Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Process and Stuff

So lately--as in the past like 2 years--I've been working on this graphic novel project. Instead of sitting down and just practicing drawing until I was "good" enough ("good" being highly subjective and unattainable), I decided I'd just go ahead and work on the damn thing and get better through the actual process of doing. 

For this project from hell, Mr. Walter, I had decided to try a few new steps in the process--taking a more traditional route. Unfortunately, each step has major issues for me, but I'm learning.

First, I skip the script because you know what? I already wrote most of this story as a novel like 10 years ago and it was terrible and I don't even want to think about it, so I'm just gonna jump straight to thumbnails and stick figures.

I drew/wrote over 400 pages of the story like this:

Once I finished the main narrative arc for this first part of the story (400 pages and the damn thing ain't even done) I went over the whole thing with a ballpoint pen so I could scan the mess and send it to my friend and my little sister to see what they thought.

Long story short, they enjoyed it. (My friend actually preferred the stick figure comic over anything else and wanted me to publish that and I may have to kill her.) 

Once I got the okay, I took out the old trusty 5.5in x 8.5in Canson sketchbook (a horrendous mistake because the pages are hellaciously tiny and it's really hard to draw a comic that small) and sketched the pages in blue pencil.

They look like this:

What's nice about using blue pencil is that you don't have to erase. I've ruined too many perfectly good ink jobs by erasing. (Sometimes I wouldn't let the ink dry and it would smudge everywhere; sometimes I would end up accidentally removing the ink entirely.) 

What I hate about blue pencils (even fancy blue mechanical pencil lead) is that they're waxy as hell. It's a pain to erase, hard to see, and smudges annoyingly. At least with regular pencil lead, I felt I had more control. 

After the blue is down, I go over the whole smudgy, ugly mess with ink. I used to use Micron pens but I tend to break their nibs so I dabbled in Faber-Castell's PITT pens and Prismacolor and ultimately settled on Copic because I like being able to refill ink and replace nibs myself.

So this is a page with ink:

Once the inking is done, I scan the business on my cranky, cheap ass scanner at 600dpi in black and white because I'm lazy and I don't like cleaning up the pages more than I have to.

Now this is where I found myself stuck for a long time. My original ink drawing is quite... well, plain? I'm scared of black, so the pages feel off, like they need color or some kind of balance in the line work. Since I don't use brushes, the line weight generally looks and feels the same all over.

I tried to add color digitally to a few pages to see what that would do:

But I didn't quite like it. I didn't hate it, but it still felt off.

So I tried adding texture, tried coloring in watercolors and colored pencils, but I really have a terrible sense of color theory and aesthetic and it just looked like shit no matter what I did.

In the end, I decided--at the urging of my brother--to go monochromatic and I got some gray Copic markers and decided to try out a tactic I'd seen some illustrators use.

Basically, I took the original inked page, taped it to my mini-lightbox, covered that with Bristol board, and used the gray Copic markers to shade and highlight. After I added the tints, I scanned the Bristol and used my trusty to add the grays to the original drawing as a background layer.

The grays look like this when I scan them:

And then it looks like this when I put them together:

It's... okay? I kinda like it. Better than the colors anyway, but that's just me. I'm still trying out new techniques here and there, but considering the scope and length of this crazy project (and the million more coming after it) I figure this is a good way to go.

Lastly, once these images are all scanned in and overlapped and whatnot, I go in and change the damn font of the stupid text because my handwriting is shit.

And there you go. A process. Not a good one, not the best one, but it works...? 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Well Hello Again

I've completely neglected this blog. Ever since I moved over to tumblr with goofier comics and subsequently fell into a social media blues pit, I just haven't felt the need to write anything worth reading that wasn't some project or another. Even posting random stuff on Facebook bums me out.

"Social" has never been an adjective used to describe me. "Chatty," maybe, or "overly talkative" when I'm rambling about something exciting, like comics or whatever, but if there's anyone who intensely avoids social gatherings outside of class, work, or extremely close friends/family--to the point where you have to physically drag or bribe me to attend--it's me.

For a long time, I felt comfortable rambling on about nothing on the internet because I was a nobody. Who the hell reads my blogs or sees my comics except family and friends and the occasional random guy from Russia? Shit's harmless. I never really thought of having an audience other than myself.

Quite simply, I saw social media as a place where I could talk to myself and sometimes other people could see it. It's like leaving your journal or sketchbook out in a public place while you get up and do something. Sure, someone can read it, but more than likely: no one cares. You're nobody special. You might attract an eye or two, but no one's gonna snag your journal and wave it around, gather a crowd, and start a live reading. No one's gonna make a thousand photocopies of your sketch and send it to all their friends because, seriously, it's just a silly doodle.

