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“Do-Over”: Part Three, Setting

A summary of what has gone before.

  1. Do-Over is a story about a man from modern times cast into a primitive past. The man, JD, is a competent man with an autism-like disorder. In the beginning of the story his “true” age is 67 but his physical age is somewhere around 18-20.
  2. The inspiration for the story come from two widely-recognized sources: Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (“Yankee”).
  3. Part of Do-Over is deliberately educational.

I’ve established JD in a new universe. How does he know? Suppose you were transported to another universe where the plants and animals were similar enough that you couldn’t tell the difference and the people are humans and speak your language. How would you know you were in a different universe?

The first thing I’d do is look up at the night sky. There’s a reference we can use, and it doesn’t take an astronomer to see it. Is there a moon? Does it look different? What about the stars? We have many familiar constellations: the Dippers Big and Little, Orion, Sagittarius, and in the south the Southern Cross and Hercules. And then there are planets.

For you, then, looking up at the night sky will tell you something’s different. JD’s a scientist and, with his background, would certainly notice small differences you might not. However, to make this point to those readers who don’t look up at night I need more than “I can’t find Arcturus.” In our universe, in a dark rural area with a clear sky, you can see about 2,000 – 3,000 stars on any given night. What could be more obvious than removing 90% of those stars? JD’s night sky has only about 200 stars visible, even with no light pollution and a clear sky.

To reinforce this idea, all of the stars JD sees are very dim and he makes note of that. But there’s another reason for having very few stars beyond the simple “I’m in a different universe”: a plot point. I’ll discuss that in Part Four: Characters and Part Five: Miscellany.

In various parts of the text JD makes an off-hand remark about some scientific concept and tries to teach that concept to his audience (and you, the reader). Sometimes he just explains what it means in a sentence or three. In this way my story has educational aspects but they do not interfere with the story; you can skip them and they don’t affect the story (except when they need to, of course).

As with any work of fiction, the world can either be a part of the plot or not – but if it isn’t it should not interfere with the plot. I decided to make this an Earth-like world, and world-building is the quintessential exercise in playing with ideas.

  • There are no large herbivores, the largest being goats and sheep. This is plausible. North America had only one large herbivore, the bison, for almost 8,000 years between The Great Overkill (extinction of mammoths and giant sloths) and when Europeans brought cattle (Columbus) and horses (Spaniards). I introduce horses to the story in One and One Make One because I need them there; I don’t need them before that.
  • There are no large carnivores, the largest being wolves.
  • There are no dogs or cats. I introduce dogs in One and One Make One as a plot point.
  • This is a male-dominated society; women are for cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. My main female, Mya, rebels against that in several ways, and JD supports her (my way of arguing against the concept of male domination). There are other strong female characters (see Part Four).

That’s enough for now; there are other things but I’ll let you discover them for yourself. That’s part of the fun, right?

Back in Part One, when I introduced JD I remarked, “he’ll need some survival skills or he’ll die before the story gets moving.” Like JD, you will have to wait and discover those skills over time. However, one of them is critical, and a lot of fun to think about: how does JD communicate in his new universe?

In both InuYasha and “Yankee” the main characters speak the language of their new location: Kagome because she’s still in Japan and Hank because he’s in England. Leaving aside for the moment that Arthur’s English would be incomprehensible to modern English speakers, and even Chaucer’s English is difficult, the language barrier is a common problem in any story placing the hero in a strange land. Usually authors get around this problem in one of three ways.

  1. Use the character’s own language in some unexplained way.
  2. Magic or technology: a translator pendant, a spell, something.
  3. Language lessons.

Language lessons are tedious for the reader. Holding up objects and naming them is boring enough, not to mention potentially confusing. Pointing to oneself and saying “Homer!” could be construed as “My name is Homer” or “I am a Homer,” an intelligent being or a member of the Home society. Authors wanting realism include these exchanges but cover them quickly.

“She proceeded to call out the organs of the legger which corresponded to hers. Thus, the preparations for the meal passed swiftly… she had exchanged at least forty words with him. After an hour he remembered twenty.” – My Sister’s Brother, Philip Jose Farmer.

