Sunday, July 23, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 252: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 10

Welcome back!
I feel like I did back when I was drawing Tranny Towers on deadline. There's an energy to this I've not felt for some time. My art is flowing, and while it may not be as self-consciously inventive as it was on those strips, I'm pretty happy with the way it's turning out.
This memoir stuff poses some unusual challenges. As I noted to friends on Facebook, here I am tasked with drawing my own butt as I remember it from more than 20 years ago.
Some doors should not be opened.
But it looks like it turned out all right.
Ahem.
When last we left our heroines, me and Delia, she had awakened in my bed, screamed, slapped herself and went back to sleep. I was left sitting up in bed, nonplussed to say the least.
Read on.
Much to like here, I think. I've used the local color/texture of the wall to give the top tier a bit more weight. I wanted to keep the figures light on this one.
The hand fasting image turned out fairly well. I suppose I could have put a pattern on the ribbon she used, but the truth is, it was just a plain ribbon- pink, I think.
While I'm reluctant to overuse silhouette (after all, it's only been a couple pages back that we had a whole page done in that), I think it works and it's necessary here.
Real life notes: this happened. Delia sprung this on me with no warning, just lightly tossed the ribbon over both our hands. There was no official knot, which is part of many such ceremonies. She later laughed about it and said it was just some dumb thing she did on a whim. But she was a pagan who took her faith seriously, so I think that was just a cynical front. I think that in her eyes, however briefly, she and I were married.
I did attend her wedding to her boyfriend, the one she was living with while we were, ahem, keeping company, some years later. As far as I know they're still together. They live on the West Coast now.
She really did say the classic line from the pagan ceremony, "death does not part, only lack of love", but she said it during a later phone conversation.
Further technical notes: the world balloon in the first panel didn't behave. Also, I wasn't paying attention and ruled the panel borders on the right edge clear out to the cut line of the Bristol! Luckily, I caught it in time to fix it.
Doing the "squint test", I think the white highlights inside the silhouette of the last panel may not have been necessary, but by the same token, I don't think they do any real harm. Perhaps the hand fasting and the panel below it could have used a bit more weight, but I think they serve as they are.
Looking at past strips, I have a mountain of reworks to consider if I want this book to have integrity. So many decisions. Well, make them one at a time, and review before committing to a final version.
So there you have it. Without meaning to, I had a lesbian wedding in the 90s. Sort of. While I was seeing another woman, and seeing Curt. I guess that doesn't really count. But in the moment, it sure felt like it did.
I hope she's doing okay.
Materials used on this page:
Canson XL Recycled Bristol Board, 96 lb.
#4 soft lead in lead holder
.03, .05 and .08 tech markers
#0 and #2 synthetic brushes
Crow quill nib and holder
FW Acrylic Artist's White
Dr. Martin's Black Star High Carbon India Ink (love this stuff!)
Magic Rub Eraser
And of course, Photoshop, but very little.
Next: a quick gag page, and the first page of the next facet of the Curt chapter.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No. 251: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.9

