Some art for Tess Durban: The Natural World

Oh, hi. It’s been a half-year. No need to go over all that. I wanted to show some new stuff I’ve been working on. A sequel to the first Tess Durban story (it was called Cultish Manners but now that it’s a series, the series is called Tess Durban and the first story has been renamed The Cult of XünÿX) that I’m writing in December and will be trying to draw from beginning to end in October-December. Here’s some prep art:

Some of these were done in ink and watercolors as part of the Year of Traditional Art. I did actually do a lot more work on that than I’ve shown on the blog. However, I have now put it to rest so I can work on this project in the fourth quarter of the year.
Other works are digital, mostly done in Procreate. It took me a long time to get comfortable with Procreate because I was very used to working in Autodesk Sketchbook. But once I really committed to it, I started to love it. However, the comic probably won’t be made in Procreate but in Affinity Photo, because that app has a desktop and a mobile version. This means that when my iPad battery conks out, I can simply continue on the desktop.

I’m having a ball writing this comic! It’s going to be very different in mood and tone than The Cult of XünÿX and so today I’ve been thinking about the series’ visual identity a bit, in the form of logos, body fonts and promo images. That’s still very difficult and frustrating for me because I’m simply not a graphic designer. Graphic design is only my passion in the sense that I passionately hate doing it.

The character of Jenny Everywhere is available for use by anyone, with only one condition: This paragraph must be included in any publication involving Jenny Everywhere, that others might use this property as they wish. All rights reversed.

A year of traditional art: Intro

I enjoyed working in traditional media so much during Inktober and NaNoManGo 2019, and work on Cultish Manners really picked up speed when I committed to working primarily on paper. But I soon got dissatisfied: my inks were often riddled with mistakes, stains and blemishes, erasers covered my inks in grey film, and when I was done, the inked paged didn’t show up as black on white, but rather as washed out grey-on-grey, because that’s what they were. I also had to resize and rework nearly every image in digital after I was done, and what I ended up with was digital pages for which the traditional art, laborious as it was, was mere raw material. The process was inefficient and emotionally disappointing. So I decided to spend 2020 learning more about the things that make traditional art traditional: inks, paper, paints, erasers, and so on.

Art supply loot: paper and paints
Art supply loot, February 4, 2020

I originally thought the project would involve a lot of coloring with alcohol-based markers, because I’ve acquired a lot of them over the past two years. First I started buying them then my wife kept giving them to me. It was Colleen Doran‘s string of Patreon posts and Twitter threads that got me interested in using pan watercolors. What clinched it was not so much the prospect of better fade-proofing (I am under no illusion that 99% of my art won’t be entirely gone within five years from the day I pass away) or more economical long-term use (I think she overstates the case here, because the cost of Copic markers is lower where I live, and they can be inexpensively refilled), but the fact that pan watercolors travel easily: travel-sized kits are more compact than collections of markers, and because the pans are dry, you can take them on an airplane without the risk of safety officials making you throw them out. Because I was going to spend up to a month traveling to and through Spain in a converted delivery van, after which I would travel home by myself and my wife would stay on the road in southern Europe for several more weeks, that sounded like a plan. Last winter, we did the travel thing as well, and I took markers that I barely used. They took up a lot of space, and a small kit seemed like a good alternative.
So I bought a set of 24 Talens van Gogh watercolor pans (link goes to bol.com and is not sponsored, though I did order it from them. If you’re in the US, buying this brand at this site may not be your best option) and took out some postcard-sized watercolor paper I’d bought earlier. It took me a while but I did take it out and started working with it. It was great fun and the initial results were encouraging. The colors were much more vibrant out of the box than I expected, and the choice of colors resembled my standard palette for digital work enough that I didn’t have to do a lot of mixing. I also loved that the colors were transparent over brush pens or India ink. A good choice to get started with. However, when the time came to travel home, it turned out that I couldn’t quite fit the set inside the single, 10-kilogram bag that made up my free luggage allowance, and so, reluctantly, the kit stayed behind with my wife on the Iberian peninsula. As I write this, it’ll be a few weeks before the kit and I are reunited.
I decided to buy a different, smaller kit with fewer colors. It’s a year of traditional art, and I might as well take the opportunity to learn to mix colors accurately. After some back-and-forth with myself, I ordered this Winsor & Newton Cotman 12-pan travel kit (again, Bol.com, previous warning applies), wich is the size of my iPhone 6, roughly. To tide me over until it arrived, I dug out some old watercolors from my wife’s stash; she had a mix of different, mostly school-quality brands in a box in her studio room.

