Sunday, June 21, 2020

Original Art Sundays No. 279: Third Sharp Invitation, p.2

Hi, all.
This is another one of those pages that took forever. When I find it, I'll come back and post the original version of this. It sat on my board 3/4 complete for more than a month, until I realized what I was doing wrong and moved to this version.
This turned out rather well, I think. A meditative page, a nice balance between text and image, between realism and symbolism, even if the symbolism is a bit on the nose (or closer to home than that, if you like).
Like this whole chapter, this is deeply intimate. As discussed in the past, some members of our community wrongly use surgical status as bragging rights. My intent here is just to tell it as it happened, as best I remember.
The narrative challenge is that some of the chapters overlap. When the book is done, a chapter will end, and the next chapter will begin at an earlier time, covering a different aspect of the story.
From a design standpoint, there were some challenges here, but they worked themselves out fairly easily, once I realized what the approach had to be. The big challenge was getting some weight into each panel. Each panel is a bit more sparse than its predecessor, as the extraneous is stripped away and she is (I am) left with the central question of her life - or so I thought at the time.
The lyric quoted is from a Monkees song, Sometime in the Morning. Not what Goffin and King had in mind, I suspect, yet somehow apropos.
The last panel is a reiteration of the original cover art, which may be the final cover art. I'm happy with it, but other ideas tease my mind....
Ahem.
The supply list.
Canson Recycled Bristol
Solid #4 lead
Lead holder with #4 fill
Magic Rub eraser
Yasutomo Sumi-E ink
Crowquill pen
Synthetic brushes, No. 0, 2 and 4
Tight Spot correction brush
Tech markers, Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7
Copic multi-liner brush, small and medium
And just a hint of Photoshop for cleanup.
Next: the surgery page.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 278: Third Sharp Invitation, p.1

Finding both time and focus to draw. As it is less than 10 pages, this story seems less emotionally daunting than the Curt story.
This is the title page. My influence on this one is the work of David Mack, especially his later covers for Kabuki and his work with Bendis on COVER. The way he frames things seems so effortless, until you try to do it!
But it does play into my fascination with silhouette as a visual and narrative device.
To refresh everyone's memory, since the story has been, ahem, prolonged a bit:
The Sharp Invitations are things in my life that both compelled me and caused me pain. The first sharp invitation was my cutting my thumb on the rotary mower when I was five. The second was my grade school attempt to hang myself. The third, this story, is my gender confirmation surgery.
Sex change. Gender change. Gender reassignment. Gender confirmation.
It's been called so many things over the years. Hey, it's girl surgery, at least for me.
I've been pondering the value of this work in these times. After all, we haven't been able to be social animals for a third of a year. The whole world is sick, And lately in Minneapolis, we're just happy that the city isn't on fire.
It makes comics seem, well, trivial.
But I finally accepted that, for good or for bad, this is what I have to say. To stop saying it would an act of dishonesty, especially now that I am finding my visual "voice" as a comic artist. To silence that voice would be a wrong. I won't be so grandiose as to say it would be a crime, but... it would be, or at least feel, wrong.
Technical issues: I took MANY liberties with the design of Hennepin County Medical Center. I just grabbed a reference photo and moved things around until the building was plausible and worked with my idea. And I do adore the classic black with stars motif!
Equipment/Tools:
Canson 2 ply Bristol
Lead holder, No. 4 lead
Magic Rub eraser
Yasutomo Sumi Ink
No. 2 and No. 4 synthetic brushes
Various straightedges, triangles and T-squares
tight Spot correction brush
FW Acrylic White
Next: The Third Invitation, Page 2.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Original Art Sundays (Saturday) No. 277: Sharp Invitation Third, preview page