Technically after midnight, so no longer Sunday. Still close enough to on schedule that I count this as A Good Week.
I had a setback in my personal life this week. However, it only slowed down my comic work for a day or two.
I'm grateful for that, as I feel like I'm hitting a stride. I tossed that bottle of gummy ink! I may get ambitious and rework last week's page. I'd also like to go back a couple weeks and redo the first panel of the page set in Loring Park. Looking at it now, that's pretty bad and would not be that hard to fix.
Reading over these last few pages, I notice there's not a lot of transgender stuff in this part of the story. It's an overarching theme, to be sure. But if every page were about that, it would be boring. I went to the symphony with a pal on Friday, another trans woman. She asked me outright, "can we not talk about trans stuff tonight?" I was fine with that. It's part of who we are, not all of it.
In last week's episode, we saw our heroines comforting each other, taking solace from their respective pain. Of course, it didn't hurt that we were both horny as hoot owls.
And we drifted away to sleep.
Read on.
This is exactly the way this happened. No hedging on this page.
I like the way this page came together visually. Clean lines, good energy. There's almost no variation of panel position relative to the viewer on this page. We zoom in and out slightly, but it's pretty much the same shot in every panel. I'm using the old trick of leaving a white outline around figures and backgrounds/environments surrounded by large areas of heavy black.
The faces are a bit looser/ more cartoony than I usually like to use for more serious work. I tried not to overthink it, to just draw it as seemed natural.
I love detailed art, but my work lends itself to simpler lines most of the time. I have a lot of similar paradoxes in my life. My hair looks better short, but I like it better long, for example. Play the cards you're dealt, baby.
By accident, I started using a scumbling brush for filling, and found it perfect for the "slap lines" on panel three- turns it out it was ideal for dry brush, which I already knew but had forgotten.
Not using word balloons on panel four was a conscious choice. I wanted her (my) questions to be floating in the air, as ambiguous as the situation. Again, hand lettering here.
It was a hell of a thing to sit up in bed like that, shaken and worried, as she quickly and easily fell back asleep.
In terms of environments on this page, I let the bed and the dresser (with its omnipresent lamp) do the job. The dresser is present in the first and last panels, to anchor the page visually in the so-called "real world". These are also the only panels in which Delia is sleeping.
The real Delia later spend some time volunteering for the Center for Victims of Torture. Rather brave and quite healing, I think.
Materials this page:
Canson Recycled Bristol
Soft lead and lead holder
.05 and .08 tech markers
Ames Lettering guide
Faber Castell Brush Tip Markers, large and small
Dr. Martin's Hi-Carbon Waterproof Black Star India Ink (yay, love this stuff!)
#0, 2, 4, and 10 Richeson Synthetic brushes
Crow Quill Pen
Magic Rub Eraser
Next: last page of the Delia sequence, though she shows up again at the end of the Curt story.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Original Art Sundays, no. 250: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.8

After midnight by two minutes, so technically Sunday. I have a very full day coming up, so thought I would post earlier rather than later.
When last we saw Delia and me, she had frozen over having her face touched.
Read on.
Silhouette. Yeah.
That's the way to go with this one.
I was inspired by a sex scene from Don McGregor and Marshall Rogers' Detectives Inc., which showed the couple in silhouette. It was a difficult sex scene in a darkened bedroom, and Rogers rendered fully realized backgrounds. For him, for that page, the right choice. For me, here, no.
Silhouette has two primary purposes here. It's universal, the shapes are relatable to most people. Also, the silhouette was prominently used in eras we now think of as rather placid and quaint, which makes their use to communicate such painful events rather jarring.
This page is also text  heavy, violating the axiom of "show, don't tell". This is of necessity, if I'm to continue to respect Delia's privacy. The stuff she went through was pretty bad, and as I've said in the past, it was HER stuff, not mine to tell. I'll tell that it happened, but not what it was. I hope that's not a cop-out, as we used to say.
I also wanted to communicate a bit more of Curt's rage. The drawing here is deliberately crude. The figures in the silhouette on the second tier are intended to communicate that ferocious energy, the stuff that started to really scare me.
Yeah, what I was doing then was dishonest and hypocritical. I'm not going to try to excuse that. I just want to fully communicate everything relevant that was happening then.  The events and conversations alluded to on this page are a condensation of several of my nights with her, but the core actions, along with those on the next page, did all happen in one night. As before, I suspect the real Delia would find my memory and interpretation of these events laughable.
I chose to hand letter here, knowing it would be uneven. As long as it's legible, the slightly jarring quality contributes to the disorientation I'm trying to communicate.
Materials for this page:
Canson Recycled Bristol
#4 lead and lead holder
Ames lettering guide!
Pro 4100 India Ink. I swear I'm throwing this bottle away. Even working in large flat areas, this was like painting with gum.
Synthetic brushes, #2, #4 and #2 scrub brush
Staedler tech markers, 0.5 and 0.8
Magic Rub erasers.
Next: we conclude (for now) the Delia interlude in the Curt story.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 249: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.7

