Sunday, September 18, 2016

Unwelcome Powers (Faith and Thin)

A few quick thoughts on a recent revelation: I have a superpower.
I'm not sure exactly when it started, but I can be invisible. I have no control over it at present. I first noticed it about ten years ago.
It happened when I started gaining a significant amount of weight. People who once saw me and sought me out for casual conversation, social interaction and dating started passing me by. When I first noticed this, I started feeling like the central character in Robert Silverberg's To See the Invisible Man.
This didn't make sense to me. The visible spectrum of light still hit me, and there was more of me for it to hit. The people I passed didn't walk in front of cars, or run into doors or to each other, so clearly they could see. They just couldn't see me.
Or like the society in which Mitchell found himself in the story, they chose not to see me.
One can argue for weeks about fat people. It's their fault, it's genetic, it's laziness, it's a sleeping gene. Who cares? In a practical sense, it doesn't matter how you got here. You're here.
Adn you want to be dealt with fairly and respectfully.
In that spirit, two recent comics come to mind. The first, less obvious one is Thin by Jon Clark.
This is a horror book, which may color its perspectives a bit. After all, as Stephen King notes, horror is about despair, while SF is about hope. Even in light of that, and as intriguing as the first issue is, I'm having a really hard time with this one.
The arguable protagonist, Doris Greene, begins the story with a gleeful eating binge followed by shame-based burying of the fast-food containers in the trash. She sees a baby alone on the threshold of her home, and enters  only to find her husband Gerry having sex with another woman, while commenting on how thin she is after having given birth. Rather than confront the cheating creep, she apparently blames herself. She takes off to the grocery to stock up for yet another binge. The clerks snicker at her. Rather than call them on their rudeness to a paying customer, she leaves.
In the parking lot, she chances on a woman named Lacy, an old friend who's lost a great deal of weight, but still has disproportionately large breasts and the vapid, self-absorbed attitude of the stereotype dumb blonde. Page 9 opens with a gratuitous butt shot of dear Lacy. Lacy tells Doris the secret of her weight loss.
Over supper, rather than confronting her cheating husband, Doris tells him of her new plan to lose weight. He shows contempt for her goals rather than support. She responds with yet another binge on her way to the treatment Lacy disclosed.
She meets Doctor Romero, the man who supposedly administers the weight loss treatments. He also breeds dogs (and mentions in passing, in broken English, that his specialty is cross-breeding species, a probable clue to the storyline).
Doris goes to the Doctor's basement, where the procedure is to be done.
I'll stop there rather than reveal the whole first issue, though that's a great deal of it.
There's not one likable character in the whole book. Gerry only cares about himself, the store clerks are immature and empty-headed, Lacy is vapid, and Doctor Romero is tired and resigned to his fate, which he obviously loathes.
In a Comics: the Gathering interview, creator Jon Clark said, "I tried to stay true to how it would feel to deal with the issues that she has and perceives that she has, and if a message comes out of that, well, that’s just a gift." From this I infer that Clark is not a heavy man, in the sense we're addressing here. And maybe this level of cynicism is necessary for a horror book.
But I don't care about that. I care about Doris, and the other fat women, real and fictional, whose lives are ruined by the contempt of others. This is not exonerate anyone who's overweight from their own actions. It's to say two things:
  1. Not everyone who's overweight is unhappy or has low self-esteem. 
  2. Judging us almost never helps. If all you want to do is impose your values on somebody else, preach away. If fat people need anything, it's real friends and real support.
Fat people in the comics are mostly invisible. Sometimes they're villains like The Kingpin or The Blob (how's that for a reaffirming name?). Fat women in comics are pretty much nonexistent, with the exception of the (again) evil Granny Goodness.
I'm working from memory to get this written in a timely fashion. If I've overlooked any significant characters, please let me know. However, I contend that fat people in general, and fat women in particular, have rarely, if ever, been fairly treated in comics. Most often either we're not there, or we're seen as objects of contempt, ridicule or pity, as in this page from the otherwise wonderful Fantastic Four story Unthinkable.
Now, in fairness, that's a shot at the whole country, but the artist, Mike Wieringo, has chosen to use mindless, heavy people eating junk food to convey the concept, as though heavy people exemplify the nation's worst. It may not have been that overt in intent, but what does it say that the artist's mind went there to present that idea?
This is not to say that there are not, and have never been, positive images of fat people in comics. Inspector Dolan in The Spirit was somewhat heavy-set, as was Batman's Commissioner Dolan and Superman's Perry White.  But for women, sadly, we often had this:

To be fair, there were also 50s and 60s stories in which Superboy gained weight, and the anarchic personal favorite, Herbie, the Fat Fury.
And then there was the early 70s underground Dynamite Damsels, the first collection by Roberta Gregory. Shelley's story has a mostly positive end on its second page, and shows a fat chick with the capacity for actual self-acceptance. Despite her small victory in finding clothes that are affordable and fit her in the Men's department, she still has to deal with the barbs and slurs of others, including two young male toughs, one of whom shouts at her, "Hey, I like a chick I can find in the sheets!" That aside, this comic dares to show a fat woman as an empathetic person, a whole person, and to show the narrow minded responses of those who have bought into the whole "thin = healthy and beautiful" myth. She's also drawn realistically, not as a caricature of a human being, as fat people often are.
The other underground character that comes to mind is Lee Mars' Pudge, Girl Blimp.  This story of a teenage runaway who lands in early 1970s San Francisco deals directly with the fat question- sort of. Mars' contention is that fat people are really Martians who are distorted in appearance by Earth's atmosphere, which is also why we feel constantly alienated! Unlike the mainstream characters, Mars' characters are all sympathetic and empathetic, even adversaries to our heroine. And the cat is a delight too.
There was supposed to be a TPB collection of this delightful series a few years ago, but I can't find it anywhere. Any help on the matter is welcome.

There are some characters in Bitch Planet who manage to bypass the whole "fat = self-shaming" thing too. Not going to elaborate at this point, but it does deserve mention.
However, in contrast to Thin, another recent book saves the day.
I'm talking, of course, about Faith.
Many folks have recognized this book as the breakthrough that it is. In short, it's a fat girl who's happy with her life, has a good social life, a good (if tentative, but hey, in the economy of the last 20 years, what isn't?) job, and happens to be a super-heroine named Zephyr.
I'll comment more on the Faith book itself when I do my Best Comics of 2016- not sure yet where it will place, but it definitely makes the list.
This is going to come across as "there's no pleasing that girl", but sometimes I think Zephyr/Faith's world is a little too good. I mean, if thin people don't get perfect lives in the comics, why should we? It's a very chipper little book, and I do like the optimism. I just hope for balance. Even in light of that, the idea that fat people deserve every kind of love and a full, happy life is revolutionary in contemporary comics, and a step in the right direction.
If this keeps up, maybe someone will see me again one of these days!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Thursday) No. 239: Sharp Invitations: Theresa's Zen Riddle

Posting again to atone for my sins in neglecting to do so for so long!
Just finished another of those quick pages! As you may or may not recall, these are designed to do a few things:
  • Get my creative juices flowing when I'm stuck
  • Use as few tools as possible (usually a pencil and marker or pen on regular printer paper)
  • Work as fast as possible, and don't edit the result
  • Ease the tension in the story, since this story is pretty unrelenting (at least from my perspective).
  • Time spent on this page: about 20 minutes, as it should be.
To those ends, this snippet goes before the chapter titled The Second Sharp Invitation, previously posted. Since that chapter opens with a talk with my sister Theresa (who prefers to be called Terry now), that seems a good place for this one. Also, it's nice to have a page that isn't about trans issues. They're important and the focus of the book, but that's not all there is to my (or any) life.
And now, another great childhood moment!

I've had this one in the back of my head for a while. I left out the following bit when we both broke out laughing right after she said that!
This is the third of these comic interlude pages. I don't think I'll do one for every chapter - that would be tedious- but where necessary, they'll show up.
I'm alternating between working on the scripted roughs for Daddy's Song and working up more finals for the Curt chapter. Since she's coming to visit this weekend, I'd like to get a start on scripted roughs for the chapter on Jenny soon too.
Next: some of the above...

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 238: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 2

Taking this week off work to complete more of the graphic memoir and prepare for the upcoming MCAD faculty art show. Gotta love Paid Time Off- what a concept!
In light of that, I finally scanned the most recent page, which has been done for a while now. This page was included in (very) rough version in the printing of the first draft in May.