Hi all!
I've actually had this little ditty done for a couple weeks. Now that the semester's over (but grading isn't *cough*), I have time and focus to post.
Focus has been challenging due to COVID as well. My work in health care has taken on added challenges, compounded by welcome yet daunting promotion.
I decided to take a break from the Curt story and start the story that comes right before it, the story of my actual surgery. It's very short and quiet, planned as 4 or 5 pages, and serves as a prelude to the Curt stuff.
sidebar: I have rewritten the ending of the book entirely. It's a new 14 page story. So much before we get there.
In doing this book, I'm trying to avoid cliches whenever possible, but some are real events in my life, so I can't - won't - leave them out. One of the cliches is surgery.
It's considered gauche in some trans circles now to even talk about surgery, as it implies some kind of hierarchy. I have been guilty of this in the past, but I hope I don't do that any more, and that's not my intent here. I just want to relate how it happened,  how little, and how big, it was.
This preview page is one of those one-off light gag strips - four panels, just printer paper, soft lead holder, ballpoint pen, eraser and a bit of Photoshop. Simple, fast, bordering on crude.
When this conversation happened in the so-called real world, we both busted out laughing. My dry reaction here? It seemed right when I did the page, so I'm sticking with it.
Next: More of this story, bit more serious and introspective.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Original Art Sundays (Saturday) No. 276: Theda Bara

My, it's been a while, hasn't it?
Two semesters and a quarter of an epidemic later, I have finally have art to post.
Oh, I've been drawing and making music. Just...not post-worthy.
A couple weeks ago, I remembered a photo I saw somewhere. I think it was Theda Bara. Ballerina balancing a bright globe in a black space. It fascinated me.
I can't find the photo for reference.
Maybe it's just as well. The photo realism thing works for me sometimes. I usually end up correcting proportions to compensate for some strange distance between the image and my perception of it.
I think it's a bit like cooking in that respect. The first time a cook makes something, they adhere to the recipe. The second time, they look at the recipe. The third time, they make it, allowing their personal flourishes to come through in the interpretation of the dish.
That's my approach to photo reference.
So I gave it a go.
Working from memory, getting the proportions reasonably accurate, and bringing my Art Deco chops into the figure's hair were my biggest challenges!


I'm fairly happy with it. I thought about adding some stippling to the window edges, and decided that sometimes, less truly is more. The position and proportions of the left hand were a real challenge!
I wanted to get away from the story a bit and just draw.
Materials:
2 Ply Bristol Board
Sumi Ink (My Walnut ink is used up! What's left is too gummy to be practical! Very sad.)
FW Acrylic White
Tight Spot correction brush
Lead holder and #4 leads
Magic Rub Eraser
Brushes: No. 0 Connoisseur Sable,  No. 4 flat synthetic, No. 4 round, No. 10 Princeton round.
That's it for now. Enjoy!
More sooner rather than later.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No 275: Tranny Towers: Athena Paper Dolls

Hello my lovelies!
Back after some delay. I did this page a while ago, but am just now finding time to post.
Now that I am fully healed (I think) from my car crash of two years ago, and both jobs have a measure of equilibrium, I am bringing several projects back to the proverbial front burner.
Don't worry, I am still plugging away at Sharp Invitations. Hell or high water, I will get that done.
One of these neglected projects is a collected edition of Tranny Towers, Another of those projects I've nibbled at for a while. Well, here's another little taste.
I have an enduring love of paper dolls, especially in comics. I've waxed enthusiastic about this before, and did some for the Surrealist Cowgirls. To complete the Tranny Towers collection (which a couple folks asked about at May's Queers and Comics conference, I need several things, including paper dolls of all the principal characters.
Here's the first, of my favorite character Athena.
The wardrobe is a bit lighter than many such pages. Usually, there are three or four outfits. If there's time later, I'll do a second page of just outfits for her! The lingerie is nowhere near as sexy in my drawing as it is in the George Petty painting from which it's taken. But the other outfits are self-explanatory, I think.I love using wonderful clothes from popular culture as paper doll outfits!
Also, there's the inevitable political aspect of celebrating the bodies of trans people, even if they are cartoon characters and skunks. I've drawn her a bit more zaftig than in past work, as she's aged a bit (haven't we all?). That's the way she'll appear, more or less, in the concluding story that resolves all the principal characters' lives.
Equipment used is the same as on the last page, but a bit more brush work than usual on this one.
Next: more story