The next page is done, so here we go.
When last we left our heroine (me), she was happily surprised to find that Delia had told her boyfriend she was spending the night with her.
Read on.
Much I like here, a few things I don't. There's enough background/environment to give a sense of place, but not so much as to detract from the action. Just a hint of a dresser and a lamp (which I still have but now sits on my desk) to give a sense of place. I did some preliminaries in which my usual dresser top clutter was included, but decided it was too much of a distraction. This page is about one thing, and the dresser ain't it.
The layout is simple. Two panels without dividers, split by shift in viewpoint and in action, implying closely timed moments. I'm using the old trick of dropping borders to slow action, but using a partial overall border to contain and define the area.
I thought a lot about how raw to make the sex scene. I shied away from showing The Act, partially out of my own modesty (which will be blasted out of the water in upcoming pages anyway), and partially out of respect for Delia. If the real Delia is reading this, she's probably howling with laughter at that. Then again, maybe not. She always could surprise me.
I stole a bit of a Frank Miller trick in the first panel. In his image for the Images of Omaha collection, Miller used cast shadows on the bedding to define the form beneath. I could have pushed it further, but my art tends to be of the less is more school, and I'm good with where it ended up. The shadow creeping on the wall from the lamp still needs a bit of clarity- possibly I'll just use Photoshop, since everything else on the page is working very well.
After much consternation, I elected to completely remove the dark background on the two-shot in the bottom tier to concentrate on us girls.
Delia's comment was very telling. In the next page, I'll tell a bit more of her story, but not much, because it is HER story. While she once laughingly told me she'd share her story with anybody, that's her choice, not mine. Here, you get just enough that it helps define our relationship.
Again electing to work in ink rather than pencil. Curt's story (of which this is still part) will be told in pencils, inks, and photography. I just hope the bouncing between media doesn't detract from the flow.
Materials used on this page:
Canson XL Recycled Bristol.
#4 and #2 lead and lead holders
Magic Rub eraser
Pro-4100 India Ink. This stuff clogs my crow quill nibs like crazy, but it's great for brush work.
#1 Sable brush and #4 synthetic brush
Ames Lettering Guide (yes, really), 0.3, 0.5 and 0.7 tech markers
Ellipse template
I'm emotionally raw today, as I prepare for a new class I'm teaching starting Wednesday night and am writing a very emotional postscript to the current work, possibly the most honest part of the whole book. Still, it feels good to stay on self-imposed schedule with this.
Next: more of Delia by way of Curt's story.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 248: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 6

Posting a day late. I anticipated being tired from Pride and completed this week's page in advance, but I didn't reckon with just HOW tired I'd be, so failed to post last night!
When last we encountered our heroine (me), she had met a charming and buxom young (and I do mean YOUNG) woman with a guitar in the Loring Park. Their hands touched.
This page has little overt trans content, beyond my presence, but is important in other ways. The event is the beginning of my re-asserting the bisexual/lesbian part of myself. I thought that, as a woman, that might and might not be part of who I was, and this part was the same scared little rabbit I was before coming out as trans.
It's amazing how many things we can hide when we're trying to be honest.
Read on.
 What I like about this page: the pacing and layout are right. Initially I had reservations about the sliced angled panels, but it struck me as a way to slow the moment down while maintaining the tension between the principals.
The line of music, loosely rendered, is an ersatz version of the melody to Holly Near's classic song How Bold. This is a song that I would play while dancing and exercising alone, while I lived with Curt, when I thought of Delia.
The trembling tails of the word balloons echo the tone of the moment- soft and eager, yet afraid the whole thing would fall apart at any moment.
It's worth noting that if Delia is reading this, she's probably howling with laughter. She's much more self-assured than this implies, and has such a fericously independent streak that she would NEVER say she belonged to anybody, as is implied in her last line here. But it's verbal shorthand for a very long, elaborate conversation we had that day.
What I don't like about this page: the backgrounds/environments are better, but still need work. The candle on the mantle gave me an excuse to stipple a bit, always fun. The backgrounds disappear in the second and third panels, replaced by a large grounding area of black. This is a little bit of a cop-out, but not much. In that moment, everything did fall away except the two of us, at least as I experienced it.
Also Delia's facial expression in panel two and mine in panel three are a bit wanting. I find drawing left face profiles very challenging. Judging from the few I've seen in comics in my research, I'm not alone in this.
We're coming up on a big scene in the next page. I've been stalling on it a bit, but the core of this work is honesty first, cutting myself slack second, so we'll jump in.
Net seven, as they say in the business world!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 247: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.5

