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The Guards of Auck — Novel Cover

A few weeks ago, Carrie Bailey (a friend from high school whom I hadn’t talked to in . . . . well, since high school), e-mailed me to say that she loved the drawings I was posting.  She also had a request — would I like to do the art for the cover of the young adult “fantasy” novel she was writing?

Of course I said yes.  YA Fantasy just might be my favorite genre in the entire world.  We’ve been e-mailing back and forth, and I’ve been having a lot of fun working on the sketches for the cover.  Between working with Ben on the comic and now Carrie on this cover, I find that I really love collaborating with bringing someone else’s ideas to life visually.  The cover isn’t done yet, but since I think I’ve got the final concept done, I thought I’d share the process and where I am now.  Carrie’s still finishing off the book, but also has a website devoted to writing, Peevish Penman.  Go check out her site, and enjoy the sketches.

1. Initial Concept.

I started with a concept sketch that Carrie sent me, as well as her summary of the concept of the book: post-apocalyptic bronze age New Zealand.  The key elements were in place — medieval-ish alley, a large cat, and the character, Eron.

2. First Sketch

Working with the main elements, I pretty much just redrew the picture Carrie sent me.  I found some source pictures to help with the setting and the cat.  After doing very rough layout sketches, I redrew the background, cat, and character all on their own layers.

3. Revised Draft

Carrie really liked the city I’d drawn, so I was on the right path.  I felt the scene was bit static, however, so I hid the cat and Eron layers and redrew them.  From Carrie’s description, the cat isn’t “bad” per se, but the cover needed some sort of conflict, some drama to draw in the reader.  The cat now has some forward movement and a hint of threat.  Eron is moving as well, perhaps startled, perhaps about to flee.  I like him looking away from the viewer, as I prefer YA novels not to tell me exactly how the hero should look with a picture; no matter how detailed the writer describes them, a reader always creates their own picture of the hero, and I think the cover should leave room for that.

Carrie had suggested blue and orange for a contrasting color scheme, so I threw some colors in to see how it worked, keeping with blue tones for the background and orange tones for the characters and font.  I think the contrast works really well, and the oranges tie Eron to the cat and the title and looks nicely unified.

Anyway, there we are.  I need to ink everything and then do some real coloring, probably adding some more detail along the way.  When I’ve got another draft, I’ll post it.


Scaned Sketches

Last Thursday I was showing a group of students a movie, so I did whatever I do when I don’t have to give my undivided attention to anything — started doodling and sketching.  It’s almost a bad habit, as I will catch myself drawing while having a serious conversation with someone, in the margins of a students essay, on official paper-work, or pretty much any surface that ink or graphite will stick to.

Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s the artistic equivalent of biting my finger-nails (another bad habit of mine), in so much that it just fills time and a need to fidget.  The resulting drawings are generally mediocre and without actual purpose, so they just go in the recycling with old quizzes and the daily announcement flyer.

Since starting on Voyager Comics, however, I’ve had an ongoing focus, so my doodles have actually served a purpose.  Most of my concept art has been done on my tablet on the computer, but Thursday I was trying to figure out some of the characters for our upcoming series.  In particular, there is an elven king, “The Dawn King” and some of his retinue that I needed to work out.  After being distracted by my Catwoman project (this was done the morning before I went and added the “Angela Davis” secret identity below), I did some sketches for the Dawn King’s daughter, then his messenger, castle, the king himself, and some crests/heraldic images.  I don’t know if the notes are legible themselves, but I always add marginalia to myself on these sort of sketches, which has the added bonus of working nicely when I share it like this.

The Virtues of Escape–Towards Reality

Before I get into the post itself, a meta moment: ever notice how my posts’ titles are always so much more heavy than Chris’s? But don’t let that fool you–I’m here to talk about happiness and joy.

And work.

(But I’ll only tangentially be talking about our current webcomic, “Year of the Dragon.” Skip to the end for that.)

Let’s talk escapism. This American Life recently put on a show about looking for advice in strange places; and the first long segment was about an unhappy teenage fantasy nerd who runs away to find Piers Anthony. I won’t ruin the story, but I was struck by Piers Anthony’s note about the use of fantasy: “People sneer at escapism–well, there those of us that need it.”

