Archive for March, 2006

Time and space – Observations from an Uber-slob.

March 20th, 2006 by Reinder

In my last post, I let slip that I had a bit more time than I used to. Some readers may ask "does that mean that we'll soon be seeing new Chronicles of the Witch Queen material?" Or not. It's not like that website had hundreds of eager readers when it was still updating daily. The answer, I'm afraid, is "no", anyway. I'll start the site up again when I'm sure I can do a decent job of it.
Over the past few years while working on my comics I've let a lot of things go to hell. The most important of those things is still being dealt with by the cleanup project - yes, I think of it as a project.

At the risk of boring you to death with tales of rooting through shelves and drawers and dragging out huge bags of paper... actually, I don't think that's boring at all. I find removing all the clutter and cruft that's been accumulating in my flat very liberating. Also, there are companies out there that offer advice and help to the incurably untidy, so there must be something interesting to say about it, especially from the perspective of a master-slob.

In that other post, I mentioned that I was making headway, but the shameful secret is that the things I was managing to clear up were all overflow spaces: the main desk, the disused old desk, the disused drawing board, the floor. All of these were covered in paper, and piles of it. They're now clear, mostly. Clear enough to use, anyway. But the places where paper legitimately should go, the bookshelves and archival safe, are still overloaded, one of them with about double the weight it should maximally support. So I'm looking at their contents wondering if there's anything in there that might not pass the "what if I moved house?" test. Digging through some promising areas, I found quite a bit of handwritten (i.e. illegible) work by myself such as old term papers, as well as handouts from my University days. I kept those all those years because I was never sure which of these I would want to use again in my later career; it's now clear that only the medieval and renaissance literature stuff has anything to do with what I'm doing now, so that stays and most of the rest of it goes. It's not enough to keep those shelves from groaning, but it's a start.
I'm also looking at my unsold minicomics inventory with my mind on the same question, "Would I take that along if I moved house?" I'm not sure I would. But I'm uncomfortable with the implications of that. A few years ago, Indigo Kelleigh announced that he would destroy any of his old Circle Weave minis that he didn't sell by a certain date. I was shocked by that... it's just not something I could imagine myself doing. I suppose I'm like a Terry Pratchett dwarf in that - always wanting words that are written or art that is produced to remain (Note to self: Is it wise to post this somewhere where Adam will read it?). These days, I'm not so sure. If those old, unsold books are dragging me down, perhaps I should let go of them. Before I get to that point, though, I will try to sell them at a deep discount. I've already updated my Small Press Swapmeet listings accordingly and will announce a proper Spring Sale when I am ready to start taking preorders for the Headsmen mini.

Okay, about those master-slob observations. I've got two.
One: I suspect the minds of tidy people work very differently from those of folks like me. For tidy people, seeing a piece of rubbish or a stray sheet of paper lying somewhere is a constant annoyance and an eyesore. Until they remove it, they are bothered by its presence. When, on the other hand, something is cluttering up my space, I stop seeing it after a while. It becomes part of the background. This can take on an extreme form. When I got the extra bookshelf in December, I overhauled many things in the house and started "seeing" clutter again in quite a few places, for long enough to get rid of some of it. I threw out an old laser printer that I hadn't used in a year or two because it had been malfunctioning. But it wasn't until this week that I finally threw out the large cardboard box that that printer originally came in. That box had been slightly more useful than the printer because I could keep stuff in it, but I had already emptied it of said stuff back in December. Until I started the most recent bout of cleaning, I didn't "see" the box. Somewhere between my eyes and my brain, the connection got lost and with it the notion that in front of me was a large piece of clutter I could throw out.
Two: I'm trying to prevent slipping back into my old cluttery ways by not buying a lot of stuff for the time being, and by processing any incoming mail immediately. That's harder than it seems: most of my snail mail is from my bank, my insurance company, the housing corp or the local government. All of it can be divided into the following catagories:
* Useless mass mailings. Those make up the majority.
* Useful mass mailings. That is, mailings whose purpose is clearly to advertise, but the offers contained in them are such that they may save me money, improve my insurance coverage or - best of all - reduce the overall amount of incoming mail.
* Documents I have to keep: Updated versions of my insurance policies, or bank statements, or, in one memorable case, an apology from the housing corp for a mistake they made.
* Documents I may not need to keep but which I need to take action on. "Comply with this regulation or Else" mail from the local government, or the thing that the housing corp later apologised for (a complaint about the neighbours' polluting their back yard with garbage and dog shit had been sent to me instead of them).
Both my bank and my insurance company are very bad when it comes to sending me stuff I don't want and don't need. It's not a big problem right now, but when I was in a state of constant hurry, I would often leave mail from them unopened for a long time, having got burned too often on the content-free feelgood magazines that are apparently the latest, greatest thing in corporate PR. As a result, I've occasionally missed out on real offers that were useful, or on information that I really needed to know. Human beings are not good spam filters and spam filters that mimic the learning habits of human beings don't work. The only exception to that is Google's spam filter, which takes into account the experience of many many users. Unfortunately, I don't see that translating back into the meat and rock world.
One or two more observations popped up in my head while I was working on this post, but they've slipped my mind again. I'll post them separately when they pop back up, hopefully in shorter posts than this one.

