Just a couple of pieces done recently, mostly for more brush practice. Brushes are awesome. I can’t believe I made it 30 years without learning that. The first image is Mr. Flay and Gormenghast Mountain from ‘Titus Groan’ by Mervyn Peake. The second is, as you may well guess, a bunch of aliens. Also, I have added a few Jam Panels from this month’s Cartoonist Conspiracy Jam in Minneapolis, which was very fun. You should come!
For the last year I’ve been, periodically, telling my kids bedtime stories loosely based on King Kong. I love pretty much every version of that movie, and it affords a wealth of ideas for cliffhanger moments; a whole island full of whatever crazy monster and dinosaur you can think of. My kids call them “Skull Island stories”, and at first they followed the original Kong storyline pretty well, albeit with names changed and far fewer gruesome deaths. But after months of the fearless ship and film crews searching for Kong’s lair where the actress is stuck alternately fighting and bonding with the gorilla, it started getting a little stale.
There were no children in the original King Kong story, so I though it’d be fun to introduce a little tribal girl named Kita from the walled island city. She knows about the island and how dangerous it is, but after a mishap involving her doll, she gets stuck outside the city wall and has to get back in somehow. And on Skull Island, nothing’s ever easy.
I’ve been meaning to hone my brushwork, so I finally drew a picture from our stories. Here’s Kita and her doll getting swept out to sea in the throes of a suprised python at the base of the city wall. (Just before this, she was riding a giant ant through the jungle, which I think I’ll draw next.)
In other news, I have been absolutely LOVING the novel ‘Titus Groan’, the first of the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake. The story is about a handful of characters living their day-to-day lives within the massive, sprawling (like, city-sized) castle of Gormenghast. I had first heard about this series in a book called, appropriately enough, ‘Castles’ illustrated by one of my art heroes, Alan Lee. ‘Castles’ is a kind of visual encycopedia of famous castles from world fiction and mythology, and Gormenghast caught my attention due to its description of castle-as-world instead of a simple building within a larger story. But Castles didn’t prepare me for the oppressively sumptuous writing this book contains. Peake is a wordcrafter. He is a sentence-sculptor; a paragraph alchemist. He wields English like a sensual brush dripping with dark, brooding intensity. There are no words to describe his words.
The book begins as playful, even cartoonish, and then begins to twist and wrap itself around itself; simple caricatures of characters so idiotic in their exaggerated weirdness gradually solidifying into intensely, horribly fleshed-out individual personalities much deeper than you are prepared to be faced with. And the description! The metaphors and similes, the alliterations and onomatopoeia… It’s like drinking a book made out of dark, spooky, ancient wine made from fruit you’ve never heard of before because it’s from a black hole. It is a gothic, somber beauty, made even more impressive after seeing Peakes original sketches of his characters. For the love of all that’s literary, go look at them, man! He was a writer-artist, of a sort not seen very often at all. And certainly not in 1946! It’s like e. e. cummings and H. P. Lovecraft went to William Burroughs’ opium den together and came out with a book-baby, delivered by Dr. Seuss. And then it’s… not like that at all.
Anyway, it’s (insert hugely understated superlative here).
After months of trudging through the literal and metaphorical polar snowdrifts of tundra-ized Minnesota, surviving on naught but boxelder bug corpses and the occasional “natural lemon sno-cone”, I have returned to blogdom: icicled beard steaming as I thaw upon your welcome mat, encrusted hat in hand and really ready for cocoa. In short, it’s been really snowy and I haven’t posted anything for too long.
But I stir from my electronic lethargy to sing a song of praise for a computer program that has given me some joy. I need to share with Internetland my love for the open-source digital drawing program Alchemy! I’m going to try to describe it, but it really needs to be toyed with to be appreciated. Instead of being straight-up drawing, painting or photo-editing software, Alchemy (created by really cleverly artistic people) is more of an output randomizer, taking your original drawing movements (from, say, mouse or wacom tablet) and assigning a BUNCH of different randomization options to make unexpected things happen, like amplifying even the tiniest pen jiggles to make a crazy, unpredictable shape or making your pen tip drag around repeated, gravity-affected ribbons. You can mirror it down the middle for symmetry and choose different fill styles. You can even make your stroke size and shape vary with ambient sound from your PC’s microphone!
