Archive for February, 2008

Feral return and art swap

February 25th, 2008 by Reinder

As you'll have seen by now, Feral has returned as promised, and the surprise I had in store was an art swap with Aggie of American Gothic, she of the recent fan arts and the many side comics relating to the Crossover Wars. For the next few weeks, Aggie will be drawing my scripts for Feral and I'll be drawing American Gothic. Both comics will update weekly - less than they used to, but more often than they have lately. We're both using the opportunity to overcome creative blockage, and having a lot of fun doing so.

I've also done some maintenance on the website. I'd heard some criticism of the site design from various corners, and while I haven't been able to address that criticism directly, I do think cleaning up the archive will have made things less confusing and reduced the need for lengthy explanations that the readers then skip over. I have updated the Fan art section on rocr.net and moved things that used to clutter up the archives out of them into their relevant subsections, in particular the Downloads section, which is now much more browsable. No visual redesign has happened yet, but it will in the near(ish) future.

Essential reading for aspiring freelancers: John Scalzi’s unasked-for advice about money

February 24th, 2008 by Reinder

John Scalzi has a great post up in which he gives Unasked-For Advice to New Writers about Money. Read it if you're in any free-lance profession, and read the comments and the Follow-up post as well (via). You'll thank him, and his commenters, later.

Feral to return as a weekly comic on February 25

February 22nd, 2008 by Reinder

This is going to come out of left field, but... Feral will resume publication on Monday, February 25, as a weekly comic, on all the websites it is shown on. There'll be some other changes as well, but you'll see that when you see that.

I'd been delaying the post in which I explained that waiting for Feral or any of my other comics to return would be hazardous to people's health, with deadlines pushed back to July or even September, and excuses ranging from the pressure of my day job, to my need to spend my spare time doing other things, to me feeling the winter blues, to my new relationship (yeah, I was so looking forward to blaming the girlfriend. That would have been real classy of me). But I've been getting the itch to write and draw back, and for the past couple of day's I've been scratching it... though not necessarily doing what you'd expect.

OK. I'll stop teasing my long-suffering readership now. We'll be back real soon, and I think I should be able to maintain the pace at one a week for the time being. Mark your calendars, spread the word, get those Project Wonderful ads in while they're still cheap, and be here on the 25th!

Why the Muslim hordes aren’t going to overrun us, and other stuff

February 21st, 2008 by Reinder

From a very link-rich post at A Fistful of Euros focused on telling us who the people are that make such dire predictions of European demographic collapse and where there funding comes from, comes this long post from 2004 clarifying some demographic trends among muslim immigrant communities in France, particularly that the fertility rates in these communities are falling and will fall further. I argued the same point privately a couple of days ago but didn't have a source ready.

The AFOE article itself collects several links to articles that are too long to read in the time I have between breakfast and work, so I'll just quote a bit from it links and all:

The Nation’s Kathryn Joyce takes a look at the politics of Eurabia; nobody should be surprised that it’s pretty ugly. Essentially, there’s a gaggle of thinktanks/campaign groups/whatever closely connected to the Mormons and Senator Sam Brownback, and specifically to their extreme “quiverfull” wing, which advocates having absurdly (8+ kids) large families. It looks a lot like an effort both to find a new market for their politics in central Europe (Kazcynski’s Poland was Target One) and also to gin up a foreign-policy scare that would energise their base in support of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Well, that went well.

It’s also amusing that Joyce describes their view of Poland as “the anti-Sweden”. I don’t know to what extent this is a true misrepresentation, but it’s worth pointing out that they’ve placed their strategic bridgehead on the wrong side of the Baltic. It’s as if the Normandy landings had taken place somewhere on the coast of Portugal or Ireland. In yet another cracking DM post, this time by “AFOE Principal Investigator” Edward Hugh, we learn that Sweden is the last place in Europe that needs to worry. Well, except for France. Poland, on the other hand, is solidly in their problem group of countries with very low total-fertility rates [...] France? Sweden? You can almost hear the authoritarian personalities creak and groan with the cognitive dissonance. Of course, there’s a very good reason why they didn’t go to either France or Sweden, which is that they would have been laughed out of town.

But what especially amuses me is this:

The result is the spread of US culture-war tactics across the globe, from the Czech Republic to Qatar–where right-wing Mormon activist and WCF co-founder Richard Wilkins has found enough common cause with Muslim fundamentalists to build the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development.