In addition to cleaning, I'm also using the time I have now to work on my tax returns and get lots of exercise. Once I'm done with those things, I'll get back to Chronicles of the Witch Queen.

Housecleaning

March 18th, 2006 by Reinder

I finished up the 9th Gang of 4 page on Wednesday. Since then I've been doing some housecleaning, both mental and actual.

People who have visited my house in the past few years know that it's usually a great big mess, and readers of this blog may remember that on several other occasions, I've made attempts to get through the backlog of mail and other stuff that has piled up over the years and clear some working space. This time, though, I have a little more time for the project, and I'm making real headway. Slowly but steadily, my incoming correspondence (most of it from my bank and other institutions like that) gets sorted into junk, outdated stuff and potentially interesting, actionable items, and anything not in the latter catagory gets thrown out, as do many other documents, packaging materials, papers full of now-incomprehensible notes and even quite a few crappy doodles and sketches. The actionable items will be looked at on the basis of "will responding to this save me real money or prevent the paper piling up again?" and if the answer is no, out it goes. I'm discounting the fourth category of "official, necessary records" which for the time being I'm just sticking into folders and dumping in the desk safe. Sorting through them will be a matter for next week when I'll do my tax returns. Slowly, because unlike the past few years, I have time. Since Thursday, the surfaces of both my desk and the old, large drawing board have become visible again. The drawing board has been used as an overflow space for the past four or five years - I use a smaller one at the studio.

I've picked up both the two pairs of new glasses and the pack of contact lenses. I didn't get the contacts straight away because after so many years, the specialist wanted me to practice putting them in first. Turns out I can still do that; I suppose it's a bit like riding a bicycle.

I have paid most of my bills (one got lost in the sorting and rearranging, but I've found it again and it's now on my desk) and sent out €2000 worth of invoices to clients and to the studio-mates who I share an internet connection at work with. On top of that, I got an advance from Modern Tales (that's an advance on royalties yet to be calculated, not advance payment for work yet to be done) and sorted out some specifics for a string of cartooning workshops I'll be doing next month.
Getting that sorted out has allowed me to do some back-of-the-envelope budgetting, and it looks like I'm covered for everything I need and some of what I want. Ain't I lucky? Seriously, that's a good basis for planning for the future.

