Original Art: Last Five NO MERCY Covers

I am preparing the remaining five pieces of color art that served as covers for the Image series NO MERCY for sale. Sign up for the mailing list to get the first look at the pretty, pretty art!

Foundational Comics

  One of my Desert Fathers of comics is Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius. A wizard, a visionary, a creator able to drag you into his worlds of glimpsed detail, he just threw you down onto the streets and gullies of his stories. Whether it's the dust in your throat and the smell of horses and sagebrush in his cowboy epic or the soaring alien landscapes of his inner-space operas, YOU ARE THERE. There's junk in the gutters and trash cans of the kind that an anthropologist could spend lifetimes sorting out, if that were the only clue to the reality of the worlds Moebius created. He gave the spaceship NOSTROMO its garbagey, lived-in feel for the movie ALIEN. For TRON he made the costume design elegant and functional in turns and he made a digital prophet in the form of a Sphinx.  He's one of my pantheon, one of the greats, and I never tire of what he does well.

  But then there are the things he does not do well. Maybe it's just my taste. But I have a problem with one of my favorites. 

  I'm rereading THE GARDENS OF EDENA, or reading it with all its scattered bits and bobs together for the first time. It's a beautiful new hardback from Dark Horse. I gather that Stel and Atan, the two goofy protagonists, arose out of a need to draw a bunch of illustrations for Citroen. I loooove Stel and Atan, especially when they do go putting around the stars or weird planets in an incongruous little car... they're good partners, veering from weird adventure to weird adventure. They seem gender-neutral, or gender-not-the-point, at any rate. They are not lovers. They seem masculine in some ways, feminine in others, and it was really refreshing! I love a lot of Moebius's other characters: he does good 'dorky everyman' without making that everyman emasculated and hopeless, and his sexy characters are loads of fun too. But Stel and Atan were different. They were friends. They could only be together because they liked each other, and worked well together, because there was no sexual dynamic between them at all.

  For a while.

  Then Moebius decided that the way to go forward past their dashed-off origin situation-- sketches for Citroen-- was to imagine them as having existed in an 'artificial' society, artifice here having the negative connotation commonly held. Stel and Atan are quite young, and yet take for granted a ridiculous degree of medical intervention as necessary for health. They've both had multiple organ transplants, including many hearts and lungs. They both have implants that protect them from infection and other illnesses, but also regulate their hormone levels (producing their asexual appearances and hairlessness, and presumably dealing with graft-vs-host disease from their transplants, but that's neither here nor there). See where this is going?

  Well, one misadventure leaves them stranded on a beautiful world with the slightly eye-rolly name of 'Edena' or 'Aedena,' depending on which book you're reading. Planets called Eden are a hoary old space-opera trope. Anyway, Aedena is beautiful beyond belief, and our two friends get stuck there. They've never eaten fruit off trees or consumed water out of the hole in the ground, and find the idea more than a little disgusting. Moebius wanted to show them relearning to live in a natural world, reconnecting to ordinary human rhythms. They're utterly at sea. Is Atan's dizziness and delirium early on due to hunger? Dehydration? An infection that his implants fought off? They're afraid and uncomfortable. Over time they figure some things out. But again, you see where this is going. Stel puts on some muscle. Atan, though, is sure this world is making him sick, because he's lost a lot of weight and isn't as strong as he used to be. When they finally strip down at a river's edge for a bath, you can see that Atan has lost a lot of upper-body muscle, a bit of weight overall, and has developed breasts as well as blond hair.

  All that would be FINE. If Stel didn't try to rape his friend of years and years. Atan crowns him with a rock and runs away. Stel is sorry, but done is done. They spend a lot of the next adventures alone... but we're sticking much closer to Stel. 

