Inktober 2019, Day 4: Freeze

A looming super villain, flanked by two gigantic thugs, speaks to an unknown victim in chilling tones.
A looming super villain, flanked by two gigantic thugs, speaks to an unknown victim in icy tones.

Day 4: Freeze. One thing I miss about drawing comics in a purely traditional way is the ability to create over-the-top ornate word balloons. Having someone speak frostily with not just icicles dripping from the word balloon, but with igloos and penguins and frost fractals on the surface. So here’s one example. But who will get to talk like that? I thought it might be a good idea to have a villain speak those chilling words. So here’s my new super villain OC, Theodorus Peel, a tech billionaire with a sideline in medical experiments on living people. His dress is casual-ish, his hair is unassuming, his bodyguards can knock a whole dimension out of you with their bare fists. Do not cross him.

Brush pen and Copic markers on illustration board, adjusted in Pixelmator on MacBook Pro, touched up in Sketchbook on iPad Pro.

Inktober 2019, Day 3: Bait

Pupper!
Drawing of a cute pupper sitting like a good boy, looking appealingly upwards and putting his eyebrow muscles to good use.

This morning, I woke up with inflammation in my thumb, which made it hard for me to hold a pencil until the ibuprofen kicked in. I also found the third official prompt, “Bait” to be less than inspiring, and after a quick look at some other prompts, I decided that they didn’t do much for me at that time either. So I thought, “Never mind, I’ll just draw my dog Séamus. He’s adorable and I’m sure he’ll get lots of clicks and likes and sha- oh.”

Brush pens, Photoshop, Autodesk Sketchbook for some grey toning, stippling and another splatter background, one that’s a little less overbearing, I hope.
I did some touchups with a free Inktober-themed brush set from Autodesk. It has a pretty neat brush pen brush, and some stamps that I included.

Inktober 2019, Day 2: Mindless

A rocker enveloped in a squiggly manifestation of his inner demons
Frits Zuniga’s inner demon is neither corporeal nor made of mind, but is strictly a manifestation of a lifetime of doubts and fears. Drugs should keep it under control.

The second prompt for Inktober 2019 was “Mindless”. The creature that manifests around Frits Zuniga from Cultish Manners is neither a being of mind nor of matter but is strictly a manifestation of his inner demons.

I don’t know about this one. I went a bit overboard with the splatter background, but even without that, it came out a bit lackluster. India ink, Copic markers, Affinity Photo and Autodesk Sketchbook.

Inktober 2019, Day 1: Ring

A dangling hand in a suit jacket sleeve, adorned with Gothic rings and cufflinks
First image for Inktober 2019. Prompt: Ring

When the keyboardist for Cult of XünÿX has to be presentable for a business meeting, he puts on a suit, but the signifiers of gothdom stay close at hand.
This Inktober, I’m going to follow the official prompts, but relate them to the webcomic Cultish Manners, its universe and its potential sequels. Then in November I will work on the actual comic some more.
India ink, Copic markers with a little bit of TwinMarker, scanned, developed in Affinity Photo and slightly tinkered with in Autodesk Sketchbook on iPad. Penciled and inked in the morning, colored, scanned and processed in the evening.
Compared to what I had in my head, this is maybe at 50% of that. But it didn’t exist yesterday, and it exists now.

X!Gloop is 30!

X!Gloop upset, staring into the sky
One of a series of drawings to commemorate the 30th anniversary of X!Gloop. More on the X!Gloop blog.

30 years ago, a day before my 18th birthday, I was inspired by the then-new collection of Moebius’ complete works to simply start drawing a comic page with little in the way of a preconceived idea, and seeing what happens. I was so inspired by Moebius that I ended up imitating some of his ideas as best I could, especially at the start: the muddy landscapes, the strange flying creatures, and I even put in a direct reference to one of his stories by suggesting that in the background, Arzach was being mobbed by creatures on a rock in the mud. I named the human character X!Gloop and his alien friend John Longcoat, even though neither character wore a long coat, because I could.
I wrote and drew some more pages, pushing as hard against conventional narrative structure as my imagination allowed at the time. That story ended up being called The Grismoon and I put together a small xeroxed book of it to sell to a small handful of people. Then 15 years later, I put that story and a few others involving the same character online. Today, X!Gloop lives on Comicfury at The Lives of X!Gloop. I started adding new pages to the series in 2015 because I had a bunch of unpublished pages and I thought it would be fun to revise them, effectively collaborating with my younger self. I’ve run out of pages and have no idea where the story will go after the next page that I’ve planned, which is just the way this comic should be.

