VanCAF 2015 Panel on Editing Anthologies

You may remember that earlier this year I participated in a panel at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival called “Picking and Pruning: Editing Tips for Comics.” If you were unable to make it to the show (or if you were at the show and unable to make it to the panel) but are still interested in this topic, the entire panel has been posted on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. It is a conversation between myself, Sfé Monster (Beyond), and Kel McDonald (Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales), moderated by Jeff Ellis (Mega Fauna).

“From The Beyond” Reference Selfies

I have posted my often ridiculous reference selfies on this blog before. Once again, I have been discussing the importance of photo reference with my students and showing them the silly photos I have taken of myself to help me work out drawing problems for various projects, and feel compelled to share them here. My current project involves a 1920s séance, which has created a necessity for photographs of many hilarious gestures and facial expressions.

Another tricky aspect of the séance scene is its unique lighting situation. Lighting faces has always been a bit challenging for me, and I’m especially not accustomed to drawing faces lit from below, as they would be from a candle in a typical séance. A few nights ago I lit some candles in my living room and took some reference shots to help me figure this out.

There aren’t any streetlights in the neighborhood where I live, so I didn’t have to close my blinds to take these photos. It occurs to me now that it’s entirely possible my neighbors saw me through the windows, making faces at myself in an empty candlelit room, and likely think I am insane.

“From the Beyond” pages are nearing completion! Check the Then It Was Dark tumblr blog for periodic updates and previews of other stories in the upcoming ghost-themed comics anthology.

“From The Beyond” In Process

Lately I’ve been hard at work on a short story for Then It Was Dark, an upcoming anthology of ghost story comics. My piece focuses on the tale of Thomas Lynn Bradford, a Spiritualist who committed suicide in 1921 in an attempt prove the existence of an afterlife by contacting the living from beyond the grave. A woman named Ruth Doran claimed to have received his message.

Pencil drawing from “From The Beyond.”

This has been a really fun story to work on. Anyone who has read previous posts about my process will know that one of my favorite parts of research is finding amusing titles of old newspaper articles, and research for this piece has been no exception. Below is my favorite of the articles I discovered for many reasons but especially for the “GIVES OUT A STORY ON IT” subtitle, which seems pretty self-evident and hilariously unnecessary.

I also now have a pretty extensive library of reference photos of 1920s fashion, and older buildings in Detroit, where the story takes place.

I have exciting plans for these pages, which I will post more about in the coming weeks. For now, they are slowly coming together:

At this point I was cursing myself for drawing so many windows.

Needs some whiteout, but otherwise finished title panel.

Photo reference (Detroit, circa 1920).

Stay tuned for more updates on this and other stories. To see process photos posted in real time, follow me on Twitter!

Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Trepanation, Part 1

Those of you following me on Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram have probably seen me share about a million links and images relating to the recent research I’ve been doing into trepanation practices. “What the hell is Emi working on?” you might be asking yourselves. Trepanation is the very ancient procedure of drilling a hole in the skull, and it is possibly the oldest known surgical procedure for which we have physical evidence. I’ve fallen into a bit of a rabbit hole doing this research for an upcoming project, and am currently obsessed.

The Surgeon, by Jan Sanders van Hemessen, depicting a trepanation surgery (painted 1555).

The piece I’m working on focuses mostly on contemporary trepanation practices. I won’t get into all the details (you can wait and read the comic for that) (or, you know, Google it if you’re into spoilers) but essentially the modern trepanation movement is the brainchild of a man named Bart Huges. As a medical student in Amsterdam in the early 60s, Huges postulated that if one were to drill a hole in their skull it would increase what he termed “brainbloodvolume,” and result in a permanent high. He decided to test this hypothesis on himself.

Here’s our man Bart, right after his self-surgery.

Huges unveiled this theory (and his head wound) in an art happening in a public square on January 11th, 1965. He then laid out his ideas in an illustrated scroll he called “Homo Sapiens Correctus,” and tried to get it into the hands of professionals. As you might imagine, he wasn’t taken especially seriously by the medical or scientific community.

“Homo Sapiens Correctus”

A man named Joe Mellen became Huges’ first serious disciple, successfully performing his own self-trepanation in 1970. His memoir, Bore Hole, recounts this experience in some detail. If you have a moment, I recommend reading this interview between Huges and Mellen from 1966, as it is highly entertaining. I had the pleasure of speaking to Mellen as a part of my research for this project, and you’ll hear a lot from him in the comic once it’s finished and posted (stay tuned!).

If you’d like your new scientific theory to be taken seriously, maybe don’t publish it in scroll form.