Except, sometimes that scenario does happen. You post a thing on the internet at the right time and, hey, what d'ya know, your little baby is trending. Might even go semi-viral.

It's nothing to complain about, of course. And I'm certainly not complaining. It's nice having a lot of people see and like something I did. It's affirming. Bumps up the self esteem. Now I find it hard to say the old:"You're just saying it's good because you're my friends/family/cat/etc." I still say it, of course, but now it's expanded to: "Everyone's being too nice. This is trash." or "You like the joke/story, not the art." (As you can tell, I'm dreadful with compliments.)

Getting all those views and likes can make a person anxious, too, though. "Should I take advantage of this?" "What do I do now?" "Do I make more of the same thing?" "What if no one likes the next thing I do?" "Should I even care?"

Of course, my stuff has never reached Grumpy Cat or Pewdiepie level of viral-ness, just a few comics here and there that got a lot of likes and reblogs on tumblr. But what I'm talking about is at an even smaller scale. Just having a few kids stop me mid-drawing to ask me to make photocopies of my work so they can take it home is enough to send me into self-conscious fits. "Why would you want this? It's terrible!"

Just like going out with coworkers or classmates to some party or reception, my instinct when facing the attentions of a crowd (even a tiny crowd of only three or four strangers or invisible people on the internet) is to clam up, kidnap the nearest cat, and fit myself into a cupboard. My self-consciousness always dominates any sense of near-non-existent pride I have in my work and, if left unchecked, it does that stupid fusion-ha dance with my inner critic and I shutter away completely. Everything I create is shit. It's terrible. Not good enough. Instead of posting drawings or submitting written work all willy-nilly--as I did when I thought no one was looking--I'm back to working on my endless projects secretly, too afraid to show even acquaintances what I'm doing.

Social media can be daunting when you're not invisible. I love talking to myself, love making art and stories for myself, but when other people get involved it's like someone's watching you draw over your shoulder and, trust me, I've got some hyper-critical friends, there's nothing more harrowing (and irritating) than trying to casually draw and impress someone at the same time. (Initial sketches are always ugly. Always. Only magicians draw perfect the first time.)

Honestly, what's important is that I don't stop working. As long as I'm writing or drawing or coming up with ideas, then it's okay. When I find myself stuck on one project, I make myself quickly jump to another until an idea comes to me. It slows progress down, but it helps my mood. It's good to remind myself that I'm the primary audience, at least in the beginning. I can always make changes later. My only fear is that I'll get so overwhelmed with trying to make each project perfect that I'll never submit them, never attempt to get them published, and I'll have this massive collection of "unfinished" work that nobody will see because I think it's never good enough and I'm too nervous to hear what other people think.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Broken Crutch

When I was in first grade, my parents divorced. It wasn't pretty. By the time they broke up, their fights had grown momentous, vicious, and insane. There was cocaine and booze involved. My mom stabbed my dad in the chest with a steak knife. He gave her a black eye. She broke her fist on the wall trying to punch him holding a roll of quarters. It was bloody and loud and my brother, sister, and I were only 6, 3, and 7 years-old, respectively. I was upset that they divorced, but not because I wanted them to be together. I knew they would only continue to fight. They were like demented magnets that flew at each other with such force that it was inevitable that they would destroy each other.

What made me upset was that my father simply left.

I love my dad. I still do. He's weird and completely bonkers and if I were a normal young woman, I'd be mortified to be seen with him in public because he looks like a southern redneck Jesus hobo from hell (I'm not even kidding). But of all my parents and stepparents, I have felt the most connected to and loved by my dad. When I was sick as a kid, he skipped work and monitored my temperature and put cold rags on my face. He took my seizures and migraines seriously and not just when I was having them. He was honest with me about shit he did as a kid, like stealing cars and running them off ravines, doing drugs, robbing a pharmacy, taking care of mentally handicapped adults in a home he worked at, and shooting surplus cats at a neighbor's farm and helping his best friend skin them. (By the way, my Uncle Dale is a freak--and he still has the cat furs! His pet cats just walk all over them! Sleep on them!) My father was more of a mother to me than my mother ever was--hilariously, he was the one to give me the "you're a woman now and this is what is happening to your body" speech when I had my first period--and he will always be my only father.