  Stel is as lost as he ever was in the wilderness that is Aedena. The temperate forest part they landed in is as perfect as if it were a tended garden, which is, if I may say, just as 'artificial' as the world Stel and Atan grew up in. The landscape they travel through changes to jungle and finally to desert, and seems much more wild and unkept, though there are still many suggestions of keepers. Stel proceeds on his road to nowhere, becoming more ripped and masculine, having more weird dreams that are clearly not dreams, the big one involving finding Atan, who is now completely damseled, held captive by a metaphysical monster which fate worse than death blah blah blah blah horrible. Of COURSE when Atan meets Stel in the dream he's wearing a pretty blue dress and has his long shampoo-commercial tresses smoothly brushed. Of COURSE he wants to make love NOW. It makes me grit my teeth to call Atan 'she,' to hear both characters append an 'a' to her name to feminize it. Stel has changed every bit as much as Atan has, and YET he does not change HIS name. And the fact that Atan was a partner, fully engaged in whatever ridiculous things they were doing, and is now just another princess in a tower, this is enfuriating. Atan might well connect with femininity and decide to call herself 'she' and change her name. But it's never presented as a choice she made. It just happened. And Stel is the one to start using feminine pronouns and calling his erstwhile friend 'Atana.'

  Atana is beautiful. So beautiful. Of course.

 Then we catch up with Atan in real life, still far from wherever Stel happens to be, trekking, as he is, just moving for the sake of moving, and we see that Atan has gotten all ripped and Jungle Queeny. At that point I was willing to put the Anger Finger down and go "OK. That was just Stel. Of course his identity colors his dreams. Let's see where this goes." Well, where that goes is that both Stel and Atan are captured by citizens of an even more 'artificial' society than the one they came from: people who wear protective gear so all-encompassing that they consider an uncovered human face as grotesque. The whole human body is taboo to them, at all times, in all places. Nudity includes the face and hands, regardless of gender, and is Not Done. Being captured by these people is more or less the end of Atan's identity as an individual.

  This capture takes place in part three, "The Goddess," and, yep, you guessed it, Atan is the goddess in question, and Atan remains basically comatose for most of the rest of the book. Two-thirds of the book... and naturally Stel keeps trying to find and yawwwwwwwwn rescue her. And even though some parts of this book have burrowed deep into my consciousness (as long-time readers of my own work will see), I have never been able to read it much past the middle of "The Goddess." I gather that the bigger forces at work have nefarious plans. Don't much care. What I do care about is that Atan's agency is destroyed bit by bit until it seems as if... he doesn't even exist? He's just Stel's anima, a projection of his dreams? And Stel, having left Aedena, at the end will travel back there to be united with that anima, which he claims to love? Mmmph.

  Stel and Atan could have been so much better. I would have loved them so much more if they had just retained their solid partnership, no matter how their bodies changed or whatever they did. I might even have been able to excuse the attempted rape on Stel's part; neither of them ever had any sex ed, because it's implied neither had ever expected or been expected to use their junk for anything. If that awakening had been handled EVER so many other ways, they could have been great. But mostly what guts me is that in the end they're not just puttin' around the brightly-colored landscape in a battered Citroen, laughing and heading for the next bizarre work-for-hire or other misadventure, rolling their eyes at their provincial former friends, who now think they're grotesque and don't understand why they don't get surgery to go back to "normal."

  I miss them as friends. I don't think they gained anything deeper. Their friendship was better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

ECCC today!

  Headed off to Seattle for Emerald City Comic-Con today! (Yes, I'm missing the first day of the show; it couldn't be helped). This could be my only West Coast appearance, so please, come out and see me! I'll be in the Artist's Alley, but, since I was kinda last minute, I have no idea where. I will have loads of original art, I will have books, I will be sketching madly. I will be on a panel on Saturday to talk about Adam Warren's EMPOWERED comic!

  After the show I will be hanging around in Portland for a few days, drinking I mean visiting loads of my favorite cartoonists. I've been dreaming of this for over a year, I don't get out to the Happy Hunting Grounds nearly often enough. 

  Still formulating my convention schedule, so watch this space!

