Posts made in February, 2011

Eskimo Breakup

Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

I had to take a break from my Years of Rice and Salt illustrations because I was falling waaaay behind on Savage Nobles in the Land of Enchantment, which is still my #1 drawing priority, at least for another 35 pages, damn it all.

This heartwrenching spread is for the upcoming issue of Stumptown Underground, with the extremely unfortunate theme of “breakups.” Pick it up at a comic store near you and enjoy more mopey, Craig Thomson-y navel-gazing than anybody ever thought you’d need. Then buck the hell up and draw something for April’s issue, which will be about “friendship,” thank goodness.

And just in case you want to still believe in love, check out the hot lip-lockin’ action in today’s installment of “SNitLoE.” Looks like Theo’s found the universal language, ho ho!

See you soon with more art!

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7.) The Years of Great Progress

Posted by on Feb 23, 2011 in Blog | 3 comments

Just don’t call it steampunk! Click to read more.

Chapter seven of Kim Stanley Robinson’s alternate history novel The Years of Rice and Salt chronicles the rise of Travancore (modern-day Thiruvananthapuram in southern India) as a world power. This is chiefly because they invent steam power. Their charismatic leader, the Kerala, ousted the Mughals (who, with the British empire never having arisen, continued to dominate India unchallenged well into what we would call the 19th century.) After that, the Kerala embarked on semi-peaceful Asoka-style conquest of the Muslim world, even conquering Konstantiniyye on the Bosphorus. The Kerala always brings the intellectuals of a new territory back to his capitol where, with a host of scholars and scientists from Africa, the New World, and especially the enormous Japanese diaspora, their scientific investigations are fully funded.

“The Years of Great Progress” contains one of my favorite passages in all of Robinson, recited by the Kerala as they float above the city and its orchards in the scene depicted:

“We will go out into the world and plant gardens and orchards to the horizons, we will build roads through the mountains and across the deserts, and terrace the mountains and irrigate the deserts until there will be garden everywhere, and plenty for all, and there will be no more empires or kingdoms, no more caliphs, sultans, emirs, khans, or zamindars, no more kings or queens or princes, no more quadis or mullahs or ulema, no more slavery and no more usury, no more property and no more taxes, no more rich and no more poor, no killing or maiming or torture or execution, no more jailers and no more prisoners, no more generals, soldiers, armies or navies, no more patriarchy, no more caste, no more hunger, no more suffering than what life brings us for being born and having to die, and then we will see for the first time what kind of creatures we really are.”

I have a complicated view of KSR’s specific brand of utopianism, which I will elaborate upon in a later post. But while I think a lot of his positions need to be problematized, there’s nevertheless something about his egalitarian vision that stirs me pretty deeply. Unlike (sadly) many sci-fi writers, KSR is actually capable of beautiful writing, and passages like these set my leftist heart a-reeling.

He forgot to say “no more Qaddafis!”

Briefly, regarding the art: I had an obscene amount of fun being obsessive and anal over all the details in this picture. Though overzealous detail is something I try to avoid, I fear that I more often sway too far the other way, being sketchy and sloppy and leaving my characters against stark, uninteresting backgrounds. (I’m particuarly guilty of this in SNitLoE, which, to be fair, takes place mostly in the desert and in completely dark rooms.)

I’ve also been more careful with the “camera angles” of my art lately. I’m trying to use “upshots” more often for dramatic effect, but I don’t wanna become somebody who uses them all the time because they are easier than elaborate downshots. This picture would have taken half the time if we were looking up from the city at the hot air balloon, but would it have been better? I doubt it. Before composing the downshot in this image I studied some of the absolutely gorgeous urban downshots of Dustin Weaver (whose fantastic Shield series is kind of an alternate history itself).

I wanna be absolutely clear that in displaying Dustin’s work here and linking to his blog I am not comparing myself to him or anything like that. As an artist, he is to me what, as a writer, Kim Stanley Robinson is to… also me. An inspiration!

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6.) Widow Kang

Posted by on Feb 19, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

Click to read my commentary.

I’ve set myself a February goal of illustrating every chapter of Kim Stanley Robinson’s alternate-history novel, The Years of Rice and Salt, and so far it’s been really exciting! I feel as though I learn three or four new things with each drawing, and each is (to me) better than the previous. The only downside is that it’s making me slack off on my main project, Savage Nobles in the Land of Enchantment. For some reason I do not put as much effort into my comics pages as I do into these illustrations – maybe it’s because of the demanding 2 1/2-page-a-week schedule of SNitLoE, or because I’ve been drawing those same characters off and on for two whole years. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely plan to finish the story. But my “side projects” are opening new and fascinating possibilities for my future!