But when I was in first grade, just before my parents officially divorced, my dad fell off a ladder at work in Dallas painting a house and, crouched over his throbbing knee, he realized that he was done. He had just enough money in his pocket to take his white Toyota back to his mom's house in Oklahoma. No more dealing with his crazy, knife-wielding, red-headed wife and her incestuous coke-addled siblings (again, I'm totally not kidding). He could just go.

So he did.

As much as I'd like to give him some credit and say, "Well, he didn't run away for long. He tried to come back for us. Mom just wouldn't let him," which is partly true... the fact is Dad never showed up at the court hearing for the divorce. Didn't even try to defend himself or try to fight for us kids. Nothing. He came to get us once, got turned away by Mom and her custody papers, and simply stopped trying.

What got us back to him, three years later, was his own mother. My grandma drove down to Dallas herself, knowning my mother wouldn't be able to say no (there's a whole back story with my mom and my dad's mom that involves a graveyard and homelessness but that's a different story) and my grandmother saw how terrible it was for us living in Texas with my mom and her new, super-drunk, racist as hell, confederate-flag waving nutso abusive boyfriend and his own three daughters. We were living in filth, surrounded by violence, by drugs and alcohol, by cockroaches and forever-overbreeding, forever-dying cats, and we were starving to death. So it was my grandmother who ended up taking us back to our father. Not my dad.

Those years in Texas without my dad were a short part of my life, only three years, but for me those scars run the deepest. My brother and I still use "Texas" as a marker to judge events by. Nothing was ever as bad as "Texas."

The thing is, I was more than willing to forgive my father for not coming back for us, for leaving us in the first place. I always thought he was remorseful. He'd tell me over and over again, throughout the years, about how he tried to come back, how he had to leave because of my mother, and how everyone was against him. I wanted to side with him because I knew what my mother was like, I would have left her psycho ass too.

But then, just a few years ago, when my stepsister Meagan got knocked up and nearly thrown in jail for forged prescription forms along with her stupid gangster boyfriend, my dad called me and, with full seriousness, said, "I wish I could leave right now like I did in Texas."

When this call took place, my father was unemployed and living with my also unemployed stepmother and my six younger siblings, three of which have autism ranging from high functioning to severe non-verbal communication. My father was the only means of "support" since my stepmother could hardly function, she was so deadened by painkillers and anti-depressants. Everything depended on my dad.

Had the roles been switched and it was my mother on the phone saying this to me, that she wanted to take off and leave this life and her kids behind, I would have exploded with the flames of a million dying suns. She would still feel the burn of my hate and fury like the radioactive shadows of a nuclear bomb.

But this was my dad. He was supposed to be my only parental crutch. A woobly, wacko crutch, but a crutch nonetheless.

So instead of laying into him, I ground my teeth and laughed weakly and just let him continue complaining, knowing that if he did leave this time, then that was it. He would be gone from me. I would never be able to reconcile with him.

After I hung up the phone, I was afraid that it was already too late.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seeing My Mother in Strangers

It happens more often than I'd like. I'll be on a bus or a train or even watching a movie and suddenly my mother appears. My immediate reaction, always, is fury. Teeth-gnashing, fist-clenching rage. In a matter of seconds everything comes back to me and I have leave the room, the bus, the theater, because I'm afraid of what I might do.

It happened today on my way home from work. I got off the bus with an older lady carrying a dog in a dog-carrier/duffel-bag. The dog was tiny, quiet, and crammed in the doggie bag with a few paperback novels and magazines. The lady was very obviously drunk, though she didn't smell like alcohol, and she alternated between talking incoherently and nonchalantly at the dog and at her cell phone. Everything from this woman's upper lip, her posture, her sloshed-enunciation, to the way she pretended to give half a shit about the obviously uncomfortable but uncomplaining little dog... it just... it was all my mother. The more I stared at this woman, the more I saw my mother's insolent smirk, her lowered eyelids, her fuck-all attitude. It didn't matter that this woman was black and my mother was a red-headed white woman. To me, they were identical.

Another time it happened, I was on the train and two stinking-drunk ladies came on, one of them dragging behind her a tear-streak and terrified little girl who looked no more than seven years old. It was seven in the morning and these ladies were beyond plastered. One of them held a see-through 7-11 Big Gulp blatantly filled with beer and she had a death-grip on the wide-eyed little girl. The way this girl stared at the woman, who I assumed was her mother, was with pure horror. Anyone looking at them would have thought that the girl had been kidnapped and was just too scared to say anything about it. But, again, all I saw was my mother.

