I emerge, bedraggled and beaten but victorious, holding my blade aloft, cheered by loved ones as I return from the battlefield …just submitted a big illustration project 20 minutes before the deadline. The relief I feel right now is immense. January was mostly filled up by that project, which I largely really enjoyed, except for the stress in the last couple of days. January can be a long and hard month, but all things considered, I had a good time & feel like I’m getting more accustomed and comfortable in university.
With the acquisition of my new printer/scanner, I was able to scan and upload everything I’ve drawn in my current sketchbook up to my new page! It’s really amazing to see it all together like this, and I also learnt some fun stuff about Photoshop auto-actions and the :hover CSS. The pages rotate when you mouse over them!! That rules!
I also have a new, custom url! That’s right! From now on you can find this site at https://shootingstarpress.xyz/!! I’ve been wanting to change it for a while, since maniraptorans doesn’t really fit with my brand all that much. I also have Neocities supporter now, because I needed it to change my URL, and I’m also excited about being able to create other sites on this account. I can finally move my hidden university art blog off here, and also potentially create some OC stuff!
In more menial news, I found a good rainy day (metaphorical) to size down all of the photos in my portfolio and have separate thumbnails, which makes everything more efficient and quicker to load.
Other minor things are making my navbar links rotate on hover (look how cute!) and doing a bit of updating on my About page.
The big thing this month was, of course, my sci-fi utopia illustration project. I had a great time with this one, being already passionate about science fiction, robots and worldbuilding, and wanting to work on my digital art, that all gave me a lot of drive to have fun with this project. Building on a lot of research into robot media, I focused my project on an anti-capitalist world where robots and humans have come together to break down and meld across boundaries. There’s a lot of write up, so in lieu of that, here’s some sketches, as well as pages from our mandatory end of project PDF.
And these are my two final pieces! I wanted to try and play with more textures and more advanced rendering. I think the colours on the second one are a little fucky and that whole right side could be way better, but I’m actually incredibly happy with them both.
I bound the books I linoprinted last month! For my first proper bookbinding project, they both went great, and people at the art fair I attended bought a lot of them. I don’t have access to an industrial guillotine in my home (pathetic.) so I had to very shoddily cut the edges with a craft knife, but hey, came out great considering!
Another thing I’ve been trying to make a habit out of is attending my university’s weekly life drawing classes. I haven’t done life drawing in about a year (I stopped during my A-Levels, and then the place I went closed down, so maybe more like a year and a half) and I’m feeling frustratingly out of practice. I know I have the skill, and sometimes it really comes through, and then sometimes I feel like the part of my brain that can judge proportion and visualise shapes in space has just stopped working. That feeling of knowing I can do it and not being able to summon the skill really pisses me off.
Sometimes I’ve been able to get some really good practice out of it (and the tutors are usually very helpful), and sometimes I can’t. It doesn’t help that life drawing is on Monday evenings, so I tend to be tired and hungry. I mainly draw with a coloured mechanical pencil (precise and comfortable to draw with) or thin charcoal (Gestural and I like the smudging.) Here’s some life drawing pieces that I felt were really successful and helpful to me, though. (I may put these on the sketchbook page too.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about my OCs lately. Sometimes productively, sometimes just rotating them in my mind. I joined a new online Triangle Agency campaign, and had a lot of fun creating my character. I’ve played a tiny bit of Triangle Agency before, but as TTRPGs tend to do, someone left and it fizzled out of existence. I’m hoping my strongest for that not to happen again, although we haven’t started yet.
My character, Forthright Operator Eun Shin-hye, is an aimless people pleasing call centre worker who gained anomalous powers after a fateful phone call one day. Since then, they’ve been bonded with an anomalous entity that allows them to drain and manipulate people. Unbeknownst to them, an alternate universe version of themselves who’s a high-ranking operative at the shady anomaly-investigation bureau the Triangle Agency, is fleeing something, and in order to escape, they’ve decided to swap places with my character. My character is now trying to protect themselves by pretending to be someone they’re not, with only limited contact with the person who actually knows what they’re doing.
They were really fun to brainstorm and really fun to design, too! I really like the telephone motif—rotary telephones are just such good objects to me—and they have cool mysterious tattoos! Peak character design in my opinion.
I’ve also been working on more characters from EXPULSION ZONE who weren’t described in my previous blog post about that project. I’ve been working on Yikkit (who you may hear way more about soon if I get the EXPZN wiki set up sooner than later), inspired by my love of Tokusatsu character designs. I’ve known about toku for a while due to friends but I found out about the specific trend of female robot costumes from a great hazel video essay, and I’m really captivated by them—there’s something about the abstraction and sexualisation that verges on uncanny (the massive eyes and the boob plate) that really fascinates me. Robot character designs are fun… gotta get round to the rest of the characters.
One of the things I’ve been trying to work at to solve is my current disconnection with digital art. I’ve been enjoying sketching on paper more recently because my paper sketches have felt more expressive and satisfying, and digital can sometimes lack that feeling. I’ve been exploring drawing with more texture, loosening up, and I’d like to develop a better understanding of colour and shading so I can render my work better and make it feel more three-dimensional and expressive. I’ve been trying to sketch more digitally, as opposed to just on paper, so I can work on loosening up. Since I just set up the physical sketchbook page, I’d like to set up a digital sketchbook page where I can share those sketches, and perhaps some sketches for bigger digital pieces I’ve done—so you can all see my messy process!
What I Love!
- I’ve been following Koy Suntichotinun’s (@koysun on Instagram) work on Instagram in the last month, and I love both the craft and presentation. Sign-painting is such an overlooked craft, and I love Koy’s thoughtful presentation.
- A great video essay by Lily Alexandre put me onto the webcomic What Happens Next by Max Graves—I’m only a little bit in but it’s kind of, haunting. I talk about The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas later in this essay, and both of these stories have this power of extending into your own mind, making part of the story about your reactions to it. What Happens Next is more about presenting you with an immensely fucked up situation and seeing how you make heads or tails of it—it’s all about queerness, online-ness and the justice system, and there’s a kind of fascinating meta-layer to reading it on its host site, where you can then see reader comments sharing their opinions on the characters. The art is also… hauntingly Tumblr-esque, in a way that really fits the narrative about online justice and morality. I do have my gripes with the webcomic format of ‘every page is just one image’—there’s nothing actively bad about it, but I really enjoy panelling in comics & I feel strongly that panelling can elevate comics so well that seeing some go without it is irritating to me.
- This month, I read all the way through The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. I loved the magical realism elements of it, and how comic books and their craft were incorporated into the story. I found it very thoughtful and the themes and emotions were incredibly strong, but I thought the second half lagged and didn’t feel as impactful. Maybe it’s because it was often more mundane and I struggled to get back into it after the ~12 year timeskip. I did adore the prose, though, I’m a huge fan of elaborate and evocative prose.
- I’ve started Perdido Street Station by China Mieville! I’m a big Mieville-head & always looking to read more of his stuff, and although I’ve heard mixed things about Perdido, I decided to dig in. It’s a big, big book, and I’m only a bit in, but so far I’m enjoying it. It can be pretty dark, which is sometimes difficult when I mostly read tired before bed, but I think so far, the grim-ness is executed well. It’s not the most lovely and elaborate of Mieville’s prose, (I should reread Embassytown), but the worldbuilding is very strong and the prose is very tight. It’s also really funny to read as someone who lives in London (and has read Kraken, a book devoted to London) that Mieville just happened to write about this industrial, cobbled together, grimy city bisected by a dirty river. It’s really funny that London in particular keeps inspiring people to write about the shittiest cities they can imagine (Gaiman with Neverwhere, and I assume Pratchett is somewhat inspired when he’s writing Anhk-Morpork.) Like, Kavalier and Clay is somewhat enchanted with New York, even though it acknowledges its flaws, but Perdido Street Station can’t seem to find much good about its pseudo-London — although this is a little unfair, Kraken likes London a lot, but more in sentimentality and theme.
- With a lot of my work on Expulsion Zone, I’ve discovered a penchant for being a sci-fi sicko. I think my enchantment with the weird and gross has been building for a long time, and lately I’ve been fascinated by mind-fucky sci-fi, real ‘What if there was a really fucked up concept’ school of sci-fi. Anything about robots, anything about the body, anything weird and provoking. Like I wrote about What Happens Next, I like a story that kind of stews with you, that lives in how you think about it. Here’s two short stories I’ve read recently that fulfil that:
- I Identify As An Attack Helicopter by Isabel Fall lives on in infamy online for the ridiculous and cruel response it provoked, but as a story itself, it’s amazing, and deserves to stand on its own merit. I think a lot of the reasons why it’s so good are why it inspired such ire, because it is provoking and scary, but it achieves that incredibly thoughtfully and deserves so much praise for that.
- Why Don’t We Just Kill The Kid in The Omelas Hole by Isabel J. Kim is an excellent conversation with the absolutely legendary Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. The original Omelas story is a story where half of its domain is your own mind, given how central the questions of ‘can we visualise a world without suffering? Do we accept Omelas as it is compared to what we have now?’ I think Kim’s short story responds to Omelas in a really compelling way that parallels our current society in a closer way. It's less subtle, but I still find it very effective.
- As with a lot of my peers, I too have started the anime adaptation of Ryoko Kui’s Dungeon Meshi. I know I’m a comics guy, and I’d love to read the comics too, but they’re not out in print in the UK and I really dislike reading comics on screen if I can avoid it. I think I could get them on my Kindle, though… maybe I’ll think about it when I finish Perdido. So far, I’m enjoying it—the art style is incredible, I think it’s better in the manga but Kui’s variety in faces is translated so well. I’m only four episodes in, and so far it feels kind of condensed and is pretty focused on two of the four-person party, but the worldbuilding is absolutely wonderful. It’s just a very sweet, inspired watch.
- It would be ridiculous for me to write this blog post without talking about Minecraft YouTube. HermitCraft season 10 has just kicked off, the first season beginning I’m watching live since I started watching midway through HC9. I watch a lot of different player’s videos, so it’s slow going, but I’m really enjoying watching the starter builds and early game shenanigans. I’m glad there’s an emphasis on collaboration this season, I think some of the best parts of HC8 and HC9 were the collaborative builds and people being neighbours and working together. I was initially surprised by the picks for the new hermits joining this season (Skizzleman and Smallishbeans)—I expected Skizz, but I also was hoping to meet some creators I hadn’t heard of before, but I think those two do fit really well.
- Oh yeah, and I watched Blade Runner. I get this feeling a lot where I assume that very hyped up things aren’t actually going to be very good, and often, I am gladly proven wrong. I think the status of the replicants as ‘violent revolutionaries’ from a slave class and also the roles and feelings of the ‘pleasure models’ should have been explored more, but that’s kind of a general gripe with a lot of robot media. It was visually beautiful, and the final scenes with Rutger Hauer are still lodged in my mind. A really good and interesting movie.
- I listened to a lot of new music this month. I have no idea what particularly put me in the mood for music, but I’ve found a lot of stuff that I like.
- Got recommended Black Country, New Road by a friend, and at first I listened to Concorde and thought, ‘wow, the lyrics of this are great, but I don’t know if I’d add it to my regular rotation’, and then I listened to it again, and realised it was fucking amazing. There’s a fair amount of their music I’m not massively into, but I love the stuff that I am into—something about the strong rhythms and ornateness of the instrumental and the way the vocalist’s voice can carry so much emotion. (I know he’s left now, but still, wow.) Favourite songs: Concorde, The Place Where He Inserted The Blade
- The same friend (thanks Dargo!) recommended me Simulation Swarm by Big Thief, which I also just love. I haven’t properly listened through the rest of their catalogue, but I’ve dabbled, and I wonder if the way I feel about Badly Drawn Boy is also how I feel about a lot of this style of folk-ish alt-rock-ish artsy stuff—it’s either very uninteresting to me or incredibly good. Something about the lyrics and melody and tone in Simulation Swarm in particular really gets me. Other songs I like by them so far are Not and sometimes Vampire Empire.
- I listened through the new glass beach album, plastic death. I listened to their first album quite a bit ago and it didn’t click with me. I like plastic death as a whole body of work, but some of the songs don’t interest me as much, also I find the singer’s voice quite irritating at times. There are some songs where they get almost growly, though, and I like that a lot. The vibeyness (don’t know how to describe it any other way) is great, though, and there’s some solidly good songs. Favourite songs: coelacanth, the CIA
What’s Coming Next?
I’ve been enjoying working on the site recently, so I’d like to keep that energy up. I updated some of the About Me page recently, but I still think it can look better. The Projects page also needs a major overhaul.
I’d like to set up that digital sketchbook page (once I have some material to put in it), and to perhaps scan some of my older sketchbooks, but that’s not a priority right now. I’d also like to redo the printmaking parts of my portfolio page (perhaps rename it to just generic Art?) & spruce that up a bit more, too.
In the meantime, I’ll continue on playing around with art & doing some web stuff here & there. Currently enjoying my week long semi-break and the beginnings of lighter days. See you next month, Ellis :]
Welcome back to the blog, and congrats on making it through 2023! I started this blog up again this May, with the intention of updating it at least every month, and it’s been going well so far—even though I don’t have many viewers, I do really enjoy updating this blog. It’s a good way to reflect and keep track of my process. Thanks for coming and reading along!
Breaking news: we have site updates! The portfolio is now updated to the current moment (filling in all of the back half of 2023.)
I also have a 88x31 button for my website. Neocities users/general webmasters (such a good word) make & use these to link to and share other people’s websites, so viewers can find even more cool sites. I’m going to add people’s buttons to my own homepage, too.
Individual blog posts now have comment boxes, with HTML Comment Box. I do this because I love feedback and interaction is fun. I’d love to get some more interaction going on in this site (hence the buttons, also), so please comment if you’d like! Or if you view from the newsletter, I’d really recommend coming and visiting it on the website.
Despite being on winter holiday, I’m still spending a lot of time on university stuff. Before the end of term, we got briefed on the back half of a two-part unit - the first part was the local area project on paper that’s primary research based, and this second part is a digital art project about technology and utopia that’s secondary research based. So we got sent away for the holidays, and told to extensively research and think about a theme or idea or anything we could bring back in January to work with.
I’m doing robots, and the ways humans interact with them. I really like robots, I think media about robots can have so much to say in our modern world, because of how they interact with oppression, capitalism, labour, dehumanisation. I also like them in an autistic way, yaknow, they’re beings who act oddly to humans, but are often shown to have great emotional depth and a capacity to be very human, just in their own way. This project has led to me reading a bunch of papers, reading books, watching movies, and more, and I’m planning to upload all of my detailed thoughts up on this blog sometime down the line. It’s been interesting engaging with people’s thoughts about robots through time, and how much the dilemmas have changed and stayed the same.
As one of my goals is to attend more art markets and sell more stuff, and also I just enjoy making cool things, I’ve started a new small project with the bookbinding stuff I’ve learnt at university: making some hand-bound notebooks with linoprint covers.
Here’s the design I designed and printed for the cover:
I wanted to go for something more graphical, and try out the hatching, and I think those aspects came out very well, but I think the contrast is pretty muddled. It’s not really readable as a person with a guitar if you squint, which is annoying to me, and if I reprint this, I’m going to carve some stuff away to get a better balance. Also, something to keep in mind for later prints, because if these sell well, I’d like to make more designs. Don’t worry about how some of these are fucky because I forgot which way a book opens. It’s fiiiine. It’s fiiiiiiiine.
I’ve also been trying to refine my lino-printing process, and it’s paid off, so here are some things I tried this time: I used a spoon as a baren (a smooth thing you use to press paper down onto a block), which helped with getting a nice solid black finish, and also with how Speedycarve pink lino tends to curve slightly at the edges. I also made a frame for the block out of cardboard for registration, so I could line up the paper better, and a paper cover for that frame to prevent ink smudges getting onto the print itself.
ignore the mess you saw nothing
I mentioned in my last blog post that I’d been struggling to enjoy digital art recently - it just didn’t feel fun or exciting or tactile, so I’m trying some new styles that’ll loosen me up a bit. I just finished a fanart piece for Secret Life where I tried to replicate the papercut work I’d done digitally. I mostly achieved this through very heavy use of the drop shadow layer style on Photoshop, and a toothy paper texture I found on Behance. I also tried to replicate the look of coloured pencil on coloured paper, because I really like how that looks on real paper.
I really like this! I also tried to be a bit more coordinated with my colours—I wanted to establish a yellow/teal/purple colour scheme out of the gate, but I struggled to make other colours work with that. I think it’s progress, though!
I got a couple of cool, arty Christmas presents from my family, the main one being a new printer! Our home printer has been broken for… maybe a year, or so? And it’s just kind of a hassle, having to go to the local print shop or commute into university whenever I want to print something out, which I do a lot—It’s already been super useful for printing off a bunch of lined paper for these notebooks I’m binding! And it means I can print stickers and badges at home, and all sorts of other things. It’s a Canon Pixma TS6350a, and I’m already getting attached to it. When I’ve sent something to print, it’ll stick its feeder tray out like a tongue. This thing gets patted for working well. I’m hoping it keeps doing that.
I also got a handful of new Copic markers, because there are some specific colour blindspots my current set didn’t have. The bad thing about this is it makes me want to buy more Copics to cover more colours I like using, and I can’t let that happen. That way only madness (looking at £5 markers) lies.
I also got some fancy drawing inks! I’m super weak for any sparkly or shimmery drawing material, and I love drawing ink, so this was just obvious really. I've been admiring these really fancy branded ones for a while now, and they’re very very cool. I haven’t been able to sit down and do a proper drawing with them yet, but I can’t wait. I got the Wearingeul Juliet ink (pink/red with a gold shimmer) and the Dominant Industry Les Falaises a Etretat ink (teal with a beige shimmer), so I’m covering a lot of my favourite colours!
The one thing that analogue art has over digital art by a mile is that I can’t make my digital art actually shiny or glittery. Everything I make should be shiny and glittery. Because getting art materials always makes me want to get more art materials, I considered buying the Pennonia shimmer additives, which are the glitter parts of similar inks as the ones I got, but you can mix them with any other drawing ink you own. The only reason I held back on buying these was because the UK distributor is out of stock in the colour I want the most. God I’m so weak for cool art materials.
Just some fun things I’ve been getting up to recently.
On the advice of a bunch of people in my life, I caved and got a mullet. It’s pretty short, since I normally keep my hair short, but I like how it gets fluffy when it gets a little long, and I kind of wanted to do something a little crazy and change things up a bit. It’s fun! I was worried I’m not confident enough for a cool haircut, but I do feel confident with it now.
I also hosted a Christmas/dinner party for some friends, which was fun. I find cooking for people stressful, but also fulfilling. I made garlic butter flatbreads, and then, since we have a tradition in that group of friends to get people Colin the Caterpillar cakes for birthdays and such, we made an Eldritch Awakened Cursed Colin. He is somehow FOUR Swiss Rolls and he’s so horrible. We feasted on his body and his blood. My friend found those horrible tooth gummy sweets and they really add a special touch to this fucking thing.
I don’t know if I mention it much here, but I play bass guitar, and this month, I finally got to spend some time playing with other people! I’ve never actually played in front of people or with other people before, I’m a bit nervous about my abilities, but I found it incredibly gratifying and I’d like to find a way to do it again! The current song I’m learning is Paranoid Android by Radiohead, which is fun and also very complex. Part of the chorus section also sounds really close to the theme tune for children’s marine biology show that used to air on the kids channels over here, Octonauts, which is such a stupid sentence but I have to type it because it haunts me.
What I Love:
I really enjoyed doing a little artist spotlight last month, so I’m adding it to these regular posts.
- I bought
Lily Vie’s 2024 calendar
and it’s one of the most gorgeous things I own. I bought her 2022 calendar for 2022, and proceeded to use it again for 2023 because she didn’t make a new one that year and I just liked it so much. It also came with stickers!
- I came across Shannon D. Taylor‘s (@magicmakerdreamweaver on Instagram) work on Instagram a couple of months ago, and it’s so, so captivating and enchanting. I highly recommend just scrolling through her page or website and looking at everything on there. This is a runthrough of a bunch of her miniatures very quickly, but it was impossible for me to just pick a handful of posts to put in this little feature.
- I’ve been struggling to read this month, which is frustrating—I’m not commuting, plus depression has left me super tired and unmotivated to read before bed, and I’ve been mainly reading books for university, which I’ll detail more in the blog post that’s about that. I did read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, which I found to have interesting little mysteries and puzzles within its own plot conceit, but Asimov is really into authoritarianism in a way I found kind of distasteful.
- I also gave The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu another try, since it’s highly acclaimed, and I have read it (and I think most of the sequel?) before but I don’t remember much of it. I found it pretty dry, which is somewhat understandable for science fiction, it’s just not for me. It has sort of standard misogynist background radiation for men writing sci-fi, but there was this one scene where a woman is threatening people by holding a tiny nuclear bomb, and the army who are trying to stop her want to distract her to shoot her, so the police chief goes up to her and says ‘Oh, we found your mother,’ and then they shoot her. And in the next scene, the protagonist asks the police chief, ‘how’d you know about her mother?’ and the police chief replies, ‘women like that always have mother issues.’ And it was so not only misogynistic but deeply needless and silly, I just snapped the book closed and decided it wasn’t worth any more of my time. Motherless behaviour to threaten people with nukes, I guess. It was so dumb. Anyway, now I have to find some good stuff to read—I did get some new books for Christmas.
- Hermitcraft season 9 ended this month, the first season I watched. I’m sad to see it go, because there were some things I wanted to see more of, but it had been going on for, what, a year and 8 months? And some parts were beginning to drag, I understand why they wrapped it up. I just really, really like Hermitcraft. I think some of that is from, it is an artist’s collective! They don’t normally do those in Minecraft, but it undeniably has such a spirit of honest creation and collaboration that’s so enjoyable for me as an artist. I love seeing other people create. I feel like sometimes Minecraft Youtube can get ashamed of itself and submit to its own ‘cringe’ status, but everyone on Hermitcraft loves and owns being on Hermitcraft, and I don’t know if I’ve interacted with something as artistically stimulating in a while—not just in the ‘fanart’ sense but inspiring me to think about backgrounds and architecture and landscapes more. Here are some of my favourite moments of Hermitcraft s9:
- Decked Out 2 is obviously one of the best moments of the season, of Hermitcraft, of building crazy things in survival Minecraft as a whole. Watching it come together and slowly realising how absolutely insane this project was was amazing.
- Scarland is also the obvious pick. It’s just fun to see people be really passionate about something! I love autism for real
- Zedaph’s whole season 9 gimmick, the ridiculous achievements, was great, but I think my favourite was the ‘playing music with creepers’ cover of the 1712 Overture. I really recommend watching this for the average day on Hermitcraft and also how infectiously fun it is.
- As for builds, Bdoubleo100 had some of my favourites of the season, I don’t know how to say it any other way than, he builds like an artist. He’s clearly thinking about silhouette and colour and effect, and it really shows: the TNT shop/creeper farm that slowly turns black higher up the building, as if it’s being silhouetted against the sky, works so incredibly well. And his main base, the scrap cyberpunk temple, blends aesthetics so well, and ‘cobbled together scrappy slightly wrecked but cosy and full of life and also full of machinery sci-fi space’ is one of my favourite aesthetics ever.
- FalseSymmetry’s castle is so well done, another person I think I see an artistic influence in—it’s so balanced and composed and works with the environment so well, and pulls off looking detailed and busy without looking cluttered or confusing.
- PearlescentMoon’s main build is just fun. I especially love her terraforming on it, it’s so shapey and flowey in a very alien way, and the overall shape and structure comes together really well. The whole Soup Group area (with ImpulseSV and GeminiTay) comes together really well/
- I also really liked Keralis’s base for the same ‘junky cosy sci-fi-ish stuff is my vibe’ reason.
- I find Grian's base really charming. It's very individual and intruiging, it stands out well.
- Secret Life ended. It was fun, even if it was far from my favourite season—it wasn’t bad, the rest of the seasons are just better. I called Scar’s win and I’m very happy about it and that it was a great win.
- People Make Games are doing some of the most interrogative games journalism at the moment, and they also make really charming and fascinating videos about games, the people who play them, and the people who make them. I really recommend their investigative journalism, but this month I watched their video about Wasteland Weekend, a post-apocalyptic roleplaying event in America I’m fascinated by, and it made me want to go even, even more. Unfortunately the heat in the Mojave desert would kill me instantly but, still.
- I watched a bit of NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 18! I’m still so bad at watching a whole wrestling show, but I haven’t watched wrestling in ages, and it’s Wrestle Kingdom…
- I watched Hiromu Takahashi vs El Desperado, solid match, love these two. Kind of think it deserved a bit more spectacle and drama, given how long their story has gone, but it was fun.
- Will Ospreay vs Jon Moxley vs David Finlay was a match that happened. Finlay’s clearly being built up here, but against Mox and Ospreay, he doesn’t really get time to shine because of how good those two are. It worked with a classic Bullet Club goon finish, and the implication that Gedo had been rigging the whole thing. The Ospreay/Mox segments were great, of course on wrestling ability but also in the style conflict—it’s really funny to see Ospreay do all his fancy moves and flips and then Mox just punches him in the face and it’s as effective. Shoutout to Bullet Club Goon #3 (might have been Alex Coughlin? I have some sort of white male wrestler blindness) who got chucked through a table that wasn’t set up to break in a nice way and had to sit with his ass through it like that for the rest of the match.
- Random other side note: I wonder what’s going to happen for Bullet Club in the future. For a while, it seemed like they were fading (after Jay White and friends went to AEW) and United Empire seemed to eclipse them, but now a lot of United Empire’s top guys have also gone to AEW (namely Ospreay and Aussie Open) and Bullet Club has had a fresh injection of weird little guys. It kind of makes sense, Bullet Club was originally NJPW’s sort of White Boy Silo for everyone that didn’t want to go to WWE, wanted to be on TV, and was crazy enough to move to Japan, but since AEW is also becoming the place for people who don’t want to work WWE, there’s less incredibly strong American, British, Aussie/Kiwi wrestlers on NJPW when they could be on AEW.
- More Caves of Qud, as usual. This game rules. Some updates from the adventures of Ha-Yukas, my mutated human gunslinger:
- I found a massive cave system, but it seemingly had no way out after looking for a straight hour, and I had to abandon the cool books (One was the rare Q Girl book!) and the tattoo gun I found down there to reload from my last checkpoint. Later I realised I could’ve teleported back to the starting town instead. Uuuurgh.
- I was doing the quest to join the Barathrumites, the sect of engineer bears with porcupine quills, but I got waylaid, as usual. I ended up doing the ‘Kith and Kin’ quest, where you have to uncover a mystery to help a town of deer-people regain their sacred bracelet. The town leader claims a woman now in exile has stolen it, but she denies it and says the town leader is a bigoted dictator and her or her bodyguard stole it for themselves. You have to investigate evidence you find around the town and surrounding area to figure out who did it—but the evidence is randomly generated, and your decision determines the future of the town. And also, the exiled woman and the town warden are in lesbian love and you get to deliver their love letters to each other. The evidence I got framed said exiled woman as the most credible suspect, but in the name of lesbian rights and lesbian wrongs, I framed the town leader with more shaky evidence because she seemed like a horrible person and a dictator, and luckily, the town prospered! It was such a fun game mechanic and a wonderful moment, I really hope that detective mechanic comes up again because it felt amazing. The writing in Qud is always good, but the writing was great.
- I finally went to Golgotha, to complete the Barathrumite quest. It’s a massive pit full of acid and slime. Slog of the Cloaca lives there and will kill you. It was deeply atmospheric and the atmosphere was ‘horrible.’ The first time I tried, I might have contracted Glotrot, the incredibly hard to cure disease that rots your tongue off and makes you unable to interact with most people. I died, though, and that somehow made me fine again, and I completed it on the second run. Most of my character’s equipment is now covered in slime, but I solved a puzzle (not very difficult but I’m glad I got it.) Slimy bitches win.
- And I got into the Barathrumites! I got to meet Q Girl, an awesome NPC who gives me tons of crafting recipes and she rules and the Barathrumites are so cool. They then gave me my next quest, to go to Bethesda Susa, the Mechamist holy place, but that was scary, so I went to another (but less hostile) Mechamist holy place, The Sixth Day Stilt.
- The Stilt is really fun. Tons of cool merchants, so I got a bit more kitted up and met some new weirdos. I should probably get a good reputation with the Mechamists so they don’t try and hunt me down when I enter Bethesda Susa, but I’m already with the Barathrumites and committed to being a friend of robots, and the Mechamists’ whole thing is being staunchly anti-robot and anti-technology, so it just felt wrong. I know I might be fucking myself over but the roleplay! The roleplay!
- Join me next time for more slimy adventures in trying to find another tattoo gun, because I miss that one I lost in that big stupid cave.
- I featured When I Was Done Dying by Dan Deacon in my most recent digital illustration, and it’s a great song on its own, too. I’ve been really into like, slightly off-beat slower stuff recently.
- In the same vein, Who Could Win A Rabbit by Animal Collective.
- I can deny it no longer: NewJeans are really good. Attention and ETA are pure vibes.
What’s coming next!
Decided to bring this back, because I do have plans for this little site, and I’m drawing less for the moment after drawing a lot. I’d like to add a place for my sketchbook to live, since I now have a scanner and can scan the whole thing, and a place for all of my shop items to live—my shop is still hosted on Ko-fi, but I’d like to be able to show stuff here, too. I’d like to keep this site more updated and engaged, because I love running it and I love the Neocities community.
I'm also going to do some menial work on the portfolio page to make it load better—currently it's incredibly slow, because all of my finished art pieces are like, approaching 20MB, so it's just a matter of resizing them to work better as thumbnails while the full thing is clickable. It's a rainy day job.
Next blog post: probably a cute little wrap-up of my year, and some artistic new year’s resolutions.
I’ll see you then! Hope you all enjoyed New Year's, I spent it with some friends and then got my Docs incredibly muddy going up a big hill to see the fireworks all over the city. It was worth it. Ellis ^_^
We’re almost at the end of November, which means we’re almost wrapped on my first term of university. This was a rough month, but I managed to keep my head on straight and above water, which I’m proud of. I’ve spent the month making analogue art and simply hanging out. Oh, and I did my first art market!
After meaning to do it for a hot minute, I have moved the blog from being hosted on Dreamwidth to being hosted here, on this website! Okay, I haven’t done it at the moment I’m writing this. I’m writing it here so I’ll remember to do it before this post goes live.
This is for ease of navigation (posts are in the sidebar, and can be linked to specifically, which is good for sharing my essays), and it means I’m not hotlinking offsite only to hotlink back. Plus, I get better text formatting! Yay!
I’ve also thought about adding to the main page a bit, to add clearer navigation instructions. However, I’d want to do this after slightly shifting around some of the stuff on the navbar—probably axing the commissions page since it’s outdated and low effort, doing that sketchbook page I’m meaning to get to, updating Projects. Having a perpetually half finished website is kind of more trouble than a finished one.
Also, yeah, no mid-month blog post this month. I had one in the works, but it’s not done yet. I originally set myself this ‘one long blog post per month’ thing because I enjoy making them and I like sticking to deadlines I set myself as a sort of exercise and practise, but for something that’s as low-stakes and low-traffic as this blog, I don’t think it’s reasonable to set this expectation for myself. The writing blog posts will come out when I want to make one—perhaps that’s once every two months, perhaps that’s just, whenever.
Speaking of ‘low traffic’ and this website and setting timings for things: I’ve been struggling with Instagram recently. (This is sort of art-related.) Over the past month or so, the amount of people who actually see my work on instagram, even followers and friends, has been incredibly low. I’m lucky in being the kind of person who doesn’t rely too much on praise or engagement to make art - I definitely like approval, and it helps me feel better about my work, but for the act of making it, I’m very content with making art simply for the fun of it. I’m not feeling put off making or sharing things by the lack of engagement (also, I have plenty of wonderful friends to share art with,) but it’s definitely annoying, especially when there’s little consistency in what seems to boost my reach for a while and when it gets way smaller again. Regularly posting on Instagram is just a hassle for me—I’m very good at letting dates slip, and I find the best ways of gaining traction on Instagram a little gross, but more than anything just not worth my time, since I don’t depend on Instagram for money or career related things. Just kind of a pain in the ass!
I’ve been doing a lot of analogue art recently. I’ve been filling up my sketchbook and doing fun things on paper, which I tend not to do often, usually prioritising finished digital pieces over my more freeform sketchy stuff. I find traditional art to be a great way to practise my skills and grow new techniques. I often find that digital art is so freeform that I’m often not very inventive in it! Traditional art has a lot more restrictions that I think push me to do more creative things, plus, not being as able to easily erase and learning to roll with the mistakes has been good for learning.
I think one of the reasons why I’ve gone off digital art recently is that it just doesn’t feel as tactile or responsive in the same way as analogue. I think this is mostly due to what I’ve been doing recently, more than digital art itself. I used to have a screen tablet, but it broke about a year ago, and since then I’ve been using a Wacom pen tablet. I wonder if a screen tablet would make me feel that connection again, but they’re difficult to try out, normally. My university is full of Cintiqs, though, I might see if I can borrow one for a while and see if a screen tablet makes me more engaged with digital art. (Cons are: my poor back. I have my laptop up on a stand for a reason.)
The other thing holding me up might be the brushes I use. I like drawing with dip pens because they feel responsive in my hands, I can control a wide range of line weights, and although I like my digital brushes, none of them quite do that. I’m also wanting to try out & use more textures in my art, so I’m on a bit of a Photoshop brush hunt. I like my digital art style, but I feel like it’s gotten a little stagnant and held up recently, and I want to break the mould. Good thing I’ve got a digital art project coming up for exactly that
I finished my second illustration project at university this month, the observational drawing one I mentioned last month. It was a rough ride, I felt like I wasn’t doing the project justice and wanted to do more, but people seemed to respond really well to my work and pick up on what I was putting down—the sensory overload, the grittiness. I ended up doing quite a lot of work, despite putting myself down for not doing enough, and people got what I was going for, which is what the point of illustration is.
One of the coolest things I did on this project was make some flexagons—they’re this way of folding paper nets to create flat shapes that fold out into different sides. People use them as zines—I saw this technique from chasc0re on Instagram, and I made a couple for this university project. They’re so fun and I’d love to make more. Here’s a video I took of myself so you can see how they work.
These are my final outcomes—we did a little exhibition day. It was really fun walking around and seeing different people’s interpretations of the concept. I felt like I wasn’t really working in my usual territory when I could’ve, and sometimes I enjoyed that and sometimes I wanted to be doing something more me and comic-y. I had the opportunity to do that, I just… didn’t go there for whatever reason. I’d really like to do some longer projects soon, because I’m always very ambitious with these projects and I want to just spend a long time and really work through all my feelings and ideas about a project.
As part of this project, early on, I did a bookbinding workshop! I’d never tried bookbinding before but it’s been in the back of my mind as something I’d like to do, so I signed up for a workshop at uni. I really enjoyed it! I like tactile crafts and I like learning new techniques, however this is probably going to enable me to make a lot more little books I won’t use. Also, my perception of awls has been irreversibly affected by The Magnus Archives and I don’t know if I’m ever not going to get a little shiver when I pick one up ever again. Melanie King you legend
Speaking of bookbinding, and digital arts, I did a weird little fandom hobby project this month: so there’s this trend people have been doing on Tumblr where people draw their designs of every player from the Life Series (that Minecraft thing I like) as little headshots, and I kind of wanted to bandwagon because I like my designs for these characters, but I was feeling allergic to digital art at that specific moment, so I made a little book!