Piers Anthony isn’t the first sf/fantasy writer to note that some people (a) use “escapism” to brand fantasy as bad, unserious, and childish; and (b) overlook the positives of escape. Maybe J. R. R. Tolkien is the first, when he wrote “On Fairy-Stories”:

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: … Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? 

Ursula K. Le Guin (hallowed be her name!) takes this and runs, noting that when we say “escape,” we have to note what one is escaping from and what one is escaping towards. (Is that in “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?”) Le Guin has an excellent essay online that makes clear this virtue of escape.

But in that essay, Le Guin (hallowed be her name, even though I didn’t love the last few Earthsea books!) also notes  the dangers of some fantasy, that fantasy doesn’t mean saying “there are no rules” or “everything is going to be okay” or “all of your prejudices are correct.” I like the way Le Guin put it in “Escape Routes”:

What if we’re escaping from a complex, uncertain, frightening world of death and taxes into a nice simple cozy place … We have escaped by locking ourselves in jail.

Or as John Rogers (creator of Leverage) wrote on his blog,

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

This gets us to what I meant when I said this post would be about joy AND work. Because fantasy can do substantive, subversive work, both as an escape from our current reality and an escape towards the reality that we want to make. But only if fantasy grapples with the problems of reality.

If escape is always outward-oriented, well, then, it’s good as a painkiller, and let’s not scoff at painkillers. But sometimes you need stronger medicine, medicine to treat the causes and not the symptoms of our fallen world. And fantasy can be that stronger medicine: from helping us to imagine solutions to situations that we can’t bear to think about in real life (like Mary Shelley reconfiguring her class and gender issues in a monstrous other); to imagining the ultimate goal of utopia that is unreachable, but still motivating as a vision.

You’ll notice I’m almost done with this post, so it’s time to get back to talking about the webcomic. I wish I could say that I carefully crafted “Year of the Dragon” as a searing indictment of something important, like inequality in our time. I didn’t; it isn’t.

If you’ve read up to page three, you know that “Year of the Dragon” is the story of a young boy chosen to face a monster that’s much bigger than him–a hopeless task that he doesn’t yet take seriously. If there’s a deeper meaning there, a serious attempt to grapple with something wrong with our reality, I’ll let you tell me.

Sketchbok Scans

Since getting my Bamboo Tablet in April, I’ve pretty much done all my drawing digitally.  Everything I’ve posted here has been drawn on the tablet, and I’m amazed at how it really is like sketching on paper.  However, I can’t whip out my tablet and laptop everywhere.  Since I’ve got all these ideas I’m working on for our comic, I’m also carrying around a small sketchbook that I can use on the bus or when waiting for a train.

I’m spending tonight getting a start on “Voyages,” but here are some scans from my sketchbook.  Some of them you might recognize as the first sketches of pictures that have already been posted here, and some of them you might be seeing in the next few months as they make their way into our next story.  Most of them won’t go any further than this, but that’s a sketch book for you.

The Fishermen (colored)

Posted this last week as a sketch. Before bed I wanted something to do to relax, so I inked and colored it. Ben and I haven’t discussed it, but I’ve been thinking of “Voyages” in terms of color the entire time. (Ben?  Thoughts?) so I’m trying out some styles of coloring to see what I like.

Wida, take 2

Ben’s response to my sketches of Wida was: “How would he look with a pompadour instead of a pony-tail?”  Here’s the answer, with some inks and color thrown in for fun.


I’m so close to finishing the last few pages of “Year of the Dragon,” but real life has kept any real art from happening recently.  After two busy days where I fell asleep early, the last two nights my daughter has been sick and restless, allowing only one hand for sketching, as the other has to be permanently on her forehead to keep her asleep (even now I’m typing this one-handed while stoking her brow with the other).

I managed to rough out the pencils for the last few pages, but need the solidity of sitting at a table with my elbows supported to do tight pencils or inking.  I worked out a slew of banners (every site has its own dimensions), which didn’t involve any detailed work.

Also, I managed to ink the cover, as coloring doesn’t take quite as steady a hand as drawing.  I did a black and white version and a color one.  Ben liked the black and white but asked for a darker shadow, so I did a second version, which I do think is better.  If I ever get a chance to draw again, you’ll get to peer beyond the cover in a week or so . . .