I moved far away from my family on purpose. When I told my grandmother, before I went to Japan for a year, that even a thousand miles away from my parents is not far enough--I was not joking. To this day, I am determined to never live close enough to either of my parents that they can casually "drop by" for a visit. I can't "bump into" my mother or stepmother at the grocery store. I won't be asked, as I am too-often asked each time I visit, for money I don't have to pay their bills. But, most of all, I won't have to see my mother. I don't have to see who she is now, dying, slowly withering away with her failing liver and lungs, and not who she once was; the strong, frightening drunk who broke her own mother's jaw in a fist fight.

That was the plan, anyway. I didn't expect to find her in strangers. Didn't think she'd just show up on street corners in broad daylight.

But at least these strangers, unlike her, can't hurt me. They are ghosts of her.

For now, still, I am free.

It seems like cowardice in a way, moving out here. My mom can barely move across her apartment in Arizona, scooting her oxygen tank, may as well slug me in the face. My stepmother weighs less than I do; there's no chance of her dragging me across the floor by my hair like she once did. My parents can't punish me like they used to.

But wasn't fear that motivated me. I moved as far away as I could because I knew that, if I stayed, I would still have to talk to them and, just to get by, to be able to even function, I would have to pretend that nothing bad ever happened.

It's fine for me to come out here to Chicago, hundreds of miles away, and forget. To live my own life and do what I want and not be weighed down by memories. But to allow my parents the luxury of believing that I forgive them, that it's all okay now and we just laugh about it... No.

I know, it's a kind of revenge that's petty, stupid and selfish, but I get sick to my stomach every time I hear my parents tell us or our friends or family about how good they were at raising us. "Just look at how great Aimee and Bryan turned out! Obviously, we did something right!"

No. You didn't. And I'm still fucked up because of you.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How to Draw like ME

First off, you have to stop drawing for, like, ten years. Don't do anything more than doodle occasionally on your note margins. Draw only eyeballs or noses if you can help it.

Shit like this:

Important: Make no drastic improvements!

Focus on something else instead, like being a writer. You'll TOTALLY make more money that way.

Now that it's been ten years, let's decide to be a comic book artist! Great idea!

But you'll need these skills:

Make sure you have Egyptian mural-like understanding of perspective. Depth? What depth? Also, screw shadows. That shit takes forever.


There, now we're talking. One day you'll be as awesome as ME

Also, draw cats because bitches love cats:

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Unnervingly Absurd

Guillermo del Toro once said, "Much like fairy tales, there are two facets of horror. One is pro-institution, which is the most reprehensible type of fairy tale: Don't wander into the woods, and always obey your parents. The other type of fairy tale is completely anarchic and antiestablishment."

Like many of my peers, I went through the "goth" phase in middle and high school. I didn't dress the part, but oh boy did I get into the culture. I made up a little shrine in our bedroom I shared with my brother and sister, decorated it with black candles, fake skulls, old crucifixes, found bones, and rabbit fur. I collected daggers and crystals and tarot cards. I read a stupid amount of literature about demons (it's some great stuff, really!), satanism, witchcraft, and vampires, werewolves, and whatever else I could think of. As a raised-atheist, I was more fascinated with the aesthetic of the "goth" than I was serious about joining any community, or paganism, or dressing up.

I did, however, grow obsessed with horror films and literature. The grittier, bloodier, scarier the better. In many ways, it was my gateway drug for my love of the absurd. There's something deliciously and wondrously scary and fascinating about horror that makes no sense. My favorites always leaned towards the bizarre, the flamboyant, the subversive, and the no-excuses stupid--Clive Barker, Guillermo del Toro, and old-time Peter Jackson were gods among men. I devoured Coscarelli's Phantasm movies with fangirl voraciousness (ignoring the existence of the second film completely), screamed with glee through Jackson's Brain Dead and Bad Taste, Gordon's The Re-Animator and Steve Miner's The House, and I still think that the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a work of art.

What made these films for me was not just how outrageous they were, but how confusing they were. Nothing was explained, or if it was, it wasn't remotely satisfactory and only left more questions. In the Japanese film Versus, the random zombies are just that... random. Why are there zombies? What do they have to do with anything? Why the hell is any of this happening? I loved it. Some films fall far off the edge into the absurd enough that they are simply hilarious, but many keep their footing on the line between unnervingly frightening and hysterically bizarre.

David Lynch is a master of this. Sure, Twin Peaks was insanely mild compared to Eraserhead or Blue Velvet, but they all teetered well on that line of the unnervingly absurd. I had never been literally shaken by a movie until I saw Eraserhead. I had seen at least a thousand horror films up to that point. Even the man himself gives me the willies with his strange hair, high-pitched child-like voice, and fondness for meditation and coffee.