Do-Over covers JD’s life in some detail, so while I could handle it that way I don’t want to; I want JD to be able to communicate right off the bat. The world in Do-Over is neither magical nor technological so I can’t use those methods, and I want JD in another universe so English is out. What am I left with?

When JD is between universes he receives a set of four gifts from the people who brought him here. I call those beings The Ancients (all right, so I was a little lazy there). We’ve seen one gift: he’s young again. You and JD learn of the second gift, the gift of tongues, early on: JD by accident, you by virtue of the reader’s perspective.

Consider the ramifications of such a gift. JD thinks, speaks, and hears English, but the gift of tongues translates his English into any other language and, in reverse, translates that language into English so he can understand it. Only he has this gift, others do not share it, and it does not extend beyond him. Suppose JD starts in Italy, communicating in Italian, and people follow him as he travels through France, Basque country, and Spain. When he arrives in Barcelona and addresses his followers, what do they hear? All four languages at once? If so, that would be a miracle (magic). It also has no plot value in Do-Over. I don’t want to completely give up on foreign language issues; there are some ideas I can use.

Let’s revisit the example. In Barcelona, when JD speaks to the Italians everyone there hears Italian. To speak in Spanish he has to focus on the Spanish people – and then everyone hears him speaking Spanish. Why is this a useful plot point? If everyone hears JD speaking their own language at the same time he looks like a miracle worker. If, instead, they hear him speaking the language of the people he’s talking to, he’s seen as a normal human being who happens to know the language. There’s another advantage: when JD’s alone (or when he doesn’t know there’s anyone around) he speaks English. I don’t use that too often, but when I do it’s to make things interesting.

This brings up another point: writing. In both InuYasha and “Yankee” the written language is the same as the spoken one. JD writes in English; the language of his new world is a combination of logographic and alphabetic images that isn’t English. In Do-Over, a sign has a picture of something (e.g., the sign for poison or danger) and we understand what that means. The advantage that gives me is the ability to draw signs with one or two relatively simple pictures without having to invent an alphabet or language. On those rare occasions when I need an alphabetic view I’m using a runic-like alphabet, mostly because it’s easy to draw.

You may ask why JD is able to hear and speak the language but not write it. Obviously speech and literacy are two different skills. But, more important for the story, I need some reason to have Mya hang out with JD: she’s teaching him to read and write. Remember, I want Mya to be a strong character who makes her own decisions, not one who swoons over “tall, dark, and handsome.” Some women in the village do; JD considers them shallow and isn’t interested in them. Mya is different: she’ll take her time deciding if a person is a good partner for her.

Finally there is some humor inherent in JD learning to read and write. Consider this example from the book, a letter of apology.

I do not anger, I afraid for you. No excuse shout. I beg forgive.

After several months he’s still writing like a kid.

But enough of that. Part Four, Supporting Characters, discusses characters from allies to villains and everything in between.

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“Do-Over”: Part Two, Character Creation

A summary of Part One follows.

  1. The inspiration for the story come from two widely-recognized sources: Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (“Yankee”).
  2. I want to explore many aspects of this type of story not explored in either work.
  3. Do-Over is a story about a man from modern times cast into a primitive (for him) past.
  4. That man is a 67-year-old physicist in the mold of Robert Heinlein’s “competent man” but not a Marty Stu; he’s a realistic character.
  5. A 67-year-old man may be too old for a love interest.

Regarding Number 4, both InuYasha and “Yankee” have primary characters that are close to Marty Stus. Hank is youngish for a lead engineer “with 2000 people under him”; InuYasha always learns a new attack just when he needs one (many Japanese manga have a deus ex machina aspect). But both have their weaknesses. That is the type of character I’m shooting for: someone who is a capable but believable, a hero who doesn’t always win. Conflict and struggle are interesting, and if Hank solves every problem or InuYasha beats every enemy on the first attempt they would be boring leads. At some point you have to worry if the hero will succeed or you yawn and put the book down.

Regarding Number 5, it is certainly possible to write an old person as a romantic lead; it’s been done, and done well, by several authors. Some of these older characters end up with a much younger person. But I want something a little more believable than the May-December romance. Thus comes one of the ideas I wanted to play with.

