is dead, likely to remain so for a while.

My webhost upgraded to PHP 7 this week, and while I was warned, I was unable to meaningfully act on this warning, because I don’t know PHP and don’t have the time I need to learn enough PHP to fix things like this:

PHP 7.0 error message
PHP 7.0 error message

I lack the resources to deal with this myself and am dependent on a third party to help me with problems like this in their spare time, which is as scarce as mine. It may take a while before things are fixed. Please follow the comic on; it might update one day. Stranger things have happened.

The blog is on WordPress, so it will continue updating until WordPress becomes unusable for its original purpose of powering blogs, which given the rumors I read may be sooner rather than later.

This is my brain on the flu.

I’ve been working while sick in my day job and I didn’t realize until Saturday just how bad I a shape I was in. Even as I managed to hold it together day-job wise, I didn’t touch my drawing tools for a whole week because it was wake up, work, come home, zonk out. I also didn’t schedule any updates for this blog, which is why there’s no new post on my NaNoMango project out today or yesterday. Everything that wasn’t the day job just stopped dead. That didn’t stop my brain from doing this to me:
Me (literally on the toilet while at work):
Brain: “You know, the Betty’s Mad Dash skits from the rightly-forgotten British sketch comedy Glam Metal Detectives would make a good retro game”
Me: “Shut up, brain, I’m trying to take a shit and then I need to get back to work.”
Brain: “No really, here’s the game mechanics. [itemized list of actions and movements that can happen in the game.”
Brain. “We’ve been over this. I don’t have time. I can’t code for shit. I don’t even play games because I decided that they were an addictive thing that I need to avoid back when the earth was still cooling. SHUT. UP”.
Brain: “Can you at least pass this on to your friends in Signal? They’ll get a laugh out of it”.
Me: “Oh, all right then. Tell you what, I’ll do a cryptic post on my Mastodon account and then we’ll both forget this ever happened”.
Brain: “OK, sounds good. Hey, you should ask around what people use to draw sprites.”
Me: “BRAIN. NO.”
So I wrap up work, go home, eat and go to bed. I mention the idea a few times to my wife before bedtime but my brain has finally started to settle down. But I don’t sleep well and at 7 AM my brain comes knocking.
Brain: “Hey, you know the reason you can’t code is you’re too impatient to learn the syntax of a language and handle brackets and stuff. So, here’s the core game logic as a crude pseudocode of my own devising to get you started.”
Luckily I got to spend much of Saturday in bed recuperating and my brain’s massively misplaced enthusiasm for an idea I cannot possibly turn into a reality in the time I have left in my life* is finally dying down. But this is what my brain does to me when I’m sick. It has no mercy whatsoever.

* I have no reason to presuppose that that won’t be another 40 years, though this weekend it sure felt like I was about to snuff it.

NaNoMango 2018, Part 2: The Beholderverse angle

I’m a big fan of The Cosmic Beholder and while I was working on this project, I was also preparing for a scene in Abúi’s Travels where Abúi and Adrienne interrupt Captain Evening’s team in the showers. Among others, I did character sketches of Jung-La:

Jung-La as she would appear, briefly, in Abúi's Travels, where no one wears clothes if I can help it.
Jung-La as she would appear, briefly, in Abúi’s Travels, where no one wears clothes if I can help it.

And Aideen:

Aideen, as she appears in Abúi's Travels, where no one wears clothes if I can help it
Aideen, as she appears in Abúi’s Travels, where no one wears clothes if I can help it

Aideen is the property of the artist known as Cyberkitten01 on DeviantArt, and as such is herself a borrowed character within the Beholderverse. Aideen is a small, loud and sweary Northern Irish girl who can transform into one of her ancestors, the warrior goddess Liath:

Liath, the warrior goddess
Liath, the warrior goddess

I thought it would be fun to write an adventure set in the Beholderverse, so I made Jung-La and Aideen the protagonists of my NaNoMango project. That didn’t work. When writing Jung-La’s dialog in particular, I found I needed the character to be more of an ingenue to balance out the brashness of Aideen and her magical transformation into a seven-foot warrior. So out went Jung-La and in came Tess:

Tess, the protagonist of 'Cultish Manners'
Tess, the protagonist of ‘Cultish Manners’

Tess is not familiar with the Goth scene in her city, so she can have things explained to her by Aideen as they move through the story. She can react to a crisis as if for the first time, while still stepping up to the plate, and she can be constantly surprised by both Aideen’s antics and her transformations. Perfect.

