Archive for November, 2008

State of the comics: picking up the pace just a tad

November 29th, 2008 by Reinder

I sent these to DFG to do colour flats the other night:

Page 11 of the epilogue to Invasion

Page 11 of the epilogue to Invasion

Character art for Agni the Messenger witch

Character art for Agni the Messenger witch

The Invasion page was drawn over just two evenings after work, which is fast compared to how things have been in the past year and a half. This increase in speed does come at a price though: I haven't been running for almost two weeks, and haven't seen the inside of the gym in almost three. I can feel my stomach expanding and my muscles atrophy as I sit here. Still, I'm going to go on like this for a little longer; while running and other forms of exercise give me a nice bit of short term stress relief and a nice little high, I have concluded that if I overdo them, they contribute to my longer-term stress by taking so much time out of my schedule that I don't have time to work on my projects. I feel bad and not in control of my own life and my time when I don't get my art out on a regular basis.

There are four projects that have now gone on for multiple years:

  1. King Groy: the long-awaited rewrite of an old Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story that I was so unsatisfied with that I didn't want it on my website. Last re-incarnated as my NaNoWriMo novel, which is dead in the water at 30,000 words. I will finish this in some form or another, probably as an illustrated, serialized online novel. Project started in 2006.
  2. Muscle: a collaboration with Adam Cuerden, based on an idea I had in late 2004. Kind of dead since 2006, but recently I have gone back and worked on a cast drawing I promised Adam more than a year ago.
  3. Feral: Comic in progress since September 2006, on hiatus for the past three months. In trouble because it evolved so much from my original conception that the original plot twist is no longer usable. I will get back on this next year, but it's going to be a hard process that I need to focus on, so I'm hoping to get other stuff out of the way first.
  4. Invasion: In progress since February 2007 (actually, work started earlier but it first ran online that month) and likely to be the first thing I finish. I have three pages left to draw, and there's a bunch of colouring/lettering/photoshop work that needs to be done. In an ideal world, I'd finish this after Feral because it features some permanent changes to the cast and world of ROCR, but from a practical point of view, it's best that I get this one out of the way first so I have one project less nagging at me.
  5. This weekend, in addition to Christmas shopping, I will crank out at least one more page of Invasion and work on the art I promised Adam. I actually have a number of vaguely defined fresh projects dancing around in my head, but they'll have to wait until I get at least two out of these four done.

[Co-blogger Einar] The Screwtape Letters, or, The Art of Seemingly-Plausible arguement

November 24th, 2008 by Adam Cuerden

I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian (I got better). For those fundamentalists who don't think the Bible is the only book you ever need, C. S. Lewis is perhaps the most popular apologist. Having particularly heard The Screwtape Letters constantly praised all my youth, when I saw it in a charity shop,  I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about.

The Screwtape Letters are a series of letters from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood (a diabolical version of a guardian angel) about the man that Wormwood has been assigned to lure to the clutches of Hell. Screwtape's letters - we never see Wormwood's responses - lecture the young demon on ways to corrupt the man.

A disaster happens early on: The man becomes a Christian, and the two demons must race against time to lure their victim back into the fold. It's actually rather a lot like this Chick tract but better written - though, of course, that's not saying much: researchers have discovered that, in comparison to Chick, it only takes the output of one monkey typing on a typewriter to at least seem like the works of Shakespeare. This has proven a problem with experiments in infinite monkeys, where the poor metaphysical researchers trumpet their monkey's reconstruction of The Tragedy of Ejsbwv, Ffhvs of HSafas, only to discover that that is not, in fact, by Shakespeare.

Well, let's look at the actual book.

It's done as a series of 31 letters. The first sets out the theme of what is to come: Thanks to the work of demons influencing the culture:

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false", but as "academic" or "practical", "outworn" or "contemporary", "conventional" or "ruthless". Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't wate time making him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous - that t is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the enemy's own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?

