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New Poison Pen Letter

PPL 4 excerpt

Finally got around to drawing a 4th page of Poison Pen Letter, the improvisational comic Jon Cairns started with me. You can check out the whole sequence here.

This is trickier than battle comics and collaborations I’ve done before; it’s really hard to shape a story one page at a time. Good exercise.

PSA

Epson makes the best scanners.

In the past 9 years I have owned 3 entirely discrete computers and upgraded each multiple times in between; I’ve had 3 different Wacom tablets and every Photoshop from 7 to CS4. In these same 9 years I have been using the same Epson Perfection 2450 scanner with no complaints.

Yesterday, the scanner was swept off the desk and smashed into the floor with enough force to shatter the plastic housing off the corner where it impacted; the backlit top (for convenient scanning of slides, transparencies, etc.!) was yanked loose and landed a foot away, and I was generally sure I would finally be replacing it.

But no! Everything still works, as well as it ever did. Epson makes the best scanners. Or did 9 years ago. I have no idea what’s out there anymore.

Next Blog Over

Next Town Over is still wandering the publishing wastes, but I’ve thrown together a rudimentary home for what’s done and what will be done. It’ll probably be updated weekly.

Oh, that’s right!

I should mention Poison Pen Letter.

The esteemed Mr. Cairns and myself are jamming back and forth on an ad-libbed trade comic in our free times. He started with page 1 (setting the bar entirely too high) and I sputtered my clumsy retort in the form of page 2.

Check it out; he’ll be updating the site as we’re able to continue.

No, Really: Rockstar Makes You a Rockstar

Of 24 Hour Comics!

In 2005 I took the 24 Hour Comics challenge for the first time, and drank half a case of Rockstar energy drinks to stay awake the 23 hours it took me to finish Squinker, the story that got included in the Eisner-nominated 2005 24 Hour Comics Day Highlights anthology.

In 2006 my fellow artist (we weren’t at an event site) gave up and passed out at around hour 20 while I powered through a full 24 pages of Alchemist’s Garden. I was drinking Rockstar again, I’m pretty sure.

In 2007 I crapped out about 18 hours in, full of angst and with 12ish pages done of Genevieve, a neato story I should really revisit for reals sometime. No Rockstar; just tea.

This weekend I figured I ought to attempt reclaiming the honor lost in a failure followed by two forfeits (2008: forgot about it; 2009; had to work). But, floundering around with 12 pages done and only 4 hours left on the clock I called it.

The only conceivable explanation is I wasn’t drinking Rockstar.

Finding Misty

Given the percentage of pre-adolescent girls who are obsessed with horses I suppose it’d hardly be a shocking revelation that I used to be obsessed with horses. I drew a billion pictures of them, pored over books about them, begged for overpriced molded plastic idols of them, and, eventually, badgered my parents into scraping together the money to pay for me to attend a riding school where I’d be subjected, weekly, to snobbish scorn for how poor my family was but fail to notice until years later because I was just too thrilled to be riding horses.

When I was 9, my family moved, putting the riding school at too great a distance to feasibly lug me weekly, not to mention rendering the tuition impossibly princely with their new mortgage. Oh, tragedy; except for no: because they moved out into the semi-boonies, onto enough land for me to one day conceivably own my own horse.

I was 12 before I had saved enough money, had an outbuilding passably cleaned out and retrofitted, a pasture cleared and fenced (with some help from my dad and ten times that from my late grandfather), and it was hard to sell all my relatives on the notion to please forever stop giving me presents for my birthday and just give me money to help afford the upkeep of this impending horse, but I eventually saved up and bought Misty, a 6 year-old gray Arab mare. I didn’t name her Misty; she came that way, which I suppose was a slight upgrade from her registered name: SA Elusive Lady.

Misty was just about the worst horse I could have bought, but 12 year old girls who’ve read too many Black Stallion novels are absolute shit at horse-buying.

“High strung” is a phrase that got used a lot to euphemise that Misty was an unmanageable bitch and skittish besides (this is semi-characteristic of the breed); she was dangerously “high strung.” She’d also been trained, bridled and ridden exclusively western (in contrast with my English background; I had no experience whatsoever with the western disciplines) … when she’d been ridden at all. She’d belonged to some co-worker of my dad’s who’d bought her, gotten bored with her, and replaced her with Clydesdales while trying to find someone dumb enough to buy 1200 pounds of mostly-green hate off him for $800.

Misty’s first day at our house, I opened the stall door to feed her or poke at her or whatever and she shoved past me, flattening me against the wall and escaping out the open door at a flat gallop without so much as a halter on.

Hours of chasing her around the countryside and nervously watching her cross or stand in the highway followed. My mom actually got some local wrangler on the phone, getting his trailer ready to come out with his horse and yes, chase down and rope mine. She never actually gave him the word to come out, though; my dad somehow cornered Misty in the backyard and got her, but not before she’d turned a quick 180 and kicked him.

I have no idea how she didn’t shatter his hip; he got a decent nick in his skin and a greenish-black bruise that ultimately fanned out to a good 10″ diameter centered right around the bone.

