an unexpected megadose of Nostalgia

Oh, damn.

So most of my listening lately has been out of an iTunes Smart Playlist called “not recently overplayed”; it contains all the music in my collection that hasn’t been played or skipped in the last three weeks, and that hasn’t been played more than fifteen times. It’s been part of an attempt to make me go find some new music. Which has sort of worked, sort of not.

I just made its counterpart: a playlist that automatically shows stuff that hasn’t been played or skipped in the last three weeks, but *has* been played more than fifteen times. And holy shit is it full of music I know by heart. All the albums I can halfway play in my head. And a few tracks that have a much higher play-count than the rest of the album because I clearly really like them – or have put them on a manually-curated playlist for some reason.

I should still go Look For New Music now and then. Finding a source for recommendations still kinda feels like work; figuring out how to convince an algorithm to give me music I might enjoy without it just feeding me the same stuff that’s already on my “recently not played but clearly beloved” playlist sounds even more like work.

A Pleasant Cup Of Tea

click this tiny thumbnail for a definitely NSFW image

Who wouldn’t enjoy a nice cup of tea next to a hot tub on a nice evening? Especially when you’re sharing it with an old friend.

Another one of those commissions I took at the beginning of the month to try and get my work habits back in good shape. It’s been working. This one did interesting things to my attention span; it felt like it I was making no progress for most of the time I worked on it, despite it actually going at a steady pace. I’ve gotten so used to cranking out a full figure for a comics panel in a half an hour that drawing someone with enough limbs to make for two and a half characters felt like it took forever, even though it only actually took about two and a half times as long. Worth it, though; I’m pretty happy with the results.

Also, to save you some counting: eight.

the dream of some horrible shit

Dear brain why did you think it was a good idea to dream I was sharing a bed with John K. Uuugggghhhhh. The part where he was confessing his evil past and trying to drug me with big needles was not good either, even if I did get to have my hands around his throat and end up jamming those needles through his hand and into his face. Repeatedly. Which was both really horrible and kind of good.

The second part of the dream was no better. Okay the part about flying a nimble little X-Wing-ish craft out of the reach of some “T-wings” that had an attack involving trying to crush me with huge metal plate wings was kind of fun. But. After some other stuff I was running across a yard from an assassin, who had previously demonstrated his weapon: a small thrown object designed to look like some kind of clockwork hummingbird, with razor wings. He casually threw it as me. I batted it out of the air and felt my left hand get a little sliced; I then fell to the grass as he started to explain how he had anticipated how I’d react to that first attack, and… I lost the rest of it, only noting something about the blades being poisoned, as I tried to crush its body, only to watch it shift and blur into some kind of horrible hybrid of plant leaves with markings that looked like a squirrel, which started running at me… and then I lurched to the right and woke right the fuck up with “oh so that’s what an avern looks like” bouncing through my head.

I have nightmares where I get killed by weird alien plant weapons out of The Book Of The New Sun. 10/10 for style, brain, but negative six hundred for a dream where I had to literally yank myself away from the brink of death. None like that ever again please brain.

I need to pee.


So this morning I looked in on Robyn Byrd’s twitter account. I was following a link to a screengrab she’d posted of John K sending her probably-drunken abuse and threats; as I skimmed the rest of her account, I found a list.

Ever since she and Katie came out about the way John K lured them to Hollywood and coerced them into sex when they were barely legal, they’ve been getting contacted by other people he did this to, or who he tried to do it to. I knew there were a few more people I strongly suspected he was trying to seduce, but I wasn’t expecting to see a list of nineteen people. All blanked out except for the Katie and Robyn, who were number five and six; the list started in the early 90s and continued all the way up to 2017.

And I feel queasy and complicit about the length of this list. Like everyone else who worked there when he was openly having sex with Robyn, I knew there was weird shit going on, and I never told anyone. Just hinted about it now and then. It was like this secret we were all carrying around and just… couldn’t discuss outside of the animation world. And all these enthusiastic young girls coming in from outside the whisper network of the animation scene fell prey to him. I hope most of them noped out before it turned into “move to California and live with him”.