For me, the second you name a monster or give it a substantial reason... the horror is dead. Along with it: my interest. I am not scared of ghosts or vampires or werewolves or mummies or zombies. They are no more scary than tigers or lions or bears. Chances are, I won't be running into one in downtown Chicago. To me, The Walking Dead is just an amalgam of everything I've already seen before and more. Movies where the ghost is haunting a house because she died some dreadful death and wants everyone else to pay is YAWN-worthy. Oh who cares? Get over it, ghost. Slender man? Puh. We've seen it all a million times before. There's already hundreds of webpages dedicated to all the horror cliches and, boy, there are a lot of directors who seem to think these lists are just a wealth of knowledge to copy/paste from. I don't even like the films where there IS some big new reveal, like: hey, that creepy young girl is actually a 40 year old woman! Oh shit!

Woo. She's now no longer remotely frightening. She's just an evil little shit. I have sisters scarier than her.

I don't want a big reveal. I don't want an explanation at all. This was the beauty of Let the Right One In, the original. Was there any exposition on vampires? No. It moved forward on the basis that you already knew the rules and regulation of vampires, and it just told its own story. What made it creepy? All the things that were left unexplained. It was nice finding out a lot more about the vampire and the old pedophile in the book, but I prefer how the film treated it... leaving it open.

To move further into the absurd, this is also why Deadly Premonitions is the first video game I think of when people ask "can video games be art?" Oh, man, is this game terrible. The mechanics are horrendous. I can't get through a single "zombie" fight without pathetically crying for my brother to play it for me because I can't aim and shoot the stupid handgun gun for shit. (It's simply embarrassing!) Lolipops cost a whole 35 bucks in the vending machines and you spend half the game making sure your clothes are washed and driving through town for no reason... but honestly? It's perfect. All of it. It's perfect in how terrible it is. It's perfect in how weird it is. You play the main character's imaginary/alternate personality and you read the future in coffee cream. You find jars of pickles and turkey-cereal sandwiches on corpses and the "zombies" only want you to kill them and to shove their hands down your throat. It's an absurdist's dream come true. I only wish that it never ended. Just an unending loop of weird.

My brother likes to argue that Minecraft, in all it's Lego-like glory, is actually a survival horror game and the scariest game he's ever played. Sure, I think it's jumpy as all hell. It's not often in a game where I nearly throw my keyboard across the room because an exploding monster landed next to me in a mineshaft. But would I call it a horror game? No. My brother argues that the developers need to add more story, more plot, more reason to Minecraft. Why are we in the randomly generated world? What is our purpose other than to survive? What is the genre of this game? Is it medieval or present day? Is there an end goal? Is there something we should uncover? We've even gotten into stupidly-heated arguments about this, because I argue, quite adamantly, that NO, there should NOT be a storyline to this game. That is the true beauty of Minecraft. That is the art of this game. There is no reason for whatever you do. You can build anything. A castle, a skyscraper, a 1 to 1 ratio replica of the starship Enterprise, a red-stone powered computer, LCD screen, a 3D printer... anything. You can build nothing and simply enjoy the randomness of the generated world and all the creatures in it. And like an MMO, Minecraft is ever-evolving. Growing. I played Minecraft from early Beta to today. I love that the additions make little sense. Hey, we're adding horses and hoppers and solar panels! You want to build past the cloud barrier and into space? We've added that too. We went from having only plains and stone to mountains, tundra, jungles, deserts, mushroom islands, and swamp. There are so many more mobs and creatures. The game has even developed its only physics and logic that only apply to Minecraft. Ocelots turn into pet cats when carefully given fish. Everything but sand and gravel can float in the air. It's only getting more complex... and more absurd. It's beautiful.

(Note: Some would argue that there's an "Ender Dragon" that is the "end" of the game, but all it does is make you face a completely optional dragon that you can kill which will then prompt a poem in Swedish which makes little sense and you go back to doing whatever it was you were doing before. It's no more of an "end" than a crazy side quest in any other game.)

Many have argued that there is no such thing as originality, and sure, there is some merit to that. Others argue that everything is original because nothing is ever the same (in that sense, there is no originality, only the unique). If you haven't already gathered: I don't like cliches. I don't like seeing the same thing the same way twice. I don't even like eating the same thing the same way twice. Now, I'm more forgiving in some film and literary genres, but overall, my favorite things are the strange. The weird.

It is entirely possible to form a shape from very familiar things and create something that makes no sense at all. And that thing... it's beautiful. That is what I want to see more of. These beautiful, hilarious, and unnervingly absurd monsters.

And I don't want any explanation.