Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Commission Call! (limit 20)


It's been a while since I offered commissions.  I think that the last couple of times that I did it were convention-specific, and regular, non-convention-goin' cats were left out in the cold.  Well, I'm nearing the halfway point of the book on which I'm working and in a couple of days I'm going to want to kick back and do something else for a smidge.  So I figured I'd do some commissions!  20, to be specific.

So here's what I'm gonna be doing:

8.5x5.5" on regular paper (not board).  Ink and watercolor.  The character of your choice, provided that I don't have a moral objection to drawing it, which, which is probably unlikely.  I won't be doing portraits/likenesses of you or your loved ones, because those take a lot longer and I have to do a lot of preliminary drawings to nail my approach, and for what I'm charging here those would take too long.  Sorry.  But if you want Captain Blood or Captain Midnight or Captain Hook or Captain Marvel, I'm your guy.  If you pick of the characters from my Crogan Adventures series, I'll be all "aw, shucks," and I'll like you extra.

$25 apiece!  Mailed to your very doorstep!  unless you live out of the country, in which case it's a little bit more.  NO EXTRA SHIPPING COSTS.

The paper will likely be kind of warpy, but it'll look fine smooshed up in a frame.

Here are some samples, at the size that I'll be working.

Batman!  From Batman.  You know Batman.

Becky, from The 6th Gun.  You should read The 6th Gun.
Peter Crogan, from Crogan's March.

I did these up as samples, but they're available, too, if anyone is interested.


New Year's Resolution: Historical Costumes for Ladies

I made a New Year’s Resolution this year.

I don’t usually do that.  If I find there to be a deficiency in my character (such discoveries occur with far more frequency than I would prefer), I try to put into motion whatever steps are needed to correct my misalignment then and there rather than wait for the calendar to roll-over.  Waiting seems contrary to growth, and besides, I find faults too often to give one favor over the others by enshrining it in ceremony.

This year is a little different, mostly because the discovery of fault (part of a larger issue that I’m trying to work through concerning how I handle characters in my comics) coincided with the end of December.  And the fault is this: I am daunted by and suck at designing costumes for women rooted in any given specific historical and regional setting.
Just how do I suck at it?  There are a few ways, and they’re best examined by noting the discrepancies between how I handle drawing female characters and how I handle drawing male ones. 

* I should mention that this particular issue relates to off-the-cuff drawings for the sake of doing drawings, not characters in any particular stories, although I have no doubt that my inadequacies in one arena carry over to the other.

First, occupation.  Unless the people that I’m drawing are part of a story, in which a breadth of social variety is necessitated by the narrative, I tend to draw men in an adventury role.  A sword, a pistol, a pith helmet – something denotes their inclination to action.  When I draw women, however, I have, until this month, not put adventure at the forefront of my depictions, and as such precious few of my drawings of female characters give such an impression. 

In the execution of story itself, I’ve been lucky – kind of – with the book on which I’m currently working.  Two of the best characters are very adventure-leaning women, but this was not by design, it was a lucky stumble.  But with the male characters, it’s nearly always the case, at least when sketching willy-nilly.

Second, the degree to which dress is customized.  Now, I like to think that, for all my artistic faults, laziness of design is not a charge against which I can likely stand accused (though my confidence in that field likely means that I’m probably due for a kick in the pants any time now).  I always try to customize costume if I can do so, and so any dress or costume that I see will have some degree of alteration under my pen.  The color will change, or the cut, or I’ll take elements from two or three similar outfits and interwork them.  But with men, I’ll go nuts.  Tucking a vest into pants under suspenders, a military uniform jacket with a sarong, an unusual hat blocking, blankets tied to boots, shirts unbuttoned, shirts buttoned absurdly high, etc.  I try and treat each outfit as if it’s a catholic school uniform and see what I can do to deviate as much as possible from its intended mode of wear to a statement on the wearer. 

But I don’t, or haven’t, done this for female characters.

Part of this is that the fashion history books that I have generally show fancy clothes in full regalia.  Not having a clear awareness of how the clothes are worn, layered, etc (easier to consider with men’s clothes, generally as the layering of garments has shown little change in the past half-millennium, the garments themselves being variations on that which we still wear), I have always gone to the default, formal wearing. 