This month, I’ve also been drawing X!Gloop as my daily challenge, as shown in the X!Gloop blog. As luck would have it, my day job has been murder this week and on the exact day of the anniversary, I missed a day. I’m sure I’ll get caught up – the prompt is “In his pajamas” which is going to be tricky for me anyway.

Anyway, if you’re in the mood for some nonsense, read The Lives of X!Gloop. It starts out pretty crude but there is a manic energy there. The total archive is only 55 pages, which means that over the 30 years, I’ve produced just under two pages a year, on average. Same as my other comics lately, then.

That’s not entirely true; there are like five other unpublished pages, so it’s exactly two pages a year.

Linklog for July 21: Does work dominate your life?

Shit, it’s July 21 already? Time just slips through my fingers. Here’s some links I liked or found engaging in the past few weeks.

I felt extremely called out by If work dominated your every moment would life be worth living? by Andrew Taggart at Aeon.com. Some of these considerations have been at the back of my mind for several years, but leave it to a philosopher to word them clearly and devastatingly.
As an indication of how far down this path I am: at around the time of the Sad Puppy thing in the SF subculture, I realized that I had almost completely stopped reading novels. I joined Worldcon as a supporting member assigned myself the Hugo-nominated works minus the ones that were obviously and purely nominated as a result of fascist entryism, and got my reading up for a bit. That was fun, but it meant I got back into the reading habit was by turning it into work. And ever since, the only way I can keep my novel-reading at a level where I remember how to read novels and don’t feel like I’m neglecting a vital part of myself is by assigning myself novels to read and adding them to my to-do list. I wish I could just go back to goofing off and reading novels just because I feel like it, but even as I type this line, at the back of my mind there’s always the thought that ‘I should goof off and read novels because it would make me feel relaxed and be good for me’. Which is another way of turning it into work. That’s how engrained this habit is in me.

I think everyone should do a reasonable amount of work, for different purposes: to help keep society going, to keep themselves engaged in society, to make things for themselves and for others. For the past ten years, I’ve been doing much more than is reasonable, at the expense of the not-work part of my life.

Anil Prasad has a lengthy interview with Jakko Jakszyk on Innerviews, full of anecdotes about his long and winding career in music.

No, Mastodon is not riddled with Nazis now, no matter how much they crow about just that.

The Cult of optimism got us into this mess. It’s time to embrace pessimism (David Olusoga at the Observer). Americans believe optimism is a moral value. It is not; it is a curse and we should do away with it.

Until recently, I’ve been ‘meh’ about the idea of boycotting Amazon, in part because it’s become the only game in town for many things. About a third of the modern internet runs on its cloud servers, for example. However, hearing that Amazon Germany employed neo-Nazis to control immigrant workers in its warehouses makes me want to give this a go. Don’t buy from Amazon if you can at all help it, and especially avoid Amazon Germany, which the parent company has been pushing very hard in countries on the European continent.

As a memory aid for use if you ever get sealioned about this, here’s a review of Trump’s long history of racism. Racism is pretty much the only thing that the Tangerine Tantrum believes in that is bigger than himself, and this has been painfully obvious for decades, as obvious as his incompetence at pretty much anything other than grift.
Also, I used to work in US intelligence advising presidents on risk. The biggest threat to our country today is the Republican Party, writes Paul Nailer (a pseudonym). “Donald Trump and his coterie of criminals have done more in two years to weaken the United States than the Soviet Union was able to achieve in decades.”

To wash down the taste of Trump, have a Keralan aubergine curry courtesy of Jack Monroe. Do multiply the spices by at least a factor two, and the garlic by five.