They are, of course, best buds. Tess’s emotional stability is what Aideen needs in her life:

Tess and Aideen on the couch at the end of an adventure
Tess and Aideen on the couch at the end of an adventure

NaNoMango 2018, Part 1: The Cult of XünÿX

After a successful Inktober with 30 out of 31 slots filled, NaNoMango turned out to be a lot harder going for me. There were multiple reasons for that: my day job picked up; shorter daylight meant I had more difficulty motivating myself late in the evening and early in the morning; there wasn’t as much of a support structure of other participants as during Inktober; and finally, drawing full comics pages is just that much harder than doing individual illustrations. I did get a few comics pages finished, but they’re out of order and I’m not willing to share them just yet. Instead, over the next handful of days, I will post some of the preliminary and character art that I did for this. The comics will have to wait until more of them are finished. The May edition of NaNoMango is just around the corner and that’s when I’ll be getting back to this project.

Frits from the Cult of XünÿX
Frits from the Cult of XünÿX

Yesterday’s Inktober drawing of the Goth band got my brain running. It also got some positive feedback, which got my brain running some more. I started imagining the band’s life behind the scenes, what their names would be and what they’d be like. I had already decided that they would take some of their background from the real Goth band Clan of Xymox, but without being based on them (Clan of Xymox seem to have a more consistent level of success and a stable lineup that includes the lead singer’s life partner and the lead singer himself has aged very gracefully). I already knew that this band, The Cult of XünÿX, had only two real members used hired rhythm sections from local punk bands and that this would be a source of friction. The band leader quickly got a name: meet Frits Zuniga, born and raised in the Dutch countryside, which he escaped as soon as he could. Frits is gay, in his late fifties and has a heroin addiction. But there’s more to him than that.

Zig, the drummer of the Cult of XünÿX
Zig, the drummer of the Cult of XünÿX. For now.

Zig is the hired drummer for a series of gigs in the unnamed area that the story is set in. It could be New York! It could be somewhere else! One dirty secret of the Cult of XünÿX is that the two main guys are somewhat unreliable as musicians. Zig and her boyfriend/bassist Tag have fifteen years’ worth of experience playing in local punk bands, and while they’re not subtle players, they are tight as nails. So there’s a source of conflict there, because the better musicians are not the ones who get to make the decisions.

Frits realises that people can see the creature shadowing him
Frits realises that people can see the creature shadowing him

Before doing whole pages, but after creating the first pages of script, I drew some separate panels as individual drawings to get a feel for how I wanted the art to look. Here’s Frits realizing that other people can see the beast on his back.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the audience for the Cult of XünÿX gig!

Inktober 2018, Day 31: The Trybe of Kürzwÿl

Last one for Inktober. The next challenge I took part in was NaNoMango, but that wasn’t a successful project. I made only a few finished comics pages and I’m not ready to post even those. However, I will post a selection of character and other preliminary and supporting artwork I made during the month.

Day 31:

The Trybe of Kürzwÿl, a 1980s Goth band that just keeps on trucking.
The Trybe of Kürzwÿl, a 1980s Goth band that just keeps on trucking.

What I wrote about this at the time:

No prompt followed.
I had a work in progress that followed the ‘Slice’ prompt but it wasn’t going well and I was ready to call time on my Inktober project. But then I got bored during a meeting and this Darkwave band turned up. The Trybe of Kürzwÿl are one of the most venerable in the genre, dating back to the mid-1980s when they were simply known as Kürzwÿl. These days they’re down to two original members and whenever they tour, they hire their rhythm sections from local punk bands. This has considerably improved the quality of their playing even though working relations can be strained.
Originally done in ballpoint on lined paper. I re-inked it digitally to clean it up while trying to preserve the energy of the original doodle.

It turns out I liked the idea of this band, with Tag and Zig from two earlier entries as the rhythm section, a lot and so they played a part in the NaNoMango project as well.

Inktober 2018, Day 29: Double

Day 29:

Digital drawing of Countess Alcydia von Dönnerwetter trying to intmidate her double, Prudi the scullery maid.
Digital drawing of Countess Alcydia von Dönnerwetter trying to intmidate her double, Prudi the scullery maid.

What I wrote about this at the time:

A tribute to Greg Storm and Daniel Østvold’s story “The Double” in which the Countess Alcydia von Dönnerwetter discovers a scullery maid who can pass for her. Of course, she want to use this discovery to become Witch Queen instead of the Witch Queen.
Read it on the Chronicles of the Witch Queen site!
Indian ink on illustration board, with digital fixes in Sketchbook on iPad Pro; I’m figuring out how to do more of the ‘hidden’ steps in my process – import/export, levels adjustment, scaling, cropping, rotation, on the iPad as well, which will help me a lot in the future.

