Wednesday, May 18, 2022

More Praise for Used Books

Tony has been reading a lot of Terry Pratchett, and so when he suggested that I would particularly enjoy Small Gods of course I picked up a copy. Because Tony knows. 

I looked at Blue Plate Books first, but their Pratchett selection was startlingly lean. So I moved on to and only a few days later a little green package showed up in my PO box. It gave me that special PO Box thrill. I'm always thrilled when things show up in my PO box, even if they are things that I specifically ordered in a state of absolute sobriety.  

See, the thing I love about buying used books is that sometimes you get *extra stories*. Not always, but sometimes. Every so often a pre-owned book offers you such a tantalizing snippet from another person's life that you're taken off guard. It’s the wonder of a sudden intimate look into lives that will never, ever intersect with yours. The world gets a little bigger and a little smaller at the same time.

Here’s the inscription I found on the title page of my copy of Small Gods:

I will always wonder about Jason. And about Jason. And about sweet Tasha (that intelligent, zany nut). Did Jason-2 and Tasha stay together? Was Jason-Prime a previous boyfriend? Is that what it means to be elite? To have dated Tasha? Where are they now?

I'll almost certainly never know. But I like to imagine that all four of us (Jason, Jason, Tasha, and me) all share a love for Terry Pratchett. Just like Tony. 

<slaps knee repetitively>

Best of luck and lots of love,


Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Walker

 It’s the most frequent scribble in my notebooks, that little analogue that is Ben-but-not-Ben. Always walking, always thinking. Often head down. Frequently with a satchel or bag. A wanderer. A traveler. 

Of course it’s nothing new to say that the legs the the brain are connected, that walking and thinking go hand-in-hand. But for me scribbling completes the trifecta, the Creative Trinity. 

Move the legs, move the brain, move the pen. 

And repeat. 

The legs wander, the brain is messy, the lines are crooked. But if you ask me that’s where the real beauty lies.

So keep wandering.

Keep thinking.

And, if it’s your thing, keep scribbling.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

A Thoughtful Leo


“Tell me if anything was ever done... Tell me... Tell me."*

                        *a repeated phrase in his notebooks.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The Story of the Fox (1937)

 Today I sat down to close some browser tabs. You know the ones—you find something that makes you think “oh, oh, that’s interesting. I will share that somewhere” But instead of sharing the link or bookmarking the site you just keep the tab open. Any day now you’ll get back to it. But you don’t. You keep the tab open for months. And when you finally think things are getting just too ridiculous you sit down meaning to close tabs and then, somehow, you have even more tabs open. 

Well, this time around the first tab, the one that’s been open for ages, was something I’ve been meaning to share here. Last October I posted a Youtube link to a 1920 film called Der Golem. Sometime after that I happened upon this fantastic 1937 stop motion film recounting the original Reynard stories. It’s wonderful:

I hope you enjoy it as much as I will enjoy having one less tab open on my computer. 

And while we’re on the subject of Reynard, here is a look at a close-to-final version of the title page for Reynard’s tale:

This illustration originated as an attempt at a cover, but the final cover will be a little different. I liked this picture, though, so we moved it to the title page. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Sweet Drolatic Dreams

A very peculiar book has recently caught hold of my magpie mind. I discovered it thought the Public Domain Review's Instagram account. It’s a book from Renaissance France, right around the time Montaigne was kinda-sorta inventing blogging (well, okay, inventing the rambling personal essay). The book is called The Drolatic Dreams of Pantagruel and it’s so wonderfully weird and I love it.

Published in 1565, Drolatic Dreams is just a big parade of goofy-ass monsters that look like they crawled out of Hieronymus Bosch’s ears after a hard night’s drinking with H. P. Lovecraft and Alexander Dumas (there's a swashbuckling, cavalier look to many of them). There’s no text beyond the introduction, just creatures galore. 

It all just goes to show that weird books and zine culture were right there with everything else in the wild early days of publishing. 