Some of you may have, at one time or another, thought to yourself, “What if I could start over, go back to high school (or whatever), with my current wisdom intact?” If you haven’t, try now. What would you do differently? What would you keep the same? Would you change your career direction? Your hobbies? Did you give up something you wished you still did? Would you make the same friends? Different friends? Different romances? What would you do over? (That was Maxwell’s Silver Hammer I just whacked you with; sorry.)

What am I getting at? I can address both questions by making my protagonist “de-age” when he gets transported to the past. He retains his memories, wisdom, and experience, but now that he’s physically young his romantic possibilities are much wider.

To offset that he discovers a large portion of what he thought was “wisdom” turns out to be a combination of factors ranging from hormonal changes to a general withdrawal from society as he aged. Immediately before being transported to the past JD, my protagonist, has no friends and no family other than his son and estranged daughter. He’s left with a stubborn and unwanted attachment to life that keeps him going. He goes on, existing rather than living, and although he might not want to die he clearly doesn’t want to live either.

And that becomes a point of growth for the character. He’s made young again (age 18-20) and given a chance, of a sort, to relive his life – and finds out he’s still the same person he’s always been. Experience and wisdom alone aren’t enough; he’s making the same mistakes he made when he was actually younger, and the only way to grow up is to, well, grow up.

But what if “growing up” isn’t enough of an option? Wait, don’t walk away. In InuYasha, one of the main conflicts is InuYasha’s inability to see that Kagome cares for him, even when it’s crystal clear to everyone else. The supporting characters frequently refer to InuYasha as “dense”. There are people who are like InuYasha, in a way: they can’t read social cues. People with ADHD or ASD (autism spectrum disorders) are often like that, albeit for differing reasons.

I find this an educational opportunity. Instead of characterizing JD as “dense” I let him show us what it’s like not to understand what typical people see. A typical person might get nervous when building a new relationship, be it a new friend or a potential romantic partner. Someone with ASD finds building relationships terrifying and/or confusing. What’s it like to think there’s a second, incomprehensible dialog going on when people talk to each other? What’s it like to hear words literally and completely miss a subtext everyone else apparently understands without effort? What does it feel like to have someone become angry over what, to you, is an innocent comment? I experience all of those situations frequently and I’m letting JD tell that story for me.

So what does JD “have”? Consider Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. The writers deny Sheldon has any disorder; Jim Parsons (the actor playing him) uses various aspects from across the ASD spectrum to portray Sheldon. I’m treating JD in the same way: he has nothing specific, and that’s deliberate. My hope is that people reading Do-Over will see something in JD they find in themselves and get the feeling “Hey, he gets it!” – while at the same time not making JD a parodic or comedic character like Sheldon Cooper. Can I do that? I don’t know for sure; I think I have, but you’ll have to wait until it comes out to decide.

Now I have a lead character thrown into the past and given a chance for a do-over. In Part One I wrote how InuYasha and “Yankee” transport their protagonist to their own past, and writing that way requires only a good history text. Further, the character is aware it’s their own past; that means if their memory is good enough (and they read the same text) they can use that knowledge to their own advantage. InuYasha ignores the question; in “Yankee” Hank uses it to advance his own status. I want to use this situation as a plot point but not something JD can use to his advantage. Conflict is interesting, and if JD can say “I remember this happening” and act accordingly two “bad” things happen. The first, of course, is a Marty Stu situation: the protagonist knows everything and therefore there is no (or only weak) conflict. The second has a more interesting solution.

In “Yankee” Hank does not change his own history; none of the technology he introduced to Arthur remains. In InuYasha one thing changes, but it has no effect on Kagome’s future. However, you and I both know changes in past events will have ramifications to future events; the effects may be small but there will be effects. To avoid that there are two choices: future events cannot be changed (time inertia) or my protagonist is not only in another time but another place, a place where the future he knows does not exist. There’s my next modification to the general concept: the protagonist is sent to another universe.

