Learning Sketchbook 8: Fanart

Snow didn’t happen, and it’s probably not going to happen, but in the mean time, I did a thing that I actually quite like.  I believe Rachael described it as “adorable” when she saw me working on it the other night, so I’ll take that as a positive sign.

Doing my first original fanart was a fun experience overall, although it involved a lot of questions and furtive googling of reference photos.  That’s getting ahead of myself though.  First, here’s the initial sketch that I did to plan out how to pose the figures.

It is entirely possible that it’s time I learned how to use my scanner instead of relying on the phone camera.

The lighting on this image isn’t great, but it does have the basic components of the figures sketched out for proportion.  I’ve gotten in the habit of just using my 4H pencil to do the roughs when I’m planning precisely because the lines are pretty hard to see in photos; it makes final cleanup a little easier, especially since most of this gets covered by the softer graphite when I start detailing.

It’s a little easier to see the contrast in this photo that I took after I finished doing most of the work on the left figure.  I’ve not practiced heads in profile as much as three quarter and forward facing views, so it took me forever to get the mouth to look the way I wanted it to.  I think I redid the nose as least once too, because I realized it was way out of proportion with the size of the head.  I’m quite pleased with the look of the hair though, and the shoes could look a lot worse.

Here’s the drawing after I finished most of the work on the right figure.  I’m not so happy with the boots, but everything else looks pretty good.  I realize there should be a more detailed design on the front of the tank top, but there’s only so much I’m willing to do at this point.  Getting two fully clothed figures in relatively good proportion is a challenge by itself.  Also, I’m inordinately proud of the hands; I did a lot of modeling with my own hands to get a sense of how each one should look, and I think they came out okay for the amount of detail I was able to do.  Not visible are the first time I did the right hand way too small so that it looked like a little baby hand on an adult sized arm.

And here’s the finished piece with a few final details put in like a little bit of shading on various parts of the clothes and a ground for them to stand on.  Things that I would want to think about more next time include being more conscious of light sources; there are parts where I added some shadows assuming an overhead light, but it’s not consistent across the whole composition.  I’d also want to think a little bit more about proportion, especially of the heads.  They look slightly oversized in comparison to the rest of the bodies, and I think that would have been easily avoided if I had just been a little more thoughtful when I was sketching out the initial figures (I have to remind myself that I’ve hardly practiced any techniques with body drawing beyond gesture, so some wonkiness is probably forgivable).  Despite that complaint, I am pleased with myself that I remembered Chloe is supposed to be significantly taller than Max and managed to add a decent crouch to her stance so they could more easily do the romantic forehead to forehead pose.

Also, because Rachael’s birthday was this week, I drew this.

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Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #40”

If you’re a fan of mainstream comics, there’s a strong probability that you’ve read Watchmen.  It’s the quintessential deconstruction of the superhero genre packed into a super structuralist comic form.  One thing about Watchmen that has stuck with me all these years is the understanding that while Moore foregrounds the masked adventurers in his story, he’s far more concerned with the way they impact the lives of the ordinary people who briefly encounter them.  The penultimate issue of Watchmen focuses on the final moments of a collection of disparate characters as they fall victim to the larger-than-life plans of Adrian Veidt.  Where Veidt, one of the superheroic elite, is reveling in his own self absorbed special specialness, ordinary people are facing the consequences of their brushes with masked adventurers.  Kieron Gillen, surprising absolutely no one, takes tons of inspiration from Alan Moore’s work in general and Watchmen in particular all the time, and the fortieth issue of The Wicked + The Divine feels in so many ways like Gillen’s answer to Moore’s New York street corner.

