In search of style

Partway through tinkering with my bestiary, I made a transition. I began to feel like a more western cartoon style had begun to slip from the world, and desired to pull it back into my art. You can see it in the difference between these pictures:

My human, placed for size comparison, is roughly anime, or manga in on the left, and draws more from the font of Chuck Jones on the right.

Maybe it’s reading Asterix as cartoon research. Or watching Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry with my kid. But my personal cartoon style was forged, initially, by Looney Tunes, was refined by badass pictures of comic book superheroes, and was boiled down by video game graphics.

And now… now I feel like I want some of the original wellspring back in.

You can kind of see it in Awesome moments. My finished art looks like chiseled game characters with clear eastern influence, but my storyboards have bubble eyes like an ancient western character.

Jesse White, the guy who sold me on the Windsor and Newton Series 7 which I probably no longer use, was recently professing that we need a little more Chuck Jones and a little less weeb nonsense in our lives. He seems to have removed the offending tweet for whatever reason. I wish he hadn’t. I found the conversation helpful and clarifying. I am not opposed to anime or manga at all, but it solidified something I’d been considering for my own art.

So I’ve been doodling in various variations on what I would consider a more classical cartoony style. Drinking from the wellspring in my spare time.

Anyway, today is my “day off,” so I wasn’t permitted to work on my RPG. I really wanted to. I’m super hyped for that project at the moment. But, casting around for things to do, and not being allowed to do the one thing I wanted, I seized on my folder of study pieces. Art I find ’round the internet that represents some stylistic factor that I want in my own work, and therefore have saved to dissect. Figured I’d do a study.

And I saw this:

Obviously, not the Popeye house style. This is, I’m guessing, made in the style of Nintendo (Japanese, alas!) art back when the big N was trying to imitate Popeye back in their arcade days?

(For those who don’t know, a little bird tells me Nintendo tried to create a Popeye game and reskinned the characters when they couldn’t get the license. Popeye as the carpenter Jumpman, who would later be renamed Mario, Bluto as a gorilla, Olive as some dame…)

SATURDAY MORNINGS FOREVER: SATURDAY SUPERCADE: DONKEY KONG

I dunno. Something about this Popeye 64 DS art spoke to me. I had to try drawing Popeye, and then a couple of my own characters, in a facsimile of the style. So I gave it a few practice shots, and then produced this:

This feels like the right direction. I need to practice with it some more. Maybe do some sculpts in 3D, see if I can get some forms going I like.

The question is, if I push my art in this direction, what of my existing projects?

Well, my favorite Jump the Shark art already has this feel to it, to be frank.

That’s one reason I like it. It feels like I’m starting to consciously recognize things I’ve been unconsciously seeking for a long time.

But what about Awesome Moments, the project I will probably take up again in less than a week?

Well…

I don’t hate it. It feels a little odd, a little potentially disrespectful, and I’m super leery of that. But I kind of sort of actually like it.

Captain’s Log 0210212.162: Workflow

Another reason I avoid commission work is I do not yet know what it will take to produce art on command. When I completed my first book, and especially my second, I thought I did. But I am no longer certain.

Taking a commission is making a promise. I’d rather not make it unless and until I know I’m going to keep it.

Constant good-natured advice from my wife, and the results of my own projects have taught me both that I need to be able to flit from project to project like a butterfly, and I need to be able to double down on a project with a “Hell or High Water” attitude. I can’t just adopt one approach; I have to do both. Which means every personal project needs a tinkering phase and a production phase so I can delineate which mode I’m in.

Hat Trick is going to be so much better because I didn’t begin production on it right away. I can recognize now that the climax needs work. I.E., adding a real climax would be a start. I knew it at the time I storyboarded it. But I was too burnt out and desperate to finish to pay the nagging doubt heed. I needed the emotional space that only time could provide to make that call.

So, we need 3 kinds of phase:

  1. Tinker Phase
    • Just playing around
    • Project is free to be continued or abandoned or scrapped for spare parts
  2. Draft Phase
    • Goal is to create a complete thing, from beginning to end, at lowest quality needed to get the idea across.
    • Work fast. Finish.
    • Project is not free to be continued or abandoned: the draft must be completed.
    • But, once the draft is completed, the project must be set aside for at least one month, and then evaluated. Options include:
      • Abandon
      • Additional draft
      • Produce
  3. Production Phase
    • Kickstart projects. If the Kickstarter fails, the project may be set aside and put into production later.
    • Once the Kickstarter is finished, if production continues, production receives Hell or High Water commitment.

So, what does this mean for my current mess?

I’ll get back to you.

Captain’s Log, 0210208.060

Well, the week of my nativity is over.

Time to actually get serious.

This last week I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and nothing else (except what was required to keep my family and their animals alive, of course). And what I wanted turned out to be the basis of a platforming sequel to my hit game Candy Raid: the factory.

This gif has a lot of little things worth talking about, but let’s get back to it.

I need to either search for a day job, or else gear up to pay my bills with my projects quickly. Option 2 means running a successful crowdfund ASAP. The only project I have that is close to ready for that is Awesome Moments, my Bible Story book.

