Sunday, February 5, 2023

Original Art Sundays no. 358: Sharp Invitations: Esther's Hands, pp. 1 and 2

 Into the next chapter!

This will be a bit faster and less emotionally charged than the Curt chapter. Planned and drafted at 10 pages, probably come in around 20. This chapter deals with my relationship with my mother, and with how she handled my transition.

This chapter comes before the chapters on work, surgery and Curt in the final book.

Very open layout on these. I plan to use her style in drawing this as much as possible. Since her style and mine are similar anyway, this shouldn't be a challenge. These pages are necessary background. I toyed with just doing the first panel, the horseback shot, in pencil, and finally decided to leave the soft background in pencil and do minimal erasing. The wedding party photo is not my work, of course, but it does belong here. I considered re-drawing it, and opted for straight photography instead. Both schools of thought are valid. In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel renders photographs, but The Magical Tack of Long Tack Sam uses photos, objects, collages.... it's a memoir. Go with what works.

Pretty much the standard tool list on these, a bit heavy on the Photoshop. I did use a new #1 brush on that first panel. 

Next: marriage to a serviceman, kids, complications....

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Original Art Sundays No. 357: Sharp Invitations: Curt, final pages

 Hi again.

Took an extra week to complete these pages. I hope you'll find the wait worthwhile!

When we left Diana and Jenny, they (we) were motoring back from Curt's trial in Madison. Please join us for the aftermath.


That concludes this chapter. 

It was such a humbling experience to have the people who survived all this with me, the women who put up with this nonsense, beside me at its culmination. Like Pete Townshend said in Somebody Saved Me, all I know is I've been making it- there have been times I didn't deserve to. I really don't know if I believe in ritual power or not. But whether we were invoking outside forces or giving me a healing moment of catharsis, it worked. And I'm sure his dying shortly after the ritual, 250 miles away and unknown to me for 10 years, was coincidence. Really, pure coincidence. You can't prove a thing. You got nothing on me, coppers!

I'm tempted to include a section on repercussions, to talk about how these effects scarred me in unexpected ways over the years. But I have other things to say before the book is done, and some of that will present itself in the coda.

My original outline, based on the ten chapters in my 64 page draft edition, was to deal with this as a small part of my life. This chapter comprised 10 pages of the outline. Turns out I had more to say about it than about some other parts. Ultimately, the book is about three things: trans stuff, class issues (to a small degree), and surviving in general, with surviving abuse as a specific aspect of that.  One of the original ten chapters is gone. It's a good story, but not for this book. The remaining chapters will cover my mother (6 - 10 pages), my father (about the same), sex and sexuality coupled with gender concerns (another 12 pages as now planned), and the coda, which ran 12 pages in a recent rewrite. About 50 pages, give or take.

Then it's done, aside from edits (assuming I get a publisher).

My big concern about the book is that it not be too grim, sad, or unrelenting. I've known plenty of joy along the way, and I want that to come across too.

Art notes: 

Getting a handle on these pages was a challenge, the second page more than the first. These are fairly static, minimal action pages. On the ritual page, there was one big action that served as the focal point. I'm not a big fan of sound effects in my work. I played with adding something here, but it didn't really gel. Technique is pretty straightforward on these, with minimal Photoshop corrections. I'm developing my own set of tools as the work evolves: sparse backgrounds, use of gray value from pencil to weight the visuals of more airy pages and panels, and a deliberate sense of framing. That last drawn panel on the second page turned out okay- everyone sitting around the table celebrating quietly. The final page is lifted verbatim from the draft edition. What can I say? Sometimes it's right the first time. I just took a traditional 35mm photograph from back in the day, scanned it and added text.

The tools used here are much the same as on the previous posted pages, so no updates necessary. I did get a porcelain escargot dish to use for inking, based on the recommendation of Terry Moore, and it's pretty cool.

Next: the chapter on Mother begins. I will need to find a better title for that one! In the draft the title was Esther and Gandalf, and I don't care for that at all now!

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Original Art Sundays No. 356: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 56

     Now that finals are done and the new semester is a week away (again teaching Comic History and Rock History- what a dream semester!), it's back to our story.