The inside of the Derwent Inktense kit
The inside of the Derwent Inktense kit, with 12 colors, a sponge and a fountain brush

It turns out that I had an opportunity to visit a local art supply store the same day the travel kit arrived, and in hindsight I might as well have bought it off the shelf there. No worries, they’ve been getting plenty of my business and will be getting more of it this year. While i was there, I spotted a Derwent Inktense set of dry watercolor inks (Bol.com again, yadda yadda) and decided that I wanted to think about it for a few days. After thinking about it for a few days, I went back and bought one of those as well. I’d seen other artists do interesting things with colored inks, and I had a fairly random collection of colored inks in liquid form lying around, so I decided it might be a good time to try this kit as well, in case working with inks was a better fit for the sort of thing I was trying to do. By that time, I had settled into a routine of making coloring pages for myself: simple line art drawings in pen and ink that I could color whichever way I wanted without feeling I’d ruined an important piece if I messed them up. Most of these are now on my DeviantArt; I will post those, and a few others I haven’t yet shared with anyone here, as part of this series of posts. What I can say now is that I have used all of my kits, I have experienced interesting technical difficulties, have been making swatches and doing tests to compare products directly, and I’m ready to talk about them at great length for people who want to follow the learning process with me.

This introductory post about my year of traditional art is free for the general public. Future posts, including embarrassingly bad artwork from me and information about my experiences with different art materials from different brands, will appear only on my Patreon and be Patrons-only. For the low, low price of $ 1 a month, you can learn from my mistakes, and laugh at them. It’s much better than me posting my nudes for money. Trust me, you don’t want to see my nudes.

New Year’s Resolutions

Copied from a post on the ComicFury forums, here are my New Years’ Resolutions for 2020. I started off with my art resolutions, but the general resolutions are closely connected to those.

OK, it’s the time of year for this and allows me to procrastinate actually working on a comic (which it’s also the time of year for – procrastination, I mean)
In 2020, I will:

  • Finish at least one project out of several to make room for new ones. The best candidate is Abúi’s Travels because that has the flimsiest premise and is also closest to completion already. Maybe 8 to 10 pages? But I’ve been saying that for years.
  • Focus on traditional art again, specifically on the things that make traditional art traditional: working with real materials, ink, paper, paints, dyes and traditional techniques. I will study and try out new materials and add some new skills to my toolkit, maybe calligraphy so I can hand-letter again to a higher standard than the last time I did this. Remedying all the other flaws in my work will take a back seat to this, though I will work on perspective and backgrounds some. I have a strong emotional need to be less dependent on technology, because Big Tech sucks, and FLOSS is only marginally better.
  • Produce at least a page a week throughout the year.
  • Get to the end of the first Cultish Manners storyline and into the next one.
  • Update my self-hosted website so it contains all of Abúi’s Travels and Cultish Manners
  • Update my Substack newsletter exactly once a week.

A few words about the how

I have a set of non-art resolutions and it turns out that keeping to them is a necessary condition for meeting the goals of the art resolutions. In order of importance:

  • I need to sleep more. A LOT more. I will set myself a goal of sleeping 8 hours a day on workdays and 9 on weekends. For much of the past year, I’ve relied on artificial means to stay awake and it’s wearing me down. Right now, I can feel this very strongly. To do this, I will have to insist on stricter sleep hygiene including occasionally moving to our guest room if necessary – if the dogs are too noisy or my spouse is reading or watching movies in bed.
  • To help make the previous resolution possible (sigh, it’s dependencies upon dependencies) I will need to be even more active than I am now. Many days, I’m just not physically tired enough to sleep even when my mind is exhausted. I have just raised my step count target in Fitbit from 12,000 to 14,000, and am planning to make up the difference in more and longer walks with the dogs, which will also help them be quieter at night. Keeping my weight down also helps me with other health issues (apnea and gastric reflux) that prevent me from sleeping.
  • Starting in April, I will work fewer hours in my day job. The only reason I’m not doing this earlier is that the company will need to hire a part-timer to fill the missing hours, but when that’s sorted, I’m going to 32 hours. Most of the time I gain is already booked for more sleep and more physical activity, but my ability to use the remaining hours will hopefully improve.

