Wednesday, November 18, 2020

My First Inktober!

 



So, it’s been quite a year hasn’t it? Aside from the obvious, for me personally it’s been a much busier time than usual with me getting deeper into library work and also keeping busy personally with writing and, of course, art. Writing-wise, I’ve finished a second novel and am currently working on revising it and shopping it around to publishers. Wish me luck on that! I might try to share some of the journey of that on this blog in the future.

What I mainly want to talk about right now, though, is art. More specifically, I want to talk about a project that I attempted for the first time last month known as Inktober. I know most folks who’ve come to this blog are probably here for the writing/literature content, but I also like to talk a lot about the things that power me creatively and drive things like inspiration and passion. All of these are core concepts in creative writing, I’d say, anthropomorphic or not!
So, firstly, what IS Inktober? For those who don’t know, Inktober is an annual art challenge created by Jake Parker in 2009 (https://inktober.com/ ) with the goal of self-improvement and setting good creative habits. The only real rule is to make regular ink drawings throughout the month of October, to keep to the schedule you set, and to share your work with others. The standard challenge is one drawing every day for all 31 days of October, but it’s acceptable to make it an every-other-day drawing or a once a week drawing. So long as you are drawing consistently, that’s all that matters. It’s okay to miss a day, start late, whatever. There’s no cash prize, no official community contest (though Inktober-themed contests DO frequently pop up online and offline during this month). The reward is making art, improving, and sharing.

Inktober has grown like wildfire across the art community over the years, and now it’s standard to have an official prompt list for the month, with a new word revealed every day. You don’t need to follow the official prompt list, but it’s very handy and quite thrilling to have a common theme and to see what your friends have done with the idea as you share your own take on it.

For my first Inktober, I decided to create my own prompt list. I wasn’t quite ready for what I uncovered along the way…




The concept for my list was simple. I opened up an Excel sheet and made a list of about 40 characters from my favorite media franchises and popular works. My goal was to list characters that were not only my favorite, but also my personal inspirations. I wanted to make a list of characters that were important to me, regardless of if they were popular, well-known, or the main characters in their respective series. After I made the initial list, I cut it down by making a rule of “One character per series” and adding a few more that I’d forgotten. The end count was 38 characters. After settling on the list, I set a routine for myself, and followed these rules:


1) First thing in the morning, roll dice to determine which character gets drawn. This cuts down on indecision and keeps things exciting.

2) Roll twice and mark both characters on the list. This will give me a little bit of freedom if I’m ‘feeling’ one character more than the other.

3) If I cannot choose between the two characters that I rolled, then I must draw a human character from a separate list of favorites, requiring me to challenge myself for my indecision.

4) Muse and workshop poses and concepts during my breaks at work.

5) Draw and finish the picture once I get home for the night.

6) Post the picture on my Twitter and DeviantArt before going to bed.





Things started out simple enough, with me drawing Ceri Bobcat from The World of Vicki Fox. It was a fun, new experience working with the character, and the creator of the webcomic even commented positively on the drawing! I started a couple days late into October, as you can see, but I was determined to keep it going for the rest of the month. This was also when I quickly made the rule of not rolling for characters until the morning, as my mind was so busy thinking about poses and ideas on how I most wanted to portray a character that I had trouble sleeping that first night.

The next day of artwork saw me tasked with drawing Finnick from Zootopia, my favorite character from the film… and that was when something strange started to happen.

I have a book called ‘The Art of Disney’s Zootopia’. It’s a massive book detailing storyboards, character concepts, and the general creation process of Zootopia. I love the movie for a variety of reasons, and I really enjoy this book, but I also hadn’t looked at this book since about a year after the movie came out in theaters. As I picked up this book and opened it to study Finnick and the Zootopia art style, a rush of memories came back to me. Memories of seeing the film for the first time with one of my best friends and having revelations on how to portray anthro animals in modern settings while also seeing similarities to my own works and ideas. Excitement at how big it was getting and how “This might be my chance to get something going.” Having new examples to share with people when trying to explain my literary ideas. Memories of my father and his encouragement to pursue various things in art as well as a similar art book that he bought for me for Pixar’s ‘The Incredibles’.

Throughout that entire day, I was remembering why I love the things that I do. By the time I sat down to draw Finnick and, of course, his buddy Nick, I was excited to get that energy out and to focus it into one single activity. The drawing was good on a technical level, and it got a positive response from fans, but what the drawing represented to me and how it inspired me felt so much more important, and the chance to share a product of that passion was what made me love it.




