying to ink what I have right now. I tried scripting more strips for Precocious, but the little I've written has been WAY TOO BITTER for what is to be the second strip once the first arc is done and strip begins regular updating. I've already nixed my original holiday storyline due to massive blasphemy. It's just not marketable to drive consumers into a blind rage right away.

I turned to my sketchbook next, with horrible results. Man, I wish art was like a real profession - that training would allow me to turn it on and off and work during set hours. The only good sketch I did was of Sydney Oven sitting on a couch looking annoyed. Everything else: utter crap!

A note about logic: Fuck it!

And, finally, I decided on a whim to try and draw Roddy in ink. While it is something I need to work out in time, as the first regular update arc is all about Roddy, there are far more pressing needs. Also curious about the decision: I am frighteningly low on India ink. By wasting it on the black cat, I am now forced to leave my house to purchase art supplies! SCANDALOUS! At least the ink Roddy turned out OK.

A note about brevity: Fuck it!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Dionne by the Dozen

Alright, so I made a vow to change how I work. I said I wanted to start channeling misery into productivity, as normally it just shuts me down. The universe decided to call my bluff and KILLED MY FUCKING CAT! Listen, universe, you wretched and cruel shitsmack, I was talking about overcoming the low feelings that come from isolation when friends abandon me and things like that. Death in the family is NOT COOL! Turning life's lemons into lemonade is one thing, but when life loads that lemon into a bazooka and shoots it through your goddamn chest THAT MAKES THINGS A BIT HARDER FOR COPING!

But I'm going to try. Today has been marked by a strange numbness. Maybe it's an emotional hangover. I've been muted today, and if I didn't keep catching myself it could have spent the last 14 hours laying in bed and staring blankly at the ceiling. But I did catch myself, and I tried to work.

I have two more comics sketched out; they need to be inked, but it's progress. The strips also mark the introduction of Dionne, the hard-to-draw cheetah mix. I'm getting better at consistency with regular Dionne, but *this* Dionne is wearing a girly, poofy pageant outfit that is an absolute BITCH to draw. I lucked out with the last strip, as it was so dialog-heavy I could hide her behind a word bubble in the only panel in which she appeared. The next three, however, feature her prancing around and being expressive and stuff. Why do I do this to myself? PRACTICE IS NEEDED!

What you see above (click the image to see it at its full size) is distilled from four full pages of Dionne sketches done over the past day. I played with a lot of things: Shoulder poofs or not? Black hands/feet or not? Does she wear a bow; and, if so, where would it be located? Aside from the shoulder decision (no, I want to show shoulder spots!) I am still not certain. Black extremities are easier to ink, so I'll likely go there as a cop-out. As for the bow, I'd love to put one on her back - but I don't see any panel in the upcoming strips where her pose would make it visible. In the end, I am ready to (once again) toss out visual complexity - in this case, having the kids sit on a couch and eat cookies - in favor of three characters standing in front of a plain white background. If that's what it takes to get them done, then that's what will happen. GO MEDIOCRITY!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Periwinkle: 3/17/1993 - 9/5/2008

Today was supposed to be a good day. It was a beautiful day, I was feeling great and the electrician was finally here to fix my lights. Today was the day I was going to sit down and begin making up for lost time in drawing my strip. Naturally, seeing that I was about to become happy, the universe chose to rip my heart out and stomp on it instead.

Today's events have left me absolutely devastated, incapable of anything but the most common analogies for sadness and heartbreak. I apologize for the weak literary merit of the post, and I hope you understand. I've been blindsided and coping is out of the question at this point.

Peri had started to look a bit ragged over the past few days, but I had chalked it up to her playing in the (dirty) dog pond. We have several tiny frogs (and the odd, late bloomer tadpole) living in the pond, and I'd caught Peri playing in the water before. Otherwise, she was the same as always: Sweet, loving and smart. When I was reading my book outside, she would come over and sit in my shadow, purring until she fell asleep. Even yesterday she was up to her old habits, begging me to turn on the kitchen faucet or to put ice cubes in her water bowl so she could bat them around.