Linklog for June 29, 2019: Massive Link Dump

I haven’t done linklogs in a while, but I have been storing and retracing links, so have a massive link dump:

I try not to linklog paywalled posts, but this Patreon-only post from Colleen Doran is worth it to me: Consistent Focus, Consistent Action. It is the first of a series in which she discusses her past habit of attending self-help seminars and distills the useful things she’s learned in them into short posts. The first one is about consistent focus and consistent action, and the need to spend time on something every day, even if it’s just half an hour.

In a recent blog post of my own, When Good Habits Aren’t, I was critical of the concept of daily, bite-sized habits, because people who promote them rarely discuss the cost of good habits or the relative benefits of one good habit compared to another. But if you can handle the cost and prioritize the habits that benefit you the most at any given time, building habits works. I may want to follow up on that.

I am really enjoying Posts.emsenn.net (note: impermanent URLs) which talks about organisation, activism, org-mode, LISP, Free Software and related issues in great detail, with great clarity and, it seems to me, a unified underlying vision. I don’t agree with everything they write, but each post has strong arguments and makes me think.

Trying Jack Monroe’s Pearl Barley, Lentil and Mushroom Risotto and boy do I need a cheaper source of pearl Barley. Their Aubergine and Lentil Vindaloo was a hit with the kids last week.

Anil Prasad’s Open Letter to Spotify Employees is worth a read. It was originally posted on Facebook, but a reader has been kind enough to repost it in full on their blog. Longish excerpt below:

Dear Assholes,

I know more about your business than you do. I am in direct contact with musicians at the highest levels, as well as industry executives that hate every fiber of your beings and all you represent. They have explained everything about your business to me. In particular, I know all about your “social media ops manipulation squad” sent to pepper comments in posts made by people like me revealing the truth about what you are.

Today, I removed multiple fake comments from fake accounts created by Spotify employees or agencies posting on your behalf. The language was VERBATIM what you’ve told my musician friends and industry people. The fact that you don’t have the balls to post as yourselves speaks volumes about the pernicious bullshit and lies you spew. I’m on to you.

I am amused I remain a threat to you. It’s been years. You had your IPO. Your employees make more than six-figures on average, while musicians can barely afford a cup of coffee with their earnings from your service. You won. You came, conquered and decimated the musician ecosystem, destroying countless lives and careers for your own enrichment. I hope you feel proud of yourselves.

What Does My Site Cost is great for testing how much it costs for users to use a single page from your website on a cellular collection, on a phone. Find out how much you’re subsidizing the mobile carriers with your site!

Macros in org-mode is a beginner’s guide to setting up macros in Emacs org-mode, which I’m likely to start doing soon now that I am using org-mode almost exclusively for writing tasks.

The New York Times has a follow-up to its report The Day The Music Burned called Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire. It’s unpleasant reading.

The Verge has a follow-up to its report The Trauma Floor: The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America, by that article’s writer Casey Newton: Bodies in seats: At Facebook’s worst-performing content moderation site in North America, one contractor has died, and others say they fear for their lives.

One of the spiciest, raciest, juiciest obituaries it has ever been my pleasure to read: Norman Stone.

Simon Jester thinks having passion for coding is bullshit.

Before we wrap this up, here’s a message from our sponsor. Our sponsor is me! If you were looking for a sexy Goth-oriented webcomic to while away those bleak hours when the cemetary is closed, read Cultish Manners, my new webcomic that I started working on in November. You can subscribe, too, if you have a Comicfury account!

Finally, have some Dr. Brooke Magnanti on Twitter shutting down the concern trolling about ‘echo chambers’ that you get from certain quarters whenever you try to curate your social media experience. I can’t even see the Tweet that she is quote-tweeting but the thread itself is as concisely phrased as I coul ever want it to be.

Cultish Manners has launched

I was going to create a third post on my NaNoMango Project, following up on Part One and Part Two. But then things happened and I didn’t post much here for a while. Since then, I’ve decided to start publishing what I have of the project.

Cultish Manners is a one-shot that may become a longer series if people enjoy it and I have time. In this story, Tess, a baby Goth, goes to a darkwave show with her friend Aideen, a seasoned Goth, and she learns more than she bargained for. It’s set in a world that owes a lot to that of The Cosmic Beholder1 and can be presumed to be the same universe until I decide otherwise. Indeed, Tess was initially Beholder’s Jung-La until I decided that that was not the kind of foil that Aideen needed. The character Aideen is on loan from James Damaged, Cyberkitten01 on DeviantArt. Beware: Cyberkitten’s work is considerably more erotic and explicit than mine.