The rest of Inktober was a repeat of that day, with some days being deeper or lighter than others. Every day, I took a character from that list and I spent the day not only thinking about that character and what they and their franchise meant to me creatively, but also thinking about the powerful memories surrounding them. Every single character had something from me, no matter how innocuous or random they probably looked to others. I won’t get into too many specifics here, as this blog post is already long enough, but I do want to talk about one more of the drawings I did during this month.

That drawing was Anita from the Capcom fighting game ‘Darkstalkers’. First off, I’m only okay at drawing human characters, as my specialty is more non-human characters. I’m also not very good at mimicking the anime art style for human beings. Something about their more undefined noses throws me off, I think. Even so, Anita was my choice for one of these days after not wanting to draw either of my rolls for that day, and she was a surprisingly powerful choice.

Not only do I really like the character’s design and the game that she’s from (I consider myself to be a fighting game maniac), but I also have a weirdly deep history with her. You see, if it wasn’t for Anita, I may have never grown into the writer that I am today. Anita was the subject of my first ever publicly published piece of fiction.

I won’t bore you with the deep details of my early days on the internet, but one of the first online communities that I got myself involved with was a Capcom fighting game fan-fiction website known as the Darkfighters RPG. I didn’t even know what fan-fiction was at the time. For years afterwards, even, I called what I did ‘RPG writing’ and wouldn’t even look at websites like fanfiction.net or anything like that.

The premise of this website was that you would take a character from a famous Capcom fighting game and you would write for them, detailing their story and making up adventures for them. Then, once per year, all of the writers on the site would get together and break up into pairs to write a fight between their selected characters. Some of the writers were giants to me, writing with prose that I barely understood and having clearly strong writing chops and dedication to the craft. Getting feedback from them on the baby-steps of my first real attempt at a completed storyline was invaluable and I still use lessons that I learned from that website today. I had never tried writing for an audience before, and it was a powerful thing to suddenly have more people than just me caring about what I wrote and how I wrote it. It was exciting to me to have people tell me that they were looking forward to something that I was building up towards, and to learn how to play with audience expectations and even lean into them at times.

These were the memories that I was reliving as I was looking through my old jpegs for references for her character that I also used back when I needed inspiration for writing her.

So, yes, my first ever major writing project and one of my most powerful memories tied to those formative years of initial learning involved me writing a story about a little human girl with crazy psychic powers and no anthro animals in sight. Let that be a lesson to all those who turn up their noses at fan-fiction writers. It’s a great place to learn the basics, I think!




I realize that this was a very long post, and I could easily write several more posts about this entire month that I went through. These weren’t even the deepest places that my mind went to… However, I think I’ve made my point for why this Inktober experience was a powerful one for me. I fully intend to do this again next year! I doubt it’ll be the same for me emotionally, especially as I plan on doing a prompt list with a friend next time, but I can already tell that it’s time well-spent.




If you would like to see my entire Inktober art journey, please feel free to check out my Twitter at: https://twitter.com/BHRacoon .

If you would be at all interested in more musings like this or about specific pictures over that month, do let me know. Otherwise, I’ll do my best to keep you all in the loop for future creative projects!




Take care, and happy reading!




-Chammy

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

On Being an Artist and a Writer









I’m not a fan of doing ‘where have I been’ posts, as they usually sound like a listing of excuses and also tend to carry kind of a negative vibe. You readers don’t come here to listen to me be upset with myself about slacking off, after all!

However, I would actually like to talk about part of what contributes to me taking long breaks from certain projects, as I’m rather curious how many folks share this same dilemma:

The thing is, I consider myself to have two creative minds.

On the one hand, I’m a writer. I love to make stories, read over different stories and opinions, and write down my thoughts. Readers here are probably somewhat familiar with that side of me already.

On the other hand, I am an artist. You may have picked up on that from the various drawings I’ve done for this blog on particular stories that interested me, and from the few mentions I’ve made. I don’t actually talk about that side of me too much here, as I wanted this blog to be less about me and more about the media that I enjoy, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to separate the two. In fact, separating my art and writing sides is something that causes its own types of problems.

See, as much as I love to write and I love to draw, it’s actually very rare that I’m working on both equally at any given time. I will frequently get into ‘moods’ where one side is ludicrously dominant over the other for a set period of time. On the writing side, this leads to me doing big projects like writing a novel (or two!) and tackling writing prompts and experiments for a couple of solid weeks. On the drawing side, this leads to me doing silly things like drawing a series of full page sketches based around a central theme that is often much greater than I’ll actually finish, or signing up to do public things like library bookmark contests and chalk art.