     When we left our heroine, the trial of her abuser was winding down.

    Read on...


This page gave me fits. So simple, yet it proved so elusive. Not much happens here in terms of story. The big moment was the verdict, of course. I've condensed that phone conversation to a few lines in two panels. In the real world, we talked for about 20 minutes.

My friend John, seen for the first and possibly only time in this book, is John Sinks. John was my dearest friend in high school, and taught me so much of life. He instilled love of prog rock and film art in me, and went on to do sound for King Crimson until his untimely death a couple years ago. 

The art.... aagh. So simple yet so frustrating. I had a major block on the simplest things on this page. I think I was just overworked by extra demands at semester's end. The page felt so visually light! I turned to some classic devices to give it a little weight, and while hardly my best work, I think the end result is serviceable. Lots of visual cliches on this page, but in this context, that's okay. I'm just happy to have the page resolved cleanly.

I've done a bit of other work in the interim, and will post some of it soon.

The equipment list is pretty much the same as the last page, so no real need to repost this week.

Next: two pages, closing this chapter.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Original Art Sundays no. 355: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 55

 Back in the saddle, so to speak! Last week was just too hectic, but we're back on track.

Last week, we saw my court testimony against Curt. He was on trial for disorderly conduct (reduced charge) after his actions against me the previous December.

Read on.

Courtrooms are pretty bland places, visually. This is intentional, to a large extent. Neutral surroundings give advantage to neither side in a conflict.

This courtroom is reconstructed from memory and a few photo references. I added the painting on the wall to give the panel a little weight.

Other art considerations: Panel one is partially open. This is to slow the pace a bit. The full figure echoes the first page of the narrative. The very first panel of the story is me full figure. The kitchen setting and me drinking tea (or is it coffee?) was a whim. The open cupboards are another opportunity to give weight to a very light page, visually. I used the heavy blacks in panels 3 and 5 as counterbalances- one on reader left, one on reader right. I got sick of not being able to control my whiteout, so I got some more options, including a whiteout pen that gives great coverage and is very easy to work with. The texture behind him in panels 4 and 5 was the same thing, just to add a little weight and texture. Very light Photoshop this week. Just some Levels and Curves work, and a slight correction for distortion in the scan.This one was pretty clean.

Focus is never my long suit. I'm thinking about my classes for next semester, while I wrap up the current semester (3 weeks to go!). Along the same lines, I have sketches and notes on the next two major projects, and I'm putting together a small book of completed works. All the while, I'm planning and re-planning the completion of this book.

Here's this week's tool list.

  • Canson Bristol Board
  • T-squares, triangles, straightedges, Ames lettering guide, erasing guide
  • Pencils: Ticonderoga 2B, Derwent 6B and 3B, 0.3 tech pencil and Ebony pencil
  • Inks: Quill nib and holder, Dr. Martin's Black Magic matte ink, Copic Multiliner Brush Small, Microns .005, .02, .03, .05 and .08
  • Kneadable and plastic erasers
  • FW Artists' Acrylic White and Tight Spot correction brush, Whiteout pen
  • Photoshop


Next: the verdict is in.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Original Art Sundays No. 313: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 54

 Court time!

Testifying against the abusive ex!

Narrative notes: As has been happening, this is an abridged version of my testimony. Actual court proceedings are slow and detail oriented, and don't usually make for good storytelling. He really did loudly whisper that to his attorney! I still have that Ankh necklace, and that dress. The dress no longer fits, but I've always loved it and can't bring myself to part with it. The second panel on the top tier could read as abridged testimony, which it is, or as broken phrases due to the raw emotions on the stand. While the former is the truth, both are valid readings.

Art notes: Courtrooms are really kind of boring places, at least visually. They have to be, when you think about it. It's not about the place, it's about what happens there. The backgrounds are sparse and the lighting is very even. Doesn't make for an exciting view. I moved the "camera" a bit, always just on the one axis, to give the page some visual dynamic. This page is completely pen and ink, aside from the corrections. The background completely drops from the bottom tier. This is a deliberate narrative choice. I wanted to push aside everything except the testimony at that point. This page got very messy in scanning for some reason - a ton of little artifacts! I did the usual Photoshop tricks: levels, dust and scratches, threshold. But it came down to tedium with eraser and brush tools. It's not my best page, but it works.