One of those plans is the publication of my first minicomic in a few years, and the first one in full colour. I'm not a big fan of making small print runs of comics, really; I've done too much of it already over the past 15 years. But... I promised a print version to the people who sponsored Headsmen, and now that I'm stuck with having to do it, I'm becoming more keen to do it as well as I possibly could. Right now, I'm thinking of putting out a full-colour A5 or even A4-sized book containing Headsmen and a colour version of Alchemists as bonus material. Adding another colour story wouldn't cost any extra as the pages would be printed on colour sheets anyway, and my test colouring has convinced me that colour does actually improve the art quite a bit.
So I've been comparing prices and doing test prints of individual pages. What I've learned so far is that the price per unit drops dramatically with nearly every extra unit bought if you're going with a local digital printer, much more than it used to do in the days of black and white photocopied interiors. Basically, every extra person I could count on to buy a copy of the book would not just help me make it easier to keep the cost down, but also help their fellow fans get their hands on a cheap copy of the book. With that in mind, I think I should set up some sort of preordering system in which people can sign up for a copy without immediately committing to pay for it, as the final price would be determined in part by the number of people signing up. I'm also thinking of formally reopening the sponsorship drive so people can contribute to both the upkeep of the ROCR website and the initial investment to get the book off the ground.

Of course, I'm still looking for alternatives. There are some promising semi-PODs around that could fill my needs. Ka-Blam looks good although the fact that it's in the US complicates things for me. Wouldn't be a big deal if it was a full POD press, but despite what it claims, it isn't, really. It's a digital small press that's primarily set up to ship batches of books to micropublishers and distributors. But the price is quite good and the fact that it's a fixed, low price per unit makes it a solution that's hard to ignore.

More on that later. I'll have some stuff to show to go into the book soon enough.

Here’s a guy with his head screwed on straight.

March 18th, 2006 by Reinder

Pete Ashton:

Oddly, or maybe not, I've been contemplating putting myself forward for medical trials, the logic being as follows: 1) The noise made over the recent TGN1412 thing implies these things don't go wrong very often. 2) At the same time a significant number of people will be put off applying so they'll be looking for guineapigs. 3) I've been known to spend a couple of weeks feeling grotty and not getting anything done so I might as well get paid for it. 4) A couple of grand would free me up for a month or so of book writing. 5) Blog fodder! (Oh, altruism and for the good of mankind and all that too...)

Quite right. I've been thinking about it myself. The horror of the TGN1412 incident is making me fearful at an emotional level, but this is the first such incident I've ever heard of in my lifetime, and after that, the organisations doing those tests are going to be extra-super-cautious. This would be a good time to go into medical testing.

However, spending a month cooped up is just not on, so no test that involves that (as some do) will be considered.

InkaLill on WCN

March 16th, 2006 by Reinder

One of the most encouraging trends in webcomics lately has been the arrival of older, more established cartoonists from the print world onto the Web. It looks like more of these turn up on Webcomicsnation than elsewhere, probably because WCN is widely publicised and very easy for web novices to use.

One cartoonist I'm very happy to see online is Norwegian fantasy cartoonist InkaLill, whose work Geir alerted me to when I first visited Norway ten years (ten years!) ago. She is putting her long-running comic The Knights of Dor on the web, in English, starting with the very early work that I don't currently own in print.
The web processing, to be honest, needs some work, and like most of us, InkaLill did not exactly put out virtuoso work right from the start. But over the run of Knights of Dor, she learned a thing or two, especially about drawing expressive female characters and creating consistent fantasy environments. So this is one series to look out for. The second book seems to be subscriber-only, although it's not clear if there is anything other than the front page online yet at all.

Quick life and work stuff.