Doing art is as much a part of me as writing and reading are. Perhaps even more so, as I’ve been drawing long before my handwriting became at all legible. I actually had aspirations of being a classic animator at one point, or even a comic book artist, but I stepped away from that to follow other career paths.

Despite this, art is something that I love doing and seek to include it with my stories as I look toward publication. With that in mind, I’d like to take a little time and maybe a few posts to share some of my artwork and the ideas and stories behind them as well as the process that goes from conception to completion.

Also, before getting too far into posting and talking about my art, there is something that I would like to convey to my fellow artists who may be reading this blog or following me for whatever reason, as well as a realization that I would like to share with all of the rest of you:

A short while back, while doing the chalk art that I showed off above, I frequently got into my own head and started berating my own skills and ideas, as many artists are wont to do. I was worried that someone would call me out for drawing cute animal characters rather than something more realistic. I was worried someone would mock my technique or approach to working with a larger canvas. I questioned my color-choice and composition and kept expecting someone to come along and snicker out some snarky comment behind my back to just take the wind right out of my sails… but that never happened.

What I got instead were people walking up behind me and staring with amazement at the drawing coming to life before them. Little kids would come up and give an amazed ‘Wow…!’ or ‘That’s so cool!’ or even my favorite ‘How can I learn how to do stuff like that?’ All sorts of people came and had similar reactions, from old men and women to toddlers and teens who I thought wouldn’t give me a second glance. So many of them were so excited to just see me make art in front of them, and it finally struck me in that moment that art really is a miraculous thing and that simply being an artist takes a certain kind of bravery all on its own.

So often, we artists tend to keep our heads in the sand of our communities and competitors, surrounding ourselves with other artists and plateaus that we aspire to. This goes for writers as well, by the way… I will frequently find myself looking at something I’ve done and then looking at a piece from Don Bluth or a drawing from artists I follow on Twitter and trying to figure out what I’m missing that keeps me from measuring up. That constant comparison creates this mindset that nothing is ever good enough and that we will always be second-rate or derivative of much better artists out there. Now, while it is great to have a mindset of desiring self-improvement and always seeking to better ourselves, I think it is also important to step back and realize that the simple fact that we are artists is pretty amazing in and of itself. We bring life out of a blank sheet of paper and can create entire realms, and it’s okay to be a little proud of that.

That was what I discovered while I was doing that public art and having people being impressed behind my back, as well as from comments from various friends who are less artistically-inclined. It’s weird to say, but it’s a realization that feels kind of humbling, even though it’s about taking pride in my own work.


I am a better artist now than I was before and, while it is great to have contemporaries to compare our work to and greatness to aspire toward, the real measure of progress is if I can say that I have truly improved myself. The real goal is looking forward to what I want to improve on in the future and how I can reach the goals that I set for myself. This goes for my fellow writers as well! Our success is measured by our improvements upon ourselves, not how we compare to others in our field. I may not be an artist like Jay Axer or a writer like Brian Jacques, but I can most certainly aspire to be a better version of myself.


There's a story behind this one... but that'll have to wait for another day!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Happy Furry Book Month!


It's October again, and that means:


Happy Furry Book Month, everybody :)

Once again, we're taking the month of October to celebrate and enjoy anthropomorphic literature, both new and old, and there are a number of sales going on with various publishers to do just that.

I won't be taking up too much of your time here, as October can be a pretty busy month, but I did want to recommend a book for your enjoyment on this specific month - Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence Schoen

We'll do a proper look at this book sometime in the future but, for now, I'll just say that Barsk is one of the best modern anthropomorphic books that I've read while also being a fantastic science fiction book that raises good philosophical questions while also just immersing you in another world. The main characters will stick with you long after you've put the book down, which I think is a mark of strong, effective story-telling. If you love sci-fi, literature, or even just really love elephants, then you should totally give this one a read!

You can learn more about Furry Book Month and the available publisher deals here: https://furrywritersguild.com/furry-book-month/



Until next time, happy reading!
-Chammy

Monday, September 25, 2017

BOOK TALK - MouseHeart



Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler

From the summary on Amazon:

Hopper is just an ordinary pet shop mouse before he escapes. Soon he finds himself below the bustling streets of Brooklyn, deep within the untamed tangles of transit tunnels, and in Atlantia, a glorious utopian rat civilization.