 

Patreon Posts

  I have a Patreon account! I tend to just scan whatever I'm working on, whenever contracts permit, and scan it a couple times a week. 

  I was yipyapping about Terry Pratchett's witches on Twitter with some friends, and ended up making an attempt at drawing Nanny Ogg as a child. They're posted here. 

  I also post eight-page sections of FINDER after they appear in DARK HORSE PRESENTS but before-- like, quite a long way before-- they will be collected into graphic novel format. Check it out! You can make a lot of things happen on Patreon!

The Valentine's Day Sale and ECCC Commission List!

  Time to lower some prices, make some offers, and start a new list for commissioned drawings! If you want to buy a drawing for a partner, friend, or lover, email me at lightspeedpress (at) gmail-dot-com, and I'll have an e-card you can give to them over the wine and cheese!

  Cover art is now on sale, and books will ship free once I figure out how to do that! Watch this space...

  EDITED TO ADD: Ok, can't figure out how to do free shipping. But there is a percentage discount code until the 21st! Enter WHYAORTA during checkout, and thank you in advance!

  EVENING UPDATE: Holy merde! All the covers are gone! 

Well, I still have some NO MERCY covers left: Death Beach, BLUR/Gap Year Kids, Sister Ines/Disney Princess, aaaaand Chad Boo Hiss. Shall I put those up tomorrow? I'll put 'em up.

 

Announcing the "Ramona Knows Best" Furniture Drive

I spend a whole day every twenty pages fixing what I call Womp Face. I assumed it was just a brain thing, that facial proportions just go wonky on me because I am busted in the head. I tend to distort faces as if they were silly putty, pulled up and to the left, too small on the right side. I flip pages over and overcorrect the other way, hoping they come out somewhere in the middle.

Fixing Womp Face is tedious, tedious work.

Ramona Fradon, if you don't know her name, is an amazing lady, a pioneering woman drawing comics during the Silver Age. She drew Aquaman, Brenda Starr, Plastic Man, Metamorpho... so much! She's been around the block a time or two, and when a cartoonist who can still draw like a house on fire at 89 tells you you draw cockeyed because you draw on your lap, well, maybe it's time you got a drafting table.

I have drawn not even one page in twenty years on a drafting table. I don't have any of the setup. SO... since it's not just the table but the right kind of lamp and a chair that won't kill my back and maybe a new lightbox, a whole rig: I have to say, if anybody is inclined to throw me a couple bucks to further this goal, I have new items in my shop. I will be attending SPX in a few days and NYCC in a few weeks, and I am open to accepting commissions at lightspeedpress (at) gmail (dot) com.

 

 

 

Secret Gardens

  Theodora Goss wrote something nice which made me think these things: 

  Diana Wynne Jones writes about the place where she grew up. Her parents ran an educational conference center, and there were three gardens on the grounds: one which was public, open to all, where the outside world was part of the goings-on. Everyday life took place there. She and her sisters played there. Then there was a formal garden: when you went there, it wasn't on the way to anything else. The flowers and trees and paths were all there for themselves, a bit more rare, a bit more graceful. Last there was a true Secret Garden, hidden behind walls, which was kept locked, and rarely visited by the children. In there were fruit trees, and mysterious statuary, and remarkably aggressive bees, all the carefully-tended vegetable plots. The remarkable Ms. Jones says that in all her books she strives to create those three gardens again. Every book has its outer grounds, where ordinary life happens. Might be pretty, might be plain, might need more tending, will always have odd bits of rubbish or lost toys or keys or similar discarded under bushes. Some books manage the second garden, where things are more carefully cultivated and strange things more likely to happen... but not all books have that third garden, the heart of any vivid experience, where anything could happen but where the pattern of the book, seemingly simple, is shown to be a tiny part of a vast fractal weather pattern, which the reader may never fully grasp no matter how many paths she wanders in it. No book can spend all its time in that third garden; the other two play their parts. But books don't feel like living things without at least showing you the garden gates, even if you can't get through them.

