Thursday, February 25, 2021

Inktober Memory Lane - Once Upon a Forest

So, it’s been quite a few months since Inktober actually happened. It might be difficult to understand quite why I’ve been extending my thoughts for this long. However, I think it becomes less strange when I consider this not only a look back at the experience of drawing daily during this past October, but also a look back upon my inspirations and how they came to influence me and my work. The entire purpose of this month for me was to shed some of my fear that I have about truly looking back and embracing the things that I love and loved.

One of those things was a little film called “Once Upon a Forest”.

As I mentioned in previous posts, my method for what I drew for Inktober was purposefully random. I can get hung up on choices and having a list of 30+ choices for each day of drawing very much overloaded my brain. The random method really helped me to keep things in order, keep myself motivated, and also helped to build my excitement for each following day as I looked forward to the results of the random rolls. It was about halfway through the month, however, when I made the choice to forgo the random method for the final two days. For the final day, I wanted to draw my own characters as a culmination of the things I’d learned from my various inspirations. For the second-to-last day, I wanted to draw one of my biggest inspirations as a kid as well as a personal goal post.

It’s always difficult to fully explain what something can mean to us when it comes to inspirations, but I think laying out some history can paint a clearer picture of what it meant for me to work on this picture and relive those memories associated with that time.

I can *feel* the 90s with these kids' designs.

Despite being my favorite film, I did not first see Once Upon a Forest in theaters. In fact, I barely remember what it was like seeing it on VHS for the first time. At eight years old, I liked the movie a lot and I found the characters to be cute, but it was just one of many movies we’d rented. I liked the movie enough that my parents even bought it for me. However, it wasn’t until about a year later that the movie burrowed its way forever into my subconscious.

It was the summer of 1995, and my folks had saved up enough money for one of our biggest vacations yet: A summer log cabin. My parents, being insane lovers of all things outdoors, were ecstatic, but I was very much the opposite. By this point, I had just recently developed an all-encompassing fear of bugs and the outdoor world that they inhabited. There are layers to how I came to get that fear, including such wonderful memories as having a beehive somehow thriving in the walls of our house, but all that you really need to know for this is that I wanted nothing to do with nature by this point in my young life.

Because of my desire to stay inside as much as possible and also because my parents loved a good movie themselves, my folks allowed us to bring along a small television and a VHS player. I was allowed to bring only one or two movies for the entire week-long trip, and the only movie that I remember bringing along on the trip was Once Upon a Forest. By this point, I was nine years old and my love for anthropomorphic animals was growing exponentially. I would spend a lot of time drawing pictures of Bright Heart Raccoon and anthropomorphic plant men, and I had found that looking at pictures of cartoon animal characters lowered any stress or fear I had. So, while we were driving hours up to our campgrounds and what I expected to be a terrifying outdoorsy log cabin, I spent most of the trip reading my first ever experience with Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes via the book “Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat”. I also spent a lot of time just looking at the box art for Once Upon a Forest, since it was one of the few other things I had to look at during the drive.

Spending significant time looking at box art may seem a little strange to some folks these days, but it was very much a different time. For one thing, VHS cases like the ones I had were huge and strangely ornate, with all sorts of little details hidden in the cover art and on the back of the box. Secondly, even at that age, it was clear that I was crazy about art and cartoons, and I could stare at any picture for a solid 30 minutes or more and soak in everything about it. I would daydream about the characters moving in the picture and wonder what laid beyond or before the scene that I was looking at. I would create entire stories from just staring at a single image. With few other distractions available to me during the trip, soaking in this box art was just a natural thing to do.

It was during the first night at the cabin itself that left the biggest impression. After having this movie in my sight for the entire trip up, I oddly wasn’t that excited about watching it. It wasn’t going to be new to me and it wasn’t my favorite movie of the time. Still, I was extremely nervous about the entire cabin experience and I was starting to be afraid of the dark, so watching a cartoon was most certainly preferable to whatever else we might do. When my parents put the movie on and I started watching it again, however, it felt different.

The cabin was pitch black aside from the blue glow from the TV. It might as well have been a movie theater, considering that my entire world for that hour or so was that film. As I watched the movie, I had this weird thought that, despite owning it for many months by now, it all felt new to me. Whatever plot I remembered the movie having, I’d gotten it entirely mixed up with something else. All of a sudden, I was engaged and had no idea what was going to happen next. I cared deeply about what was happening to Abigail, Edgar, and Russel, and all I could think about was going on adventures with them. I got excited, I got scared, and, by the end, I even cried because of the relatively somber message and music of the film.