But all is not what it seems. Though Hopper is treated as a royal guest, he misses his siblings that he lost in the escape attempt. That, and Atlantia is constantly threatened by the rebels who wish to bring the city to its knees. And there are cats everywhere in Atlantia, cats that leave the citizens unharmed… and no one can seem to answer why.

Soon, Hopper is caught in the crosshairs of a colossal battle, one that crosses generations and species. As the clashes rage, Hopper learns terrible, extraordinary secrets: Deadly secrets about Atlantia. Painful secrets about his friends.

And one powerful secret about his destiny



Some days, you just want to read something that really scratches a familiar literary itch and calls back to nostalgic days. As I started reading Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler, this was distinctly how I felt. This is a newer book, the first in a series, published in 2014, and yet it harkens back to the kinds of books about animals that I read growing up. Redwall, The Wind in the Willows, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and many more were sprinkled throughout my childhood and teenage years, and Mouseheart hits on so many notes while still being original that it’s astonishing.

Most of the classic anthropomorphic children’s fiction themes are here. You have a society of talking animals that live just out of sight of modern day human beings, living beneath the subways of Brooklyn. The animals also have to interact with and form their own understanding of various human devices like subway trains, abandoned subway stations, and litter. There’s actually a really fun scene that almost seems to call out to the cliché, where a rat is selling discarded human memorabilia and coming up with obviously outlandish or incorrect stories about their origins. Also, like many classic talking-animal novels, there is a healthy amount of interaction between predators (cats) and their natural prey (rats and mice), with moments that prove some stereotypes false and others true.

Rounding out these classic anthropomorphic animal story traits, we also have many marks of classic adventure and fantasy stories. There are kings, princes, and hidden away kingdoms along with rebel armies and prophecies and good old-fashioned swordplay.

So, after hearing about all of this, I suspect many might be already thinking, “I’ve read this story before” and might throw Mouseheart aside as a novel that’s one of many in an abundant fantasy genre.

If you did that, however, then I would have to say that you’re doing yourself a gross disservice and would be missing out on a fantastic and enjoyable story! Mouseheart is an extremely well-written story that knows the genre well and gives its audience exactly what they’ve come for while also offering new ideas and bringing about a feeling of timeless wonder which I feel has been strangely lacking in most modern day anthropomorphic animal fiction.

Exploring Atlantia was probably one of my favorite parts of the book.
The wonderful art throughout also made for a very enjoyable journey!

This is not to say that the book has no problems or negative aspects to it, of course. In fact, one of its most notable factors contributes to one of its biggest problems. Mouseheart, as I’ve said, has the hallmarks of many great anthropomorphic animal stories and fantasy adventure stories… and that unfortunately means that the book’s plot is also extremely predictable. I don’t mean to spoil the entire story, so I won’t list all of the predictable story moments, but I think it’s safe to say that most readers that are at all familiar with young adult fantasy can guess them off of the tops of their heads and be correct.


Main character is a central figure in some ancient prophecy? Check.

Budding love interest that blossoms by the story’s conclusion? Check.

Parents are dead or at least assumed dead at the start of the story? Check.

Misunderstandings are the central reason for many of the main points of conflict between characters? Check.

All you've gotta do is put some mouse ears and a tail on Taran...


It’s hard to read through Mouseheart and not be constantly cognizant of the tropes and trappings of its genre and not comparing it to other works. Yet, as I said above, I believe that Mouseheart overcomes the problems this could be by embracing its nature fully and still telling a tale that’s all its own.

Hopper, the main character, is not the strongest or the smartest, and, unlike many mouse heroes before him, he’s most certainly not the bravest or most selfless either. Hopper is a character with many flaws. He lacks understanding of the world around him, and he can truly be very childish and selfish with the choices that he initially makes and continues to make as the story goes on. By the story’s end, Hopper does grow as a character, but he still has many of his flaws and has grown in spite of them rather than completely overcoming and replacing them. It’s the personal lessons that he learns, especially the aspects of what bravery and heroism truly mean, that make Hopper a more complete character and eventually a hero. What’s more, Hopper is clearly not done maturing yet by the end of the story, giving him greater room to grow in future installments.

Outside of the characters, the setting itself most certainly takes center stage. Although it starts humbly in a pet shop in Brooklyn, the story quickly expands into the tunnels beneath and to the fantastical kingdom of Atlantia. The way that forgotten parts of a city are reimagined as mysterious and awe-inspiring locales is one of the major ways that Mouseheart and creates the wonder that I’ve mentioned.