In a further nod to how he internalizes parts of Persephone’s identity, Tom is colored in neon pinks and cool green-blues that evoke Persephone’s power set. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

Beginning with the cover, this issue de-centers the intrigues of the Pantheon in favor of a class of people who have generally been relegated to background status for most of the series: the fans.  We’re continuing with the traditional front facing head portrait, but the subject here isn’t a god at all; it’s Tom, a fan whose story centers the issue.  Tom’s attire is extremely mundane in comparison to the high fashion that the gods typically wear; he sports a plain crew neck t-shirt with no extra accessories.  On his face he’s painted the markings that we’ve come to associate with Laura as Persephone: the red triangle covering and extending from the right eye with the three dots located both below the eye and above the eyebrow.  It’s a distinct reminder that in the last issue Laura gave up her divinity and all the trappings of that identity.  The thing that immediately springs to my mind when I see Tom in this particular makeup is the implication that Persephone has ceased to be an identity belonging just to Laura, and now it’s diffused itself among the fandom (this reading gets support in the issue when Tom engages in some self reflection about how he identifies with Persephone’s aspect as the Destroyer).  For all the ugly parts of the Pantheon’s revels, they still serve as a source of inspiration for their followers.

Our issue’s hero and his slightly obnoxious bestie. That Nathan holds the envelope directly in front of Tom’s face on camera says so much about his awareness of space. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The central premise of the issue is that Baal, in a final attempt to kill the Great Darkness once and for all (an idea that Minerva privately finds laughable), plans to kill an entire stadium full of fans (all over 18, he insists because he’s done killing children, as if he isn’t just a child himself trying to muddle through this mess) at his last performance.  The story of this event is told through archival footage pulled from various sources, including Tom and his friend Nathan’s cell phone videos of their experiences leading up to the concert.  Mixed in with the video of our protagonist for the issue are things like security camera feeds showing Baal, Minerva, and Woden plotting out the show and news interviews with fans who have come to see the last Baal performance, all of which previously featured as incidental characters who narrowly survived encounters with the gods.  The issue’s shot through with this sense of foreboding as everyone recounts their brushes with divinity, many of which involved nearly dying (also in the mix is a middle-aged Asian woman who’s strongly implied to be David Blake’s ex-wife, because even characters who’ve only been mentioned can’t escape this particular vortex).  Everyone’s excited to be present to witness the beginning of the end of the 2013 Pantheon, and meanwhile back on the first page there’s a caption describing all of this as “the events of the O2 disaster.”

You can see how the whole setup is extremely reminiscent of the street corner scene in Watchmen.  We have our minor characters with their mundane lives having a moment in the spotlight of the story, experiencing some epiphanies about how they want to change going forward (Tom, for his part, goes through a lot of personal growth on his buddy’s camera that’s meant to mirror the emotional journey Laura’s gone through in the last arc) as the issue careens on towards the inevitable catastrophe.  In the run-up to the issue’s climax, Gillen and McKelvie do another layout trick with a couple pages that break the typical panel reading sequence in ways that clearly caused some frustrations for the guided view on Comixology.  Images of the fans both before and during the performance (when they’re all blissed out on Baal’s performance amplified by Woden’s mimicry of Dionysus’s hive mind powers) are interspersed with shots of the arena and Baal’s retreat from the show in a pattern that feels like a light remix on the 1-2-3-4 sequences of issue #8 and the Imperial Phase montage in issue #27 that gives the whole scene a chaotic, discordant feel.  Things are happening, and there’s sort of a sequence to them, but it’s meant to be much more of a sensory experience of the event that culminates with the explosion of the arena.

Baal 101s utilitarian ethics and fragile masculinity in his video diaries. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