It was then that I gained one of those lifelong memories… My father looked at me after the movie was over, and he got mad at me for crying. He told me that he didn’t want me crying at that movie again. The exact wording is something that I’ve since forgotten, but the impression he gave was that I was being a baby for crying at a kids film. Ironically, the mix of emotions that hit me then made that movie and that moment eternally important to me, and I only latched onto it harder. I wanted to watch the movie again and again because of the way it made me feel.

And so I did. I watched that movie every night that we stayed at that cabin, sometimes multiple times. I think my mother got mad at my dad for yelling at me, since he didn’t stop me from watching it again that week, but my parents may have also been okay with me watching the movie multiple times because it inspired me to be more adventurous during that week. I wanted to go out in nature like the characters did and see the trails and animals all around. I still got scared and still avoided bugs at all costs, but I weirdly felt this confidence by daydreaming about joining up with the Furlings for adventures.

It turned out that the entire cabin trip would be ludicrously important for my personal development. I gained major motivation from having a park ranger compliment me on my drawings and how well I drew animals. I had an incredible experience with a gang of raccoons coming up and ‘talking’ with me through the cabin screen door, making some of the most haunting and beautiful calls that I can ever remember hearing. I learned about racism from my father showing me “All in the Family” for the first time and having his first ever talk with me about the topic and some of what he’d experienced in his life. And, at the very end of the trip, after seeing him at the cabin on just the previous day, my grandpa passed away and I had my first true experience with death.

Thinking back on it now, it’s little wonder that the entire experience at that cabin felt so impactful.

Believe it or not, Edgar here wasn't my favorite character in the film!
These were some practice sketches I did to get ready to draw him
for the first time.

In the years that followed, I kept watching and enjoying Once Upon a Forest, but I also grew increasingly embarrassed about liking it. I eventually started only watching it when I was alone or, at the very least, only when I didn’t have any friends over. This was also the point where I started gaining confidence in my ability as an artist. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but watching the movie in such a focused fashion and having it in the back of my mind resorted in my art style and preferences being greatly influenced. It wasn’t until years and years later, when I was starting high school, that I recognized that my art style had been gravitating towards the style of that film (along with the style of the Sonic comics books that I ravenously consumed…). It was right about then that I started setting art goals for myself.

The goals were simple: I took a piece of art that I loved and I tried to copy it. If I was successful, then, I reasoned, I was truly a skilled artist. I had several such pictures set aside specifically for this purpose, and I failed at mimicking most all of them, but recognized that I was growing with each attempt. My holy grail of achievement, however, was being able to draw a scene from Once Upon a Forest. I would constantly tell myself that I wasn’t ready to attempt it and that I wasn’t good enough. It was like a roller coaster ride: “You must have X amount of artist experience to attempt this!”

Eventually, I worked up the courage to try it and I sat down and absolutely studied the frames of this movie that I’d loved so much. I was afraid that it might take away the magic somehow; that I might see the cracks and the ugliness and that the movie wasn’t as good as I let myself believe. What I saw instead was the beautiful linework of the animated frames and the gorgeous background paintings. I studied the designs of arms and hands and eyes and, by the end, I was crying again. It all felt extremely natural and welcome, as if I had always been trying to draw in this style and was finally understanding it. It was like I’d discovered some powerful secret that was mine and mine alone. I never managed to draw a full scene from the film like I wanted. Like most of my art goals back then, the point was never the finished product anyways.

All of this is the reason why drawing the Furlings for this Inktober was so impactful for me. You see, I had not made a serious attempt to draw these characters since those days. After learning what I did, I moved on to other things and incorporated what I learned into my characters and style. I wasn’t aware of it until I started drawing these characters again this October, but I had subconsciously kept Once Upon a Forest as one of those unreachable goalposts. It was something I’d told myself I would never be good enough to pull off. My rubric for many years of character creation had been “How close can I get this to feeling the way that movie made me feel as a child?”

I had not realized that I had already achieved it and, in some ways, even passed it.

It wasn’t until I was putting these characters down on paper for the first time in almost two decades that I felt like I really understood how far I have come as an artist. It is no longer my limitation, but instead my inspiration.

One of my favorite scenes in the film.
The colors and expressions and poses just communicate
SO much all on their own!

Well, thank you all for joining me on my little trip down memory lane. I don’t often get to just muse about past experiences and thoughts like this, so it’s been fun and also kind of useful. Looking back in this way helps me to feel a bit reinvigorated and reminds me of my goals and hopes. It also tends to dig up very old memories that I’d forgotten, but still might find useful for future story concepts or writing prompts.

I’m not certain what will be next for my posts here. Musing in this fashion about the deep past is certainly fun, but I feel like it may be time to try and start thinking a little more about present times or even the future.

Happy reading, all!



Friday, December 4, 2020

Inktober Memory Lane - Care Bears

 Hello again!