That’s not new either; Terry Brooks’ Landover series and Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant both transport their protagonists to another universe, as do C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books. (The late Robert Asprin’s Myth series takes that concept to extremes; his protagonist travels to hundreds of different universes.) There is a lot of this type of literature around and I don’t want to duplicate it. But the idea is useful for something else: education. More on that in Part Three, Setting.

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“Do-Over”: Part One, Genesis of an Idea

The germ of the idea for Do-Over came while watching Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha with my son. InuYasha is an anime (from Takahashi’s manga) telling the story of Kagome, a 15-year-old Japanese girl magically transported 500 years into her past, feudal Japan. Large portions of the story focus on the relationship Kagome forms with the titular character, a half-human dog demon.

While watching this anime a couple of things struck me. First, Kagome can move relatively freely between modern times and the past. Most stories like this have the protagonist sent back in time at the beginning and returned to their own time at the end. In many, the protagonist is unable to return to their own time and is forced to adapt to a different culture. The structure of InuYasha allows Kagome, in the end, to decide whether she wants to stay with InuYasha or return to her own time. That, plus the story’s setting in Kagome’s own past, frees the author to more-or-less ignore cultural and technological changes and focus on the plot. It also allows the audience to connect with Kagome’s experiences, whether by seeing her in her modern setting or the historical past they’re all familiar with.

Second, while Kagome undergoes quite a bit of personal growth, the other characters do not. Many plot points center around relationship growth rather than personal growth. For example, InuYasha is little different in the end than he was in the beginning of the story. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, and Takahashi handles it very well, but it is different from what we’re taught in “story class”: interesting characters must show personal growth.

I’m going to leave both of these concepts for now, but I’ll come back to them later because they’re central to my approach to Do-Over.

One of the first connections I made outside InuYasha with “going back to the past” is Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. (Going forward I’ll refer to Twain’s work as “Yankee” for obvious reasons.) In “Yankee” the protagonist Hank Morgan meets King Arthur in 7th-century Britain after getting hit in the head by a crowbar. He industrializes medieval England with modern technology (Gatling guns, electricity etc.). In the end Hank returns to the present via Merlin’s sleep spell. The story implies Hank had only dreamed his adventures as part of the injuries suffered in the beginning of the story.

The primary difference in intent between InuYasha and “Yankee” is key. “Yankee” is at once a satire on the nobility’s control over citizens and a longing to return to more innocent times. InuYasha is a simple, albeit enjoyable, fairy tale with little social commentary outside of the complex relationships people can have. Twain, being the genius he was, wrote a story that can be read as he intended or as a fairy tale. That is, it is possible to enjoy “Yankee” in the same way one can enjoy InuYasha: pure entertainment.

In both InuYasha and “Yankee” we have a context the authors’ audiences can easily connect to. InuYasha handles feudal Japan accurately and the audience is familiar with the subject. Although “Yankee” is full of anachronistic references to Arthurian legends, such as plate armor and the Holy Grail (both not a part of the English traditions until the 12th century), Twain did so deliberately. For his setting he used Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, well after the historical Arthur but more familiar to Twain’s audience. Both Twain and Takahashi built a world their readers would understand without having to look them up – which in turn lets the reader get more involved in the story rather than the setting.

I love to play with ideas. The idea of traveling back in time, bringing modern knowledge to a primitive society, is full of possibilities. In both stories a lot of those possibilities are not explored; both Kagome and Hank exist in their own past and they are aware of it. From an author’s perspective, all that requires is a good history text and some knowledge of the culture of the desired time period. That’s plenty to use as a story setting – it clearly works in both stories – but I wanted to do some exploring.

Step One was picking a protagonist. It’s a lot easier for me, a trained scientist, to relate to an adult male engineer than to a 15-year-old high school girl. For various reasons I wanted my protagonist to be a person called “the competent man”. Here’s Robert Heinlein’s explanation, as described in Heinlein’s novel Time Enough for Love by the main character Lazarus Long.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

But there’s a catch (two, really) in using a competent man. The first catch is obvious: is this Superman? A better comparison is Batman. Consider DC Comics’ Justice League of America. Batman is an equal member with Superman, Wonder Woman, and all manner of superbeings despite having no superpowers. There are lesser examples in the real world, so this is not an unreasonable concept.