So even though this illustration is pretty exciting, “Widow Kang” is definitely the book’s most boring chapter. Most of it is about the feisty titular widow and her second marriage to a Chinese Muslim scholar, Ibrahim Ibn Hasan. Ibrahim is a sort of alternate-history Hegel who undertakes the possibly impossible task of synthesizing Islam and Confucianism, but stumbles upon some clever ideas along the way. He sees the philosophical synthesis as indispensable, for huge populations of Muslims continue to move into western China’s Gansu corridor, where this chapter takes place, and skirmishes and rebellions are frequent.

Since most of the chapter is about two middle aged people sitting on their porch and debating ideas, it makes for interesting reading, but not much worth drawing. Until there is a huge flood! Poor Kang has to evacuate her house and try to save her writings in a state of advanced pregnancy and with legs crippled long ago by footbinding. (And in the story, her husband was not there to help her – I just added him to the illustration for the heck of it.) I did some google searches for images of footbinding… just, ew.

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Hopi Hairstyles

Posted by on Feb 18, 2011 in Blog | 2 comments

Hopi women have such awesome hairstyles! Last winter in New Orleans I picked up a used coffee table book about the contemporary Hopi reservations in northeastern Arizona to use as visual reference. In addition to architectural, fashion and phenotypic information, I was particularly concerned with finding a “look” for Theo’s friend Manaka. I wasn’t even to the table of contents of Hopi by Susanne and Jake Page when I met this beauty staring right back at me:

She’s too young for Manaka’s character, but the look is there, if I could only capture it. I had seen similar, and even more elaborate, hairstyles in historical photographs of Hopi women:

As cool as these swirly braids look, I have a hell of a time trying to draw them from different angles. Expect a considerable amount of “Mickey Mouse ear syndrome” as Manaka’s hair migrates over the surface of her head.

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5.) Warp and Weft

Posted by on Feb 17, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

Here’s my illustration from chapter five of Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt, an alternate history novel that imagines how history might have developed if the plague had wiped out 99% of the European population instead of 30-60%.

Chapter five, “Warp and Weft” (a basket-weaving term), is told from the point of view of Hodenosaunee Indians in what we would call the Hudson River valley, in what we would call the early 18th century. The story centers around a mysterious stranger “Fromwest.” Fromwest is actually a ronin (masterless samurai) who fled to the New World from Japan, which has been completely conquered by the Chinese. Determined to preserve the “unspoilt” natives from a similar fate, at the hands of China or the European Muslims (who are simultaneously colonizing the New World from the east), Fromwest tries to convince the Hodenosaunee 0f the importance of industrialization and firearms manufacture to their survival. However, he urges that, while industrializing, the tribe must not abandon their complex but functional system of consensus-based, psuedo-matriarchal government, which is the best form of government he has ever seen. Through such a system, a massive alliance of all New World tribes against the colonizers is an actual possibility.

Robinson is not so naively PC as to suggest that the “American” natives were always fully capable of defending themselves, but neither is he so condescending as to intimate that they could only be defended by an altruistic outsider (what we might call the “Avatar” approach.) Instead, he invents a properly radical-historical narrative, where the “best” of the oppressive outsider (in this case, industry and empirical science) is adopted by the colonized and turned against them. KSR’s dialectical ideas really start to emerge in this chapter, and are further solidified in the next chapter, “Widow Kang.” I think he’s right to point out that often the most productive areas of society are not the central monoliths, but the interces, the points where two cultures intersect on the periphery of either.

I’m still trying to get a handle on this ink-wash thing, trying to keep in mind the principles of atmospheric perspective, with pretty limited success. I feel that if I can learn how to craft pleasing compositions in grays, my black and white illustrations will improve and I might even learn something about color.

Up until the very last minute, I had planned to show Fromwest and the Indian practicing katana stances from a medium close-up point of view, and I’d even done some fairly detailed figure studies based on actual katana positions. But I’m trying to keep myself from falling into a comfortable 2/5 rut, where all my compositions are based on dividing the page into fifths and placing the center of attention two fifths from the left or from the right. That approach is like the minor pentatonic scale – just because it always sounds good, that’s no excuse not to try something else. I woke up yesterday and decided to go for the wide shot, to show tiny figures against the expanse of the American wilderness. My hero James Gurney would be so aghast to see how inconsiderately I’ve treated the Hudson River valley, the site and subject of so much incredible plein air painting.

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