  I cannot understand why so few people have read Diana Wynne Jones's books. She should be a staple among fantasy readers and lovers of well-written books everywhere. There should be t-shirt, leggings, and duvet covers at WeLoveFine, and not just for HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. Her posthumously published collection of essays and lectures, REFLECTIONS: ON THE MAGIC OF WRITING is a treasure box. Diana Wynne Jones and Shirley Jackson were soul sisters, and we lost both of them way too young. They both should have been magically pickled to live at LEAST a couple hundred years. Which is a story germ if I ever heard one. 

 

Making People, Part 2

  Everybody knows about ball-joint dolls by now, right?

  Okay, back up: Most of us grew up with Dolls For Girls (that usually meant Barbie) and Action Figures For Boys (which, when I was a kid, meant G.I. Joe). Barbie, with her clicky bendy vinyl-covered knees. The kid I was bent 'em fifty ways until one joint popped through the vinyl, revealing the structure underneath. Science! Then that leg was amputated, and half a ball-point pen made a dandy peg leg, and that same pen made gaps in her teeth and five-o-clock shadow and some tats, and Babs was launched on her career as the Scourge of the Caribbean. Modifying dolls is a thing that comes naturally to every kid.

  Many doll traditions have as an article of faith that a doll is, or can be, a person. Go look up bunraku on youtube, it's one of the great classic styles of Japanese theater. Dolls don't have the same life as puppets, but there's still loads of character-building there... The good folks who make Asian ball-joint dolls, or BJDs, take dolls to a whole 'nother level. Like this, or this, or this. These dolls are terrifyingly expensive, exactingly sculpted, and cast in resin, which is light and very strong. BJD enthusiasts paint and repaint the faces and bodies, change out the wigs and eyes, and oh BOY, the clothes. Holy mama, the clothes. But the ball joints are what give these dolls a lot of their whammy. Remember Pirate Babs and her one remaining clicky knee? As movements go, she's not even on the same level as Lon Chaney's Frankenstein. Let's count her joints, or points of articulation: head turns side to side (1), shoulder swivel (2), hip swivel (2), bendy knee (1). That's six (but would be seven if it wasn't for Science). That's OLD Barbie, mind you; there's a world of Barbies out there now with way more articulation than that-- more on those later. But Barbie was made to strut down a catwalk. She looks good standing. Ball joint dolls do stuff like this and this and this. Points of articulation vary, but your typical BJD's neck joint is hemispherical, which means that one joint can swivel all kinds of ways. Your doll can look up or duck its chin, can tilt its head to give you the side-eye. Your doll's elbows and knees will most likely be hinged rather than ball joints, but that's not unlike the type of joint we actually have, so no big. The shoulders, wrists, hips, and ankles will be ball-jointed, which mean the legs and arms can swivel and turn with a great range of motion. There may be one or more torso joints, so your doll can tuck into a ball or flex into an arabesque. There are a minimum of fourteen points of articulation, and the types of joint used open up a world of my favorite thing, posture and gesture.

  This is a fan thing, so there are clubs and cliques and rules and ideals, for what all that's worth. The resin-doll folks tend to stay away from the vinyl dolls, like Tonner and Fashion Royalty  and Monster High. There are SO MANY fourteen-or-more jointed dolls out there, holy shmoley, and some of them are really awesome. People take off their factory paint and do all kinds of crazymazing things with them too. How about boil perms for natural hair? Or tattoos? Or just adding details to make a doll more what you imagined it would look like? 

  One inescapable difference between the average resin BJD and fashion doll is size. The resin dolls are bigger. Some of 'em are two feet tall! Fashion dolls take their lead from Barbie, who is a 1/6 scale doll-- this means two inches equal one foot. So, for example, a doll based on a woman who stands 5' 6" tall would be 11" high without bendy plastic platform shoes. Lots of resin dolls are twice that scale. This difference is not minor. The smaller dolls are fiddlier to paint. Their clothes are even harder to make, because the fabrics that drape and gather and stretch nicely on a person may not work on a resin doll and will look completely ridiculous on a vinyl doll half that size.

