Category: Friends (page 1 of 4)

Inktober Day Thirty-One: Friend

The last day of Inktober deserves a story:

This is my mandolin. It’s a hand-made, solid-wood a-style flattop made by a guy in Missouri now doing business as The Big Muddy Mandolin Company. The mandolin isn’t the friend in this picture, but it’s a powerful symbol of friendship.

About twenty years ago, I stumbled headlong into a group of musician friends. Well, most of us weren’t musicians yet, but we all learned to be musicians together, and inside the little enclosure we made for ourselves it was safe to be a novice, and that safety made us brave enough to keep practicing together until weren’t too embarrassing when we played in public.
We’d gather in a friend’s garage with our instruments and a few beers and we’d play tunes until the neighbors came and told us to shut up. Then we’d move into the living room till the housemate who owned the house put down her fiddle and told us to go home. We’d sit on the sidewalk in front of The Ark for hours, making sure we got the best seats for Old Blind Dogs and Steeleye Span and Lunasa. We’d play at sessions, nursing pints and playing reels until we risked our day jobs in the morning. We busked on occasion, and played bars and libraries and even a country club once.

I played clumsy tinwhistle and serviceable bodhran, and never did learn to read sheet music, but somewhere in there I started tagging along with my friends to The Musical Petting Zoo. During these visits I kept ending up in the Mandolin Family room, surrounded by banjos and octave mandolins and bouzoukis and all sorts of trouble. I stared at the mandolins, drawn to their simple elegant forms and just-right size, but scared away by their complexity. Somebody picked one out for me and showed me how to make a couple two-fingered chords. I tried a couple different mandolins each time I visited, but I kept coming back to this plain little A-style that wasn’t too fancy or presumptuous and seemed just approachable enough that it might maybe get me past being intimidated by an instrument more sophisticated than whistle or drum.

I was messing with that same mandolin one day when Jen called me in to the guitar room to show me this little beauty of a parlor guitar she was going to get, and then it was time to leave. When I got to the car it turned out that Emily had spent the rest of her grad school money buying me that sweet little mando, and Jen had bought me the carrying case to go with it. Other friends jumped in to help: Rollande bought me a strap, a string winder, a tuner, and a little beaded bag in the shape of a clownfish that held a half-dozen picks of different weights. Brian bought me a mando stando so it wouldn’t have to lean against the couch. Other friends gave lessons, advice, tunes.

I poked away at it for a couple of years, overwhelmed by this shower of kindness. I dragged it with me to sessions and house parties, hoping I’d somehow learn through osmosis. The truth was I never got comfortable enough with myself to figure out how to advance past those first two chords and a half-dozen tunes, and I felt like a terrible failure because I had let down the folks who’d gifted her to me. The mando still seemed way too complicated and while I could fake my way through a whistle tune, or hammer out a simple rhythm, I felt entirely out of my depth with chords and hammer-ons and pull-offs and tremolos and all. Every once in a while I’d halfheartedly ask around for teachers, but was ultimately too embarrassed to meet once a week and display how little I knew compared to all the actual musicians I hung out with.

As we all moved away and on to the next phases of our individual lives – a process which happened shockingly fast from late 2003 through early 2004 – music slipped away from my life. I played a few sessions in Kalamazoo, but they never stuck like the ones in Ann Arbor did. I occasionally filled in on whistle and drum with a local band, but the truth is I never did like playing on stage. Instead I longed for those weekly living-room sessions , the clubhouse garage with its twinkle lights, Maritime food potlucks in Sol’s kitchen, Park Lake pickin’ parties. Eventually I stopped going to sessions entirely, let comics take up all my spare time. My poor little mando got relegated to the back of the coat closet, and barely saw the light of day for ten years. Once in a great while I’d feel a wave of guilt and nostalgia, pull it out and tune it up, but like most well-intended attempts to start new habits, my practice never lasted long enough to build up calluses.

Dirk and Emily stopped by one night on their way from Missouri back through to Boston. Dirk didn’t have his fiddle, so he pulled out the mando and restrung her, and we had a few simple tunes in the living room, round and round fifteen times through the Hole in the Hedge. I felt a surge of restorative love for the music, but once they left, the mandolin went back into the closet, buried under sports and work and family obligations and everything else.

And then a few weeks ago, I faced down a series of major changes, and realized that I was going to need some distractions to keep me occupied while I figured out the new direction my life was heading. I needed things that I could pick up and put down without a ton of commitment, to keep my hands and mind from settling into old patterns of overthinking and overdoing. Apropos of nothing, I realized I could bring the mando out of hiding and see if I could make it stick this time.

