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Archive for the category “Comics”

Fan Art: Amya Chronicles

I mentioned, back when I posted my fan art for Pete Abram’s Sluggy Freelance, that I had also drawn one for Savannah Houston McIntyre’s Amya Chronicles. Yesterday, I had the delightful honor of having my fan art posted as filler while the comic takes a hiatus.

lenna_final

Angie and Silenna, two half-elf rangers fighting for half-elf rights in Amya Chronicles. Both characters are introduced toward the beginning of Chapter 3, Lenna joining the main characters on their journey toward the end of the chapter.

Silenna Gardine, the half-elf ranger on the right, is likely my favorite character so far in Amya Chronicles. I like Lenna for… well for a lot of reasons, really. From an artistic standpoint, I like that she’s athletic and muscular without being pumped or ripped and she’s beautiful and sexy without being sexualized. That’s not an easy balance to find. And so far I haven’t seen her in a pose that would require the absence of a few ribs or the removal of one’s spinal cord. For a long time I was worried about Lenna’s future in the narrative, as she was listed on the cast page under “Acquaintances.” But as of recently, I noticed that she was moved to the “Travelers” category. No official confirmation, but I like to think this is a positive development for our lovely ranger’s future role in the tale. (One might notice that the image posted to the comic has been cropped slightly to fit the webpage’s format. Eh, now I know…)

lenna2.0

A slightly photo-edited scan of the initial line work.

My initial concept sketch for this piece featured Lenna sitting by herself on the tree branch, looking at peace or contemplative. But when I finished the line work, I felt like she ought to be with someone, either talking or just hanging out. At first I considered Kaden, the rogue/pistol markswoman or Faye, the mute spell caster, but I couldn’t come up with a valid reason for either of them to be up a tree. It eventually made more sense to have her teammate, Angie, perched up there as if their biding their time before ambushing their quarry. Rather than redraw the whole image, I drew a second picture of Angie, then cut and taped the drawings together and scanned them to the computer. You can kind of see where I edited the lines out. I know it’s a primitive way to go about it, but I don’t exactly have hundreds of dollars to spend on Wacom Tablets and Adobe software.

lenna3.0

Ink work for the lines. I’m not great at the inking yet, but I feel like my inked drawings come out much better when scanned to the computer than the regular graphite ones do.

Archival ink is a relatively new medium for me, and so I try not to get frustrated when I make mistakes and do my best to cover those mistakes. I’d not bother as much with it, but I like how the ink looks when I scan it to the computer. I can’t seem to make graphite scan all that well, so I’m typically less inclined to try to share my regular sketches. (If anyone has any tips or ideas for making my sketches look better on the PC, I’m open to suggestions.)

At any rate, I like how this turned out in the end, though I’ll admit to having been apprehensive about having it posted to the comic. So far, though, the other commenters have been appreciative. Interestingly, Savvy recently posted that she has a need of additional fan art, so I’m working on a sketch of two other characters to submit as well. Here is the current draft:

faye1.0

An image of Faye, the protagonist, and Kaden, the party’s rogue. Faye just recently got her very first handgun in the story, so it makes sense for Kaden, the resident markswoman to teach her to shoot.

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Fan Art: Sluggy Freelance

I’ve been reading the webcomic Sluggy Freelance by Pete Abrams since around April of 2010. I saw my brother reading it off and on when he was home from college and he told me a bit about the story and characters. I finally got curious enough to check it out for myself. For those not familiar with Sluggy, it’s a daily comic that’s been running since August of 1997—do the math, that’s a lot of friggin’ comics to wade through. My recommendation for those who want to check Sluggy out but aren’t sure they want to read the entire archive: click the archive drop-down menu beneath the comic, go to “Comics not yet in books,” and select the chapter titled “bROKEN” as your starting point. This particular storyline is kind of the main lead-in to the current story. One of the nice features of the Sluggy website is that Pete thoughtfully provides hotlinks whenever he references past comics in his current story. Thus if something doesn’t make sense to a new reader (or to a current reader who’s forgotten), they can link directly back to the pertinent comic instead of having to hunt through the archive. (I wrote up a blurb for Sluggy Freelance in a previous post about some of my favorite web comics. It can be found here.)