The second catch is less obvious. How does a person become like this? In Heinlein’s novel Lazarus Long is over 2,000 years old, giving him plenty of time to learn things. If I made my protagonist a young man he becomes a Marty Stu. If you haven’t heard that name before, or of Mary Sue, the definition is “a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities.” The term comes from fan fiction; for more on this concept see the Wikipedia article on Mary Sue.

I dislike writing fan fiction; I don’t like playing in someone else’s universe unless I’m invited. Therefore I have to address both catches to writing a competent man. Making my protagonist an aged scientist not only solves the first catch, it opens a lot of possibilities for plot actions.

To solve the second catch, I remove some of the competent man’s capabilities and add one pertinent fact: the main character is more anti-hero than hero, fundamentally flawed in a particular way. I have to leave him with some good qualities and skills, of course, or he won’t be an interesting character – and he’ll need some survival skills or he’ll die before the story gets moving.

So I made my protagonist a 67-year-old scientist, a parent to two grown children, and someone who practices a form of kung fu and tai chi to remain physically fit. That gives him time to adjust to the society plus the intelligence and interest in oddball knowledge to know at least something about many different fields. It does, however, leave a small problem.

As I mentioned above, one of the reasons I enjoyed InuYasha is the focus on interpersonal relationships. “Yankee” explores that as well with the relationship Hank develops with Demoiselle Alisande a la Carteloise, whom he calls “Sandy”. But it’s not easy to make a 67-year-old man a romantic interest and, as mentioned above, using a younger protagonist runs a risk of creating a Marty Stu character.

To learn how I solved that problem see Do-Over: Part 2, Character Creation.

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The status of my OEL manga project “Do-Over”

I know some of you have been wondering about the progress I’m making. I am behind on posting art work, mostly because I want to show progress and I’ve hit a plateau I can’t get off. Instead of posting artwork I thought I’d fill you in on the writing end of it.

The OEL manga project has evolved considerably, including a name change, since I started it. This is the first in a series of six blog posts about developing the Do-Over project. I used two criteria for deciding how long to make each post and how many I’d need.

  • Subject matter. Part One is about where I got the idea, Part Two is about developing the story’s main character, Part Three is about developing the setting, and so on.
  • Post length. Science says around 1,600 words, approximately 7 minutes of reading, so that’s my upper limit. This post is around 1,000 words, a rough lower limit.

Neither are hard limits, of course, but if I put the whole thing in one blog post I’ll lose my audience (all six of you).

First, an overview of the project. The original concept was just The Dragon Core; that’s how I built the website and named the story. Over time I decided there were a lot of potential points of interest to the story, my main character’s personality, and his adjustments to a new world and culture. I also wanted to play with different genres. Finally, although The Dragon Core ends satisfactorily there is plenty of room for a sequel or two. I decided on three books.

  1. The Dragon Core, a sword-and-sorcery fantasy story. A scientist named JD is transported to a new universe and does battle with both a legendary dragon and his own internal issues. He finds the dragon an easier conflict to resolve.
  2. One and One Make One, a slice-of-life story. There is sadness and joy, humor and tragedy, in this book. The title comes from a song by The Who, Bargain.
  3. Last Man Standing, difficult to characterize but closest to “the man who couldn’t be kept down.” Ben-Hur is an example of that type of story.

This project will take something like 7-10 years to complete, depending primarily on how fast I can learn to draw well enough to justify the effort I put into the story, and then the time needed to do the illustrations. The script for The Dragon Core is complete except for two chapters (17 and 26); those two chapters have complete notes but the dialog hasn’t been written. During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November I’ll finish (or nearly finish) One and One Make One. I’ll finish the script for Last Man Standing in 2017.

This novel must be written as a graphic novel; it’s how it’s developed in my mind. I can’t explain why, it’s just a feeling about story flow and how I want to express the story’s content. I have learned a lot about drawing in the last six months but still can’t draw believable people in action; that will take practice and lots of it. I had originally intended to begin The Dragon Core in July of 2016; that’s not going to happen, obviously, and it’s going to be a struggle to make January of 2017.