It’s a tiny concertina book (about 6x6cm) secured in a pretty rudimentary way (split pin and string not very well secured to the back), but it does its job nicely. I used pencils + a Nikko G dip pen nib to draw and ink all of the cast, and added background colour with copic markers. One of the things this project got me to think about is I’m definitely falling into a bit of ‘same face syndrome’, and I’d be benefitted by practising switching up facial proportions and face and nose shapes. However, I think this recent practice has gotten me pretty confident with my dip pen (and I just looove the Nikko Gs, the variation in line width is so nice.) My character designs for everyone is pretty in line with the rest of the fandom, the only real standouts are Jimmy (my design for him is uncanny animate mannequin’), Bdubs (bug-like) and Lizzie (complicated shadow shapeshifter creature, but that barely showed up in this because the canvas was pretty small.) My favourite panels are probably Gem, Pearl, Mumbo, Joel, Tango and Ren.
Oh, another new art material acquisition for this month has been getting a Tombow and a Kuretake brush pen. They’re both very fun, I used the Tombow on this sketchbook page and the Kuretake on some of those latest project drawings.
I mentioned up in the post that I’ve been working on some essays but haven’t finished them, I’m actually working on two! The first is about my recent reread of Lancelot and the Lord of the Distant Isles, and the homoeroticism in that text and how it still resonates with present readers. The second is a recently started one, currently called ‘Play and Interplay in the Life Series — Moving towards an unashamed analysis of Minecraft Roleplay’ because I like giving silly analysis projects I do for fun big academic titles. The outline is about how duality and juxtaposition make the narrative elements in the Life Series work, and musings about how the community analyses and engages with Minecraft RP. I’m genuinely excited for this one!
At the very beginning of December, I did one of my first proper art markets… outside… in freezing temperatures… but otherwise it went pretty well considering it was a fairly small market! I met lots of nice people and people responded really positively to my work. I put some display boards together and made some very satisfying storage systems especially for it!
What I Love!
I want to add a little new segment to my ‘what I’ve been enjoying this month’ roundup: art! I wanna share some artists whose work I’ve been enjoying this month.
- I’ve already mentioned Minecraft a lot this blog post, but I’m going to keep doing it. There’s a couple of artists on Tumblr who do really elaborate Minecraft Youtube fanart, but it’s exclusively very detailed and well done drawings of just the Minecraft avatars with absolutely no stylization of design (fun fact: the Spanish speaking Minecraft fandom’s word for the in-game avatars is ‘cubito’, which is becoming more popular all across the fandom, and I love it.) I think a lot of MCYT fanart is so creative, but it’s also disconnected from the game of Minecraft itself, and I think bringing back that game element is so delightful. They’re so charming!
- I discovered Em Goheen (@owlprince on Instagram)’s work a bit ago, and all of their work is amazing—such a defined style and great sense of colour, but I am utterly utterly transfixed with these 3D pieces. It took a lot to pick specific works to put in this post, I really recommend just scrolling through their website and enjoying everything there.
- I’ve loved Julian Miholics’s work for years, but I also love every opportunity I get to share it. I love the symbolism he uses, and the very defined and yet unusual style. It’s so expressive. He also draws lots of dinosaurs, hence why I’m considering commissioning him for a tattoo one day, because I want a dinosaur tattoo and I’m super enamoured by what he makes.
My Brilliant Friend.
I don’t think I’ll go back for the sequels, but it was definitely a
really interesting reading experience. The unsettling atmosphere was
very well done, and I thought the depiction of misogyny struck very
true, how neither of the protagonists can ever really win in this world
they live in.
- I’ve realised I’m just really into books about misogyny. This is weird but true.
- Did my reread of Lancelot and the Lord of the Distant Isles! It’s kind of a strange read, because it’s specifically a medieval translation it’s written in a very play-by-play way, there’s not much description or imagery, it’s mainly focused on getting the important things across. I still find the thematic nature of it so fascinating, it’s got a very complex relationship with its own concepts of chivalry and hierarchy, and I don’t feel quite qualified enough to analyse that properly, but I did notice it and I do like it. Essay hopefully coming sometime on that one!
- I also read Watchmen, since I’m a comics nerd and it’s kind of ridiculous I’ve never read Watchmen. I mean, it’s a classic for a reason. I had an odd relationship with the themes, because it’s set in a period that’s both very familiar and alien to our current one, and I wonder if the reason I didn’t feel fully immersed in the theme is because that fear of world-ending war and understanding of living on the brink of the world has just become part of the background radiation of my life in the 21st century. I really liked the art, I thought the panel composition was just jerky and odd in the right way sometimes, and the colour schemes facilitated this slightly disconnected feeling.
- I’m halfway through watching Scott Pilgrim Takes Off! The animation is incredible—I knew Science Saru’s work vaguely and that it was good, but the way they’ve translated Scott Pilgrim to screen is amazing. The linework has such a traditional comic-feel to it in how brittle it is, and the colour is great in certain scenes. I really liked Roxy and Ramona’s fight scene because of how expressive it was, and I’m curious with how the angle the show will take towards the evil exes. I think the concept is super strong as a reinterpretation of the comic’s story and a response to the comic & movie, but I’m on episode 4 and I’m waiting for the emotional part to hit yet. I’m very curious as to what’s going to happen with Gideon, as his role in the comics is so strong as ‘unrepentant misogynist pervy weirdo who shows Scott who he’s in danger of becoming’ so I don’t want him to end up feeling dumbed down—I guess I’ll just have to see!
- I’ve explained how I generally feel about
last blog-post (it’s incredibly fun but it’s a big tone change from the
different style in previous Life Series instalments that I loved), but
Episode 7 was really really good. Me & my sister, who I watch the
series with, watched it from Grian’s POV first, and we had this really
fun experience of slowly figuring out along with the episode what had
actually happened. I really like the aspect of the Life Series where it
sort of unravels before you, and going to different videos to see the
context of different events and assembling what’s happened as part of
the watching experience, I think Secret Life has kept that element up,
but in a slightly different way.
- I feel like we’re at the time in the series where predictions are warranted (Note: writing this before I’ve seen the episode 8 uploads.) When Limited Life was airing, I was rooting for Martyn, Cleo or Scar to win the season, and that worked out great for me, so I’m sticking with it and rooting for Cleo or Scar to win.
- I have, of course, watched the two biggest video essay sensations of the month, Hbomberyguy’s Plagiarism and You(Tube) and BobbyBroccoli’s Nortel series. I don’t feel like I have much to say about these beyond that they’re both very good.
- I’ve been working through hazel’s back catalogue, and I really enjoyed weird & kinda scary tokusatsu girls and Who was responsible for this anime? The first is a fascinating and thoughtful dive into a genre I’d never interacted with much beyond my friends infodumping about it, and introduced me to a whole world of character design I’m really into—I love these weird inhuman girlbot designs, I think they say so much. The second is a very thoughtful examination of a famous low-brow sex comedy anime that ends up as an exploration of censorship and sexualisation in anime. These are only two of the videos I’ve been enjoying from her & I highly recommend her channel.
- In my on-going quest to find music that sounds exactly like certain Ada Rook tracks, I’ve listened to femtanyl — really like Girl Hell 1999 and Push Ur T3mprr
- As part of the same search, I’ve been looping Ride It by LustSickPuppy, obsessed
- I do listen to Car Seat Headrest fairly often, because I like the guitar rhythms but I definitely understand that CSH can sound whiney or complaining-y to people, but also, yeah, It’s Only Sex definitely got me & my deal. TMI maybe but it’s my blog!
- I don’t know if it counts here, because I haven’t been playing it, just reading and watching things about it, but the latest Jacob Geller video put me onto Who’s Lila, a game that has a great hook and then proceeds to really go some places. I also love the graphical style.
- As part of a research project I’ll speak about next blog post, I played Cyberqueen by Porpentine. It’s an erotic horror gore robot text adventure and it blew my mind, it’s just… you know those horror works that are sticky? It really sticks with you and leaves a residue in a gross and enthralling way. It’s got a huge list of trigger warnings but it’s also got so much going on and aaah, I'm going to have to do more playthroughs, because I need to experience it again.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next time with one of those essay concepts I’ve currently got stewing in my Google Docs, or a blog post all about the research I’ve been doing recently. Until then, I’m going to enjoy my holiday break, eat snacks and make things!
Happy November! The enduring march of winter and the shortening of the days comes for us all! Aaaaaah! Thank technology for the sunlight lamp! Can you tell I've been getting annoyed at how early it's been getting dark lately?
Biggest news: MOONSAULT, the pro wrestling charity art fanzine I've been moderating, has finally released after months of work! The final book is packed full of amazing art and it's been so special to work on, and it's fully worth the price for all 20 pages.
Another zine I participated in was TrafficZine 4, the Life Series fanzine! It's a free art and writing collection basically retelling the whole latest season, and I posted my piece on social media shortly after, and did have a bit of a moment when two of my favourite players in the series liked it.
University is a lot. I'm enjoying what I'm doing, but it's demanding a lot of energy I'm hoping will be less when I settle in. I'd like to have some more time and juice for my own solo projects. We don't get a half-term break like I'm used to so I'm beginning to flag a bit in energy and I'm taking it as easy as I can—I do have this habit of overworking myself because of overambition and stressing out that I'm not doing enough.
Our first group project had the extra task of organising and coordinating things between us, but I'm happy with how we handled that. The group presentation at the end was a little nerve-wracking (I talk way too much!) but it was totally fine and we got great feedback. I kept with the layered papercut idea, went through a little mockup on the lasercutter before I put the piece together using stacked foamcore and card. G. F. Smith is a paper company in the UK that does free samples for students and it's been a game-changer for cheap good quality art paper, if anyone else finds that useful.
I posted the essay that accompanied the magazine double spread I made in my last blog post! It and the whole project is themed around science fiction, illustration and immersion, which was a theme I settled on pretty easily because I know what I like. Indesign is a deeply unintuitive program for someone like me who's best in Photoshop and okay in Illustrator, and putting the layout together was a hassle for me being pretty verbose and also forgetting to even think about the text at the beginning, but it did come out great!
We've since started our next project, a visual exploration of the area around our university building through primary research and observation. I was ticked off by this project at first, because we did a similar project on Foundation and I was very out of my comfort zone then, but I think that helped me feel more comfortable with this brief. Projects for me are always a matter of weaselling the brief into something I feel invested in making. One of the key ideas of this project is psychogeography, the name for mapping and exploring the experience of or emotions attached to a place: a theme I've been interested in for a while without really knowing the name for it.
Observational sketches done on the London Underground, trying to focus on documenting and understanding the experience of the Tube. I find the Tube network kind of…absurdist, in a way? That's really the feeling I'm trying to latch onto, that weird fear I get when I think about how deep underground I am or looking out the windows and not being able to see anything.
We're also doing rotations in workshops for this project! I'm going to learn bookbinding. Got plans to sort of turn this project into a weird collaged image comic-y thing? It's a ‘body of work' kind of project where we're just continuously making things and then curating them, instead of building to one final submission.
The papercut project & following Sarah Capon's work on Instagram inspired me to do my own papercut work outside of school as a weird way to calm down. Sometimes calming down from an approaching deadline is making cut paper figures of Minecraft youtubers, I guess? Unsure what paper Grian and paper GoodTimesWithScar ward me against by their presences but I love them now.
Haven't been keeping up much with the sketchbook recently, but I've been practising bodies in perspective (still working away at that: it's hard! I have to keep fighting my brain's instincts on ‘this isn't proportional' and just accept the foreshortening. It's paying off, though.)
Also, this more comic-y inking page (I actually mixed some drawing ink for this one, I don't actually own a purple) was a great exercise. I haven't done a proper detailed ink in a while and it's still something I'm getting better at (particularly directional and real-feeling hatching, I have this habit of, whenever I add texture, interspersing it pretty evenly which ends up looking a little off.) I then shaded it with marker, liked that a lot but I want to start paying more attention to the textures of things I shade for added realism. I'm being very critical about this page but I actually really like it, I'm just also noticing a lot of things that aren't quite perfect. 'Almost there' has always been more noticeable and interesting to me than 'still not there yet.'
Oh and before anything else, related to absolutely nothing, here's a recipe for 3 ingredient easy as hell flatbreads. They're so quick and good it legitimately feels like some kind of wizard trick and I feel like I have to share this wisdom with others:
400g self raising flour, 300ml milk, 1 teaspoon of salt. Put it all in a big bowl and mix fully (I usually do this with a fork because it's very sticky), and then turn out onto a floured surface and knead it for a couple of minutes until it's smooth and all together. Split them up and roll them out into whatever shape you want with a floured rolling pin (you'll probably have to reflour your surface every so often, they get sticky), I usually go for around 3-5mm thick. Get a frying pan on medium heat, don't grease it or anything, just put it on medium heat and throw your flatbreads in. They should start bubbling up and browning at the bottom, and when they're sufficiently bubbly and browned, flip them over and cook them on the other side. Done! Takes like 20 minutes! (The recipe is from Anna Jones in the Guardian, but I don't think it's online anywhere.)
What I Love:
- Finished Kraken by China Mieville. I think one of Mieville's real skills is his genre- and tone-bending: Kraken in structure and prose feels very different to Embassytown or City & The City, and that change in tone is very evocative, but there's always a certain touch of whimsy to his work. His work is playful, it's all about taking a concept to its ridiculous conclusions, establishing something and then playing in that space. Most of the book is a fun magic-y action romp, but there's some fascinating details dropped in: the ‘embassy to the sea', a London terrace house that's been entirely filled with just, The Ocean, and a scene where a character summons these police officer spirits through burning old police drama tapes to create something that's almost a ghost of an idea of police officers. Towards the end, there's a handful of really fascinating concepts, even though I found the twist villain at the end unexpected but not in the most satisfying way, I didn't feel like there was all that much build-up for it. I also liked Dane. I really recommend this one.
- Sidenote: I keep bringing up China Mieville because I've been reading a lot of his work and getting kind of peeved when the response is, ‘oh yeah, The City and the City, right?' The City and the City isn't bad by any means, just for me it didn't land as hard as his other books, and it kind of put me off his writing for a while because I didn't get the hype at first. It's just not the peak of what I like in Mieville's writing, but I imagine it's got a lot of appeal that I didn't vibe with, for whatever reason: plus, it's probably more accessible in terms of weirdness than like, Embassytown or Perdido Street Station (which I need to read.)
- Ghost in the Shell is a weird one! I still finished the book feeling kind of baffled, although that might be the intention? It felt kind of disconnected and confusing, but I liked the character writing and the concepts.
- I was gifted by a long-time friend My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and I've gotten round to reading it. It's definitely something I wouldn't've picked up on my own, which is quite fun, actually. It definitely has an immersive, captivating quality, it's almost… unsettling, in a way? Reading it feels like I'm just waiting for the next thing to go wrong, it's very atmospheric and I'm having a good time with it.
- I saw New Japan Pro Wrestling Royal Quest live in the UK with my best friend this month! Awesome show, incredible time. I felt like some of the undercard deserved longer matches. There's a certain inherent joy to seeing some of your favourites live, and there were some amazing matches towards the end of the card. Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr, I mean, what is there to say? It was brilliant and I had no other expectations. I wanted a Zack win, partly because I think he really deserves the UK heavyweight belt and also, with the run Ospreay is on right now, he felt surprisingly like a bit of an underdog. There were some crazy spots in that match, Zack superplexing Ospreay into a submission in mid-air is going to stick in my brain. The final segment was Shota Umino challenging Ospreay for the US title: Shota is clearly still green and although he has good presentation, he's still learning the extra things that make a match good on top of solid moves, but Ospreay can pull something engaging out of almost anybody. That match literally just happened, so I'll have to watch it and report back.
- Youtube time! a normal creepypasta retrospective by hazel and mae got recommended to me on a whim and it's such a well-pulled off bit that I was genuinely blown away. I knew the conceit going into it (which I won't spoil, even though it's very easy to find) and that didn't take away at all from how delightful it was to watch. If you're interested in online horror, I'd really recommend it because it's just such a love letter and perfect capturing of how horror has evolved on the internet.
- The Cursed Judge makes these entertaining bite-sized explorations of how games use a specific idea. His video on Video games that don't exist was a small exploration of online horror and how the way games are played and explained can tell us things about the game and things about the greater story. And it also made me want to revisit Petscop, a series which I fell off towards the end of, but is considered like, one of the masterworks of that style of online ‘creepy game I found' horror.
- I, of course, like a dutiful Minecraft-raised child, followed the finale of Stampy's Lovely World, because I felt like I owed it to 10 year old Ellis. What I found more interesting is actually the wrap-up video Stampy made and posted: I always like seeing people's creative thoughts and processes, especially on something I have a lot of fondness for, and I think there's real strength in knowing when something should end and understanding the kind of work you want to create. I have a lot of respect for that. Reminds me a little of CJ the X's 7 Deadly Art Sins video, an exploration of ‘making art wrong' but focused on the process of making art and your relationship to it, and attempting to cultivate a healthy and enriching relationship with what you make and why you make it.
- Secret Life, the new instalment in the Life Series, my favourite weird Minecraft roleplay experiment, just started. I feel weird about it. I think since the previous season there's been a slow tone change away from the ‘ridiculous in a deeply engaging way' drama that made me love the series, and I think if the series did commit to switching tone away from that, I would be really upset. I have a habit of being pessimistic about media I like becoming ‘bad now', it's just the logo change and the potential acknowledgement of wider ‘lore' is making me worry that the series as a whole is shifting away from my tastes. The Life Series as a whole is an experiment, and not every experiment is for everyone, you know?
- Got back into Caves of Qud again, using a mod that allows me to regularly set checkpoints, and playing in Wander mode where combat is basically optional and you're incentivised to talk to people and do quests instead. I'm having an amazing time with it, I know it kind of eliminates the whole punishing roguelike element but what I really like about Qud is the exploration and the writing and the systems and this allows me to experience that without feeling constantly set back or frustrated. I've been having a great time just stumbling across things and gaining new skills and feeling the game evolve and open out around me. Some little moments I liked:
- It's definitely been an easy experience, but I have died a couple of times, mainly at Grit Gate, the dungeon you have to go through to reach the Barathrumites. The actual creatures inside weren't a big deal (apart from the horrible electric bugs), the real killer was gun turrets. I kept encountering rooms full of like, 6 gun turrets and 6 chests, and I'm such a loot hoarder that I was dead set on getting to those chests and most of the time my hubris got me obliterated. One time I did successfully disable all of the turrets, mainly using an ability I have called Burgeoning that lets me spawn plants in an area to destroy things—however one of the plants I spawn is the one that explodes and constantly fucks me over, so on clearing this room, I was instantly blown up by my own plant minions. That's Qud, I guess.
- I really like the ‘getting lost' mechanic in Qud, where on wandering on the minimised world map you can sometimes be forced down to the actual ground and have to walk around a bit before you can use the world map again. Sometimes it's frustrating, but sometimes I end up having these fun little encounters that make the game feel really special. One time I stumbled across a screen where a bear leader and a Barathrumite robot leader had both spawned and immediately started fighting. One time I found a village of anarchist horses who deposed their robot overlords for trying to outlaw napping.
Thanks for reading! I'm continuing to chug along in my winter sleepy mode, keeping making things and probably getting outside because I need to do that more. I do have some more zines I've been in coming out soon. I'm currently ostensibly taking a break from bigger projects, but I'm pretty sure that by the end of the month I'll have the itch again and will be working on something huge. Ellis :)
This month's late midmonth blog is the written component to my first university brief, Introduction to Illustration! The assignment for this project was to work on groups, create a theme relating to 'What is illustration for?' to create a magazine based around, and then go off individually and create a double spread for said magazine with a written component and an art component.
My group's magazine is called Portals, and is an exploration of illustration as a tool for immersion and creating/transporting people to other worlds. I knew I wanted to write something about sci-fi from the beginning, and ended up reading and referencing a bunch of sci-fi literature and art that's influenced my practice to create this essay, and format it into a magazine spread with my detested enemy, Indesign.
Having a life-long struggle with communication and empathy, I was always enthralled by illustration’s almost magical ability to transform and convey feelings. Unfortunately, illustration is often considered not worthy of its own consideration on the basis of it being ‘communication’: derivative and less sophisticated than fine art.
As a child, I was always imagining something, building my own worlds and characters that transformed the world around me and my own feelings into something far bigger. This evolved into a captivation with science-fiction and fantasy, another bastard child of ‘fine literature’, and developed into my illustration practice.
Later, I would learn the source of both these things: undiagnosed autism. But my fascination with entering other worlds and bringing them into existence would remain. Key to the illustration and science fiction I found most effective is that sense of entering another world: immersion. However the viewer is placed in the world, they must feel like they’re truly there, whether as an observer, or a participant.
Science fiction and illustration are perhaps most connected together in the pulp covers of the 20th century, when sci-fi was primarily distributed through magazines. The first issue of Amazing Stories, the first pulp magazine dedicated solely to science fiction, had a front cover with a striking yellow sky to draw attention. (Robinson, 1999) The otherworldly colours and imagery of early pulp covers and sci-fi illustrations provoke people’s imaginations and invite them to imagine how the imagery might ever make sense. In order to widely appeal, these covers often included pulp cliches of the time: bug-eyed creatures, evil AIs, half-naked damsels and powerful male protagonists.
Author China Mieville seeks to create even less familiar environments: the strangeness and complexity of his novels engage the reader by asking them to imagine this new and unusual world for themselves. His novel Embassytown not only includes interstellar sailing below reality, living cities and factories, and a giant exploded space-ship in the sky, but also explores a language incomprehensible to humans. (Mieville, 2011) The alien-ness to us of the world parallels the alien-ness of the language to the characters, creating an attention-grabbing and immersive experience.
On the other hand, illustrators Moebius and Kilian Eng place the viewer as an observer looking into a serene and unusual world. While the landscape is still unfamiliar, colour and compositional choices convey gentle exploration more than confusion. These landscapes become places for us to imagine exploring and inhabiting as a resident.
Such worldbuilding, the act of creating fleshed-out and immersive worlds, is a corner-stone of science fiction and fantasy, and Ursula K Le Guin is considered a legend in that regard. Her work not only builds and explores rich alien worlds, but explores a world of concepts. The Lathe of Heaven focuses on a man whose dreams change the world around him, while his psychiatrist seeks to use this ability for his own means. (Le Guin, 1971) Le Guin builds, in detail, the alternate Earths that our protagonist creates, imagining what living in those would look like, but also takes us on a journey through the nature of power and protest, exploring and teaching.
Since its genesis, science fiction’s capacity to teach and be learnt from has been noted. In the foreword to the first ever issue of Amazing Stories, editor Hugo Gernsback (namesake of the Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy) wrote, ‘For the best of these modern writers [of science fiction] have the knack of imparting knowledge, and even inspiration, without once making us aware we are being taught.’ (Gernsback, 1926) Gernsback, even in 1926, speaks on how much the world has changed as to make science fiction feel more grounded in reality than most other fictions, and even attributes it a quality of prophecy.
Just under 100 years later, author Cory Doctorow would condemn this as one of the greatest flaws of people who read science fiction—mistaking purposeful commentary for prophecy. (Doctorow, 2012) The Lathe of Heaven’s writing on ecological collapse isn’t prophetic, it’s reflecting and bringing to the forefront anxieties about power and control and collapse that already existed. Doctorow adds, through these reflections science fiction brings into being ways of talking about what we’re dealing with. Over time, it’s focused on artificial intelligence, climate collapse, fascism, and many more prominent themes.
Illustration, too, with its powers of visualisation and communication, can help share and express new ways of thinking about the future. Although these are often looked down upon, aspects of storytelling and communication are constant between ‘fine art’ and illustration, (Hobbs, 1984) and their power to disseminate ideas is not to be overlooked. ‘Popular’ art or literature can introduce ideas and reach people in a way as impactful as fine art.
Some of my first experiences with the leftist politics that would come to shape my thinking and my practice was through radical illustration, distributed out in the world or online. Science fiction helped me visualise these new ideas and imagine better worlds. Illustration and sci-fi both gave me a portal into the world of radical politics, by making it approachable and demystifying academic and theoretical concepts, and once I was through that entryway, I could explore further and create my own work.
Once again, with the boom in machine-learning ‘AI’, reality seems to be catching up to science fiction. As these generated images threaten our current conceptions of illustration, we might need to look to science fiction to find ways to respond. And as science fiction tackles an uncertain future, we’ll be here to illustrate and share hope and change.-
Thanks for reading! Sorry for the relative lateness of this, I have just started uni & it's been taking up a lot of my time. Fun, but draining. Going to try to be a bit more relaxed and not overstress myself and hope the acclimatisation makes me less stressed. Very happy with this project though, think it went great. See ya soon! Ellis :)
Keen-eyed readers will notice there wasn’t a mid-month blog post last month, because there wasn’t. I was busy as hell. I continue to be busy as hell. Will this change, ever? We may never know.
I spent September cramming to get work finished before I started university, and have since started university & am still finishing some stuff up! It’s been kind of crazy but also great.
I mentioned my new badge press last blog, and I’ve since been working steadily away on creating badges that strike a good balance between marketable and enjoyable to me. I used a local print shop, which was chaotic and cheap but did have the downside of sometimes just absolutely destroying whatever turquoise colours in my prints? I know CMYK can play badly with certain teal shades, but it looked fine on my laptop. Now I’m in uni, I’ll have access to uni printers and be able to control the outcomes a little more.
I also used plastic-back and metal-back badges, since I somehow went through the starter set of 200 badges in a month. The metal-back ones are objectively better quality, but they have a flatter look and tend to dent if I press down too hard with the press. The holographic overlays I also got for my birthday held up super well and added some sparkles to them. I wanted to make stickers, originally, but just didn’t have the time with everyone else going on and I wanted to get the update out for my shop ASAP since I set myself the deadline of ‘the end of September’, and guess what, I made the deadline on the first of October!
You can buy everything in my online shop HERE. All orders I’ve received so far have been so appreciated and will be shipped as soon as possible! The support has been awesome. Also, I’m very proud of the product photography I did.
Speaking of deadlines, MOONSAULT, the pro wrestling art fanzine finally has a release date! 1st of November, baby! 19 awesome pieces of art from awesome people, all in one handy digital PDF. We’re going to be doing promo posts later in the month, so keep up with our Tumblr & Twitter!
Making Moonsault has been stressful but also super rewarding. It’s mostly been a lot of wrangling people and getting things together on time, something I kind of enjoy. Mostly also spreadsheets. We’ve talked about running another one next year, and I am absolutely down, whether it’s another edition with the same theme, or a whole new theme (a fashion magazine idea has been thrown around!) I’m also now way more comfortable with possibly running zines in other fandoms, and hope to do that soon.
When I wasn’t working on badges or my zine, I’ve been participating in other people’s zines! Expect some cool teasers soon. I’ve also been filling out my new, fancy sketchbook. I like keeping a sketchbook, but I find I just tend to draw fun and lighthearted things in it a lot of the time, which is good, but I’m trying to strike a balance with learning and studying in this sketchbook. I’ve been doing perspective and anatomy studies in this, and trying out new materials. That also includes making that kind of routine studying fun, so I’ve mostly been doing that by drawing characters I like in cool poses or in environments. I brought some coloured mechanical pencils (Pilot Eno and Uni NanoDia brands) and have been trying those out—I really liked having a lot of colour and different mediums in my sketchbook after doing Artfight, so I want to carry that forward in a less intensive way.
Now time for the big news: at the end of September, I started University! I’m officially a full-time illustration student again. The start was kind of crazy, but I thankfully didn’t find it actually too overwhelming—I think I’ve been desensitised by the start of Foundation. It’s also a slower course than Foundation, so less crazy and easier to adjust. Having access to all of the resources we have here is really stirring my mind, even though so many of the inductions are booked up :P
Our first brief is a group project, where we’re in small groups making double spreads for a magazine, including an essay and an image, about a topic related to illustration. I was nervous at first about group work, but I got put into a group where we’re all on similar wavelengths and good at communicating with each other. I know in groups I’m organised and like to coordinate things, but I can be a little overbearing sometimes and speak over other people, so that’s something I’m trying to take conscious note of, to sit back a little bit and just chill out in general.
Our topic is about the immersive qualities of Illustration and how it creates and allows us to access other worlds. I’m personally focusing on science fiction and illustration, their similarities, and how they allow us to explore the unreal and think about the world differently, and how this plays into encouraging social change. I’m trying to do something with cutting and layering paper (inspired by Sarah Capon, but with very different vibes) and inspired by the works of Moebius and Kilian Eng (featured below) to create science fiction landscapes, but I haven’t got to that stage yet, just been playing around with thumbnails and compositions, as well as reading long essays about science fiction and marxism. It’s going great!
I also went to the London Anarchist Bookfair, which was a really joyful experience, seeing and chatting to people who are doing incredible things and working together to make a better world. I also read some wonderful zines & collected some awesome postcards and posters :D
What I Love
- I finished Babel by R. F. Kuang. It’s a book I’ve seen a lot of criticism as well as a lot of hype, and my feelings are sort of a smooth middle between those. It’s a good book, it’s well-written and matches the style it’s trying to emulate very well, and the characters are interesting. The magic system is a cool concept, and I hear people criticising it saying that despite having all this magic, history ends up exactly the same: I get the crit but it kind of didn’t bother me. The one criticism I think is baseless and annoying is people saying the book ‘hates white people’, I think it’s just a bit silly to say that about a book where the main focus is complicity in the crimes of the British Empire? It feels like a flat reading of it, and I found Letty, the only White main character, to have an interesting arc that made sense in the context of the rest of the story.
- ‘Enjoyable’ doesn’t feel like the right word for Chain Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. It was a rough read, but an immersive and thought-provoking one. I knew this book was coming out at some point from a Jacob Geller video where he mentions getting an advanced reader copy (thank u for all of my taste in media jacob), and then I saw it had actually come out and rushed to take it out of the library. I don’t know if the sheer amount of different POVs, sometimes one-off POV chapters, works in its favour in terms of structure, but it definitely helps create a fleshed-out world and the characters are great. It’s a thoughtful and thorough book. I wish I’d had more time to think over and reread the ending (I tend to reread the endings of books at least twice to sort of, process it and say goodbye), but I did have to return the book to the library the next day. The ending is shocking and abrupt, but it feels like the only one that makes sense, and I felt like that was in keeping with the rest of the book. A lot of books about rebellion and protest and hope tend to end on this ambiguous note—Babel did too—and I see why it’s done, because something like ‘the revolution’ and actually making meaningful change feels very difficult and almost impossible to imagine right now. However, I’d like to see more books tackle that, because as much as I like critiques and explorations of society in the past and the present, I think being guided into the future is just as important.
- The Seep by Chana Porter was a weird one, in good and bad ways. It felt slightly like a first draft or something that had significant parts chopped out. There was clearly a lot going on, so I imagine the author was aiming for ‘immersive in a confusing way,’ but with how I felt like character development and big emotional beats happened very quickly and elements seemed to disappear and appear, it was just a weird and slightly flattened experience. This is a shame, because I think it’s full of good ideas under the surface, and definitely got me thinking, I just wish it had more time and space to stretch out and bring me into that world more.
- After how much I enjoyed Embassytown, I started Kraken by China Mieville, and although I’m only a bit in, it’s just so rich stylistically that I’m liking it a lot. Mieville changes his prose between books to create a really individual and immersive experience for each one, and also it’s about giant squids and niche cults which is very up my alley. It helps that it’s also set in the Natural History Museum, somewhere I’ve spent a lot of time.
- I’m also, ostensibly for uni but also for fun, reading Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Matsume. I’m having a weird time with it. I’m not sure if the copy I have is badly translated, missing sections, it’s just hard to follow, or I’m missing something, because I’m finding it weirdly hard to follow? I’m not quite following how the elements intersect and why anyone is doing anything, really. Apart from that, I am enjoying it: the characters are great (especially Kusanagi, her dialogue is very fun) and I love the Fuchikoma robot-suit-things and their designs, and the visual style.
- I’ve been really into, uh, documentaries about competitive Smash Bros Melee recently? Documentaries covering competitive video games is always something I’ve liked, but it’s mostly been speedrunning before this (SummoningSalt’s videos are classic) but recently a bunch of documentaries about competitive Melee have come up on my youtube page, and they’re weirdly good. I’ve always kind of loved stuff about the evolution of strategies and metagaming, and also, I don’t know, there’s something really engaging about all these weird strategies and stories of success! The first one I watched was a more popular one, There will Never Ever be another Melee player like HungryBox, but I watched that a couple of months ago, and then aMSa: The Only Yoshi (who could do it) also got shown to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It has some great explanations and recreations for stuff people not might know if you’re not into Melee, which I am not. The Donkey Kong Renaissance is another one that’s a bit more technical but also great background listening.
- Ro Ramdin makes video essays that are ostensibly about current events on social media but also very well written and composed and always bring in something philosophical that sticks with me. Her video on Dream, niche fandoms and allegations against creators is something that really stuck with me: all her work manages to be topical as well as detailed and fascinating.
- Sometimes what you kind of need from youtube is silly drama videos. emma in the moment is a new channel doing exactly this for crafting communities on social media, and it’s very just, grab the popcorn and good background noise kind of video.
- Oh god I don’t really watch much TV at all. The new Taskmaster is good because all of the contestants are completely insane. Bake Off is… good now? Again? The vibes feel way less mean and I like the bakers. Glow Up is a view into a world I have never had much affection for (makeup) and is sort of fascinating for it. I watch Strictly Come Dancing like I’m observing some kind of insect except the insect is ‘the British psyche.’
- You thought you missed the Minecraft Youtube Minute? No you didn’t. I finished Last Life: verdict is… good but didn’t play to what I liked most about the series. Because people’s alliances kept imploding due to the rule change about people not being able to stay together on one remaining life, I felt like there was less of a narrative throughline and the ending segments felt more chaotic than impactful. I started Double Life. Verdict is: I know this is going to make me feel craaazy and I can’t wait. Partially because I have spoilers but it also already is and I’ve only just started. It’s just so drama-filled and delightful and also everyone is awful and hilarious. I love it.
- Once Around the Block by Badly Drawn Boy is probably one of my favourite songs ever, but I’ve been listening to some more of their discography recently. I like You Were Right and Silent Sigh—their music has lots of interesting rhythms, and as someone who’s tone deaf I like that a lot.
- Matt and Kim are a band similar to Badly Drawn Boy, however with every song I’ve listened to of theirs, there’s always part of the song I like and part of the song I don’t? I dislike the chorus in Daylight but the verse is really good.
- Doctor Worm by They Might Be Giants certified banger. i’m not a real doctor but i AM a real worm!!
September will probably be uni work & continuing personal projects—I’ve been doing a lot of zine stuff, I’m not sure what I’m feeling like doing next! I have some risograph poster fanart ideas, designing my OCs… but honestly, I’ve been working a lot and I might just sit back and play more Caves of Qud and eat chocolate covered rice cakes. I’m going into winter mode like a sort of mid bear.
This month I continue my unlucky streak: I started it with a twisted ankle, which is only just healing, and I ended it with Covid-19. The bright spots have been celebrated my birthday and working towards a big release on my online shop coming at the end of the month!
Nothing new this month, but coming soon, this website will be migrating to a custom URL! I’ll probably make a newsletter when it does happen, but just prior warning: soon, this site will be hosted on (probably) shootingstarpress.xyz! (There are other options, I’m very indecisive.)
I spent the first half of the month working on a piece for a zine that’s yet to come out, and I’m very happy with what I submitted. I think I mentioned a while ago that one of the things I’ve been trying to improve is cohesive colour schemes, so for this I figured out the colours as soon as I’d figured out the sketch and composition. It was fiddly and frustrating, but it ended up making the finished thing come out great—which you’ll see in a couple of months when I can post it.
I made a print for my parents’ anniversary, and wrote the Scott Pilgrim essay for this blog, which really ran away from me, but the main thing that happened in August was of course my birthday! When I was part of the end of year shop at Foundation, the button badges I made sold faster than anything else so it made sense to ask for my own press, for shop reasons and also because I’ve always loved badges as fun little trinkets and accessories. I haven’t named my badge press yet, but I’m sure I will at some point.
I’ve started decorating my backpack & clothes with badges representing things I like (favourite video games, books, music), and making badges to sell in the shop, here’s some sneak peeks:
I also got some sticker paper, which I’m planning some designs for (some fandom-related, some more general ones), so the aim is to drop all of this stuff on the ko-fi shop (which you can follow to make sure you’re on top of things) around the end of the month, before I start university. I’d like to make a redux of my shooting star pride designs, maybe with specific pride flag variants.
Zines are chugging along, shop stuff is happening, and I’ve got a few potential commissions queued up: keeping the same fun balance of busy and exciting, just gotta make sure I get most of it done before university.
I ended up having a low-key birthday day itself with friends and an awesome chocolate fudge cake made by my sister, and then a birthday party with friends at an arcade bar. I also got a new lunchbox and thermos for college (so I can stop carrying around my lunch in old tupperware,) new keycaps for my mechanical keyboard (which are gorgeous,) and some great books. And some awesome t-shirts (first one is a Hangman Adam Page t-shirt (one of my favourite pro wrestlers) and the second one is by sofftpunk.)
What I Love
- I finished Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, which I mentioned I was struggling with last blog. I ended up putting it down for a while to finish rereading Scott Pilgrim, but I successfully finished it. I did enjoy the way the plot picks up at the end of the book, enough to make me consider loaning the sequels from the library, but I still finished the book disappointed. It’s a good read for people who want a plot-focused sci-fi series, but I’ve realised something I value a lot in books is feeling immersed, and the prose and character voice didn’t make me feel immersed at all. There were interesting concepts that I feel weren’t done justice by the writing, especially Breq’s whole existence - a novel from the perspective of a spaceship sounds fascinating, but Breq’s narration felt flat and didn’t describe her emotional state at all beyond vague lines about feeling disconnected. Seivarden annoyed me, and generally, the emotional angles of the book fell flat for me.
- I started Babel by R. F. Kuang, and so far I’d say I’m intrigued by it. The worldbuilding and linguistics involved is interesting and it pulls off the style of the books it’s emulating very well, but so far it’s slow going. I’m not particularly interested in ‘dark academia’ as an aesthetic or academia as a setting, but I think it’s clear Kuang is much more interested in picking it apart than just following it. It’s a huge book, but I’ve been reading it while I’m sick in bed, so I'm making some good headway.
- I got to see my first live pro wrestling this month and it was absolutely incredible. I saw the RevPro 11 Year Anniversary show at Copper Box Arena, which we had a great view for despite being pretty high up. Honestly, it’s just crazy. Like I don’t really have any words other than ‘I saw the wrestling! In front of me!’ because it was just such a wonderful experience. The matches were amazing—Shingo Takagi vs Will Ospreay was the obvious highlight, but Michael Oku vs Trent Seven was a classic hilarious match with an amazing crowd reaction and Tomohiro Ishii vs Luke Jacobs was a match I didn’t expect to like, but ended up getting so swept up in the storytelling. Mickie James and Zack Sabre Jr. were both amazing to see live.
- The next day, I saw AEW All In at Wembley Stadium. Visibility was much worse, so it was more of a ‘being in a wrestling crowd’ experience than watching wrestling, but I still managed to see some wrestlers I love and enjoyed the experience, as well as meeting up with friends who attended. Seeing Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi in the same ring live was crazy, and I get why they don’t wrestle together as much anymore but it makes me sad, so even just getting to see them doing their tag team moves meant a lot, because the Golden Lovers are so important to me. Cheered tons for Hangman Adam Page, the Young Bucks, Hikaru Shida, and ate overpriced donuts. Good time overall.
- On a very different note, I’m watching the new season and new English dubbing of Takeshi’s Castle. I was obsessed with weird CBBC show Splatalot as a kid and later Total Wipeout, so I think the show itself is great, I just hate how they’ve chosen to dub it. They’ve got two British comedians commentating and laughing along at it like reaction youtubers, when I actually just want to watch adult men fall off various large soft objects. Also, the fact they don’t translate or explain any of the Japanese and mock the format leads to a kind of uncomfortable ‘weird Japan’ vibe.
- I miss Blaseball, so I was listening to some of the Garages’s music recently, just for nostalgia reasons. The Garages are hard to describe, I think they’re best described as Blaseball was: a cultural experience. Just a ridiculously large amount of fans submitting and creating songs about a silly splortsgame, and they ended up producing some cool stuff. I never did a particularly deep dive into their music, and I’d like to at some point, but I enjoy some of their classics: The Ballad of Unremarkable Derrick Krueger, Firewalker With Me, Mike Townsend (Knows What He’s Gotta Do) and Eyes in the Dark. Of course I’ve gotta shout out songs associated with teams and players I like: Shutout is a classic and Heart Full of Love (Mouth Full of Blood) is also great. I think my niche pick favourite is probably Pathetic/Spineless, which is a really early song that doesn’t seem to have much relevance to anything in particular, but for some reason has just rooted itself in my head? I’m very fond of it.
- Thought I’d follow up the Scott Pilgrim blog post with a shout-out to the original version of Black Sheep by Metric, which really is great, and through a weird fandom venn diagram in my mind, has come to be known to me as a Kenny Omega song. It is, though!
- Caves of Qud has been my latest obsession. I am not very good at it and I don't think I've ever got outside the starter town, but I'm really interested in the solo roleplay experience and I love the character customisation. The art and styling of it is just really fun & I'm excited to hopefully, uh, get better at the game.
That’s me for August, I’m going to get back to pressing a lot of badges and dreading doing the colour planning for this zine piece. And sneezing. Keep your eyes peeled for the shop update and URL change, I will announce both shortly :D I have no idea what the September mid-month blog is going to be. We’ll find out.
Over the years since its final issue in 2010, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics have attained a ‘cult classic’ reputation for their playful, video game-esque tone and bombastic action scenes, largely aided by how well those elements were translated into Edgar Wright-directed 2010 movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The adaptation had a hard job to do: scriptwriting started when only the first book had been published, and O’Malley purposefully did not write the series with an ending in mind (from O’Malley’s blog). This unfinished 6-book story was being cut down into a feature film runtime, and something had to go.
Unfortunately, what had to go, and ended up disappearing from most people’s idea of what Scott Pilgrim was, were the most interesting aspects of the comic (at least to me.) Because Scott Pilgrim isn’t really a story about cool fights and dream girls—well, it is, but Scott Pilgrim is a story of how cool fights and dream girls are both facades for these painfully human, complex dynamics and pasts, and beneath its bombastic action lies an unexpected and fascinating story that the movie misses, and ends up presenting a shallower and more misogynistic piece of art.
Furthermore, that ‘cult classic’ status, and the way the comic plays with expectations and metanarrative, has caused it to develop a sort of aura of reputation and tropes that makes reading and watching it this fascinating thematic soup—and baby, I have autism, so let’s get picking bits out of it.
WORLD ONE: TIME-TRAVELLING DIAMOND-CUTTER SHAPED HEARTACHE
WORLD ONE, LEVEL ONE: MAKE IT OR BREAK IT
A key part of experiencing the Scott Pilgrim comics is how they evolve over time. A comic’s job is to seamlessly match up art to writing to panelling, and over the course of the 6 volumes, all three grow in complexity. Scott Pilgrim’s early messy and simplistic art style (grounded by a solid understanding of 3D form) feels perfectly in step with its off-beat, awkward dialogue. At this point in the comics, Scott is an affable asshole mocked by all of his friends, who seems to get everything he wants—’If your life had a face, I’d punch it.’
This speed is largely upheld by the panelling. Panelling, similar to video editing, is an invisible art that holds everything together. Unless you’re a nerd, like me, you’re probably not taking active notice of how a comic is panelled when you read it, but it’s integral to how you experience it, because it frames (literally) the comic in time. The panelling in the first half of Scott Pilgrim is effortlessly pacy, and sticks to a strong structure: full bleed panels every page, taking up as much page space as possible, giving us speed and efficiency in what it shows. The ridiculous fights, crazy concepts like subspace, and Scott’s own awful behaviour are all held in place and made easy to accept by the fact the comic never stops and gives you enough time to actually think about what’s happening.
O’Malley’s years of studying film before comics show in the panelling choices he makes—establishing shots are common, and two panels that show the same shot on the same page are rare. This tight panelling means that when pages break from the form, whether that’s in spreads, leaving white space or giant panels, the content of those pages lands with impact. [examples—band spread in volume 1, gideon panel in book 3]
Towards the latter half of the series (books 4-6), O’Malley’s art style evolves into a more polished, anime-esque form. In keeping with the expressive janky quality of earlier volumes, he borrows the manga technique of using tiny, exaggerated drawings to convey big emotions, and starts using a bigger range of halftones more frequently, building up a more varied palette with only black ink. As the emotional crux of the story continues, there’s far more of those ‘break in the pattern’ pages, creating a slower and more thoughtful pace. This means, that when the story dwells on Scott and Ramona’s real pasts and the consequences of their actions, there’s plenty of time to consider it.
WORLD ONE, LEVEL TWO: IT’S STORYTIME
Saying that Scott Pilgrim is actually a really deep story instead of a silly one isn’t quite correct. The two elements don’t exist fully as opposites, they’re played off against each other to enhance both. If the expertly pulled off action scenes and jokes didn’t exist, the sudden turn the comic takes towards the end of Volume 4 wouldn’t feel as striking as it does. Characters seeming self-aware that they're in a comic (i.e. referencing previous volumes) sets up for how the comic will subvert the cliches it seems to be playing into.
Although I’m not as old as the characters in Scott Pilgrim, I still recognise something in their behaviour—this drive to feel like you’re ‘winning at life’, to put on a facade instead of addressing that you don’t know what you’re doing or that your friends suck. Almost everyone in Scott Pilgrim is exaggerating, trying to play the game of looking cool and hiding from consequences, vulnerability or criticism.
A quick plot summary: Scott is dating high-schooler Knives Chau mostly for bragging reasons, but when roller-skating subspace delivery girl Ramona Flowers starts travelling through his head, he becomes infatuated with her. After convincing Ramona to go out with him, dating them both for a short while, and defeating Ramona’s first evil ex-boyfriend (of seven) Matthew Patel, he breaks Knives’s heart and commits to Ramona. In Book 2 Scott defeats Lucas Lee, with much of the same light tone as the previous volume, but at the end, Scott’s ex, Envy Adams, reemerges back into his life. Volume 3 mostly covers trying to fight Todd Ingram, Ramona’s third evil ex, who is now dating Envy, and secretly cheating on her. Volume 3 still has some great fight scenes, but the emotional storytelling is ramped up as conflicts come to a head.
The latter half of the comic is where this theme emerges from its hiding place. Volume 4 introduces Roxie Richter, the only female evil ex (as much as I love the comic, it’s weird about lesbians,) and a non-evil non-ex of Scott’s, Lisa Miller, both of whom bring Scott and Ramona’s relationship into question. When both leads are enticed by the return of a person from their past, calling into question past relationships and susceptibilities to cheating, they have a falling-out.
NegaScott, Scott’s ‘evil’ counterpart, is first introduced near the end of Volume 4, but Scott doesn’t fight it yet—he ignores it.
Ultimately, Scott does get back with Ramona, and gains the power of Love, but with NegaScott, a physical manifestation of all Scott’s evil traits unconfronted, and Ramona’s mysterious past brushed aside, it isn’t a happy ending as much as the main characters think. The power of love doesn’t fix everything, because Scott Pilgrim isn’t operating on the cliche romcom level it’s set itself up to.
In Volume 5, the collapse continues. Ramona is struggling with feeling trapped and restless with Scott, and Scott is descending more into the realm of ‘pathetic and disliked by most of his friends.’ The friend group outside of him seems to be falling apart. Kyle and Ken Katayanagi, the double evil exes of Volume 5 (in a fight that follows the trend of Scott’s battles becoming more pathetic and losing their bombastic silly quality) dredge up more of Ramona’s complicated history with cheating and commitment. Scott begins to realise more of who Ramona actually is, beyond her enigmatic dream-girl cover. Because he’s Scott Pilgrim, Scott prevails, but comes home to find that Ramona has—left him.
When I first read this book at around 13, this really took me by surprise. It’s a really emotional scene, and the panelling choices help elevate it to that gut-punch level, but mainly I was surprised because, through the impressions of Scott Pilgrim I’d heard before and the themes the comic itself builds, rom-com love interests don’t usually leave their shitty partners, especially female ones, and they certainly don’t normally have actual negative character traits and impactful choices. I know ‘making your female characters have agency and flaws’ is a low bar, but I think it’s one that Scott Pilgrim plays with purposefully.
Although I mentioned how weird the comic is about gay women above, I do really like the way O’Malley writes women in Scott Pilgrim. I’m running into the ‘the bar is on the floor’ concept again, where it still surprises me when female characters are written with the basics of seeming like an actual human person, but I think the way characters interact with misogyny in Scott Pilgrim is also executed realistically. Kim’s place as Scott’s ‘back-up’ who he sees as always there for him passively until she decides not to be, Envy’s treatment like an accessory and how the people around her perceive her differently when she gets ‘hot’, even Knives’s eventual maturity all feel real.
Volume 6 is where all this character development comes to a head, as it’s revealed that Scott’s memories of times with his exes, and his fundamental perception of himself and his actions are flawed to non-existent. His dramatic backstory with saving Kim from high-school villains that opens Volume 2 turns out to have been just him beating up a random guy who liked her!
Defeating the evil exes isn’t the point, no matter how hard Scott fights, he has to reckon with the hardest thing of all—his own mistakes.
Because this is still a cliche romance story, Scott, understanding his past and the choices he has made, resolves to earn Ramona’s love back. And so he returns to Toronto, to fight Gideon Gordon Graves, Ramona’s final, most recent, and most evil ex.
WORLD TWO: I’VE SEEN FOOTAGE
Adaptation is a hard task, and I’m going to try not to come across too mean to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, because a lot of the things I’m annoyed about it missing it had no chance to include, what with how incomplete the comic was at that time. The comics are dense, and due to the realities of making everything fit into film-length, a lot of background detail had to be cut. As a result of this, the movie has some elements of the comic’s finale, but the comic has an advantage of having more time to improve on the movie’s ending. The movie, thus, isn’t strictly an adaptation as much as it is an earlier script revision. I think that shows in how it handles what bits of Scott’s character arc it holds over, and what it’s included in the comics is a more compelling version of that arc.
WORLD TWO, LEVEL ONE: GIRLS ON FILM
Whether it’s for time reasons, development reasons or writing decisions made on the movie, Ramona is a far shallower character, and we never really see the side of her that in the comic she consciously hides. When Scott dies and comes back in the final battle and sees Ramona in subspace, it’s explained that instead of Ramona leaving of her own accord because of her own struggles, she’s been mind-controlled by Gideon to get back with him.
Although it’s technically consistent in both versions—the subspace highways are Gideon’s invention and used by him as a way to plant himself in Ramona’s mind as her innermost desire, in the same way Ramona accidentally got Scott obsessed with her—Ramona explicitly doesn’t go back to Gideon in the books. She ends up reduced from a character with her own agency and issues to an object who gets moved around by the men who date her.
While the comic addresses that some of Ramona’s early relationships weren’t necessarily out of love but out of convenience or expectation (Matthew Patel and Todd Ingram in particular, which follows the themes about ‘getting a life’ and following what you’re expected to do, and matches how Scott dates Knives for his own self-importance—however Ramona’s early relationships seem more dictated by experiencing misogyny than egotism,) this just feels like an early-draft, flatter version that what ends up making it into the comic. In the movie, this literal chip in her brain powers down when Scott kills Gideon, but in the comic, she herself throws him out of her head, ultimately making her the one in control of what she wants and able to move on and address her own issues.
Because the movie (despite still being a box office flop) had far more exposure than the comics, it defined the Scott Pilgrim characters in most peoples’ eyes as the versions, which lead to the conception of Ramona Flowers as the ‘manic pixie dream girl.’ ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ as a term was coined before the movie release (but not the comics, it was 2007,) to describe a female character who exists only as a love interest, who is quirky and unusual and may be disliked for it but never unappealing and still distinctly girly, and has little to no character motives or interiority, just existing as a goal or companion for a man.
In the comics, Ramona’s characterisation as mysterious, unusual and desired is a built facade, but since the movie never goes beyond that she ends up as a blank character who helps Scott achieve happiness through the sole act of dating her. Similar things happen to Kim and Envy, the one-sided ways we see them through Scott’s eyes end up being taken as gospel in the movie and define their characters. Ramona’s reputation as a manic pixie dream girl then adds another layer onto the character and, in a strange recursive way, maybe even makes her eventual development more surprising.
WORLD TWO, LEVEL TWO: SUPERNOVA YOU ARE POWER
The movie’s battle with Gideon is largely in-keeping with the rest of it—Scott fights Gideon in a flashy battle scene for Ramona, Gideon steals the Power of Love, Knives appears to fight Ramona in another flashy action sequence, Gideon kills Scott. Scott uses his extra life from volume 5 to return and gains the Power of Self-Respect sword, apologises to Ramona and Knives for cheating on them, Scott and Knives team up, and Gideon is defeated.
I can see elements of what would become the second half of Volume 6, particularly Scott’s power of Self-Respect becoming the Power of Understanding in the comics—but without the extensive buildup showing Scott’s flaws and how hard they’ve impacted him, it doesn’t work as a redemption arc. Especially after he apologises for cheating and they both instantly forgive him, just because he promises to do better in future—without that reveal ahead, we don’t get the build-up needed to pull this off without it feeling like Scott’s just, once again, being an asshole who gets away with everything.
In the comic, after Gideon steals the power of love, after Scott dies and comes back, after Ramona comes back, dies, and comes back from that, the sword he gains is the Power of Understanding. Gideon, like Scott has been, is an entitled ‘I’m god’s gift to women’ proto-incel with the same kind of unawareness of the way he hurts women, represented by the Glow, a form of psychological warfare that traps people inside their own heads with no way to address their issues from an outside view. Although Gideon created the Glow, he ends up being an antidote to it for Scott, showing just exactly the kind of person he’s becoming. And when Scott enters inside Ramona’s head and sees the myth Gideon has constructed of himself, he asks, ‘Would you look at yourself?’
(note: The book states that Gideon is the one who twisted Scott’s memories, which I think detracts from the rest of what’s being said. The finale is all about Scott taking responsibility for his own actions, and this shifts responsibility onto Gideon.)
Look, let’s get this straight: Scott Pilgrim is definitely somewhat shitty boyfriend propaganda. For shitty boyfriends, and on behalf of shitty boyfriends. We don’t see the actual process of Scott changing for the better, just the first steps of confronting his flaws, and we certainly don’t see what being a better person looks like for him in the future—well, we don’t see their future at all. I think there’s plenty to criticise in narratives about men who can be fixed through a romantic relationship or aspiring to one, but I think it means a lot as a subversion of expectations that, in this somewhat big (for comics) comic that probably has the most appeal to guys who kind of are Scott Pilgrim, the final resolution of the story is that it’s not fighting or love that mends Scott and Ramona’s relationship, it’s both characters being able to come to terms with their issues and promise to improve.
WORLD THREE: WRAP IT UP AND START AGAIN
A while into my Scott Pilgrim reread, and while I was mentally planning this essay, the trailer for the Science Saru Scott Pilgrim Takes Off anime released. I’m tentatively excited: most of my issues with the movie stem from an unfinished plot and runtime cuts, so an anime that’s adapting from a finished piece might be the solution to a lot of the issues I have with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Scott Pilgrim, in all existing incarnations (I have not played the video game, but I know of it,) straddles a weird line of being popular in niche circles, but never quite making it mainstream. The movie’s popularity has made its versions of the characters the most widely known, which then makes the latter half of the comic feel surprising and interesting—it’s already playing with your expectations from the genre, but having the movie exist as well heightens those expectations.
I don’t think the idea of having a romcom where the leading man has to change his ways is particularly subversive or unique, it kind of feels like the most basic thing to do when the genre is so saturated with shitty male protagonists and 2D love interests. The nature of mainstream popularity (at least, mainstream in the comic world) is that subversive concepts usually make it there last—I’m sure there are better twists on similar concepts somewhere out there.
Despite that, it still upsets me that we never got to see the latter half of the comic’s emotional storytelling realised in movie form. I probably would still hold to the opinion that the comics are better, but the message Scott Pilgrim ends on does feel exciting for a lauded movie, especially one that’s since become lauded by film-bros who resemble Scott in more ways than they’d like to hear. I shouldn’t depend on media for my activism, it doesn’t get anything done. Even if the movie ended the same way the comic does, it wouldn’t have much large-scale impact on the way those guys act, but it still feels… important, and sad, to see a genuinely interesting piece of art get seen by most people as what feels like a shallow form of itself.
Thanks for reading! I realise this kind of follows a lot of the same beats as two months ago’s Discworld essay, in that it’s largely about playing with your expectations about a piece of media. Still, I enjoyed writing it, and especially enjoyed revisiting a piece of media that I really enjoy. Also, it’s my birthday tomorrow! Hope the constant photos didn't get too annoying, I just honestly love the way the comic looks. Well, next blog post will be at the end of August/beginning of September—there may be a delay because I’m starting university. seeya then! :)
Hi! I'm fresh back from summer holiday and currently sitting at home with a really badly sprained ankle—which is inconvenient, but it’s not like I'm moving around much anyway, because I've got lots of art to do, and lots of exciting new ideas for summer and autumn.
Most excitingly, I have a newsletter, with email integration through Mailerlite! I have an RSS feed through Dreamwidth, which this blog is synced to and so is the newsletter… blah blah blah, what matters is, if you want to get all of these blog posts as well as exciting announcements directly to your email, you can! Sign up on the blog page or main page of my website :)
The ‘about me’ page has been languishing in ‘not ever actually being built’ for a while, but i’ve finally populated it! There’s a little blurb about this site & about me, as well as some of my favourite things and interests, and cute blinkies from blinkies.cafe (such a fun resource)
Coming up next, I'd like to make some graphics for the site, revamp the commissions page, and add some image carousels to upload my sketchbooks onto. also: I plan to get this site on a custom URL at some point in the future! I know changing the name of the site is annoying, but I've been meaning to for a while and I'd like to make it feel a bit more official. I know it’s not a super official looking website, but I think it’s charming, and I hope other people do too.
At the beginning of July, I finished my second mural!
Although there were some bumps along the way (metaphorically and literally—painting on a fence like that is a huge hassle), I'm very happy with the way it came out! It was a super fun project & I hope it brings joy to the kids who go there—my aim was to create a space that felt imaginative and inspired make-believe play. I also painted some small bugs around the garden as the commissioner suggested, to give kids something to count and find.
July is also the month of ArtFight—which I mentioned in my last blog post, but maybe people don’t know what it is, so I'll explain! It's a month-long event where artists pick one of two teams, and win points for their team by drawing other people’s original characters. I followed through with my plan to stick with traditional media, and I enjoyed it all the way. Below are some of my favourite pieces I submitted for ArtFight!
(characters from pixelpastry, tillman and susling on ArtFight)
All of these are with some combination of: sketched with a mechanical pencil, inked with a dip pen, coloured with Copic markers, and further coloured/shaded with coloured pencils. I had a fairly limited colour range due to only having so many Copics, but I got a lot more comfortable with using them and blending them. I hadn’t used coloured pencils before this at all, but they ended up adding some texture and character.
I find drawing on paper kind of intimidating, because you can’t move things around or undo like you can on digital art, but it definitely helped me loosen up a bit, which is something I’ve been trying to do for ages, because I’m super perfectionist. I got a lot of fun practice out of this, as well as some great art of my own characters!
As part of that, I ended up finishing my trusty sketchbook that’s been with me for almost exactly two years now, beginning in June 2021. It’s served me well, but honestly, I needed a new one—it was only a Muji sketchbook, and the paper was super thin, meaning it took ink and markers badly. I’ve got a new one queued up and covered in cute stickers, with much thicker paper, but still the same B5 size, because I’m very picky about paper sizes (A4 is too big for casual sketching, A5 is too small to do bigger pieces on.) I’m very fond of this sketchbook, and I’d love to host it online on this site—probably through an image carousel people can flick through, start to finish. It’s two years long, so it definitely shows a lot of progress and process.
(old sketchbook on the left, literally falling apart, and new on the right!)
MOONSAULT, the pro wrestling zine I’m moderating, is slowly happening behind the scenes, and what’s been submitted so far is looking absolutely amazing. Promos and sneak peeks should be coming out soon on Twitter & Tumblr!
On top of MOONSAULT, I’m contributing to multiple other zines this summer—all Minecraft fanzines. I’m featuring in Hermitzine #8, the Limited Life edition of Trafficzine (#4), and Bdubszine—which is not helping the amount of stuff I’m doing over this summer, but it’s great fun.
The other stuff I’m working on is mostly ideas for risoprints that I can make when I start at uni, and sticker designs! I found out my university workshop has vinyl cutters, and I’ve been meaning to properly make stickers for ages, so here’s hoping they let me go wild. Here’s some pages from my sketchbook of future sticker plans:
(Minecraft fanart and a revamp of my shooting star pride stickers)
I’m also asking for a badge press for my birthday (which is in August) because one of my goals for next year is to start selling at art fairs and makers’ markets, and from my Foundation final show I know badges sell really well. So, I have a lot of stuff I’m planning on making, but it’s all really exciting, so I don’t really mind.
What I Love:
- I took out Embassytown by China Mieville from the library after enjoying Railsea and knowing it’s one of his best books, and it absolutely blew my mind. Such an incredible reading experience, kind of transcendental and confusing and evocative in the best way. What I really like is the way Mieville can change his writing style from book to book, so City and the City feels dry and noir-ish whereas Embassytown has a writing style that really feels utterly fantastical. There’s so much fantasy/science fiction which is full of cool concepts but the writing doesn’t feel otherworldly, but Embassytown really does, and for me, didn’t feel difficult to understand. The story is incredible, it’s one you have to really think about—I lent it to my mum after I finished it, and she had a totally different take on it, which led to some really fun conversations. Such a good book, even if the romance, although barely mentioned, is a bit weird. Definitely one of my favourites this year.
- It’s not a book, but brr.fyi, the blog of an IT worker at the South Pole, is a super entertaining read. Just tons of really interesting logistics and fascinating little details about something you’d never normally really hear about.
- I’ve been rereading the Scott Pilgrim comic books by Bryan Lee O’Malley! I picked them up again randomly, and was kind of expecting to be disappointed and lied to by nostalgia, but they remain really really good. The comics themselves are super pacy and get so much across in so few panels, and the story is genuinely interesting to pick apart—although it’s generally about people being common-or-garden assholes, there’s a lot going on about women and misogyny in there.
- I bought Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie because I’d had it recommended to me a lot, and it’s frustrating to say that I’m just not really enjoying it all that much so far. I’m just under half-way through, and although the concepts are interesting, the prose or characters aren’t grabbing me. I think the post-Embassytown fatigue (I started one right after the other) might be making the writing feel flat, and I just need a bit more emotion & description to properly grab me. What’s more frustrating than not liking it is that so many other people seem to really love it, and I wish I did too!
I’m amending this section, because I don’t really watch movies and TV that much at all, but I do watch a lot of Youtube. So here’s that:
- I mention my love of the Life series, a series of short Minecraft death games, on this website and through my art often, but I’m still actually working on watching the whole thing. I’m currently watching Last Life, the second instalment (I’ve seen the first and the fourth, confusingly), and I’m enjoying it, even if or because the vibes are pretty different from Third Life (the first series). There’s slightly more players, but even aside from that there’s just a lot more going on—Third Life felt largely linear whereas Last Life has so much going on at the same time, so I end up watching a lot more youtube videos to follow exactly what’s happening. It feels very expansive and spiralling, even if there’s less of one cohesive plot, and I don’t like it more or less than Third Life, just for different reasons.
- No Rolls Barred’s House Rules series is really funny. Sometimes good comedy is two guys getting really angry/sad/drunk over a very bad board game. The Yahtzee With Lying episode was the first one I properly sat down and watched, and it’s great—I admit, I bounced off the Communist Monopoly episode because I felt like they were misrepresenting communism. But otherwise great.
- Being on holiday means there’s lots of good video essays to come back to and watch! I watch a lot of video essayists, and I’m going to share some each time I do this little segment, but of course I have to start with Jacob Geller, who is one of the most inspiring and interesting people talking about video games (and plenty of other things) right now. Every video of his I watch leaves me thinking super hard about something I might have never even considered before. All of his videos are great, but in this post I’m going to link Head Transplants and the Non-Existence of the Soul.
- Hey guys? Did you know Vocaloid is really good now? ‘Vocaloid has always been good’, I hear you say, and I say yeah, but as someone who hasn’t been following it for about 5 years, when I started getting recommended modern Vocaloid music, I was absolutely blown away by how naturalistic and expressive modern vocal synths are. There are some songs where I can’t not listen to the janky old version, because it’s charming, but Rishie-P’s and Jayzeroey’s covers of beloved classic Rolling Girl with the latest Kasane Teto synth absolutely blew me away. The expression in the voices is incredible. This is a synthesiser. Tanjiro Tanada’s tunings are also great.
- I haven’t been listening to much new music recently, so here’s some older music— I’ve been listening to Osees/Thee Oh Sees for a while, and their music isn’t something I pick first when I want to listen to something, but it’s perfect low-key psychedelic/prog for when I’m zoning out or focusing on something else. (favourite songs are Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster and C)
- And a podcast—TRASHFUTURE is effortlessly funny while being genuinely interesting political commentary, and had me laughing about a really stupid joke about a more equitable lagoon for weeks.
And that’s me for this blog post! Time to go ice my swollen foot and work on some more zine pieces. What’s coming next is probably an essay (trying not to keep it too long) about Scott Pilgrim vs The Movie Adaptation, and how the movie and comic talk about misogyny and redemption.
Ellis signing off!
I think almost everyone who enjoys worldbuilding or storytelling has one project, world or character they just keep returning to, never quite continuously, but every so often, it has a resurgence in their mind and gets slowly torn down and rebuilt until it’s almost totally changed shape. ROT, now known as EXPULSION ZONE, is my one of these.
I’ve had it in my brain in some form for, probably approaching 5 or more years? It’s remained a sci-fi setting with a junky spaceship and some core characters trying to transport a person across the galaxy to hunt down their past. The rough outlines of some characters and some worldbuilding has remained the same, but almost all of the specifics have been played with in some way. After making Cast Off, My Darling a more concrete pitch for a story as opposed to a vague floating blob of concepts, I realised that it and the previous incarnation of ROT were incredibly similar thematically, and Cast Off, My Darling taking up that thematic space leaves me to, once again, play around with ROT and solidify it more into its own beast.
Cast Off, My Darling is a more whimsical adventure story, and while it’s not childish, it deals heavily with themes of growing up and I consider it, despite having violent content sometimes, to be all ages in whatever its final execution turns out to be. The new EXPULSION ZONE is adult-oriented and more graphic (violent and sexual) and is a bit more psychedelic and psychological in its storytelling and intended visuals. (as such, trigger warnings for cults, sexual assault mentions and drug mentions for the Pitch section.)
In this post, I’ll detail the setup for the story & some rough plot threads, the themes I want to address, the setting & worldbuilding, and the questions I still need to answer!
Before she became assimilated into the ranks of the Company, ROT13 lives on a backwater exoplanet at one end of the Orion Arm, isolated and subjugated by the Company, a cult-like weapons manufacturer bankrolling a war it never sees. Struggling with her hopeless life, she has no choice but to sign up with the company and take on a new, powerful robot body. After spending an unknown amount of years doing god knows what, an EMP attack causes her programming to glitch and ROT13 gains consciousness. On waking, she resolves to escape, and through epic transgender robo-sex and pulling her own heart out, she makes a run for it—before the Company blows her to pieces.
On the other side of this arm of the galaxy, reborn as a skeleton and a memory drive named Marceline (it isn’t her real name, but she feels an odd attachment to it), she gets to see a world she’s only ever heard of, the world of Free Space, an expansive and lawless network of space stations away from planet-bound society. Two easily bribeable cargo couriers, Oeya and Ganymede, are instructed with taking her to the right roboticists, but after a sexual assault attempt ends in the three of them carrying out a grisly murder, they’re on the run.
Journeying across Free Space and hiding out on bustling planets and desolate moons, ROT13, or Marceline, or Chayok, or any other number of aliases, has to find a way to rebuild herself into who she truly is, but first she has to figure that out. And these two assholes on this nasty junk spaceship aren’t really helping—but they have companionship, weed, and a gun stash, so it could be worse. Much worse.
This is going to be a story about identity and belonging, explored through transhumanism, robots, and aliens. It’s about ingrained ideas and programming, and how to imagine a life without them. It’s about dead ends and people with nowhere else to go, and about confronting the choices you’ve made or been made to make.
I want to use robots as a method to explore how social constructs and propaganda affect us. I’ve always been fascinated by the way robots are used in fiction—as malleable minds, as people who aren’t quite real, as the ignorable masses, and I want to play around with what robots mean to humans in EXPULSION ZONE. There’s still a lot that I’m working on around this, as I’ve only been reworking this for a while and I need to do way more research and reading to build up the themes I want to explore.
EXPULSION ZONE is set in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, in a future where humanity and alien species have settled somewhat comfortably in space, living on planets or the sprawl of Free Space.
Free Space is composed of space stations that don’t directly orbit/communicate with a planet, and the bustling culture of spaceships that fly between them. Certain stations or groups of stations might be consolidated under one authority, but there is no wide-reaching authority in Free Space, although not for lack of trying. Stations in Free Space try to look after their own amidst constant disputes between stations or the groups who run them. Due to not wanting to waste resources, there is an uneasy peace across Free Space, for now.
Individual stations in Free Space might be oriented around a specific common interest or job, such as laboratories, artist colonies or churches, or settlements. There’s a huge breadth of people you can find in Free Space, but it tends to harbour spaceborn people who have never touched ground, people working on niche or dangerous projects, and those who don’t want to be found easily.
Ganymede and Oeya work as cargo carriers on their scrappy little spaceship in Free Space, a vital part of the ecosystem for making sure stations can operate and trade. They’ve had many run-ins with the groups that vye for power in Free Space and keep their networks of stations running with elaborate weapon smuggling (including the creations of the Company), but nobody wants to down a cargo carrier, except one that’s as willing to take bribes as they are. Ganymede's ex-partner, Aryele, operates as a weapons smuggler in Free Space.
Three major alien species reside in the Orion Arm. Most of the population of each lives in planets on their own solar system, but there are still large populations on other species-habitant solar systems, other habitable planets, or various other settlements including Free Space.
Ganymede is Thele, a species of sapient beings composed of hundreds of smaller organisms working in hive intelligence, similar to coral polyps. They communicate with chemical signatures emitted by their polyps and transferred through touch, and have somewhat of an immunity and affinity to radiation. They reproduce through continually emitting spores, and if there are enough thele in one place, the spores will clump together and grow into polyps, creating a new organism with enough Thele around to step in and raise it. Ganymede isn’t strictly her name, as her thele name is a complex chemical signature, it’s the place where her first polyps were from: a thele-human scientific base on the Jovian moon Ganymede. They have a complex relationship with death and don’t quite die in the way other animals do. I don’t have a polished idea for the thele design yet, but it’s very frilly and frond-y, like a sea dragon or jellyfish, due to the complex webs and trailing polyps, and stands upright but has limbs that can reform into any configuration.
Oeya is Yao’oocha, a species of methane/ethane based sapient beings, adapted to live on gas giants. They have an appearance similar to sea slugs, but with 3-5 pairs of limbs (6-10 in total) that they can use to interact with their environment. Yao’aecha (plural version) use incredibly low frequencies and long sounds to communicate, so human-speakable versions of their language, such as the name Oeya, are cut down from about 5 minutes to an easier length. Yao’oocha families are typically big units and community is celebrated, as a child can be created with any number of parents and infants are often born in litters, but when they reach maturity, yao’oocha children are expected to leave their family and go to find their own community.
Humans in EXPULSION ZONE have adapted somewhat to new environments—many of the humans living in Free Space have never touched a planet and are able to adapt more easily to different gravity levels, and technology has helped all species interface together. Almost all humans will never see Earth—like many other habitable planets, it’s damaged but still liveable, however, mass exoduses and the planet being largely closed except to those who can be trusted to care for it means it’s a fairy-tale like land in most humans’ eyes. ROT13 used to be human, but this has changed. One of the most famous human stations in Free Space, the Tau Ceti Human Orchestra, which houses a colony of musicians and giant archives tracing human movements and communities across the Orion Arm, has been missing for over 10 years, and the search continues.
There are many other forms of sapience in Free Space and other settlements, such as mouldminds, large fungal organisms from many different planets that have huge intelligence and the ability to process many systems at once comparable to the largest AIs. They mostly work to keep whole facilities or communities going and have their own clear personalities.
Robots and artificial intelligences are present almost everywhere, with varying levels of population density and varying jobs and purposes. I’m still working on worldbuilding for exactly how robots exist in this world and how they’re treated by society—that’ll probably come with research too.
The Stuff I Still Need To Get To:
This project is very much a work in progress, and I don’t know when or how it would ever become a finished thing, but I’m enjoying working on it and intend to keep working on it as long as I do. I think the main thing I’d like to work on is doing some research and thinking about how I want robots to exist in this society and the various ideas surrounding that, and then build a more concrete idea of ROT13’s journey up from there. I’d also like to figure out the background of previous wars that the Company helped facilitate, and their actions, and what ROT13’s life was like when she wasn’t ‘awake.’ I tend to start something from an interesting hook and then build outwards, which is useful in some ways and annoying in others, oh, she has a mysterious past, I just don’t know what it is yet.
I’d still like to follow through on the plan of building a wiki for my worldbuilding and characters at some point, but I’m currently doing kind of a lot, as well as the start of University approaching (just under 2 months! woo!), so I don’t want to start on it and leave it unfinished for long amounts of time, especially when I’m still working on the actual worldbuilding & plot stuff.
I’m going to be on holiday for the end of June, but I’ll try and get an update blog out after I come back in early August with an Artfight recap (still going strong & enjoying it!) and some of the projects I’d like to work on going forward, because I have a lot of plans.
Thanks so much for reading! If you’re interested in EXPULSION ZONE as a project, please feel free to comment on this post on Dreamwidth or on my main comment section and perhaps that’ll push me to make more stuff and work on the wiki. Ellis :)
nothing much new around here!
although, i do have an idea for when i next get some time to really sit down and work on this website, i'd love to make wiki pages for my worldbuilding projects and OCs. i have this habit of making tons of detailed lore and ideas and never really posting them anywhere, and i'd like to store them here for my sake as well as for sharing them with other people. would probably mainly cover Cast Off, My Darling and EXPULSION ZONE.
i posted this on my projects page, but i didn't include it in my blog - i painted my first ever mural! it was a crazy project, because i'd never made a mural before and it was HUGE, but it ended up coming out absolutely amazingly, with the support of a wonderful local cafe. the mural itself has finished, but the work keeps on going somewhat - i designed tie-in badges and tote bags to be sold at the cafe at a launch event! it was suuper interesting designing for physical products and co-ordinating that, and both products came out wonderfully.
i'm also working on my next mural, at a local nursery inside their kids' garden. here's the design!
the painting itself is a difficult process, what with the fence being uneven meaning it's difficult to get clean-looking shapes, and just in general it feels a little amateurish and not very polished - but i suppose it is only my second mural ever. the commissioner is very happy, so that's great! it's a good taste of what working freelance feels like.
another project i've had a big hand in is MOONSAULT, a pro wrestling art charity fanzine! this has been in the works for a while, i honestly started it out not knowing if it would ever become a real thing, but all the artists are working on their pieces at the moment & it's looking suuper exciting! you can read more about it on our official tumblr page or twitter—keep your eyes peeled for more updates!
i'm also doing ArtFight this year! it's my first time entering in about 5 years, i think, and i'm trying to keep it lax and fun for myself, and practise playing around more with traditional art - lots of ink, copics and coloured pencils. i've almost finished my current sketchbook (about 10 pages left), and it's lasted me about 2 years now - i'm aiming to finish it by the end of the summer so i can start with a new, fresh slate. check out my AF with my Cast Off, My Darling OCs & the stuff i've been making here!
speaking of a clean slate... i finally picked my university degree and i'm beginning to get really excited. i start in exactly two months, which is... augh scary, but i'm really looking forward to it! i miss having access to a print studio, haha. recently i've been full of ideas for risoprints that i really want to make - i've done lots of riso in the past but i've felt like i've never quite used it to its strengths. every so often, like with the murals, i forget that i'm always still learning, and i'm not going to be perfect from the get-go. (now i just gotta hold all those good ideas in my head until i can get into the studio in september :0 ) i really do love a studio enrivonment, it feels like parallel play in the best way. lots of people around me largely in their own space, but we can talk if we want and i can learn so much from just being around other awesome artists.
What I Love!
here's the little bit where i tell you what i've been enjoying recently.
books! my reading pace has slowed down a lot since i stopped regularly commuting for about 1.5 hours 3 days a week... obviously, but i've still been enjoying some good stuff.
- after i kind of bounced off The City & The City because i found the concept interesting but the characters and plot rather dry, i picked uo Railsea by China Mieville and really enjoyed it. it's YA, and it shows - the main characters feel flat and annoying, but the worldbuilding is incredible and i feel mieville's unique prose shines through a lot more than it does in the city and the city.
- continuing on with some Discworld, i'm currently reading Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. it's really interesting and there's definitely stuff that plays into what i talked about in my recent essay, which is very fun.
- as a light-hearted fun read, i'm reading What If? 2 by Randall Munroe, because i adored the first one and, although i find the reliance on basic estimation annoying sometimes - that is what most of physics is, and i connect to the whimsical approach to science. science gets taught and talked about in a very boring way a lot of the time that hides what people actually really like about science, and it makes me sad.
movies & tv:
- AEW Forbidden Door was really good. Ospreay vs Omega II was the match of the night & it was genuinely incredible. i don't think it was as good as the Wrestle Kingdom match, but i tend to prefer the more cinematic & dramatic NJPW presentation as opposed to AEW presentation, with the interference and all, and playing a lot to the crowd, which i feel makes it land a bit weaker. still, the match psychology was fantastic & really built on their dynamic from the previous match and made kenny accepting ospreay regaining the title feel honest and impactful.
- i saw Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse in the cinema! it is, as you have heard, good. it's a shame about the work situation behind it, you know... it's difficult because what i loved about the art of it is that it felt like it was full of enjoyment and love for animation and art and comics and that the people behind it were being treated like shit, that just sucks.
- i saw The Thing at home with my mum! it was a kind of silly movie for me bc it would build really effective tension and drama and then as soon as it really got somewhere with that it would quite literally explode into absolutely fabulous nonsense-gore. both of these were delightful to me, but the ping-ponging between them contributed to a kind of weird vibe. i loved the colour palette (the red & pink flares against the blue winter background? amazing) and macready smacks of gender
- it's that time of the year where i lose all of my nerd cred due to my utterly genuine love of the Tour De France bike go woooo. i once again am rooting for Wout van Aert despite the fact i know he's not even in general classification, i just really like him for some reason?
- new King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard album is great. nice to see them get really into some harder stuff & it sounds awesome. best track: Gila Monster
- new body rhumba by LCD Soundsystem has wormed its way into my brain. it's good
- i mentioned The Crane Wives last blog, so i'm going to mention a somewhat similar band, The Amazing Devil. they have some good tracks, but their music is just SO deeply warrior cats AMV at points that it gets kind of difficult for me to listen to. like, when the background chorus hits over the dramatic folk-y guitars? You put too much warrior cats in this one. I can see Bramblestar. He's in there. best track: King.
- Harness Your Hopes by Pavement rules. The bass is fun and it has such a good vocal cadence to it.
hope you have a great day, ellis
Recently, I’ve been rereading a lot of the Discworld books, particularly the City Watch books—I have some of my grandma’s old copies of them, but I realised, a bit ago, I was missing two, and was able to borrow them from the library. Libraries are awesome and you should use your library. Let’s start off like this: I’m incredibly fond of Pratchett’s writing. The City Watch books are very interesting to me, in what they do and what they don’t, and I want to write about them because I enjoy them. You might disagree with me—this is very much a biased reading based on my own far-left politics, that focuses around abolishing power held in society, such as the monarchy and the police. If that hasn’t turned you away from this, uh, gay portfolio blog, then let’s keep going.
Pratchett has a complicated legacy. You might say he was progressive for his time, or, more accurately, you might say he was progressive for White male fantasy authors writing in the 80s & 90s, but I think it’s accurate to say, at least in my experience, that there’s still a vision of him as a progressive but privileged fantasy writer in a time where that wasn’t in the mainstream. There are writers who were working around the same time or earlier who were making far more interesting art about leftism and bigotry (I adore Ursula K Le Guin and will point to her at any moment I can), but Pratchett combined that with what was mainstream, which was fantasy shlock with eye-catching ugly-charming cover art.
It’s A Bit More Complicated Than That - Misogyny, Sexism and the failures of subverting stereotypes
The core of Discworld is a deeply affectionate parody. I think it’s clear to see that Pratchett harbours a deep love for the fantasy he’s mocking, and the reason why Discworld works is that he has so much knowledge to subvert. But this is pulp fantasy of the 70s and 80s, and in playing with it you’re going to butt up against a series of constant, upsetting stereotypes, and Pratchett’s response to these is to play with them, turn them around and over and, sometimes, create something new out of them.
Pratchett is especially known for how he wrote female characters, which, in my opinion, stands up incredibly well to this day—but I’d argue that’s unrelated to what he did with the stereotypes of the genre. If you’ve spent any time in circles that discuss feminism in writing, I’d bet you’ve seen this excerpt before, from The Light Fantastic, the second ever Discworld book:
Now, there is a tendency at a point like this to look over one's shoulder at the cover artist and start going on at length about leather, thighboots and naked blades. Words like 'full', 'round', and even 'pert' creep into the narrative, until the writer has to go and have a cold shower and lie down. Which is all rather silly, because any woman setting out to make a living by the sword isn't about to go around looking like something off the cover of the more advanced kind of lingerie catalogue for the specialized buyer. Oh well, all right. The point that must be made is that although Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan would look quite stunning after a good bath, a heavy-duty manicure, and the pick of the leather racks in Woo Hun Ling's Oriential Exotica and Martial Aids on Heroes Street, she was currently quite sensibly dressed in light chain mail, soft boots, and a short sword. All right, maybe the boots were leather. But not black.
This is a funny segment! I like it! (It’s also ironic, contrasted with the original Josh Kirby cover art, which is… well…) (Note: this is from the second ever Discworld book, and I think the way Pratchett writes female characters improves over time. It’s not representative of all of Discworld, but I thought it was good to represent how Pratchett is perceived.)
But it gets passed around as an example of how Pratchett is good at writing women, when it doesn’t represent the fullness of what he does with his female characters, it represents his sense for comedy and self-awareness. The strength of Pratchett’s writing of female characters is when it goes beyond the stereotypes it plays with, when it takes them out of that realm into fully formed people. That’s the fundamental ur-stereotype of any marginalised group in fiction, that they are paper cutouts that can exist in a limited variety of forms and do limited things. It also is how you write a good fictional character.
Take Sybil Ramkin. Pratchett, throughout Discworld, pokes and prods at the idea of the archetypical fantasy hero, who needs an archetypical fantasy love interest, and this is where Sybil comes in, and she is not the archetypical fantasy love interest. She is a spinster (older than about 25), fat, and has hobbies, specifically dangerous and involved ones. This is how we first see Sybil, as our ‘hero’ Sam Vimes’s unlikely love interest, and she fills that role wonderfully, but where Sybil shines is where she acts of her own accord, outside of those stereotypes.
Although she sometimes gets reduced to a fretting/nagging wife character in the later books in a way I dislike, she still acts with agency and feeling—one of my favourite Sybil moments is in The Fifth Elephant, where, in order to plead with the dwarves to side with them, she bursts out into dwarf opera. Other female characters like Angua and Cheery continue in this stead, of starting from concepts & subversions and progressing into fully formed characters as the series continues.
But this is a strategy that isn’t always perfect. These characters are still fundamentally based in those stereotypes, even how far Discworld goes to subvert them. When we look at Sybil, the thing that’s taken away, first and foremost, is ‘this isn’t what a conventionally desirable woman is’, which functions as a kind of cage that Sybil can’t quite escape from. Despite the initial subversion, it still centres those stereotypes.
Although Pratchett’s female characters still stand out as well-written, I would argue his non-white characters largely fail. Many of Discworld’s non-white characters, distinct from his fantasy ‘races’, don’t receive the same kind of fleshing-out that allows them to function as characters and not as props, regardless of how subverted the stereotypes might be.
Take 71-Hour Ahmed, the antagonist for the most part of Jingo, who is eventually revealed to actually be only pretending to play into all of the Orientalist tropes he’s simply been framed in for large parts of the story—this is hinted at, and is a fairly predictable twist, and I think the idea of having to play into stereotypes as a tool is an interesting one, it’s just, as I said earlier, Ahmed never quite gets out of the cage. It makes him & the other Klatchian characters in Discworld feel distinctly uncomfortable. When you set out to write work that’s representative of often erased experiences, you’re juggling reflecting a culture or situation that you don’t experience, but at the core, you still have to write a character, not a prop.
But I also think there’s deeper aspects to that in the way Discworld handles racism and misogyny. Let’s look at Monstrous Regiment. Monstrous Regiment is a book all about misogyny, and at every turn I was surprised by how it handled gender performance and expression in a way I didn’t expect it to with such grace and cleverness. It also reveals something crucial—I think it shows awareness of misogyny as a system as opposed to actions by individuals, and that’s why it comes off so tactfully.
On the contrary, in Discworld, racism is largely portrayed as an act of individual stupidity or personal failing, a lack of logic. Vimes is casually racist (Men At Arms being the book with the most of this I can think of), but this is placed as a character flaw, and in Jingo, Nobby and Colon’s racism towards Klatchians is idiocy played for comedy.
The occlusion of systems, of racism in Discworld and, as I’ll discuss later, policing and power, are dangerous. It’s important to remember that racism and misogyny aren’t just products of individual or even widespread stupidity, they are crafted tools of subjugation. Framing these systems in this way obscures the power and spread of bigotry, and gets in the way of fully comprehending bigotry and thus being able to tackle it.
Why is this? I think it’s as simple as, Pratchett was, well, a white man writing in the late 20th and early 21st century. There’s a kind of perception I’ve seen among many Discworld fans that Pratchett, as a person, is progressive, and if not progressive, he possesses an inherent kindness and empathy that led so much of his writing. As much as I love Pratchett and have found immense comfort in how he writes, I think it does a disservice to deny that significant parts of his work were led by bias and prejudice, from Jingo to Small Gods to Interesting Times.
Policing & Power in Ankh-Morpork
The City Watch books, on their journey to dismantle the idea of the typical fantasy hero, develop a complicated relationship with the idea of power. They take a lot of inspiration from the noir/detective tradition, and with that comes the dangerous ground of a police setting, and a shifty but morally righteous hero.
In Ankh-Morpork, power is a necessary evil. Vetinari, for all of his scheming and manipulation, is one of its least tyrannical leaders. In Night Watch, when Lord Winder is deposed in favour of Lord Snapcase, Vimes looks back on people celebrating a new ruler who will eventually turn out to be just the same as the old ruler. Vimes’s ongoing battle with his desire to turn to violence to do the right thing is a key topic of Men At Arms and Night Watch. Ultimately, he decides against it at the conclusion of Night Watch:
When we break down, it all breaks down. That's just how it works. You can bend it, and if you make it hot enough you can bend it in a circle, but you can't break it. When you break it, it all breaks down until there's nothing unbroken. It starts here and now. He lowered the sword.
This quote frames policing as something utterly necessary for a functioning society, that there needs to be a crime for which laws can be made. And although Vimes can act within the spirit and not the letter of the law to advance righteousness and order, as he does in Jingo, there’s still a central construct of order that needs to be enforced.
Something interesting about Vimes gets revealed here, and over the course of the City Watch arc—as much as Vimes has his heritage as a kingslayer, he functions as a kind of unappointed arbiter of what is right. He has his character flaws, but ultimately he remains framed as righteous, even when he strays slightly from his own path. Vimes is often above the conflicts of the City Watch books, in that he acts as an unbiased observer who makes decisions on what he judges to be right, (especially in Night Watch) and doesn’t pick a political side, beyond the rule of law and basic human decency.
Pratchett can’t help but tie Vimes to the role of the hero. Particularly interestingly, his casual racism isn’t redeemed, but there’s no true exploration of the consequences of it, just as there aren’t explorations of the consequences of wider police corruption in Ankh-Morpork that we only really are told, not shown.
There’s a reading of Vimes that brands this as copaganda: Vimes is a good apple in a barrel of rotten ones, who successfully breaks through and changes the system, and since his actions outside of the law lead to the right outcomes, he is right and by extension his position in the police is just and correct. (Many people have written about copaganda in much better ways than I have, but in summary, ‘copaganda’, cop propaganda, is media that pushes the idea that the police are indispensable, heroic, and their actions outside of the law are correct and they should be allowed to continue in that fashion.)
And again, this occlusion of the system comes up. Ankh-Morpork is fairly transparently London, something I realised embarrassingly late given it’s my city of residence. There’s a historical reputation of crime and police presence, a city that absorbed together various smaller towns and continues to be a site of multiculturalism, and gained power from being a port on an incredibly stinky river. There’s a quote from Night Watch, again, that stuck with me:
Against the dark screen of night, Vimes had a vision of Ankh-Morpork. It wasn’t a city, it was a process, a weight on the world that distorted the land for hundreds of miles around. People who’d never see it in their whole life nevertheless spent that life working for it. Thousands and thousands of green acres were part of it, forests were part of it. It drew in and consumed… …and gave back the dung from its pens, and the soot from its chimneys, and steel, and saucepans, and all the tools by which its food was made. And also clothes, and fashions, and ideas, and interesting vices, songs, and knowledge, and something which, if looked at in the right light, was called civilization. That was what civilization meant. It meant the city.
While colonialism, as suggested by this quote, exists in Discworld, like policing, we never are shown, not told, the underbelly of it and the people who it only hurts. Colonialism is just another cog in the machine of Ankh-Morpork, just as many people would like you to feel about the history of London, colonialism is a one-way system where the dark side is hidden from view.
I think Pratchett is very aware of the harm unjust use of power causes. There are moments where Discworld feels as if just the right person, someone who can be trusted to make the right decisions that are best for the world, gets placed in power, then things will turn out fine. With Vimes leading the watch, finally, we have someone who can be trusted to make the right decisions. But I don’t think it’s that simple—Carrot, after all, never becomes king. Vetinari remains a tyrant, no-one is truly, truly, incorruptible, even by their own feelings. There are times when Discworld feels pessimistic, unable to imagine a better world, whether that’s by the trappings of fantasy convention, or by the conventional organisation of society. Discworld is hopeful for a better world, but following the lines of fantasy and detective stories that rely on the hierarchy of royalty and police respectively, perhaps it’s unable to imagine it.
There’s an ongoing pattern in online fandom and general appreciation of the sci-fi/fantasy genre to want things we’re comfortable with and already integrated into the status quo to represent our own beliefs & be kind and compassionate pieces of art, when maybe they’re not. The Colour of Magic was released in 1983, which is considered the official year of birth for the internet, and the landscape of fantasy literature was a very different place. Now, it’s never been easier to find something to read that might just surprise you. Discworld won’t ever be something it’s not, which is what made it so special in some ways, but it’s unfair to make Pratchett out as a paragon of inclusivity when there’s thousands, millions of other voices saying what you wish Discworld would say.
Thanks for reading my silly little essays! More things like this coming soon.
GNU Terry Pratchett.
hi there! it's been a while.
almost a year, actually. if you're a follower of this site, you'll know i've recently given the whole place a revamp—i'm trying to use this website better since i'm now actively working on marketing myself as an illustrator and like having it as a central hub for all of my work, as well as maintaining it well for my own enjoyment. there's lots of news so stick around!
the new aim for this blog is to give a general update on me once a month at the end of the month, and, if i have time, a second mid-month update about something i'm enjoying or thinking about!
first up: Site Updates
we have responsive coding on most pages now! we have a whole new look and colour-scheme that feels more professional and matches with my branding! we have a projects page, that will have more coming! portfolio updates! loving the way this is looking, now, feels a lot more cohesive and fun. what's coming next: reworking the commissions page, at some point soon, as well as filling out projects pages and my portfolio backlog.
second up, we have Art Updates
so, i uh, did a whole year long course. i completed my Art Foundation diploma to great success! (well, haven't got the grade back yet, but it was a personal success.) it was a hell of a year, technically more like 6 months, but it was a wonderful time. it was very different to the kind of work i was making at a-level - due to the fact i was explicitly doing illustration, and also having an environment free from the restrictions of grading meant i felt a lot more able to enjoy the process of what i was making. i mostly did it in order to give myself some buffer time before university - when i joined foundation, i had a place to study physics, but after a few months when the UCAS period came around again, i ended up dropping that place to take up a BA in Illustration, which is what i will be doing next year, and i can't wait!
things i learnt on foundation:
- i really enjoy going outside of the box when i'm not forced to. i've typically not liked it, because when i'm asked to 'be experimental' or other things i tend to freeze up, but if i can go there myself, it's great. new influences and briefs in foundation really encouraged me to try things i wouldn't've done otherwise
- printmaking is awesome! so, this is a funny story, i've been a digital artist for basically most of my life? i started when i was about 10, so yeah, and digital art is super expansive and full of different avenues to explore, which works in one's favour a lot of the time, but i think what draws me to print so much is that it is pretty restrictive, and the restrictions in what print looks like inspires me to create interesting things and work with the medium. i did an internship at a print studio for about 4 months and loved it.
- i like being self-reflective, as you can see from this whole blog. it's a very strong skill of mine, and very helpful since one of our main tasks in college was reflective writing. i'm good at analysing my own processes, even if i'm being too critical.
- i need to get better at managing my time and my expectations. my number one struggle in foundation was being too ambitious for my own good and overworking myself. it's difficult not being able to live up to the big ideas in my head, but i want to learn to be more measured so i don't screw myself over trying to achieve those goals. cutting back or giving up on a project is not an automatic failure!
- don't date people in your studio. it can go... not good
i also had excellent special needs support on foundation, which was more just like, my need to leave certain things or not meet certain expectations being treated as totally normal and accomodated for well. my tutor, Noel, sadly couldn't make our final show, and i'm gutted about that, because she was a genuinely amazing teacher and i miss her a lot.
this summer, i'm getting a job! i'm trying to avoid retail as much as possible and look for vaguely relevant experience, so i'm applying for work in animation studios and print workshops. praying a runner job for an animation studio gets back to me because it's decently paid part time so i can work on my other big projects, murals! i posted about my first mural commission in my projects page, but i have more coming down the line, which is super exciting! the cafe i did my first mural for were incredible, and i'm still working with them to sell my prints in their store and create new merchandise associated with the mural. you can read more about it on the projects page (it'll have a subpage for murals coming soon! ehehe)
and lastly, a fun little segment on What I Love
over foundation, i read a lot of books. i had a ~40 minute commute twice a day, and a library right outside my train station, which meant lots of reading. i'd like to do bigger & better reviews on many of the books i read, but here's some highlights!
- The Dispossesed - Ursula K Le Guin: le guin is my goddess. she's my legend and my icon. her novels and essays greatly inspired my foundation work and i just think she's a genius. i made it my goal to read more of her, and the dispossessed was a book i fell in love with. it was so incredibly articulated and full of wonderful poignancy as well as incredibly clever political exploration. i loved it so much i bought a copy for myself to write in.
- The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K Le Guin: another masterpiece. less of the worldbuilding that i love in some of her other works, but the same deeply hard-hitting poignancy. she just has this incredible skill of infusing tons of emotion into every element of her writing. 'Means are all we have' is a sentiment that's going to stick with me
- The Tyrant Baru Cormorant - Seth Dickinson: i consider seth dickinson's Masquerade series to be a perfect piece of fantasy writing. this is not hyperbole. i genuinely believe this. every single book i think 'no-one that i've read has done hard, political fantasy like this.' every character leaps off the page, every plot beat is mindblowingly tense and tightly written, the themes it explores are done so cuttingly and thoroughly, it's just wonderful to the core. i recommend it to everyone i meet
- Monstrous Regiment - Terry Pratchett: i've been rereading a lot of pratchett recently in my quest to finally read all the city watch arc books, but i took a brief detour with monstrous regiment. i'd like to write more on this blog about my thoughts on pratchett and how he tackles allegories and real life issues, and how i have a complex relationship with his thoughts and his reputations as progressive, but this book genuinely stunned me with how it tackled misogyny, as well as weaving the issue into a book that still felt deeply compelling and never heavy-handed.
- The Parable of the Talents - Octavia Butler: i've already read Parable of the Sower, but Talents was another wonderful book, doing everything i wanted and more. it's prescient and compelling and gripping and it's a total classic for a reason. it's an interesting book because it's not really about the sci-fi it's kind of surrounded by, its most compelling worldbuilding ideas (such as the growth and expansion of earthseed) are largely sidelined, but it, as a book, feels utterly confident in what it's saying and doing and pays off on that really well.
i still watch and adore wrestling, but don't have many notes atm. in the past few months, AEW has been kind of letting me down, so i've been watching more NJPW and STARDOM, which i'm still getting into too much to have a well-formed opinion on, but i love the styles of wrestling (especially stardom) and the variety of characters you get to see. some wrestling match highlights:
- Kenny Omega vs Will Ospreay (NJPW): a LOT is going to have to happen to top this as my match of the year. two stellar wrestlers on the best form we've seen them in a while. fucking golden, man.
- Motor City Machine Guns vs East West Express (GCW): GCW are not consistently enjoyable for me, but their PPVs are amazing, and this genuinely suprised me with how much i loved it. compelling dynamic & awesome spots
- Athena vs Yuka Sakazaki (ROH): a killer title defence with yuka as the perfect magnetic babyface and athena as a bully heel. it's classic but they did it amazingly, yuka never once looked bad despite losing
- Jamie Hayter vs Emi Sakura (AEW): jamie hayter is a white hot champ and i hope AEW gives her everything she wants. emi sakura is an amazing veteran who gets overlooked a lot. both of them brought their all here.
- 10,000 gecs was an interesting new album from 100 gecs. it was experimental in ways that didn't always work for me but that i really appreciated, and created some awesome tracks. fav track: 757
- Ada Rook is amazing. soooo unique and fun and killer. fav track: GRAVITY WEAPON
- sorry for being a teenager but i've become an Arctic Monkeys person. AM is just so cohesive as an album. fav track: Knee Socks
- another thing i'm late on the train for, The Crane Wives. as someone raised on warrior cats AMVs and still loves emotionally charged folk-ish songs that you can imagine being about cats, they're exactly that niche that's hard to describe in any other way. fav track: Tongues and Teeth
What's Coming Next
- hopefully more blog posts! i'd like to write one about Discworld in June. i have thoughts.
- finding a job, and working on my mural jobs
- i want to find some time, if i have time, to practise perspective and background drawing. probably based on hermitcraft builds to treat myself
freedom! well, it's been freedom for a while, i finished just after the middle of june and am now luxuriating in randomly remembering 'oh my god, i don't have school next week, i don't have school again until september, i don't have anything to do!'
it feels like... a lot! being the class of 2020 for my GCSEs, i was part of the cohort that didn't do their GCSE exams, like, at all. it was difficult for my performance in these exams (i'd never done formal organised exams with study leave before, and there were a few things i wish i would've known going into my a-levels) but also my mental health—not taking my GCSEs felt like a lot of work for nothing, and now i've done my a-levels, everything feels capped off and complete.
looking back on these last two years has been a lot. i've massively come out of my shell socially, and learnt a lot about myself—mainly through giving up, which sounds weird. through-out a lot of my education, i've been The Smart One, which in no way am i complaining about, but it saddled me with a lot of baggage when the work began to get harder. gcses to a-levels is a bigger jump than you'd expect, there's actually far more change than you expect in the way that you're learning. the change absolutely threw me off, because GCSEs catered very well to the style of learning that i am particularly good at, whereas a-levels didn't—so i was in this situation where i hadn't slipped but just wasn't the same student as i was before, and it was really difficult. it took a while to embrace not getting the feedback i had hoped to get, and i ended up dropping my fourth a-level because it was just too much—but that experience really helped me confront and learn from my struggles with academic self-worth and performance. overall, it was a tough experience, but one i learnt a lot from.
since then, it's been a lot of relaxing! i know i said before i was going to try and complete A Project, and i have done the very first steps of many Projects, and then realised they would take a lot of work and said 'oh i'll do it later.' procrastinating as always! but oh well. i'm going to try and get at least something done, probably some designs, ref sheets, maybe the start of something. oh, and i've also been listening to a bunch of music (mainly prog and psychedelic rock) and catching up on all the horror podcasts (mainly Old Gods of Appalachia and The Silt Verses) that i fell behind on when i was studying very hard. feels wild to finally have energy for things!
at the beginning of july, my street and the neighbouring street close the roads and do a street fair! it hasn't happened since 2019 because of covid, but before that i would always draw portraits for people. this year i decided to expand a little and sell prints, stickers and do portraits. the prints and stickers didn't sell too well, but i had a lot of fun making them, and it was good fun to work with manufacturers and get aquianted with my local print shop. i should probably look into business cards soon! drawing portraits for 7 hours was hard work, but it was good fun, gave a few people my email out of it, and made some money. you can see the sticker design + print design i made in the portfolio page on my Neocities, but here's some glamour shots of the sticker!
i think, when i go to art school next year, i'm going to see if the school will support us, or we can band together, to go sell our stuff at art fairs. they do in-school ones! also, i really wanna see if we can make it to comiccon. likely not, but oh well!
me and my friends also got together to make some fimo creatures and hang out in the garden. i've never used fimo before—it was mostly easy to manipulate, i just struggled to work on things without squishing other things, so most of what i made was very very flat. but i dutifully covered it all in gold leaf.
oh! and yes, i did catch back up with professional wrestling and enjoy myself. some thoughts:
- forbidden door absolutely ruled from beginning to end. incredible!!!! so much good stuff!!!!! orange cassidy vs. will ospreay, toni storm vs. thunder rosa, swerve strickland & keith lee vs. el desperado & yoshinobu kanemaru, all absolutely class matches
- r.e. orange cassidy—LOVE what they're doing with his gimmick as more irritating and mind-games-y. it creates a great story in a match and works really well in terms of 'comedy wrestler vs. serious opponent.'
- get well soon cm punk <3 im sad we didn't get summer of punk 2 yet. maybe in the future... maybe winter of punk... i believe in him
- the jericho appreciation society can get hit in the face with large amounts of barbed wire and i will cheer always. FUCK those guys!
- if anyone says eddie kingston isn't one of AEW's best at the moment i will attack them. he's brought it every single match and the current feud between eddie and co & the blackpool combat club vs. the jericho appreciation society has ruled. shame bryan couldn't make it (again due to an injury. what is in the WATER!!)
- thunder rosa and toni storm forming tag team thunderstorm is very cool. i wonder if we're leading up to women's tag team title belts? i'd love to see that. maybe we'll get mens trios belts first, cos AEW love a slow burn.
- was randomly talking about this today—i really like how AEW is less strict with 'heel' and 'face' characterisation, not that it flip-flops, but that you can read a lot of their big guys as either way. that's pretty unconventional for wrestling, but i really really like it. the faces usually do bad things as well, and the heels usually have a point. it's interesting in terms of dynamic + fun storytelling.
- man, i need to watch some Stardom. my womens' wrestling needs arent fulfilled atm! i'd have more time to watch if AEW wasn't so damn good at the moment...
oh and some of those prints and stickers are for sale! DM me various places if you're interested!
i'm currently right in the middle of my A-Level exams (for the non-brits in the crowd, the a-levels are the school finishing exams, after which i'll go to uni) which has meant keeping up with creative endeavours is pretty hard, because i'm kind of expending all my energy keeping myself working healthily. my parents have realised that the key to keeping me going is giving me a fiver at LIDL (it's a supermarket) and letting me buy myself snacks for a week and running off that—i mean, it works! it does keep me going! i've got a place at a really good school next year though, to do an art foundation (one year of largely freeform art studies) which i am mega excited about and can't wait, plus it takes a little bit of the anxiousness and weight off.
i've also been focusing on trying to spend time with friends + take advantage of the weather—it really does shock me every time how much better being in the sun and around nature makes me feel. as someone who's a little behind in terms of social development, i've always felt anxious about doing things at too slow of a pace (mostly uni/work and friends), but it's been just amazing to feel like i've got a friend group and am getting to be a teenager. i'm happy with where i am and super excited for next year!
my a-levels finish mid-late june, and then i'm out of school for the summer—so keep an eye out for details of summer projects (most likely comics) which will be hosted on the Projects page, and possibly commissions!
as for what i've been doing while i'm off school studying, i haven't really had the brainspace to make Big Arty Things, but i've been doing a lot of clothes + fabric painting—because it's a social activity and also coming up with a little decal is less time and effort than a full illustration. it's been really enjoyable! here's some patches i've made:
and some paint on the pockets of a pair of my cargo shorts
i use acrylic paint and fabric medium, which heat sets, meaning you can only paint on stuff you can iron, but it works great for me. i might sell some of the patches—i've just been kind of mass producing them because brain wants to make things, but brain does not want to make new things. i'll hopefully be back in my stride post exams!
another thing i've been unable to keep up with during exams is wrestling, which is irritating since AEW's big pay-per-view just happened, and there was some great stuff... so happy fopr cm punk being the new world champion! i wish there'd been a bit more time to build the feud with hangman adam page, but what there was i LOVED (it was written so interestingly and cleverly) and i really hope hangman gets another go at the title soon, because he absolutely deserves it. stellar champ. a lot of people are saying bryan danielson will win the belt next, which makes sense, if i recall correctly he's retiring soon, and hangman taking it from danielson would be a really nice full circle moment because those two have had GREAT matches. also, i'm kinda pissed britt won the tournament. she really didn't need it, and the women's roster is horrifically underused despite being full of amazing talent. i would have loved to see ruby soho or kris statlander get it, or even, let me hope here, emi sakura or nyla rose. the belts themselves looked gorgeous though!
other notes are that i love the blackpool combat club sending their nice son yuta wheeler off to compete in japan in order to engage in gang warfare with a wizard. eddie kingston rules. jade cargill rules. wrestling is good because no other broadcast sport has wizards. but wrestling does! swerve strickland rules. luchasaurus is funny to me because the dinosaur man is also a very good chess player. and also he's a dinosaur man.
that's ellis signing off for now! if you're in the UK, enjoy the sun!