While Tom is the focal point of the issue, there’s also a significant amount of space given to Baal to explore how he has to psych himself up to do the thing.  We’ve known for a few issues now that Baal is a child murderer because he believes it’s the only thing that’s been keeping the Great Darkness at bay.  Yes, he’s morally compromised in a way that’s hard to redeem, but we understand that Baal’s dealing with some serious self loathing on top of the child sacrifice mixed up with total conviction that he has no other options for protecting the world.  His final performance is an attempt to trade one kind of atrocity for another in some weird utilitarian bid to feel like he’s done right (Baal explicitly justifies his decision in terms of pure numbers; twenty thousand lives are far fewer than eight billion).  Paired with appeals to his deceased father (the Great Darkness’s first victim) and the need to be “man enough,” it’s clear that the dispassionate part of Baal’s reasoning is mostly just a cover for his need to feel secure in his masculinity.  Baal is the most contradictory god on this point; he exudes confidence rooted in masculinity as part of his public image with nearly perfect fidelity.  It’s unsurprising that his deepest insecurities come from his failures as a protector of his family and the fact that his most intimate romantic relationship was with another man.  Baal’s unease with his sexuality is totally tied up in his overcompensatory gender performance (contrast all this with the plot between Tom, who is openly bisexual, and his friend Julie, whose romantic rejection of him he uses as an opportunity for growth and strengthening of their friendship with an explicit rejection of the toxic masculinity that Baal would be far more tempted to embrace).

Tom is also an amateur Pantheon analyst. He’s probably better at it than I am. Also, check out the Persephone color scheme on his blanket. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

One small side detail in the issue that’s sure to become important in the future is Minerva addressing someone off panel about her plans to create a new plague (likely as a response to the ever-growing complexity of the world, much like when she created the Black Plague).  The person being addressed is a bit of a mystery; on my first reading I thought it might be Jon Blake, but that doesn’t make sense because he’s securely in Woden’s possession at this point, and neither Woden nor Baal are aware of Minerva’s true identity (so revealing anything about herself to Jon would be counterproductive).  My speculation at this point is that she’s actually addressing the 1831 Woden’s creature whom Ananke apparently captured in 1923 when that Pantheon’s Woden mistook it for the zeitgeist.  That’s a dangling thread from the historic specials that I expect to come back some time very soon, and I will be extremely disappointed if it doesn’t because I’ve been waiting for resolution on the Frankenstein issue for over a year now (also, I just remembered that Percy Shelley wrote “Ozymandias” and the wheels are spinning on further connections that Gillen’s built into this series; I am a nerd).

In the mean time, Gillen has given us a rare happy ending with this issue.  The O2 arena does get blown up, and the thing that Baal calls the Great Darkness appears to be destroyed along with it, but the crowd emerges before the explosion after Laura appears and leads them to safety with her not-quite-god powers.  Unlike Moore, who chooses to kill off his mundane characters to underscore the collateral damage that his megalomaniacal masked adventurers inflict as a side effect of their fully enacted power fantasies, Gillen actually lets his background characters live long enough to enjoy the ways they’ve been changed by the gods.  There are still five issues left after this one, but for the moment we can rest on an okay ending.

This is the bit where Malcolm Long runs off to help stop a fight. Like, straight up, this is that moment recapitulated but with a lot less explicit violence and marital strife. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Modern Stone Age Family

So the snow that we anticipated on Friday didn’t happen in any significant way in our neighborhood, which means that it’s back to work today after a normal length weekend.  There’s definitely a bit of disappointment over this, but it is what it is, I suppose.

Over the short weekend, I consoled myself about the good weather with a bit of comics reading (what else would I do?).  One of the books that I picked up and read was the first volume of DC’s Hanna-Barbera Universe book The Flintstones by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh.  When this series first started in 2016, I recall some general skepticism that anything interesting might be done with this new comics line; Hanna-Barbera characters are a weirdly retro set of intellectual properties that have resisted updating from their ’60s roots.  Out of all the properties in the set, Scooby-Doo is probably the one that’s the most enduring, and even that is a mixed bag (I’m not much of a Scooby fan myself, but I’ve seen my share of series reboots and updates over the years, and they’re just never that interesting or do much to play around with the teen stoner tropes of the original), so the idea of taking The Flintstones and presenting it as a comic seemed questionable at the time.  The jokes are all based on the premise of “what if modern day suburbia existed in the stone age?” which just doesn’t seem like it can stretch very far.  I mean, I remember the Flintstones live action movie from the ’90s, and there wasn’t a whole lot there beyond the rock puns and a story about embezzlement.