Now this gets into something else – the dichotomy between easy access to depictions of the rich in portraiture and preserved clothing and the inaccessibility of depictions of peasant and lower class dress – but that’s something I’ve wrestled with before without too much difficulty.  And this is not the issue, though it may seem so on the surface.  Men’s dress, too, has a certain haughtiness in its depiction, but that hasn’t stopped me from scuffin’ it up.  The “nicer” womens’ dresses of a historical period are no less modular than their masculine counterparts, you just see it less frequently (or at least I have).
So what you get is a shocking conservatism of design on my end when it comes to female costume, an adherence to which I always, consciously and unconsciously, placed at the doorstep of historical plausibility.  But, if anything, these regimented depictions are more implausible than their modular alternative, and are a result not of accuracy but of laziness in the research phase, and, more troubling, of research carried out with preconceptions at its onset, preconceptions disinterested with finding adventure-geared manifestations of traditional dress, or untraditional dress on record. 
Which leads me to my resolution.  I had to train myself to consider the customization of wear with men’s fashion, and now it’s a part of my artistic DNA, I suppose, though I still put conscious thought to it.  I should say that it is always a question that I ask myself in the design stage.  So let’ say “takeoff checklist” rather than DNA, as it’s not so ingrained as to forgive dismissal (though, to be fair, no segment of the artistic process should really be permitted to rely entirely on autopilot without at least glancing at the instruments, if I might extend the metaphor).  I want to train myself to do the same with women’s costume.  And the only way to train is through practice.

So my resolution is this: That I draw at least as many females when sketching and doing up figures as I do males.

That may not sound like much of an undertaking, but seriously, 95% of the people that I draw out of my head for the fun of it are male.  So I’m woefully ill-prepared to handle the casual design aspects of female characters simply by virtue of not having put in the hours.

So I spent yesterday and part of the day before drawing up a bunch of female characters specific to one historical/regional period.  For the sake of convenience, I picked the Wild West, as I already feel I have enough familiarity with the trappings as to allow me a head start so far as holsters and boots are concerned.

I actively decided to stay away from the most overused trope in female costuming in the west, the saloon girl.  I did, however, include one, because I found some photos so far removed from the popular conception of the saloon girl costume and so delightfully awkward that I couldn’t resist taking a shot at it through that lens (fig. 26).  I also tried to stay away from the Man With No Name costume and its many variants.  As much as I love those characters in the Leone movies (and, unless you’re looking at it through a strictly thematic non-literal lense, they are different charaters), putting a character in that costume or a variation on it (as you see in lots of comics, video games, and low-budget western films) is pure, unadulterated laziness.  Its casualness makes it no less iconic than Darth Vader’s armor, and putting on a character (including a female character) is no different than making a lady Darth Vader and trying to cram it into a non-Star Wars space opera. 

While you don’t see a lot of women wearing gun belts historically, I included quite a few on here for the sake of that adventury vibe.  To be fair, you don’t see a lot of MEN wearing gun belts historically.  I include them on many male characters for the same reason.

The pants/skirts combo thing is something that was popularized by the Dress Reform movement of the 1850s.  Often the pants would be made from the material cut from the bottom of the dress.  The photos are pretty darn cool, and the ferocity of the caricatures pertaining to them are kind of infuriating, mostly because the punchline is inevitably the dress reform woman in old age, alone and unloved, reverting to an overtly feminine dress in a too-late attempt to catch a man.  Anyway, I’ll do some scans of some of some Dress Reform photos sometime, because they’re really quite fascinating. One of my favorite discoveries was not a dress reform issue at all, but a photo of a woman in the Klondike wearing suspenders over a sweater vest over an Inverness cape, which I used as the basis for fig. 17, only I added a deerstalker and made the cape Holmesian plaid.

The Western period is luckily recent enough, and well documented enough during its existence, as to yield up any number of female participants in a variety of occupations.  Some of these specific instances (including the buffalo skinner [fig. 8] and the buckskinned scout [fig 19]) informed or inspired some of these drawings.