One of the best things I got out of the last few years playing sports was a better understanding of how to pick up new skills without beating myself up in the process – after a lifetime of only doing things that came easy, and feeling frustrated and humiliated when I tried anything remotely challenging, I finally learned how to learn. I’ve taught myself some pretty scary and difficult things lately, and getting over my and feelings of inadequacy around an instrument seemed pretty simple by comparison, so I pulled out the mando, tuned her up, and went looking for a teacher.

In the twelve years since the mando went into the closet, online music instruction finally became viable, and it turns out there are a bunch of really good teachers out there. Having beginner-level videos to repeatedly scrutinize gets me past the insecurity of asking the hundred stupid questions I was too embarrassed to bother a real musician with – how do you hold your left thumb on an A chord? How do you grip the pick? Can you record that strum pattern for me? – and I can play along with a backing track as often as I want without annoying anyone but the cats. I found an entire Music Theory 101 course online from Yale, and hearing the prof walk through the basics has been a huge help: chord progressions no longer seem like a mysterious art.

I didn’t want to post anything sooner than this because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep it up past two weeks; I never could before. But here I am at the end of my second month, and I’ve got about six reliable chords and two I-IV-V progressions, so yay me. I’m not reliable with tunes yet, but the process of practicing actually feels good enough to keep me coming back, poking at it for a half-hour here, an hour there. My mandolin is a pretty amazing reminder of how many times my life has been blessed by good friends, and how I’ve progressed these last few months. It’d be a shame to put her back in the closet again.

Inktober Day Twenty-Nine: Surprise

A quick sketch of Jaeger, as a surprise for Carla, who’s been on an inking marathon these last couple days.

Inktober Day Twenty-Seven: Creepy

Earlier this week I asked Facebook for suggestions for one of my Inktober drawings, and good old comix buddy Tom Beland chimed in with the photo below saying, and I quote:

Paint me like one of your French lovahhhhhhs

I told him that today’s prompt was “Creepy” and he said

you say that like I should be insulted

So here y’go: Tom Beland in the style of Tom Beland. Which isn’t that creepy at all, really.

But you know what is creepy? THE FACT THAT WE’VE KNOWN EACH OTHER FOR FIFTEEN YEARS. When the hell’d we get so old, Tom?

The one and only Tom Beland

Inktober Day Twenty-Six: Box

I posted a request on Facebook for a picture of a cat in a box, and within a half-hour I had six. Naomi Kritzer responded first, so it was her cat Cassandra Fluffypants that got drawn, which is totally fitting because her short story Cat Pictures, Please won a freaking Hugo Award this year.


Smokies trip, six months old

Way back in April, I had the opportunity to visit South Carolina, and since it was my first roadtrip to the South, I decided to make the most of it. After getting business out of the way in Columbia, I drove north to Durham, NC to visit my dear old buddy Virus and his wife Andrea. For two days they escorted me through all the best that Raleigh-Durham has to offer: the Duke botanical gardens:

Dame’s Chicken and waffles:

The local ballpark (alas, no game!):

The Durham bull (strong like bull!):

I had a fantastic time, and I loved every minute in Durham. The restaurants are amazing, and there’s so much going on; I can see why folks love the area so much.

After my stay with Matthew and Andrea, I started the next leg of my journey and picked up my buddy Sumana, who had taken the train down from New York City to join me in some hiking at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I tried AirBNB for the first time and was very pleased with the accommodations: the cabin where we stayed had a porch that overlooked a wide, ferny creek, and I got to spend the post-hiking evenings reclining in a slat-backed rocking chair, reading comic books and listening to the water rushing over moss-covered rocks. Heaven.

We hiked two trails up different sides of Mount LeConte, Alum Cave (which was due to close for repairs the following day, so we lucked out!) and Rainbow Falls, both of which were spectacular and left me craving more. I’m hoping to return here one day to hike the mountain again and stay overnight at the LeConte Lodge, which sounds like an absolute perfect vacation for me. Plus, llamas.

After dropping Sumana back in Asheville with a friend for lunch, I headed home, narrowly missing a distillery tour in Bardstown. Ah well, all the more reason to return soon! I made up for the loss by picking up some fantastic bourbon at the less-than-picturesque Liquor Barn, then treated myself to an excellent Cajun meal in Lexington before driving the final leg home, Art Bell keeping me awake all the way.

I used to hate long drives, but this turned out to be a really fun time, and I think I’ll do more in the future.

A whole ten years in the making, SPQR Blues is finally being collected in graphic-novel format — as long as we can all help fund Carol Burrell’s Kickstarter, that is!