In the spirit of webcomic artists who like to draw their characters dressed as other characters, I decided to draw the six main characters from Sluggy Freelance as the Light Warriors from Final Fantasy I. Shortly after I joined the message boards at Sluggy, someone put a call out for fan art. And so I posted my original drawing, with the intent of drawing other pictures along the same theme.

Sluggy Warriors

Final Fantasy’s Light Warriors, Sluggy-style!

I originally drew this for Halloween in 2011. I don’t recall precisely what inspired me to draw them as the Light Warriors, but it seemed fitting for some reason. Left to right: Sam as Thief; Kiki as herself; Zoe as Black Belt; Torg as Fighter; Bun-Bun as himself; Riff as Red Mage; Sasha as White Mage; and Gwynn as Black Mage. Some elements from the drawing I’m happy with, other elements less so. I’m particularly happy with how Torg and Zoe turned out (despite that Zoe looks a lot buffer than she does in the comic). I’m not so happy with Sam and Sasha’s faces–in fact, I’m not sure everyone can immediately tell that’s Sasha.

Gwynn as the Black Mage

I was going to make a “Black Magic Woman” reference, but I think Pete did that in the comic when Gwynn got possessed by a demon and tried to murder her friends.

This technically was the second image I drew for this theme. I originally used it as part of the coloring book I drew for my cousin/godson, Paul. It made most sense to make Gwynn the Black Mage since she gains magic powers after being possessed by the demon K’Z’K. They aren’t something she uses often, as she seems to be somewhat afraid of them. I find Gwynn also fits this this role aesthetically as her coke-bottle glasses can be made to look like the Black Mage’s glowing eyes.

Shasha as the White Mage

The classic White Mage typically wields a mallet or a mage’s staff. Leave it to Sasha to carry both, just in case.

Here is my revisitation of Sasha as the White Mage. Unlike the picture I drew of Gwynn, I made sure to include a couple references from the comic in this one. I threw Kiki in for good measure, with a funnel on her head because it just seems like the kind of thing she’d wear on her head like a party hat. There is just something infinitely huggable about Sasha, in contrast to Zoe’s intimacy issues or Gwynn’s prickliness. (The stuffed animals and the pool floaty are a reference to one of my favorite story arcs, which begins here.)

Riff as the Red Mage

Chances are he’s screaming underneath that mask.

It just somehow made most sense to cast Riff as the Red Mage, as we have a caster who can also wear armor and fight. A battlemage, if you will. Originally I’d intended to have Riff casting a spell of some kind as he ran, but I just couldn’t make the spell look convincing. Instead I opted to have him running with the Water Orb (one of the key mcguffins from the original Final Fantasy). The armored boots and bracers seemed to fit Riff’s personality, and I added a chain-mail shirt because the Red Mage can wear chain armor and chain mail is a fun texture to draw. (Just ask any Prince Valiant artist.) I’m also quite happy with how the pommel of his sword looks, but less so with the scabbard.

Sam the Man as the Thief

Neither Sam nor Bun-Bun seems overly impressed by the Rat’s Tail as a quest item…

I think one of the things that bugged me about my original Sam drawing was the lack of coat. Sam’s long coat is almost as customary as Riff’s, and I think drawing him without was a mistake. I cast Sam as the thief solely because the they both have pointy ears. For no apparent reason, I opted to give Bun-Bun a helmet. The only requirement was that it had to have an open face. The Roman centurion helm was the first look I tried, and I liked it well enough that I decided to roll with it.

Zoe and Torg as the Black Belt and the Fighter

An action shot of Torg and Zoe, with Zoe vaulting over Torg’s head as she leaps into battle.