Inktober 2018, Day 27: Thunder

Day 27:

Pen and ink drawing of three women looking up at the weather. They're standing around a cauldron in a forested, mountainous landscape. The sky above them is menacing.
Pen and ink drawing of three women looking up at the weather. They’re standing around a cauldron in a forested, mountainous landscape. The sky above them is menacing.

What I wrote about this at the time:

I was gonna do thunder gods, but eventually settled on this. Lots of crosshatching in both the traditional and the digital realm, and I’m not sure it was worth it.

This looks like a traditional piece but about half the work was done in digital and this involved scaling the figures and creating the reflection in the water. I would have done a few things differently today: for example I would have added some gray tones to the cloud and I think the lightning flashes should be more central to the drawing.

Inktober 2018, Day 26: not following a prompt

I… didn’t care about the prompt that day.

Day 26:

Phil the milkman in his milk truck. He's been doing this round for a long time.
Phil the milkman in his milk truck. He’s been doing this round for a long time.

What I wrote about this at the time:

The original prompt was “Stretch” but that didn’t inspire me. Seeing elongated forms in other people’s submissions reminded me of a short vignette I wrote in Facebook comments a few weeks ago involving “Phil the milkman”, whose beard trailed behind him out of the window of his truck.
I am not a car person, and it shows. I only draw cars about once a decade. But milk trucks can be pretty cute. This one is actually a hybrid of two different cars that I found online, one of which was used by the actual oldest milkman in Britain, who, disappointingly, did not have a long beard. Indian ink on illustration board; first drawing with no smudges, smears or blobs.

And the story of Phil the Milkman as told in Facebook comments:

…I was disappointed that when Phil the milkman showed up in his van, he wasn’t a 100-year-old guy who’d been delivering milk since 1935.

I mean, just imagine Geezer Phil tootling by in his milk van, his floor-length beard flowing in the wind out of the open window, hoppety-skipping out with two bottles in one hand, in and out before the customer’s rottweiler has even noticed him. He’s an absolute legend, is Phil the milkman.

When Phil gets back in his van, his bakelite carphone rings. It’s his mum. She asks him to pick up some parsnips from Farmer Cyril, not the crappy supermarket ones but the cultivar Farmer Cyril developed in 1914, because those modern ones just don’t have the bite. Phil grumbles about the extra round trip but he doesn’t want to disappoint his mum, because she’s not going to be with us forever, is she? Besides, Farmer Cyril is a card, always ready with a great story from his days at Klondike or the Crimean War. They just don’t make guys like that anymore.

But when he arrives at Farmer Cyril’s Parsnip Growery, Farmer Cyril is unusually subdued. “I am feeling poorly,” says Farmer Cyril. “Can you take care of Minnie for a few days?” He holds up a small crate containing one black-and-white cat that looks like it’s inexpertly sown together from parts of other cats. Minnie the cat slowly looks up with her one good, yellow eye, as she continues gumming at a freshly-killed mouse that she’s taken into the cat carrier with her.
“Blimey, I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Postman Alfie? He’s more of a cat person.”
“Postman Alfie has sadly passed away,” answers Cyril.
“Cor, when did that happen?” asks Phil.
“September 9. 1958.”
“He’ll be in no condition to take care of Minnie then.”
So Farmer Cyril bounces back into his van carrying a small sack of parsnips and a cat carrier with an elderly cat gumming away at a dead mouse with an air of malevolent indifference. In the distance, a bagpipe plays the sea shanty “Mrs. McGrath” at a tempo that is far too slow and a pitch that is far too high.

“Mum, we have a visitor,” says Phil as he drops the parsnips on the kitchen countertop. As Phil’s mum wheels into the kitchen, her old eyes brighten. “Minnie! I haven’t seen you in forever! Is Farmer Cyril all right?”
“He’ll be fine in a few days, he reckons.”
“What’s that in your mouth, Minnie? Oh, that poor thing!”
Phil’s mum reaches into the cat carrier, grabs the mouse in her hand, and brings it close to her face. She whispers a few words that Phil cannot make out, then blows on the mouse, which perks up and bounds away.
“Phil, pass me the towel. The old girl had slobbered all over that mouse.”

Phil hands his mother a towel. “That was a kind thing to do, mum,” he says. “Dad would have been proud.”
Phil’s mum nods. “He always used to say ‘Gladys,’ he’d say, ‘what is a person if they’re not kind?’ And he lived up to that until his last dyin’ breath.” She chokes up. Phil turns away and sees that Minnie the cat, still confined to her cat carrier, is mumbling on a freshly-killed mouse. This mouse’s fur is brown and dry.
In the distance, a child’s voice warbles “London Bridge is Falling Down” off-key and very slowly. But no children live here. No one has been born here in ages.