And worse, for years I’d direct beginners looking for advice on how to improve as artists to the instructional posts on his blog. I did it often enough that I had a keyboard expansion shortcut set up. I really hope I never sent him someone who he ended up preying on. I really, really, hope I didn’t. If I did, I don’t think it’s possible to apologize enough for facilitating that connection, but please drop me a line if I did and I’ll try. I stopped a few years back when Katie told me privately that he’d been creeping on her, but…

Fuck, Spumco was a fucked-up place. Sometimes I feel like my fundamental drawing skills are irrevocably tainted by being picked up from there.

The Element Of Air

click thumbnail for full NSFW image

Rub bottle furiously for genie. If no genie is in the bottle, one will be drafted. Aim with care.

Last week, I opened up for a few commissions to try and rebuild my work habits. This is one of them. The request was to focus on the precise moment of transformation from “fox” to “fox genie”; I of course went for a certain amount of animation smear stylization and multiple images because that’s how I tend to think. And enjoyed being cheerfully cartoony and suggestive because that was sort of the whole point of doing some commissions.

I’m pretty happy with how quickly this one came together. I used some of the same methods I’ve been exploring in my comics, and was able to take advantage of prior art – I’ve draw Peganthyrus a lot before, and Phorm multiple times, so I could just open up previous drawings as graphic style libraries and skip a lot of setup. And skip a lot of fiddling with stuff in the drawing process; if I ever start giving my little Illustrator For Artists 101 talks at cons again, I really need to amend it to talk about how useful graphic styles are.

(My work habits seem to be coming along, too. I’m actually getting up and making a to-do list in the morning again, which helps a ton. Even if I don’t always get to everything I write down.)

Poor Grendel’s had an accident.

About a thousand years ago, an anonymous scribe wrote down an Old English epic that had been kicking around for about three hundred years. This manuscript would manage to survive until the modern age, becoming one of the oldest major works of Old English. No title is given in the manuscript; we commonly call it Beowulf, after the name of the story’s hero. Beowulf kills a couple of monsters, becomes a king, and goes out to kill a dragon, who mortally wounds him.

Forty-seven years ago, an American man named John Gardner wrote a novel, which explores the history of the first monster Beowulf killed. Grendel hangs out watching a minor Danish tribe settle into domestication, explores nihilistic philosophy, talks to the dragon, and gets killed by Beowulf.

Thirty-seven years ago, an Australian man named Alexander Stitt adapted Grendel into an animated cartoon. There are songs.

Grendel, Grendel, Grendel stars none other than Peter Ustinov as the titular monster. Who is a goofy-looking, spotted, green beast with a long, long nose.

The whole film is drawn in a flat-color aesthetic similar to the one I work in a lot; lines are practically nonexistent, and everything is charming and goofy.

It’s really kind of fascinating to watch. Especially when it turns more and more serious as the end approaches: watching two of King Hrothgar’s thanes plot treachery against him, with super-moody lighting, is constantly contrasted by the fact that one of them looks like a Muppet.

There’s gorgeous lighting throughout the film – sometimes stark black shadows, sometimes deep blue ones, sometimes really crazy colors just for the sake of design.

And all of it is told in fairly contemporary English. Mostly with Australian accents. It’s a hell of a thing.

At the end, Grendel dies. And then a merry song begins and all the characters start dancing around cheerily as the names of their voice actors show up above them. This moment really sums up the contradiction at the heart of this movie: a brightly colored adaptation of a book wherein a monster wanders around exploring existentialist philosophy, and then gets killed by the hero. It’s a pretty amazing thing.