All along I’ve intended to put Torg and Zoe together for theirs. It just took me a long time to decide on a pose for them. I considered pictures of Torg standing behind Zoe and of Zoe standing behind Torg. I considered drawing them standing back to back. I considered a number of action poses, finally deciding on this one of Zoe vaulting over Torg’s head as she leaps into battle. Torg’s action pose comes directly from a Captain America comic I’ve had for years. The battle axe is a Norse design, to reflect Torg’s viking heritage. Zoe’s pose is from a picture I found of the thief gal from Trine. I like Zoe’s outfit much better in this than in the original cast drawing above.

At any rate, there was some talk on the discussion forums about Pete using some of our fan art as filler, but I haven’t heard anything back about it. As far as fan art goes, I also drew and submitted a piece for Amya Chronicles, another of my favorite comics. I heard back from Savvy, the comic’s writer, and she wants to use it for filler art here in the next few months, so I’m kind of stoked about it. I feel it’s only courteous to wait until Savvy posts it before posting it here, though.

Drawrings from High School

This came from a poster I used to have. The hat and bandanna had loud, strange, colorful patterns that were basically impossible to portray in graphite.

I don’t think of myself as a particularly great artist. I can draw most things I see with a certain degree of skill (except cars—I can never seem to draw cars very well), but I’m not the sort who can draw just anything that comes to the imagination. I envy people like that. That isn’t to say that I can’t use other images and modify them to look how I want—I do it all the time—but I look at a lot of the slickly drawn, original images on art blogs and Deviant Art and webcomics, and feel mediocre in comparison.

For my 30th birthday, my mom put together a scrapbook for me, full of pictures, certificates, and other paraphernalia that she’s kept all these years. One thing she made sure to include was samples of my art, mostly from my drawing classes in high school, but also featured a few more recent ones as well as a marker drawing of a tractor from 1st or 2nd grade. (Apparently, John Deere green wasn’t a standard color in marker sets.) It’s been interesting to see how my interests at that time reflected my subject matter for my sketch work. In elementary school, I was into video games and remember drawing a lot of Mario Brothers stuff. I even remember designing Mario levels on long sheets of paper and having cutouts I drew of the Mario characters dodging cutout Goombas and Koopa Troopas. I also remember being into World War II airplanes for a while and drawing many of those during my free time. Unfortunately, very little of my artwork from elementary school still survives. It’d be interesting to look back at those and compare how they look to my later stuff.

I remember being rather proud of this one. And looking back, it’s one of my better comic book drawings. It’s been so long that I don’t remember where I got the image I used for Wolverine here, but having him tearing through the page was entirely my addition.

I didn’t do a great deal of drawing in early high school. Not sure why, either. It wasn’t until I took a couple drawing courses my junior and senior years that I started to draw regularly again. I still have my high school sketchbook and peruse it from time to time. Apparently I was really into comic book heroes back then. Most of my comics sketches were from X-Men, but I also drew a couple Spider-Man drawings, among others. I don’t follow action comics as closely anymore—I even gave my comic books to one of my cousins years ago—but I do still think they’re interesting aesthetically. I think it’s the exaggerated physical features that draw me to them. I’m fairly certain it isn’t possible to be as muscle-bound as the male heroes nor as outrageously sexualized as the heroines. I’m not sure why, but I find these exaggerated images as compelling as they are hilarious.

Based on the MTG card “Goblin Hero,” artwork by Pete Venters. I recall that Venters did a number of great illustrations of goblins for MTG, but this one was particularly effective.

At about this time, Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: the Gathering was also fairly popular at my high school, and so a number of my drawings for class were of the artwork from the cards. One of the things that always impressed me most about MTG is the artwork. I think that more than any single fantasy-based endeavor, Magic cards gave us more of a visual representation of the universe it portrayed. There were sneaky, sinister goblins like the one above. Black and White knights—both male and female. Wizards, sinister and benevolent. Elves, dwarves, orcs. Spells and artifacts that could change the course of the battle. Lions, tigers, and bears. Rotting zombies. Drakes and dragons of all sizes and colors. And of the thousands of individual cards made, each had it’s own painted image. These images inspired quite a few of the drawings in my high-school sketchbook.