At the time of writing, there are six live pages on the site and I’m working on more. As with all my other comics, it will appear on an irregular schedule until done, though there is sort of a pipeline of pages that are at least partly done. I created Cultish Manners for NaNoMango in October 2018 and resumed work on it in May of this year.

The webdesign is an attempt at creating a super-minimalist webcomic template for Comicfury that works well on phones. Here it is on iPhone 6:

Test page on iOS, iPhone
Screenshot of the site in development, with a placeholder image, as it looked on iOS.
Screenshot of the website with a real comic image on iOS
Screenshot of the Cultish Manners website on iPhone 6, this time with a real comic image.
Bottom half of the front page of the Cultish Manners website on iOS, with a long text comment. This was taken at the same time as the screenshot with the placeholder image, when the site was still in development.
Screenshot of the bottom half of the front page of the Cultish Manners website on iOS, with a long text comment and a user comment. This was taken at the same time as the screenshot with the placeholder image, when the site was still in development.

What it lacks in visual pizazz, it makes up for in speed and compatibility. Indeed, it’s so fast that while I was working on it, whenever there was a change to the HTML code that had no visible impact, I could not tell if I had reloaded the page or not. Some small issues are still unsolved (see the user comment? The “Post a Comment” link under that is not aligned correctly) and I will eventually want a graphical header if I can spare the kilobytes – I am trying to keep the full load of each page under 300 kB.

For visually impaired readers, there are transcripts available that are hidden from computer screens but that a screen reader should be able to pick up. Let me know if this does not work. This is reflected in the way the page is displayed in Lynx:

Screenshot of the Cultish Manners comic in Lynx
Screenshot of the Cultish Manners comic in Lynx, showing the transcript, because Lynx ignores both CSS and images

Screenshot of Cultish Manners in Lynx
Continued: this is how the end of the transcript and the Author Notes look

Screenshot of the Cultish Manners comic in Lynx
Continued. No lay-out issues with the bottom of the comments section here!

Consistency in the design was helped by the use of the Vanilla CSS stylesheet which sets reasonable defaults for all major web browsers.

Footnotes:

1

Link goes to The Beholder’s DeviantArt page. I like his Blogspot but today I’m in no mood to link to Google-owned properties.

When good habits aren’t

Back in October of last year, when I decided to do Inktober, I changed my schedule around so that I would have time first thing in the morning to draw: after shower, breakfast, walking the dogs and all the other necessary tasks of the morning, I would set aside at least half an hour before heading to work. That way, regardless of how much overtime I would run up, or what kind of busy situation I would return to afterwards (2018 was that kind of year), the goal of one drawing per day would be feasible. Or at least, because working in pen and ink means that sometimes you have to leave a drawing along to wait for ink to dry, there would be something ready at the end of that morning session that I would be able to finish very quickly.

This strategy was based on a combination of tips that I would often read from successful artists on social media: give yourself half an hour instead of always trying to carve out a four-hour block of time, find a time slot where you’re unlikely to be interrupted, work daily, challenge yourself with a difficult but achievable goal, get up early to do it, simple and done is better than highly advanced and stuck in your head, don’t wait for inspiration to strike. You can find advice like that from pro artists all over the place, whether you ask for it or not. It was also, on the terms of the Inktober challenge, very effective for me. I got 30 out of 31 drawings done, including two where because the prompt didn’t do much for me, I quickly made the choice to draw a different topic instead. I missed one day because I was a bit under the weather, cheated a little bit on one day by digitally fixing up an older drawing that was on-topic for that day’s prompt, and the final day of the challenge, I made the conscious decision to call it quits, then later drew something anyway. And in the evenings, I still had time, just about, to train for the 4 Mijl van Groningen once a week.