One touching subplot involves the ongoing friendship between Bowling Ball and Vacuum Cleaner. (Artwork by Steve Pugh, colors by Chris Chuckry, letters by Dave Sharpe)

Despite this somewhat inauspicious history, the first volume of The Flintstones adds some surprising depth to the humor along with a fair bit of pathos.  I didn’t imagine that I would ever find Fred Flintstone, that cartoon caricature of Ralph Kramden, to be a sympathetic and interesting protagonist, but Russell repurposes some aspects of Fred’s life to introduce some interesting texture to the guy.  Where the social club that he and Barney Rubble belong to was just a typical parody of groups like the Elks or the Masons in the show, in the comic it’s closer in tone to a Veterans’ Association; the members all fought in the Paleolithic War and engage in social functions as a way of coping with their experiences.  The iconic “Yabba dabba doo!” is no longer something that Fred says because it’s memorable; it’s a nonsense phrase that the therapist who runs the veterans’ support group has taught his patients to say as a way of coping with their feelings of alienation from the rapidly changing world around them.  The rest of the main cast have similarly fleshed out interests and experiences that give them a lot more dimension than sitcom archetypes.

For all the dark bits embedded in the characters’ backgrounds now, the tone of the series remains relentlessly sardonic.  In order to give the humor more substance than simple puns and sight gags (though there are still plenty of those), the series has a satiric edge to it; in each issue the Flintstones and the Rubbles encounter some foible of modern day American society which invariably bewilders the characters as they try to make sense of this newly established part of “civilization” being superimposed on their lives.  It’s all absurd on its face, as the institutions that Russell and Pugh skewer have developed over millennia of human civilization as part of a highly interconnected social system, but the thought experiment is amusing enough.  Keeping the satire to manageable levels of cynicism is the core assumption that Fred and his family are just trying to do their best with what they know; the frequent reminders that there’s a genuine affection for his friends and family motivating Fred’s actions (and the fact that he’s more of an impartial observer to the madness than an active participant most of the time) helps keep what might otherwise be a depressing slog through the worst parts of modern life into something fun, breezy, and only a little demented.

The mayor talks a lot of sense. (Artwork by Steve Pugh, colors by Chris Chuckry, letters by Dave Sharpe)

Helping to tie all the zaniness together is Pugh’s art, which walks the fine line between cartoonish when he has to draw the stranger parts of Bedrock and realistic in his depictions of the town’s citizens.  Being a series about people living in the stone age, Pugh pays a lot of attention to making sure Fred and Barney’s physiques reflect the physically demanding lives that they lead; all the cavemen are extremely beefy in a way that feels much more true to dudes who spend all day breaking rocks than the typical superhero body.  This trend, unfortunately, doesn’t extend to Pugh’s female characters who tend to have a rather uniform, ’50s housewife look to them despite the fact that it’s established within the comic’s continuity that Bedrock’s social project is barely more than a decade old with everyone being relatively new to the modern conveniences that make their lives less physically demanding.  Of course, there is a demand with an established group of characters from a visual medium maintain recognizable silhouettes, and it’s undeniable that Fred and Barney remain massive oblongs next to Wilma and Betty’s hourglass figures in Pugh’s style.

If you’d like to do some light reading that makes fun of the mess that is our present day with a whiff of nostalgia for an iconic product from the middle of the last century, then you can do a lot worse than to pick up The Flintstones.  I’m definitely in to keep reading the series for as long as it continues after this first one.

Learning Sketchbook 7: Requests

What happens when you ask your friends to suggest things to draw?  You get a bunch of suggestions for things you haven’t practiced, and so it gets weird.  Here’s the list of things that were suggested last night:

  • Comics fanart
  • A horse
  • A hand
  • A horse with hands in place of hooves
  • A bicycle from memory

Sadly, I did not get to do any fanart; it was late and I had to also do things like make dinner and order groceries in advance of a potential snowed in weekend.  I did get to try some of the other stuff, so let’s all enjoy these doodles.