Things to watch for, if you decide to brave the ten chunks of overcompressed VHS transfer on Youtube that’s all I can find of this:

  • moments when they take advantage of the fact that the backgrounds are drawn as simply as the foreground, and circle the whole camera around one character – I think there may be a definite narrative point being made here about how both Grendel and Unferth’s fates are entwined.
  • the way Hrothgar and his court move from swearing by “the Great Bogey” (Grendel) to saying things like “Sweet Christmas!”; one of the subtle narratives running through Beowulf is of the Christianization of Northern Europe and it’s pretty neat to see this coming up in here (as well as much less subtly, given that one of the turning points of the movie is a bard telling the story of Cain and Abel while Grendel lurks outside listening). It’s worth noting that apparently the film’s director also did a series of commercials for the “Christian Television Association” over the course of the 60s, 70s, and 80s; I would be very curious to find out what his personal beliefs were. There is not much about Stitt online; that nugget comes from the site for a book that’s a retrospective of his career.

The amazing video store I live a block away from has this in their catalog. On VHS. I’m very tempted to rent it along with one of the VHS decks they have for rental; I’d really like to see a crisper copy of this than what Youtube did to it.

It’s still kicking aound the back of my head the next day. Specifically, some choices around the casting and color design.

The same person plays the voice of both the Dragon and Beowulf. On the one hand, it’s simple economy – both are important roles, but brief ones compared to Grendel or the core members of the tribe of Danes that Grendel watched. On the other hand, it’s very tidy. The Dragon sees all of Time at once; he knows how Grendel will end and dances coyly around it. And Beowulf is, of course, that ending.

Outside the scope of Grendel’s tale, they’re even more tightly linked. They are each other’s endings, as well; decades later, Beowulf’s last heroic act will be to slay him.

(There’s also comic effect; Dignam uses a very posh voice for both roles. Having a far-off, legendary warrior speak in a British-flavored accent is both kind of goofy (especially when contrasted against the band of brutes and cutthroats he leads), and an interesting choice for an Australian film…)

This relation is carried through to the visuals, too: the Dragon is nothing but bright reds, the colors bleeding into each other as the combination of VHS and Youtube compression reduce him to little more than a silhouette. Beowulf’s cape is a bright red rectangle fluttering behind him; together, they are the most vividly red things in the whole film, except perhaps for the fire-snakes that populate the pool that hides the entrance to Grendel’s cave.

I would have to watch the film again to check but I am petty sure those are the *only* bright red things in the entire film. I’m pretty sure Stitt and his crew were clueful enough that this is by design, if so. (Oh, hey, look, up in those screenshots. Who’s the only Dane wearing red? Unfirth. Who tries and fails to kill Grendel multiple times; who Beowulf slays – at King Hrothgar’s suggestion – as part of his plan to lure Grendel into Hrothgar’s hall – just before he kills Grendel. Yep. Very nicely done, Stitt. The red ties them all together in a complex knot around Grendel’s ending.)

Addendum 2: oh man we just checked and while DVDs don’t seem to be available in the US, they’re still in stock on the site of the Australian company that is distributing it. Total cost, including shipping to the US? AU$19, which works out to about US$15.50. Hell yes. I just bought a copy and will maybe offer to donate it to Scarecrow Video to keep next to their VHS copy when I’ve watched it, because I want to make it easier for more folks to see this treasure.

this week

Sunday: I decide that since I’m gonna be selling stuff at Norwescon at the end of the week, I want to take it easy this coming week. Also there is D&D and our comedically bad decisions may result in giving the Big Bad exactly what she wants. Also I discover that my Tarot deck has now entered the levels of out-of-printness where the only people offering it for sale are pricing it in the low three digits, and begin getting things together for possibly Kickstarting a second printing. When I throw together a first draft of the pitch, I take out the deck to ask it which ones I should use in the pitch; the 10 and 99 of swords leap out while I’m shuffling before I even ask.

Monday: The landlord wakes me up around 7am. I have somehow managed to forget to pay rent since last July, and he has only just now noticed this. In looking into how this happens, it turns out I have managed to stop paying my rent for an entire year. I send him email informing him of this. He used to notice within a week if I missed a payment; I wonder what’s made his 2017/18 so chaotic?

