I present to you, dear and patient reader, the first installment of my current project, The Pestle. Behind the cut are the first twenty pages of what will be a seventy some odd page story, which is currently running in Maple Key Comics. Print editions, at the time of this writing, are available for purchase in the shop, and the third chapter is nearing completion–soon to be available in Maple Key Comics Issue 6.
The lovely Sophie Goldstein tagged me in this Writing Blog Tour thing that’s been making the rounds among cartoonists I know. Longtime followers of this blog will have noticed I’ve not been using it much in the past couple of years, but it makes sense for me to do this here, I think. So, onwards:
1. What am I working on?
The last few months have been spent, to a large extent, on projects for Maple Key Comics. For the book’s second issue, I completed a 24-pager called “A Sickness Upon the Land,” which was a refreshing diversion from my work on The Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World. I’m also working on the fourth chapter of Black Dog and a three-parter called “The Pestle,” the latter of which will be serialized in Maple Key Comics issues 4-6.
I guess I’m doing some freelance stuff too–book design and branding for a few different people.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a tricky question. Black Dog, I think, has similar elements to an indie comic like Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve (if I may be permitted to make that comparison), but with a generous dose of House of Leaves and some jokes and pop-cultural references thrown in. It’s talky.
“A Sickness,” on the other hand, is a horror/fantasy thing based on a fallacious medical concept that I read about in Roy Porter’s most excellent history Flesh in the Age of Reason. I know there’s a lot of #grimdark fantasy going around right now, what with the outlandish popularity of Game of Thrones and Mormon young adult novels in which vampires have to chew their babies out of their mothers’ wombs, but “A Sickness” is focused a lot on medicine, magic, and their intersection.
“The Pestle” has a similar focus, but is more of a morality play than the aforementioned. With “the Pestle” I’m trying to focus on some class issues, the omission of which from fantasy novels has long troubled me.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Why indeed. I’ve always thought of my writing as being somewhat exploratory–I’m always trying to think my way through a problem or a concept when I’m writing. With The Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World, it’s a personal problem–looking back at my romantic history and the periods where I thought I was unlovable due to some unforgivable and unresolvable defect.
With “A Sickness” it’s this old idea about the soul being something physical, a substance that can be withdrawn from the body. I wanted to do something with monsters and ghosts and things that are more fun to draw than people talking. “The Pestle” deals a lot with the town and surroundings of Hanover, NH, home of Dartmouth College. Much of the area around Hanover is pretty severely economically depressed, whereas Hanover is very affluent. Through writing this fiction, I’m attempting to explore that while entertaining myself and my eventual readers.
4. How does your writing process work?
It tends to work in stages: First, I’ll read about or encounter an idea–recently, it’s been stuff about premodern medicine–that sticks in my mental craw. The idea rattles around back there, picking up other pieces of intellectual detritus–with “The Pestle,” it’s that thing about Hanover, some stuff about Solomon’s Lesser Key, and the Schola Medica Salernitana–until one day something clicks into place, and a plot begins to coalesce around this skeleton of ideas.
Then I start writing. I work full-script most of the time, so I write the whole thing out by hand before I start doing any real drawing. Then I type it up and make copious adjustments before going on to thumbnails, then thumbnails to page, all the while doing further rewrites and improvising lines here and there. I feel pretty good about myself when I can throw in an extra joke or revealing line while I’m penciling.
In celebration of my completion and printing of part 3, here’s the second part of the Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World for FREE. Don’t say I never gave you nothin’!
Part 3 is now available at my BigCartel shop for pretty darn cheap–help a brother out! Continue reading
A friend of mine complimented me on the backgrounds in the Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World pt. 2 this week, which naturally swelled my heart. So I thought I’d talk about drawing on lived experience to create environments.
As has been observed by countless vapid music and technology journalists, Austin has a pretty unique character: an island of liberalism in the middle of God’s Country, Austin boasts one of the liveliest music scenes in the US, a sizable visual art community, and reasonably functional public transit.