First, the horse.

I mean, it’s not photorealistic, but it’s definitely recognizable as a horse.

Next, the horse with hands in place of hooves.

Let us never speak of this again.

Next, a bicycle.

There are some things that you decide you really want to do right, and then there’s this.

Finally, because I knew there was only one place where all these ideas could go by the time the night was over, I present you with this:

Surprising, but inevitable.

Oh, and just for fun, here’s a hand; may it haunt your dreams.

Happy Friday!

Reading “1: The Party”

Whenever I’m lucky enough to be able to discuss comics in person with anyone and the topic turns towards my particular tastes, I invariably make the joke that I seem to be drawn to the work of pasty white English guys.  If you go back through the archives of this blog, you’ll find that outside of the Ms. Marvel read through (which I’m very tempted to return to at some point), all of my deep dives on comics have revolved around series by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and, most recently, Kieron Gillen.  It’s comical how little diversity there is on my shelf.  And despite being fully aware of this foible, I’m sitting here pondering how to jump into an ongoing reading and analysis of Gillen’s latest passion project, Die.

I think what I’ve found about Gillen’s work that resonates with me is that he is a writer who’s fascinated with the experience of aging and contemplation of mortality while reveling in the ways that pop culture expresses the whole range of human experience.  There seems to be just a fine balance between the giddy mania of signifying his cultural literacy with tossed off references and allusions and the deeper pathos of someone who can never quite shake the existential dread hangs on the edge of sentience.

That is to say, if I had different fashion sense, I would probably be comfortable with the goths.

Joking aside, I find that Gillen’s meditations on what it’s like to move through different stages of life, particularly the bewilderment of finding yourself growing older and less relevant to the things you love are pretty poignant stuff.  Phonogram, which I didn’t begin reading until 2017 (when I turned 32), deals so strongly with the sense that your youth has passed when you reach your thirties.  Gillen has been upfront about how much he draws from personal experience in his writing, and what he describes in the lives of David Kohl and Emily Aster feels accurate to a lot of the feelings that I’ve periodically felt over the last few years (especially as someone in a job where I’m forever adjacent to teen culture while simultaneously growing further and further removed from it).  If Die is meant to be about Gillen’s feelings going into his 40s the way that Phonogram was about entering his 30s, then I’m totally down with that.

Also scattered around the edges are the other four party members along with as they’re all being pulled out of London below into the game world above. (Cover by Stephanie Hans, design by Rian Hughes; Image credit: Comic Vine)

Let’s talk about the cover of issue #1.  For Die, Gillen is teaming up with Stephanie Hans, the artist who did the Amaterasu in Hiroshima issue and the 1823 special in The Wicked + The Divine.  Hans’s style is painterly, with an emphasis on color and texture over McKelvie’s relentlessly clean line work.  Everything in a given panel by Hans feels like it’s viewed through a rain-streaked window; it’s all soft edges and diffuse but intense color.  In the cover for issue #1 she spotlights the series’s chief protagonist, Dominic Ash.  Part of the conceit of Die is that when the players are pulled into the game world they become their characters; Ash’s character is a woman in a flowing black dress with a scalloped collar that resembles feathers (almost reminiscent of the Morrigan) whose visual cue for the use of her powers is a red flare around her left eye and a spot on her chest.  We’re far from the pop iconography of McKelvie and Wilson’s WicDiv covers here; the reds of the logo and the deep blacks of Ash’s dress signal that we’re dealing with something much darker.  It makes sense; Die is marketed as a horror comic, and given what Gillen can create when he’s mixing in a fair bit of bubblegum, this cover’s a strong indicator of what’s inside.