March 13th, 2006 by Reinder
  • I like writing Gang of Four episodes set in the school, but I fecking hate drawing them. They always take forever to do.
  • Running regularly and swimming when I feel like putting in more exercise have not resulted in measurable weight loss, not that I have a whole lot to lose but a pound or two off would have been reasonable. However, I do have more stamina and energy and my face is getting less pudgy. For one reason, fat always goes to my face, which is why there are pictures of me taken when I weighed no more than the 70 kilogrammes I do now, but in which I look like Jabba the Hutt or even Marlon Brando in his final years.
  • I need: new trousers, repairs to the dryer, a new electric toaster oven, or microwave/toaster combo, a new fridge, a new computer desk and a TV or at the very least a TV card to watch the next Doctor Who season with.
  • I want: a desktop-model Mac. No, I don't need one as both my home PC and my iBook are in good working order. No, I don't have a business case for buying one as Photoshop works perfectly well on the studio PC. I just want one, to complete my entry into smelly wankerdom.
  • I am now definitely in the market for some form of regular (if temporary and/or part-time)employment. If Donna Barr can be a bus driver to pay for unexpected expenses, then so can I. Apart from the not having a driver's license bit.
  • "Pay for unexpected expenses" includes getting a higher credit limit on my card. All my life I've had an almost pathological fear of getting into debt. But debt is perfectly justifiable if buying now and paying later allows for a higher quality of life than I'm enjoying now. As long as it isn't at the level where you can't pay it back.
  • Now that I'm a member of a Viking-oriented club within DeviantArt, I keep seeing posts there from people with Finntroll quotes in their signatures. Because I don't follow the metal scene much, I hadn't realised that they'd become so big, although the reception they got at their concert last year should have tipped me off. If I have a bit of time, I should take a look at their lyrics and draw some troll art based on them. I've been meaning to do that for over a year but always within the context of the ROCR/Gnomian Republic universe. Now, I think just drawing it in the form of single illustrations would be fun and would interest enough people to gain me some popularity there on DA.
  • When Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan returns to showing new material, there may be big changes, bigger than I've let on so far. Or not.
  • If there isn't a special place in Hell for password retrieval system builders who insist on sending you a new password when you've forgotten your old one, so that you have to remember that new password long enough to reset it in every single browser you'll ever log in to the site with, I'll gladly help build one. People are more likely to forget passwords than remember them and people will login from more than one location. Combine these two facts and you have a situation where users will drive themselves to the point where they go "screw it, I'll just use a password I can guess, and just to be sure, I'll write it down," and once they start doing that, they won't just do it for sites that have low risks involved. I'm looking at you, DeviantArt, now tell me what my old password is.

So next week I’ll hop over to the optician and use my remaining hand to put my new glasses on.

March 10th, 2006 by Reinder

When I dragged myself out of bed this morning, I reached for my glasses and found the frame broken in two! I do recall leaning on them when I got out of bed in the middle of the night to use the bathroom... It was immediately clear to me that any repairs would have to be a strictly temporary matter, but what can you do? I dug up a pair of rancid old glasses I still had lying around, then took the broken glasses to the optician to get them soldered back in one piece, then spent the rest of the morning getting my eyes re-tested for both glasses and contact lenses and shopping for not one, but two replacement pairs. I'm being very thorough here, but I have to be: in addition to being old and gnarly and not very fashionable and weighing a tonne, those 16-year-old glasses are misaligned and give me a headache if I wear them for too long. The glasses that just broke, on the other hand, were very good to me for the six years that they lasted, so I used the same shop I bought them from and had them fix me up with nice, good new ones.

