Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Night of the Crow


Quoth the raven...

I have friends who call me a synchronicity vortex.  My life is riddled with strange coincidences and deep irony.  It's why I say I'm spiritual but not religious.  I've seen too many things come together at once to know that more than human consciousness is at work in this world.

This week, I've been finishing a 4-page comic called "Night of the Crow."  It's a surrealistic bit of  autobiography from my life as a painter, after completing an exhibit of giant crow paintings at the Balazo Gallery on Mission Street in San Francisco.  The show got great reviews, my house mate installed the paintings in our space when I returned, and then things started to get strange.

Me and my housie, circa 2004

A Sacramento Side Story

One of the hardest things about putting together my graphic novel, Girl On The Road, is that there is no way to include everything that happened in the time frame that the story spans.  Paranormal crow activity may be interesting, but I think including this incident would take away from the story arc and make for a disjointed reader experience.  Sacramento is a featured location, but the events from Night of the Crow are probably not going to make it into the Girl On The Road script.

That is why I am super-psyched that I'll be able to tell the story in a different venue.  The anthology it will be published in doesn't go to print until 2017, so it will be really fun to file it away and forget about it.  When I finally see it in book format it will feel like a Christmas present.

Some nights are like that.

Home Schooling

My main reason for finishing Night of the Crow this week is that I wanted to
learn from executing the story.  I need more practice with both character development and the human figure.  I also have to get used to drawing myself, over and over and over again.  Just doing four pages of self portraits made me feel like a narcissist.  200 pages will take some getting used too.

So, Night of the Crow.  It was not directly working on the graphic novel, but I feel more confident returning to the big project having test-run some new techniques in a tiny story.

One More Awesome Side Project

I'll be working on one more awesome side project - a collaboration with comics writer Anne Bean.  She is one of the people who has already received an Artist Trust grant to build a suite of new comics with a different illustrator taking on each story.  We're creating a full-length minicomic adaptation of the Nez Perce story of Coyote and Butterfly Woman.  I'm VERY excited to work with Native themes and anthropomorphic imagery.  The story is under production and scheduled to be premiered at Seattle's Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. 

Short Run Is Accepting Applications

The Short Run Comix & Arts Festival is now accepting exhibitors applications, by the way.  Check it out.

Girl On The Road posts about comics, publication and community on Tuesdays.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Grants Game, Part 3 - Superstition

Time . . . Enough

Roy from Blade Runner.
That guy never forgets his deadlines.

If you're an artist looking for grant funding, Seattle is a pretty great place to be.  We likely have more grant sources for individual creators than almost anywhere else in the United States.

That also means more deadlines.  Today I completed an application to an agency called Artist Trust for their GAP (Grants for Artists Projects) fund. 

I'm not usually one to finish an application on the day it's due.  I keep this very exacting spreadsheet of deadlines--for anthologies, grants, whatever needs hitting--and I try to get things done ahead of time.  Especially for grants.  Even on a fairly easy application I schedule a minimum of 8 hours to complete it.  EIGHT.  Because, for me, it's not writing the narrative that gets me.  It's the time it takes to format files and upload them that is the killer.

If you are submitting 10 pages of comics, and maybe you have them in a PDF at 600 dpi for printing.  But the granting agency wants them in individual JPGs at 72 dpi but at a minimum of 1920 dpi on the long edge but with a file size no larger than 5 mb.  MATH!  My arch enemy.  This is exactly what I was up against today.  Then actually uploading and labeling the files is taking the grantmaker's online system forever.  Then I'm standing in the rain like Rutger Hauer, gripping my hand and pleading with the universe for more time.
Clocking in at a mere 4.7 MB!

Very Superstitious

Ah well, I did get everything uploaded and the submission is in.  

I had the exact same problem uploading files for the City Artist grant I submitted earlier this year.  I wasn't this hard up against the deadline, but I was having plenty of trouble with their online grants submission site.  I was cursing the screen while I watched the spinning beach ball of doom that is Macintosh telling me that it's processing something.  And I was listening to an album that I consider part of the soundtrack to my graphic novel - So Tonight That I May See by Mazzy Star.

The album hit it's last song and I got panicky.  "If my files aren't uploaded by the end of the album, I won't get the grant!" THAT is what my brain suddenly decided to throw at me.  It makes no sense.  I have no idea where it came from.  I tried to tell myself it was ridiculous.  But I was still deeply relieved when the uploads finished before the final strains of the song.

Even when I was grantwriting for agencies, everyone had rituals and superstitions.  There were grant dances.  Laying of the hands on the outgoing paper proposal.  Always the constant race to the post office.  (At least THAT part has been eliminated by online submissions)

It's Only Weird If It Doesn't Work

I'm not a huge sports fan, but when the Seattle Seahawks went to the Superbowl, they ran an ad campaign highlighting people's sometimes odd "lucky" game day traditions.  The catch phrase was "It's Only Weird If It Doesn't Work."

I was awarded the CityArtist grant.  So there's that.

I'm not encouraging superstition, but if you've got something that works for you, then go for it.

My lucky Star.
And, of course, give yourself enough time.