Auspicious start, but only the start.

In the years that followed Misty would escape several more times, try to crush my mother into the barn wall with her body weight, attempt to eat a classmate’s head, nearly kill a dog we had, barely miss a farrier’s head with an expert kick, and directly and deliberately trample my six year old sister.

But she never did anything to me. In retrospect, my history with her seems perpendicular.

When we got her, Misty was a little unmanageable for me, too, sure. She threatened me a lot, baring her teeth and flattening her ears at me when I was leading her to turn out, or circling me in a wide, raptorial orbit when I was out in the pasture, eventually charging straight at me only to break off at the last second and run away again, establishing enough distance to eventually repeat. The latter scared the piss out of my mom, but I think I probably equated it with the way the Black Stallion and Alec played on the deserted island and thought it was cool. I think I mentioned I was 12.

When Misty’d been there awhile and I did go ahead and try to saddle her up that was unmanageable, too: she was one of those horses who filled her gut with air and held it to keep you from decently tightening a girth, and she opened her mouth for a bit about as well as that one door knocker in Labyrinth. When I did eventually get the the curb bit she’d come with into her face and a saddle decently cinched on her I was totally unused to guiding with slack reins and leverage and she was totally unused to … well, to being ridden by people. Her gaits were obstinate and arbitrary and it was a fight just to get her to go where I wanted.

I replaced the curb with a jointed snaffle; the kind I was used to, and switched back to holding the reins in the English style. Horse people are groaning reading this, but I wasn’t trying to win a goddamn show; I just wanted some contact with her mouth so we could get this whole “where the fuck are we going” business straight. And we did; pretty quick, too. Misty did well with a snaffle and a tighter rein; she did what I asked and started to hate being ridden enough less that I didn’t have to latch onto her nose with my opposite hand to get a bit in her mouth. She’d see me coming with the thing and just open her mouth.

Early on, I was riding her with a western saddle I’d bought secondhand for $50 that was decent but didn’t fit me very well. Somewhere along the line I switched to riding with just a bareback pad with stirrups (I couldn’t afford an English saddle), but Misty hated the weird torsion of the stirrups on those and I did, too, because without the structure and stability of a saddle tree they’re prone to slipping clear off to one side when you try to mount up. Having already reached an agreement with Misty where riding was concerned, I just decided one day to forego the stupid pad thing and try riding altogether bareback. This was like straddling a jackhammer initially, but ultimately awesome. At some point while I was leading her somewhere I had the bright idea to just tie the loose end of the lead rope to the opposite side of her halter to make an impromptu bitless bridle and clambered aboard to see if she’d let me direct her without a bit. She was more than happy to.

Eventually I altogether quit using a saddle or bridle with Misty, and we went trespassing together, at breakneck gallops, across adjacent soybean fields and wooded game preserves. I promise I’m not overdramatizing; if anything, I’m underdramatizing. Horse people will appreciate that being on those kinds of terms with a horse is epic; non-horse people I’ll have to limp through an analog where a dog you loved as a kid was big enough to carry you on its back as it ran around and caught Frisbees.

By the time I was 17 I’d been working a part time job for over two years to afford keeping Misty and, being 17, I was increasingly distracted with stupid shit. Misty, then 11, was alone more and more and I started to feel vaguely guilty about it, even as I was feeling resentful of the amount of upkeep she took and probably taking the worst care of her I ever had. In a culminative teenage fit I decided to sell her.

The people I sold her to, for $500, were a middle-aged couple, with tweenish kids and other horses. They told me I was welcome to visit her and see how she was doing.

I never did.

My mom called them once, a few months later, and reported back me that Misty was fine, and that she was getting along with other horses and eating pizza. I don’t think I cared; I was either too caught up in school and work and the rest of my pissant existence or I deliberately closed myself off to thinking about her because I knew I’d feel guilty if I did, and I knew I’d miss her.

So I didn’t really think about her, an exercise aided by marked lack of photographs (this predated digital camera proliferation and the modern habit of photographing every goddamn thing), and the wholesale expunction of all my tack and horseiana at my parents’ yard sale.

Almost 13 years later, I’ve spontaneously started thinking about Misty, obsessively and sentimentally. She’d be 24ish now, if she’s even still alive. I’ve dreamed about her; bizarre, guilt-wracked shit about delving into my parents’ barn, present day, to find something for my dad and instead finding Misty, emaciated, filthy and neglected, literally forgotten there this entire intervening period. I promise I’m not overdramatizing.

It reached a weird critical mass the other day, and I tracked down the people I’d sold her to.

Hurtling toward 30, I thought I’d gotten old, but the once middle-aged woman sounded positively ancient on the phone, her voice cracking with confusion at who the fuck I was. Her family had had so many horses my description required multiple angles of attack to jog her memory, but finally a detailed rundown of the road I’d lived on got her to connect me with Misty, and then her voice crumpled differently, with emotion.