All in all, Mouseheart feels like a story from a classic era of anthropomorphic children’s literature, but written with modern audiences in mind. It tells its tale well and creates a story that feels timeless, which is something that I haven’t been able to say about much modern literature that I’ve read. I would highly recommend it to fans of the genre and anybody who’s looking for an enjoyable read in children’s literature or fun fantasy in general!


Until next time, happy reading all!


-Chammy


Currently reading:


The Echoes of Those Before by James Daniel Ross

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Vicki Fox Has Returned!

Do the happy dance!


The last time that we looked at The World of Vicki Fox, I expressed my adoration for the characters and the stories over the years, but lamented over its seemingly indefinite hiatus since 2013. Well, the lamentations are over! I was holding off on saying anything about this until I was sure it would stick, but I’m now very happy to say that Vicki Fox is back for our reading pleasure!

One of the biggest problems that I feel Vicki Fox had over the years was getting a consistent artist to help bring the stories to life. That problem now seems to be solved with a new artist on the team that goes by the name of Jan.

Who is Jan, you may ask? Well, he just so happens to be the artist and author of several other anthropomorphic comic strips of his own creation! I had only barely learned of him before I saw the announcement of him drawing Vicki and her friends so, in the interests of curiosity, I thought that I might investigate this artist and see where they’re coming from and share my findings with you all.

Jan’s primary comic hosting website is www.tigerknight.com and, from there, we have three different comics to choose from. Only one of the strips has had a full run, so I thought it best to look at that one to get a general idea of Jan’s talents. The webcomic in question is titled College Catastrophe, and it’s actually a pretty good fit for those who are fans of the style of comics presented in The World of Vicki Fox.

This is clearly a realistic reenactment of the creative team hard at work!

College Catastrophe is a ‘slice of life’ comic that primarily follows the misadventures of a lion named Jan, his roommate Wolf (a wolf), and the various friends they have and make while living on their college campus. The comic is heavily focused on humor and slapstick silliness, with characters routinely blowing things up, getting beaten up through various school hazards, and getting themselves into some truly ridiculous situations (Wolf is frequently the cause of these with his various hare-brained schemes and skill with turning whatever he touches into some kind of explosive).

Although the drama of the comic is relatively low, it does have moments of romance and loving friendship, especially between Jan and his girlfriend, Amber. The comic is also openly a parallel to the author’s own college experiences and observations, and a fun time capsule of technology and American society around the early 2000’s, so there are a lot of jokes that are clearly centered on the reader having knowledge of college dorms, as well as computer and tech jokes that may go over the heads of younger readers. This unfortunately dates the comic a little, but the comic never gets so deep into cultural references or jokes that it can’t get its point across.

I think what I like best about this is that the mummy isn't just dead, but his eyes are also covered...
and he's still flying the plane.

As for the art of the comic, that is another relatively high point. Although the character designs are pretty simple, they’re appealing and expressive. Jan and Wolf especially get some great expressions going and you can always tell when Wolf is up to no good from his smile. The strip is only in black and white, however, and it rarely deviates from the daily newspaper comic design. There also is not much visual spectacle, as few of the panels, if any, focus on scenery or anything beyond character art. It’s clear that the focus with these comics is on the dialogue and writing.

All in all, College Catastrophe is an appealing and enjoyable webcomic that harkens back to the daily pages of newspaper comics in the 90’s, and I’m very happy to have read it!

With that in mind, after reading the comic from start to finish, I think I can safely say that Jan’s style will probably be an excellent fit for The World of Vicki Fox. It can really hit all of those light-hearted notes and fun characterizations. Plus, Jan himself has grown as an artist since College Catastrophe and it can be seen in his full color work now that does not shy away from background details.

There's clearly a style difference compared to previous Vicki Fox artists,
but the essence of the characters still comes through loud and clear!

I will say, however, that some of the characters don’t quite look like themselves in Jan’s style. Craig Wolf, for example, doesn’t look quite as lanky or charmingly awkward as Laura Howell or Shelley Pleger drew him, and there’s a bit of the ‘Looney Tunes’ edge that seems to be missing from the cast that we’ve grown so familiar with. However, the writing is still familiar, and Jan has only been working on the comic for a couple of months now, so there are going to be growing pains as the cast grows into his style and vice versa. If reading comics lately has taught me anything, it’s that new artists take time to get used to and there will always be an adjustment period!