Tuesday: I come home in the evening to find water on the kitchen floor. It seems to be coming from below the counter and stove. I write what is probably the most awkwardly-timed maintenance request ever to the landlord. I also fire off an email to the investment counselor at my bank, briefly describing the rent situation and my need to withdraw money from my investments to cover this ASAP. I update the landlord on this. Also my regular D&D game nearly falls apart. Also after I get back from the grocery store later in the day I note that the two rotted-out loafers which mysteriously appeared on the sidewalk outside the apartment last Friday have been meticulously placed at the corners of the yard. The inner Magician feels this is, at the very least, some very bad feng shui if not outright Bad Mojo; I put them in the neighbor’s dumpster.

Wednesday: There are moist spots in the carpet near the kitchen that do not correspond to the new wet spot on the ceiling. I drop a message in the bank’s general communication system asking them to either poke my investment counselor about this or get me someone else who can deal with this. In the afternoon he replies and wants to talk about it on the phone. I say okay sure whatever, call me.

Thursday: Nick and I rent a car and go down to the airport hotel Norwescon is at. I set up and start selling. While browsing the net to kill time (it’s slow, as expected for the first day of a four-day con), I get multiple people pointing me to an exposé on John Krickfalusi’s propensity to have sex with underage girls. Most of which happened while I was working at his studio. I now want to take out the part of my brain that learnt important things about drawing from him and wash it. Processing this is definitely not a thing that helps my performance as Con Table Peggy, but a book sells itself anyway. I come home and there is an ultra-short email from the landlord asking what’s up with the money; I tell him I’m playing phone tag with the investment counselor while also trying to honor my commitment to deal at this convention. I also drop some email to said investment counselor saying, you know what, how about we do this via email, I am stuck at a con all day and really can’t do phone stuff. I wonder why it seems to be suddenly very urgent that I get this money to my landlord by the beginning of the month when he could ignore it for a whole year.

Also there are still many moistnesses around the kitchen floor.

Friday: I guess I get up and go deal stuff at the con and maybe I sell a bunch of books and am happy? Maybe I exchange email with the investment counselor and can give the landlord an ETA for when the money’s in my account so he’ll relax?

Saturday, Sunday: see Friday

I really hope next week is TOTALLY FUCKING BORING.

I may have a post soon about the John K thing as well, I made some lengthy toots as part of initially processing it. It’s like everyone who worked there had this secret they were kinda carrying around, that we could never actually say out loud (though we would certainly all obliquely hint at it when he came up in conversation), and now we can finally say it…

Silicon Dawn 2nd Ed Kickstarter? Maybe…

Today I found out that the only copies of the Silicon Dawn left online all seem to be in the hands of people who are pricing them starting around $300. Which I guess means it’s time to drive the price back down by kickstarting a new edition or something, as this fact came from someone on Facebook who wanted to buy a copy but quite understandably didn’t want to spend that kind of cash.

(Incidentally, it seems the best way to get Facebook to show your Pages to people is to tell it you want to delete them. Which is a thing I did while thinking about deleting my entire Facebook account.)

I have a list of changes I’d make to the deck that I put together about a year ago. It’s not a very long list, despite me drawing the deck a decade ago; I’d be fixing a couple of minor errors in the first edition, tweaking the art on one or two cards, fiddling with the book some, and maybe printing it at a larger size. I should be able to outsource fulfillment and future sales. Maybe even talk with Lo Scarabeo about helping out on the European fulfillment, shipping worldwide is murderous otherwise.

The more simply I can do this, the better. Kickstarters are Serious Work and I’d really rather be focusing on drawing Parallax and figuring out how to move to Los Angeles so I don’t lose another winter to the lack of sunlight here in Seattle. But keeping Dawn available feels both important and useful.

Right now, I should stop thinking about this. My D&D game starts soon.