But my favorite feature is the ability draw with “pull shapes”, or stamps randomly pulled from a user-controlled library of clip-art, like mechanical shapes or skeletal structures (you can import your own libraries to use instead of the default ones, too). What that amounts to is freeform designs that are meant to suggest form and structure that you yourself would have never come up with. It’s an idea generator! Here’s an example:
Yay! A big weird bug (reminiscent of Motherbrain from Super Metroid…)!!! Awesome, huh? My brain would have never thunk up such a configuration of anatomical weirdness. Here’s a quick example of the effect which amplifies your pen strokes wackily:
I basically just wiggled the pen a little in the center and it blossomed out into crazy sine waves, leaving me with the lovely blue dragon-y guy, sans that wierd little antenna on top. Finally, here are a bunch of mirrored pull-shape examples for you to play Psychoanalyst with. (If this helps you get through some tough emotional issues, let me know.) Make sure you check out the Alchemy homepage (and the forums, too) to see galleries of other peoples’ stuff, ’cause people are doing some CRAZY AWESOME junk with it.
If you ask my wife if I like the original “Tron” movie, she’ll look up into the air for a second, take a deep breath, then gaze briefly at her wedding ring and reply, “…Yep.” Because, you see, I reeeeeeealy like the original Tron movie. She, like most other folk, thinks it’s pretty dang boring. I will readily admit that yes, it IS boring. But then you need to get ready to hear my long list of the things that make it SWEET. But I ain’t talking ’bout the original in this here post, I’m talkin’ ’bout this newfangled Tron sequel hoo-haw.
And the only reason I’m bothering to discuss it here in blogdom is because Tron played a very key role in developing my early taste for the fantastic, the technological, and the glow-y. I have been awaiting this sequel for years. When cinemaphiles’ dreams come true and people actually do put a lot of effort into continuing long-forgotten-but-magically-unique movies, I sweat a little, both in giddy optimism and pessimistic apprehension. Man, you don’t even wanna know how I feel regarding the Dark Crystal sequel. Waiting for it makes my head want to explode.
Okay– so Tron: Legacy. I’m gonna throw out the pros and cons: the things that either fired up or doused my excitement about it. Like ta hea-hea go:
- -Absolutely beautiful CG animation. A lot of the vehicle scenes were like visual poetry. I could have happily sat through two hours of the cycles leaping and crashing and the planes twisting and trailing, especially if all their drivers were constantly shattering into little neon ice cubes. Also, they managed to get a great density into the CG sets and objects; the Recognisers felt clunky and heavy.
- – I loved the decision to clone 80’s Jeff Bridges. It doesn’t matter how well they pulled it off; it was a cool plot element and tech gimmic. I hadn’t watched many previews (on purpose), so I had no CLU (tee hee) he’d be the main antagonist. I combatted the urge to wince at the facial animations by deciding that he was only CLU, not a real person, and hence any roboticness actually made sense.
- – The female lead wasn’t half-naked, and was light on the cup size. I cringed a little when she first showed up and started giggling (her, not me), but she worked out. She’s no Carrie Ann Moss, but what can you expect from Disney?
- – Jeff Bridges was in it. Can you imagine what it would’ve been like without him? A heckuva lot less Jeff-Bridges-y, that’s what. “You’re messin’ with my Zen thing, man!”
- – They threw in a lot of original-Tron easter eggs, especially in the ‘Flynn’s arcade’ scenes. Even the title is a reference to something from the Tron 2.0 video game. I nerd-grinned a lot.
- Daft Punk. In fact, this is like Pro #1. Man, their music MADE this movie. As my friend Cody succinctly said, it was like the helix that the rest of the movie’s DNA hung on. With different music, the entire experience would have been much, much less powerful. On the flipside, the music alone doesn’t have the power it did in the film. It matched the visuals better than anything I’ve seen in a long time. Soooooooo good. (Be careful listening to it in the car. It makes you want to drive really fast and disintegrate people with your weaving laser-trail.)
Um… I think that’s it. Now for the (pedantic)…
- Okay, so this is the future of ComputerLand, right? It’s seen the rise of the Internet and all the fantastic chaos therewithfore. Everything’s a zillion times more advanced and complex, right? So why do the Recognisers (the big pi-shaped ships) need COMBUSTION-DRIVEN PROPULSION??? Why don’t the light-cycles take 90-degree turns at a million miles an hour anymore? Why do the planes seem like they need to conform to air dynamics? Why do they fire bullets that shatter small pieces of things instead of de-rezzing them outright like a little data disc would? Basically, why are there real-world physics? The answer to all of the above is: because it looks cool. Meh. You’re in a freakin’ computer, guys. Do something weird.