Evidently, in C.S. Lewis's world, materialism - read atheism - is illogical, and only seems rational if you are being actively tricked by demons. However, the Bible, with its virgin births, miracles, self-contradictions, emphasis on faith, not proof - and all the rest, is perfectly logical, and awaking someone's reason is a sure way to send someone to Christianity and Heaven.

However, Lewis is in control of reality for the purposes of this book: In the next paragraph he details how an atheist was nearly saved from Hell when rational thoughts began to arise in his mind, but luckily, the demon was ale to get him to put off thinking about it until after lunch.

How did the demon then save him from being saved?

Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paoer, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man's head when he was shut up alone with books, a healthy dose of "real life" (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy( was enough to show him that all "that sort of thing" just couldn't be true. He knew he'd had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about "that inarticulate sense of actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberrations of mere logic...

That's right. Newspaper sellers and buses: A surefire way to prevent someone from using logic. Lewis appears to be arguing that even the slightest connection with reality leads to the abandonment of all logic - and that logic inevitably leads to Christianity. Lewis himself, of course, is completely out of touch with reality, and so is an excellent Christian apologist.

But this isn't the stupidest argument to be found in this book. Oh, goodness me, no! He argues that:

* People should marry people they aren't in love with, simply to avoid having sex outside of marriage.
* If you think you don't need to kneel when you pray, you are being tricked by demons: The position of the body is crucial to getting the soul ready for communion with God.
* God allows millions of infants to die in childbirth in order to protect them from the temptations of the world, and snap them up to heaven, safe from demons.
* Evolution is evil, because it looks to the future, which is unlike God's eternity, being unproven and uncertain. Don't look at me to explain that one:. It's part of a Fauxlosophic narration about how the present and eternity is where mankind's attention should be, only looking to the future enough to prepare for it today what is needed for later. Because the future is uncertain, but eternity is.
* Historians, English departments and the historical method were created by demons in order to prevent people reading ancient texts uncritically, which might let them find the ancient wisdom that would point them towards God. Instead, people are encouraged to look at the sources, the reasons for the text being written, and the author's reasons for writing it, which protect them from any truths contained in the manuscript.

In short, propped up in Lewis' dry writing, we have the most patent of patent nonsense disguised as an academic discussion. Lewis' writing style does a decent job of concealing how stupid many of his arguments are: For instance, rhetorical tricks used in cold reading such as making a lot of either-or statements that seem very specific, but actually cover most of the spectrum of possibility. If the reader identifies with one of the possibilities, Lewis' descriptions of human nature seems a lot more accurate, and since they don't know any of the materialists or atheists Lewis bashes constantly, they're more likely to accept Lewis' views of them as true.

This book really is a disappointment. I used to enjoy Lewis' Narnia books. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is actually a rather nice modern-day Odyssey, and you no more need to believe Christianity to enjoy it than you need to believe the Greek myths to appreciate the Odyssey. Of course, any discussion of Narnia needs to mention The Last Battle - which noone likes: Sure, the ending's pretty well-written, but it appears that Lewis spent all his time writing a good description of Heaven, and so was unable to fill the rest of the book with anything more than bashing evolution, atheism, rationalism, and Muslims, while derailing the character arcs of all the characters from the previous books and making everyone idiots, so that they'll submit to slavery and persecution simply because they're told God says so.

...Of course, given Bush's regime and the last few years in America, maybe that last isn't so far off. Pity Lewis evidently thinks that's the correct reaction to being told God says so.

Family portrait

November 23rd, 2008 by Reinder
Kel, Jodoque, Fay, family portrait in the Wodeskog

Kel, Jodoque, Fay, family portrait in the Wodeskog, done last year in preparation for the epilogue to Invasion. Colour flats by DFG.

Blog upgrade

November 23rd, 2008 by Reinder

I just upgraded WordPress and it overwrote all my templates. So the blog will look a bit dull (but be free from advertising) for a while. "A while" may be any length of time as blog template development does not have a high priority in my life.