No-lah, or, A History Of The Golden City Of Monsters.

So there is a thread going around Twitter right now, in which an RPG designer looks at maps of New Orleans and lists all the things that he would find fault with if this were a map handed in by a freelance cartographer for a worldbook he was editing. All of these things, of course, have sensible explanations, which mostly boil down to “it’s the least terrible place to put a port near the mouth of a river that drains 1/3 of an entire continent, and the land has changed a lot due to us no longer letting the river wander back and forth across its delta”.

My opinion of this hot take on my home city? Don’t say that the place is too weird, too dense with complicated history to fit into your idea of a fantasyland formed by third-hand imitations of the maps in the endpapers of The Lord Of The Rings. Embrace the weirdness. Look at the reasons the city is and land is like it is; transform them into something magical, and use this as the basis of a far weirder city than you would have otherwise.

And then I decided to have a go at this myself.

Ages ago, the gods all died. This much we know. They fought amongst each other and laid much of the world to waste in their wake. We have only the faintest rumors of who they were and why they fought, spun from the shredded memories of generations busy scraping out a living in the lands that escaped the worst of their wrath.

Six centuries ago, the Elvish explorer Lemoy-ville followed the many rivers of the fertile North to the place where they join into one mighty torrent and drain into the Gulf of Monsters. Legend says the Gulf was formed by the three overlapping imprints of the Foot of the Thunderer, as she crushed the Worm of the Stars before surrendering to its venom; all we really can say for sure is that the Gulf of Monsters is full to bursting with strange bones and stranger objects, many of which have found surprising uses in modern hands.¹

Lemoy-ville planted a golden flag at the closest to the Gulf she dared set up a semi-permanent camp. But by the time prospectors followed in her wake, drawn by her tales of the ink-black beauty of the Gulf, the rich bounty of strange beasts, and the handful of iridescent crystals oozing more puissance machicx than any found in the North, the miasma that drifted in off the Gulf every winter had tarnished it to a sort of greenish-purplish iridescence. And thus was the seed that grew into the city of No-lah².

Over the decades, No-lah grew. From a tiny camp of thrillseekers and fortunehunters, to a small town of inns and shops for those, to a place sprawling past the borders of the benevolent influence of the clear waters of the mighty River ‘Tchafallayall⁴, to a bustling city of the descendants of fortune-seekers both failed and successful, refugees from the wars of the North, and outcasts. Its architecture came to incorporate strange hints of the buildings of the vanished gods, drawn from treasures found further and further out in the muck of the Gulf of Monsters, built in part with the puissance machicx cracked from the bones of the Serpent Gods who perished in the god wars.

Despite the regular intrusions of strange gibbering beasts that crawled out of the Gulf, No-Lah became a successful, lazy city.

And then, three hundred years after Lemoy-ville stuck a flag into a benighted hump of land near the Gulf of Monsters, the man who would be known as the Weather Witch-Lord came into possession of the Heart of the Star-Worm. Pulled from the middle of the Gulf, somewhere along a four hundred mile long coiling underwater rise, it drew the dark syrupy liquid of the Gulf up the ‘Tchafallayall with it. Rendered into powder and sprinkled along the banks of the ‘Tchafallayall, it stopped the river’s wandering far better than any previous efforts. And most notably, after much effort and pain, after cracking it open and learning the secrets of its center, it… it summoned something, a nameless, seemingly-mindless shape that rose up from the river and mirrored its Gulf-tainted curves, its head high in the sky above No-lah, its tail fading out somewhere over the Gulf it came from.