In typical Kieron Gillen fashion, the first issue name drops a variety of influences on what we’re about to read; I only knew Watchmen, although the Wikipedia pages on Thomas Covenant and Gormenghast were very enlightening. Let’s just say that Sol is a very pretentious sixteen-year-old. (Artwork by Stephanie Hans, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Being the first issue in the series, there’s some basic setup with the premise that has to happen.  The focus for most of this issue is what happened to our core cast when they were children and the fallout from that incident in the real world.  Besides our narrator Dominic, we also have his younger sister Angela, Dominic’s friend Mike who has been dealing with the death of his mother, Chuck who clearly doesn’t take anything too seriously, Irene who is a relatively new addition to the group because she has just begun dating Dominic’s best friend Solomon.  On the night of Dominic and Sol’s sixteenth birthday (they share a birthday, which I’m sure will have absolutely no bearing on the story or how the two characters develop in relation to one another), this group gathers at Sol’s house to play a tabletop RPG that Sol has designed specifically for Dominic.  Because these things have to end in horrible trauma, it turns out that whatever Sol’s tapped into is far more potent than just some quality pen and paper homebrew; the group disappears into the game world and isn’t seen again until two years later, minus Sol.

These poor kids. (Artwork by Stephanie Hans, letters by Clayton Cowles)

For reasons that get explained in the course of the issue, when the group returns to the real world, they’re unable to discuss what happened to them in the two years they’ve been missing.  Even with the fantastical explanation for the silence, the larger implication that the trauma everyone suffered is just too difficult to discuss hangs over everything.  Because Dominic is our point of view character, we get the best sense from him of how the disappearance has impacted his life.  Twenty-five years later he’s still coping with the trauma of what happened, so much so that he doesn’t celebrate his own birthday anymore and has fallen out of touch with most of the group.  There are glimpses of how everyone else has learned to cope with their experience as well (mostly in maladaptive ways, although Chuck has somehow leveraged his time in a fantasy world to build a successful career as a pulp fantasy novelist), but the focus remains on Dominic; on his forty-second birthday he meets up with Angela (who is clearly not doing so great herself) for drinks, and he receives the d20 that Sol used in the game.  While it would make sense to destroy the thing and be done with it (and we get treated to an exceptionally charged sequence where Dominic considers doing just that), he decides that it’s better if everyone has a say about what they do with the die.

In addition to being an excellent example of the way Hans uses color to develop atmosphere, it’s also a pretty heartbreaking moment for Dominic; he clearly wants to destroy the die, but he doesn’t feel like it’s his place to make a unilateral decision like that. (Artwork by Stephanie Hans)

Naturally, things don’t go well with this gathering.

Before too long, our group of reluctant adventurers find themselves trapped back in the game world in the bodies of their characters.  For now we get only a hint of what they might be capable of (it is a fantasy comic, and there have to be some pretty cool visuals soon to come, right?) and an initial revelation about what happened to Sol in the game world.  The final image of the issue is suitably disturbing and suggests that something terrible is in the cards.

Learning Sketchbook 6: Gesture

So after the really rough head drawings that I showed off last time, I dithered around with a few more heads  (and some noses, but we’ll not speak of those) that I’m still not super happy with before I decided to change things up a little bit.  I’ve been thinking about the way that I approach detailing heads, and I realize that my sensibilities for features and shading are derived largely from animation and comics because those are the visual media that I consume most frequently.  I’m used to seeing pictures where lines are prominently used to suggest features where a value change would be more appropriate in a piece that’s aiming for stronger realism.  Because I’m so far sticking to pencils as my medium (maybe someday I’ll play around with digital inking and coloring, but I think that’s still a long ways off), there are a lot of mistakes that I’m making as part of learning what is and isn’t possible with some graphite and an eraser.

All this reflection on the heads I’ve done in the last month led me to try a few thumbnails with significantly simplified features; they turned out okay, although I did learn some things about the impact having a larger pencil-to-work-area ratio has on your ability to do detailing.  I tried to pull back from being so obsessive about shading, and I did a decent picture of a pirate.