Artist and activist Amanda Fielding was the second to follow Huges’ example. After failing to find a willing surgeon to help her, she too performed the procedure on herself. Fielding created a film, Heartbeat In The Brain, that featured footage of her self-surgery, in part as an effort to promote the practice. The film was screened at Suydam Gallery in New York City in 1978, where allegedly several audience members fainted upon seeing it. Below is a clip from Fielding’s film, taken from the 1998 documentary A Hole In the Head.

Keep your eyes peeled for my comic about trepanation, which should be finished and online in the near-future. In it, you’ll be able to hear first hand from some of the key players in this unusual movement, as well as learn all about how you too can have a hole drilled in your head! Once the comic is up, I’ll share a little bit more of my research with you guys, so look for that as well!

History of Vibrators Reference Material

Last week my “History of Vibrators” guest comic for Erika Moen‘s fabulous Oh Joy Sex Toy was posted, and many of you seemed to enjoy it. I’m so glad! I had a really fun time researching this topic. Most of my information came from Dr. Rachel P. Maines’ book, The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, which I recommend to anyone interested in further exploring this subject matter.

I found a lot of great photo-references of crazy contraptions while I was working on this. Many vintage vibrators came with several, sometimes terrifying-looking, attachments referred to as “nodes.” Some of the older ones were hand-crank operated! I suggest that anyone entertained by the following images visit, or for more.

Possibly more entertaining than the vibrators themselves were all of the vintage advertisements for them that used to be featured in women’s magazines. These ads typically showed women applying the vibrator to their faces, and billed them as health/beauty devices (most people knew what they were really for, though).

It was interesting (albeit a little depressing) to trace the development of vibrator technology in conjunction with the social awareness and acceptance of female sexuality. When vibrators were first invented, it was to treat women with “hysteria,” a nonsense diagnosis that included many symptoms now recognized as normal emotional and sexual behaviors. Using vibrators to bring women to “paroxysms” wasn’t considered a sexual practice because people didn’t believe women had orgasms. The only type of activity that was considered sexual involved penetration, so stimulating a woman with a vibrator was thought of as simply a medical procedure.

By the time these things became household products, people were a little more aware of the concept of female sexuality, but no one was talking about it. Once they started showing up in porn films in the 1920s, magazines dropped the ads because it became impossible to deny the vibrators’ actual purpose. If you haven’t already, you can read all about this and more in my guest comic for Oh Joy Sex Toy. While you’re there, I encourage you to check out the rest of the site! It’s a terrific series.

Lake Nyos Disaster Reference Photos

I’ve been pretty quiet around here lately. Much of my time this semester has been spent focusing on teaching; I’ve found that I have significantly less time to work on comics than I would like, and even less time to spend writing apologetic blog updates for my lack of progress. Never fear, however! I have been making comics, albeit slowly. In a few weeks, my summer will begin, and I will be making comics with a vengeance and updating my blog like crazy (well, maybe not too crazy). So stay tuned.

For now, I thought I’d share with you some reference photos I used while working on a recent piece about the Lake Nyos disaster. The story will appear in issue #4 of the comic anthology Irene, which will be published this spring. If you’re not familiar with Irene I suggest you purchase issue #3 and check it out. It’s a fabulous series and I am thrilled to be able to contribute.

Nyos is a crater lake in northwestern Cameroon. If you’ve ever heard of it, it was almost certainly in reference to a tragic natural disaster in 1986, in which CO2 that had built up in the lake over time was suddenly released in a giant gas cloud, known as a limnic eruption.

The gas cloud spilled into the adjacent valleys, killing over 1,700 people and countless animals. In a few cases, the populations of nearby villages were almost entirely wiped out, with only a handful of survivors.

I think one of the more horrific aspects of this tragedy not adequately captured in these photos would be the disorienting silence that must have filled the valleys. Surviving residents of these villages would have been accustomed to the constant hum of thousand of insects, birds, and other animals inhabiting the area. Most of these creatures would have been killed by the gas cloud, making the aftermath of the eruption all the more unsettling.

Survivors of this event were evacuated to nearby hospitals and resettlement camps. Some of the hardest-hit villages still haven’t been repopulated.

I find this story to be both depressing and horrific; the fact that a person can wake up to find their families, livelihoods, and entire communities gone is panic-inducing. Limnic eruptions are very uncommon, and I would imagine that for many survivors, at least at first, it would have been unclear as to exactly what had happened. I think if I saw every living thing around me asphyxiating for no discernible reason, I might be inclined to think the world was ending.

This story is pretty dark, even by my standards, but hopefully not so dark that you’re unable to enjoy it. Here’s a sample page from the piece:

Look for my story about the Lake Nyos disaster in the upcoming issue of Irene, set to debut at TCAF this year.

My Photo Booth is Full of Weird Reference Selfies

I’ve been talking to my students about using photo reference a lot lately, and about how useful it can be to pose, or get a friend to pose, for photos. I pulled some of my own reference photos as examples and ended up going through the entire history of the Photo Booth application on my laptop. I’d say about 95% of it is ridiculous pictures I’ve taken of myself to use as drawing reference, which are hilarious out of context:

The majority of these pictures are of specific hand gestures, because hands – they are tricky things.

There are also a lot of shots of me making faces, photos of the back of my head, or just weird scenes I acted out that I now can’t even remember why exactly or for which project they were intended.

I have literally hundreds of photographs like this, comprising of almost my entire Photo Booth history. Like any other self-respecting citizen of the internet, the remaining 5% of my pictures are mostly selfies taken with my cat.

Because, obviously.

Some Process Photos From Winterbreak

It’s been rather quiet around here lately; I’m terrible, I know. The beginning of a new semester has kept me pretty busy, but I have been working sporadically on new comics so you can all keep yours eyes peeled for those in the near future! Over the winter break, I spent time working on a submission for on upcoming anthology, and a guest strip for a friend’s webcomic. Here’s  a sketchy little pencil drawing from the anthology contribution:

I had planned on spending some quality time with my family and friends in Illinois before heading home to get some work done, but unfortunately I had terrible timing! Just when I was ready to head  back to Kansas, we got hit with the dread Polar Vortex, and suddenly we were covered in heaps of snow and throwing boiling water out of our windows to watch it freeze before it hit the ground. No fun (well, maybe a little fun).

Fortunately, I had essentially packed up my whole studio and brought it to Illinois with me, so I cleared off some space on my mother’s sewing table and set up shop in her basement for a few days (thanks, Mom!).

I inked fourteen pages while I was at my mom’s! Here’s a picture of some dead cows I drew while I was there:

The anthology contribution I finished over the break involved a lot of dead animals/people (which I suppose doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with my work).

I’ve also been experimenting with using greywash on a separate sheet on paper, so I can adjust the levels separately after I scan them into Photoshop. I’ve been somewhat pleased with the results so far.

I’ll get into more detail on the comics I wrapped up over the break in a future post! At the moment, I am currently doing research for yet another short project! If you would like to see process photos like these on a semi-regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram!

A Juggalo Process GIF

Recently Symbolia released their “True Crime” issue, featuring my comic, “What Is a Juggalo?” The story focuses on the Insane Clown Posse’s legal battle with the FBI over the official classification of ICP fans as gang members. It was a really fun project to work on, and I thought I’d show you guys a bit of my process. Here’s a GIF that shows each stage of a page’s creation, from thumbnails to finished, colored and lettered art:

I was pretty happy with how that page turned out. It features Mars prominently, I rapper with whom I had the pleasure of speaking as part of my research for this project. I was happy to see links to Symbolia’s new issue on a few Juggalo community sites last week, including Juggalo News a site owned by Mars’ entertainment company.

This issue also features stories about veterans facing the consequences of combat, a personal memoir about a checkered past, and a cold case that took decades to crack. If you haven’t already, you can download the newest issue of Symbolia using these links:

Subscribe/purchase via PDF:

Subscribe/purchase via iPad:

Juggalo Comic Previews

Moving day is nearly here! All of my belongings have been packed up and loaded onto a truck, that will be meeting me down in Kansas some time next week. All that’s left to do is clean my apartment here in Portland, and say my goodbyes. This transitional period means a lot of things for me, and one of those things is that I won’t be doing a whole lot of drawing for the next few days. All of my commissions have been finished, art supplies packed, and invoices delivered. One project I’ve just wrapped up is my piece, “What Is A Juggalo?”, that will be featured in Symbolia‘s upcoming “True Crime” themed issue. This will be a short, interactive comic about the FBI’s classification of ICP fans as an official gang. Below are a few preview images from the story:

You’ll be able to read this piece, along with other crime-themed comics, when the new issue of Symbolia is released next month. While I’m on the road heading towards my new home in Kansas, my Etsy shop will unfortunately be closed. You can, however, find a few of my comics for sale at the Birdcage Bottom Books store, so go on over there and check them out if you’d like. Birdcage Bottom Books is a a great little comics publisher and distributor founded and run by JT Yost. You can get a free comic with an order over $15 during the  month of July, so go buy some comics already!