Beginning the post before midnight, so technically still a Sunday post!
I had a devil of a time resolving this page/section of the narrative. In the draft version, two major people enter my life and the relationship with Curt takes an unnerving turn, all on one page.
The more I looked at it, the more I realized that I was trying to rush through/gloss over one of the more awkward spots in my life, either before or after transition. That one page will now be four, possibly five pages. Given the scope of the events covered, that still may not be enough. The important thing is to let the story breathe, without bogging it down in tedium or omitting crucial information.
Here's the revised version of this page.
I'll post the original draft after I've completed this segment.
I'm also trying to get away from telling and getting back to showing. No flashback narrative on this page!
This page reverts to inks. I'm a bit rusty, and my inks were gummy, making use of a crowquill almost impossible, but it's a poor workwoman that blames her tools. I may redo this page yet again. I don't mind the rough, raw feel of the rendering of Loring Park in the first panel, but the building, shot straight on like that, looks rather flat.
I've changed the name and the appearance of the woman I met in the park that day, as I've not been in contact with her. I've been trying to let people know when they are included in the book. If I can't contact them, as is the case here, I'll make them anonymous, while holding on to the events in question.
Also hand lettering this page! With this sparse text, it seemed superfluous to letter digitally.
I will review the work when this chapter is complete, to see if it flows with the jump from pencil to ink. As alluded to in a previous post, the last page of this story has another jump in style, so I suspect it will be okay.
The poses in panel two are consistent with the idea that characters' positions should do at least as much to convey story as dialogue.
I debated the merits of throwing in a background texture on panel 3 and decided against it. Backgrounds/environments remain a tentative area in my work. But I like the rendering of the figures in panel 3. Just enough dry brush to make it interesting, and a good variation of line weight.
The last panel just fell into place. Once I realized I was concentrating on the hands touching (which, believe me, was a very potent moment!), the silhouette became the way to go. I do so love a good silhouette.
I'm working through detailing my past stupidity.
Understand me on this one. I don't think I was stupid to be with her, or to commit any of the actions that follow in this story. My stupidity is the same here as it is in most of my stories. If I had just been honest from the outset, I would have saved myself so much trouble!
But in order to be honest with somebody else, you have to be so to yourself first. And at that point, I wasn't there yet.
Next: page 6 of the expanded Curt story.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Original Art Sundays (Friday) no. 246: The Studio

Posting late this week due to two considerations. I have a heavy work load this week, to make amends for work lost due to the recent car accident (I'm healing well, thanks for your concern). In addition, I ran into an impasse on a couple crucial factors on my next page (more about that in the next post).
To deal with my frustrations, I decided it was time to make my studio better. Not perfect, just better. I was tired of navigating the space like it was Fibber McGee's closet.
I had stacks and stacks of papers, books and magazines, boxes of old documents awaiting filing (either in the cabinets or, in most cases, in the proverbial circular file). I had also made a critical error in my initial studio setup, putting my drawing area against the wall and my writing area by the window!
Here's the initial chaos.


Stacks falling over, stuff precariously balanced atop bookshelves, no moving room between writing/office space and drawing board. Every thing I needed to get at to draw properly was at least three moves.
Here's how it resolved.