I am capable of drawing simple people. For example, I could begin the story using characters of the quality used by artists like Gary Larson, Charles Shultz, Scott Adams, and Bil Keane, to name a few – but those artists are humorists and I’d like this story to be taken seriously. That includes quality backgrounds, reasonably accurate characterizations of people and animals, and so on. I’m not there yet; I’m figuring that will take a year or two. When I look forward that seems like a long time and I admit to getting discouraged at times. When I get there, though, it won’t seem as bad.

I borrow heavily from many sources; not for story lines per se (there are only 7 or 8 plots anyway) but for inspiration and ideas to make my own. Sources range from anime and manga (InuYasha, Dragonball, Clannad), American works (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Life Among the Savages), and classic literature (Lord of the Rings, Ben-Hur, The Chronicles of Narnia). If you’re familiar with those works you’ll see ghosts and shadows of them in various places in the project – and I think that’s part of the fun. There are even places I’ll reference Monty Python, Spongebob, or other modern cultural phenomena, albeit in a very oblique manner.

(There are places in the story where I’d like JD, the main character, to quote Monty Python or Spongebob, or sing songs from our own culture. I can’t have him do that without paying royalties, so even though it would be something any of us would do (recall memories of what we grew up with) the best I can do is make oblique references and hope people get it. In one place in The Dragon Core I have to reference a modern song (JD sings it as a major plot point); when I do that I won’t quote the song but will mention its name in the comment section of the page so you can play your own copy of the song while reading the page.)

Of course, you may wonder about the wisdom of “borrowing”. For that I refer you to this piece by John Cleese of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers.

You Should – No, You Must – Steal Your Way to Success

That is what I’m trying to do. Besides being unethical, rewriting an old classic is full of hubris. I’m not a better satirist than Mark Twain; Rumiko Takahashi (the author of InuYasha) is a very good story teller; and let’s not even go down the road of comparing myself to Tolkein or Lewis. But all of my inspirations are quality story tellers; emulating their style (without stealing their prose) and combining it into my own style is both doable and an homage to all of them.

It’s up to you, my readers, to tell me how I’m doing. When this project gets off the ground and I begin to publish it I’m really looking forward to all feedback. It can only help me grow as both a writer and an artist. Thanks for reading; the story continues in the next blog entry, “Do-Over”: Part One, Genesis of an Idea.

 

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Saving For Posterity.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of things. For the most part, I haven’t saved anything I’ve created – snapshots, pictures, writing … almost nothing. The one exception is computer code, because it’s portable and you never know when you’ll need it again. But for any other creative endeavor I’ve always felt my memory was enough.

Now that I’m drawing I’ve decided to save everything. I don’t like to waste paper, so I scan it and save it as a picture or a PDF file. Why am I saving everything now? So I can gauge my progress. Not so much how long it took, but whether I make any progress at all.

This change in approach is part of a new attitude I’m trying to develop. I want to remain positive and committed to creating comics, and to do that I have to both write (which I’m already fairly good at) and draw, which I may have been good at once (I honestly don’t know!), but not in at least 30 years. My idea is that keeping even the firstborn drawings will remind me, later, how far I’ve come, how much improvement I’ve made. In turn, during times when I think “I suck at this” (and those times will be frequent, believe me), I’ll be able to pull out my beginner work and see just how far I’ve progressed.

So you, too, can join my journey. Here’s my first attempt at perspective drawing.

First attempts at perspective

And here’s some natural history pictures.

Sketches, 2016-08-21

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Don’t draw what you see – sorta.

Let me explain the title. Of course I want to draw what I see; don’t we all? A nice sunset, trees, people, buildings – they’re all out there. Even if I decide to draw a completely fantastic scene, there will still be plants, animals, and people, and where there are people (human or not) there are artificial structures. There are all sorts of things in my head I want to get on paper. But trying to draw what I’m looking at, without understanding the physical laws constraining everything, is a lot more complicated than you might think.

