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.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Soft Launch

 I’ve been stealing little moments.

I’m currently deep into the back half of roughing out pages for a new graphic novel. And of course there’s a brand new tiny person living in my house which brings all kinds of excitement. 

But still I’m stealing moments. 

For six years or more I’ve talked about starting a Patreon devoted to my weird little projects—a mostly-video account showcasing my creative endeavors that aren’t strictly tied to my work as an author. It’s a studio dream and a maker’s dream.

And I’m finally doing it. 

The page is all set up. The introduction video is posted

I’ve even made a little animated studio logo:

I haven’t made any noise about it on social media yet, which makes the whole thing still feel semi-secret (I persist in living in the fantasy that, like, five people read this blog). 

But pretty soon I’ll have the first two videos ready to post and then …

… then what?

Then I guess we’ll be off and running. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021



On Friday, November 19th, in the wee hours of the morning and at the end of a lunar eclipse, our own Petra Luna sauntered—not to say leapt— out from behind the curtain and onto the Great Stage to the sound of applause and into a host of loving arms. 

She’s beautiful and perfect and I love her.* 

And it’s scary, though. This time, at this late hour, after tragedy and heartbreak and with much of my youthful brashness worn away, it’s more frightening than it’s ever been before. The weight of love.

One of the things that Ida’s death left me with was an ever-present awareness of how quickly everything can change. 

Here’s another many-months-old scrap from my journal:

*even though, like all babies, she is notoriously difficult to draw.

Friday, November 12, 2021

The Books You Leave Behind

 We all remember the books that moved us, that changed our lives in big ways or small ones, the books that introduced us to the new ideas which made our world just a little bit bigger. 

Those books are great. But I've also started to appreciate the little in-between books. The ones you pick up for three dollars and surprised you by cajoling you to the end. The books you bought and finished because you were in a certain mood

And the best part is you don't keep those books. 

But you don't throw them away either. 

You hand them on to a friend. Casually. 

I really enjoyed The Last Sherlock Holmes Story. I'm handing it off to my friend Andy who for quite some time to come will be spending long hours sitting in a hospital while his son (my godson) goes through round after round of chemotherapy. 

Thank god for the in-between books and thank god for sharing stories.


Tuesday, November 9, 2021


 Back in early October I recorded a conversation with Orthodox Iconographer and Youtuber Johnathan Pageau. The conversation was interesting, though it started with a lot of what I think of as "the usual breezy stuff" (influences, story structure, the particular power of visual storytelling). But toward the back half the conversation began to shift into areas which are in a particular place of personal tension in my own life. So it got a little challenging, though the sparring was, I think, amiable.

And perhaps I even found myself set up for a second round. Who can say.

I'm a little disappointed that some of the parts about He-Man and Superman, and the values they represent,  and about fan fiction and cosplay, seem to have been edited out, but otherwise I think it's all intact.

Monday, November 8, 2021

The Sculptor

There’s a sculptor who has been showing up in my notebooks. 

I don’t know what his deal is. He’s got a sort of Pygmalion thing going on with his Muse, who he might have carved into being. And she always seems to be having exactly none of his nonsense. 

 These two are part of a larger cadre that includes poet, patron, and painter. They all seem most at home when they are scribbled on restaurant tablecloths.

I don't yet know quite what to make of them.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Halloween Lines

 Cutting out a gold crown on my most favorite day of the year. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Downpour Lines

 Remember to leave the keys in the very bottom of your bag so that when you dash to the car you have to stand there in the rain digging around and swearing while the shiny gold poster board you bought to make a ghost crown gets all soggy. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

A Video that Helped

 The months immediately following Ida’s death are a bit of a blur. It’s hard for me to remember what happened when. But there were two very important things that happened with work. First, my publisher seemed to sort of fast-track an agreement for a third Julia’s House story (the one that would become Julia’s House Goes Home). Second, my friends Zack and Jerzy swooped in and, with some help from Colin and Rose and a few other friends, wrapped me up in the project of making a short music video, with puppets, to the tune of a nearly forgotten Halloween song called “The Mummy’s Ball.”

There came a moment when I needed to work, and I needed to just lose myself in creating something, to keep from falling beneath the waves. And my friends seemed to know that. They seemed to know it was time to just make a little magic with cardboard and markers and cheap craft supplies. 

The Mummy’s Ball was made so quickly, and with the help of such dear friends, that I didn’t even have time to feel guilty and horrible for doing something resembling fun. 