But today mom discovered a spot of blood on the floor. Peri had started bleeding from her mouth. Our normal vet was away, so I had to drive her across town to a new place. On the way, Peri started to cry - something unusual for a cat who always had a loud purr for everyone, even the vets giving her shots! I dropped her off, talked to the vet and they said they'd give me a call once the results of the bloodwork were in. By the time I got home, they had already called. My mother was crying so hard she couldn't finish the sentence when she tried to talk to me. All I heard was, "she has cancer."

The vet had explained that this cancer was a fast-acting type. A mass had begun growing in Peri's mouth and rapidly expanding. We were told there was nothing that could be done. Not wanting her to suffer, we agreed that she had to be put down. I will likely hate myself for the rest of my life for doing this, but I couldn't see it happen. I couldn't take it, and had to sent my mother to sit with her during her final minutes.

This was *my* cat. I had picked her out and named her on the spot. I had insisted she be brought home with us when the rest of the family had chosen her brother, Striker. This cat had been my companion for more than half my life. I loved her.

Today was supposed to be a good day; the day when I started picking up the pieces and fixing my life. Now I can't stop crying.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

For Sparky

I've finally finished the biography of Charles Schulz tonight, and I can't seem to stop crying. It was hard enough to see him go the first time. Now, with more context and Peanuts mythology, it's even more painful to have him die on me a second time. I know biographies don't work that way, but I had to hold out hope for the happy ending this time - death would be stopped, a fountain of youth would be found and the great masters would be rewarded for their talents by achieving the immortality they deserve.

The more and more I read, the further attached I got to him. When I reached the final chapters, I had to set the book down and walk away. I knew I wasn't going to be able to take it. First thing I did was check Fark, where I read that the animator Schulz hand picked to create A Charlie Brown Christmas, who was also the voice of Snoopy, had died. There was no escaping it - the old guard has gone away.

The day Schulz died is still clear in my mind. I was at my grandparents' house, a place I have always associated with happiness and security, and was pawing at the Sunday paper with NPR on in the background. I don't even remember making it to the comics before the news hit me. Like a true legend, Schulz passed away the day before his final strip was printed. Always the one to say cartooning was his life's work and how proud he was that he did the very best he could with the talents given them and wasting none, once he couldn't continue drawing his strip he ceased to be. I didn't read the comics that day, because I just couldn't take it.

Charles Schulz, "Sparky" to all his friends, is a big reason why I've always wanted to be a cartoonist. He was the great crossover, able to be subversive and mainstream at the same time. Uncompromising and independent, he drew every strip by hand and still found time to script the dozens of animated specials. His drive, competitive nature and - most importantly - talent allowed him to transform the comics page, ruling it in an age when TV and the internet were stealing more and more from the audience. Rather that admit defeat, he simply conquered them too.

Reading that final chapter, as he fell into rapid decline due to colon cancer, was devastating. This wasn't just a man; he was also the embodiment of everything I want to be. All the hopes and dreams I have as an artist were so easily projected onto him. Watching him succeed made me think that *I* could succeed as well. Like countless others, I saw in him a kindred spirit. That's why he was so powerful; because he wasn't so much universal as he was able to personally connect to everyone in the universe. Peanuts was like a great pop song - simple enough for people to grasp, but deep enough to take the endless play such hits get.

When I lived in the DC area (ages 4-8) I had a babysitter bring me a Peanuts book. I believed she let me "borrow" it, but she never got it back. This collection was from very early on in the strip; focusing on Linus as this strange, precocious baby that could do such oddities as blow up a balloon into the shape of a cube - and with Snoopy just beginning to embark on his many fantasy voyages, imagining himself as a snake only be thwarted by a fear of tall grass. I read it over and over. At school, we were encouraged to go to the library weekly to keep finding books to read. I tried the classics, but was rarely taken by them. Problem was, I didn't know what else a kid like me should read. There were so many books in the library, but how could I find the one that would speak to me? My salvation came when I discovered the library stocked some Peanuts collections. I quickly read them all. Primed by Peanuts, I began a daily ritual of reading the comics section of a newspaper and nothing else. Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, For Better of For Worse, Bloom County and other classics were part of my life.

At the age of 11, I decided I was going to stop just reading comics and start playing along. I began work on a strip of my own, called Brats, which featured a cartoon avatar of my idealized self (his original name lost to time, but now known as Bud) and his nerdy sidekick, Jacob. Quickly I saw I wasn't very good at cartooning - at least, not nearly as good I was at regular drawing - so I quit.