You can tell he’s a pirate because he has an Errol Flynn mustache, a headband, and what passes for a smirk.  Also, I’m pretty sure the whole thing is my poorly recalled impression of Seahawk from the new She-Ra series (the realization that you’ve accidentally drawn a version of a character design you saw somewhere else is a whole thing that I’m learning to just take in stride as a developing artist).  Maybe the headband is a little closer to a bandage; the important thing is that it wraps around his noggin’.

What… what is that?

From that weird detour, I decided to take a shot at drawing full bodies.  I figured the pirate was as good as any other character to work with, so I did another thumbnail of his head then sketched out a body with a nice blouse and swashbuckler boots.  The effect was… not good.  There’s absolutely no dynamism to the pose (if you can call it a pose); the limbs just sort of hang there; it’s just about the saddest pirate you’ve ever seen (at least he doesn’t look like Seahawk anymore?).  I decided I needed to get some guidance on this whole drawing bodies thing, and so I turned to the internet for help.  As you might expect, there is a lot to drawing bodies from volume to anatomy to contour to other stuff I probably haven’t even heard about yet.  What I settled on to practice first was gesture: I’d like for the characters I draw to look like they’re doing more than just standing there like brains inside defective meat puppets, so I figured that practicing the way you convey movement and weight in a pose would be a good place to start.

For the rest of the page, I did some drawings of figures in imagined poses with the goal of trying to indicate motion and position of the limbs.  Just looking at these, I can tell I imagined them because they’re a lot more loose than what comes next.  A common way of practicing gesture is to look at reference photos and do timed drawings of the figures.  The idea is that under time constraints you have to simplify your lines down to just the essentials that convey the gesture, and then if you have time after that then you can work on things like contour and volume.

Here’s a page of my first attempts at timed gesture drawings.  I think these were all two minute drawings, although I don’t exactly remember (they were pulled from some instructional videos that I’ve been using for tutorials).  I think the figures are pretty good, but one thing that I’ve been learning about the last couple days is how with gesture part of the point of the practice is to learn to use an economy of lines.  Ever since I was young I’ve been in the habit of doing short strokes when I’m sketching because they give me greater control over my shapes at the expense of having a relatively rough look to the image.  This is very apparent in the figures above where you can see me doing multiple attempts at getting the shape of various limbs right.

In the set of gesture drawings that I most recently did (these were definitely all two minutes apiece; some of the more complex poses are unfinished because the timer ran out on them from the website where I’ve begun pulling reference photos).  Setting aside the issue with my scratchy lines, I’ve also noticed that I still have a habit of trying to draw contour instead of gesture when I’m looking at reference.  I typically do a very simplified skeleton of the figure to help me visualize the proportions, but I’m not sure how well I’m capturing the essence of the pose versus just copying what I’m seeing in the image.  It’s a weird thing to have doubts about the mental process I’m going through while I’m drawing something; that’s probably a neurotic thing to say though.

Life is Strange 2: Log 2

The second episode of Life is Strange 2 came out last week, and over the weekend Rachael and I played through it (coming off of The Council, we were craving another strong narrative game even though there are some pretty significant differences between the design philosophies of the two).  The travails of Sean and Daniel continue, now a full month after they first ran away from the incident.  They’re living in an abandoned cabin in the Willamette Forest in Oregon, but Daniel is growing ill, and it’s obvious to Sean that he needs to take his brother somewhere that he can get better care.

Spoilers for Life is Strange 2 follow.