I kind of like how the quiver of arrows looks; I think this was the first time I’d drawn one. I also like how it looks atmospherically, with the cloudiness and the rain coming down. Apparently my elf is a lefty? I don’t remember consciously deciding that.

It was also during high school that I first read Lord of the Rings. I’d read The Hobbit a few years previous, but didn’t even know about LotR until I was a freshman. Artistically, one of the more notable results was that I did a series of drawings of various comic book and other characters as elves. Mostly this amounted to me giving them pointy ears and medieval-ish clothing and weapons. The above drawing came originally from an Excalibur comic—I just really liked Rachel Summer’s pose from a particular page and wanted to use it for something of my own.  As with most comic-book drawings, these were mostly cheese-cakey, and I’m glad I’ve outgrown that particular phase in my artistic interests. But that kind of experimentation taught me to use more (and better) embellishments when I draw something from life or from a picture.

I had a lot of homework that week…

Most of my life I’ve loved to draw. It relaxes me and allows me to explore my imagination in ways I might not get to otherwise. Like writing, drawing is a means of communicating and expressing myself to others. Following high school, I only took one drawing class, and so haven’t always had the opportunity to draw when I wanted to. In fact, there are several years since I graduated that I didn’t draw anything—when I didn’t have a single sketch dated from that year. During graduate school in particular, about the only drawings I did were for a zine I worked on with some of my classmates from my Medieval Romances class. While I don’t have a huge amount of time in my life to sit and sketch, it’s something I hope to continue to do in the future.

So long and thanks for reading.

Post script:
As a quick question to readers: should I start a separate art blog, on subordinate to this one? It’s an idea I’ve been toying with and I’m curious if it would get a decent-sized following at all. Let me know what all y’all think.

Ten of my Favorite Webcomics

This is a revised version of a writeup I did for my Facebook page a while back.

Webcomics are probably my guiltiest diversion on the internet. But like everything else on the internet, finding something worth reading requires slogging through the 90% or higher that is uninteresting hackwork. It’s a lot like wading around in a cesspit, looking for loose change. Someone I know, in a conversation sometime in the distant past, made the suggestion that I help out some of you who lack either the time or the set of heavy rubber gloves and hip-high irrigation boots necessary for that kind of slogging. So I wrote up some short blurbs on ten of my favorites (not necessarily my top ten favorites), in no particular order.

XKCD, by Rand Munroe (xkcd.com)
“A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” I’d expect that most of you have at least heard of this one, since it’s one of the most popular out there. While there are a lot of math- and science-related jokes that are over my head, there is still enough variety in the subject matter to make the comic accessible for those of us outside those fields. From an artistic standpoint, I’m fairly impressed with Rand’s ability to portray action, drama, atmosphere, and expression using nothing but stick figures. My brother (the engineer) and I determined that if you combined my form of nerdery with his form of nerdery, you’d essentially get Rand Munroe. Updates MWF.

Order of the Stick, by Rich Burlew (www.giantitp.com)
Another stick figure comic but with continuity, OotS is a lovingly rendered parody of the classic D&D role-playing games. It features the standard cast of motley adventurers that you’d expect in a fantasy/adventure story, each character both conforming and not conforming to their particular archetype. And no fantasy story is complete without an evil mastermind out to conquer and/or destroy the world. Story takes place in a reality governed by the rules of D&D 3.5—right down to characters leveling up, gaining skill points, and learning new feats.  All in all, it provides a lot of fun takes on gaming, medieval fantasy, and adventure stories in general. Updates periodically.

Sluggy Freelance, by Pete Abrams (sluggy.com)
Think of it like Calvin & Hobbes, only the characters are grownups, the talking animals aren’t imaginary, and the characters actually build devices to travel to different worlds, instead of just pretending to. It starts out strictly as a comedy that thrives on pop-culture parody, but eventually evolves into an action/comedy/drama. While comedy is still king, the parody is toned down considerably, the action is on par with golden-age Marvel, and the drama is often heart-wrenching. One caveat about Sluggy: it is a daily comic that’s been going since 1997—that’s well over 5,100 comics to read. Fortunately, Pete provides hyperlinks whenever he references past comics. If you want to get caught up with the current story, go to the archives drop-down menu, select “Chapters not in books,” and select the chapter titled “bROKEN” as your starting point. If need be, I can recommend some of the more interesting chapters. Updates daily.