Anyway, my practice is underway.  Hopefully, after a year’s time, I’ll be equally inclined to depicting either gender, and as I no longer feel myself any more beholden to drawing women in boring roles than I do drawing a male medieval accountant or candlemaker (though that sort of thing will probably be next year’s resolution), I’ll be equally enthusiastic.  Given the fixed start date and the notion that this is, in fact, quantifiable, it'll be easy enough to chart my adherence to said resolution.

The original art for these are available for sale (each character is its own piece).  8.5x11," ink on 80# stock, shipped the Tuesday after purchase.  First come, first serve.  PLEASE INCLUDE A NOTE NAMING THE CHARACTER THAT YOU WANT (in this case, there are numbers alongside the figures to make such things easier).  I will mark which ones are sold as soon as I'm able to do so.


Pick the cost based on your location

If you are outside the lower 48 states, please only pay your location's cost for the first piece you buy if you're buying a batch.  For any additional pieces in the order, choose the domestic option.

Some Wild West guys

I've posted these on my instragram or tumblr or twitter, but I've forgotten to put them on my blog. The other formats are a lot quicker and so, out of laziness, I post images to them with a lot more frequency than I do my blog. So if you're a completist, I'd say follow me on any of those platforms. I;'ve got a post today that riffs a little off of these, so I figured I ought to put them up, first.

Just some Old West character drawings.  No one specific, just something fun to do.  The blonde guy's beard is supposed to be so long that it pokes out of the bottom of his vest, but I don't think the drawing successfully conveys that idea.  

The original art for these are available for sale (each character is its own piece).  8.5x11," ink on 80# stock, shipped the Tuesday after purchase.  First come, first serve.  PLEASE INCLUDE A NOTE NAMING THE CHARACTER THAT YOU WANT (in this case: blonde beard, red beard, or copper).  I will mark which ones are sold as soon as I'm able to do so.

Pick the cost based on your location

If you are outside the lower 48 states, please only pay your location's cost for the first piece you buy if you're buying a batch.  For any additional pieces in the order, choose the domestic option.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Three Musketeers

Since I was a kid, I have loved The Three Musketeers.  My introduction to it was the same as my introduction to many other works of classic literature, through comic adaptations (pocket classics) and illustrated abridgements.  I watched many of the many film adaptations (it has been a lucky thing that half a decade rarely passes without either The Three Musketeers or one of its sequels, usually The Man in the Iron Mask, finds its way to the screen).  I felt that I knew the story well, and I did, but I had never read the entirety of the original Dumas novel.  I’d started it many times, but never gotten around to reading more than a third or so.

This was rectified over Christmas, when I read, and thoroughly enjoyed, the Richard Pevear translation, which I found far more captivating than the public domain William Barrow version that has been floating around for a century and a half. 

As is my wont, I found myself wanting to draw the characters whenever they and their garments were described.  So I highlighted every physical description given throughout the book as I read, and used those, and my general impressions of the characters, to take a stab at designs.  Some of these were especially fun because of the disconnect between the descriptions and the general casting decisions usually applied to film adaptations.  Milady, for instance, is often played by waifish actresses, but in the prose she is described as quite tall and well-built (which, in the eras of both Dumas AND the Musketeers whose adventures he weaves, means broad and meaty), missing a specific tooth, and with a countenance that puts off palpable vibes of animal fury.  Aramis is described as being downright prissy, and his mannerisms and rosy-cheeked downy countenance seem better suited to Kurt from Glee than Charlie Sheen or Jeremy Irons.  He’s also very young – Aramis is 22 or 23, and Athos, near 30, is the oldest of the group, meaning that Porthos, who is described in the book as very tall but whose iconic burliness is without literary precedent, could be any age older than D’artagnon (20) and younger than Athos.  I put him squarely in the middle, at about 26.  And D’artagnon, though clearly young, is lacking in the softer features usually present on the actors that play him.  Dumas describes him as having “a long, brown face; prominent cheekbones, a token of shrewdness; enormously developed jaw muscles… nose hooked but finely drawn.” 

Some folks will likely take issue with my decision to make some of the characters people of color, assuming acquiescence to political correctness over historical accuracy.  But France (and a lot of Western Europe) in the 1620s was a very ethnically diverse place.  As Milady’s servant who carries her pillow to mass is black, it seems just as likely that her maid is, too.  Rochefort (the man from Meung) is described in two different sections of the book as being “dark skinned” and “very pale,” which is difficult to reconcile unless you accept that he is likely light-skinned black. 