I'm pretty happy with this. Since the first page of this story is a pencil page, I let that serve as the template for the whole story.
The scan came out very well. As I've discussed in the past, the issue with scanning pencils is getting decent dark areas without picking up unwelcome artifacts. If you push your black point too far, the scanner does indeed darken the pencils, but it also picks up every invisible smudge on the page!
Lettering in Photoshop, using Comic craft's Clean Cut Kid, my favorite typeface for comic book body copy. Still using their Zap word balloons too. The shapes are a bit limited, but sufficient for my immediate purposes. If necessary, I'll do some digging and find a greater variety. I can always hand-render too. While this is working reasonably well, I take the comments of my friend Kim Matthews very seriously, and she contends that tightly rendered type is out of place on my looser art. However, since this is a more finished version of the page, I think it serves well, or at least better.
This part of the story is emotionally challenging, in some ways more than the rest. When I screwed up something in my life before I came out, I could always rationalize that it was because I wasn't being my "authentic self", whatever that is. But after coming out, you don't have that excuse, or at least you think you're not supposed to. But as will be discussed later in the book, there's more than one step, however big that step may be, in becoming authentic.
Just for comparison, here's the original rough for this page.
Layout was loosened up a bit, and the addition of the ticket booth gives the page a bit more depth. I think the kiss works in both, but the final version is much clearer. It also shows that despite people somehow seeing him as physically small, Curt was just over 6' tall and had decent musculature!
In preparation for the show, I'm adding a few (ideally all the rest, but that may be overly ambitious within the time frame) chapters to the book. Those will probably be in fairly rough form, akin to what is presented here screen right. I've been thinking about publishers, but it's premature to talk about that in depth.
My reading has turned back to queer comics. I just got my Kickstarter of the Alphabet anthology from Prism, and am enjoying it a great deal. Such works inspire me to be a larger part of that world again. I've felt damned by faint praise from the queer comics community, whatever that is, and would like to be a more accepted part of it. I hope this work serves that end, as well as the larger end of getting the story out there.
Next: more Sharp Invitations, sooner than later.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 237: Estrogen and Dental Hygiene

Back after a couple weeks of regrouping.
This is NOT the next page of the Curt story, but a one-pager that comes a bit earlier in Sharp Invitations. I'm almost done with the next continuity page, but I'm tired of keeping people waiting, so here's a nice little bit. In light of today's news from Florida, I suspect we could all use a lighter moment, anyway.
This was a fun day. After the unexpected discovery that I had real boobs (but still not quite to size!), I spent several days smiling at everyone! I've talked in confidence with some - what's the right term now? women-born women? Natural girls? I called them "real tuna" once and invoked the ire of a good friend- anyway, she told me that she had a similar moment at about 11 years old.
Tools: printer paper, #2 pencil, ballpoint pen and eraser. This was another of those quick pages I dashed out to keep momentum. I need to do more of these, both for the content and to keep motivated.
Next: More Curt.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 236: The Last Sharp Invitiation (Curt), p. 1

A bit late posting this week, due to exhaustion. But we are back in the saddle again!
I've decided to jump to one of the last stories in the book and then double back to the rest. This is a very important story (not that the rest aren't), and I want to develop it farther than it made it in the rough draft.
This page should set the tone for this story. I happened on this piece in an old sketchbook, and immediately realized that it was the perfect splash for this story.
This story brings many of the problems encountered by some (certainly not all) trans women in relationship into focus. The key, as you'll see as the story evolves, is self-worth, deciding we deserve decent love.
This page is rendered in pencil, with minimal clean-up. In talking with my comic teaching peer Dr. Ursula Murray Husted at SpringCon last week, I was pleasantly surprised at how much she liked my tighter pencil pages. While my inking skills are constantly improving (and more so when I work on a regular schedule!), I've always obtained great satisfaction from good tight pencils, or as in the original Sharp Invitation story, pencils with Conte' crayon. The problem is that I like working on Bristol board, and it lacks sufficient tooth to get the textures I like in resolved pencils. As such, I suspect the final version of this story will be a pastiche of pencils and inks. The very last page of it will be a B & W photograph- good old 35MM film!
The gentleness of this image serves as marked contrast to what follows, and is typical of my idealizing people with whom I'm in relationship (nobody else does that, right?).
My summer schedule being lighter, I have more time to develop this work before my next deadline, the fall faculty show. I'm wrestling with doing a more complete printed version for that show as well. Since I'm lettering digitally, I also have to resolve some presentation issues. Possibilities include originals presented next to printed pages, or printing original-sized copies and posting those. There's something disingenuous about posting printouts in shows, though I did it at Intermedia Arts and nobody said boo.
Another issue that came up in printing the draft version was that the images fit to the InDesign pages were VERY tight to the border! I'll have to tweak that before going back to press, even for a short run of one or two.
But the immediate goal remains a more realized version of this story. I also have another of those one-page quickies in the hopper, one I just thought of earlier today.
Next: more Curt.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 235: The Next Sharp Invitation, p. 7