Girl Genius, by Phil & Kaja Foglio (www.girlgeniusonline.com)
Ever since Terra from Final Fantasy VI, I’ve had an affinity for the hapless character who causes trouble just by existing–Agatha, GG‘s title character, is one such character. She’s that quintessential protagonist who didn’t want the hidden powers she’s got, but everyone wants to either destroy her or control her because of them. The comic features a lot of steampunk elements, but without the grittiness or the pro- or anti-imperialist undertones that often go along with steampunk. Plus, I’m intrigued by the idea of a world where ‘mad scientist’ is a viable profession. Updates MWF.

Between Failures (betweenfailures.com) (Author seems to have multiple aliases.)
Failures is sort of a slice-of-life story about a group of twenty-somethings working at an entertainment retail store (probably similar to Hastings).  The comic follows the daily lives of the store’s staff, individually and in groups, as they work to keep themselves entertained and bring hope to others, pretty much in that order. I think that anyone who has ever had a job that involves dealing with customers and/or coworkers, particularly in retail, can relate to this comic. The artwork isn’t remarkable, but the characters are among the most relatable I’ve seen in web-based comics. Updates MWF.

Amya Chronicles, by Savannah Houston-McIntyre, Andrew Hewitt, and Rebecca Gunter (amya.smackjeeves.com)
I think the artwork was what drew me to Amya, an adventure story set in a Georgian-looking fantasy world. The story is interesting and the characters are delightful, but Rebecca, the artist, has possibly the most elegant drawing style I’ve seen in webcomics. A lot of artists can make something elegant look cute—Rebecca is the only one I’ve seen who can make something cute look elegant. The story features Faye, a lovely, mute spell-caster, caught up in events seemingly beyond her control, but who is gradually learning that she’s not as helpless as she’d thought. Updates Wednesdays.

Questionable Content, by Jeph Jacques (questionablecontent.net)
In an age when comedy seems to focus upon characters who are stupidly resistant to growth and character development, it’s refreshing to find a cast that actually seems to learn from their mistakes and tries to improve themselves. QC is another “slice-of-life” comic, this one focusing around a group of friends and an independent coffeehouse. All around, this is one of the funniest comics I’ve encountered, in terms of both situational humor as well as slap-stick antics. But at the same time, it’s genuinely heartwarming to watch the traumatized accident victim come to terms with her father’s suicide and see the girl with severe OCD go from hyperventilating at physical contact to being comfortable hugging her friends. Artistically, it’s interesting to watch Jeph’s artwork evolve over QC‘s almost ten-year run. Updates Mon-Fri.

Blip, by Sage Leaves (blipcomic.com)
Though generally funny, Blip is a strange and rather sad comic. The basic premise is that K, the lead character in the comic, is a cosmic mistake—a girl who was never fated to be born. As such, she has the potential to interfere with other people’s destinies. Because of her potential to mess with fate, Heaven is attempting to damper her ability to affect others, while Hell is trying to figure out how to use her for their own purposes. Meanwhile, K’s best friends–a witch, a vampiress, and a robot chick–work to protect her from both sides. Oblivious to all of this, K tries maintain her work and relationships with those around her while cherubs and imps have lightsaber duels on top of skyscrapers. Updates periodically (comic on semi-hiatus, author was injured quite severely several months ago and is still recovering).