Next: one more page of court, possibly two if I can't resolve a layout challenge, two pages of aftermath,  and a page of goodbye. Then this chapter is done.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Original Art Sundays No. 312: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 53

 Hello all!

I concentrated on Inktober (and midterm grades) during the last month.  I will post my Inktober work as time permits, and I may compile a small book of the last two years of October Inks. Now that I've completed that work for now, it's back to the book.

When we left our heroines, Diana (myself) and Jennifer were en route to Madison, WI. I was going there to testify against Curt, who insisted on a jury trial on disorderly conduct charges, stemming from his attempted attack on me six months earlier. 

Read on.

Story notes: this page provides a small glimpse into Jenny's personality, in her facial expressions and curiosity. It's a necessary step in the story- we have to get there for the trial to happen, of course. I'm always struck by how much you can do with so little in comics. One small caption covers an entire trip! I might have the mileage wrong- didn't bother to double check it, since I've done that particular journey so many times over the years. Side note: 3/4 of the page is devoted to a hair style. Make of that what you will.

Layout and art notes: My photo reference for the Dane County Courthouse was limited, so I extrapolated an exterior from available information. The telescoped perspective (trompe l'oilel) is surface plausible, but hurts if you look at it too long. This page was rather sparse, so I dropped in some Photoshop textures.  It felt weird - good but weird- to be working on comics again after a month of just drawing. There's a slight distortion to the bottom edge. Most of the time, my new trick of taking a phone photo and dropping it into Photoshop on the laptop works fine, but there are idiosyncrasies. I suspect that when the book is complete, prior to a re-edit, I will need to take a couple weeks and just re-scan, re-draw, rewrite...

Lots of artifacts on this week's page! Photoshop cleanup was crucial. I wasn't paying attention to my tools, and grabbed a 6B pencil for most of the layout, making cleanup a challenge. I re-lettered Panel Two in PS, using the Scott McCloud The Sculptor typeface. I recently read that again. It's so good! It reminds me of the possibilities of the form, technical, narrative and spiritual.

During Inktober, I splurged on new brushes, nibs and inks. I've forgotten how much smoother the work is when one doesn't have to fight one's tools.

The tools this week are the usual suspects:

  • Canson Bristol Board
  • T-squares, triangles, straightedges, Ames lettering guide, erasing guide
  • Pencils: Ticonderoga 2B, Derwent 6B and 3B, 0.3 tech pencil and Ebony pencil
  • Inks: Quill nib and holder, Dr. Martin's Black Magic matte ink, Copic Multiliner Brush Small, Microns .005, .02, .03, .05, .08, and 1.0 (lots of Micron use on this page)
  • Kneadable and plastic erasers
  • FW Artists' Acrylic White and Tight Spot correction brush
  • Photoshop

Next: We see Curt again.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Original Art Sundays No. 311: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 52

 As alluded to, we're not done with him yet. The nature of the ominous phone call is revealed...

So... off to court! I'd only been in court once before (car trouble- the police found marijuana in the glove box). I really wasn't sure what to expect. And yes, there was a drastic haircut involved, which will be covered on our next page. This trip really forged my relationship with Jenny, and gave me a much-needed fresh perspective on Curt.

Logistically, this page was fun. I looked at several road trip comics: the 70s Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, some moments in Omaha the Cat Dancer (especially the scene where she's taking a bus to Wisconsin!), The Archies miniseries (which was so good!) and the last issue of JMS's Midnight Nation, which I've been re-reading a lot lately. I got the framework for this page from that last book, and was able to modify it to suit my narrative. The faces elongated just a bit, but it's okay, as I was quite thin when I got done with him- so much so that at least one friend thought I had some ailment causing weight loss. Well, in a way, I suppose I did. Layout is pretty direct. Weight in the top tier comes from a background texture. The inset slice panel of tier 2 reestablishes the scene, and we cut to car interiors for the bottom tier. After the info dump in panel four, there's a slow buildup to an introspective moment. We go closer on the face, then tight on one feature, the eyes (an old film trick that usually works). I love the reduction of the rest of the car interior to silhouette in panels five and six. This page condenses approximately three weeks of real time. Many necessary legal logistics are left out of the narrative.