The books are printed, the grant is submitted. Funds reimbursement expected soon.
Until then, the work goes on, as we know it should.
I solicited feedback from some folks at Spring Con this weekend, and am waiting for their responses.
The last page of the current story:
I'm very satisfied with this page.
I could have gone nuts rendering the angelic figure in Panel Two, but sometimes simple is better.
There are almost no backgrounds on this whole page. For the most part, that's the way I wanted this one. I was keen for the sense of floating- first being held aloft by the twine, then feeling free in the dress.
I find the freehand borders here particularly effective.
In upcoming stories, I have an even higher emotional content. This is problematic. It's a balancing act between the integrity of the work and how much the reader can, or chooses to, take. How responsible is the creator for the reader's reactions? It's easy to say one has no culpability. But we try for responses to our work. Who's to blame if we succeed?
No easy answers here. As my sister Pat once told me, I don't have the answers, but I'm starting to learn the questions.
The printed version of the work to date jumps over a BIG part of my life, going from this period to adulthood. Those stories will be completed in some form by the time of the faculty art show in the fall, in which parts of this work will be exhibited.
Next: a new Sharp Invitations story.
As promised, I am re-posting the whole story below.








Sunday, May 8, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 234: Next Sharp Invitation, p.6

And to the wire...
I have 6 - 10 more pages to add to the Sharp Invitations rough, which must go to press by Friday to fulfill grant requirements. I'm also working FT this week, completing my current teaching contract and grading. I'm taking time this weekend for a friend's birthday and for Spring Con. Then the dust settles a bit as I cut back to *only* one job for a while!
Here is the next page of the current story.

This was a very difficult page, emotionally. That has been the biggest challenge in doing this work.
I didn't tell anyone in my family I had done this when I was a kid.
When I presented this story as part of my work in progress presentation back in April, an audience member asked if I had told my family I was telling these stories. I replied that I had told them I was doing this work and that some of it might be uncomfortable. They replied that all I needed to do was tell the truth.
Structurally, this page works fairly well. I'm not 100% satisfied with the facial expression in the open panel that starts the page. It's a tad too snarly, not quite the right emotion. I might also make the third panel, the paddling, larger to increase its emotional impact.
The back foot in the last panel is a little iffy.
In general, the page needs more heavy blacks. But I'm regaining my confidence with inks as opposed to brush markers. In that respect at least, this work has been very successful. I'm working both brush and crowquill on this one, and markers for borders.
This may end up being two pages, if I can work it out in contrast to the following page.
This is one of the few pages with tightly defined panel borders. I wanted a very deliberate and serious sense on this page. As much as I like my standard  free hand borders, they're the wrong mood here.
One way or another, I will have a completed draft of this work printed by this time next week.
Same time next week for the conclusion of this particular story!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 233: Next Sharp Invitation, p. 5