You can read more about the book here, and you can flip through the whole thing here.* 

I’ve already copied out a couple of the creatures in my notebooks (sort of a #drawthisinyourstyle). Here's one:

One of the best things about finding this book is that it felt like a missing piece for one of the weird side projects I’ve been slowly (slooowly) fiddling with over the last year. Everything suddenly snapped into focus and the story felt more alive. That’s a good feeling.

But more on that later…

*For some reason I think leafing through the Drolatic Dreams pairs well with this playlist based on the travels of Ibn Battuta.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Finger Box

 The girls found this little box in amongst some of my old things up in the attic. I remember making it, but I don’t remember how old I was when I did. The writing on the lid suggests …eight? I was always a little behind the curve, though, so it could well have been later. 

I’m so glad it still exists. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

One Kind of Adventure

 I've been reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's Constantinople journey books, A Time of Gifts and (currently) Between the Woods and the Water. The prose is drippingly rich and evocative—best savored in small bites over morning coffee (before the house wakes). The books synthesize the heedless adventure of youth and the zest of maturity. And, in a few miraculous instances, they really give you a glimpse of the vanished world of prewar Europe. 

So now I'm stepping further in.

update: ha ha, they're everywhere: 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Of Models and Muses

I am solidly into the thick of the Winter Doldrums here. The warm sun of summer seems like a figment from a half-remembered dream and the Little Studio with it’s TARDIS blue door catches the freezing western wind and isn’t quite insulated enough to keep reliably warm. So I either set up inside the busy house or I sit at my quiet desk with both a space heater and a fire in my tiny wood stove, embracing both the chill and the melancholy.

Here in this low ebb of the year I’m trying to draw up an illustration for the cover of Reynard’s Tale. This book is important to me and I am so intent on getting all the little details of design to turn out right (let us now obsess over paper texture! and colored drop caps!) The cover, in particular, has been giving me fits.

But it has turned a corner. I think.

One thing I did to jog myself out of stagnation was reach out to Erin, who did some modeling for me back in the halcyon days when I was able (with the help of Rose) to put together semi-regular life drawing evenings. 

It seems counter-intuitive to have a wood elf pose for a mermaid, but it worked. And the cover illustration has started to come together. 

Drawing from life. It never fails. 

Sad Clown Returns

 I was talking with Landis the other day about our shared dream of populating the world with weird little books, and about how difficult it can be in mainstream publishing to find ways to stretch creatively, and push into new and exciting spaces. It’s almost an axiom in creative work that any measure of success also builds up an expectation for more of the same. In these circumstances it's up to the artist to step lively—to "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee."

Inevitably the topic of social media came up, along with questions like “does social media engagement really have an effect on book sales?” And from there came the mention of the quieter corners of the internet—those all-but-forgotten spaces where, perhaps, a different kind of opportunity lies.

“I’ve been blogging again,” I told my friend. “Just quietly. I don’t think many people are reading, and that makes it strangely freeing. Like I have a space for quiet musings.”

“And yet…” I continued, “there’s still the fear of revealing too much.” 

I recently posted an entry titled “Face of a Sad Clown” which was a little bit about what I’m doing with Patreon, and about smiling for the camera—not just about smiling but about putting on the smile.

I took the entry down shortly after I posted it because I thought “no that’s too much.” But I forgot something. Well, I forgot two things:

First, I forgot that often, when you're doing creative work, being uncomfortable can be a sign you're on the right track.  

Second, I forgot that my blog is still linked up to my Goodreads account (I do hardly anything on Goodreads these days). And from there I heard from a few people who connected with the post and appreciated it. 

I shouldn’t have taken it down. So here’s the original entry: 

Face of a Sad Clown

The Patreon is well and truly up and running. And that is good

 But it makes me uncomfortable, these days, all the perky smiles for the camera when I am still so aware of how complicated everything is on the inside. But it’s still a part of me, the sparkle and the bounce—the stage light and greasepaint, if you will. And I don’t mind it so much. 

My wise friend recently wrote a bit about different online platforms serving different facets of personality, or acting as stages for different kinds of engagement. 

 Is this disingenuous? Acting differently on different platforms? I think it the opposite. I think all my favorite people are gems. 

And gems are multifaceted

That's why they sparkle.