  • Basic tools: Drawing Board, T-square, triangle, straightedge, Ames lettering guide
  • Pencils: Ticonderoga 2B, Cumberland 3B, Pasler 6B, lead holder with 4B lead, and tech pencil with 3B lead.
  • Erasers: Staedtler Mars plastic and kneadable erasers
  • Dr. Martin's Black Matte Ink, FW Artists' Acrylic White
  • ALL the Micron tech markers (.005 to 1.0) and Copic Brush Tip Marker
  • Brushes: Grumbacher no. 2 flat,  Princeton 1/4" mini-detailer, Tight Spot
  • Photoshop (minimal corrections this time! Mostly I do Threshold and Levels work, sometimes Curves)

Next: Testify!

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Original Art Sundays no. 310: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 51

 Only one page this week, campers. Next several pages are written and next page is laid out and on the board. As mentioned last week, we're coming into the busy season. I'm eager to keep up the pace without driving myself crazy!

A moment of bliss in the previous page, as a new relationship begins. But life never holds still, much as we might want it to... 

Story Notes: Once again, the timeline is condensed for narrative purposes. There were several months between my leaving Curt and courting Jenny, and a few more until we lived together. While it's exciting to live through the growth of a new relationship, it doesn't make for good storytelling. I just discussed this with my students. The 1990s storytelling movement spawned attempts to make books of the oral narratives. The books were failures. What works in daily life and personal interaction doesn't always work on the page.
Art Notes: The scene is the star here. The characters are literally embedded in the setting, using the basic principle of foreground/midground/background. That's a very fun park and walking path, still going strong. The last panel was done on a separate page and imported in Photoshop. The original version showed me running to catch the phone call, and it was just an unreadable mess. There's little actual action on this page, so the rule comes into play: something must always move. If the characters aren't moving, the perspective (camera) must. I'm using a heavier outline on much of this page, especially panel two.
Next: we hit the road.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Original Art Sundays No. 309: Sharp Invitations: Curt, pp. 49 (rework) and 50

 Back at it, folks!

I corrected the first panel of the last page and am reposting the page to start, followed by the next page. I am very close to completion of the following page, but not quite there. Here are pages 49 and 50.

In the current narrative, we're talking about rebuilding a life. These pages continue that theme.

Not much new to say about the first page after last week's discussion. This is mainly a correction, after all. That first panel is an improvement over last week's posting, using a more direct angle and a tighter shot (and better drawing). Keep it simple! Just rendered on a different piece of Bristol and patched it in with Photoshop. My facial expression in he new version of Panel One is what I was hoping to convey- just barely holding on, but trying to smile anyway.

Page 50 of this chapter is most of what I'm saying about Jennifer in this book. Our relationship had its challenges, as they all do, but she's living her own life now and I want to respect her privacy. We saw each other through some rough times, and I am grateful to her. She had such intense joy! Jenny was also trans, which will be discussed a bit in a future page. After I wrote this page, I realized that I had lifted the last line from my man Micheal Nesmith. But the sentiment was so right, I decided to let it go. I drew the portrait of us on Coquille board instead of Bristol, using classic pen and ink with China marker (AKA grease pencil). The stuff is really pricey, but I love the look and would like to use it more often! I became attached to it in the 90s when I found out you could get a halftone from it without a stat camera. I do so love old school production art. For this page, I wanted a simple border, vaguely reminiscent of Art Noveau, around the illustration, and floating text above and beneath. It's been a while since I did a decorative border, and it felt nice to flex that particular muscle again. I was, in my small way, emulating the master of the Noveau border in comics, Terry Moore. But it needed to be fairly simple, so I opted for just some nice flowing overlapping curves. The border and text were done on a separate sheet of Canson Bristol board and merged in Photoshop.