Two weeks today until the grant deadline! It's going to be close! I will have SOMETHING completed and printed, but certainly not the final version. Given that I hope to be working with an editor on this down the line, that's probably for the best.
Here, then, is the next page of the current story.
When we left our hapless lad, he had just gotten on the bus.
Again, I worked through several versions of this page. A couple were dialogue-heavy, but it soon became clear that wordless was the way to go with this one.
Backgrounds: sparse to nonexistent.
The space was established in the previous page and I wanted a sense of openness, a complete lack of control implied by a lack of place.
The floating jeering heads in the bottom tier are a summary of the way I felt and a reuse of a fairly effective panel from Speedy Recovery No. 1.
I would have liked the dry brush edges to be more pronounced in the final version. In re-reading some of my texts on pencils and inks, I've rekindled my fondness for, if not my mastery of, drybrush. I may give this page a fourth (fifth? sixth? I've lost track) go before the final version of the book sees print.
The borders were hard-ruled in pencil and then rendered free-hand in ink.
This is not one incident. I was tormented ("bullied" does not do it justice) by the kids on that bus for four years. The frequency and vehemence decreased, but the threat was always there. That's why I was so proud to lobby on MN's anti-bullying legislation a couple years back.
A rather bitter turn of events: there was a recent failed attempt by more conservative members of the MN legislature to introduce anti-trans bathroom use legislation this year. One of the self-righteous MN legislators talked about how businesses were "being bullied" into letting trans citizens use the bathroom of their appropriate gender. Yet another example of the abuser claiming to be the victim, I suppose.
Luckily, I have a light week at the FT job this week, and the semester is almost over, so the demands on my time from teaching at MCAD are somewhat reduced. All I need to do is summon the emotional strength to write about these painful and sometimes shameful events in my past.
And I must get it done in two weeks.
Yeah, that's all.
The upside is that I will have ample blogging material for the foreseeable future!
Next week: page 6.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 232: The Next Sharp Invitation, p. 4

It never lets up, does it? Wasted half a day trying (unsuccessfully) to get rid of annoying adware on my Mac. Very irritating.
Well, back to the work!
I'm quite moved by the death of Prince, and am developing a story on the subject. It will have to wait a bit as the deadline for the draft of Sharp Invitations looms large.
Here's the next page of the current story.
Again, lettering digitally, using the Colleen Doran typeface from Comicraft. The rest is hand work.
This page went through several iterations before I settled on this one. Finding the right pacing and mood was very challenging! I toyed with over-the-top stuff like the bus devouring kids, which I toned down to that second panel. While it's hardly subtle, I like the idea of the smiling bus followed immediately by the "demon bus". We had the shell of a school bus on our land up north, right at the edge of the woods near the creek (which I always pronounced "crick"- hey, when it's your creek, you can pronounce it however you like). I always think about that rusty ghostly shell when I think of my time on the school bus.
The borders in the first two panels are free hand over ruled pencil lines. The third panel has a ruled ink border as well, implying a more grave tone.
There's a great deal of rather obvious (to my mind, at least) foreshadowing on this page. I shan't give away the next page, but I'd be very surprised if anyone was surprised by its contents.
I've rendered buses several times- for some reason, they show up in a fair number of my works. I usually don't spend a lot of time on backgrounds, but inspired by Scott McCloud's suggestion that they be considered environments rather than backdrops, I cribbed this bus layout from a page in the B & W run of ZOT!
Here's another page that uses the bus, from an earlier attempt at a graphic novel on trans issues. This was done shortly after Tranny Towers ended, and was originally intended to tell Athena's story more fully, though I did away with the funny animal motif. Pretty good bus work here too! Maybe I should do a whole story set on a bus some time...
Ahem. Back to the issue at hand.
I have exactly three weeks to complete this project, including a small print run. I will complete the work in roughs, and do as many finishes as time permits before going to press.
Let's get back to it!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 231: Next Sharp Invitation, p.3

This story is now done, but I'm still posting a page at a time until I get them all out there. Why give away the farm?
Once again, enjoying the local color of the paper as picked up by the scanner.
This page went through several iterations. I tried the resort sign for the first panel, and what is now the last panel was originally larger and on the opposite side of the page.
The level of detail could be higher in places, notably in the woodsy scene in the last panel. I was torn between fleshing out the detail and keeping the energy. Once I have the grant requirements fulfilled, I will go back and take more time on each page.
This page also offers the challenge of being an exposition-heavy page. So much of this work is thoughtful and solitary, it's a real challenge to break up the text!
Right now, my primary concern is getting a completed version of the work done and printed by May 15!
Again, digital lettering using ComicCraft's Colleen Doran typeface. I find it has much more character than the one I had previously used, Clean Cut Kid.
The hawk logo in panel three references Blackhawk, of course, though I think it's actually the Hawkman logo. It comes from a typeface called Hall of Heroes that is just superhero logos!
I presented this work last Thursday at MCAD as a work in progress. Attendance was scant, about a dozen people, all fairly receptive. I was honored and humbled to present the work. The meaning and scope of what I'm doing becomes more clear by the day.
Next: page 4.