Friday, April 12, 2019

Original Art Sundays (Friday) No. 263: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.19

New page has been done for a week or so. Finally have a minute to post.
 Our heroine (me) has been seeing both Delia and Sara, while seeing Curt. One night:
Yeah, I was busted, as we used to say. I really did feel that small! Not my shining hour. It's to my credit that both these women still talk to me and consider me a friend.
The Curt story is coming to a crucial point in a page or two.
The original draft of this story was 11 pages. We are near the halfway point of this part of the narrative, but the action picks up substantially very soon.
Technical notes: the top tier needs a caption to establish place and time, which I just now realized. The design device of the arc used to give weight to the second and third tiers works, but I would rather vary it a bit. I like the spinning head in the next to last panel a lot!
Materials are the usual:
Canson Bristol
Tech Markers No, 1, 3, 6 and 7
Lead holders with hard and soft leads
Magie Rub eraser
Dr. Martin's Walnut Black Ink
FW Acrylic White
No. 2 Elita Sable Brush
Synthetic brushes No. 4, 8 and 10
Tight Spot angled brush for corrections.
Next: either the next narrative page or a little treat.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Original Art Sundays (Thrusday) No. 262: MN Opera: The Fix

I have never had a happy relationship with sports. I was uncoordinated, socially awkward, and I got beat up regularly in gym class, to the point at which I saw the phrase "gym class" as an oxymoron.
The only sports at which gave me any degree of pleasure were the solitary sports, particularly swimming.
Despite this, I developed some very small skills at basketball and baseball.
In the 1980s, I also developed a fascination with the work of independent filmmaker John Sayles, whose film Eight Men Out dealt with baseball in a very different way than most plucky sports films. Sayles' work dealt with baseball's first, and possibly biggest, scandal, as did the MN Opera's newest production.
With this framing the event, I was intrigued to attend the newly commissioned work The Fix, staged by MN Opera. The work did not disappoint.
Warning: spoiler abound below.


Based on the 1919 World Series, which was thrown by the Chicago White Sox, The Fix concentrates on a few primary characters: "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, his wife Katie, his teammate "Chick" Gandil, and sports writer Ring Lardner.
The opera brings out multiple aspects of the story, not the least of which is owner Charles Comiskey's cheating his own players of earned bonuses. This is the catalyst that leads the players to consider throwing the game. Someone is being paid exorbitant sums for their work. Why aren't they?
I would have liked to see this aspect of the story played up more. It does come across, just not as strongly as I thought it might have.
Joe is cast as the most moral of the lot, the Chicago Black Sox, as the team came to be known after the scandal was made public. Once Joe agrees to taking the bribes, the fix is in. Pitcher Eddie Cicotte hitting the first batter with a pitch. This is the signal that cinches the deal. The eight players are throwing the World Series.
However, this sits badly with the team. Four games in, down three to one, Joe declares, "it's hard to play bad." Inspired by Joe, the Sox win the next two. It's only when Katie's life is threatened that the last game of the series is thrown.
This series was also unusual, in that it was a nine game series, not the usual seven.
Commissioner Mountain Landis,
performed by Christian Zaremba
The following year, the Sox make it to the Series again. Katie has been Joe's guiding light, and at her urging, Joe, not the sharpest tack in the drawer, goes to attorney Alfred Austrian and confesses, after signing a waiver of immunity.
A trial ensues.
A young fan, desperate to continue admiring his hero, was the first to say the now classic phrase, "say it ain't so, Joe!" 
Katie and Joe- quick sketch
Despite a not guilty verdict, newly appointed baseball commissioner Mountain Landis rules the involved players barred from professional baseball for life.
This effectively ends not only the players' careers, but writer Ring Lardner's as well. Larnder, now an alcoholic and stricken with tuberculosis, happens on a member of the Eight, who tells him of a chance meeting with Joe, now a dry goods store clerk. Joe is hollow and drab, lacking the fire of the one thing besides his marriage that gave his life purpose- playing ball.
Like all MN Opera productions, this is brilliantly staged. The stands, populated by static marionettes, are the backdrop for the whole opera. The team name, with the word "white" replaced by the "black" at a pivotal moment, is stark, as are the shots of the eight offending players.
Mobile set pieces create locker rooms, speakeasies, interrogation rooms, courtrooms and storefronts with fluid ease.
Urgency and inevitability dominate the production. The questions of how one does right after being wronged, how one does right after doing wrong, and how one lives with the consequences of their actions are presented starkly. The end offers a redeeming moment, the shining possibility of once more playing the game for the sheer joy of it.
Ring Lardner
Joshua Dennis does a powerful and sensitive turn as Shoeless Joe, while Jasmine Habersham gives dignity and conviction the role of his wife Katie. Wei Wu also stands out as Joe's buddy "Chick". MN Opera resident artist Kelly Margraf is both aggressive and vulnerable as Ring Lardner. Artist alum Christian Zaremba brings bombast to the role of Mountain Landis, reminding me alternately of Christopher Walken and the Daredevil villain The Owl in his bearing.
The work makes effective, but not cliched, use of its historical framework. Nuances of Prohibition and flappers enhance the atmosphere.
I went into this one with some apprehension. Not being much on sports (see above), I had difficulty imagining the emotional possibilities and opportunities this story could present. I didn't think it would engage me.
The Fix moves well and engages on many levels. Setting, libretto, score and performance are all strong. The opera runs through March 24. You are eagerly encouraged to attend!