- On that note, I was really disappointed with just how unoriginal the whole design of ComputerLand was. It had dumptruckfulls of pretty sparkliness, but it was VERY dry in the uniqueness department. In fact, if everything was in daylight, it’d just be Mass Effect:
- On the same note, the original’s nerdily iconic circuitry-suits from the original devolved into glow-strip motocross outfits! Geez you guys! For the sake of funky-design-lovin’ folk all over the world, I want to give much-deserved screen space to the suit upgrade I much prefer– the models from the video game ‘Tron 2.0’. Some shots for comparison:
- I was pretty annoyed that the first things you see in Computerland (after young Flynn gets nabbed by a Recogniser) are robotic Go-go dancers who cut our protagonist’s clothes off and fondle him into some slick armor. CLU is going for a perfected Computerland environment, right? CLU wasn’t a hedonistic Genghis Khan, he was just super committed to digital perfection. The supermodel intro just didn’t make any sense. Like the CG, they were just to look good. Bleh. To wax pedantic about the original again, I always appreciated the general lustlessness of the characters which seemed to convey a digital DNA. Plus, scenes like that make my wife unable to enjoy otherwise fun flicks, and make me hesitant to want to show it to my daughter. C’mon, Disney! Amp up your cool, smart, normal-girl role-modeling already! Oh, sorry. I guess you’d make less money.
- Michael Sheen. Yeesh. Who the heck made that character decision? I love the actor, but gee willikers, man.
- The “ISO”s are all dead. The best possible plot development disappears as soon as it’s introduced. I would have loved a big epic movie about someone OTHER than Prettyboy McDopeypants doing something, and here you have a race of potential ROCKSTARS! Self-evolved, fully sentient yet innocent programs on the brink of genocide by CLU… It could have been a digital fem-strong Braveheart, with a Neo-like dad-and-son Flynn duo on the frontlines! But no, instead we get a Bambi-eyed hottie for Mr. McDopeypants to ride off into the sunset with. Play ’em off, Keyboard Cat…
- Daft Punk never got to blow anyone up with rainbow lasers. What’s up with that?
No new art today again, but someone else’s. I have been struggling this year with my ability to color things in a realistic way; I am constantly awed by all these amazing digital folks who can catch light and shadow so wonderfully, and the process of replicating the color around us and how it conveys depth and mass is still such a mystery to me. I’m such a line-drawing person that I am befoggled by those who can just slap broad patches of paint across a surface and suddenly there are birch trees with a patch of sunlight falling on them that bursts from the frame, or translucent skin that glows from inside. It was in this frame of mind that I stumbled across Gregory Thielker. When you look at his images (which you will, because you are now in the grip of my Jediesque mind-control) just be aware that they are OIL PAINTINGS. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) I mean, I’ve seen some photorealists before, but these floored me because they actually convey multiple layers of space. They are 3-D. They are IN. CRED. IBBLE. Click on his name or this picture for more brain-skewering paint-magic.
…of the freakin’ surface of MARS!!! Please, for the love of the Solar System, click this picture: (get ready, it’s big)
Of course, I can’t stop thinking about Dune when I look at this. Especially when you compare it to one of the novel’s more recent cover styles:
Weird, huh? Now, you can go here for a great explanation and clearer close-up image of those weird stripey features, but before you do, let it be known that when I first saw this, I thought they were actually tree-like growths towering above the crests of the dunes and pretty much needed to change my pants in the face of a really alien landscape. Sadly, it’s not quite as a incredible as that, but it’s still beautiful and awe-inspiring. I believe I’ll have to illustrate what my brain was perceiving, because it was really sweet.
Speaking of which, sorry for the lack of new art. I’m trying to finish up a couple of the aforementioned board games in time to be Christmas presents.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends in Internetland! Man, I tell ya– this is gonna be a great one, if things are already starting out this way! If you want to please Jesse Gillespie, there are few things that win bigger than the discovery of a brand new lifeform right here on earth that qualifies as “alien-like”. Meet the “squidworm”, recently uncovered by biologists involved in the global (and awesome) Census of Marine Life project. When I first saw this photo, I was immediately reminded of the Old Ones from H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘At the Mountains of Madness’. One of the best parts of this discovery was the addition in one article of a description of its main food source, marine snow, which is “a mix of sinking microscopic plants and animals, faecal material and cast-off mucus.” Mmmm! I’ll have what that guy’s having!
As a side note, the worm seems to bear some similarities to one of my other favorite not-quite-earth-animals, the “elbow squid” (magnapinna). Not enough people know about this guy, and he’s in need of some serious cuddling:
Thank you, O Mighty Creator, for Your ultimate bizarreness. And pie.