I keep saying I'm almost done with this chapter. Yet on it goes. Much like what Alan Moore said about his groundbreaking run on Miracleman, it was a simple idea, but it grew in the telling. The bulk of it is complete. There are three significant events yet to document, and an afterword. Then a brief chapter on each of my parents and a final word. I'm so charged to do the work right now. I'm trying new techniques, revisiting old ones, and embracing the work. If I can manage two pages a week, the bulk of the book could be complete by year end. That's a realistic goal, I think. Of course, I also plan to do Inktober again this year... possibly more Coquille pieces... and I need to grade and teach and... 

Yet the book gets done. I will have faith, and welcome you to do the same.

Next: Things are finally going well for our heroine, and that's unlikely to change, right? Right? Well....

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Original Art Sundays No. 308: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 49

 Running a little late tonight! Friday's opening celebration of the MCAD Faculty Biennial was a wonder. So grateful to have my work seen and liked. It's also liberating to present work about trans issues and abuse survival to my colleagues and students. In retrospect, I probably should have combed my hair before the photo was taken!

Now on to this week's page. 

Two weeks ago: homeless shelter and a bus to Minneapolis. Last week: reflection and self-recrimination. What happens next?

Narrative notes: This is necessary but tedious. The process of normalizing a life, crucial as it is, involves stuff that doesn't make for great drama. I've condensed almost half a year's events into this page rather than bog the story down in minutia. I assumed that most people know what a PCA is, so didn't explain in detail. The exchange in the last panel was actually between me and Sara, but I used it as a vehicle to convey that I was back in therapy. That particular therapist was what I needed at the time, but in the long run not a good fit.

Visual notes: That first panel is so clunky! I had a much better idea for it after it was done and scanned, and I will re-post the page with the proper panel in place next week, along with a new page. The rest of the page works okay. It's not a spectacular page, but it serves the story, which is the most important thing. The last panel seems strongest, with solid environments, good character interaction and the interesting little panel border violation.

What happens next? Well, let's just say he's not quite out of the story yet...

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Original Art Sundays No 307: Sharp Invitiations: Curt, p. 48

 Time, time, time, see what's become of me...

Sorry, in a bit of a Simon & Garfunkel mood. I do love that song.

We're on the overnight bus in a bitter winter, contemplating and regretting.

Went through some real changes on this one. Originally it was going to be a "putting your life back together" page, but that seemed a bit abrupt. We need a moment to consider everything that's happened before moving on. I suddenly remembered that Francine painting in Vol. 3 book 6, the one where she's quasi-fetal, holding her foot and looking ruefully to the side. I started off trying to copy that, then made the pose my own. I liked the idea of a contained nude pose, all lost and vulnerable. My initial concept was to do ink wash over the figure, progressively darker as we go down, with rough torn edges between gradations. Then I thought about masking the figure and using ink wash through rough burlap. Both ideas have merit, but not for this page. Besides, my frisket seems to have dried up.

As I drew the figure, the concept of a flashback collage came to me. So it was back to the old files and Photoshop to the rescue! Yay, layers and masks!

No need for an equipment list this week.

One of the questions I'm asked often by people who read this work is the obvious one: why did I stay around? There's no simple answer, and it's a question I continue to ask myself. I suspect that any abuse survivor has a similar internal dialogue. I don't know if it's easier or harder being trans when it comes to abuse. I suspect abuse is abuse. Trans is just one more thing they can use against you in that context.

On a more positive note, the MCAD Faculty Biennial has its official opening this Friday! There are 14 pages from this work in the show, along with a banner created for the show. I hope to see many friends there. So much great art to celebrate....

Next: TCB.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Original Art Sundays: Sharp Invitations: Curt, pp. 46 & 47

 Once more....

Two pages this week, but one is a recap. The astute reader will recall that the previous chapter ended with a preview of this chapter, me getting on a bus. We're at that point in the story, so let's jump in.

