I’ve said numerous times in the past that I’m a visual writer — that is, I tend to see my stories visually and try to write what I’m seeing in my head. Sometimes it works, sometimes it needs a bit of post-writing revision, but either way I try to tell the story in the best way possible.
Meanwhile, as a fun not-entirely-serious project to get back into the habit of drawing again (and maybe, slowly, getting better at it), I’ve decided to storyboard Diwa & Kaffi, which is one of my more visually-created stories. I wrote it fully seeing it as a Studio Ghibli film or a manga tankobon, so it certainly lends itself to that particular format.
The above page is one from page 6-7, just after Diwa and Kaffi have nearly gotten themselves in trouble all while being monitored by their fathers. Below is the text version:
“You’re right,” Samuel said, leaning back against the railing. “That game of theirs is a bit haphazard. It’s a simple game of catch, but it only tests their timing.” “There was no coordination between them whatsoever,” the tintrite huffed. “Agreed,” he said. “but it doesn’t have to be all about coordination, Gray. You watched Diwa navigate the garden almost flawlessly—” “Almost,” Graymar snorted, flashing a quick fang. “It’s about knowing the area,” he continued. “I know for a fact I’d have gone the longer way around the garden and playground and missed the catch entirely.” “You were never good at catch games, Samuel.” Samuel didn’t miss a beat. “You never wanted to play them! Seriously, though…I see potential. They were confident in their surroundings. They’ve been all over this estate for years, they know it backwards and forwards. I’ve seen them both taking a lot of initiative, helping the tenants, and chipping in during our quarterly festivals. They’re old enough to be our interns now. Diwa has been showing interest in the tenancy committee. He’s been active in the last few meetings. I’d be happy to show him the ropes. And he says Kaffi has an interest.” Graymar lifted his snout quickly in response. “Kaffi hasn’t said anything about this to me.” Samuel had expected as much. Graymar’s relationship with his pahyoh – with anyone, come to think of it – sometimes required a lot of patience and understanding. “He’s waiting for the right moment. Ask him, or at least let him know you’re aware of his wishes,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll be interested.” “Hmmm.”
I’m having a LOT of fun with this diversion, so I’m going to continue with it as time and inclination allows! I’m learning while I’m going too, dusting off a lot of my long-ignored film production/theory knowledge while also letting myself enjoy the creative process. It’s helping me visualize the characters better — in my head I can see what Graymar and Kaffi look like as tintrite, but I haven’t quite managed to nail their exact image as closely as I’d like, for instance — and in the process open up a possible new direction with my creativity.
Will anything come of this? I might shop the storyboard version around, or I might turn it into a webcomic, or it may come to naught. But I’m keeping the options open for now!
Yesterday over at Walk in Silence I talked about using this free time I suddenly have to finally work on all those creative endeavors. You know, the “if I only had time to do (x)” things. Since that’s my music blog, I talked a bit out making more time for my guitar playing and getting better at it.
As for the writing side of things, I’ve been thinking a lot about artwork. I mean, a lot. Back in the pre-pandemic days when we went to the gym, I’d find myself listening to the same things over and over on my mp3 player, because I was working out specific scenes of my novels in my head. This is a super-old writing process that I used as a teenager, first starting out. It was how the Infamous War Novel was written.
One scene in particular that I’d work through during those gym sessions is the final scene/credits sequence of Diwa & Kaffi. The novel itself ends with the two taking off and flying towards home, with their two friends watching them, proud of what they’ve become. But there’s a bit more that follows, a purely visual segment, that’s not in the book. Set to The Sound of Arrows’ “Stay Free”, it starts with their liftoff and progresses through multiple shots of them feeling the pure joy and freedom of flying, interspersed with flashbacks and flashforwards of their lives at their apartment complex. There’s also a section of this where they fly alongside a train containing their tenants, returning back to the estate by land, showing that they are also bonded to their neighbors. [Picture credits flashing or rolling throughout, of course.]
Once I was free of the Day Job, I thought: you know, I have this film studies background that I’m not using…and I’ve been told by numerous people that I’m a very visual storyteller (“I can see this as a movie” is a common phrase — to which I secretly pump my fist, as that was my plan all along). And I also follow a lot of artists and animators on Twitter and elsewhere, so I can check out how they do their work. [Side note: Natalie Nourigat’s I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation is a wonderful short graphic novel about exactly this, and I highly recommend it both for the information and the enjoyment.]
So. Why not learn how to storyboard?
I mean — why the hell not, right? I’m a visual storyteller, I have the general knowledge of film, the practice of screenwriting, and I understand how it all works as a whole. And thanks to the artists and animators I follow, I don’t feel too self-conscious that I’m not the best artist right now — it’s been repeated by many that it’s not the artistry that pushes storyboards but the way the format’s used. Knowledge of how to visualize a story well is more important than getting every sketch perfect.
I have no idea how this will pan out, but what the hell, right? It combines my love of writing and my love of drawing, and that’s certainly a start.
More character sketches for you to enjoy! Here are a few more major characters from the story that are part of Diwa and Kaffi’s life.
Graymar is Kaffi’s paddir (father, in the tintrite language) and the co-landlord of their estate with Diwa’s dad. Everything about him is BIG…he’s enormous, loud, strong and has one hell of an impressive wingspan, making him one of the best fliers in the neighborhood. He often comes across as grouchy, but he’s never shown outright anger or hate towards anyone. He takes his job — and his bond with Samuel — extremely seriously. He doesn’t have a direct Ghibli analogue, though he does have the crankiness of Yubaba from Spirited Away.
Samuel Parkes is Diwa’s dad and the co-landlord of the estate alongside Graymar. He and Gray were childhood friends, just like Diwa and Kaffi, and bonded early on in their lives. Samuel is haunted by his past and has to learn how to overcome his fears. He loves his family very much and does what he can for them, often putting them (and Gray) over his own happiness. He does all he can to ensure Diwa achieves his dreams. He’s your classic Dad character in many Ghibli films (I’m thinking of Koichi from Ponyo); kind-hearted, caring, and dutiful.
Tassh is an aanoupii (a minotaur-like being) who’s soft-spoken and often shy, but is also quite friendly and chatty once he gets to know you. He and his family work in construction, but his real love is horticulture. With Diwa’s help, he acquires a patch of garden on the estate, but soon becomes the estate’s lead gardener, leading to a major job change for him. I’d say he’s got a bit of Totoro in him, to be honest!
Iliah is Kaffi’s older ahmané (sister) and a budding culinary artist. She taught Kaffi many flying styles over the years, and made sure he never forgot his dreams and goals. She’s also good friends with Diwa’s older brother Aldrine and used to hang out with him when she was going to university. She’s very much based on Ursula from Kiki’s Delivery Service.
I’ve been having a bit of fun for Inktober this year by drawing sketches of the characters that make up Diwa & Kaffi. I totally admit I’m going against the rules from the start by drawing in pencil and posting them as is (I plan on inking them at some future point), but I really like how they’re coming out! Hope you enjoy them!
First up is Diwa. His background is interesting in that I wanted him to be just a nice kid with an honest goal of taking over his dad’s position as co-landlord at their estate. He’s not looking for fame or glory…he just wants to give back to the community. My way of having him stand out is that he often seems like he’s too good to be true, so his personal moments are always about inner turmoil. I’d say his Ghibli analogue would most likely be Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Next is Kaffi, a tintrite (a dragon-like character) and Diwa’s best friend since childhood. He’s very much someone who doesn’t try to make waves all that much, but once he’s up in the sky he becomes an amazing and breathtaking flier. And he LOVES to fly. He’s always honest with his emotions, sometimes to his own detriment, but he rarely lets anything get the best of him. He’s extremely loyal to Diwa and the first to realize just how deep their connection goes. His Ghibli analogue would be Jiro from The Wind Rises, in that he’s quiet but always driven to achieve his goals.
Anna-Nassi is one of my all-time favorite characters I’ve ever written. She’s so full of life and emotion that it’s hard not to be pulled in by it all! She’s a mandossi (a semi-avian, semi-dragon-like being with clairsentient abilities) and a very loud and extroverted one at that. She’s a big goofball and always ready to give anyone a big bone-crunching hug. She cheers Diwa and Kaffi on all the time. She’s also a sucker for anything cute and kawaii. She’s a mix of several Ghibli characters, from Ponyo to Chihiro (Spirited Away), with maybe even a bit of Porco Rosso in there as well.
Also, I just can’t get over how ridiculously awesome her sketch came out!
And last but not least, we have Cole, a hedraac (a humanoid vampire with clairsentient abilities). He’s often the Straight Man character to Anna-Nassi’s silliness, but he’ll also sneak out a devastating zinger when you least expect it. He can be quiet and nervous, partly due to his disability, but he’s exceptionally smart and is usually the first one in the room to understand the situation. He kind of reminds me of Howl (Howl’s Moving Castle) in that he seems a bit out of joint from everyone else and yet is a vital and integral part of the whole story.
If anything, I’m sure I’m going to need to study some basic anatomy if I’m going to try to visualize my characters like this. These images aren’t necessarily going to be in the book…they’re just reference for myself, so I can at least get the basics right.
Kaffi up above is a teenage alien tintrite (pronounced TIN-treet), one of the many different beings that live in the apartment complex that comprises the main setting for my new project. He’s kind of a dragon/lizard hybrid, long and sleek but also muscly and winged. He’s an excellent flier, but he’s also reckless. Teenage immaturity seems to be a universal constant in this world. Anyway, he’s one of two main characters, the other being his human BFF, Diwa.*
*Note – I had to do a bit of homework to get Diwa’s name right, which is a rarity for me. Diwa is mixed-race — his father is Caucasian and his mother is Filipino — and I wanted a Filipino name that was a) gender neutral, and b) kind of unique and unexpected. It means ‘spirit’ or ‘essence’. I hadn’t expected to find one that fit so nicely with the story, but I’m not complaining!
It’s mainly Kaffi and Diwa’s story (and it’s an enjoyable one about love, friendship and trust), though there are other characters who’ll pop up throughout. There are humans, mandossi (tallish sleek aliens that are built for running), hedraac (humanoid vampiric aliens), minotaur-ish beings (I haven’t got a name for them yet), and I’m sure I’ll come up with more as the story unfolds.
My idea here was that I wanted to have a world where humans coexist peacefully with all kinds of different beings, so the conflicts in the story weren’t about sentient-versus-sentient but more mundane. Teenagers trying to figure out who the hell they are and what they want to do when they grow up. Old men worried about the new generation coming in and taking over. And how much energy, creativity, and dedication it takes to keep a community active and healthy. [See, there’s a reason why I keep calling it ‘my Studio Ghibli story’!]
So yeah, you could say I’m having a fun time with this project so far! Now if I can only come up with a decent title for it…
It’s nearly October already, and my thoughts surprisingly aren’t in the realm of hokey smokes where did the time go I’m still not done with the Lidwells project! I kind of knew I’d be running a little late. I’m still on track and roughly at the point I’d thought I’d be at, so all told I’m cool with its schedule.
No, my thoughts are with the fact that after a few years, I can FINALLY take part in Inktober again! I’ve been busy with more pressing projects and Day Job stuff, but this month I find I have the time to grab my art supplies and do a bit of doodling. Which is a good thing, considering I’ve been itching to do that for a long while now. I’ve even saved the Official Inktober 2017 Prompt List to get me going.
What I’m hoping is that this will get me back into the drawing habit. I’m not forcing myself into it. It’s just like my writing and music; I just need to shut the hell up and do it already. Drawing something every day for a month, even if it’s a map or a Murph doodle or something else, should in turn remind me to make time for it.
I’ll be posting them over at my Twitter feed, but I may post some of them here as well.
It’s Sunday mid-morning as I write this and both A. and I have been up for a few hours now. I think we’ve both somewhat adjusted to Pacific Time again, having spent the last few days in a jet lag haze. We’re both going over our work inboxes to clean them up at the moment, and I’m streaming some new music releases over the last few days. [Best find so far: Moscow-based Life on Venus with their album Encounters, which I would describe as Slowdive if they had MBV’s volume. So yeah, right in my wheelhouse there.]
Our two-week vacation in London was quite enjoyable if a little exhausting — thanks to my phone’s pedometer app, I figured out we walked just a little over eighty miles. Lots of places seen, friends seen, cats petted, and lagers or tea ordered. And somehow within all of that, I was also able to work a little on some of the index card notes for Secret Next Project!
And if you’re wondering why I chose the above gif from the anime your name., it’s because I watched it on the plane twice (once each way). It’s become one of my favorite movies on many levels. This makes three times I’ve watched it — so far — and I’m sure it’ll be one that will get even more views in the future. And yes, I’ve already decided I’ll be writing a blog post about it here soon enough, as I find it an excellent example of detailed, layered storytelling and how to successfully unfold each subplot and hint of characterization so it all fits together perfectly.
Speaking of writing, I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things as soon as possible. I’m still feeling exhausted, but only physically, so I think I should be able to get back on the horse with little issue. I’m particularly excited that I’m about to start the last act of Meet the Lidwells (and working on the cover!), which means I can start up the revision quite soon! I’m also hoping to get started on further work with Secret Next Project as well.
As for non-writing creative stuff, I finally got the drawing models that I ordered online a short time ago (half off, so basically two-for-one!) that are made by Bandai. They’re small but they’re detailed and pretty versatile, so I think I’ll be able to use these for future drawings. Check ’em out:
They come with some nifty accessories like different gesturing hands, katanas and handguns (because why the hell not), cell phones and tablets, and so on. The directions are entirely in Japanese of course, but they’re super easy to use anyway. I’m sure I’ll get more work out of these than out of Wilhelmina, the simple articulated model I got from Ikea for like six dollars. 🙂
So yes…we’re back from vacation, autumn is nearly among us, and I’m eager to get back to Doing All the Creative Things. Hell, I may even record a few more Drunken Owl demos if time permits!
Now, if I can just shake the remnants of this jet lag…
This was in response to Gulf War I, which kicked off during the Christmas break of my sophomore year at Emerson College. Everyone my age had grown up during the Cold War, and even though that seemed to be in the past tense now (the Berlin Wall having come down months earlier), we were all nervous. Was this going to be a big war? Was this going to be our Vietnam? What was going to happen?
What if they reinstated a draft?
In retrospect, it was a small enough war that that wasn’t going to happen, but we really had no idea if that was true at the time.
I remember I was with my dad and my sisters at McDonald’s in Gardner when we got to talking about the Gulf War, and it was at that time that I’d made my decision to follow the principle of ahimsa: no harm. I absolutely refuse to take another person’s life.
Oh, my college friends and I had those conversations when we got back to our dorms. By then Gulf War I was in full swing and would end within a few weeks. Some were for it, some were against it, some didn’t know, some didn’t give a shit.
My reaction to all that was to draw the above strip. Originally I’d posted it up on the door of my dorm room, where it got a huge response from passersby. A few suggested I submit it to our school paper, The Berkeley Beacon, which I did soon after, to more positive response. In fact, the one negative response I got was to some conservative-minded student who took offense to it because they’d somehow thought ‘The Ignorant’ person was meant to be Republican. Hey, you’re the one who assumed that, chief, not me.
I’m quite proud of that strip. It’s not my best artwork, but it’s one of my best works scriptwise.
So yeah. Writing this post at 7pm PT on 6 April, just as the current administration has launched a missile attack on Syria in response to the terrorist attack there earlier this week. I don’t know the details, so I’m not going to hem and haw and pontificate and indignate or whatever. Not right now.
I’ll be brutally honest, I don’t feel too optimistic about this event at the moment. Not because I’m a pacifist, but because a) I don’t trust this current administration to sharpen a fucking pencil and b) I’m really not looking forward to the Orgasmic Patriotism we may get as a response from the hard right. I’m afraid that there will be much dick swinging and flagwaving and no responsibility for the aftershock it causes.
I shall carry on. I still have my work to do on this new project of mine. Nothing’s going to take that away from me.
One of my many ideas for the Bridgetown Trilogy, if I wasn’t going to turn it into a wacky multiproduct entity (No, there won’t be any Saisshalé-O’s breakfast cereal, sorry) was to give the books a visual approach.
Part of this was inspired by the frequent comment that my style of writing is very visual. I went to the Miami Vice School of Writing Cool Scenes Using Music back in the day, and having a degree in film studies from Emerson College, so I’d say that comment is spot on. It’s just the way I read and write: I see the scene visually and try to describe it that way.
A year or so ago I thought I’d try my hand at laying out the first scene of A Division of Souls, just for the fun of it, just to see if I could pull it off. In retrospect I could probably rein it in a bit in terms of pacing, but I like how it ended up. There’s a distinct hint of Dave Sim’s Cerebus in there (specifically latter half of the Church & State storyline), which heavily influenced me back in my college days.
I’ve mentioned this before: I’ve been fascinated by maps since I was a kid. My dad had put up nine US Geodetic Survey maps of the local North Quabbin area on the wall of his downtown office (he used it as reference, as he was a local reporter), and I would stare at the things for ages. The topography lines helped me imagine what the areas I’ve never visited looked like. When I did eventually visit those areas, my visual guesses were rarely far off the mark. My fascination soon expanded to the roads I carved into the dirt in my side yard for my Hot Wheels, and by 9 or 10 I was drawing maps just for the fun of it. They weren’t of anywhere in particular; I’d just make them up as I went along. It became a relaxing way to pass the time for me. And once I went to college, you’d see map doodling all over the margins. I still do it to this day; if you see me in the audience at a con, leaning over and doodling, chances are I’m drawing a map while I’m listening to the panelists.
When I started the Vigil project in the winter of 1993, I knew map drawing would have to be part of the world building. If not for the publication, at least for my own reference. I had certain areas of Bridgetown laid out in my head, but I wanted to have a physical layout I could use.
I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of size and perspective in these early maps, but they at least gave me an idea of what the Sprawl looked like.
This first map to the left was drawn that winter, with a much smaller layout of the city (it’s more like a small city here than a big giant sprawl it ended up being), but certain parts of it remained to the end of the project: the gentle curve of Branden Hill Park (called Johnson Park here), Sachers River and its island (with Vigil’s island location laid out), and the major north-south highway splitting through the middle.
The Vigil project ended up more like a lot of world building than doing much actual prose writing (I think it had more to do with me trying to figure out what story I wanted to tell and how). By the summer of 1995 I expanded the above map by taping the original to my apartment window, covering it with blank newsprint paper, and building it up.
The layout was still a bit wonky, but I was getting there. The big circle in the lower right corner is the first visual suggestion of the Mirades Tower (called the Underwood Tower here — I think I originally wanted Jenn’s family to be tied do it but never expanded on that plot line). I’m kind of fascinated by this one, because by that time I’d watched a lot of anime and wanted something like the GENOM Tower from Bubblegum Crisis. I was well aware of security issues with major driving arteries going underneath this tower, but I thought it was kind of a neat idea anyway.
Come 1998, I was about halfway through writing The Phoenix Effect, and I had a much better idea of what Bridgetown looked like. At first I had an idea to draw certain visuals, such as the one to the left here: a view of the Mirades Tower, lording over the entirety of the Sprawl (the circle of buildings is a reference to the initial awakening process that takes place at the start of the book…ie, the Ring of Fire). I wasn’t too happy with the artwork though (mainly me being a perfectionist and being annoyed at how wonky the Tower looks here), but it did its job. I even got a better idea of how wide the Sachers River needed to be. In fact, looking at this now, I realize this is very similar to the view I have out Spare Oom window, looking across the mouth of the Golden Gate towards the Marin Headlands!
Probably within a month or so after that above drawing, I drew what would end up being one of the official reference maps for Bridgetown, complete with the district boundaries. I would refer to this one page constantly during the TPE revision and the major rewrite as the trilogy. Very little has changed in Bridgetown since then. A few street names have changed, and I still hadn’t quite gotten Sachers Island drawn correctly, but for the most part this can still be considered a semi-accurate reference map for all the stories that take place in this city.
Note: Also seen on this map are the rough points of the hrrah-sehdhyn attack that takes place in A Division of Souls. I’d added these a few years after the original map was drawn and just before I wrote that scene so I could get the layout correct.
But wait, there’s more!
During the years I wrote the trilogy, I would often flesh out ideas during the slow hours at my Day Job at the candle warehouse. My buddy Bruce would often make fun of me when I did this. I’d snag a piece of scrap paper (or more to the point, the blank forms we used for the pallets we built) and commence with that day’s outlining for whatever I’d be writing later that evening. Or I’d draw detailed maps, sometimes even working on certain sections of Bridgetown.
Here’s a great example of that: My favorite section of town Branden Hill Park, which had been a point of interest since the Vigil days (the original Vigil story starts at the northeast corner of the park). This is probably the best example of what Bridgetown truly looks like in my head. I even went so far as to draw subway lines, considering that subway kiosk in the park shows up multiple times in the trilogy.
Note: You can even see where I put Nehalé’s apartment (the HB in the top left corner, referring to his old name of Halley Brown).
I do like the idea that even though the trilogy takes place at least 300 years in the future, there really hasn’t been too much of a change in terms of street layout or architecture for that matter. I used the reasoning that Europe still has some of its original medieval roads, not to mention architecture that’s been around for a few centuries. Besides, I really wasn’t all that keen on using the SF trope of multi-level cities and mountains of detritus. The Meraladians helped us get past that economical and ecological snag sometime ago.
And lastly, I wanted a general layout of what Mirades Tower Park looked like — it would be used as a major setting throughout the trilogy, and numerous scenes take place there in The Balance of Light, so I had to make sure I got it right. I think this one definitely gets the dimensions correct, as the Tower really is that huge. I also deliberately left the surrounding neighborhood empty…since this is the financial and governmental center of the city, the entire area would be filled with skyscrapers and business towers, so the map would really end up looking like a bunch of large squares inside a square grid of streets.
I’m sure I have more maps and building drawings lying around. I know I’d made a rough sketch of what the Branden Hill ARU headquarters looked like (hint: one of those arty curvy buildings, but without all the bizarre useless angles). I’ll have to scan more of them when I have the time.
All these drawings definitely helped me visualize Bridgetown as I was writing the stories that take place there. Without them I’m sure I’d have gotten a lot of the directions and distances incorrect. It also helped me narrow down the images I wanted for my book covers; I knew that they would have to be busy metropolises, though not necessarily with the dark cyberpunk attitude of Bladerunner. Both A Division of Souls and The Balance of Light use Shutterstock pictures of Singapore, which is just about the right level of sprawling city I was looking for.