Doha? As in Qatar? Yes. Unless you’re in the oil or natural gas business, there’s one reason to locate a new institution - especially a profoundly subsidy-dependent one like a thinktank - in Qatar, which is that the sheikh is probably paying for it.

I've read part of the Joyce article so far, and it's a cracking good read. I for one am amused at findind out that the story about wolves recolonising eastern Germany was supposed to scare us. I was all "Yay, wolves! Arrroooo!" when I read that.

On bookshelves, book lice and book hoarding

February 16th, 2008 by Reinder

From the "Dude, I wish I had your problems" files:

Martin Wisse: On bookshelves: It's that perennial middle class literary question: should your bookshelves accurately reflect what you read, or should it have the books read by the kind of person you would like to, as Ezra suggests:

Bookshelves are not for displaying books you've read -- those books go in your office, or near your bed, or on your Facebook profile. Rather, the books on your shelves are there to convey the type of person you would like to be. I am the type of person who would read long biographies of Lyndon Johnson, despite not being the type of person who has read any long biographies of Lyndon Johnson. I am the type of person who is very interested in a history of the Reformation, but am not, as it happens, the type of person with the time to read 900 pages on the subject.

I can sort of understand this, in that there are always books you want to have read but are less keen on to be actually reading, but buying books with no real intention of ever reading them? That's wankerish, only one step removed from something like George Bush's reading list, where you know the person and see the books they supposedly read and think "naaah". These tricks never work, because when people pull them they always get the same sort of Generically Erudite Library , with the Joyces and the Nabakovs and the 900 page Charo biographies and all that, but without the real sort of esoteric interests a proper bibliophile develops.

Me, I think the whole question just reeks of privilege. For the past decade or so, I've simply crammed books where I could cram them, meaning that the decision of which books go to the bedroom is an ad-hoc one based on whether they will fit in the space between the books that are already there. This has lead to a de facto sorting by size, because the desk drawers will only allow space for smallish books, but that's about the only form of organisation my bookshelves have.

Going back to Ezra's original post and the admittedly very misguided post that Ezra responded to, the most intelligent and bravest comment has to be that of one Jason Todd, who stands up among a crowd of smart, bookloving people and proclaims,

I hate books.

Hey, now, don't look like that. He says more:

They're big stupid space-wasters. They are usually ugly and are very heavy when you have to move.

But people insist on hoarding them. Books should only be kept around if there's a reasonably good chance you're going to read them again, or if you'll need them for reference. But most books aren't like that. You read them once and then never again. But you still keep it on your bookshelf for some reason. It's like keeping old magazines.

"But," people say, "I never know which books I'm going to want to read again."

You're not going to re-read 95% of them. If for some reason you unexpectedly decide to re-read a book ten years later, it's not like some giant tragedy that you got rid of it. Just go to Borders and shell out the $15 or whatever.

Damn right. I've been a bookworm all my life, but having gone through the house cleaning process over the past few weeks (and finally having had some success with it in that my apartment is now within a normal range of messiness as opposed to being in Stage 1 Squalour), I have found once again that books are in fact among the most harmful things that a person can hoard, because
1). They collect dust, book lice, book worms (the insect) and moulds;
2) They are impossible to clean unless you sort them by size and stick them in closed cases (and even then, they will collect dust, book lice and moulds);
3) It is socially acceptable to hoard them, and it is in fact frowned upon to treat them as what they are: more stuff.

Like all stuff, books that just sit on your shelves not getting read, are worth less than nothing, and you're better off getting rid of them. The only value a book has is from its content, and you've already read and absorbed that. So with that in mind, let's come up with some better rules than the ones Matt Selman started this conversation with:

RULE ONE: Don't display your books - it won't impress anyone
Put your books in closed cases where they won't give you allergies. If you want to impress a guest with your learning, bring up books in conversation and pull them out on request. Otherwise don't bother.
RULE TWO: The time to buy a book is when you want to sit down and read it right now.
Do not buy any books you don't have any concrete and urgent desire to read. Do not buy books to read later. They won't run out of the bookstore, and if they do, they'll be reprinted. Exception: School textbooks which may only be seasonally available.
RULE THREE: Book borrowing should be encouraged, without any deadline for the book's return.
If one of your friends has borrowed a book and you want it back, ask the person who borrowed it. Secondary borrowing (i.e. the borrowing of books from someone who's borrowed it) is still a no-no unless you and your borrower have a great tracking system, but if the thought of not getting your book back bothers you, get some perspective. I know you have fond memories of reading it, but it's still a stack of paper stuck together with glue, and the odds are it's becoming a bit smelly. It's packaging. Get it out of your house. Exception: truely rare or valuable books. These make up a tiny fraction of your collection. And they probably stink of mould.
RULE FOUR: Purge.
Every few years, you should look at your books and determine which of them should go. Take the ones you know you're not going to re-read and sell them, give them away, or even, if they're the kind of books whose content has become worthless, throw them out. This year, I got rid of nearly all my programming/web design/software books from the 1990s. They're obsolete and I arguably shouldn't have wasted my time and money on them in the first place. If they were from the 1950s, they might have had some value to computer historians, but I know the shelves of De Slegte are overflowing with worthless computer books, so I wasn't even going to bother taking them there.