So far, so good. I was proud to have finally developed a habit that I could stick to, and continued working through November and December on a slightly modified version of the same schedule, using different challenges: NaNoManGo in November and Fatvent Calendar 1in December2. But over time, sticking to that early-morning half hour became harder and the productivity effect faded. I did not have a succesful NaNoManGo and the Fatvent Calendar thing sizzled after just a week. Worse, I started to feel increasingly frustrated and stressed, and my physical condition and sense of well-being declined. What did I miss?

Well, the first part of it was that I am simply not a morning person. For every half hour that I get up earlier, I gain maybe 15 minutes of usable time, and that ratio gets worse the earlier I get up. That list of tasks I need to do before I could start on the half-hour time slot? easily adds up to 90 minutes, so to start drawing at 8, I have to set my alarm to 6:30, and there is no way I can even get to bed in time to get eight hours of sleep. Also, I especially hate getting up before dawn, or doing real work before dawn, so by the time Daylight Savings Time ended during the third weekend in October, I had a real problem. In hindsight, it was at that point during Inktober that I started to struggle.

In addition, I mentioned training for the 4 Mijl during October, but in reality, that was only two Thursday evenings in the first half of the month, sustaining momentum built up in the months before. After that, regular running was over. And because I had also sacrificed bicycling to work in order to carve out the time slot (saving 20 minutes each morning by taking the train), I was not getting the exercise I needed. Even though I was only aiming for half an hour to an hour, the measures I took to ensure I had that time were harming me physically and mentally. And that was before they stopped working altogether. The annual ebb and flow of work meant that my hours would lengthen, but early in 2019, as the company was reorganizing, meetings were out of control and the expected ebb didn’t happen, they didn’t shrink back again. We had our vacation in Spain where, it turned out, trying to be productive while traveling had its own problems, and by March and April I was suffering chronic stress and had to seek professional help.

Only after I sought professional help, the situation at work became more regular and predictable again, and by the time I got to speak to someone about my stress problems, things were already getting better by themselves. I dodged a bullet there, but I have had to rethink whether my new good habits were really all that great.

For now, the reasons I’m doing better seem to be:

  1. I recognised I had a chronic stress problem that I couldn’t solve on my own;
  2. The days were getting longer again so getting up early became less of an ordeal. At the moment, I wake up before the alarm because there’s sunlight and a dawn chorus. I still don’t get enough sleep, though;
  3. I recognised that other things than art practice were more vital to my health and well-being; instead of having comics or drawing as the non-negotiable thing that I have to practice, I now ride my bicycle to work five days a week again, and make myself available for more running events. After two months, I am definitely feeling much better even though I exhaust myself every day. I have more stamina and am more emotionally regulated. I am sad that art and comics cannot give me these things, but that’s how it is. 3
  4. I am a little kinder to myself: I let myself arrive at work later because that is both allowed and more compatible with my circadian rhythms; I have given up on daily art challenges for the time being, and I’m embracing the fact that my mind will always flit between projects. The worst thing that can happen if I add another project is that instead of, say, six projects that will progress at a glacial pace, I will have seven. Whereas if I don’t add it, it will sit at the back of my mind, in a holding pattern, and the six projects will still progress at a glacial pace but I will also be frustrated that I cannot get started on the seventh one.
  5. I take naps, because I’m not 20 anymore.
  6. Bicycling is so much fun! I had my road bike fixed and I now zoom zoom zoom through some of my childhood stomping grounds in search of longer routes to ride.

So I’m not out of the cult of the hustle yet; I’m just applying it differently, in more conventional ways. Sadly, the side effect of prioritizing physical activity over art means less art from me. But I will have a longer and healthier life to produce art in, I guess?

As I type this, a commercial social network with very clever algorithms is showing me Science tells us rest is vital. So why do we glorify sleep deprivation in our careers?, a post on the Dropbox blog making some of the same points. It makes for good further reading and suggests that the fact I’m still racking up sleep debt is a problem I will need to focus on some more.

Footnotes:

1

Fatvent Calendar is not an official, participatory event, but I did not know that at the time.

2

I am now working on comics started for NaNoManGo and will soon resume posting work from art challenges on the blog and Patreon.

3

Also, per extra hour spent, I am getting much better results from exercise than from art. I progress faster and the rate of progress improves.