Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More Awesome Stamps (incl. Dracula)

I got some very pretty stamps on another Postcrossing postcard from China last week:

But the real crown jewel for this month's postcard philately comes from my friend Tara, who was traveling in Ireland around Bloomsday:

Why aren't there more stamps with Dracula?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Alphabooksbeasts: F is for Ferdinand

My non-Dungeon entry for Alphabooks this week knows just what it means to stop and smell the flowers. Ferdinand is a bull in Spain, where bulls go to the bullring, but Ferdinand, like Bartleby, would prefer not to.

I have to admit that I hadn't read The Story of Ferdinand since I was a little kid, and I bought a cheap copy last week to get ready for this drawing. And I was struck, when I read it, by the way the shade of death hangs over the book.

Ferdinand, who just wants to smell flowers under a cork tree, is drafted for the bullring because some bullfight handlers see him immediately after he's stung by a bee. As the story goes, when he's turned out into the ring he just sits, and the various picadors and toreadors are so embarrassed by his torpor that they send him home. But if a bee would make him angry, wouldn't a half-dozen sharp lances also do the trick? Isn't the whole point of the long lead-up to the final matador getting the bull into a position of seeing red? I don't actually know, but I have the feeling that Ferdinand is a little generous with its plot devices.

Anyway, I started overthinking this, and considering recasting the story so that is was centered around a rodeo instead of a bullfight—that way, at least Ferdinand wouldn't be threatened with death—and then I started considering breeds of bull (Hereford, Longhorn, Brahma, etc.) that you'd be likely to see at a rodeo. And then someone reminded me that I was supposed to be drawing the character in the book.

So I pushed aside my overthinking and clumsily drew a bull sniffing flowers under a tree.

I'm still not sure I got the horns or the hooves right, but they look close enough that I am not kicking myself about the drawing. That means that people who didn't grow up on a ranch will probably have no problem at all with the bovine details in the drawing.

Next week: a fuzzy little dude.

Alphadonjon: F is for Farfalle and Fayez ul-Rahman

This week's Alphabooks entry features characters from way on the other end of the Donjon continuity. Although these two characters never meet, so far as I know, they both dwell in Terra Amata's end-times, in the era after the world has shattered and every place is a floating island isolated from other islands by a yawning void, a mile-deep drop, and a molten sea of lava down below.

Fayez ul-Rahman, the serpent guy, is the leader of the assassin's society called the "Specters" (of which Davraz is one). He turns on his master the Grand Khan and turns out to be quite a problem.

Farfalle, the ursine damsel, is the daughter of a Takmool on a floating island that has begun to spin end over end. The Takmool has constructed a mansion (and grounds) on a massive wheeled platform, which his subjects pull continuously on a circumnavigating track so it will never fall off the edge of the island. Anyway, Farfalle falls for Herbert the Red in the last (so far) installment of Dungeon: Twilight.

I figured out this pose pretty quickly, inspired I think by Fayez's slight facial resemblance to Kermit the Frog. (I figured that Farfalle would be fine for some Miss-Piggy-style unappreciated attraction.)

As with last week, I had trouble figuring out the mammal character's long snout. I think I'm just not used to drawing certain sorts of "funny animal" characters, but I guess this alphabet will in the end be good practice...

Later, I got the pose, if not Farfalle's head, more or less the way I wanted it. This version, though it was on scratch paper, wound up basically being my pencils for the drawing. (I traced most of this doodle to make the pencils in my notebook.)

Next week: one of everybody's favorite monsters.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Arthurian Alphabooks: E is for Ettarde [Updated]

Here's my profile portrait of the lady Ettarde, a minor character in Le Morte Darthur who has some genuine shortcomings but whose ultimate fate is fairly disquieting, not only for its seeming excessive punishment but for the ugly light it sheds on some more prominent figures in Malory's Arthuriad.

Ettarde is a proud lady who spurns the advances of the worthy knight Sir Pelleas. Apparently her pride is unwarranted, since other ladies and gentlewomen "were fayrer than she"; but Pelleas esteems her highly, wants none other, and willingly suffers repeated humiliation and physical degradation at the hands of Ettarde's knights.