Treating your books (the hardware) unsentimentally won't turn you into a Filistine. It will result in a leaner, more valuable book collection that you won't have to schlep around when you move house, it will allow other people cheap and easy access to the content you enjoyed before them, and it will be second only to ventilating around the clock in improving the air quality in your home. And if you make a mistake, get rid of a book you get the urge to re-read, it will be available through used bookstores, online or even as a reprint.

Saudi government to execute “witch” after extracted confession

February 15th, 2008 by Reinder

I've seen a lot of justified outrage over this: The trial and conviction of an illiterate woman as a witch in Saudi Arabia. Yes, the Saudi legal system and government really are that backward, vicious and barbaric. As Human Rights Watch writes in its original report on the case:

The religious police who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih and the judges who tried her in the northern town of Quraiyat never gave her the opportunity to prove her innocence against absurd charges that have no basis in law.

“The fact that Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like ‘witchcraft’ underscores their inability to carry out objective criminal investigations,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Fawza Falih’s case is an example of how the authorities failed to comply even with existing safeguards in the Saudi justice system.”

The judges relied on Fawza Falih’s coerced confession and on the statements of witnesses who said she had “bewitched” them to convict her in April 2006. She retracted her confession in court, claiming it was extracted under duress, and that as an illiterate woman she did not understand the document she was forced to fingerprint. She also stated in her appeal that her interrogators beat her during her 35 days in detention at the hands of the religious police. At one point, she had to be hospitalized as a result of the beatings.

The judges never investigated whether her confession was voluntary or reliable or investigated her allegations of torture. They never even made an inquiry as to whether she could have been responsible for allegedly supernatural occurrences, such as the sudden impotence of a man she is said to have “bewitched.” They also broke Saudi law in multiple instances, ignoring legal rules on proper procedures in a trial.

The judges did not sit as a panel of three, as required for cases involving the death penalty. They excluded Fawza Falih from most trial sessions and banned a relative who was acting as her legal representative from attending any session. Earlier, her interrogators blocked her access to a lawyer and the judges, and denied her the right to professional legal representation, thus depriving her of the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against her. She claims that some of the witnesses were unknown to her and that others had made statements against her only as a result of beatings.

As I say, the outrage is justified, and Saudi-Arabia deserves widespread condemnation and ridicule. However, condemnation and ridicule aren't going to stop Fawza Falih from getting executed. So I've been asking myself and others "what are we going to do about this?"

And I don't have an answer. It's easy to think of fun things you can do to protest. We could threaten to reprint cartoons representing the prophet Mohammed until the Saudis relent, or we could boycott Saudi oil until you forgetthey relent, or, and I should stress that my next suggestion won't be any less feasible than the previous ones, we could collectively travel back in time to September 12, 2001 and put that loathsome backwater in our crosshairs along with Afghanistan and instead of Iraq.

The only thing I can think of that ordinary people can do is to talk to both the Saudi government and their own. Write letters to your Saudi consulate or embassy, write to your MP/congressman/whatever, write to your Foreign Secretary, and tell them, politely (in other words, don't borrow phrasing from this blog post), why you think Fawza Falih should not be executed. Unfortunately, neither HRW nor Amnesty International provide ready templates, but you and I can do this in our own words. Campaign.

By the way... I'm not suggesting that this is the only thing that can be done. Just that I can't think of anything else, but this is likely to be a failure of my own imagination as much as anything else. If you have a better idea, or even a hare-brained idea that might lead us to a better one, tell me. reinder.dijkhuis@gmail.com.

Contact info for the Saudi embassy in the Netherlands
HRW's letter to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

Hilzoy on Obama, for future reference

February 13th, 2008 by Reinder

Three posts by Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings that I want to be able to quickly find again should the need arise, concerning Barack Obama's track record in office, why Hilzoy endorses him and the inadequate response to the Obama phenom by the Clinton campaign:

Mistakes are Expensive
Barack Obama (posted in 2006)
Obama actually.