After Daniel finally learned the truth about his father’s death at the end of the last episode, his undeveloped telekinetic powers exploded again, wrecking the hotel room where he and Sean were staying.  In the intervening month, Sean has begun training Daniel in that vague way that mentor figures do in stories about people with superpowers, and when we catch up with the brothers Daniel’s a much more accomplished telekinetic, although he still has some limitations.  The practicing that Daniel has done now offers the player opportunities to have Sean ask Daniel to do things telekinetically, which plays into a few key decision points later in the episode.  In the woods where there are no other witnesses, Daniel is able to be relatively free with his abilities, but the majority of the episode takes place in the small town of Beaver Creek, the setting of the free prequel game that Dontnod produced to hype Life is Strange 2The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.

Players of that game will remember Claire, the concerned next door neighbor who checks on Chris after his father spends a Saturday getting drunk and watching basketball instead of taking his son to buy a Christmas tree like he had promised.  Claire and her husband Stephen are Sean and Daniel’s maternal grandparents, and the nearest safe location Sean knows to go to in order to get help with Daniel’s illness.  This decision to seek out help from adults that Sean hasn’t seen in many years and whom Daniel has apparently never met is a difficult one, but it’s the only option to make sure the cough that Daniel has developed doesn’t turn into a much more serious illness.  The cause for concern stems from the fact that after Sean and Daniel’s mother left their family, Esteban chose not to maintain ties with her parents.  It comes out in the course of the episode that this decision was likely because of multiple differences of opinion between Esteban and Claire; one can imagine the strain that must have existed between them with Esteban’s relaxed attitude towards parenting the boys versus Claire’s obvious need to feel in control of every aspect of her life.  Compound that tension with the political reality that Claire and Stephen, who read as typical conservative white Christians, are most likely also part of the eighty-one percent.  The episode leaves Sean’s access to news about national events ambiguous (at least in my playthrough he never explicitly saw anything about the election), but the tension he encounters for himself with Claire leans on that uncomfortable dynamic.  Even if you want to play it like Sean doesn’t connect Claire and Stephen’s politics with their initial treatment of him and Daniel or Claire’s opinions about Esteban, the player is aware of these larger dynamics.  I found myself refusing to trust them with Daniel’s secret until the point of legitimate emergency, and that was largely because of my reading of them as frightened white folks living in a small rural town.  The ugliness of the convenience store owner in the first episode left me assuming the worst about these people even in the context of them having a familial connection with Sean and Daniel (the episode’s subtext about Karen growing up in a repressive religious household and wanting to run away likely didn’t help matters either).

Issues with Claire and Stephen aside, I approached this episode with a few priorities in mind for how I wanted Sean to act.  After the first episode made it clear that in addition to the choices the player makes as Sean there are secondary outcomes that are determined by how Daniel is influenced (I still remember that bit where he stole a dashboard toy from Brody because he saw Sean steal the camping gear from the bigot), I had to consider what values I wanted to emphasize to Daniel.  I decided to prioritize safety, and encouraged Daniel not to use his power flippantly, although I tried to let him know that it was okay to use in emergency situations.  That didn’t go the way I expected.  I also didn’t give Daniel grief over swearing because there are better ways to approach conversations about tone and word choice than putting a blanket ban on impolite words.  As you might imagine, Claire was not pleased with this approach.  For Sean, I wanted to continue the trend of having him doing his best to follow the rules as long as there were no extenuating circumstances that would justify breaking them.  It worked well enough until the episode’s climax where it becomes clear that without modeling a little bit of rebellious behavior, Daniel isn’t able to act decisively when it really matters.  That was a curve ball in the plotting that’s going to leave me really scratching my head about decisions in the future; it’s always a challenge to try to predict the unforeseen consequences of actions in narrative games, but having to consider how the character with the actual powers will react based on your example makes the whole thing even more complicated.  It’s an interesting mechanical way to get the player thinking about the struggles that Sean has to be experiencing as Daniel’s de facto parent while he’s still managing his own experiences.  Rachael pointed out that one of the nice little grace notes on Sean’s story is a moment at the episode’s beginning when, while he’s having a private smoke outside, he tries to telekinetically move a nearby rock.  Daniel gets to be a kid living the superhero fantasy while Sean is forced to be the grownup.