When Arthur's nephew Sir Gawain meets Pelleas, he sympathizes with his plight and offers to win Ettarde's hand for him by pretending to have defeated him. Pelleas agrees, but once Gawain lays eyes on Ettarde he pulls a John Alden and ends up wooing Ettarde himself—albeit in an underhanded way that effectively entraps Ettarde into granting him her sexual favors.

While Gawain enjoys a couple of days in a romantic tryst with Ettarde, Pelleas starts to wonder where he is and why he himself isn't united with Ettarde at last. Seeking them out, Pelleas comes across the lovers asleep in a compromising position, much as various versions of the Tristan story depict King Mark finding Tristan and Iseult together in the woods (a scenario transferred to Arthur finding Lancelot and Guenevere sleeping together in John Boorman's Excalibur). Pelleas considers killing them, but chooses instead to lay his naked sword across their throats as they sleep. He then takes to his bed, expecting to die of grief.

At this point, Gawain and Ettarde awake, discover the sword, and realize that Pelleas has found him—a bit of a shock to Ettarde, who had thought him slain by Gawain. Meanwhile, news of Pelleas's plight reaches the powerful lady Nynyve (a.ka. Nimue, a.k.a. Niniane, a.ka. Vivian), the chief Lady of the Lake. Nynyve not only takes pity on Pelleas, she also falls in love with him and deems Ettarde unjust to have shown him no mercy in denying his suit. So she casts an enchantment upon Ettarde that causes her to fall desperately in love with Pelleas—and her love is indeed desperate, since now that he thinks he knows her for what she is, he hates her.

Ettarde cannot understand her new feelings, declaring "Ah, Lord Jesu, how is it befallen unto me that I love now [him who] I have hated most of any man alive?" Nynyve's reply is curt and chilling: "That is the righteous judgment of God," she says. Thereupon Pelleas bids the "traitoress" never to come in his sight again, and "near out of her mind" with sorrow she goes away—where she does in fact die of sorrow, while Pelleas enjoys a long life of unnatural safety under the magical protection of his new lover Nynyve.

So: this little episode, just a few pages long, shows Gawain in rather an ugly light early in his knightly career—but I don't find Nynyve's behavior very becoming, either. Throughout, Ettarde is played upon by others more canny or powerful than herself. And while she may indeed be haughty in her refusal of Pelleas, and downright cruel in directing her knights to beat him and humiliate him, no less an authority than Lancelot will declare (over the corpse of the Fair Maid of Ascolat) that "love must only arise of the heart's self, and not by none constraint"—a view endorsed at once by King Arthur himself, who agrees that "That is truth, ... and with many knights love is free in himself and never will be bound; for where he is bound he looseth himself." Ettarde is artificially driven insane with love for a man she never cared for in the first place, is judged and found wanting for failing to grant his petition. Her own desires are overlooked or discounted by everyone else. And in sympathy with Ettarde, I have tried to draw her at the distraught moment where she realizes with horrified disbelief that she now loves unto death a man whom she despised when in her right mind and who now hates her utterly, utterly.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Alphabooksbeasts: E is for East Dragon

This week's non-Donjon Alphabooks entry is from a really recent publication: East Dragon, West Dragon, which is written by Robyn Eversole and illustrated by the incomparable Scott C.

As the title might suggest, EDWD is the story of two dragons from different sides of the world (and different folkloric traditions). West Dragon would have been fun to draw, too, but Oh Man did I enjoy putting this guy into my notebook.

I really love that Lunar New Year stamp. I had actually thought of incorporating it into my drawing of East Dragon even before I saw this fun post with cartoons and pasted-down stamps by my former student Caitlin McGurk over at the Billy Ireland Library blog. But of course the article sealed the deal.

Then is was just a question of figuring out how I could get the stamp into the drawing without forcing the real subject to turn his back. (The answer? Bring in some dudes to do the picture-hanging for him.)

 I am pretty proud of my imitation of Scott C.'s style there (and I did a sort of clever thing with Photoshop that probably is way below the skill level of most cartoonists, but still felt smart to me). This is what East Dragon looks like in the actual book.

(It was easy for me to scan this page because, for some reason, my baby son has loved to tear pages out of his first copy of EDWD. Don't worry; I have a second one on the shelf for him when he gets over this phase.)

One mark of Scott C.'s awesomeness that I recognized only this week is that he's actually not at all easy to imitate. Getting East Dragon's face just a little bit wrong knocks him completely off-model and unrecognizable. There was a lot of erasing in my pencils this week, and my doodle was way, way off.

If you like Scott C.'s work, and you already have a copy of the fun, adorable East Dragon, West Dragon, let me suggest that you purchase a rare (and fun) item that contains a page of Scott's doodles.

Next week: someone else with horns.

Alphadonjon: E is for Elise and Eustace Ravin, Esq.

This week's Alphabooks entries are both going to be a little underwritten, because I'm just starting the first one at 4:20 AM. Both of my Dungeon characters this week come from the Early Years sequence in the series.

Have I already explained this? Donjon is being written into several different time periods at once. The "main" storyline, Zenith, features one character, the Keeper of the Dungeon, who is an old man; another set of books features the same character as a young man (well, a young bird). In the Twilight sequence, the characters of the Zenith storyline are old men. Then there's Parade, which happens between the first and second books of Zenith... Oh, it's complicated.

Anyway, in the Early Years there's a sinister taurine lawyer named Eustace Ravin, and there's a brave (but overconfident) young bird named Elise, who later becomes the Keeper's wife and is murdered by the Keeper's professional-assassin mistress. As far as I know, Eustace and Elise never meet, but here they are:

It took me a lot of work to figure out Eustace's head. Maybe I couldn't work out for myself whether he was a longhorn or a water buffalo or what; or maybe I just don't have enough practice drawing bovine snouts. But even with Christophe Blain's drawings in front of me on the page I struggled, on and off, all day.

Next week: a serpent from the end of the world.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Arthurian Alphabooks: D is for Dinadan

If you're not careful, reading medieval Arthuriana can seem like an exercise in obsolete classist parochialism: just look how the upper classes of the age flatter themselves with their beauty, strength, wealth, and accomplishments! Look how they assume the rightness of their many privileges! Look how they attend only to their own affairs, with scarcely a thought for the many toilers who have made their comfortable lives possible! And then, if you're not careful, you start to sound like Dennis from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

Thank goodness, then, that there are medieval Arthurian texts that dare to question at least some of the assumptions that undergird the ethos of their own elite audiences. And one of the characters who voices some of the most sensible objections to the knightly ethos is the plainspoken and witty Sir Dinadan, created in the French Prose Tristan cycle but best known nowadays from Malory's Morte Darthur. Here's my attempt to capture what I imagine to be one of his typical expressions:
I say "attempt" because I am not altogether satisfied with the result. The expression I was aiming for was a kind of affronted disbelief. The occasion for the expression is no doubt yet another instance where one of Dinadan's more traditionally heroic companions has insisted on the correct knightly protocol of engaging in some sort of combat that Dinadan considers pointless or extravagant.

Dinadan's problem, you see, is that, while he is himself a dab hand at jousting and swordplay, he prefers not to exercise his knightly skill unless it's really called for; but he's such good company that he is forever falling in with honor-crazed knights such as Tristram, who practically force him to fight for a glory that he would be quite happy to do without.

Dinadan doesn't even see the point of the love affairs that are the raison d'être for so many of his nobler companions of the Round Table. By challenging the utility of both combat and [so-called] courtly love, Dinadan becomes a devil's advocate bringing charges against both the chivalric and the chivalrous sides of knighthood.

His wit is reported more than displayed, but it is said of him that he composed an insulting ditty about the wicked King Mark (Tristram's hateful uncle) that he arranged for a minstrel to sing at Mark's court. (I think it would be a worthwhile bit of Arthurian fanfic for someone to write a text for said ballad, just in case anybody out there is looking for something to do.)

I seem to recall that a knight called Sir Dinadan features in Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court but that, like so many characters seemingly borrowed from Malory, he is unrecognizable as his medieval original.

Anyhow, that's my D entry for the Arthurian alphabooks. Next week: a lady who is rather distraught.