That’s why this video will always and forever be tremendously special to me: 

The Mummy's Ball - Spooky Halloween Music Video (with puppets!) from Mirandum Pictures on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Zoo Lines

 Not exactly? Not remotely!

My daughter, Angelica, has a birthday on Friday. 

She will turn 19. 

My brain can't seem to wrap itself around this idea. But one of the things she asked for was that I drive down to the Smithsonian Zoo with her to spend an afternoon sketching the animals. This, at least, was an idea my brain could figure out. In fact it was the perfect piece of continuity to celebrate my curious, fiercely scientific first daughter. She has been, and continues to be, perhaps the most consistently single-minded person I have ever known. Her love for the natural world is both pragmatic and deeply passionate. She's brilliant. She's frustrating. She is, simply, a wonder. 

Our day began with a morning run to the post office before we headed out toward DC. There was a peeping from behind the counter and my post office friend explained to me that there was a box of chicks that had arrived the day before and had not been picked up. Angelica was quick to offer to claim the (possibly) homeless chicks. We didn't, but it reminded me of when she was just two years old and we brought home a batch of little peeps for the first time. She kept squatting down to kiss them. That is one of those rare moments that etches itself onto the firmware of the brain. I look at that moment and think "that is where it started."

And I can't wait to see where it goes from here. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Saturday, October 23, 2021

My Favorite Parenthetical (I think) from Neil Gaiman's perfect book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, wherein the narrator (a thinly-guised Gaiman) is musing about being asked about various facets of his life—marriage, kids and, of course, work:

"(doing fine, thank you, I would say, never knowing how to talk about what I do. If I could talk about it, I would not have to do it. I make art, sometimes I make true art, and sometimes it fills the empty places in my life. Some of them. Not all.)"

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Cold Morning Engine (a return to a process)



I’m working on a new book. 

I’ve been woking on it for quite awhile, actually. I’ve filled a notebook full of doodles and scenes, characters and thoughts. And I’ve written the script. That’s the first really huge step. It’s less that 12K words, but it took a long time and several drafts. I’ve drawn reams of concept art and creature design. I’ve had long calls with my editor and gathered feedback from trusted creator-friends (and my family!) and now… 

Now I’m finally sitting down to draw the thumbnails. 

That’s the second really huge step. 

Drawing thumbnails means I’m laying out the whole book, in miniature, based on my script. In film terms this is when you've got your script and your now shooting principal photography. 

A thumbnail page looks something like this (from Mighty Jack and the Goblin King):

Or this (from Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl):

It’s a fun, but intense part of the process—a time of calming music and deep focus. Scratch, scratch, scratch goes my stubby pencil. Scrub, scrub, scrub goes my eraser. Then scratch, scratch scratch again. 

Drawing finished pages is, by comparison, mentally easier but physically more difficult (to extend the film analogy, drawing finished pages is post production–get rid of all that green screen!). Drawing finished pages makes my wrist hurt, but I can listen to podcasts while I do it.  Not so with thumbnails

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in this place. The last time I started roughing out a book was March of 2018. I was visiting Portland Maine and a surprise blizzard had trapped me, all alone, in a cabin outside of town. That was when I roughed in the opening chapter of Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl. So I’m easing myself back into the rhythm of this part of the process. 

Luckily, it seems like half my best friends are roughing out their books right now, which gives me a sense of solidarity. (and just maybe a slight sense of competition, which is also helpful). 

Some artists create very beautiful thumbnails. Mine, as you can see, tend to be barely legible. I’m working fast and loose, mostly in pencil, on recycled printer paper, with a lot of scrubbing out and redrawing and notes and arrows leading to multiple angles and options. Lots of crumpling up pages and starting over. 

One of the aims, at this stage, is to preserve a sense of mutability. Another aim, for me, is to focus more on the rhythm of the pages, and the beats of the story, rather than get caught up in the details. It’s about moments and page-turns and flow. 

Plus, the first dozen or so pages are probably going to get redone, so the first goal is to fall into the particular design and layout rhythms of this book. Right now the aim is to just go. Move forward. Keep moving. Create momentum.

And when I’m finally done with this phase I’m going to trust that the big stack of thumbnail pages will be just readable enough that I can walk my editor through it, panel by panel, on a long phone call. 

Anyway. It’s exciting. There’s some ambitious stuff in this book, visually and structurally. Stuff I’ve never really done before. 

Gosh I hope this goes well. 

Deep breaths.