Finally, I have some New Years’ resolutions that don’t have the ultimate purpose of allowing me to produce more art and get more stuf done.

  • Social media: I will KonMari all my social media stuff, commercial and federated alike, by blocking accounts that don’t spark joy. That is, the old criteria by which I block an account if it annoys or offends me directly or the person is acting like a shithead towards others are no longer strict enough. Instead, if there’s no good reason not to block an account, blocked it will be. This will result in me blocking several hundred accounts a day on Twitter alone, but I can live with that.
  • Also social media: one thing on social media that does spark joy for me is seeing more nudity on it, so I will follow accounts that offer that. Not necessarily lewd accounts, but not necessarily only not-lewd accounts either. Whatever increases my own happiness.

In the forum post, I only make brief mention of how I want to change my technology approach. I want to reduce my dependence on Big Tech without pivoting 100% to Free, Libre and Open Source technology, because I no longer believe that a strict FLOSS approach is worth striving for. A lot of FLOSS is in the de-facto control of Big Tech (FAGAM + Twitter + Netflix) or affected by some of the same toxic thinking that has helped Big Tech create our present Dystopian hellscape. Here’s what I want to do:

  • Make optimal use of the technology I already own, so I don’t have to give tech companies more of my money.
  • Learn more about the deep tools that I can assume to be present in any system that I use. I may never be a coder, but learning to use common technology, like Make, that is present in every system I use, will still benefit me (see the recent and possibly not permanent blog entry by Matthew Graybosch on using Makefiles to create static websites from templates; a solution that is both complex and simple – you need to learn a few things to do it, but when you do, you can pretty much always do it)
  • Use a combination of small tech and FLOSS that works for me to accomplish most goals. Right now, I increasingly use Emacs org.mode, a stack of FLOSS solutions, for editing text, and proprietary Affinity products for editing images and page layouts. This works for me and minimizes harm.
  • Increase my self-hosting by adding static websites and by making fuller use of the webspace I control, e.g. by implementing my own cloud hosting solution. That’s not going to happen within the first few weeks of the years, but as a longer-term goal, I can make that work.

Linklog for December 29, 2019: mostly about Big Tech being bad

My New Years’ Resolutions for 2020 are driven by a desire to become less dependent on Big Tech (Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter) even in cases where it’s not possible for me to sever the relationship completely. So it’s convenient to find that most of the links that I’ve collected over the past two months or whatever since I last posted a linklog are about Big Tech being bad. First, some art, though.

I drew some cover art for a new storyline by The Cosmic Beholder: The Mighty Bares. Requires a login to view. Eventually it will be posted in more publically accessible places.

Apple Card issuer investigated after claim of sexist credit checks – The Guardian. Noteworthy that the name of the issuer is Goldman Sachs, a familiar bad actor from the global financial crisis.

Regarding Mac Support Indy game developer Josh ‘Cheeseness’ Bush has had enough of Apple’s user-hostile behavior and will not support Macs that run macOSX Catalina or newer. He will continue to support older Macs for as long as his production system works, and is considering supporting old PowerPC Macs instead.
Related: How to get hold of old macOS and Mac OS X Versions – MacWorld.

Facebook and Google’s pervasive surveillance poses an unprecedented danger to human rights – Amnesty International.

Aaaand Google retaliates against protesting workers.