Alphabooksbeasts: D is for Dodo and Duck

This week's non-Donjon Alphabooks characters both come from one of the books that got me through junior high and the early years of high school: Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Yes, D is for the Duck and the Dodo.

("The Duck and the Dodo," by the way, would be a killer name for an English-style pub. I'm just putting that out there.)

(You'd better click and enlarge, for the joke.)

You may not remember the Sea Pool of Tears that Alice falls into after she shrinks in the first few chapters of the book. This incident happens before the really memorable incidents like the Mad Tea Party, the run-ins with the Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat, or the croquet game, not long after Alice peeks through a little door and sees a beautiful garden that she cannot reach.

Anyway, everyone's quite wet when they come out of the Sea of Tears, and the Mouse (not pictured) starts reciting a chunk of very dry Medieval English history to dry everyone out:
William the Conqueror, whose cause was favoured by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria, [...] declared for him: and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable —

At this point, the Duck interrupts, asking what the archbishop found.

"He found it," the Mouse says. "Of course you know what it means."

And that's how we get to the dialogue that I quoted in my drawing. It still makes me chuckle, and I think I probably say "When I find a thing, it's generally a frog or a worm" once or twice a month. Mike can probably confirm that for you.

This was an easy drawing for me to put together. I think I must have drawn my share of ducks and dodoes in the past.

Next week: a little tribute to one of my "Always Fun to Draw" bros. (Aw yeah.)

Alphadonjon: D is for Delacour and Davraz

This week's Donjon entry for Alphabooks brings the last bearer of the Sword of Destiny that we'll see for a few letters, just in case you're tired of seeing that little red belt buckle. And in fact, after Ababakar's quick death, he's the only other wearer of the sword that we meet in while he's alive, other than Herbert the Duck, in the main timeline.

There's also a Red Guard assassin hanging out in the background this week. There's a snake under that cowl, I think, but we never see his face.

This week, D is for Delacour and Davraz.

I'm cheating a little, I guess, with Delacour's name (and initial), though that's what he's called in the Zenith stories that feature him. Really his name is William Delacour, so maybe I should have alphabetized him under W. If we were working with the French originals, he'd go under G for Guillaume. Or maybe under C for de la Cour? Anyway, this is where he seems to belong for me.

And let me tell you, he's a scoundrel in the most aggravating way. Delacour is self-satisfied, ornery, litigious, niggling, petty, selfish, cowardly, malicious, and manipulative. He's the last chicken you'd trust with anything.

Also, he has a detachable head.

The reason his head's detachable is revealed in the first volume of Monstres: the Sword of Destiny has one blade that kills, and another that cuts without wounding. When Ababakar Octoflea confronts Delacour to kill him for the Sword, Delacour offers to give it to him, to save his own life, but the Sword refuses. The only way to claim the Sword from its owner is if the owner has been beheaded.

So Delacour uses the sword to cut off his own head with the blade that doesn't wound. Ababakar walks off with the Sword, and aside from a need for a nice tight scarf Delacour is none the worse for the event.

Ohhh, what a bastard he is.

Initially I wanted him to look blithe, carefree, smug, and jaunty, and I tried a few different doodles hoping to catch that (and also show his head detaching).

Do you recognize my source?

It didn't really come across, did it? Probably because Leo doesn't have a completely detachable head.

Well, still:

Next week: well, probably some more poultry.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Arthurian Alphabooks: C is for Cundrie la surziere

Last week I presented Belakane, one of the many beautiful people from Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival. And this week, from the same text, I give you this:

Here's how Wolfram describes her, in the recent (2004) translation by Cyril Edwards:
She was called Cundrie; her byname was Surziere [i.e., the magician or sorceress]…. A bridal cloth from Ghent, bluer even than lapis lazuli, that downpour on joy had donned. It was a well-cut cape, all in the French style. Beneath, next to her person, she wore fine furs. A peacock-feather hat from London, lined with cloth-of-gold—the hat was new, its ribbon not old—hung at her back…. A plait crossed the hat and dangled down from her, as far as the mule [she was riding]. It [the plait] was so long, and black, tough, none too lustrous, soft as a pig’s back hair. She was nosed like a dog. Two boar’s teeth stuck out from her mouth, a good span in length. Each eyebrow thrust, plaited, past her hair-band…. Cundrie had ears like a bear’s….Her countenance was hairy….
There are other details in Wolfram's description, but those are the ones I tried to include in my drawing, if only through the merest suggestion. (In a head-on view, it was difficult to manage her braid of coarse hair hanging across the fine hat that dangles against her back, though I did at least arch up the tip of the peacock feather to be glimpsed over her shoulder.)