  This is all going somewhere, I swear. My itchy itchy hand always wants to get into making people. Har-de-har, you thought I forgot about action figures, didn't you? The folks who are way into modifying dolls are all into the skinny elfy anime characters, right? HA HA HA HA HA. More on THAT rabbit-hole later.

  I leave you with this fashion doll, Momoko; this resin doll, Aaron, and this nameless, seamless soft-vinyl-skin doll.  Lots of trade-offs to weigh.

 

 

 

Making People #1: Lisa Lichtenfels, figures in fabric

Lisa Lichtenfels makes people out of stiff wire armatures, cotton batting, and nylon stockings. I have seen these sculptures with my beady, bloodshot eyes, and they are distressingly realistic. They have great presence. 

I spend a lot of time fiddling with details to make characters seem real in various ways. Human beings are powerfully imitative; what we see or hear or sense, we want to represent, whether visually, verbally, or in some other descriptive fashion. We have a potent fascination with recreation of what we experience, whether it's drawing the human figure, creating texture with oil paint, or inadvertently dueling with selfie sticks in crowded tourist attractions.

 Making people is a particular fascination of mine. I have funneled all the energy of what I call my Obsess-O-Matic into doing this with pencil and pen, but in between drawing projects, or when I'm feeling burned out, I find the Obesso-Ray seeking other ways to do this. I have nearly zero sewing skills, so I'm not gonna try to get the same effects that Ms. Lichtenfels has achieved. Look at thiiiis: Empress Livia 

And thiiiiiisss: En Pointe

And THIIIIISSSSS: The Calligrapher 

Her narrative descriptions are a little cringey, but her work itself is stunning. She approaches the making of her figures as I do: as the making of people. She's brilliant.

 

To the Art List Folks

I will tinker with this as I go, but right now the plan is this: all subscribers to the Art List will get an email once a month with no more than five new pieces of art and all their details. Whatever has not sold from the last list will be taken down from the store, and the new art will go up. 

So: within a few days there will be a new list. Today, I am putting the wildly-colored "Piranhacoyote" cover from NO MERCY #2 up for sale on eBay. http://www.ebay.com/itm/-/161706290686?

 

New Art In Store

There are five-- oops, scratch that, four new pieces of art in the store, one just flew away. Make the rest of 'em fly out the Moon Door! Please let me know if you want personalizations when you buy, and thanks!

Hopelessly In Love

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBk3ynRbtsw

 

I have been fascinated by the process of capturing movement and gesture with simple lines all my life. As a kid in the pre-VHS Dark Ages I'd sit through four showings of a Disney movie at my town's dilapidated twin-plex in one go. Nobody ever came and rousted me out, don't know why.

It's hard to explain how NOT filled with beautiful drawings the world was then.

But I look at this gorgeous piece by Ryan Woodward and I realize, when I watch actual dancers-- whether filmed or live-- I am enjoying their art more imagining them animated. 

 

 

New Hotness/Old and Busted

How do you design a show banner that doesn't look dated in a year? Three thoughts:

One: Change your banner image every time you start a new major project. Even if the look and feel of a new book is not substantially different from previous work, even if the main character hasn't changed, you can reinterpret that look, take a few risks. Pick something really striking and poetic, an image that sums up the whole project.

Two: Change your banner image every time you completely redo your website. Repeating the images you use to draw people to your site helps get it into their heads like bright, sparkly brain-chiggers.

Three: Change your banner every time someone puts a foot through it during tear-down at a show. This is certainly the most economical option.