Theologian Benjamin Corey looks at Biblical predictions of the Antichrist in great detail, and concludes that they uncannily match with Donald Trump’s presidency. This is a bit off a parlour game, but it does get a bit frightening as line after line points at the Tangerine Tantrum. It also shows some of the thinking that went into attempts at delegitimizing President Obama, specifically the reasons why Obama had to be painted as foreign. That wasn’t just to make him look illegitimate, though that was part of it: making Obama look illegitimate was not the end game. Rather, the end game was to make evangelicals think he was the Antichrist.

Time to get Personal by Laura Kalbag argues for bringing back personal websites. Preaching to the choir here, I know. But she showcases some lovely personal website designs in the process, most by women, without mentioning that most if not all are by women. Also, site.js looks like it might be worth looking into.

The Old Internet Died And We Watched And Did Nothing – KatieNotopoulos on Buzzfeed. Nothing much new to people reading Obsession du Jour or following my Mastodon accounts, but a good summary of the capture of the Internet by FAGAM in the 2010s and the destruction of cultural capital that this has caused. Also I like the tagline, “It’s 2020 — do you know where your content is?”

A Makefile Is Fine, Too – Matthew Graybosch on using a very traditional, ubiquitous tool to automate some of the tedious parts of creating websites. Also: A portable Makefile for continuous delivery with Hugo and Github pages – Victoria Dev. A confession: I don’t always read these tech articles with my full attention, but I do take note of them in case I ever decide to use them.

I have a mailing list now

To replace the individual Facebook pages for my webcomics and have a more effective way to keep everyone informed of updates and new projects, I have started a mailing list on Substack. Please subscribe for weekly notifications of updates across all my active webcomics.

I chose Substack because they have a good reputation, some interesting people use it and they currently have no ads or algorithmic filtering. However, I do not want to have a place I don’t own to be the only place my content is posted, so here’s the first post that I made to the mailing list in full:

So this is a thing now
I’ve been meaning to set up a mailing list for almost a year now, and today I finally took the time to get to work on it. My main goal with this is to replace the different Facebook pages for my webcomics, and to eliminate the need for new pages as I create new comics (which I have! More on that later). The main problem with Facebook is that it is no longer possible to reach everyone who follows your pages, which defeats the purpose of having them in the first place. So these pages are getting shut down and hi! Here’s a mailing list to replace them.

But this thing, which I’ve called Rogues and Cultists, should be useful and fun for everyone who follows my comics, no matter which one of them they like the most or where they found them; whether it’s on DeviantArt, Mastodon, Tumblr, or even the main website which I promise will update any decade now. I only had Facebook Pages for Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan, Chronicles of the Witch Queen, and sort of a jokey page for The Lives of X!Gloop, set up to test some Facebook Page features with the expectation that no one would look at it. Nothing for White House in Orbit, nothing for my new webcomic Cultish Manners, nothing for all the little side projects that I do simply because they seem more doable right now than working on Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan, the mothership of my comics empire.

Let’s talk about Cultish Manners

My latest project is Cultish Manners, a webcomic set in the present day featuring Goth music, supernatural phenomena and some superheroics. It started as a NaNoManGo project in late 2018 and through the past year, I’ve been able to get seventeen pages and a whole bunch of supporting art done. The comic is still finding its voice, but I have ambitions for it: I want to finish the first story early in 2020 and then do a series of sequels that will be structured like a modern season of Doctor Who, with recurring villains and an overall arc that connects otherwise standalone episodes. Through this ‘season’, the cast will expand to form kind of a superhero team. I’m having a ball writing and drawing it!

One door has to close

But Cultish Manners isn’t the thing I’m working on now! After NaNoManGo 2020 ended, I went back to drawing Abúi’s Travels, a light and fun spin-off of Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan that I started in order to offload a crossover project from the main Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan storyline. It features the faerie Abúi on her trips through multiple universes, protected by a means of interdimensional transport that only drops her where it’s safe for her to appear, but which is a bit wonky. That was eight years ago, and things got a bit out of hand. To make time for Cultish Manners in 2020, I am now trying to get Abúi’s Travels wrapped up, so updates for that comic will be appearing in December.