Every artist I’ve spoken to, every book I’ve read, every class I’ve had, regarding “how to draw” says this: “Visualize the shapes in your subject. Circles, ovals, rectangles – everything is a ‘shape with details’. Draw the basic shapes first, then fill in the details.” Look at your hand: whoa! Futurama! – Lrrr’s hands  Hands are complicated – all those lines, my right pinkie sticks out (too many dislocations), it’s hairy… so much going on. Trying to draw that as-is always gets me caught up in the details rather than the overall structure, and when I’m done it’s OK, but then that’s the only way I can draw a hand. If I want to draw a hand that’s not splayed I have to revisualize everything down to the last detail. Too much for anyone.

Instead, I can look at it another way. At the base of the hand is the end of my arm; what’s it look like? Two more-or-less converging lines. What does the palm look like? A square? Not quite; it’s more of a trapezoid, with the short base being my wrist and the long base the part where my fingers come from. Fingers are elongate ellipsoids, two short arcs at each joint (rather than the 7-10 lines I see on my actual hand) and a longer arc at the end of each finger for the nail. For comparison purposes (picture of my left hand on the left, mouse-drawn in MS Paint on the right):

My handSimple shapes hand

So the thing on the right isn’t very good; looks like something a 3-year-old might draw – but the important thing is, it’s recognizably a hand. I can work from that, adding in a little detail at a time, until I get this, which is simple but clearly a hand.

Simple hahnd

To get this hand I started with the “shapes-only” hand, added a little detail, and erased the guidelines.

I think this insight (start with recognizing the simple shapes, get them down, then add a little more detail each time) is valuable. In hindsight, the desire to get to the finished product right away, rather than starting small and adding detail, is what kept me from doing other complex things, like learning guitar. I’d get frustrated and, foolishly, ashamed that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, and I quit. Gaining this insight is one step of growth; the next step is to put it into practice.

Another step, at least on the drawing path, is digging out some things I drew in high school. They’re fairly good. An artist I admire has a set of YouTube videos on his drawing process. He shared a few videos of art he did when he was 12 – 15 years old; my art at the same age was as good as his was. The difference is simple: he kept drawing and getting better, I stopped and haven’t drawn anything since. Now, I’m not arguing that in 25 years I’ll be as good as he is today; I haven’t a clue whether I’ll be any good in a few months, much less after years and years of practice. I am arguing, though, that at one time I had this skill, and with practice can regain it and get better than I am now, or was then.

And isn’t that what matters, that I get better? I think it is.

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The right to not understand

A must read.

Chavisory's Notebook

As I’m finishing this post, it’s nearing the end of Autism Acceptance Month, and almost Blogging Against Disablism Day (which is officially May 1), and the more I thought about getting around to writing it, the more I thought that it kind of stands at the intersection of those two things… acceptance of autism and disability, and opposition to prejudice based on disability.

We talk a lot during Autism Acceptance Month about the rights of autistic and disabled people to education, to employment opportunities, to accommodation and acceptance in public spaces. We talk a lot about our capabilities, and about what we understand about our experiences.

But I think that there needs to be an understood right of people—particularly young people—to not understand. And to not have that impact their right to access and to information.

Here are some examples of how what I’m talking about plays out:

My most-shared…

View original post 1,071 more words

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My very first drawing

In my previous post (The Learning Process Begins) I wrote about the entire process of writing an OEL manga. This blog is more about the specific process of drawing and inking.

So here’s my first try; I drew myself from my LinkedIn picture.

Me - second try

Technically it’s my second try, but I botched the inking on the first try. I used a Sharpie, which made the lines too thick, and one tiny shake of the hand gave me a huge black eye. I still have the drawing, it’s in my portfolio – but I’m not sharing that.

It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Or is that “it’s better than I thought it would be”? I’m my own worst critic, so I can’t tell. I’ll beat it up a little; feel free to comment below. Please try not to be too mean – or too complimentary, either.

  • I am having some difficulty translating my personal drawing style into the manga style. I may have overdone some lines….
  • Some things are uneven; nothing I didn’t expect.
  • I’m not copying anyone’s style. That’s intentional. I don’t want to draw “like” anyone; I want to draw like me. I don’t want to “be” anyone but me; isn’t that hard enough, to be yourself?

The more I look at it, the better I like it.