My favorite characters to draw were my favorite characters in the book, and those were the three musketeers’ lackeys.  Grimaud, who the alcoholic Athos forbids to speak and with whom he only communicates with via looks and the occasional gesture and who, should he misinterpret the meaning of a glance, receives an emotionless beating at the hands of his master, is tragic and hilarious at the same time.  Bazin’s constant disappointment that Aramis is still a thug and not a priest is tragic and hilarious.  Mosqueton, with his lariat and the intimate knowledge of Mexican roping techniques that he uses to lasso bottles of alcohol from cellar windows, is just hilarious.  His origin story is the best of many wonderful anecdotes to be found throughout the book.

Two things that really struck me, so far as characters go.  First, D’artagnon on more than one occasion uses deductive reasoning more than once and with such uncanny ferocity that one would assume that the detective genre was already well codified by the time Dumas laid down his words.  Sometimes it’s determining the identity of a person based on their clothing, manner, physiognomy.  The most striking case, though, is when he forensically analyzes the caliber of a bullet, and by these means who likely fired it, by looking at a hole put into his hat by assassins hired to murder him.  I had a little bit of hope that not much had been written about Dumas’s clear contribution to the field of detective fiction (bear in mind that the passage was written in 1844, and while Poe’s Dupin was in print three years earlier, the deductive methods of Sherlock Holmes have much more in common with our Gascon swordsman than the Frenchman who hears hoofbeats and shouts “Orangatan!” which is just French for “Zebra,” after all), but there are enough essays out there to not bother with writing one myself.

The other point was how darn great a psychological villain Milady is.  She looks at people, figures out their weak spot, and immediately sets about exploiting it – in the case of Felton, turning the most pious, incorruptible man in England into a murderer and making him think it was his own idea.  Hannibal Lecter has nothing on the Countess de Winter.  The most telling and chilling acknowledgement of this is when two of the Lackeys are walking alongside her as guards.  Now, these are men whom their masters, the musketeers, repeatedly entrusted with their lives, so much so that there’s a scene in which each musketeer tries to vigorously explain why his lackey is the most stalwart, the most loyal, the most trustworthy, that he might be the one whom the musketeers entrust with a letter that, should it fall into the wrong hands, would mean death or ruin for many parties.  These guys are beyond any possible reproach.  But as they’re walking, Milady says two sentences to them, inaudible to the musketeers.  Here’s what happens:

Athos, who had heard Milady’s voice, came up quickly, as did Lord de Winter.

“Send these valets away,” he said.  “She has spoken to them; they are no longer trustworthy.”

Let that sink in for a second.  One of these valets is the guy who Athos earlier in the book regarded as the most stalwart and trustworthy of individuals, and Milady having spoken two sentences to him immediately eliminates in Athos’s mind everything we knew about his character.  And you know what?  Athos is right.  She is that good.  That terrifying.  I don’t know that I’ve ever read a character with more potential for menace, save maybe Enomoto in The Thousand Autumns, and Enomoto’s menace arises from his position.  Despite her title, Milady is rags to riches, over and over again – her capacity for manipulation and destruction arises entirely from her own abilities.  And she’s a tragic character, too – save for one instance that must have happened when she was probably twelve or thirteen (based on her age of sixteen sometime later, which is when she married Athos), an event for which she is blamed but whose circumstances outside of the cold facts of the event are a mystery to us, she is operating entirely out of justifiable revenge (unless you count the circumstantial charge of having murdered her English husband).  D’artagnon wrongs her big time, Athos wrongs her big time, and in neither instance is either faulted, though D’artagnon at least recognizes what a terrible thing he did and acknowledges that all of their sufferings and subsequent disenfranchisement with adventurous living was put into motion as a result of that crime. 

Anyway, so glad to have finally read it.  I may eventually draw octogenarian lawyer Monsieur De Coquenard in his wheelchair and the scraggly bearded biologist executioner, but I probably won’t.  Time, and all.

I didn’t find out that BBC was making a show until I’d already started on these.  So excited!

The original art for these are available for sale (each character is its own piece).   ALL SOLD OUT!