No, really; finding a balance between sticking to a really striking, iconic image, especially one that people are used to looking for to locate you at shows, and making your look fresh and new to reflect evolution of your style in art and story, it's tricky. Movie posters oscillate between abstract-stylish-icon, like the poster for VERTIGO or JAWS, and Big Faces Of Stars, which show people the pretty pretty mugs of the angular love-beasts they follow into the theaters. Posters and covers have their tropes and iconography. Learn 'em, use 'em, break 'em if they don't serve your needs, tastes, and philosophies. When I made my banner image, I used a character that is often but not always my protagonist. I made an essentially life-size image of him; people like to take pictures with him. He's in his natural habitat (dirt) and there are other elements you can't see unless you walk up to the table. I hope it suggests that there's more to see than first meets the eye.

BUT I've trotted it around for years, and I'll be thinking of a new one starting....

 

 

Guest Post: Tim O'Shea on NO MERCY

I distinctly remember the moment I was hooked to the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock incarnation. It was even before you were introduced to Sherlock, when his presence was felt from offscreen via a series of texts to journalists from Sherlock during a police press conference.

In the opening pages of No Mercy #1 I got that same vibe. De Campi and Carla Speed McNeil introduce the cast via dialogue and narration played out via various forms of social media.The mostly teen cast features people from all walks of life and social strata. Without spoiling elements of the first issue, I will say I am particularly drawn to one character who partially relates to people via emoticons.

The emoticons are not heavy handed or sappy. They work within context, and as the drama of the story ramps up, serves to pull at your sympathies for certain character dynamics.

The story has elements that will appeal to a Young Adult audience to a certain extent while also giving enough mystery and drama to pull on adult consumers.

Such a balance is not easy to achieve.


Tim O'Shea (https://twitter.com/talkingwithtim), who has covered comics and pop culture for various websites since 1999, currently contributes to Robot 6 (http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/author/timoshea/) and his own pop culture blog, Talking with Tim (http://talkingwithtim.com/wordpress/). 

My Intellectual Parents, #1

I learned today that neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer.

Dr. Sacks has written a number of popular science books, most famously The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat and Awakenings. His prose style is lyrical and poignant and incisive (though at times weirdly humorless). His books introduced me to the wild difference between reality and what the brain perceives. His books showed me that some of the bizarre experiences I've had since childhood are symptoms of classical migraine. His work underscored for me the fact that each person is a world unto themselves, a strange little dome that absorbs many things and ignores many more, creates from whole cloth and and reflects itself in memory, a little gem of perception and misperception, of insight and distortion, struggling to communicate a bare fraction of what it experiences, whether real or imagined. Each little world is doomed.

Sacks is one of the people whose work fascinated me, who pointed me to many other science writers, other doctors. I don't know if his written legacy is any comfort to him now. I hope it is. I wouldn't be the same writer I am now without him. 

 

 

 

 

Getting Started Again

When I started drawing the first issue of Finder in 1995, I had no idea how to begin. I had the same good case of white-page/blank-brain as I often get when blogging-- which I almost never get writing anything else. I say "start drawing" even though my issue was really a "start writing" situation, because I didn't know the difference at the time. I had a little pile of things I wanted to happen, but no way to get them started.

Whenever I'm stuck, I return to books. Usually I'm stuck because there's a piece missing, without which the other pieces don't make sense. I have a mighty mulch-pile of books and art and music in my head, but there's always room for more. Around about that time, FROM HELL was running in TABOO from Tundra Publishing. In it, Moore and Campbell's ghastly killer has his first victim recite "Salutations to Ganesha." This is because, as he says, the Hindu god Ganesha is to be acknowledged at the outset of any endeavor, as he is called "The Lord of Obstacles." He puts 'em down, he picks 'em up. 

So I started Finder with Ganesh, and it worked. Ganesh is, if nothing else, a god with a sense of humor. So, here, I am no more able to come up with anything to write than I can flap my arms and fly to the moon, I return to him. It's Mardi Gras in four days, and I can't imagine that he wouldn't love a holiday like that.

This version of Ganesh looks like a squeak toy... but that's OK for Mardi Gras, I think.  

This version of Ganesh looks like a squeak toy... but that's OK for Mardi Gras, I think.