So the city in Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World is basically Southeast Austin.
(Above: East Oltorf, more or less. I used to live in an apartment complex a little off the main street here with my brother. Shout out to Eric!)
I didn’t have a camera when I was living there, and I wasn’t really drawing as much as I should have been, so all I really have to go off of is my memory and Google, which serve nicely when I can remember what neighborhood on which I want to base the location.
I’m not using Google as much as I am my memory, though. I know that if I were to attempt to slavishly reproduce every neighborhood I want Caleb and Gabi to visit in this book I’d probably lose interest faster than your grandad diving into W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. So I’ve been trying to evoke an emotional likeness to Austin rather than a photographic likeness, which is, I think, more accurate.
(Do you remember what the bus stops looked like near your first apartment? Or do you remember what happened there?
Do you remember the logo of the pho place near Gordon’s house, or do you remember the first time he asked you out?
Do you remember the precise name of every business on South Congress Ave., or do you remember talking with Becca about how fitted jeans are a corporonormative fashion? Do you remember making up the word “corporonormative?” )
We don’t remember specific details about our environments until they’re made important to us by emotional involvement, I think. Which is why it’s so easy for cartoonists to draw only the barest suggestions of their characters’ surroundings, and why I can get away with only using one-point perspective most of the time.
I guess the Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World could really be set anywhere; but because I lived in Austin for a while, it makes more sense to me to reference those spaces with which I am familiar.
Of course, some of my referenced locations aren’t actually in Austin; some are a bit closer to my current home in Vermont:
(They’re pretty similar, trust.)
There’ll be something new in the store tomorrow! Keep your eyes peeled.
…unnoticed, like the pages of a Dean Koontz novel or a stack of $1 bills.
I’ve been off the internet for a minute or two, but I’ve been busting my hump working full time, trying to fulfill some commissions (more on these as they are completed) and participating in Paul and Lena’s Drawn-Out Storytelling a couple of weeks ago, the images for which I shall share with you below.
I was tasked with illustrating a harrowing tale of post-graduate rootlessness by a gentleman named Eric Feldman, whose work I would link you to were I able to find any of it on the internet. Mr. Feldman uprooted himself from an unrewarding desk job at a legal firm in order to brave the stares, tepid water, mosquitoes, and urine-soaked rats of the Sri Lankan wilderness. Makes for good drawin’, let me tell ya. Check the alt text for jokes.
I’d have colored these if I’d had the time, but dang, ya’ll, a full time job ain’t no joke. I WILL, however, be back again soon. There’s new stuff up on the tumblr all the time, though, so if you need a base hit of Canto to stop the trembling and get the bugs out of your skin,you know where to point your peepers.
This weekend at Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy in beautiful Austin was the third annual Webcomics Rampage mini convention!
It was a great little show–a wide selection of webcomickers showed up to hawk their wares and hold panel discussions in the back room. The one pictured above was a general-interest discussion, kept lively primarily by the witty banter of Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue (5th from R), Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content (house left of Joel), and R.K. Milholland of Something Positive(blocked by a blond giant). It was pretty inspiring to hear these folks talk about their work and how devoted they are to their craft. It was a bit of a kick in the pants for ol’ Carl, who hasn’t really been working as hard as he could be on this whole comics thing. To be remedied.
Thanks to all the great cartoonists who came out in addition to those linked above: Josh Lesnick of Girly and Slipshine (Dr. Voluptua is even sexier in print), Bill Williams of Lone Star Press and Side-Chicks, David Willis of Shortpacked! and Dumbing of Age (Sorry if I drew your head weird, dude), Rob DenBlyker of Cyanide and Happiness, Danielle Corsetto of Girls with Slingshots, and Nicholas Gurewitch of Perry Bible Fellowship (Sorry I didn’t draw you in there, I couldn’t see you. I know you look like Jesus or Charles Manson, though).
I’ll post solo images of these folks on the tumblr later today. Stay warm, amigos.