Quick Webcomics items

Rich Morris of Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic is looking for work. If you have a commission that would be a good fit, leads to a job in animation, or other tips that could lead him back to a steady income, drop him a line.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to my long-term friend and collaborator on Chronicles of the Witch Queen, Little Cottage in the Woods, and White House in Orbit, Greg Storm*, who passed away from the complications of Parkinson’s Disease in September. He is missed. He was kind, creative and a dab hand at writing himself or others out of a corner. While working on Cultish Manners, I often found myself asking “What would Greg do?” While he could no longer do the day-to-day writing for Chronicles of the Witch Queen due to the effects of his illness, he was involved in the broader plotting almost until the very end. Chronicles of the Witch Queen artist Daniel Østvold plans to keep the series going in the spirit of his work, and likewise, I have been writing new White House in Orbit material off and on, also in the spirit of what Greg would write.

*Greg was a very private person and while he wrote under his own name for most of his life, he decided some time ago to work pseudonymously. We remove the old name from web page text when we see it, but when it’s embedded in the graphics, we don’t have the resources to do that in a consistent manner.

—-
That’s a lot of words! Future updates will be a lot shorter, so if you never want to miss an update on any of my comics again, join Rogues and Cultists and get update notifications and other news items directly in your inbox!

Cultish Manners Pages 16 and 17

Last few pages of this NaNoManGo! I will be taking a break from this comic now, so I can work on my other ongoing comics. But I will be back on this one soon enough, because I want to finish it.

16th page of the webcomic Cultish Manners, in which Liath takes a beating.
Cultish Manners Page 16

Page 17 of Cultish Manners, in which Liath goes back into the club to fight the Shadow Creature again.
Cultish Manners Page 17

Liath is on loan from James Damaged, Cyberkitten01 on DeviantArt, who also helped me with Liath’s dialogue on Page 16.

Cultish Manners Page 15

Comic page in which Tess and Tag argue outside the club, only to be interrupted by Liath being violently pushed out through the door.
Cultish Manners Page 15

Here we are with page 15. Not the best one, and there’s a few things I would have done differently if I had time to try again, but I’m sticking to the NaNoManGo schedule for now.

The final panel ave me some real difficulties and I ended up asking Aggie Janicot for advice. She demonstrated how to lean into the action lines of the flying Liath figures a lot more.

Photo of the inked page with pencils still visible.
Photo of the inked page with pencils still visible. The bottom panel is a bit of a mess!
Photo of Page 15, showing the suggested pose Aggie Janice drew
Photo of Page 15, showing the suggested pose Aggie Janice drew

On social media, I’ve been talking a lot about how much I’m enjoying working traditionally and how I’m striving to get spotless inks on the paper. But in the end, this page ended up not very clean or error-free and a lot of it was cleaned up or redrawn digitally. I’ll keep working on this, though.
Lettering was done, again, in Affinity Designer for iPad and the learning process for that continues. It turns out that Affinity Designer does not have a feature for warping text, but I could fake it by running the sound effect text on a path and manually changing the size of each letter.
When I started Cultish Manners, I decided that this comic would not be touched by Adobe Photoshop at any time, and that I wanted to move away from the custom Stripschrift font I’ve been using for years and years. The body font is Out of Line BB from Blambot, which I paid for. The sound effect font is a free Blambot font, Bada Boom BB, which I’ve had for many years as well. I did shop around for fonts before settling on this old one, and Blambot has a few that I liked better, but before I decide, I want to figure out if I’m actually going to do the sequels to this story. The font I like the most is one of the most expensive ones they offer and I don’t want to buy it just for a one-shot.
With seventeen pages in seventeen days, I’m on track. A panel a day is a nice comfortable pace for me to work at, but it’s not a pace at which I’ll get the story finished by the end of the month. So I will probably continue to work on this through December. However, I’m also kind of itching to draw something else right now.

Cultish Manners Page 14

Third page of this year’s NaNoMango and Page 14 of the comic as a whole. This one took a while, because it’s more panels. But I had fun going back to Bristol board. I’m back to how I was working 20 years ago! Bristol board, Hiro 111 EF nib, India ink with white ink for corrections. The only differences are the process in which I draw and ink one panel at a time, and the large amount of digital post-processing.