Because of my social media fast, the earliest I can run the Kickstarter in question effectively is March. If I choose to work my butt off on Hat Trick, or my bestiary, or on this little Candy Raid platformer, I can hypothetically have either of these projects Kickstarter ready by then. But I have to be 100% committed to the project. And my history of underestimating time to completion on projects leads me to believe I’d need at least two months to get either of those ready. And even a successful Kickstarter wouldn’t disburse funds until April.

Which means I need to hunt for a day job.

Sucks to be me, but I’ve been employed at dead-end day jobs for 15 years, and I’ve done the starving artist thing for 6 months. Being jobless definitely helps my projects, but not by giving me more time, but rather by giving me consistent time. If I can get something with regular hours, I should be able to keep my productivity close to the same.

If not, such is life. So let’s talk about how we are going to change our approaches to Vargenstone and Everything Else as a result.

Continue reading “Captain’s Log, 0210208.060”

Captain’s Log, 0210201.073: Keep Moving Forward

Here are pictures of the Night Mare, in roughly the order I made them:

No relation to today’s post whatsoever. I just lined these up because I wanted to, and I find WordPress’s gallery convenient for the task.

This is my yearly custom of pausing and considering my life’s path and whether I want to continue on current lines, or what course adjustments I should make. As such, there will be an over abundance of navel gazing.

Continue reading “Captain’s Log, 0210201.073: Keep Moving Forward”

Rise and Fall of the Mouse?

Arkhaven has a three-part series on the rise and fall of Disney (or more accurately, the rises and falls).

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

I don’t 100% agree with all the assumptions or conclusions of the writer. I find myself more in agreement with Sam Lively’s Trojan Mouse assessment, though I have caveats even about that. But both Lively’s book and the article series can serve to give you a rounded gloss of Disney’s history both in terms of animation production, and ideology. On matters of inference, ideology, and artistic integrity there is room for some debate; on matters of fact, both resources are quite good.

Anyway, I’m not here to push my own quibbles with the assessments. Merely to note them as resources.

Perhaps I will write up my own thoughts at some future point.

The Problem of Sasha

Sasha the cat is supposed to be a joke on fanservice in anime. She’s got the schoolgirl look, but there’s midriff, and her boobs are improbably large. It was meant, again, as a joke. But it’s also part of her character arc. She’s not a good person, and she starts out the story playing up her bad side.

You can’t really see that in this picture because these character proportions conceal or downplay those elements. And… I’m almost okay with this.

A part of me is like, “Look, dude, Hat Trick was concieved 15 years ago. At the time, you hand no audience in mind. You make books for 6 year olds now. You are making Hat Trick for 12 year olds. You don’t need a sexy character.”

And it’s not 100% of Sasha’s character or role in the story. If I snipped that bit out, nobody would notice its absence. But a part of me wants to leave it in to be true to the vision.

Continue reading “The Problem of Sasha”

Status Report 0210118.053

Vargenstone

Vargenstone remains where it was last time I last time I spoke…

…and while I am going to try and get some serious work on it done this week, I’m not going to stress over it while I’m the only guy changing anything.

Theria

Meanwhile, I feel like I’m done with the virtual pet for now. Not permanently, but I was doing it to scratch an itch and the itch is scratched. I will probably continue adding pages to the book storyboard at a rate of one or two per week so that I’ve have a huge head start when the project gets the limelight.

Hat Trick

Continue reading “Status Report 0210118.053”

Art Under the Shadow of the Gun

I have nothing new to say. Only a new audience and a new occasion. This essay is nothing more than my ripping off of C.S. Lewis’s Learning in War Time.

I have maintained for the last decade or so that I expect my country, the United States of America, to fall apart in the early 2030s. This belief is not due to my own expertise, and I am ill suited to defend it. It is the considered opinion of historians and philosophers I trust.

Of late, however, men are starting to take my premise seriously. Except they expect the collapse much sooner. Next week, perhaps. The foundations are shaking. The public mood is turning. And being ill-suited to the task of defending my 203X date, I’ve heard a question floating around my circles:

What role has an artist in all this? Should he set down his brush and take up a gun? Or, if he holds his brush, should he seek to use his art to aid his friends and defeat his enemies? Does he adulterate his art by ignoring the Muse for the sake of propaganda? Does he fiddle while Rome burns by ignoring propaganda for the sake of the Muse?

The Christian has a more serious question. For of course, wars and rumors of wars are nothing but birth-pains to us. Every man who dies on the battlefield will rise again to live in eternal glory or eternal torment. But nations and political groups are mayflies, creatures whose lifespans are measured in mere centuries.

Should the Christian artist throw aside his brush, then, and spend all his effort tending his own soul in a monastery or nunnery, or seeking to save the souls of others as an evangelist or priest? Or if he holds on to his brush, should he seek by his art to aid the angels and defeat the demons? Does he adulterate his art by ignoring the Muse for the sake of propaganda? Does he fiddle while souls burn by ignoring propaganda for the sake of the Muse?