Monday, January 28, 2019

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No. 261: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 18

I've had this page done for about 6 weeks. Just haven't had time to post.
Here we go.
When we left off, Sara, who our heroine (me) had met at the library, stopped in. During the ensuing conversation, I told her of my weekend with Curt. Sara said she would be ashamed to introduce me to her lesbian friends as her girlfriend.
Read on.
So much to unpack here.
This was one of those moments that we live without thinking about it, and later realize its impact. At this point (early 1990s) there was an even wider division between much of the lesbian community and what served as the trans community than there is now. While the term TERF was not in wide use, the phenomenon was hardly new, dating back in the public consciousness to Janice Raymond's 1979 hate-filled screed The Transsexual Empire. I made myself read that vile thing. I no longer have my copy.
Also, as Sara said this, it touched on my confusion and internalized shame. I had been out about 6 years. I had "the surgery" about a year prior to this. I was in my first serious relationship after becoming myself and I felt like I was supposed to have all the answers, and I knew that I was blowing it. Then the woman I'm interested in tells me her qualms. Really, could I blame her?
This calls for internal dialogue!
To that end, I stole a device from Harvey Pekar. There's an American Splendor story that consists entirely of Harvey talking to himself about a recent failed relationship. In the final exchange, he reflects on the old adage that failure allows for the possibility of growth. Harvey says he's tired of being alone and concludes, "right now, I'd trade growth for happiness." That really stuck with me. I decided that the narrative device he used there was perfect for this page. The silhouette is a clean visual device, but much trickier than one thinks! By reversing the black and white, I was able to get a sense of internal dialogue. I will use this again at key moments in this book, but I don't want to overuse it.
The layout of the first panel also frustrated me. I wanted a primal scream but nothing too big, if that makes any sense. I finally cribbed a pose from the Summertime number in Ralph Bakshi's American Pop, which I still think is the best thing he ever did (with the possible exception of Christmas in Tattertown).
Nothing spectacular about the second panel. It's there to convey a passive attitude, and it does that.
It took three tries to get this page the way I wanted it. It was frustrating, and it took much longer than it should have, but it was ultimately worth it.
Materials used on this page:
Canson 2 ply recycled Bristol board
Lead holder
no. 4 solid lead
Magic Rub eraser
Straightedge
crow quill
Princeton Synthetic Brushes No. 2, 4 and 8
FW Artist's White
tight spot correction brush
Our story takes an embarrassing comedic turn next time.
Next post: Page 19, where things catch up with our heroine a bit.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Original Art Sundays (Saturday) No. 260: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 17