Apparently after they’d had her for some years, Misty suddenly and acutely went “moon blind” (the old timer term for equine recurrent uveitis) and didn’t get better. According to the woman she fully lost her sight, and the family, not knowing what to do with a blind horse, sent her off to some retirement facility “up north.” She didn’t know the name of it, but I gave her my email address in case she found “the papers,” and thanked her for her time.

Some cathartic ending.

Somehow, this made it worse. My obsessive wonderings panned out into something not altogether unlike a grief response.

I started searching equine retirement and rescue and rehabilitation outfits all over the state, clicking through pages and pages of pictures of resident horses and emailing administrators with a description of Misty, her story, and her stupid Arabian registry name.

I haven’t found her yet. I’ll let you know when I do.

Next Comic Over

Close friends and closer followers of my dA have watched me pick at Next Town Over for like 3 years.

As of this morning, it is my pleasure to announce that I am continuing to pick at Next Town Over.

No, really: the series (it’s 13 books) is almost entirely written (albeit rough around the edges in places), and I’m forcing myself to just decide, now, how things in the comic are going to look so I can start drawing this thing and get a proposal done.

For those of you not sick to death of the NTO stuff via dA, its primary characters in reasonably final iterations (and various stages of undress):

Protagonists? Antagonists? One of each? It’s a secret to everybody.

Electric 5 & Friends

So, Monday night I hit the Electric Six show at the High Noon Saloon. I would have talked about this yesterday but I was still recovering. Okay. I was doing yardwork on an unseasonably nice day (60 degrees in Wisconsin! Bust out the tube tops!) but pretend I am a hardcore nightlifer instead of someone who drinks tea out of a craft fair teapot.

Madison staples Screamin’ Cyn Cyn & the Pons and Butt Funnel opened. People are fond of bitching about Madison’s “music scene” being dominated by “joke bands,” and I suppose these two are archetypical of what that brand of douchesnob is talking about (I don’t really know though because I don’t belong to or really circulate within Madison’s “music scene,” such as it is): Screamin’ Cyn Cyn is a sort of performance-punk outfit whose glammed-out frontman is all about strutting his enviable skill at slinking around in impossibly high heels and Butt Funnel is a giant 7-piece ensemble of fake German accents, faker mullets, velour pants and keytars. Both groups put on a hell of a show, though, and there’s actually music happening underneath — decent music — so I’m not sure what’s going on there. Do mild cross-dressing and/or giant inflatable penises nullify your ability to hear honest, funny lyrics or danceable, Talking Heads-y musics?

Interesting choices to open for Electric Six, in any case, since I’ve frequently read about Electric Six themselves being written off as a joke band for their weird videos and gimmicky lyrics. After Cyn Cyn and Butt Funnel, though, Dick Valentine’s pinstriped, sociopath politician stage persona seemed like a bit of a straightman. In fact I had to just go watch the Body Shot video again just now to restore them to their previously-held place of special weirdness in my heart (do not try this at work).

E6 is not a joke band, though; they are a wall of sound densely built around the unshatterable foundation of Dick Valentine’s creepy, versatile voice. Their songs are almost as reliant on synth, though, so when they appeared on stage Monday and announced they were short Tait Nucleus?, their synthesizer guy, there was a collective sagging.

And then, just to show us all, the band opened with fucking Synthesizer.

I have no idea where Tait Nucleus? actually was; Valentine unflinchingly strung together a Wisconsin-relevant line of bullshit about a deer biting him on the forehead and infecting him with near-terminal Lyme Disease but my money’s on unstirrably passed out in the back; regardless, they (by which I mean the group’s dual guitarists) covered for him astonishingly well. As an aside, Johnny Na$hinal is a goddamn guitar hero; I noticed at one point he’d lost his first string and had been undetectably playing with 5 for God knows how long; he did another 3ish songs like that before finally switching instruments. I don’t think anyone remembered E6 having a synthesizer after awhile, except in a few notable cases (missing sax on Danger! High Voltage, no wandering piano to back Dick’s SASE break in I Buy the Drugs, etc.).

They did not disappoint, especially for a $12 cover.

I wonder if Madison disappointed them, though? People went absolutely crazy for the old songs: you couldn’t even hear the actual vocals during Gay Bar because the jumping/singing/screaming was too intense. But when they immediately followed it up with Gay Bar Part 2, off the much-later Flashy, Valentine sang:

And the congregation of the prayer begins to sing
They were sick delinquents joining the queue
Of the soft steaming shits demanding….

and then waited for the audience to respond

Gay Bar Part 2!

and they just didn’t. Awkward.

No one knows the Flashy and Kill stuff yet (except for me and a handful of scary zealots at the show), apparently. I understand not having listened to Kill 800 times already (although it’s probably their best album since SeƱor Smoke), since it really hasn’t even been out all that long, but Flashy seems to have escaped notice altogether.

That’s Electric Six, though; they’ve never made any concessions toward mainstream-friendly music or videos, and as far as I can tell they’re largely reliant on the internet to let people know they exist.

Hey, that’s what we’re here for, Detroit. Thanks for coming out.