Clearly, whatever answer suffices for eternal matters must also be strong enough for trifling matters like a world superpower at war with itself.

And here we can cheat on our impromptu philosophy exam. We already know what the Apostles told us to do in the light of eternity: To use our gifts for the glory of God. To do whatever lies before us with all our strength, as if God and not some man had set us the task. To be content in our station, whether master or slave, though to cast off the chains of slavery whenever peaceful means to do so present themselves. To be good fathers and good sons, good soldiers and good grocers. And good artists.

Neither religion nor war can stop men from drawing pictures, composing poems, or singing songs. Art is more endemic to humanity than war. We are born in the image of a gardener king, not a warrior king. We are made in the image of a gardener God who is a warrior God — but only because a serpent invaded His garden.

Moreover, we find men who are seriously at war writing books, singing songs, and celebrating Christmas. Even when the bullets fly, we will not give up culture. That is who we are.

To set aside the brush for the gun, then, is a foolish proposal. Even if it is a good idea, we could not do it except in the extreme moment of the emergency itself. Once we have taken up the gun and marched off into combat, our hand will itch until it seizes upon a new brush, or pencil or pen, and we shall find ourselves painting in the trenches.

So much for the question of whether we ought to set our art itself aside. Now for the question of whether we ought to prioritize the muse or the mission.

Let us stop thinking for a moment of books and games, and start thinking of houses. Let us pretend we are stonemasons and carpenters. What we are asking is whether we ought to stop building houses, and instead build barracks and chapels.

The answer is situational. A carpenter hired by the army ought to build barracks as the army directs. A carpenter hired by the church ought to build chapels as the church directs. But a carpenter hired by neither ought to go on building houses, to the glory of God. The best, most beautiful houses he may, given his talents and constraints.

A cobbler serves God best not by putting little crosses on his shoes, but by making good shoes. And a storyteller serves God best not by putting little crosses in his stories, but by telling good stories.

Now you may want to tell a story that makes a theological point. Very good. C.S. Lewis wanted to do so, and the Narnia books are great art. But perhaps you want to leave all moralizing and philosophizing out of the story, except as the tale itself demands. Very good. Tolkien hated allegory so much so that he openly disdained Narnia, and Lord of the Rings is great art.

If you are a musician in the army, and the army wishes you to write a march, then by all means write a march. If you are your own man, and you wish to write a march, then by all means write a march. But if you wish to write, instead, a sea shanty, do that. You are not fiddling while Rome burns. You are making a mark on immortal souls, while the mortal things crumble.

I make it sound very grand. I am not inviting you to put on airs. What deeper mark is made on a soul than the marks a mother and a father make? And yet our culture casts these aside as unworthy pursuits. The pictures I draw are nothing, in the end, next to the diapers I have changed. The pictures were as much a product of my vanity as any gifts and callings God has given me. But a dirty diaper is a clear and unquestionable sign from Heaven that there is work to be done, and work of an unambiguous sort.

A dirty diaper very cleanly cuts through the weight of emotion around all this talk of fiddling while Rome burns. Whether bullets fly through the air, or indeed, souls hang in the balance, the thing has got to be done.

But whatever pictures I feel a need to draw, let me draw them with all my might, as unto God and not men.

Hymns and Hims

There’s a quote made the rounds of late. Something about singing hymns with the same gusto as marching songs and sea shanties — because that’s what they are.

Something like that.

Problem is most hymns are not fight songs and sea shanties. And for some, that’s fine. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is perfect as is. Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand needs no improvement. It is Well With My Soul would only be worsened if it were changed. Thy Strong Word is… well, it’s already a sea shanty.

Being a convert to the Lutheran tradition, however, I am confronted with a problem. Most of the hymns were clearly originally written in German. They don’t go well in English. The poetry of the translation is good enough, but the meter of the music was plainly meant for different words.

Sometimes a German Hymn does fine directly translated. Usually, if it is full of sturm and drang. The aforementioned Built on the Rock and Lutheran Theme Song A Mighty Fortress Is Our God are good examples.

On the flip side, nearly everyone who suggests changing up the music in the divine service is trying to sneak in a Baptist-style worship service long on blue jeans and guitars and emotional manipulation and short on anything that actually confesses the catholic faith. I have fended off a couple of attempts to recruit me for such campaigns, due to the fact I have a decent ear, and can thus sing slightly better than average.

I didn’t go to all the trouble of converting just to attend a second-rate version of the church I left.

Thing is, the church has been around since at least when Cain and Abel went to make sacrifices (I would say since Adam first heard God curse the serpent), and in those 6000+ years permeated every culture there is. We have no excuse for bad music. We ought be able to skim the best of tunes and the best of poetry off the top of that great cataract of culture. We ought to have a giant book chock full of verified bangers.

I lack the training to right this wrong. But there it is, and it pains me greatly.

Anyway, I’ll be listening to sea shanties for a while. Sea shanties are the anthem of the broken spirit discovering after the breaking that somehow it has won. That is a very Christian spirit, even if the shanties tend to be long on whores and rum. And I have added “Shanty Hymns” to the list of things I’m making, even though I’ve no skill for the task.