Obsidian Wings:The Psychology of Oogedy-Boogedyism

November 21st, 2008 by Reinder

This must-read post from Publius on why liberals fear social conservatives is very succinctly argued:

Social conservatives aren’t merely a group with which liberals disagree – they’re a group perceived to threaten our lives in tangible ways. Outside of the Christian Right, gay rights isn’t some abstract morality play. It’s a direct assault upon some of our closest friends and family. That’s what’s so radicalizing about Prop 8 – it wasn’t merely a political debate. These out-of-state groups decided to reach into the lives of complete strangers and rip an already-established right to wed out of their arms. What social conservatives viewed as promoting God’s will, others viewed as a direct and cruel assault on thousands of loving families.

This perceived sense of attack is especially strong on sexual privacy issues. It’s not so much the substantive disagreement that is driving liberals’ loathing. It’s the perception that the Christian Right would intrude on – and dictate – the most intimate decisions of people’s lives. For many women (and men), the idea of forced pregnancy and contraception bans aren’t abstract arguments – they’re pretty terrifying.

Same deal with Terri Schiavo. Again, what was so oogedy about l’affaire Schiavo is not the abstract philosophical debate about “life.” It was that a group of frenzied social conservatives decided to intrude on the Schiavos' privacy, publicizing and overruling a private and wrenching family decision. Even worse, they actually convinced Congress – in the midst of two wars – to intervene.

Other issues – such as stem cells and creationism – aren’t quite as scary, but they’re still perceived as intrusions on our lives. The restrictions on stem cell research have surely set several cures back many years – costing God knows how many lives. And as a fairly new parent, the idea of social conservatives seizing a state or county school board is suddenly a lot scarier.

Anyway, the larger point is that there actually are substantive explanations for people’s hostility to social conservatives. It’s not that people are snobs or bigots. It’s that they see the social conservative agenda as a direct threat to some of their most cherished and intimate rights.

But as someone who has spent most of his time writing in the past couple of weeks, I find the structure a bit strange. It ends:

But until liberals stop thinking that social conservatives are trying to intrude on the most private aspects of their lives, they’re going to remain extremely hostile.

Which sounds like it's building up to an argument as to why we should stop thinking that social conservatives are trying to intrude on the most private aspects of our lives, but instead leaves the reader hanging.

Gee, I wonder why.

Cross-pollination

November 20th, 2008 by Reinder

Things I learned at work that I'm using in NaNoWriMo:
* Calculating future workloads.
* Sitting down and doing it at the time available for it.

Things I learned from NaNoWriMo that I'm using at work:
* Ignoring (finally) distractions.
* Sticking to it until the work is done rather than flitting between tasks.

Both are terribly bad for my shoulders and arms though.

Looks like February came early this year.

November 19th, 2008 by Reinder

Last night, instead of working on NaNoWriMo, I went to bed at half past ten, having spent the last hour and a half before then in a zombie-like state. I don't think I've run up a sleep deficit in the short period since last weekend, when I slept into the afternoon on two consecutive days.

I was irritable and unable to focus on Monday. I eat constantly if food's in front of me (breakfast included chocolate) - if not, I can't be bothered to fetch it or prepare it.

Yep, looks like seasonal depression is hitting me early this year. I'd better hit the Vitamin D, hard.

Evening Update: Strangely, this does not affect productivity at work - in fact, I've been unusually focused and productive all day, producing over 4000 words of new translations. I've also been much more organized; organization has been a known weak spot in my work performance but today and yesterday I've done fine at it. Just maybe the extra sleep has helped me after all.

Also, I've gone back to working on my NaNoWriMo project. It's not easy but I will make quota and maybe a little more.

State of the comic – Porcus Cubilis edition

November 16th, 2008 by Reinder

First off: follow my NaNoWriMo effort on My DeviantArt site. It's a Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story and actually fills in the big gap in the archives between The Stone of Contention and the stories that feature Jodoque as a character.