Remember, Dan, it’s your first go. Remember your first omelet, your first carpentry project, your first coding project (OK, that one was damned good), that ugly green cake, the first time you “fixed” a carburetor (set the engine on fire, remember that)?

And whether my audience thinks it’s good or bad, or I think it’s good or bad… it was fun. I’m going to do more.

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The learning process begins

The project leading me to create this WordPress account is an OEL (Original English Language) manga. Every writer sometimes has an idea that springs out fully-formed, or nearly so; that’s the case with this project: The Dragon Core, or TDC. I literally had 80% of it developed and visualized within three weeks (!); unfortunately I hadn’t planned on just how difficult it would be to pull off. A brief list of responsibilities for creating a serial comic (or, for that matter, any comic) follows. (You may already know this; if so I apologize. I’m displaying my own process, not teaching people how to create comics.)

  • Writer. Someone needs to write the story. For a comic, this is a script.
  • Artist falls into two categories.
    • Penciler. The pencil artist creates pencil sketches of the scenes; these are not the final drawings but the basic artwork of the panel.
    • Inker. The inker finalizes the penciler’s work in ink and cleans out the artist’s guidelines. A good inker can hide a shaky penciler’s art; a poor inker can ruin great art.
  • Letterer. The letterer creates captions, sound effects, and the content of speech balloons, deciding on fonts and placement in collaboration with the writer and artist.
  • Colorist. The colorist works with the writer and artist to determine colors and is responsible for “staying in the lines” (it’s more complicated than it sounds).

There are other aspects of comics that cross responsibilities, such as panel layout (the shape of a panel should enhance the mood, timing, and pacing of the story), gutter size (are panels separated by a lot, or do they bleed into each other), and other considerations.

I can already write reasonably well; the other tasks I am learning on the fly. Fortunately, I visualize well; I can see in my head what a good layout for a given page should be, and as I learn more about it I get better at it, which in turn helps my scripting.

What I am very unsure of is coloring. The pencil sketching concerns me a little too, but at one time I drew pretty well, so I’ll get over that soon enough. Inking is a bit more of a concern, but if I’m careful with my pencil sketches my inking should be all right too. On the other hand, my color sense is lacking. Not that I don’t have any, but I have no experience understanding how it works. To start, then, I’m doing black-and-white; I can shade well enough, and with all of the other things I need to learn I think I can leave coloring until last.

Now, on to the process.

I’ve got the first eleven chapters scripted, storyboarded, and ready to draw; those chapters total 157 pages and 778 panels. That might sound like a lot; it is, and is not. The more webcomics and manga I read, the more I’m realizing my initial guess at what is big and what isn’t has changed. I am currently reading a comic that’s run for 5 years and over 700 pages; it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Another, newer, comic has gone 4 years and 55 pages, introducing the two main characters and only hints regarding the deeper plot. I’m not going to criticize anyone’s work, for good or bad; those two examples are merely for comparison purposes. TDC’s first 75 pages have completely introduced four of the five main characters, introduced the main plot, and set up two of the three secondary plots. If anything, I may be rushing things – but that’s typical for me. Obviously, writing isn’t the problem.

Drawing is the problem – or I thought it would be. Not that I don’t think I can get half-way decent, but with the vision of the “10,000-hour rule” in my head, I often get discouraged. Then I saw this video, which explains the 10,000-hour rule applies only to expertise in an ultra-competitive field, and to move from knowing nothing to “pretty good” may take only 20 hours – that’s 45 minutes a day for a month. Wow, what an eye-opener – and a confidence builder, too. (Can you hear that sigh of relief? I knew you could.) Judging by some of the drawings I’ve seen across many manga and comics, I know I can do fairly well.

So the real problem is something that’s bothered me my entire life: lack of confidence. I know my story’s good because I’ve had people read it and tell me it’s good – and yet I still have my doubts, almost every day. This is a particularly pernicious problem. Nevertheless, I’ve never felt as strong a desire to do something, and finish it, as I have with this project. The story is there and fighting its way out; it’s almost an obsession to get this done. I think that’s what’s going to get me over the hump: comparing the misery of giving up versus the misery of worrying about something that may not be true. OK, so maybe that’s not a constructive way of looking at it, but whatever works, right?