With all of that being said, I’m happy to see The World of Vicki Fox back and running again and I wish Jan and Michael Russell the best of luck with the comic! I hope that you all check it out too! The comic updates on the first and third Sunday of every month, so keep an eye on your calendars to catch the new pages right here.

What can I say? I always enjoy seeing a good artist at work!

To see more of Jan’s work and read his own entertaining comics like College Catastrophe, head on over to his website! (Some comics are intended for mature audiences, and are clearly marked) https://www.tigerknight.com/

Until next time, happy reading, all!
-Chammy

Currently Reading:

Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler

Friday, April 28, 2017

Save Me, Sweet Nostalgia!

Ironically, I haven't drawn Sonic the Hedgehog in probably several years.


So, I’ve been doing a lot of studying lately while on the path toward making myself a fully certified librarian. A lot of studying does not entirely mean a lack of time to read, however! Recently, I’ve been going back through a wonderful digital collection of one of my favorite comic books back from what I was a kid: Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog.

Goodness this brings back so many memories...

Now, you should probably understand: I am a ridiculously huge Sonic fan. Comics, games, toys, shirts… if it had Sonic’s face on it in the 90’s, I probably owned it or was at least begging my parents to LET me own it. Heck, I’ve even got this really weird fist-sized ball that’s shaped like Sonic in the middle of his signature spin move. The spines are like fingergrips, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to throw around one of my childhood icons like a  football.

Sonic’s comic series was no exception when it came to my fandom as a child. Sonic comics were the first comics that I ever owned or seriously read. I’d glanced at Spider-Man or X-Men stuff, but they just always had these big beefy guys on the covers with arms as thick as my thighs, and it never really grabbed me. When this one kid brought forth a Sonic the Hedgehog comic to me, it was like my brain exploded. I asked to borrow issue #03 to take home, and it was a no small feat to get me to return that issue to its owner. In no time at all, I had a subscription to the comic that ended up lasting for years and years to come. As my subscription started with #14, I even ordered the back issues to make sure I was completely caught up, including the pilot three-issue miniseries. When it came to comic books, for about four or five years, Sonic was it for me.

I kept a solid subscription until about issue #63 or so and stayed subscribed to the Knuckles comic for a little bit beyond that, but not much. The comic now is at or past #290 as of this writing (Actually, there is currently some concern about the comic being cancelled soon), and is noted as being one of the longest running Western comics in existence.

Clearly, I had good taste as a kid… Or so I thought.

You see, as I was reading through these old comics, working my way up to the point where I stopped as a teen to see what lays beyond, I was struck by a terrible realization:

These were not very good comics. In fact, some of them were, frankly… kinda bad.

I mean, yes, they were kids comics and many of the plots weren’t terribly deep because people in the media had this strange idea that children weren’t interested in dramatic story-telling or didn’t have the attention span to keep stories straight for more than thirty minutes, give or take commercial breaks. Even so, as I look back now, there were some serious problems with how the comic was presented, both in story and in art. In the art department, the comic switched artists at an insane rate. At the time, I didn’t know better, but it’s apparently not common to have the art style of your comic radically shift from issue to issue, or even from story to story within the SAME issue. Yes, style shifts are a thing and many artists come together to create any comic, but when your reader sees the characters looking like a Saturday morning cartoon in one issue:



And then looking like an attempt to draw Japanese anime in the next:

Oh Sonic... Why does your head look like a pine tree?

Then you’re going to have some reader confusion. Even for the artists, I can’t imagine this was terribly easy. Archie would bring on so many different artists that I think the art genuinely suffered due to the artists not having enough time to get familiar with the characters or setting.

There's so much wrong with the proportions in this panel,
and yet it's still endearing to me!

However, I can generally forgive goofy art. The artist above, Sam Maxwell, is one of my favorites and did really fun and expressive work in other issues, even if his art was often very silly and strange with proportions. What is much harder to get through is bad writing, and it was going through the later earlier issues where I remember why I stopped reading the Sonic comics.

I want you to look at this series of panels below:

 
Don't worry. You haven't missed anything.