More effective use of space, and much cleaner. Right now, the studio is the cleanest room in the house, and it's not because the rest of the house is dirtier (the rest of the place is not too bad)!
By switching the drawing and writing areas, I was able to get a better flow. It's still not perfect. I want to rearrange the bookshelves slightly. The old media stand beside the short bookcase, which serves as a tabouret/ storage for some unwieldly odd shaped art supplies like triangles and ellipse templates, is now on the opposite side of the room from the drawing board. There are still some papers to sort, but it's down substantially and they are now in one location as opposed to an uncountable number of places. For some reason, putting up art in this room has proven to be a rather annoying prospect.
I'm toying with getting a strip of peg board to mount stuff like big triangles and long T-squares.
I have a reluctance to getting everything just so. Historically, whenever that has been achieved, that's when I have to move. And I hate moving.
Until such time as either or both of those things happen, this is not perfect. But it IS better. There's more of a Zen flow.
The new-ish space is inspiring, or else I've let go of my inhibitions, because a few days after doing this, I realized what the big issue was with the current page, and now I know how to resolve it!
Next: the frustrating page and its resolution.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 245: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.4

Despite having a drunk total my car and bruise my poor body last night, I am delighted that I can post the next page today. I finished it last night about 2 hours before work, so all is good.
If you recall, our hapless heroine (me) was just getting to know her new boyfriend, but had a feeling something was wrong.
Hey, it's a relationship, so there's usually SOMETHING wrong at some point but this was ...different.
Next page:
 There's a lot that I like here, artistically and in terms of narrative.
One of the big issues I have with graphic memoir (which I'm teaching as a Continuing Education course at MCAD in a few weeks!) is the tendency to what Chuck Jones called "illustrated radio". The Master was referring to animation, of course, but the principle applies here. It's a text narrative in which the illustrations are either redundant or superfluous. This can lead to very static images, or worse yet, images that serve no purpose whatever. I've seen this in some very well-received graphic memoirs. The art is considered an afterthought.
The ideal, which was achieved in Special Exits, MAUS, Stuck Rubber Baby and Fun Home, is a hybrid of text and image that moves the reader along with the subject, rather than placing the reader outside the subject.
In this page, I've chosen a related action scene, which is actually a composite of two real world events, to offer an example of the threat alluded to in the text box. The second panel was originally a lovemaking scene, but I decided that this moment of anticipation and greeting had better action and conveyed a fuller sense of the relationship, such as it was.
For comparison, here's the original rough for this page:
Head shots convey relatively little emotion, despite having the face to work with. I'm constantly reminded of the philosophy of that Archie comics writer. Characters are always on stage, and should always be in a pose that suggests mood or action. Spear carriers should do more than carry spears.
Aesthetic concerns:
I elected to stick with pencils again, but it was a MUCH harder decision for this page. I had to really push to get the darks and weight I wanted from the panels. In retrospect, I could have done more with the background on the restaurant panel. What's there works, but it might work better with a bit more of an environment. The primary poses and attitudes in this panel are freely lifted from Scott McCloud's The Sculptor, page 20, but changed sufficiently that I can call them my own and maintain integrity.
Panel Two is all me. I've played with the Shadows in Open Doorways thing in my work as far back as Tranny Towers. I like the idea of a girl running to her lover- it's a classic- and in that moment, everything else disappears.
Drawing yourself is a challenge. I've represented my figure and hair more or less as I remember them from that time. Drawing that left arm gave me fits! Looking at it now, I can see it's still a bit long/big, but nowhere near as much as it was at first. I spent an hour trying to get the left hand right. Sometimes hands are easy for me, sometimes I just can't draw them. After combing several books for reference, I finally just went to the bathroom mirror, made the gesture and took a shot with my cel phone. It gave me sufficient resources to render a plausible hand.
That's it for this week, unless something comes up that I want to say before the next art entry. I'm on the mend from the aforementioned car crash, and foresee no obstacle to keeping on track with the next page.
I've also started a new story which will serve as an afterword to the completed book, but that's some 120+ pages away.
A suivre...