Shopping for glasses is pretty difficult for me. I have a strong prescription (minus six and a bit on both eyes) so standard glasses go well into the size category known as "bottle bottoms" - I need the spiffy, thinly-slised, ultra-cybernetic-precision glasses if I don't want to look like an idiot and permanently scar the bridge of my nose. Even then, I still can't have large glasses whether they're in fashion or not, and the trend of the moment, frames that are mercifully small but rectangular, disagree with the shape of my face. The guy who tested my eyes was in luck; he had a very angular, square-jawed face that rectangular glasses look perfect on. I on the other hand have a face made of curves, and poorly-defined ones at that. Also, I have prominent eyebrows so anything that emphasises those makes me look like I'm permanently scowling. The best I can hope for is a small, curvy frame that isn't too conspicuous. In the end, I found two frames that I can wear, one expensive model and a cheap one that the optician will throw in for the price of just one glass. The cheap one also gets the spiffy glassware in it, so I was still out by € 600 in total, which I agreed to pay without even blinking.
I didn't balk at the sudden expense because, for one thing, I will probably last out the rest of the decade and more with those glasses. My prescription strength hasn't changed since 1991, which is very rare, and I have a good track record at making glasses last. Also, I had been sort of expecting it. A few weeks ago, I couldn't find my glasses, and had to go through a similar procedure of finding the old, gnarly pair and then using that to locate my regular one. Doing that made me realise that my regular glasses were getting a bit old, fragile and scratched, weren't too up-to-date anymore, and hey, maybe contact lens technology has developed since I last tried contacts, so maybe I wouldn't have the same problems with them again as I had in 1996?
Oh, yeah, contacts. I also bought a pack of one-day contacts for those rare days when I'm not at a computer all the time. I'll test the water again with these. Another stroke of luck with my amazing eyeballs: not only are they stable, but the eye correction they need is the same for both, so I could simply get one pack of day contacts off the shelf. I will need to re-learn putting them in though, so I've got an appointment with the contact lens specialist for that too, bringing the total to three: One on Thursday for contact lens practice, one tomorrow to pick up the repaired glasses, and one at a date to be announced to pick up the new ones.
I can afford the new glasses out of my buffer money (I no longer think of it as savings, but rather as a fund for precisely these sorts of expenses) but even taking into account that it was sort-of expected and high-priority, it's still € 600 that I would have prefered, all told, to keep in my pocket. I'll be lucky if my insurance covers even a fraction of it. So don't be surprised if I start waving my Paypal button at the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan readership again...

Uppallageez

March 8th, 2006 by Reinder

Ah spind sow mutch tiem o teh Inntarneit reidin mispelt writtin thta Iv'e lorst teh abbillitee ta spel, tyep r prufreid. Soree. Alsow, thee Funie Kyoot bloger iz cawled Katie Rice, ont "Nice&quot, liek Iw roat urlier. Appolloggees an Ih've carected meye mistaek.

Viking dress redux

March 6th, 2006 by Reinder

Krakatoa in Viking and Slavic dresses.png
Well, it took me all weekend, but I got two designs on paper for Krakatoa's dress. One of them is a Viking dress adapted for Krakatoan use by lowering the neckline and having her wear the brooches at about nipple height (they are normally at the same longitude but a higher latitude). The one on the right is Slavic in origin, but doesn't contain any elements the Norse wouldn't have been able to made, and besides, as Geir remarked in email to me, the Norse were known to travel far and wide for both business and pleasure so they could have bought or stolen costumes like this one.

There are quite a few comments to the designs on DeviantARt already, and I've provided an alternate colour scheme for the Slavic dress. It's quite clear to me now that she needs to wear red and yellow. I still favour the Viking dress with its copious amounts of bling. I've decided not to put the pictures anywhere else because keeping track of what has gone into which gallery is becoming a bit cumbersome, and keeping track of discussion about any pictures even more so. If you want to comment but don't want to register on DeviantArt for the purpose, please email.

Viking-era women’s costume

March 4th, 2006 by Reinder

I've been working on a minor restyling for the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan characters, especially Krakatoa. What she needs for the story is a look that highlights her sexual aggressiveness. The problem with that is that so far she has mainly been shown wearing Viking-style costumes, which, while quite charming, don't exactly scream "sex" at a modern reader. So I hit my reference books to see how much variation was actually possible in that style of dress.

Well, it turns out that the more you know, the less certain you get. There aren't actually a lot of Viking-era textiles that have been preserved, so most reconstructions used today are based on matching the available evidence in the form of brooches, pins and scraps of textile sticking to them with illuminated manuscripts which may not be all that accurate.

Via the DeviantArt group Historic Costume I at least found An article on Female Viking Clothing that at least summarises what we know and gives some concrete instructions on how to assemble the costume.

Saba Rawi update

March 4th, 2006 by Reinder

LGF Watch rounds up the latest news on the Saba Rawi case, including both mainstream media coverage and political responses. Some of the links are a bit messed up right now, but from a brief look at one quoted article in the Volkskrant, the English translations seem to be accurate enough.