Here's the next page. Discussion will be light- not much time!
I'm satisfied with this page. Good balance of light and dark, nice flow, poses appropriate to mood and action, respectable backgrounds, and it advances the story.The first panel in the third tier has poses stolen from the Sandman issue 20.
It must be said up front that the real Sara has apologized repeatedly and profusely for saying that. We remain friends and it is not an issue between us. Still, it happened.
It speaks to so many issues in the trans community.
Whatever that is.
I'll elaborate on that in the next post. I'm very anxious to get this online, so I'll just give the supply list for now.
Canson Bristol Board
Straightedge, T-sqare, French curves
Ames Lettering guide
Staedtler Pigment Liners .01, .03, .06, .07, .08
Renaissance Silver Sable brush #2
Princeton Round Synthetic Brush #4
Doc Martin's Black Star Walnut Ink
FW Acrylic White ink
Magic Rub erasers
Photoshop for scans and minor cleanups.
Next: a soliloquy page on the issues this page raises.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No. 259: Sharp Invitations: Curt, sidebar page

Only a day off schedule this week, but pleased with the outcome.
I've been trying to find something to break the tension in the current story. Yes, it was a tense time, but I've read graphic memoirs that are so sad and unrelenting. It's often a rough road. Sometimes, as was the case with Rosalie Lightning, while the book was achingly well done, I couldn't bring myself to finish reading it.
Here I was, considering a way to break the tension, just for a narrative minute. As a result of Emil Ferris' massive and well-earned victory with My Favorite Thing Is Monsters at this year's Eisner awards (I voted for her in every possible category!), I was inspired to reactivate an old idea.
Sidebar: if you haven't read My Favorite Thing Is Monsters yet, do so ASAP.

For a while in the 90s, I was playing with pastiche romance comic covers. One of my favorites involved a cheerleader enrolling at Miskatonic University. I was also tickled by the word play of combining trans and lesbian as a monster thing.
Transylesbian. Ha!
I first worked up a version of this as a self-portrait idea for my senior year at MCAD, but instead I went with a black velvet painting, which I'm a bit sad I no longer have.
The idea for this fake cover resurfaced every now and then. I kept mulling that one day I'd find the right place for the idea to come to life, as it were.
And here we are.
The references in this are all over the place. Of course, there's the EC reference in the formatting and trade dress. I used my Ground Zero Press logo instead of the EC logo. While I'd like to channel some of the more decorative of the EC artists, like Crandall or Williamson, my loose style is more Johnny Craig. Craig told a good story, so I'm fine with that.
Other little things of note: of course, the Witch is wearing a Cheech Wizard hat. The werewolf rendering is inspired by the work of fellow Minnesotan Mike Ploog. He also tended to work in a freer style in his comics. Since the werewolf is supposed to be Curt, I also had to think about drawing a bald werewolf.
I suppose I could have thrown in a background, but for this one, I think simplicity is my friend.
Does it advance the story? Well, as alluded to above, I think perspective is crucial on this stuff. We're two pages away from things getting REALLY bad, and one of the things I've had to come to terms with is the contributions my emotional state made to these problems. Not to say I was at fault, because abuse victims are NEVER at fault, but as a former lover once told me, "you worry too much." So this is a mildly self-deprecating recognition of the inescapable fact that I worry too much.
Technical notes: I neglected to trim this page before starting it, so it's slightly disproportionate to the other pages. I'll either re-do it or scale it down and give it white border to conform to the other pages. The supplies used are pretty much the same as on the previous page:
Canson Recycled Bristol board
No. 3 and 6 Staedler pigment liners
lead holders, leads and graphite sticks
Magic Rub erasers
Crowquill pens
No. 2 and 4 Richeson synthetic brushes
Surprisingly, no white out on this one!
This might need a bit of fine tuning, but I'm pretty pleased with it as is. And I hope the readers have as much fun with it as I did. Even in a tough part of the story, you can't be grim all the time.
Next: back to the narrative, containing an unexpected declaration.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Original Art Sundays (Friday) No. 258: Captain Pinkard!