We called it Katrice. Or, more precisely, Nashro’ber, the Weather Witch-Lord of No-lah called it Katrice, and everyone who wished to remain on his good side did the same. Other city-states making tentative footholds around other parts of the Gulf of Monsters called it other things: the Devistaciour⁵, the Skrt’t’xa⁶, and, well, within a decade pretty much everyone within three week’s ride around the Gulf was calling it Katrice, and regularly paying tribute to the Imperial City of No-lah, because that was better than what happened when Nashro’ber decided you were insufficiently respectful. Mine towers sprung up in the Gulf, digging for more of the Heart of the Star-Worm, and whatever other miracles they could find along the way. The banks of the ‘Tchafallayall between No-lah and the Gulf became armored walls, sprinkled every year with freshly-powdered Wormheart mixed with the blood of some of that tribute. Every year, Katrice grew thicker and darker in the sky; every year, the city celebrated with a party that grew along with the ghost of a god that moved to the city’s bidding.

After two hundred and eighty-seven years of this, Nashro’ber, the Weather Witch-Lord of the Fourth Golden Empire⁷, died. The official record of his last words is lost; the rumor around the city is that they were, simply, “Run”.

Four and a half weeks after that, Katrice laid waste to fully two-thirds of No-lah. Half of the Weather Witch Corps perished before one desperate Witch tore the Heart of the Star-Worm from its resting place in the half-embalmed skull of Nashro’ber, stole a skiff, and vanished into the Gulf. Katrice scattered into a thousand thousand wisps of heartbreak-colored cloud, and has not been seen since. Nor has that heroic, unnamed Witch.

Surprisingly, none of the former client states of the Fourth Golden Empire came in to finish what Katrice started. They didn’t lift a finger to help rebuild, either. Not without demanding a heavy price first, at least. Not without laying claim to whatever prizes they desired from amongst the city’s richer refugees.

It is twelve years later. The city’s population is, at best, half of what it was. Some of it is changing, made strange by the backlash of the power beneath the Gulf. Some of it is still in ruins.

But Lemoy-ville’s flag still glistens purple, green, and gold in the center of the Elvish Quarter⁸. And we still throw one hell of a party every year, even though the riverwalls are mere rubble along the course the ‘Tchafallayall took before Katrice changed everything.

Welcome to No-lah, o adventurer. What wonders will you find?

1: As well as the fairly unsurprising use of fighting the numerous monsters that give the Gulf its modern name.

2: Literally, “Tranquil Rest”. Lemoy-ville and her Company participated in a long explorer’s tradition of giving the least hospitable places of the world inviting names with this one; unlike their name for the Gulf³, this one stuck.

3: Sigs-bee, lit. “Mirror-to-the-sky”.

4: corrupted from the language of the local wood-fey, our best guess is “Don’t drink that you idiot, can’t you see the god-rot not ten feet up the bank from here”; sadly, little of their oral tradition survived the Storm of the Horse and the subsequent “land reclamation” push that saw No-Lah triple in size.

5: Orkish, lit. “Rain of Filth”

6: Spinnerish, lit. “Opener of the Myriad Carapaces”

7: Much ink, blood, and ichor has been spilled on the tenuous connection, or lack thereof, of the Fourth Golden Empire to the previous three. For now, let it suffice to say that even the most ardent supporter of this claim would gleefully proclaim it to be “pretty complicated” before attempting to simplify the argument with the aid of such conceptual aids as a board with strategically-placed nails, or a godsrot-tarnished rapier.

8: Which is largely high-arched Draconate work, built after the Storm of the Melody razed the city for the first time.

two dream fragments

  1. I was reading some mystical philosophy kind of stuff. Supposedly it was by Beethoven. I was very definitely studying it, which is, to be quite honest, pretty foreign to my whole life. I’ve never been much for Studying in a formal fashion.
  2. The corner of Where Am I and How Did I Get Here. I was walking along reading a book on my phone and passed my destination. I looked up and saw a street sign that read “WHERE AM I”. What an odd name for a street, I thought. My phone’s screen was all smeared up, so I couldn’t use Maps to figure out where I was. I decided not to turn around and retrace my steps; I was curious as to where this oddly-named street would lead. Soon I’d gone through some sort of portal to another, utterly mundane world, and was in a van with some other people who were now also in the wrong world because of me doing this. There was a lot of traffic; driving was slow.