PhD Comics, by Jorge Cham (www.phdcomics.com/comics.php)
Piled Higher and Deeper is one of the things that kept me going for three years of graduate school. I think anyone who has ever been to college can relate–and the higher they’ve been in academia, the more this comic means to them. I find comfort knowing that I wasn’t the only one who felt like an imposter in academics–that other students out there find themselves tired, frustrated, and discouraged at the harrowing trials of higher education. I particularly love the archetypes that the comic plays on: the nameless, floundering PhD student; the oblivious, uncaring adviser; the slacker who’s been there for years; the hyper-liberal Humanities TA who takes her students on field trips to political protests. Updates periodically.

Crimson Dark, by David Simon (www.davidcsimon.com/crimsondark/)
CD is a computer-generated sci-fi/action comic with fairly obvious Firefly influences. While the story isn’t all that original, the science fiction is surprisingly well thought out. David even goes so far as to provide a database giving sizes and specifications of the military hardware and technology as well as history and politics of the various warring factions. Plus, the protagonists are genuinely likeable, and the space battles are fairly epic. One caveat: the story finished its epilogue, as David decided to wrap it up to focus on his new job with gaming company BioWare. He’s indicated that he plans to come back and add additional content, but the main story itself is finished updating.

I particularly enjoy watching the artwork evolve in some of the longer-running comics. Questionable Content is easily the best example of this, but Sluggy, OotS, Failures, and PhD are also interesting to read for that reason. I thought about posting pictures as well, but decided to err on the side of caution where things like copyright laws are concerned.

Anyway, ten comics is a good start. I may add more at some point in the future. If any of you find fault in my assessments, feel free to disagree with me. If you’re bothered by any omissions, you’re welcome to write one of your own.

Writers as Murderers

Several months ago, I got into an interesting, if brief, conversation on the message boards for one of my favorite webcomics. There was a bit of speculation going on over whether the comic’s writer was going to kill off one of her characters’ adorable little brother and sister. My initial comment was that she was foreshadowing in order to do one of the following: “(a) kill Vinny’s family or (b) merely make us paranoid that she’s going to kill Vinny’s family or (c) make us think she’s trying to make us paranoid so we’ll let our guard down while she kills Vinny’s family.” To which another user replied “The line between ‘writer’ and ‘murderer’ just… got a whole lot less definitive?” To which I replied, “As a student of both literature and composition, I can assure you that ‘writer’ and ‘murderer’ are hardly mutually exclusive occupations.”*

The conversation got me thinking about occasions where I felt profoundly affected by deaths of characters I liked in books, movies, etc. I can think of several times off the top of my head when I felt out of sorts after reading or watching the death of a particular character. I had to put down and walk away from Frank Herbert’s Dune for a while after Duncan Idaho was killed buying time for Paul and Lady Jessica to escape. He wasn’t a super-important character to begin with, but I kept expecting him to claim a bigger role in the narrative, particularly after he rescued them in the first place. And suddenly he’s dead, admittedly taking down a number of bad guys with him. Similarly, I stalled in seeing Joss Whedon’s Serenity for a long time because I’d heard that he kills two of the crew members. And since I really liked all of the crew, I didn’t want to find out who they were. When I finally saw it, I kinda figured Shepard Book would be one of the casualties, but like most fans I was caught completely off guard by Washburn’s sudden death. I remember feeling kind of rattled when it happened, then feeling kind of hollow for the rest of the movie.

I haven’t read any Shakespeare in several years, but he was notorious for killing off his more likeable characters. I recall reading Romeo and Juliet for the first time back in high school. The story quite nearly wrecked my view of Shakespeare forever, and for certain set it back by several years. (Why do high schools use R&J to introduce students to Shakey, anyhow? Or Hamlet? Or Macbeth? Why not start with something fun and uplifting like Twelfth Night or with a lot of action like Henry V? Do the curriculum designers really think teenagers are going to connect with all that death and drama? May rant on this in a future post.) Mercutio was about the only character I liked from the story–and of course he’s the first character to die. Leaving aside the fact that I had no way of knowing that this is standard operating procedure for Shakey, I recall being slightly rattled and rather annoyed by the loss of the one character I liked and felt any connection with.