Monday, May 22, 2017

Original Art Sundays, No, 244: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 3

Well, here we are, on schedule!
Had a great two days at Twin Cities Spring Con. I came home exhausted, but inspired, both by the con and by a concert I attended Saturday night (more on that later if appropriate).
I had a blank page on the board, and after resting for a bit, started drawing, based on the rough in the draft version of the work.
Here's the draft version.
It's legible, but the art is barely there. Many scan artifacts not removed, text layout is static, and those facial expressions- ouch!
I decided to stick with the pencil for the final version, for two reasons. First and foremost, the other pages in this section have been based in pencil, so I thought it might be jarring to switch media within a chapter. Such a switch does occur at the end, but that's a closure thing, and I think it works. We're 8 or 9 pages away from that yet, so some time remains to resolve the issue, if necessary.
8 or 9? I'm considering adding a page right before this one. This is a key event that built for five years, so a little more background on such matters could help clarify things.
Here's the (possibly) final version.
The text integrates more successfully with the image. I'm also trying to use the advice of that old Archie illustrator. Don't have your characters just standing wooden. Have their poses reflect action.
In the first panel, I've gone for greater emotional intimacy. The text says a lot of that. It was my moment of greatest triumph. I had accomplished one of the major goals of my life, possibly the most important one. And there was no acknowledgment from family (to be fair, my Mother did call).
I rendered the hospital bed from memory rather than reference. Since I work with them in my AIDS caregiver job, I'm pretty clear on the basic structures.
I'm rendering Curt pretty much the way he looked. After 5 years with someone,  you get to know their nooks and crannies. I think the loving/bedraggled look I gave my face in the first panel is just right.
The second panel is one of my favorites. Though I do love realistic rendering, the flowing lines of a loosely structured, almost gestural pair of figures is somehow emotionally satisfying. As I was writing this, I noticed that the figures form an ersatz heart shape, which was NOT my intention.
I made a conscious  decision to delete the white from the word balloons and let the pencils show through. I'm happy with that.
The only thing I wonder about on these pencil pages is weight. I don't push the blacks far enough when working in graphite.
I may rescan this. It retains a few more artifacts than I like, there's a slight disjoint where the two scans of the half pages don't match up, and there are some cloying shadow lines at the base of the page. I fret a bit about having to re-enter the type, but I could just copy and paste those parts of the image to the new file.
I still have large format scanner access at my other job, even though I don't have a summer contract, so it's just a question of better time management.
In general, the page works, but there's some fine print to address.
Materials used: Canson XL Recycled 90# Bristol, soft lead in holder, #4 solid lead stick, #4 solid lead pencil, Magic Rub erasers, HP Deskjet 1510 scanner, Photoshop cc 2015.
Next: page four of this story. I have a couple short pieces tickling the back of my brain, but I'd like to stick this story out.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No. 243: Athena's wine (Tranny Towers!)

April 20 is the anniversary of my surgery. I try to find some small way to celebrate every year, however quietly. This year, I was working.
I used the tools on hand to do a sketch on break, in the wee hours (I'm usually pretty much caught up with my duties between 4:30 and 5:30 AM, though I do make rounds regularly even then). All that was on hand was a no. 2 pencil with a dull lead, ballpoint pens, and printer paper.
Inspired by the recent positive reaction to my work at the Queers and Comics conference, I decided to revisit Tranny Towers. I did a quick sketch of my main character from the strip, Athena.
There were a couple things that weren't quite working. I let it be for week and came back to put some finishes on it. Going in with brush tip marker, Pro Art India ink and a no. 4 synthetic brush, I corrected a few things, and did a bit of clean-up.
Some of the sketchy ballpoint lines irritate me, but they provide enough character that I can live with them.
Originally, I had rendered the night stand on which she was resting her hand at an odd angle, almost an isometric drawing. Between that and having originally set her left leg way out and at an equally odd angle, it appeared our dear Athena was not on her first glass of wine!
The wine glass, still not the best rendering I've ever done of an object, is miles above the original sketch.
Athena's figure works for me. I've always seen her as having more full/real world proportions. I know many trans folk who thrive in the high glamor look. I did that for a while and I liked it, but it just wasn't me. As Athena is the character from the original strip who I always considered my closest parallel, it makes sense that her look should follow suit, although her hair has always been nicer than mine!
It does feel good to get back to Tranny Towers. The strip had some problems, I suppose, but I was so bold and excited doing that work, right up to the end. I took a lot of chances in the work, and most of them paid off.
Next: back to Sharp Invitations. At last.