A note or two about Cundrie. Wolfram borrows the basic character, including her initial messenger function and a number of her ugly features, from Chrétien de Troyes's late twelfth-century romance Le conte du Graal (Perceval), the original literary account of the Grail. Wolfram expands her role and her context, however, in his additions (and conclusion) to Chrétien's unfinished work, and Wolfram provides her with a name. Both authors agree on an unusual point, however: while she is quite hideous to behold, she is also a model of upright virtue.

This point is unusual because the prevailing approach to appearances in medieval romance is to associate beauty with goodness and virtue while ugliness is associated with baseness and evil. The hideous Cundrie in fact arrives to throw cold water on the joy felt at Arthur's court upon the return of Parzival, celebrated not only as a paragon of knighthood but as a beautiful specimen of young manhood. Cundrie announces that this seeming great guy is in fact a bit thick and unfeeling, and he has had the misfortune to be thick and apparently unfeeling under circumstances that threaten to doom a whole populace. Oops!

So, yeah: looks can be deceiving. Interestingly, this trope recurs in other Grail narratives. In the thirteenth-century Old French prose Quest of the Holy Grail (and in Sir Thomas Malory's fifteenth-century Middle English adaptation, The Tale of the Sankgreal), Perceval is one of the three knights who successfully "achieve" the Grail quest, along with Lancelot's kinsmen Sir Bors and the impeccable Sir Galahad (and I'm using that adjective in its theological sense as well as its ordinary sense). While the virginal Galahad is impervious to sexual temptation (though he has a strong bond with Perceval's equally virginal sister), Sir Bors and Sir Perceval both get tempted toward error in instructively different ways that have to do with what meets the eye.

Perceval is the object of a would-be seduction by a devil in the guise of a beautiful woman; he resists just in time to avoid damnation, at which point the true appearance of the devil is revealed in all its ugliness. Sir Bors is offered a choice between serving two beautiful women: one attired in gleaming white, the other in gloomy black. Everywhere else in the Quest, white and black signify in the traditional Western fashion that associates white with purity, goodness, virtue and black with corruption, evil, sin. But here, for a change, the polarity is reversed, no doubt because Bors is already more spiritually advanced on his knightly brethren and it wouldn't be much of a test to ask him to see evil in black, good in white (a test that Lancelot fails at one point, incidentally).

Bors gets it right, thankfully, and the tip-off for us readers that black is virtuous in this case is the echo of the line from Song of Songs where the beloved declares "I am black but comely"; the beloved in this case is routinely allegorized in Christian readings as the Church itself, and the white woman opposed to her in Bors's temptation is the whited sepulchre of the Synagogue. (Friendly reminder: I just report this stuff, I don't endorse it.)

And a few last art notes. This drawing is not the first time I have sketched an image of Cundrie or her French-language equivalent: I first used the description from Chrétien's work to provide the cues for one of the demons I drew for our Lynda Barry-inspired One Hundred Demons sketchbook project (anthologized as Demonstration, though that collection does not include the Cundrie figure). If I can find my old demons sketchbook, I may post that image as a postscript.

Where the sketchbook version was very cartoony, I deliberately sought in this case to make the outlandish description as plausibly human as possible. If the boar's teeth aren't a full span long, we might attribute that to Wolfram's tendency to exaggerate. But I have seen remarkably hairy countenances, including eyebrows that probably could have been braided if their bearers had wished to do so, and I think that this doggy nose is probably in the range of possibility, too.