Comic page in which Tess runs through corridors and finds Tag the bassist
Cultish Manners Page 14

An earlier stage of the page:

Photo of the page in progress.
Cultish Manners Page 14 in progress

Cultish Manners Page 13

It turns out that the Patreon plugin for WordPress isn’t working as well as it used to. The last post was supposed to be only visible to Patrons, but wasn’t. Ah well. I guess I will post my #NaNoManGo work as public, scheduled posts instead. Here’s page 13:

Liath fights the shadow creature while Frits, the singer of Cult of XünÿX, suffers. His bandmates are considering what to do and keyboardist Jan Boenen suggests giving Frits his heroin back.
Cultish Manners Page 13: A reminder of what’s at stake

And here’s a photo of the page-in-progress from last Tuesday, with my cat’s ear visible in shot:

Raw scan of Page 13 of Cultish Manners while it was being drawn.
Cultish Manners Page 13 in progress

Linklog for November 8, 2018: Nasi Goreng, Ginger Baker and Something You Can Do Right Now To Push Back Against Nazis

There’s an interview with me on Wordsmith.social by Copyleft Curator.

What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know by Luna Nieves (“Aicaya”). Making people learn Unix-ish stuff on the internet is a good way to create a perpetually-angry programmer community. If you want to start from the beginning, nothing beats books, but books are out of the reach of many.

How to radicalize a normie, and how to maybe de-radicalize them. Innuendo Studios.

The French Olympic logo tumbles out of bed on a Parisian morning. She tousles her messy bob, dons breton stripes and ballet flats and whisks down the stairs from her fifth-floor apartment to grab a baguette before enigmatically texting two men who are pursuing her romantically.” Twitter thread started by Megan Clement.

Charles Babbage’s Difference engine captured in Gigapixel images from 2012.

Also from 2012, The Return of the Limits To Growth by Ugo Bardi. The rehabilitation of that essential and frightening study into humanity’s effect on the environment and where that will take us is long overdue.

Back in the present, the Intercept has not been able to find a single leftist among the people across the political spectrum that Mark Zuckerberg claims to have been consulting with. It may just be that the Intercept’s methodology is flawed and the resulting article is a tad on the tendentious side, but given what we know, which includes the news that Facebook will consider right-wing harrassment farm Breitbart a “reputable news organisation” for the purposes of its new and improved News tab (don’t use their News tab!), I find the claim that Zuckerburg is either bullshitting about consulting with people across the political spectrum, or, worse, that he has no idea anymore how the political spectrum runs, entirely credible. In any case, don’t use the Facebook news tab. Hide it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. If you’re going to have a filter bubble, make it your own.

Relatedly, The Coming Ethics of the Internet of Things by Emily Gorcenski, discusses accessibility and inclusiveness in our future tech infrastructure, and also has some things to say about the accuracy of data generated about us.

Bicycles are the fantasy hero’s friend by Camestros Felapton, in which it is argued that a bicycle would be the best way for a fantasy hero to get around, if such a device can exist in the fictional world. The comments do some work on that qustion, but Camestros suggests that post-apocalyptic settings would be a good fit for bicycles.

I am trying to figure out how to recalibrate a 22-year-old scanner, and IT8 Calibration Targets at Computer-darkroom.com is very useful for helping me learn more about the one IT8Cal card we found in our archive. Argyllcms seems like a capable tool to use to generate ICC profiles. It doesn’t seem easy to use, though, so I’m still looking for alternatives.

In music, legendary drummer Ginger Baker passed away two weeks ago last month. Some albums from his period working with Bill Laswell can be found on Bandcamp, including Middle Passage, Horses And Trees and the live set Live in Japan by Material with Ginger Baker. Plus his classic album with Fela Kuti, Fela Kuti Live with Ginger Baker, which is available through Bandcamp site for Kuti. These are all highly recommended and, in case of the Laswell collaborations, unfairly overlooked.

Massive White Supremacy Board Leak: How to Access and Interpret the Data includes torrent and magnet links to the entire SQL database from the defunct neo-nazi white supremacist message board Iron March. Share and enjoy!

A topic dear to my heart: How to cook the perfect nasi goreng, Felicity Cloake in The Guardian.