Nothing to add to these—I'm just posting them for future reference.

Expecting to Fly – Daniel Østvold comic on Chronicles of the Witch Queen website

February 8th, 2008 by Reinder

Page 1 of Expecting to Fly

Now running on Odds and Ends: Expecting to Fly, a surreal solo comic by Chronicles of the Witch Queen artist Daniel Østvold. Fans of Moebius' Airtight Garage series and other improvised, stream-of-consciousness stories will love this comic Daniel made in the mid-1990s, featuring himself, the Mephistophelian figure of Ray Tel Soccio and the floating heads of the Baron von Fieffelfalsfaffel and the Homunculus from the Chronicles of the Witch Queen comics.

As an artist working in several disciplines, Daniel has always been keen to connect all the various art forms he has worked in, and this series connects seemlessly to his sculptural work, which over the years has been exhibited in Scandinavia, the Baltic countries and elsewhere in Europe, his fantasy comics, his autobiographical comics and his musical projects, all of which were referred to or otherwise incorporated into the free-flowing plot, set simultaniously in Izmir, Turkey, and the 26th level of consciousness.

Expecting to Fly will update daily through February, completing its 28-page run on March 5.

Odds and Ends is the section of the Chronicles of the Witch Queen site where the contributing artists let their hair down and show off some of the things they've done that are tangentially related to the main series, as well as sketches, character art, concept art and other fun stuff. Other chapters in Odds and Ends show work by Reinder Dijkhuis, Calvin Bexfield and guests. Tooncast available.

Some new fan arts

February 7th, 2008 by Reinder

Ragnarok by Aggie.

I'm very tired right now, but I wanted to quickly mention that Aggie/Gothia of American Gothic Daily has once again come up with some great fan art for Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan, based on the Feral storyline. What makes the drawings even more impressive is that she did them during her lunch break at work, without reference. You can find the drawings on her newsblog and on Feral's fan art pages, which now look nicely filled up.

She's doing this for a reason, which will also involve me drawing some of her characters. I haven't done that yet, because I'm not as fast as her, and because I can't draw on my lunch break - I've been looking for a quite place to go during that half hour of the day to draw, but haven't really found it yet. I hope I can get around to it this weekend - the awesomeness on display here should at last challenge me to get back to the drawing board even if it's only for a few hours.

More about the art sale, plus Expecting to Play

February 5th, 2008 by Reinder

OK, I'm going to stop showing those line art scans for already-published comics on the front page. It's not doing the popularity of the site much good for me to keep showing you pages you've already seen, albeit in a different form. So, time to move on. I am, however, going to keep pushing the art sales and keeping you informed about them.

First, I want to nip one misunderstanding in the bud: the sale of my original work is not another sign that I'm quitting the comics for good. This time around, I've studiously avoided saying things like "your purchase of the art will help me get back on track" because right now, I can't make such promises. I honestly don't know when I'll be ready to get back to working on Feral or Invasion - only that I'm too busy having a life right now, and I'm not going to get back to having all my waking hours dominated by the need to keep those comics updated. So if you want to buy art, buy it because you like it, not because it subsidizes the comics.

Having said that.... it would be foolish of me not to mention that any money earned from the sales is money I won't have to make some other way, and that raising, say, $2000 from the art sales overall would free me for a month. So if you're swayed by that, do take a look and see if there's an original you'd like to have framed on your wall or collected into a portfolio collection.

That brings me to the second point. Contrary to what I wrote the other day, registration at ComicSpace may be a bit of a hurdle after all. Calvin definitely thought so. I would like to reassure everyone that registration is easy and does not result in spam, and will also allow you to add me as a friend within the ComicSpace system and mark my galleries as your favourites, raising the profile for future sales. If only I'd known a year ago, during the ComicSpace hype, that I'd be using the site this way, I'd have pushed it harder at the time.

I chose ComicSpace for its efficient uploading process and sales automation. If you know a site that allows me to upload whole batches of images, price the items they refer to and handle the sales process automatically, and doesn't hide images according to some arbitrary policy on so-called "mature" imagery, please let me know.I'll investigate it and offer an alternative sales channel if I like it enough.

Meanwhile, on the front page... tomorrow I'll start showing a solo Daniel Østvold comic, Expecting to Play as part of Odds and Ends. This comic has only a tangential relationship with the rest of Chronicles of the Witch Queen but is a lot of fun in a surreal, demented way.