The next page is coming along well, but I missed Sunday and I wanted to get something posted this week, so here's an older piece.
As might be expected from the other recent work, the dark years with Curt have been on my mind of late. And that's no fun, either to live or to read about.
It's helpful to remember that there was more to him than just his rage and controlling ways. He could laugh and loved to experience life's sensations. That doesn't exonerate him, but it does lead to this piece.
Early in our relationship, our shared love of Star Trek was a big part of our time together. TNG was new then. We'd watch new episodes on first airing together. However, he didn't share my passion for vintage cartoons. But he did love the Pink Panther. So...

He was delighted by this! I had great fun doing it. It's pretty simple, just an under-sketch and markers on marker paper. I was in a two year commercial art program when I did this, and had just completed a class on markers. I still use them for color studies now and then, because they're quick, they blend well and they encourage speed.
Like all the other art I made for him, he gave it back when we parted ways. I found it in a stack of old work and here we are!
A quick diversion and something with a bit more joy than the current story, which has taken a rather dark turn.
Next: back to our story.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Original Art Sundays: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 16

Finally back.
I won't waste time saying why it took me so long to get this page done. It's unprofessional to kvetch, and nobody wants to hear it (and I don't blame them). Suffice to say it's been a tough couple months, with some days of bliss in the mix. I've been spending creative energy on music and writing, plus a whole slew of sketchbook stuff. I'll post some of that soon. For now, it feels so good to get back to The Work, my graphic memoir, Sharp Invitations.
As always, please keep clicking the "older posts" button at  the bottom of the page for more work, or just hit the "Sharp Invitations" label if you want to check out more of The Work.
When we left our heroine (moi), she was in bed with Curt, who had begun choking her as part of their lovemaking. This came directly on the heels of her meeting a trans lesbian, Sara, with whom she developed an immediate fascination. So much to sort out, and being a meat and potatoes guy, Curt's response was...
Read on.
The usual notes, personal and craft.
Personal: Curt had no clue I was afraid after his hands found my throat. He also had no idea about Sara. For my part, I was running blind, still desperately afraid of my own truth, even after surgery, for reasons I'll spell out in greater detail towards the end of this chapter (anticipated in another 7 pages, but it could run a bit longer in a 4th rewrite).
Craft notes: Minor scanning issues per usual. I will rescan everything upon completion of the book and those issues will be resolved.
Let's speak to timing. The part that hung me up was the first panel of the last tier. I toyed with going all silhouette on its ass, but I don't want to overuse that trick. There are some pages in this book that are nothing but silhouette. My mantra from The Wizard of Oz applies. These things must be done delicately or you hurt the spell.
I'm constantly torn between doing something innovative and ornate and just nuts and bolts layouts. I love ornate layouts, but I'm reminded of a favorite comic book history student who loathed J.H. Williams' work on Batwoman. He said it was so decorated that he couldn't see the story. He had a point. I think this page is a good balance between the two, and advances the story reasonably well. I kept the figures lighter and concentrated the blacks and grays in backgrounds and textures. The linear background on the second tier is a trick I picked from Terry Moore's Strangers In Paradise. I was re-watching Terry's DVD last night, trying to garner some fresh insight, or rekindle old insights. My "big takeaway": just keep doing the work.
Well, duh.
For spotting blacks on the bottom tier, I'm rekindling my fascination with dry brush, something American comic artists have underused historically. I do love the way it shows up in British work, especially from the late 80s. The challenge in dry brush is to get all the texture you want before your meager ink supply dries up.
Tools and supplies on this page:
Canson Recycled Bristol Board, rough finish side used.
Lead holder with #4B lead
#4B solid lead pencil
Miscellaneous straightedges, templates and triangles
Crow Quill and nib
#4 Richeson Snapi round synthetic brush
Tight Spot angled brush for corrections
Dr. Martin's Black Star Walnut Ink
FW Acrylic White
Magic Rub eraser
pretty much the stuff I usually use.
I have a HUGE bottle of Yasumoto Sumi Ink. Perhaps I'll give that a go on a page soon, but I do so love the Walnut Ink.
Next: sketchbook pages, then more memoir.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Original Art Sundays (Friday) No. 256: THAIS: MN Opera!