Perhaps a better example is Boromir from the Lord of the Rings. I don’t recall having much opinion of him when I read the books. He was just kind of present the whole time. He traveled with the Fellowship for the entirety of Fellowship of the Ring, but he didn’t seem to play  a very large part in their travels. Considering his largest contribution to the story was trying to take the ring from Frodo, then getting killed by orcs, I wasn’t overly affected by his death. In the film however, not only did they give him a larger and more impactful part, but they cast Sean Bean in the role. I’m a longtime fan of Sean Bean and think he’s the most underrated tough-guy actor in the movie industry. His Boromir went from being a cardboard cutout whose only part in the story was a negative one, to a tragic hero worthy of Homer or Sophocles. Boromir essentially gets portrayed as the epic hero who has saved his people from their foes on many occasions–kicked ass and took names against the best that the Enemy has to offer. His only weakness being his desire to protect his people–a weakness which the ring exploits. In the novel, his name comes up in some of the fights scenes, but in the film he’s in the middle of the action, dishing out the damage like the a true son of Gondor should. And where the novel never actually shows us his ultimate fight scene, moviegoers get to see him lay to waste Uruk after Uruk even while mortally wounded and bleeding. I can almost visualize Hector of Troy giving him a fist-bump in the afterlife. It was a death scene that touched me. I don’t recall that I cried watching Aragorn kiss the top of his head as he lay him back against the tree, but I remember getting goosebumps over how well the scene was done.

But I think the time I was most affected by the deaths of likeable characters was reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, based on the 1959 murders of the Clutter family near Holcomb, Kansas. Admittedly, the fact that it’s a true story of violent and senseless murders might have colored my opinion a bit, but I felt sick reading the chapters where he introduces the victims. I loved the characters and his descriptions of the lives they led, but felt sick because I knew from the cover that this lovely family of wonderful characters was going to die. Mr and Mrs Clutter reminded me of any number of couples my parents are friends with. The antics of Kenyon, the younger brother, reminded me a great deal of stories about some of my uncles when they were teenagers. And the daughter, Nancy, was described as exactly the kind of girl I was attracted to in high school. Capote’s descriptions made me hate the killers before they were even introduced in the story.**

I don’t recall if I’ve said anything in the blog, but I am writing a novel that’s been bouncing around in my head for several years. It’s a fantasy/adventure story based on an off-handed comment that a former classmate made in one of our graduate courses, and last fall I finally started putting it to paper. I don’t know how long it will be or if anything big will come of it, but it’s been a fun project so far. As I’m typing this, I’ve got the prologue and chapters 1-5, am working on chs 6-7, and have various other scenes typed up for later in the book. I’ve wondered on occasion how readers might react if I killed particular characters from the story. A friend made me promise that I wouldn’t kill off Ryla, the young heroine, halfway through the story–which was an easy promise to make, as I hadn’t intended to anyway. But occasionally I’ve asked myself how my heroine and readers would respond if I killed one of her mentor figures, such as the old scout who teaches her to hunt, track, and shoot or the ex-mercenary who teaches her to use big swords. The sheer number of choices I could make when writing this novel is almost paralyzing, as such I’ve constantly rethought and re-rethought where I’m going with the story. As a fiction writer here’s a certain feeling of egotistical godliness that comes from knowing that I not only control the lives, situations, and emotions of my characters, but the emotions of my readers as well. I’m starting to learn that this is a very difficult privilege not to want to abuse.

I won’t lie, I’ve been rough on Ryla in these first few chapters, and don’t look to let up on her anytime soon. She loses the person she cares about most in the first couple chapters, and will likely lose others she cares about along the way. Similarly, she narrowly escapes a rape attempt in chapter 3 after getting slapped around and molested by the would-be rapists–and again, this likely won’t be the most dangerous situation she finds herself over the course of the story. My brother made the comment, “you must not like this girl. You’re awful mean to her.” But that isn’t the case at all. I honestly really like my young protagonist, and genuinely care about her and what happens to her. But at the same time I enjoy seeing how she deals with the emotional trauma and mortal danger. I like seeing how strong she is emotionally and constitutionally, and I love watching her overcome and grow from these horrible experiences. In the same way I want my readers to hurt for her, to sympathize with her plight, and to root for her as she overcomes the emotional obstacles and various dangers I place in her path. And I think the most potent of emotional obstacles is for her to watch those she cares about succumb to these same dangers she’s facing.