Second, here are my latest original scans for Invasion:
Preview of page 14 of Epilogue

Preview of Page 15 of the epilogue

It's slow going... it's not so much a question of time as of motivation and priorities. For the weekends, my number one priority now is catching up on sleep. After that follow some time talking to Aggie online, grocery shopping, household and administrative chores, NaNoWrimo (during November only), and then working on ROCR if I still have time and energy. I find writing Feral particularly hard at that point so I work on Invasion first as that's already scripted. The reason Feral is hard to write is because the original outline has been superceded by the shape the story ended up taking in execution. This means that I can't end it on a cheap gag as originally planned and have to rethink in mid-story. This takes effort and concentration which I may not necessarily have in me. I do hope that the discipline of NaNoWriMo will help me improve in this area.

Because I sleep very little during the working week, I give my body as much time as it needs to catch up during the weekends. I turn off all external wake-up cues. So today I slept until half past one, PM! Admittedly, it had been a late night as I'd been up writing until past 2 AM, but that's still a long time to spend in bed.

So for ROCR outside of the NaNoWriMO novel-in-progress, this weekend is once again a bust; I know I've been racking up a lot of busts in the past six months, and I do want readers to know that despite appearances to the contrary, I am still engaged in my work on the series as a whole, just at my own pace and in the media that I can work with the most easily, which right now is the written word.

What does this mean in practice?
One way or another, the King Groy story will make it to the ROCR website, resulting in a complete archive by the time I finish off the series. What I think will happen is that the second draft of the novel will go on the blog. The final draft will then be posted to the website proper, with illustrations. Historically, putting prose based stories into a webcomic archive has not been a successful move for those who have tried it, because readers tend to get stuck on their expectations and can't get over the work not being a comic anymore. However, I'm willing to give it another shot, provided I am convinced that the finished product is really, really good. It's going to take a lot of work to get from what is on the DeviantArt site to the quality I'm looking for. So it won't be any time soon.

Letter from Iceland plus store returns increasing

November 15th, 2008 by Reinder

Two more articles that caught my fancy:
A letter from Iceland at the Financial Times online. Everyone on my reading list seems to have been linking to that today. It's a long explanation of the economic city in Iceland.
Iceland is probably the miner's canary for the coming recession in that it'll define the limits of how bad things are going to get, and reach those limits a few months before everyone else. Right now, it's pretty bad, but not riots in the streets-level bad.

Retailers feel Pinch of Returns at the New York Times. What strikes me about this is that consumers still aren't getting it even when they believe they do:

More forgiving policies may be good news for Ms. Kakouris, the real estate agent in Miami. From time to time, pangs of conscience have caused her to regret a purchase before she has even stepped out of the store. “I’ll be on the escalator, and already I’m thinking, ‘I can’t do this,’ ” she said.

Returning such items is a matter of principle, and also a matter of pride, she said. “It’s self-control — that’s a positive thing, isn’t it?” Ms. Kakouris added. “At any rate, I’m clearing off my
guilt.”

Impulse-buying items and then returning it is not self-control. If you can't afford to buy stuff, keep your money in your pocket, instead of shafting the retailer with the extra cost of dealing with the return. Buyer-protection laws are for when an item is defective or you've been pressured into buying it, not for when you want the thrill of shopping without the consequences.

And the practice of "Wardrobing" mentioned in the article? Just don't get me started. (via)

Two must-read articles

November 13th, 2008 by Reinder

Andrew Sullivan on why Sarah Palin still matters. Because somebody needs to be held to account for selecting the worst vice-presidential candidate in history. (via Lawyers, Guns and Money)

Michael Lewis on the End of Wall Street's Boom. This long article by Michael Lewis, writer of Liar's Poker is financial porn: It explains in lurid detail just how complex some of the financial instruments used on Wall Street are, and just how poorly the financiers themselves understood them. You'll be amused and outraged at the same time. (via Naked Capitalism, but I can't find the link anymore)