Finally, I seem to have settled on a potentially very boring pattern for my Arthurian alphabet, what Isaac has aptly described as "the yearbook approach": head shots. In for a penny, in for a pound, though: I think I'll stick with that for the human characters in my mainstream "official" Alphabooks contributions, though I'm still holding out hope for a "second series" of drawings that might include more variety of figure and composition. (We'll see, but no promises—I didn't even manage to get this one done on schedule, and it was a single drawing!)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Alphabooksbeasts: C is for Caliban

I've been wrestling with drawing this week's non-Donjon Alphabooks character for decades, on and off. Probably if I sit down to draw him again next year, I'll come up with something entirely different. That's in part because there's no single right way to draw Shakespeare's Caliban.

We know these things about him:

• He's half-human, having been sired on his witch mother Sycorax by the devil-god Setebos.
• He's ugly, and somehow deformed, based on the way Prospero and Miranda talk about him.
• He's capable of doing menial labor, but he doesn't like it.
• Stephano and Trinculo, when they find him hiding under a cloak, think he might be a dead fish or something. He has an "ancient and fishlike smell."

As I was thinking about designing him, I sort of vacillated between two dramatic demands the play has for Caliban. When he is cursing Prospero in soliloquy, I think Caliban has to seem genuinely malicious and a little frightening. But when he's been seduced by Stephano, Trinculo, and their bottle of liquor, he suddenly slides downhill from being the villain of the piece to being ridiculed by the ridiculous. (In this way, his character trajectory almost resembles Malvolio's. Think how fun it would be to see the same actor playing those two parts in repertory.)

You can see Caliban costumed all sorts of ways for different productions of The Tempest. In fact, he might be one of the most fun Google Image searches I've ever done. Some people really play up the half-devil heritage. Some play up the fishiness. There's an awesome-looking full-size puppet Caliban that seems to favor humor over menace. I've even seen someone trying to design a Caliban with Sendak's Wild Things as a base.

I wanted to discard any worries about actually putting a human being into the "costume," and just design the "real Caliban" that the stage actor would be trying to approximate. If I'd seen the really fun Arthur Rackham illustration before I started working on mine, I'm sure I'd have been influenced by it.

These doodles seemed a little too far in the direction of malice for me. I'd already done another version that I liked better:

There's not must malice in that version of Caliban, but I like the way he looks anyway. I especially like the distortions of his anatomy. It's fun to picture those big shoulders toting a bundle of logs.

But then I started thinking about this "sympathetic Caliban" in the drinky scenes, and in Browning's "Caliban Upon Setebos," pondering the nature of his deity and the nature of the misfortunes inflicted upon him by Prospero's arrival.

That doodle is obviously very close to what I wound up drawing. I just let him get a little more zonked out as he dug deeper into the bottle.

I mentioned at the top of the post that I've been drawing Caliban on and off for years. I was able to put my hands on a couple of classroom doodles from my first year of grad school, fifteen years ago if I'm doing my math correctly. I don't have anything to say about these; I'm just sharing them in the interest of completeness.

Next week: fowl.

Alphadonjon: C is for Clementine the Ogress and Caroy

This week's Dungeon Alphabooks characters are both pretty minor in the grand scheme of Dungeon things.

Clementine the Ogress is, like Brock, a former wielder of the Sword of Destiny, briefly summoned by a quintet of vampire piglets while they're foolhardily taunting Herbert the Duck. She appears in just one panel.

Caroy, the weird fish-man that she's chasing in my picture, is one of the underwater soldiers of Shiwomeez who feature in The Depths, the second album collected in the Heartbreaker volume of Dungeon: Monstres. This is a story that—and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough—IS NOT FOR KIDS. This volume is drawn (really quite beautifully, if you like weird sea creatures) by Patrice Killoffer. It features some really ugly sex off-panel, some really upsetting violence (when creatures bleed underwater, their blood and guts fill the environment), and some very creepy character designs, as well as some generally unsavory personalities.

Caroy is a creep himself, and he gets a fitting comeuppance, pierced from inside by coral that grows at an incredible rate. Probably the reason why I have Clementine chasing him down is that I still want to punish him for his part in keeping Dungeon from being innocent and fun enough to put into the hands of a kid (or, for that matter, a teenager—seriously, The Depths is some unpleasant stuff).

Next week: a chicken.