I was asked, after making my last post, to share a few more of my pictures and experiences from this past Inktober. As I said earlier, many of these were discoveries and thoughts about the creative process in general and my personal history more than just writing, but I hope you’ll still find it interesting and encouraging of your own personal explorations.

The picture I think I’ll share in this post is one that’s probably not too surprising to some folks that know me well: Bright Heart Raccoon.

The Care Bears have been kind of a quiet franchise since the mid 90s, but they’re starting to gain some public attention again. What you may see of them now, though, pales in comparison to the phenomenon they were back in the 80s and even the early 90s. They had cartoons, toys, dolls, movies, lunch boxes… You name it, and there was a good chance there was a Care Bears version of it back then. Really, this was the case for a lot of the explosive 80s-90s cartoons. G.I. Joe, Transformers, My Little Pony, Rainbow Bright, Ghostbusters (yeah, yeah, they were a movie first), and more were all part of a huge marketing machine designed to get kids to spend as much of their parents’ money as possible, and it worked. Franchises lived or died by their toy sales, so there was a real push from companies to fight for our attention.

However, cynical marketing psychology aside, I adored the Care Bears as a kid. I went to a small school, and one of my first experiences with cliques in Kindergarten was having to choose a side between Care Bears and Rainbow Bright. There was a My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake crowd too, but they were the fringe groups. Kinda like that weird kid who always threw out “Atari!” during the SEGA/Nintendo console wars. Anyways, I was all about Care Bears and constantly wanted new toys from the show, but my family was firmly in the lower-middle class, so the best I got was a couple of plushies and a sticker book.

What really made a difference in cementing my fandom, since my folks couldn’t afford to get me tons of junk, was the availability of Care Bear stuff at my local library. I most heavily consumed the Nelvana series VHS tapes, but they also carried a few books that I enjoyed. I have a distinct memory of our family flying to Florida to visit Disney World (One of, I think, two trips we ever took there), and I was terrified. The only thing that could calm me down was reading this big Care Bears picture book of the first movie. I read that thing cover to cover repeatedly and drank up the illustrations.

Look! He's right there on the cover!

The VHS cartoons, though, held a special kind of magic. They were so inventive to me and the characters often did ‘variety show’-style stuff where the same cast would be in different skits. In one show, Champ Bear was a knight, while in another episode, he was a basketball player or they were going camping. My favorite character, though, quickly became Bright Heart Raccoon. Not only was he my favorite color, but he was super smart and also the only raccoon in the cast, kind of like how I was the only mixed race kid in my class. It made him feel really special to me, and I latched on hard. So I asked my parents for stuff with Bright Heart Raccoon on it… but there really wasn’t any. He wasn’t a mainline Care Bear, so he was never in group shots and barely had his own toys or dolls. Additionally, my dad wasn’t too fond of my Care Bear fever since it was distinctly ‘girly stuff’ and, again, at that time, we didn’t have a ton of money to waste searching for special toys.

That was when my mother started doing something especially awesome… She showed me that she could draw. Since I couldn’t really get posters of Care Bears or anything, she would sit down and look at a picture of Bright Heart (and I think Grumpy Bear too, since he was one of her favorites), and she’d draw up a picture of them standing side by side in colored pencil. It wasn’t a big picture, probably a little bigger than a postcard, but it was drawn especially for me, and it was one of a kind. As the years went on, she drew pictures for me of various characters and things that I liked, eventually encouraging me to start drawing for myself after years of watching her, but Bright Heart was the first one, and that was extremely special to me.

The outfit he has in this drawing is the same one he had in the cartoon series, though with some modifications since I always thought the sneakers were silly and I like the heart-shaped pawprints that Care Bears have. If you look at some of my other art, you can see how this design inspired some of my characters and drawing habits, but I’ve definitely come a long way from it. In truth, I don’t think I’ve attempted to draw Bright Heart’s design directly since I was about ten years old, making this one heck of a blast from the past.

As I was drawing this and inking this, I was remembering learning how to draw raccoon masks and tails for the first time, figuring out how to fit a ballcap between a pair of animal ears, and those warm summer days spent watching Mom draw and looking at her art on my bedroom wall. It inspired a lot, and I was sure to send this to my mother after I finished it to tell her as much.

So, yeah, thanks Mom ;) You set me on an awesome creative path.

That’ll do it for this post, but I’ll make at least one more in the future about another of my Inktober memory lane experiences. I hope you all enjoy it, and let me know if there’s a drawing you particularly want to know the backstory on!

Take care, all, and happy reading!


Currently Reading: Twokinds by Thomas Fischbach

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 ( ) 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 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: .

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!


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:

Until next time, happy reading!

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!


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 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)

Until next time, happy reading, all!

Currently Reading:

Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler