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Camp 2018, Part Four

Sunday at Comics Camp always means one thing: in the morning, newcomers discover that last night’s dinner — sandwiches and such — were just for convenience. Jeste is bringing the tasty at full speed with heaps of sliced fruit, oatmeal, stuff to put in oatmeal, sticky buns, and an enormous hotel pan of migas; breakfast will not lack for tasty eggs and it’s just going to get more impressive as she takes the measure of her helpers.

There’s a split in the first programming block, with each of the two sessions having an upper limit due to materials constraints; on the one hand, you can learn to do accordion binding and build a notebook (Erika Moen does one that’s an absolutely gorgeous tribute to her beetlings), on the other hand, you can learn Ravenstail weaving. Having come to Camp determined to learn to knit (a decision I made last year and am only now acting on), I opt for the weaving.

Lily Hope is a Tlingit weaver, who learned from her mother, who learned in turn from one of a handful of surviving master weavers; there are a dozen or two people in the world that can do what she does, which is to make the warp and weft threads dance and to tease the geometric, always-symmetric designs from wool. She sets up a standing loom that contains the starting portion of a ceremonial shawl (as she describes it, it’s sort of a shoulder throw or shawl, and good thing too or it might never be finished), the result of three months hard work. An accomplished weaver, she tells us, can do about one square inch of design in three hours.

She sets us up with key rings tied with warp bundles and a pair of weft threads strung about them as starters, and two sets of instructions (one written, one visual) before walking us through the basics: tie two threads together, one in front of the warps (always an even number), one behind. Drop the behind weft, thread the front weft behind the next bundle of warps, bring the behind thread in front. Repeat across the warps and tie it as best you can at the right side (Ravenstail weaving is always left-to-right, and the design always rides on the front of the piece only). Repeat with the next pair of wefts; don’t let the warps tangle, don’t let the wefts slip, don’t miscount, don’t tie off too tight or too loose, don’t let the tails get in a snarl.

We move our fingers clumsily, slowly improving as she talks about the differences between Ravenstail and Chilkat weaving (Chilkat is adapted from the aesthetics of formline carvings found in house screens and totems), about the traditions of gifting across clan boundaries, and the meaning in the work. Human figures in the weaving are never shown with five-fingered hands, because it ties the work to a particular person, she says; the intent isn’t to say I was here, but instead to say A person made this, and who is less important than the people that person came from.

That idea isn’t always easy to get across; she’s had commissions from people that love the blankets and robes she produces and insist on the making designs as authentic and traditional as possible. She has to explain that the most authentic work must reside with the clan; to make a piece that’s appropriate for ceremony but that won’t be used in ceremony, that will hang on the wall of a collector in the Lower 48, can’t be done. If they want authentic, they need to talk about donating the piece to a clan that will make use of it; if they want to keep it, she’ll put in elements that are meaningful (representations of her family and her children), but which are not traditional designs. It’s a conversation about what makes your culture special and gives it meaning, and how far that meaning can be transported to other places and people.

She watches as we make our way through work that can be frustrating; I’m pretty good at the right-side knotting, but my warps keep tangling. My mind drifts to ideas of how I could add mechanical aids to the process (just a small bit of weight at the bottom of the warp would be helpful; I’ve seen it done by weavers of everything from Bruges lace to Shinto shrine decorations). I also consider that getting frustrated at a difficult task that takes a lifetime to master after about 20 minutes is also not a good look¹; she takes that time to tell us that we’re all doing very well and we’re really focusing on task much better than her usual students. Then again, her usual students are fourth graders, so….

The 90 minutes goes by and I’ve got about ten rows done; I’m keeping my elbows in close like I’m told, and I’ll spend much of the rest of the day completing this one small set of black and white chevrons with yellow accents. It’s still in my lap as we head back to the main lodge for the best-attended session of Camp. Lily’s husband, Ishmael, is going to talk about how indigenous stories and traditions can be brought into modern contexts without losing their meaning.

Ishmael is a poet, storyteller, writer, videogame producer, and steeped in the tales of his Tlingit and Inupiaq heritage. He talks about how a culture can’t be window dressing in a story, a game, a movie — the concerns of the people that live it must be given primacy if there’s to be the authenticity that the outsiders (who asked for input, after all) claim to want. He tells the story of a young boy taken by the Salmon People to learn the value of the food that he turned his nose up at; his storyteller rhythms are hypnotic, lulling; his voice conjures images in your mind. At night around a fire, the shadows would dance into shapes to illustrate his words.

There’s a lilting musicality to his story that fades as he speaks prose again; I’ve not woven a thread in an hour, but the design appears to be more recognizable than it was before.

Georgina Hayns teaches soft sculpture — two pieces of fabric, a design drawn in mirror image on them, representing the front and back of character, which will be stitched together and stuffed into a flat pillow shape. Whales, horses, blobfish, T-Rex (one guess who made that one), and a Scott C nightmare rabbit are among the designs that are painted, then stitched up and eventually stuffed. I watch, but have no character that I want to create; I continue weaving as the pillowcritters take shape (most of which will be finished over the next day; the paints need to dry, after all).

After lunch, Vera Brosgol teaches fabric arts for the homicidal: needle felting! You take a pile of wool over here, mush it up into a rough shape over there, and then you stab stab stab stab stab with a special barbed needle until it compresses and sculpts into the desired shape. More stabs allow you to connect different bundles of wool together. If you’re smart, Brosgol says, you stab not against a pile of wool held in your hand, but one that’s resting on a dense sponge; she asks casually if we’re up to date on our tetanus shots, but does not ask if we’re smart. In the end, only two people stab themselves and only one draws blood, so yay.

The Stabatorium is filled with aggression release as most of us make mushrooms (a relatively simple beginner project); Ryan North makes a small head that’s meant to be David Malki ! and Nikki Rice Malki’s year-old son. Jeremy Spake makes a little guy that looks remarkably like the old Henson coffee advertising Muppets, Wilkins and/or Wontkins. I decide that a pile of red wool will make a nice Amanita, the deadly mushroom genus responsible for more deaths than any other; I mention that Amanita‘s mycotoxin works by melting your liver, which would ordinarily be responsible for removing the toxin from your system. Sneaky buggers, them shrooms.

I do my turn in the kitchen on dinner prep — many veg are cut, salmon in a green curry sauce is prepped with a multi-veg slaw; it’s terrific, and I see how improvisational Jeste’s cooking is; she knew the salmon was going to be the centerpiece, but the rest of the meal came together over the 90 minutes or so that we were at work. She asks Georgia Patton, my fellow kitchen helper, if she’s ever worked in a professional kitchen before. You’re competent, Jeste says; this is high praise from any chef.

After dinner, the Pacific Order of Onomatopoeia Professionals reconvenes for the first time since last year’s First Annual Regional Terminology Summit. When POoOP president Tony Cliff announced that this year’s meeting would in fact take place, I spent the best part of a week trying to come up with an appropriate backronym for the event. Then Raina Telgemeier casually dropped the perfect label: Number Two.

I may have come up with a winner with the sound of people making out with tongues: le kiss. The results will be compiled by the estimable Mr Cliff soon enough, and as with last year’s FARTS, will be binding. Cliff, by the way, brought two copies of his soon-to-be-released third Delilah Dirk book, and there was not a single time that either of them was not being read. He’s pretty great at creating comics, and has lots of impressive onomatopoeia inside (even more impressive, I just spelled that word correctly on the first attempt for the first time in my life).

My weaving is done, some five hours of work in total; I’m surprised at my dive into the work of fabric, then surprised that I’m surprised. Over the past couple of years I’ve realized that the very male realms of engineering (in general) and making (in particular) greatly undervalue the textile arts. The draping of a garment from a 2D pattern to a 3D person, with a soft medium that changes with temperature, humidity, wind, and gravity, that behaves differently depending on how it’s cut and constructed — fashion is the most hardcore materials engineering discipline there is.

In retrospect, the tactile crafting going on this first day (Jason Alderman decided to attempt a full stuffed animal rather than a 2D+ pillow form; I saw him sketching out gussets), a buffer from the real world before we get into the deeper feelings in another day. Andy Runton and I catch up on years of not seeing each other; he’s been too absent from the new releases list for too long and his return will be welcomed by many, not the least me (my youngest nieces and nephews all got the Owly books; now the oldest are having their own kids, and I’m just saying that a new edition of them would be well received over the next couple of years, publishing industry).

Yarn, thread, needles, wool, books, stories — the tangible (and the made tangible by force of words) have stitched us together on this first full day.

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Pictures:

    Lily Hope is one of maybe ten, maybe fifteen people in the world that can do what you see here, and it took her three months. The little baby socks keeping the bundles of warp threads organized are a nice touch. The pattern that we’re weaving can be seen in the pixelized design maps; I really cannot overstate the degree of concentration that was required to make progress.

    George’s horse looked great! Everybody else was a day or so away from their ravens, whales, T-Rexes, blobfish, and scary-ass rabbits. Felting, by contrast, is simple; just stab stab stab until things come together and then you have a pile of mushrooms and also Young Master Malki !.

    Balloting for new official terms would continue for approximately 30 hours; you can’t quite read what the candidates are, but Cliff should be releasing the results in a week or two, and we’ll share them then. In the meantime, here’s last year’s again.

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    ¹ Then again, she casually mentions that if any of us are engineers who can design her a loom that can collapse in a connected fashion instead of having to be completely disassembled when she wants to move it to a different place, she’d be grateful. Tradition and technical advancements can be compatible.

    Camp 2018, Part Three

    I feel I should say that one of the neatest things that Pat Race did with respect to the Mini-Con this year was to have his little logo bear redrawn by an indigenous artist in a traditional style; it’s a small thing, but it’s meaningful. Not sure it would have fit on the cookies, though.

    I also feel I should say that if you can start your day (a very busy one, packing up your hotel room an delivering them to a U-Haul; setting up, conducting, and tearing down a convention; traveling to a campsite) by having tea and yogurt parfaits with a pair of very skilled (and colorfully coiffed) creators, you should do it; it even better if one of them can tell you all about power tools and her plans to construct a killer Halloween haunted house.

    Thus fortified for the day, we made our way to the Juneau Arts & Culture Center on a somewhat overcast, somewhat brisk day. The weather was fortunate — last year Mini-Con feel on the first really gorgeous day of the year, sending a large portion of Juneauites into the Great Outdoors for recreation; a slightly blah day increased the turnout in our corner of the Great Indoors.

    Speaking of which, if you ever get the chance to exhibit at Mini-Con, take it; the JACC features a nice green room away from the con floor for when you’re feeling like you need a break or a snack. If you really need isolation for a little while, there’s even a recording studio, so there’s a place that completely soundproof to hide from the hurly burly. Setup ran smoothly (it is, after all, a small space), and the Snack Castle rose once again under the watchful stewardship of Jason Alderman.

    It occurs to me I didn’t mention Snack Castle last year, and neglected to take any pictures of it either year … Alderman, tasked with running the snack sales, built a castle out of scrap cardboard. It had turrets, battlements, crenelations, murder holes, and a working drawbridge. This year, there was talk of converting it to a Snack Mastaba¹, in honor of the Egyptian pyramid precursor that Spike taught us about the prior night at the library. Alderman kept all who would have sacked the Snack Castle at bay and oversaw peaceful trade, save for when he was sketchnoting (more on that below).

    In addition to the vendors on the floor and the regular signings at the Alaska Robotics table, there was a steady stream of programming across the road in the meeting rooms of public broadcaster KTOO. Jon Klassen, Michaela Goade, and Andy Runton spoke about making children’s books; Ben Hatke and Lucy Bellwood argued over whether longbows (bows!) or tall ships (boats!) are better²; Molly Ostertag, Spike, and Ryan North talked about achieving social change in (and via) comics.

    Raina Telgemeier and Vera Brosgol talked about their autobio comics; Georgina Hayns and Jeremy Spake talked about puppet fabrication; Dik Pose and Tony Cliff MacGuyvered together a Mac, a webcam, and a chair to make a stop-motion animation rig; Molly Lewis lead a uke jam session; unstructured hangout sessions were held where attendees drew (with Ostertag and Dylan Meconis), talked publishing (with Spike David Malki !, and Anne Bean), wrote songs (with Seth Boyer and Marian Call), drew some more (with Hatke and Scott C), and talked writing (with North and Molly Muldoon). What I’m saying is, if there was some aspect of creativity that struck your fancy, you either got to listen to very accomplished people talk about it, or got to hang with them and do it; it’s a very street-level kind of convention.

    And in the middle of it all, a platter magically appeared in the green room, filled with local jerky and salmon spread and crab dip. And lo, the cartoonists did descend upon it, scooping great swaths up into their hungry maws. Weirdly, the amount of crab dip never seemed to diminish, but instead fed them all. And they left the green room saying A miracle occurred here.

    Okay, probably not and I don’t really like crab, but I’m assured that the dip was delicious.

    Back on the floor, Raina spent well over her allotted hour doing portrait sketches in support of a local bookstore on Independent Bookstore Day; her line eventually was cleared, and a bunch of kids went home with pictures of themselves all Raina-style. Dylan Meconis was doing watercolors of pets and OCs, because she’s been that kid wandering the con floor, working up the nerve to approach a creator, and will always pay back the kindness she was shown. Story times were held in the local branch of the library, with Klassen, C, and Brosgol reading from their books to assembled families.

    And then it was time to break down, load up, and head out to the Camp; there were intros, and kids (both Ben & Anna Hatke and David and Nikki Rice Malki ! brought offspring, who were both remarkably even-tempered and delightful for being 3 and 1 years of age, respectively), and dogs (many skritches were had by Pippin and Brio and Nova). Gear was packed out to cabins, a light dinner was had, and Camp chef de cuisine Jeste Burton³ let us all know that she had a requirement — about which more later. The last bits of structure for the evening involved the Science Fair — people formed into impromptu groups, and then giving a topic on which to produce an informative poster. Don’t call it an icebreaker, don’t call it a teambuilding exercise, call it an excuse to get weird with new friends and very possibly the contents of the booze table.

    Come to think of it, the act of physically creating things outside the typical comics wheelhouse would become a theme for the weekend, with a heavy dive into the fabric arts to start. But we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

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    Pictures:

      The JACC main hall is not very large; think the combo auditorium/gym in a typical elementary school. The meeting rooms at KTOO for panel talks (Childrens Books with Goade, Klassen, Runton from left; Lucy “Boats” Bellwood and Ben “Bows” Hatke locked in intellectual combat) and hangouts (Malki ! and Spike on publishing) were very comfortable.

      The exodus of exhibitors made their way to the U-Haul to move stuff to Camp; this was a considerable improvement on last year’s transport, where the last 5-6 rows of the bus were taken up with luggage and people were crammed in. Look at the spacious luxury! A mere 45 minutes later these smiling folks would be taking stuff to their cabins and deciding what to do in the coming days.

      Did you want to learn about shoes? Or perhaps the duct tape that might hold shoes together? How about berries, or the door that leads to the stairs that leads to underground. Sure some of those other projects might have had “better composition” or “prettier art” or “actual facts”, but did any of them have rats running around on a corpse in a murder hole that’s populated by godsdamned mole people? I think we all know which one was best.

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      ¹ Just a big ol’ pile of cardboard, with the actual for-sale snacks buried in a secret chamber far underneath; customers would be forced to plunder the sugary tomb.

      ² Hire these two to liven up any panel discussion. They play off each other beautifully.

      ³ Who managed approximately 1000 meals with a dozen different dietary restrictions and preferences, and the help of two or three civilians on any particular prep or cleanup; the woman is a marvel. And I would commit actual crimes to get pan full of the sticky buns she made for breakfast.

      The Common Thread? Homestar*Runner

      But Gary, I hear you cry, if you’re talking about Homestar*Runner, why do you have a picture of Grover at the top of the post? Bear with me. It will all relate by the end.

      • Readers of this page will recall that I have, at various times, declared Homestar*Runner to be a webcomic, originally in the context of a discussion I was privileged to lead at Comics Camp this past April. Said discussion and declaration were sketchnoted by Jason Alderman.

        Alderman’s on my brain because of a tweet I saw earlier today; if you are lucky enough to be in Pittsburgh now-ish, and lucky enough to work (as does Alderman) in the support and design of museums, then you (like he) might just be attending the Museum Computer Network 2017 conference. And just maybe you were lucky enough to attend Alderman’s presentation (recently wrapped up as I write this) on how to make sketchnotes.

        It’s something that I want him to teach me someday, something that I think would make a really cool 27-part series here at Fleen, just as soon as I can convince him to create something so extensive for free. Or maybe one of the times he does one of these talks, I’ll get him to record it and post a link.

      • But getting back to H*R, my point was that webcomics need not be ink on paper (or pixels on tablet), it can be anything that tells a story with a point of view, a direct relationship between creator(s) and audience, and the likelihood of collaboration. It can have sound and motion¹, but it has to have them for a reason; the creepy-ass blinky eyes of late-era FOOB² aren’t a reason. But used correctly, they can set a mood and serve a story, and that’s the other part of what I wanted to point you at today.

        I met Mike Grover at Comics Camp, and today he’s released the first chapter of a new limited-animation, looping soundtrack comic called Deeply Dave, and damn if it doesn’t do all the things you can do with webcomics that you can’t do with just comics. Grover provides the option to read it without the AV enhancements, and it’ll be a book eventually.

        For now, the repetitive motion brings more than a bit of depth³ and atmosphere to the story (especially considering the use of red and blue accents, reminiscent of the colors decoded by old style 3D glasses), making each panel appear to have far more going on that it would otherwise.

        The jittery images (think Squigglevision™) add a sense of menace to the presumptive Big Bad (the white circle eyes and heavy silhouette body remind me of the God Warriors from Nausicaä). The music is echoing, and distant — exactly the mood you want to convey the enormity of an ocean that does not care about you and could kill you at any time. Turn it down to just above the level of audibility for maximum effect.

        Grover may only be using the animation and music as a means of promotion, but I hope that he has the time to keep at it through each of the subsequent chapters. They’re super effective.

      There you go: Camp, sketchnotes, Homestar*Runner, Gover, it all ties together. Now go forth and find your own weird coincidences in the world.


      Spam of the day:

      Today only: something SCARY GOOD

      For the record, this spam did not get sent on Halloween Day, but rather five days after. Considering it purported to be a Pandora ad (although not from anything resembling Pandora.com) for spooky Halloween music, they really pooched this attempt to get me to click on totally innocuous links.

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      ¹ As opposed to Sound And Motion

      ² Which may not show up in the linked strip, but trust me — they were a horrorshow.

      ³ That is such a great joke and you don’t even get it unless you read the comic, so go read it already.

      Joy In Comics

      At the end of show hours I thought this was going to be a short post, but … well, you’ll see.

      Saturday was commerce, commerce, and more commerce, to the point that I didn’t really get off the floor and and only had one good (albeit brief) circuit away from the booth. The Cards Against Humanity folks that have shared the Dumbrella booth have nearly sold their stock through and during the days closeout told us they want Andy and Rich to expand beyond their half of the booth so that they (CAH) can point their (CAH again) customers at their (Rich & Andy this time) stuff and hopefully sell a lot of it.

      At the end of a show that is grinding and tiring, to take an approach other than Welp, guess we can pack up early and beat the rush, bye! is fundamentally generous; the game may be self-described as for horrible people but the people behind it are stellar. Thank you, Trin, Tom, Julia, Joe, and I know I’m forgetting other names because it’s early and I was up late.

      I’ve mentioned Jason Alderman on this page before, and not only is he an enthusiastic, wonderful guy, he’s local. When he says So there’s this really good place that’ll take us a little while to walk to but we won’t have to cross with the nerd herd coming out of the convention center and we’ll probably get great food in us while the rest of the showgoers are still an hour from being seated at The Cheesecake Factory, you listen to him. There was a great meal and I’m not telling you where or everybody will get wise to his insider’s knowledge.

      But as I approached the counter to give my order, the young woman looked at my collar and saw the Mutant Pride pin that I’ve been wearing this week on my shirt’s right collar¹. Her eyes lit up, then welled up just a little and she told me how much she loved it and wanted to know where to I got it. I pointed at Rich and said He designed it and started to mention his site and then figured it was still early on a Saturday night, she’s in the middle of nightly rush, she’ll never remember a URL or lose anything I might scribble a barely legible reference on and what the crap, there are still hundreds of them back in the booth.

      So I unpinned it and handed it to her and her hands flew to her mouth and I legit thought she was going to faint. An entire silent story played out on her face, about what both halves of that pin meant to her personally; she’d been through her own version of hated and despised by a world that fears her, and one day she discovered mutants and they made her feel less alone.

      Now she was in the shadow of the building where a tribute to the medium that made her feel a bit more whole was going on and she’s working a restaurant job that probably doesn’t allow her time to actually make the brief journey into the convention center and a skinny middle aged dude with a ridiculous moustache is giving her a badge that represents her. She told me it was the greatest day of her life; I believed her². I pulled Rich up the her register and I know he had more of his Pride stuff in his pockets that made its way across the order counter.

      There it is — beyond the hassle and the scope and the seeming focus on everything except comics, a connection got made³ and somebody’s day got better. It’s tempting to read too much into this one brief experience, but it honestly reminded me that my view on capital-l Life is pretty incrementalist in nature; small changes and individual effort, when there’s enough of them and over a long enough period of time, make big differences.

      I’d rather rely on ten (or a thousand or a million) people doing one small good thing than hope that a single powerful person does something big and good, if only because it’s harder to lose the hearts of ten (or a thousand or a million) people than it is to be disappointed by one4. Here’s hoping I’m still holding onto this sunny weltanschauung at the end of the day.

      Things To See On Sunday: I’m about to head to the convention center, hook up with Pat Race, and check out the Art Of Steven Universe panel at 10:00. Find your own way there, I don’t want to get squeezed out.

      Stuff To Get: Whatever’s on sale. But I have to tell you about what’s in the image up top. On the left is the Scott C triceratops pin, and on the right is further proof that I have the best friends in known space. Andy Bell has a new line of blind-boxed keychain danglers, little food characters. He opened up most of a case to find the one he based on me so he could give it to me. I’ve shown up in comics before, but this is the first time an artist has rendered me in 3D form. That little moustache-sporting toast is the coolest thing ever.

      Cosplay: Bob and Linda remain popular (this guy had H Jon Benjamin’s habit of starting Bob’s sentences with Uh down to a science), Snape was excellent, and Larry & Gert from Skottie Young’s I Hate Fairyland were killing it (for every possible value of it; I’m pretty sure there was a trail of corpses). The best photo I got all day was of our own Ferocious J with Wendy-as-Harley Quinn (he has a passion for Wendy’s), but that was not the best cosplay of the day.

      I didn’t get a photo, but there was a group of five people dressed up as The Avengers done as fast food mascots, and it was glorious. Fortunately, J did hand me his phone, so I present to you Hashtag McVengers. Seriously, follow the hashtag, because no detail was too small. The wings on the side of Captain KFC’s helmet were chicken wings. The Mighty Ronald’s McMjölnir was a thing of beauty. Black Wendy told me they’d been a group of Mr Meeseeks on Friday and couldn’t get ten feet without being stopped; on Saturday, they couldn’t get five. Today, they’re supposed to be an Archer group and I wager it will be top notch.


      Spam of the day:

      Find vehicle tracking devices

      I think they’re offering me a device that finds other devices that in turn track vehicles.

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      ¹ I’ve been wearing last year’s Pride Of The Resistance pin on my fleece for the past year, but for Con I’ve worn it on the left collar.

      ² Thinking back on it, that statement is both wonderful and awful.

      ³ And later, walking back to the hotel through the Gaslamp waaaay too late, another one got made. This involved helping a weaving-hard couple out for Party Times across the street when they lost forward momentum. He was dressed sharp and had slicked-back hair and Erik Estrada teeth. She had heels too tall for her current state and a dress that left little to the imagination. They were both maybe 25, 26.

      She said I was cute5 and I asked But isn’t your boyfriend jealous now? She shot him a look and said He hasn’t locked it down yet, showing a ringless left hand. I shot him a look and said Dude. He protested She’s been listening to that Rihanna song too much!

      A heartbeat’s pause, then I asked her Did he just say Rihanna? and she Mmm-hmmed me. I said You can do better and she Mmm-hmmed me again. I removed his arm from her shoulder, put her arm on mine for balance and told him Sorry, I have to help her find somebody that knows the difference between Rihanna and Beyonce. He shouted Wait, I meant Beyonce! How do you [middle aged guy, all looking like a Ben Folds fan] know about Beyonce? I looked at her and said He didn’t and she Mmm-hmmed a third time. There on the streetcorner we made him promise that the ring would be obtained this week and I showed him the proper technique for getting down on one knee.

      They aren’t all super deep and meaningful and probably neither of them remember it this morning, but this particular connection was friggin’ hilarious for at least two of us. I really hope Supertight Minidress Lady and Perfect Smile Dude make it work. Those crazy kids deserve it.

      4 Case in point: I’m going to make you wait longer for the writeup of the Read Like A Girl panel on Friday because it’s not bashed into shape yet.

      5 She was very drunk, but possibly she’s just spent the last couple days binging on Dream Daddy for the previous couple of days. What the heck, I’m dad age. Actually, that would be perfect reason for her otherwise inexplicable compliment, on account of I was talking with Dream Daddy director/lead developer Tyler Hutchison earlier that day about the wave of Tumblrteen hate directed at his team for making them wait a whole six days to get a game that had only been announced a month ago. OMG, they’ve waited forevvvvv-her-her-her it’s so unfair.

      Hey, Tumblrteens, that was me mocking your distress. Hutchison was actually very appreciative that you were so passionate about his game.

      Comics Camp: Sunday

      I’ll be honest; Sunday started a bit stressfully for me; Pat Race had asked me to give a presentation on the history of webcomics, and I was in absolute terror it would devolve immediately into uselessness:

      Hey, Ryan North? Remember when you pranked Wikipedia about chickens? That was great. And Kate Beaton, you did a comic where a duck said “Aw yiss”. That was great, too.

      And to be honest, I have to this day little memory of what I actually said. I have notes, mind you, that say things like The first webcomics are about as easily identified as the first jazz or punk songs and (double-underlined) Algonquin Roundtablesque!!

      I remember my main thesis being that webcomics (aside from being a useless term, but we haven’t come up with a better one yet) is less a medium of distribution and more of an attitude: creator ownership, minimal gatekeeping, merchandising on the back end for scrappy entrepreneurship. It’s an attitude whose technical and business rules are constantly changing, and whose only constant is the ease of collaboration. Not just between cartoonists, either; I remember this bit:

      So one day I leave my offices at Bryant Park in Manhattan, and as I walk by the southern end of Times Square, I noticed a full-sized billboard advertising W00tstock 2.0; it’s portraits of a former child actor/writer, an SFX goofball that blows things up for science, a pair of internet musicians/pirate fetishists, and it’s all been done 8-bit style by a quasireclusive pixelsmith.

      If Dorthy Parker got drunk with fewer writers and more sculptors, aviatrixes, and telegraphers you’d approximate the degree of cross-media collaboration you have going on now. Instead, you’ve got Marian [Call] including NASA mission controllers in her shows and Molly Lewis gets hired by quasi-respectable party game designers to write a Christmas song about a Hawai’ian goddess with a flying vagina¹ because why the hell not.

      Shortly after that, I shifted away from talking and turned it into a discussion session, getting people to share what they saw webcomics as, where they started, what their experiences were; considering that the room contained the likes of Kazu Kibuishi and Ryan North, it seemed a pretty good course to follow. Fortunately, the invaluable Jason Alderman did his thing and sketch-noted the session²; if you follow his twitter, you’ve seen these before when he attends sessions at various conferences. He doesn’t just take notes, he renders the speakers and finds their key points in real time, turning them into the most beautiful recaps imaginable. When you meet him, demand to look through his notebook, because you will very quickly get smarter on a wide variety of topics.

      It was a good time; people went out of their way to thank me for the discussion later, and having the first time slot meant I was able to relax for the remainder of Camp … thanks, Pat! Even better, I got to see the next session, where Jeremy Spake and Georgina Hayns (mentioned yesterday) brought out the puppets and armature they’d shown at the Mini-Con, and really got down to details with us. For 90 glorious minutes we learned about fabrication, the CNC and 3D printing techniques used to construct the puppets³, and had our minds blown by the intricate details. Much more about this down in the photos section. Let me just leave you with a quick thought, though — when the stop-motion needs to look especially smooth, there are variant puppets with multiple limbs or whatever so that, say, an arm can be in multiple places at the same time. It’s the stop-motion equivalent of smear animation.

      At lunch, I learned just how different life in Alaska can be; Sarah told me about living on an island approximately 100 km west of Juneau, where a fortunate quirk of geography allows a straight line of sight to a cell tower that provides enough internet to permit a freelancer’s life. She consults on land use and conservation policy, mixed with teaching art and movement. The nearest neighbors are 5 km away, and overwintering is a matter of personal choice and preparation. If the apocalypse ever comes, I want to convince her that I’d somehow be useful to her because she represents my best chance at survival.

      Figure drawing took up a chunk of the afternoon, as did various project noodlings. Alderman brought along a little hand-cranked music box mechanism and a set of paper sheets that could be punched with holes to specify what notes would be played; think a very small player piano4. Call punched one of her songs into a strip and then wondered if it was possible to turn that into a Moebius song. Turns out it was, and the very quiet music became nicely amplified if the mechanism was held firmly against the body of one of the many camp ukuleles. Did I mention that there were 40 ukes delivered to Camp, leading many to take up the instrument? Because that happened.

      Raina Telgemeier taught about how to present and get paid to do so; Tony Cliff showed how to snazz up those presentations with fancy flying transitions. Dinner featured the most nutritious cut of steak, and my turn at clean-up meant I missed much of the most significant session of the weekend as Cliff convened the Pacific Order of Onomatopoeia Professionals First Annual Regional Terminology Summit5 to decide once and for all how to spell certain sounds in comics. Suggestions were gathered, voting was conducted6, and Cliff released the final results [PDF] a couple of days ago. Comics creators, please note that the results linked to are definitive, official, and must be used as shown on pain of looking very foolish.

      The last program of the night was the most insanely creative thing I’ve ever been involved in, but I’m going to be purposefully vague; as I mentioned at the start of these recaps, some things that took place at Comics Camp can — should? may? — only exist in the context of the time and place they took place. To delve into them too deeply is to rob them of meaning.

      So it was as we gathered to create a musical — a main character was brainstormed, the introductory, “I Want”, villain, and emotional turning point songs were outlined, and we broke into four groups to actually write the damn things. I will show you in the photos section some wisdom from Marian Call, who shared her process for getting that first line of a song written; I think her technique applies to nearly any creative endeavour. Ultimately, I contributed two titles7 and one good line8.

      Just about an hour from the start of the exercise, The Doubleclicks started playing the first song and the others followed as quickly as one musician could sit down and the next stand up. I am being completely honest with you when I tell you that more than one of them has been rattling around in my brain near continuously ever since; they are legitimately that sticky. Surprising everybody and nobody, there was a Hamilton-style rap from Pat Race.

      I called it early that night, and so it wasn’t until the next morning I learned the anticipated northern lights were thwarted by cloud cover, but Ben Hatke mitigated the disappointment by teaching people how to breathe fire. In case you ever wondered what mineral oil tastes like, about half the Campers can tell you.

      Photos

      • Along with everything else, Jason Alderman’s handwriting is extraordinarily neat. Sketchnotes of my talk on the history of modern [web]comics.
      • To start our deep dive in the Laika’s finest, let me note that it’s possible to take a photo where just about everybody’s eyes are closed. From left: Jeremy, Kubo, Kubo’s internal armature, Beetle, George, Monkey, Sarah, Kazu.
      • The puppets all start with an internal armature; here you have a full-dressed Kubo and his internal structure. You can’t see it but it’s got tensioning screws for each and every joint except for the fingers and the jaw. The fingers don’t have metal inside (too small), but are fully poseable. The jaw isn’t jointed, but implied by the shape of the face plates.
      • Okay: faces. They each consist of an upper half and a lower half; they allow for different mouth positions and expressions, and they pop right off. High strength miniature magnets hold the plates in place, and each piece is inscribed with a unique serial number describing exactly what it is. Popping off just the upper face gives access to the eyes and eyelids, which can be individually positioned however you like. Here’s a better shot of the upper and lower eyelids.
      • With the face plates in place, seams are still potentially visible — as here, in the bridge of Kubo’s nose — which are removed digitally. George mentioned that on Coraline, Henry Selick argued strongly to leave the seams in, as an acknowledgment of the physical nature of the stop motion creative process.
      • The models themselves hide access points for tensioning their armatures, and connection sockets for when the model must be supported externally due to posing; in Kubo or Monkey, it’s under clothing or fur. In Beetle, there are little pop-off panels and bits of cloth where joints meet. Monkey’s fur is made from a four-way stretch fabric which has been impregnated with a silicone; it stays where you pose it. Kubo’s hair is human hair, likewise laced with silicone for posing.
      • I’ve over-lit this shot so you can get a good look at the clothing; Hayns said that cloth is a particular challenge because it doesn’t look right at scale without significant effort.
      • Everything on these models is poseable. Beetle’s six limbs can move widely enough to draw his bow, for instance. It’s not a different model or a different bow. We were all very careful in positioning the models, despite the fact that they’re meant to stand up to significant wear and rough handling. There’s just so much care in their construction, we couldn’t treat them cavalierly; they are legitimate works of art and the highest craftsmanship.
      • Figure drawing; the fellow providing that rock-solid five minute pose (!) is Khail Ballard, and you should read his stuff. Ballard also played the lead in that night’s musical.
      • You thought I was kidding about the ukes, didn’t you?
      • Voting underway in the wake of the POoOP FARTS debate.
      • How to get to that first line, by Marian Call. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot.

      ________________
      ¹ The fact that I got to nod at Molly Lewis while saying that last part is a highlight of my life.

      ² Bonus: preliminary sketches of the library kickoff show!

      ³ Of which there are potentially dozens of each character — and each animator has a precise preference about how much tension there is in the articulation, which presents design challenges you can scarcely conceive of.

      4 A discussion of which led to me holding forth on one of my favorite topics — how Hedy Lamarr used player-piano rolls to defeat the Axis in World War II and at the same time invented frequency-hopping spread spectrum, which makes your cell phone possible.

      5 I’ll wait.

      6 While I did not make any spelling suggestions, I did exercise my voting rights.

      7 The “I Want” song, Proof, and the villain song, Sweet, Sweet Untraceable Cash.

      8 Near the end of the first verse of Proof; the music for that song was all Marian Call, the remainder of the lyrics were by her, North, Telgemeier, and Hollis Kitchin, who runs the best bra shop in Juneau. Other groups were headed up by the Webber sisters, Lewis, and Seth Boyer.

      Comics Camp: The Juneau Community

      The thing about Pat Race is, he’s been bringing creators to Juneau to meet local fans and generally be available in a place not on the general tour circuit for years; the oldest story I’ve written on the topic was from April of 2013, and I’m pretty sure he was well into the habit by then. Small wonder, then that Friday of Camp Weekend would feature all of the invited guests (and anybody else with a clever enough hook — Jason Alderman wound up teaching kids how to make pop-ups from bits of paper and glue) heading out into the public schools to bring their insights to students.

      It was an all-day affair, with creators being driven all over, from start of day until end, averaging two different sessions each. As a result, it was possible to run into people pretty much all day long, either waiting to make their way to a school, or coming back from one, or in some other in-between state. I wound up having breakfast with a rotating cast of creative types¹ and then hanging about the AK Robotics offices with Katie Lane — who had some contracts to work on, which for her is a legitimately fun morning — for a bit before grabbing a nap. Lunch meant tacos and then an impromptu vibe settled among the Camp folks in downtown — there’s a glacier in Juneau, and by gum we were going to see it.

      Eventually, three taxiloads (taxis-load?) of us were deposited in the parking lot of the Visitors Center of the Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest and we started out for the big hunk of ice across the sandy beach. Here’s the thing about Mendenhall, because I’ve been there before: you have no idea how far away it is. There’s no scale, and after walking for 30 or 45 or 60 minutes, you may have come significantly closer to, say, a waterfall on the way, but the glacier itself is no closer and no larger. It is still impossibly far away, and it’s getting time to head back to town (some of us had obligations to help with prep for the library event that night), and anyway, what are those tracks in the sand?

      Bear. Definitely bear, except for the ones that were clearly wolf. They probably don’t feel like coming out in daylight, and there’s a good 300-400 meters of clear land in all directions so nothing can sneak up on you², but still … finding bear tracks is an excellent way to focus your mind on the general topic of being elsewhere.

      The library event would involve all of the musicians, and ten or so of the comics folks, each getting five or ten minutes to play, or tell a story, or demonstrate an aspect of their work; I was asked to help make sure each knew when to make their way to the microphone, and to ensure that their presentations (if any) were loaded. It was a terrific success, with the standouts being Jason Caffoe’s demonstration of exactly how much his colors add to Kazu Kibuishi’s inks³, Ben Hatke’s reading of Nobody Likes A Goblin with all the voices, and Lucas Elliott’s series of mer-men portraits, ending with a loving tribute to Pat Race and Aaron Suring.

      Breakdown was followed by a trip to Fred Meyer for camp essentials like earplugs, cocoa, and hand warmers, and then back to downtown where Race had arranged a party at Juneau’s about-to-open distillery (about two weeks from the time of this writing) for Moscow Mules and much good conversation. If you get into Juneau, it’s right across the street from the Baranof Hotel, and the wallpaper is both distractingly random and oddly beautiful. It’s going to be the PDX carpet of southeastern Alaska.

      The gin, by the bye, is excellent and hasn’t been proofed yet, so on the night it was somewhat north of Navy Strength; the distillers are passionate about their craft and attentive to detail (I walked by four days later and they noticed me, grinning and waving), and they are going to be making some excellent stuff. But four time zones and strong gin make for a tired Gary, with an early start to the mini-con the next day.

      Photos

      • Friday started out foggy; view of downtown Juneau from my hotel room.
      • Ravens act like they own the place, but tell me that spread of feathers isn’t gorgeous.
      • The Mendenhall Glacier, I’m told, is significantly smaller than in the past. But after 45 minutes of walking, it is still impossibly large, impossibly far away.
      • Probably just a cub, but still further across than my size 8.5 shoes.
      • Lucy Bellwood (adventure cartoonist!) and Lucas Elliott illustrate the welcome sign. Fun fact, Pat Race’s mom has been a librarian in the Juneau system for decades, and parents bring their kids to storytime with her because she’s the one that read to them when they were kids.
      • The library crowd required the back wall of the room to be retracted (the track is where the green section of the side wall ends) in order to set up all the chairs necessary.
      • Ben Hatke, when there is enough room, ends readings by doing backflips. Sadly, there wasn’t enough room.
      • Jason Caffoe with a fairly finished set of Amulet inks, and the corresponding colored image. There weren’t really any inks to speak of to guide him in this skyscape. The degree to which he is a full partner in Kibuishi’s work cannot be overstated.
      • Lucas Elliott with his rendition of MerAaron and MerPat. It’s a thing of beauty.

      _______________
      ¹ Including a lengthy discussion with Ryan North as to whether or not a complex document like a college thesis could be written entirely in emoji. I contended you could, drawing an analogy to Chinese ideograms. He argued that emoji don’t necessarily have specific agreed-upon word meanings. I countered that ideograms could change meaning or pronunciation depending on context.

      He landed the decisive blow in pointing out that different vendors draw different symbols with the same Unicode address, so you don’t have the uniformity necessary. We both agreed that it’s simultaneously a tragedy and awesome that Unicode’s language specification is never going to be finished at least in part because it has to deal with petitions for inclusion from the likes of the Klingon Language Institute. Ryan’s always a rad dude to talk to.

      ² Except ravens.

      ³ To the extent that sometimes he’s given a two-page spread with the instruction Give me a floating city in the sky or Make this mountain look treacherous and not much else. Sometimes it comes together in a single image, sometimes there’s multiple revisions to get exactly what both of them want.

      Comics Camp: Prelude

      The word started filtering back to me about a year ago; the Comics Camp that Pat Race, Aaron Suring, and the rest of the Alaska Robotics crew staged had been invigorating — even life changing — for those that had attended. When Pat was kind enough to extend an invitation to attend the second iteration of Comics Camp, I filed it away for future recall. When he emailed me after the application form went live and prodded me with a polite No, really, we want you to come, my course was set.

      When he sent the list of guests and camp attendees — some 20% of whom I knew personally, another 15% or so from their work, but for the most part intriguingly-described strangers — I began to suspect I’d made a very good decision. I was pretty certain about the time I wandered off my Newark-Seattle flight and realized that my Seattle-Juneau flight would be the same plane and hunkered down for the layover.

      About half an hour later, while wandering somewhat aimlessly, I was tackled from the side by Lucy Bellwood calling Gary, Gary, Gary!¹ followed by a high-speed drag-over to where a crew of camp-bound folks had assembled; a time zone away from Juneau, I was already meeting people for the first time (Jason Caffoe, Jeremy Spake, Andy McMillan) and renewing acquaintances (Kazu Kibuishi, Vera Brosgol²). Queuing up on the jetway, I noticed a tell-tale shock of hair and a shoulder-slung ukulele, and introduced myself to Molly Lewis, who in turn introduced me to Ben Solieu. Coming off the plane in Juneau, I received a text from Jason Alderman, who excitedly³ informed me he’d just figured out I was on his flight and he’d be along shortly.

      Pat and Aaron and various local helpers with cars met us at baggage claim. Rides were sorted out4, plans were made for the remainder of the day; it was not quite 1:00pm (plus four time zones difference) and the afternoon was free for several hours. Alderman and I made plans with Kibuishi and Caffoe to grab lunch after checking into the hotel and calling our various families. We had Indian food and extensive conversation about the state of primary education in America and why Speed Racer is the most underrated film of the past twenty years5. Alderman and I peeled off for a mini-con volunteers meeting at the Alaska Robotics shop6, and eventually made our way out to dinner.

      Gary! I heard from the street, and found a grinning Raina Telgemeier walking towards us. She’d heard about a larger group of folks who’d just gotten in and were gathered nearby; Alderman and I altered course to join her, and found ourselves enjoying excellent fare with just about everybody from earlier, along with Kate Beaton, Dylan Meconis, Katie Lane, and others I’d not yet met. I was on about hour 22 since I’d gotten up in New Jersey to start my travels and fading fast.

      Fortunately, unlike most everybody else at the table, I’d have Friday mostly free while they visited school assemblies and classrooms (if memory serves, nearly three dozen visits took place, in every public school in Juneau). For me, things would kick in again at a welcome party at the main branch of the Juneau Library. It was going to be a hell of a weekend.

      Photos
      Normally, I scale down photos for compactness, but I’m keeping all of these at original resolution. Embiggen to get the full effect.

      • Juneau is a very vertical city; the alleyways between buildings and side streets (in this case, next to the hotel) would end in staircases going up the hillside. This was not the tallest of them.
      • The Alaska Robotics Gallery is part very well curated comics shop, part game store, part music store, part fine arts space. I got the feeling it’s really a center of the community. A pair of girls, about 11-12 years old came in during the volunteers meeting and suddenly perked up hearing Kibuishi’s name. Is he here? Is he coming to [I forget the name of the school]? He signed my book last year and we drew with him! Race and company have made a concerted effort to bring artists and creators to this very isolated corner of the country, and as a result they’ve become key to its artistic life.
      • Ravens, man. This guy was just walking down the center of the street like he owned it. I tried to get closer to get a good shot, but he’d just wait until I was about five feet away and sidestep around me; the car should give you an idea of size, and this was far from the largest I saw. His body posture clearly said I don’t feel like dealing with you right now but if you decide to start something, I’m finishing it Chumpo.
      • Dinner. Visible from the near left side going clockwise you have Jason Alderman, Vera Brosgol, Kate Beaton, Morgan Murray, Kazu Kibuishi, Jason Caffoe, Katie Lane, Dylan Meconis, a hack webcomics pseudojournalist, Lee Post. Not visible but if memory serves, Lucy Bellwood, Andy McMillan, Alex Bates, and Lucas Elliott were there as well; pretty sure Lucas was the one I handed my camera to.

      Spam of the day:
      On hiatus while I talk about Camp.

      ______________
      ¹ She may describe it as a polite hello, but the enthusiasms of Lucy Bellwood are such that even simple greetings arrive with the force of F5 weather events.

      ² She looked at me slyly and asked Do you remember me? as if anybody could forget. For the record, the last time I saw Brosgol in person, I had just dropped her off at the SPX Sunday-afternoon softball game (when that was still a thing) having given her a lift in a car that I haven’t owned for seven and a half years now. So, fair question.

      ³ Jason does everything excitedly; small yip-yip dogs with quad espressos look calm next to Jason when you offer him a project that strikes his fancy.

      4 In my case, courtesy of Rob Roys, Alaskan abstract artist. A query about seeing bald eagles evoked a snort from Roys, the essence of which was: Want to see bald eagles? We’ll be driving by the dump, they’re all there. Trash birds. Now the ravens, they’re cool and very smart. Don’t piss them off, because the particular raven that you piss off will remember your face and attack you later.

      His opinions on both eagles and ravens were corroborated by other Juneauans — Juneauites? Junevers? what’s the demonym for Juneau, anyway? — on multiple occasions, and I got close enough to some ravens to decide that they is damn big birds and I would not be pissing any off. More about them when we get to camp.

      5 If you ever get the chance to talk movies with Kibuishi, bring your A-game because I can promise you he’s thought more about the structure and symbolism of film than you have. It was an education.

      6 Where Jason was thrilled to hear he’d been placed in charge of setting up the snack table; he ultimately led the construction a friggin’ castle made out of cardboard, complete with portcullis, gatehouse, murder holes, arrow slits, and cannon. I, foolishly, did not get any pictures of it.
      Update to add: But another camper did. Enjoy.