As I type out this thought process, I have to wonder, is this at all similar to the thoughts other writers have when they decide if, when, and how to kill their characters?

A sketch I did of Ryla, the young heroine from my story. Not happy with every element of the drawing, but I’m super pleased at how the pleated skirt came out.

*Opening conversation from the discussion comments at Amya Chronicles, comic #189.

**I can’t recommend In Cold Blood. It’s very descriptive and very well written, but I felt like Capote focused on the wrong characters. There were so many interesting characters and situations he could have focused on in the town’s reaction to the tragedy and from the search for the killers. Instead he focused most heavily on the killers themselves, who I had no sympathy for nor interest in. A pair of bed wetters who’re mad at the world because they were abused as children don’t get my sympathy when they use it as an excuse to kill innocent people.

The Calvin and Hobbes Generation

Calvin with his ears boxed

Calvin’s condition after refusing to yield his swing to Moe, the playground bully.

“By the end of ten years, I’d said pretty much everything I had come there to say. It’s always better to leave the party early. If I had rolled along with the strip’s popularity and repeated myself for another five, ten, or twenty years, the people now ‘grieving’ for Calvin and Hobbes would be wishing me dead and cursing newspapers for running tedious, ancient strips like mine instead of acquiring fresher, livelier talent. And I’d be agreeing with them. I think some of the reason Calvin and Hobbes still finds an audience today is because I chose not to run the wheels off it. I’ve never regretted stopping when I did.”
–Bill Watterson, in a 2010 interview for The Plain Dealer

My brothers and I grew up collecting Calvin & Hobbes books. Back in elementary school and Jr. high, my friends and I would draw pictures of Calvin playing Spaceman Spiff or of Hobbes pouncing on Calvin. I even recall a conversation where we speculated over what a video game based on the comic might be like. Since high school, I’ve discovered that we weren’t as unique as we thought we were at the time. In college I had conversations with students from all over the country–as well as a few from out of the country–about growing up with Calvin, what his stories meant to us at the time, and what they still mean to us today.

I’ve yet to see a comic that is as equally relatable to both kids and adults. It was childish but still dealt with very grown-up issues. It was imaginative and whimsical, yet poignant at the same time. When the comic took a political stance, it did so without adopting a snarky attitude or pointing fingers. And aside from Moe the bully, I find all of the main characters to be relatable on multiple levels. I still love the comic and periodically pull the books off the shelf to re-read.

But I think the most important gift Mr. Watterson gave us wasn’t the comic itself, but the comic’s legacy. People who argue that comics haven’t been as good since Calvin & Hobbes ended (and I’ve talked to a lot of them) aren’t paying attention. I constantly find ways in which post-C&H comics have been influenced by Watterson’s style, approach, and attitude toward the comic medium.

Artistically, formatting constraints prior to C&H had long since forced many comics to become sadly minimalist, consisting of Xeroxed talking heads on Xeroxed backgrounds, relying mainly on dialogue to tell the joke, rather than a visual, more artistic humor. Each panel of each comic showed the characters from exactly the same angle, and often characters had the same proportions and head shapes, but with different clothes and haircuts being the only way to tell the characters apart.* Watterson was something of a revolutionary in drawing every panel of each comic freehand, changing the angle of point of view, and in making every character structurally unique. (Actually, Calvin and Suzie are probably the two characters who look most alike.) Since Calvin, many (I won’t say ‘most’) newspaper comics have become more free-from and visually interesting.

* Think I’m exaggerating? Take a look at old GarfieldEek & MeekFamily Circus, and other similar comics. I mean, Jon Arbuckle and Liz the veterinarian have exactly the same head shapes. Not that these are bad comics, but they could stand for a little more artistic variety.

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