So, if you haven’t read the comics, you probably have NO idea what’s going on here. Of course, you haven’t read the comics, so that’s fair. Let me explain to make it a bit more clear: A mammoth from ancient times came across a mystical Chaos Emerald and had it somehow implanted in his chest, giving him immortality. Now, thousands of years later, he decides to put on a cape and take over the world. He blasts our local heroes with Chaos Emerald energy to kill them, but they’re okay because they happen to be holding on to 50 magic rings that they somehow found in a portal on their way to fight him. They beat him down pretty badly but Mammoth escapes to the Chaos Emerald chamber in the floating island (you knew we were here already, didn’t you?) and tries to take the Emerald to increase his power (I think?) and then some techno-babble mystical goobledy-gook happens and… he’s an emerald now. Rather, he’s *inside* the Chaos Emerald and powering it even further, and the heroes really don’t know how this happens, but they’re okay with it.

Got all of that? No? Yeah, that’s the problem.

They built up to this story here and there through several issues, but even when this issue came as the ‘payoff’ for all of the build up, I had NO idea what was going on when I first read it as a child. After reading through it again with a much more advanced and literary-focused mind as an adult, I can safely say that I *still* have no idea what is all going on here. The story feels like a mess and the art doesn’t really convey what’s going on terribly well and, worst of all, it just doesn’t feel like ‘Sonic’. Of course, don’t get me wrong, I will be the first to say that I loved the characters in the comic and loved seeing stories that were outside of Sonic himself, but this came so far out of left field that I felt like I was reading a different comic.

Nowadays, the comic is much improved. Writing and art is much more consistent and the characters, though changed and having lost some of my favorites (*shakes fist at 'The Writer Who Shall Not Be Named'*), are still fun and excellent designs. I’m only starting to just scratch the surface of the more solid writing in the series now, as I’m at issue #71, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest.

So what’s the point of this write-up? Well, first, I wanted to share with you one of the most influential media experiences of my youth that helped to form me as an artist and lover of anthropomorphic media. It’s thanks to this comic series that I sought out other stories with all animal casts and tried my hand at making my own, and I am eternally thankful to it. Second, I wanted to also share the experience of looking back and taking off the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and realize that, even if something positively influenced us and left an incredible and lasting impression on our literary conscious, it’s certainly not without flaws. We can become stronger and more mature readers and writers when we can start to realize the differences between good and bad storytelling, even in the things that we love.

So what about you readers? Do you have any nostalgic cartoons or books that just haven't stood the test of time? Or do you have any favorite/least favorite memories from the Sonic comics yourself? Feel free to share!

Until next time, happy reading all!
-Chammy

Currently reading:

The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich (A Fox and Hare novel – and yes, that IS what drew me to check it out. I freely admit this)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

BOOK TALK - The Builders

The Builders by Daniel Polansky


From the summary on Amazon:
A missing eye.
A broken wing.
A stolen country.

The last job didn't end well.

Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain's company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain's whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score

            ‘Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting’
            This was a phrase that I continuously said to myself while reading through the strange and violent tale of The Builders. When I had picked it up I assumed, both from the cover as well as from the various accolades comparing the book to Brian Jacques and Watership Down, that I was going to be in for a good old fantasy animal adventure. What I found instead was a sea of violence, death, betrayal, and a style that felt closer to Beowulf than it did to any of Brian Jacques works.
            It’s difficult to talk too much about this book without spoiling a number of things, so I will at least give my spoiler-free impressions first here: The Builders is an excellent story that is written in the style of a legend, with plot twists and many violent ends, this is a book for mature readers through and through. It’s fantastic anthropomorphic fiction, playing with many of the stereotypes that the animals involved are known for, and yet treating them as parts of the characters rather than one-note traits or jokes. Although it’s a little short and moves at a breakneck pace, I never felt deprived of characterization. It has a single, brutal story to tell and it does so with great efficiency. I must say, however, that a great many of the characters are very unlikable creatures and there’s not an innocent soul in the book, so it can make it very hard to personally have empathy for any of the cast. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of classic anthropomorphic literature and fans of western legends like Beowulf or North American tall tales.

... What? When I think of tall tales, I think of s'mores around the campfire. Don't you?