I really don't know how I feel about the application I turned in today.  I could have used one more
night to sleep on it and do a FINAL final review.  I'm just glad that I went through the process--don't ask don't get.  Extra score bonus:  I now have an updated artist resume and I also articulated a sub-theme of my graphic novel that I hadn't really pinned down before.

Also--true story--I took myself out to lunch to celebrate/recover and the diner was playing Mazzy Star, Fade Into You.

 Girl On The Road posts about comics, publication and community on Tuesdays.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Though I Walk Through The Shadow of Uncanny Valley . . .

Mark Campos at Bistro Montage in Portland,
featured here with Moxie, My Sweet.

Living with a fellow cartoonist has its benefits, particularly when they are a long-standing feature in the minicomics world.  My housie Mark Campos wrote the anthology Moxie, My Sweet - illustrated by some of the finest cartoonists Seattle has to offer - and has drawn stories for anthologies like Not My Small Diary and Fantagraphics Treasury of Mini Comix.  Mark is not only experienced in the practical aspects of making comics, his head is full of cartooning history and theory.

I'm not like that.  My comics tool kit contains little more than combining a disparate background in fine arts and poetry as an approach to telling stories.  I have limited knowledge of the medium and it's context and having seasoned cartoonists to turn to while I attempt creating a graphic memoir is invaluable.

Uncanny, Isn't It?

Panel with self-portrait on a Chicago train platform.
What is wrong with this picture?
Creating Girl On The Road hasn't been precisely "Write script. Grab pen. GO!"  I've had to make decisions as simple as page size and as difficult as fictionalizing elements of an autobiographical story.  Somewhere in between, how to stylistically approach drawing people is one of the hardest things I've wrestled with.

The book is partially travelogue, so I want backgrounds that deliver a specific location in the story. But the core story is relational, so I want characters that are expressive.

My attempts at marrying photo-realism and expressiveness have not gotten me where I'm going yet.

Back to Mark Campos.  As I sit cursing at the kitchen table over the fact that an image I drew straight from photo reference looks like a mutant, he factually chimes in "It's 'Uncanny Valley'."  And DAMMIT if he's not right.  It is.

Things That Look Almost Human Creep Us Out

Screen grab from Manly Guys Doing Manly Things
by comics blogger
Uncanny Valley is a term developed by people in robotics.  As certain corporations race to invent the humanoid robot that everyone will love, they keep running into the problem that robots that look like humans freak real humans out. 

There's a dry Wikipedia article about it, but I found an absolutely AWESOME blog about the Uncanny Valley effect as it relates to comics here.  Funny as hell.  References Soundgarden.  You should check out "Close But No Cigar" on Manly Guys Doing Manly Things and get a hard laugh out of it as well as some good information.

What I got out of it was reinforcement that I need to put my hands up and step away from the light table.  My just-slightly-off photo-realistic drawings of people are just-slightly-off-putting.  Even if I had an exact photo reference for every panel of the book, it wouldn't be enough to carry the characters.  But at least I have something of a measure to judge against when assessing my next crop of drawings.  It might keep my book from falling into the Uncanny Valley.

Thanks, Mark.

 Girl On The Road posts about comics, publication and community on Tuesdays.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hey! Ho! Let's Go!

Draft title page for my sample
chapter "Girl On The Road,
I-90 1994"
As part of my grant proposals in support of the graphic novel, I outlined that I would use my blog to document my process as I go.  Well, I've officially dived into the drawing portion of things, and here's where I'm at.


I've been told more than one time that I need to write every day to be a writer, told to draw every day to be a cartoonist, and famously informed by the poet Eileen Myles "You wanna write a book?  Write a book. That's the only way you're gonna write one."  So OK.  There are things I'll finally be applying to accomplish my first graphic novel. 
Here's my short list:

Draw A Page A Day

At least draw every day, with the goal of a page a day, six days out of the week.  I'm only on page #4, so my due date for raw art on my sample chapter is going to be the end of May.  Since my first and second days were dedicated to an elaborate front cover image set in a sunflower field and an equally elaborate draft title page (above), I'm hoping I can complete two or more pages of art on some days to make up for the truly challenging visuals.

Schedule Business Hours

On the seventh day, I blog.  I build and update my website.  I finally scan work to my ETSY shop (Check check).  I research outside work and draw commissions.  I'm going to concentrate on scheduling as much of the work as I can for completion on Tuesdays.

Just Say No
Panel detail from page #4. 
The Chicago Picasso!

I said yes to a lot of really interesting projects over the past year - most of which somehow culminated over the span of only a few recent weeks.  I love anthologies.  I love art galleries.  I've thoroughly enjoyed creating work for themed art shows.  AND I'm not going to get any further towards my aims as an artist until I complete a graphic novel.

So I need to apply some pretty strict criteria to what I say "yes" to moving forward.  Basically, unless it's a paid illustration gig or something I have a truly deep personal connection to and can complete in a reasonable amount of time, I'm going to be turning projects down.

I am going to contribute to My Small Diary Issue #19 and, of course, Prince did just pass away, so yes to the Prince-themed art show, dammit.

 Girl On The Road posts about comics, publication and community on Tuesdays.