When we left our heroine, she was being taken to a homeless shelter.

Read on.

Story notes: That was one lonely, scary night! I was treated well- actually, largely ignored, which under the circumstances, was fine with me. A little artistic license on the collapse in the shower. It did happen, but not so dramatically as all that. I hadn't mentioned the short job I was fired from at this time until now. I hope that doesn't cause confusion in the reader, but aside from getting that last paycheck, it really has nothing to do with the core story. Really, there's so much tedium involved in tearing your life apart that the details seem so unnecessary after the fact.The worker at the shelter was very decent, even setting me up with toiletries when I got there. I disclosed my trans status so it didn't create more problems, and was treated decently.

Art notes: Very light blacks this week. There were a couple places where I considered adding more value, but I was unhappy with my experiments with it. Keep it simple and clean. Almost no brush on this page. Lots of nib work, and a bit of Copic brush marker, along with the usual assortment of Microns.In light of that, I shan't post an equipment list this week.

Shan't. That shows class.

I really like the second panel. That's a case where I played with adding tone to the tiles, as I've done in the past, but decided to keep it simple.

Wow, I've been drawing a lot of bathrooms lately!

The second page is a recap, with just the caption text changed. I considered changing the thought balloon, but hey, if that's what the character thought in the flash forward, that's what she's thinking now. Just a bit of Photoshop on this one for the text and we're good to go.

Side note: I was prepping for my fall teaching load, and I had a chance to preview my work hanging in the MCAD Biennial show. I'm very happy with it. I chose what I think are some of my strongest pages, and the display is very effective. The show will be open before then (it may be now), but the opening ceremony is Friday, September 9. I would be happy to see friendly faces there to share my work. Other MCAD comic creators will also be represented, including Zak Sally, Blue Dellaquanti and Barb Schulz. Delighted to be in such distinguished company!

Next: back to Minneapolis, as we near the completion of this chapter. In the original draft manuscript, this chapter was eleven pages. Looks like the final version will be 60 - 70 pages, almost a book on its own.

Guess I had a little more to say than I thought I did.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Original Art Sundays no. 305: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.45

 Once more into the breach, dear friends. When we left our intrepid couple, Curt had made his intentions clear. Read on.

First, we discuss the story.

Events unfolded in this way, but there was a 24 hour gap between him telling me to go and my exit. We had out of town company the next day, quite awkward. I do wish I'd put on the other pants! The cop is modeled on a Madison cop who used to work security for Rocky Horror when I was running the Majestic in Madison. Really nice guy. We had long talks about Stephen King. Last time I saw him was after I transitioned and he was still decent to me, something I haven't always experienced from law enforcement. I remember him fondly. I wish all cops were as respectful to trans people as he was to me.

Art notes: I went a bit overboard on the first panel, with a wild pose inspired partially by the Bob Clampett classic The Great Piggy Bank Robbery. I do enjoy that loose style, but it doesn't always serve the story. One of my occasional beta readers suggested that the left (back) arm could swing out a little more. I followed that suggestion and it worked. 

The rest of the page is pretty procedural. It was a lonely, scared night and I wanted to show that without saying it outright. Given where I went, it was fairly easy. 24 hour groceries have mind numbingly even lighting. It's very disconcerting. For the last 5 panels, my goal was to include sufficient detail to communicate and no more. The characters inside the police car are a visual idea I want to work on more - characters seen inside the environment, as opposed to placed atop it or in front of it. Characters behind desks, seen through foliage, wandering through ruins with large bent metal in front of them- you get the idea. It encourages deeper involvement in the story. Some of the lines in the last panel dropped out a bit. I'll push it more in Photoshop, as is my way.

Same equipment list as last week, so I won't repeat it. There is the notable inclusion of a couple new tools: a Copic small brush marker and a Deerfoot 1/4 Mini Detailer brush. It's an angled tip, very chunky, and gives a delightful scumbling line. Very thick handle, feels good to hold. I suspect it will get a lot of use as a dry brush tool. You can see some of it in the "light lines" around the lightpost in panel 3. 

Next week: the shelter.