            Now, for a bit of a deeper look, I might be diving into spoiler territory as I talk about what I did and did not like about this story here, so consider yourselves warned!
            First and foremost, as I said, I had a bit of a problem connecting with the characters. The first character that we’re introduced to is a battered old soldier of a mouse known simply as ‘the Captain’. He’s immediately abrasive and constantly angry and you know from just looking at him that he’s a surprisingly deadly individual. Those are all cool traits for the gruff old captain stereotype but I never realized how prickly they could make a protagonist. He’s not simply tough with a no-nonsense personality, but he’s also cruel to both ally and enemy. One of the more telling elements of this cruelty is when he visits an old friend who gave up fighting and hires men to kill him, forcing his old friend to fight for his very life and awaken a bloodlust that he’d worked so hard to overcome.
            So, yes, rather than working through reason to get his old compatriot to join him in an eventual battle, or even respecting that ally’s wish to be forgotten, our protagonist throws away the lives of several others in a gambit that, if he’d miscalculated, would have resulted in the death of the very person he wanted to have help him. For the entire book, this incident made me feel just baffled as to why anyone would work with this mouse and why they would approach working with him with such joy and nostalgia. Yes, the Captain is strong and he’ll get the job done, but nobody in their right mind is going to think that they can trust their lives to him.
            This suspension of disbelief is somewhat alleviated as we meet and learn more about the entire cast. As I said above, nobody in this book is innocent, and that’s especially true for our heroes. They’re assassins, thieves, poisoners, liars, and more than a few are betrayers, both of good and bad. In fact, calling them ‘heroes’ feels rather wrong, and even our group of protagonists would most definitely disagree with the title. It took me until near the last half of the book to realize that the titular Builders were working towards positive political ends, as so much of the story feels more like a tale of revenge. It can be very confusing to know how to feel as one reads through this story.
            One thing that is not in question, however, is just how awesome these characters are. I compared this book to Beowulf, and I think the reason for that is because it feels like a classic epic poem in structure more than a novel. In novels, there’s usually an arc of sorts as you see character succeed and fail and grow into an eventual climax. In novels, it’s some accepted for your protagonists to start small and grow into something grand to overcome what were previously thought to be impossible odds. In this book, though, the characters start out being awesome and the entire book feels like we’re watching a legend being built. Strangely, the key villains in the story are actually afraid of the protagonists, and that fear never goes away as each member of the Builders shows exactly why they should be feared. It really put me in a different mood than most stories, and I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anything quite like it other than possibly Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series. For an anthropomorphic tale, this came like a wicked curve ball out of left field.
            Speaking of, as far as anthropomorphic fiction goes, The Builders is very solid. There’s an extremely diverse cast, including a salamander and an owl, and their individual animal traits are highlighted as a means to bring out their character, but not in a stereotypical fashion. Yes, the weasel is a cheat and a liar, but he’s also firmly a good guy and has one of the more heroic moments in the story. The badger is big and deadly, but he’s also soft-spoken and even a little romantic. The mouse is small and tenacious, but he’s also the most dangerous creature to ever walk the countryside, and everybody knows it.
            See, one of the most common pitfalls that can befall anthropomorphic literature, especially ones written in recent years, is when the characters lose their species identity. It can be easy, when reading certain books with diverse animal casts, to forget exactly what animal someone is, especially when you’re deep into the drama. Modern anthropomorphic stories can certainly have good and complex characters, but sometimes they can definitely feel interchangeable with humans or, at the very least, interchangeable with one another. The fox acts like the wolf who acts like the panther. This isn’t to say that all animal characters need to have dialogue tags that indicate their tails wagging or that they need to include barks and meows with their sentences (Goodness please no on that!), but a character’s species should be intricately tied to their identity, and not something added as an afterthought.
            It’s a little difficult to properly lay out how I mean this, but the best and most literal example that I can give is one of my favorite books: The Wind in the Willows. In a way, you could say that this book cheats by having all of the characters named after the animals that they are. Mole, Ratty, and Mr. Toad are all names that hide nothing… but somehow, upon saying those names, I just get a vivid mental picture of the character in the novel. I can’t say the name ‘Mr. Toad’ and not think of the wide-eyed, adventure-seeking expression of that crazed amphibian as he rides along in his newest vehicle. His species is a part of his character, and The Builders manages to convey that exact same feeling with its characters without resorting to calling them by their species names. It’s quite amazing.

It's funny... For as much as I love Disney, this is still the definitive version of Mr. Toad's appearance in my mind.
Maybe it's the pink human-y look of the Disney version that throws me off of it? Ah well!

            So, while The Builders might be a slightly mixed bag for my personal tastes because of the cruel characters and the intense violence and situations, I will not deny that it is an excellent book, and a perfect example of good anthropomorphic literature. I doubt this will reach the level of popularity as others in the field, and the book leaves absolutely no room for any kind of sequel, but I still feel like it should be getting more attention than it has. If you feel intrigued enough by my review here to give it a look, then please do so and let me know what you thought!

            Until next time, happy reading, all!


-Chammy

Currently Reading:

Mister Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan