Growing Pains – #YesAllWomen

I was lucky to grow up a healthy kid. My childhood scars come from my own turbulent mind, not from my body. I never broke a bone, still haven’t. I thought, with that arrogance that all young children feel, that my body would always be sound. It would grow and be stronger and I would take over the world.

At 19 I experienced an illness more severe than anything in my life. And while I have survived it, I have suffered and it will be a part of me forever. My blood is permanently unsuitable for donation. I’ve knocked myself about. I’ve injured my ankle and knee several times and needed physio. I feel the strain when it’s cold. The nerves in my skin still prickle from a bad rash I had months ago, and that might never fade.

As we age we collect ailments. Parts of us get hurt and won’t ever be the same again. This is something we learn to mitigate in order to keep living. Put less weight on the weak ankle, avoid this activity since it strains that injury. Apply lotions and ointments to skin. Rest more when needed. We live our lives within the confines of our illnesses and injuries.

Misogyny behaves a lot like a disease. We learn very early how to wear its scars. We modify our behaviour once we’ve experienced injuries. We follow the recommended guidelines to keep safe, we feel like it’s our fault when we don’t follow them closely enough, or when they’re inevitably never enough. Like we got these scars on purpose. And most of us most of the time don’t ever talk about it.

The injuries inflicted on us mount up. We might not discuss them all but they live in us forever, like the virus in my blood. An interaction with a foul-mouthed boy as a child. A bra-snap at 12. Street harassment, drunk parties, unwanted touches, unwarranted aggression. Too many to even count. Some of us have deeper scars than others, but every single one of us has scars, no exception. We live with a background radiation of constant fear that male anger will find us. The anger that is directed at us for daring to have bodies and walk around in them. The need to overpower and control us for some invisible transgression caused by being a woman.

These stories are usually heavily guarded secrets, things we hardly even tell each other. Partly because we are ashamed of ourselves, and partly because so many of them are so ordinary, so every day, that they barely register as the horrors they are. We are so adapted to living with the disease of misogyny that we barely see the way it shapes our lives. Or if we do notice, we are ashamed and hide it away.

At times like this we do see it, and it is horrifying. But we will stand together and tell you our secrets, because right now it is important that this information is in the world. We are angry that we have to live this, and that we live it in silence, and that so many of these stories from so many strangers are so so familiar.

You may think it is not all men, but yes, it is ALL women. And that needs to change. We should not have to wear these scars. And they do not have to be the scars that future women wear. We are standing up and sharing our stories, and people are listening. I hope you keep listening, because this is just the first discussion. There is still so much left to say.

Mental health and community

Mental health is tricky. It’s woven into the fabric of yourself and it is a core part of what makes you whole. When you are healthy, this is not something you ever have to think about, the same as when your body is healthy. When you are unwell or suffering illness, your body throws up very obvious signs that you need to take care of yourself or see a doctor. Your mental health does the same, but because of our social conditioning and the stigma around mental health, it is often difficult to recognise and act on the red flags that appear in our lives.

There are many kinds of mental illness that can affect us. Just like with other kinds of illness, no person is immune. Some people will suffer from conditions more severe than others, but all sufferers deserve the right to have their illness treated. I struggled a lot with the idea that I ‘deserved’ help when I was younger. Now I see managing my mental health in the same way I view managing any other long-term condition.

I have been through some very dark times. As a creative person who makes things, we are taught to wear our torture as a badge. Suffering and art, they’re synonyms, right? I hate this idea, it romanticises being unwell. It lets people who need treatment retreat into their illness, and be defined by the boundaries it puts up in their lives.

My mental illness manifests as your standard brand anxiety. It is so completely woven into who I am that I just thought it was a part of being a human until I was in my early 20’s. While I’m still triggered occasionally, I don’t lapse the same way I used to, and a lapse won’t last as long. This has been through learning what my red flags are, and how to manage myself when I notice them. I am able to do this because I’m no longer drowning in a dark depression hole. If that’s where you are, you need to get out of the hole first, which can take some time and effort, but it’s completely worth it. While it is likely one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do, trust me when I say you can do it. You absolutely have the strength to.

I guess in part of where I’ve been, I recognise mental illness very clearly in those close to me. It’s never very far away. I try to be a good friend and share my knowledge of how mental illness works, remind people they are not alone and if necessary give them a gentle nudge in the direction of professional help. Mental health is a personal responsibility, but as a member of a community I can’t let my skills and knowledge sit unused. I can share my story, my experience, my ways of seeing and dealing with my illness. I hope that in some way learning about what I have been through others might be able to make the steps that they need to, and view their illnesses in a way that will help them feel better  about the days ahead.

I’ll write about mental health again in the future, but I just wanted to put some initial ideas down here. If you are suffering, please know you do not suffer alone and that there are places and people who can help you.

In case you need them:

(feel free to let me know of any other good resources available)

How to make comics, Part two – The process of Concrete

This is the second post in a series about how I make comics. Inspired by the recent completion of  my latest comic, Concrete. You can read Concrete here.

Part one | Part two (This part)

The important thing with a comic – even a short comic – is to establish a working environment and system that flows easily from one work session to another. Standardising parts of the process makes sure the continuity of the story isn’t interrupted or influenced by bad process.

I tailor my approach a little for each project. This is the process that worked for Concrete.

THINGS I USE

  • Sketchbook/pencil
  • Intuos5 tablet
  • Macbook Pro 2010 13 inch – It is pretty old now and for some reason only wants to run while having 1 stick of RAM in, so I’m on 4 gigs of RAM in single channel. Which is not a lot of RAM. I close every non-essential thing when I’m working. :(
  • Dell monitor 24 inch.
  • Apple wireless keyboard for shortcut keys
  • Logitech wireless mouse I should include it on this list for some reason
  • Photoshop CS5.1
  • Guide Guide – THE BEST PLUGIN EVAR
  • Kyle Webster’s Photoshop brushes – Buy them here

THE PROCESS

Drafting

Photo 4-05-14 17 04 55

My workflow for Concrete was about 95% digital, but I always always start with paper. Sketchbooks are the birthplace of ideas as well as a practice ground for concepts. Something about fleshing something out on paper really helps to get the ideas and story set and establish flow. No digital tool I’ve used comes close to replacing it.

Photo 4-05-14 17 04 27

Most of my first drafts look like this before I copy them into a word processor (usually Google docs because it’s convenient).

Using Google docs means I have all the text up on the screen while I make thumbnails on paper. Thumbnails are a crucial part of my process. They let me quickly work out timing, composition and pacing, ensuring the story flows how I want. Because they’re small there’s minimal cost to throwing out something that doesn’t work. I usually use a larger sketchbook for these because I like to have more of the comic on one page than my travel sketchbook allows.

Photo 4-05-14 17 05 15

Sometimes I take photos of my thumbnails, but I didn’t this time for whatever reason. I kept the sketchbook on my desk so I could refer to it during the next phase of the project.

Digital set-up

I start a folder for my project. GOOD FILING IS VERY IMPORTANT. I tend to have a comics folder, and each comic has several folders for all its pieces within this. I also make sure to keep my windows organised by ‘date modified’ rather than by name. This means that my newest files are always at the top and easy to find.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 5.26.12 pm copy

This is also the part when I am going to say: HAVE BACKUPS. HAVE SO MANY BACKUPS. HAVE ALL OF THE BACKUPS. I have an external drive plugged in and my Time Machine backs up every hour, which has saved my butt during the times I’ve accidentally flattened a working file or made it web resolution. A BACKUP WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE ONE DAY. GET IT SORTED.

NEXT. I pick my working file size on the computer. I’m going boring A4 with this one, but if I was to pick  different working dimensions, this it the point where I do it. I decided to bump my working resolution to 600DPI for this one. Partly because I knew linework would play a crucial role in this comic, and partly because I knew that being (mostly) black and white this wouldn’t stress out my poor laptop too much. If I had a more powerful machine I’d work at this DPI all the time. Or probably higher, I’m not sure what numbers the professional kids are pushing these days.

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I set up base guides for this with GuideGuide. 3mm bleed, and then another 5mm to mark working space. This means that any comic panels are printed on this line so as not to come too close to the edges. I have an extra set further in too because the paneling I wanted for Concrete required more white space.

This page is saved as Base comic page.psd, and it becomes the base of each finished page, since it’s all set to go.

But! We’re not up to working from base pages yet, because there’s not enough fidelity in these thumbnails. Also they’re on paper and not in the computer.

Higher fidelity sketches

I save a 72DPI version of my base comic page, and this becomes my base digital sketch page. These get saved into their own folder called ‘test pages’ or something similar. I sketch out each page and save it in this folder.I use a scratchy sketchy brush and not-quite black.  There’s more fidelity here than in the thumbnails, but it’s still quick work to flesh out page and panel compositions, check for continuity, and make sure it sits and feels right.

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Once this phase is complete it’s time to actually draw pages!

Actual page drawing time!

The base comic page.psd gets opened and a new page saved into the new folder ‘comic pages’ This page is ‘page01.psd‘. All pages after this are titled to match.

The scribbly test page gets copied into this new file and stretched proportionally to fill the space. Put the layer to something like 30% Opacity and lock it so that you can’t draw on it or move it at all.

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Draw the page! I tend to have separate layers for text, frames and then 1-2 layers for other lines depending on what I’m doing. Because my brush library is insane I tend to write myself notes about which brush I’m using on a bit of paper so I can remember each time. This time it was one that was smooth and gave me excellent thick and thin line weights.

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I don’t do any shading or colour at this stage, just plod on through getting the text and lines down page by page. I lay down my guides if I need them, usually to help me draw my type straight.

After a while I got into a great rhythm with this system and was able to crank through several pages much faster than I was expecting. The poetic nature of the story and relatively minimal levels of action meant that it was an easy draw. Something with more action and context possibly wouldn’t have the same level of hypnotic flow which I benefitted from while making this project. Still, it might do, I’m not sure!

[there isn’t a picture that goes with this, so you will just have to imagine me making happy noises while pages get made]

I added minimal grey shading to the illustrations after all the lines were done, and tweaked a few elements to make sure that the continuity was correct throughout. The swatch pallet is handy here to track colours and ensure they match across pages. This mattered a lot for Sunshine, with its painterly style, but it’s still good practice here and saves keeping two pictures open and individually eye-picking colours.

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FINISHING TOUCHES

Displaying for web

Concrete was created print-ready, but it’s always going to display online first. I love being able to share my work online for free. Licensing with Creative Commons licenses allows me to share my work in a way that is meaningful to me and lets others create and build on my work if it inspires them. Sharing my work ‘for free’ in this way has only ever been beneficial to me, helping to further the reach of my drawing and illustrating and connected me with other artists. I’m still protected if it gets stolen and used without crediting me.

For Concrete I wanted it to appear nicely on retina displays, so they’re saved to be about 1400px wide.

I hand code the pages my comics go up on. I do this so that I have complete control over how it displays, and so that it loads faster because there’s no CMS or anything that interferes. It means I have control over exactly how my comic looks on multiple devices without too much mucking around. With a page like this even my incredibly old and rusty HTML does the job OK. I’m lucky enough to have supportive flatmates who helped me to brush up on my knowledge and teach me some new cool tricks.

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And that’s where comics come from. Or at least my comics.

Thanks for reading! I’ve still got at least one more part of comic-making I want to talk about, so hopefully that’ll happen at some point.

A story of Representation in two acts

Act 1 – Star Wars and the Fake Nerd Girl

Star was for boys (5 different characters) Star wars for girls (all dresses as Leia)

I drew this today to sum up my frustration with the new Star Wars cast featuring two women, and only one new female character. Analee Newitz wrote an excellent summary of the issue here: http://io9.com/hey-star-wars-where-the-hell-are-the-women-1569357077

Because this piece was a delightful mix of geek culture and feminism it received a pretty unique reception. Most people got the joke and enthusiastically agreed with my sentiment. It’s been one of my more popular retweets, which is pretty great.

As well as the many who agreed with me, I also received a couple of kinds of tweets from men (they were all men) who saw my cartoon. The first was pedantry. How dare I forget Luke’s Aunt (who dies in the first five minutes), That other slave girl of Jabba the Hutt’s (She dies after 5 minutes too. And yep, she’s definitely designed for a kid to dress up as her), or Sy Snootles (ummmm). There was also the mention of women in the Extended Universe who are awesome.

The second kind of response was more insidious. One person said I obviously had never seen the movies. Someone else made sexist comments about how if women made movies they could make them the way they want and that I shouldn’t try to make writers to ‘shoe-horn’ more women in where they don’t fit. Someone else said that ‘everyone knows’ Lucas was heavily influenced by Hidden Fortress , so it made sense there was only one woman. Yeah. Wookiees and robots are all good but more women aren’t. Gotcha.

Both of these approaches are aiming to discredit me and derail the discussion about the representation of women in Star Wars/geek culture, and what that means for little girls. It directs energy towards my obvious wrong-ness and away from the fact that yet another generation of girls get to grow up fighting for the one token ‘girl’ spot on the geek team. I chose iconography from the original Star Wars movie because it is the thing that carries the furthest, but I could have picked almost any western property that includes a branch marketed at children and come up with a similar result. The exceptions being the products targeted directly at girls – Disney Princesses and My Little Ponies to name two.

Little girls deserve more than princesses and ponies. They deserve to be a part of the universes they love. Women invented science fiction and the first super hero. We invented fandom, conventions, fan fictions. Pioneered cosplay. Spend hours on Fan art. We write, we talk, we discuss. We dig deep. And yes, often we critique. That’s a part of how you show you love something. You want it to be better.

Act Two – Video Games and finding a voice

My cousin is seven. She lives in the same city as me so I’ll babysit her and her younger brother from time to time. She loves to draw and play games with me. She is acutely aware of which games I have on my phone that allow her to play as her gender. If there isn’t a girl option she gets annoyed and makes a face at me. There are few things I find as frustrating as seeing a young girl make this face at me, knowing it’d have been the face I made 20 years ago. Knowing that nothing much had changed in 20 years.

I don’t want to live in a world where I feel like no gender advances have been made in 20 years, so I’m collecting together positive examples of change. The lineup of games this year has me very excited. I’m going to get to play as a girl SO MANY TIMES this year. When usually one female protagonist is too much to hope/ask for, four times is an absolute dream.

Monument Valley

http://www.monumentvalleygame.com/

My mother sent pictures of my cousin playing monument valley. It fills me with warm fuzzies to know that she will be able to step into this world through the eyes of Ida.

Playing Monument Valley

Broken Age

http://www.brokenagegame.com/

Vella is amazing. I love how she got the action/adventure storyline. She is the one with murderous intent, who is rebelling against the status quo. Her story reads as a pretty tight allegory of the patriarchy, and the way it is so completely entrenched into society that even when a creature is literally devouring your daughters, you are happy about it.

vella

Child of Light

http://childoflight.ubi.com/col/en-GB/home/index.aspx

This is released today! I am SO EXCITED. Why yes, I DO want to play as a princess in a game that looks like a living watercolour.

I haven’t done a fan art for this yes, but I probably will make some. Yes.

Transistor

http://supergiantgames.com/index.php/transistor/

The trailer gives me goosebumps and the art gives me angry tears, it’s so good. I am in love before I’ve even played a frame. I’m not great at this style of game, but I’m still incredibly excited.

Also, there’s an obvious Klimt influence in some of the concept art. I dig this a lot.

Transistor_Red_WP_1920x1080

Conclusion…?

SO Even though franchises like Star Wars are going out of their way to stick to the status quo, and tell girls and women that we don’t belong in geek culture, girls are winning. While misogyny in geek communities continues to try and be loud and discredit the women in their community, girls are winning. Sometimes it feels like an endless struggle. But it’s a struggle that’s worth it. I want to read stories, play games and see movies by and about people of all genders and races. I don’t want to live in this young white male bubble, not when there’s such a breadth of human experience to enjoy.

And the final word of this post goes to The Doubleclicks. I’ve got nothing to prove.