The idea wouldn't leave me, and Brats came back the next year. This time a spacey lass named Tiffany, bearing the likeness of my current crush of the same name, appeared as the fourth of the group. Wait, fourth? Who was the third? Heck if I know. She was supposed to be the female lead, but never asserted herself.

The final incarnation featured two new additions: A girl who was meant to be a love interest for my main character and another male to balance things out. The new girl, Autumn, quickly proved to be more of a sparring partner with the lead than a girlfriend. The weak female lead was tossed out and Autumn became a headliner. The extra male was put on hold, now that I had a solid group of four. I decided to cover him later and have him move to the neighborhood of Sapphire Lake in a year. (This outsider eventually became Roddy.)

I had my strip. I just didn't have the skill. Cartooning had to be pushed aside to focus on my innate talents. Time and time again I would try to be a cartoonist, and each time my poor skill would make me quit in disgust.

It took my life completely falling apart for cartooning to emerge again. Reduced to a pile of nothing, I was beaten, broken and befuddled by what had happened. That's when I was diagnosed with ADHD and began receiving treatment for it. A week after trying Ritalin, I bought my first sketchbook in years and, back to square one, started over. I *was* a cartoonist and this time I wasn't going to quit. Years of awful drawing went by, but I stuck with it. I finished my first sketchbook ever, then my second and soon I was moving so fast I had to buy my sketchbooks three or four at a time. Cartooning pulled me from my funk and gave me a goal. If I could train myself to be a cartoonist, it meant this old dog could learn new tricks! 17 years after it was conceived - and only a month behind schedule! - Precocious, featuring the same cast, locations and themes as Brats, is about to be launched.

Admittedly, the wheels nearly fell off the wagon as I've struggled mightily over these past months - but reading this biography has given me new strength. A warts-and-all tale, I saw a very human Sparky who went through many ordeals I endured as well. He lost a parent while young. He was quiet, yet fiercely competitive. He was so sure of his own talent that anything short of perfection was devastating. He was an unlikely leader, but an effective one when given a chance. Anxiety and agoraphobia nearly destroyed him, yet he lived a richer and fuller life than most. (I tend to call myself an "extrovert who's fallen on hard times" rather than admit to being a type-B person, and I do believe that was Charles Schulz as well.)

The big difference between Schulz and myself is that he used sadness as fuel, often creating his greatest strips when he was at his lowest. (His strips lost a lot of bite after 1980 because he was just too happy!) I create from joy, while sadness shuts me down completely. When I picked up the book again, after a summer of isolation and disappointment, I felt defeated and lost. I'm still lost, but I don't feel defeated any more. If I am going to be like this idol, I have to turn my anxieties into profit. Easier said than done, but it's something expected of the truly great!

It all started with the babysitter giving me that Peanuts book by Charles Schulz.

Thank you, Sparky

Monday, September 1, 2008


Brace yourselves...after a funk spanning many months, I ACTUALLY FINISHED ANOTHER FUCKING STRIP!

You may recall from a previous post that I dubbed this "the strip that broke my brain." It's DONE! Monkey = off back. Have the floodgates finally been opened?

Well, no. Tonight I got lucky with things remaining unbroken just long enough for me to get something done. I doubt I'll be able to repeat this, which any further progress at least a week away - just long enough for my brain to break again. Fuuuuck.

After getting emotional while reading the biography of Charles Schulz, I realized I was cracking up and needed to do something. Of course, after reading about the amazing impact the strip had on the world, I wanted to cartoon. But I can't cartoon, since my lighting situation is a mess. The light I moved about the drafting table is dying and has been providing inadequate light for drafting. With nothing else to do, I gave the light a shot. IT WORKED! It's been about two weeks since the thing fully lit up. The light ain't great, but it's enough! I was not going to waste this chance, so I pushed forward with the strip. Stuff started coming together and I kept at it until the thing was done.

It's still not the best strip, but it would have to be expanded to Sunday-style for the timing to work. Since I am operating on tradition syndicated comic rules, I can't go down the path. I have to compromise and, guess what, I DON'T CARE! It's done and I don't have to worry about it anymore.

I could comment more on the comic itself, but it's 2am and I'm spent.