I come and go on Disney stuff. I love the animation and the storytelling is always well-crafted, but sometimes the unsubtle subtext is too creepy for words.
Now and then, however, they get it just right.
There's a number in the animated Hunchback of Notre Dame that sends chills through me. The self-righteously pious Judge Frollo is confessing his obsession with Esmeralda.

His torment and the imagery around sensuality and obsession just captivate me. I found that number to be the best part of that morally haphazard outing.
Spoilers abound from this point on. Read at your own risk.
Pre-show warm-up sketch
This was on my mind as I arrived at Media Night for THAIS. Jules Massenet's 1894 interpretation of Louis Gallet's novel, Thais tells of a sensuous performer, the title heroine, and the Cenobite monk, Athanael, whose obsession with her leads him to attempt the salvation of her soul. Set in Egypt during Roman occupation, the work poses numerous challenges. Staging is complex, costuming is challenging, and most significantly, the title role has a reputation of being one of the most difficult to sing. The roles, especially said title role, are also physically demanding, to the point at which one is exhausted watching the work!
I'm pleased to report that Minnesota's own Kelly Kaduce more than rose to the occasion, in every sense. Her rendition of every theme was achingly beautiful and her physical approach to the role was spot on. I regret that the circumstances of sketching during a dress rehearsal (AKA Media Night) are not conducive to portraiture, so my hasty scrawl does not do her beauty justice.
Lucas Meachem's turn as the obsessed Athaneal was equally moving and profound.  He bought a torment and love to every aspect of the story, from the initial obsession and violation of Cenobite isolation to reform Thais through his own ambivalence as he adopted secular splendor to encounter Thais in that world.
Athaneal's insistence on wearing his hair shirt beneath his camouflage of golden robes, courtesy of the impresario Nacias (also obsessed with the titular heroine), speaks volumes as to who he is and who he must be. The key to drama is the absolute and irrevocable change in values of a character. In that sense, both the principals are classic examples of good drama. Consistent with late 19th Century morality plays, one change arrives too late, as Athaneal learns the converted Thais is dying and resolves that he was wrong to change her soul at the cost of his life.
Thais reflects, in every sense, on the nature of true beauty.
The morality of this work is clearly a challenge for a contemporary audience, as it seems to put piety and the will of a Deity ahead of a woman's self-determination. Perhaps this is a flawed or incomplete reading of the work's complex text. Athaneal truly believes he is putting Thais' best interests at heart as he fights aggressively for her conversion. But isn't conviction true of all zealots? 
Thais dreams as the classic Meditation is exquisitely played.
Once again, MN Opera is remarkable in its staging. Use of transparent/translucent curtains, an angled bed with an impassioned painting on it (!), and delicate use of rains of rose petals and silver shards serve to make the production visually lush. I'm struck by the innovative staging at every new work. Lorenzo Cutuli has earned accolades for this design and its execution. He won the International Opera Award for set design in 2014. If there's justice, he will win again for THAIS. MN Opera is blessed to have him on this production.
As Athaneal and Thais cross the desert to reach the nunnery that is to be her new home, the set is alarmingly sparse. There is only a shiny mound. It took me a minute to realize that the mound was a pile of broken mirrors.
I must write of the impassioned and beautiful dancing that dominates this production. As one of my colleagues from the Black Hat Collective remarked, it felt more like a ballet in spots. This is a compliment. The play within a play model provided wonderful opportunities to explore movement and music. This production took full advantage of them, to my delight.
Usually, just to try to keep balance, I try to find some aspect of a production that was wanting. In MN Opera's current production of THAIS, there is none.  Every facet of the work is impassioned and professional.
Go. I cannot offer any stronger encouragement. This production is beyond language. It will fill and devastate you. THAIS runs 3 hours and 11 minutes, but I was so sorry when it ended.
It is at the MN Opera May 12- 20.
Next: back to the Graphic Memoir.