If you haven’t already read the comic (get started here!), here’s a bit about the story:

SPQR Blues is set in ancient Rome in the years leading up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I (aka Klio) began the webcomic ten years ago as part of relearning to draw after recovering from repetitive stress and nerve injury.

Ordinary guys need epics too: Rather than the more typical Roman epic about gladiators and orgies and imperial assassinations (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it’s about the lives of ordinary people in the city of Herculaneum, Pompeii’s less famous neighbour–though there are the occasional murders, mysteries, banquets, and battles. Many of the characters are based on people who really lived in the town. Our hero Marcus Antonius Felix, the self-described descendent of a slave of the much more famous Marcus Antonius, arrives jobless, homeless, and missing his clothing, but carrying a lot of secrets. The first job he gets (after putting on some clothes) is as bodyguard for a wealthy teenage girl in danger, Petronia Iusta.

Subsequently: intrigue, murders, flashbacks, goddesses, star-crossed lovers, ursine intervention, more misplacement of clothing, heroic accountants, gambling, slave-dealing, swords, sandals, earthquakes, seven emperors, and a jug of wine.

On top of being a fantastic artist, writer, and editor, Carol’s an all-round super person. Please take a second and have a look at her comic, and if you’re able, make a pledge!

Art weekend

Every year for the last 20 years, Paul’s boss has led a weekend workshop for her Design Center students, where they go to the Lake Michigan shore, far out of reach of the internet and cellphones, and study the world around them, bringing what they observe into the art they create. This year, Trish decided to get some of her graduates together for a similar retreat, and Paul and I were lucky enough to be invited along.

We went to the beach near South Haven and drew textures made by the lake, melted graphite sticks with mineral spirits to create a viscous, creamy slurry that could swirl or tear, used palette knives to coat glass with thick paint so we could pull prints. We dabbled with spraypaint and blue photosensitive paper, read art books, made communal meals. The focus was on experimentation and observation, of play and practice without pressure. It was wonderful.

My favorite project was when one of the art professors brought out a dozen cigar-box pinhole cameras and turned us loose at a local antique shop. The light was iffy at times, so we tried exposures of varying length, and returned a second time for more images. The professor had stuffed a towel under the bathroom door and turned it into a darkroom, where we learned to load the cameras and develop the photos. This was a really great experience for me, as I’d never had the chance to take photography in college, and I was very pleased with the results I got. Watching the images appear in the developer was magical for me — I’m pretty sure I exclaimed aloud each time I saw one darken into something recognizable.

I’m very fortunate that I got the chance to try so many new techniques and play with so many new tools this weekend. I didn’t realize how much I needed that chance to experiment and explore — It shocked me how much I missed that feeling of pressureless creation.

Anyway, here are the photos, original first, then developed — I like seeing them side by side. Enjoy! I know I do.

Test photo of me, taken in bright light to test focal length


My first photo — a pair of old rollerskates on a table next to a small outbuilding. Bright light, 30 second exposure.


My second try — old doors for sale. Weak light, 3-minute exposure, very quick dip in the developer to keep it from overexposing.


Whoops, got the camera too close while checking focal length. Still kind of neat.


Two portraits taken of me — long exposures just before sunset.


Such a long exposure that my breathing blurred my form.



Closeups of my favorites


Comfort and Adam’s How-To Book is Here!

It’s here! Adam Withers’ and Comfort Love’s Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics is now on sale!

Available online and at finer book and comic shops everywhere, it’s the most comprehensive book on making comics, manga, and webcomics you’ll find! Our oversized mega-chapters include: Concepting, Writing, Drawing, Coloring, Lettering, Publishing, and Marketing! Everything you need to know to make your book a reality!

Plus there are sidebars from more than 70 of the best and smartest comics/manga/webcomics pros out there, so you don’t have to take our word for it.

… or mine, for that matter. Check out these reviews from Bleeding Cool and Comic Related. Paul brought our copy home from the Local Comic Store, and it’s even more gorgeous than I’d hoped.

Thanks again, Adam and Comfort, for including us in this amazing project. I’m so glad to still be part of comics self-publishing.

How to build a rhino

So you guys remember my buddy Mark, right? The guy who helped his daughters send up a stratoballoon? Who does a kid-science video podcast? The guy who’s been my cubemate since 2008?

Well, last week I heard that he’d tried to build a robot kit with his daughter Lucy, and, well — it didn’t actually robot well. A non-functional robot isn’t good incentive to keep building stuff, so I decided to get him and his daughters a kit that actually worked. Enter the Strandbeest Rhino kit from ThinkGeek.

What’s a Strandbeest? It’s a wind-powered kinetic sculpture invented by Theo Jansen, and it’s totally awesome:

True to form, Mark made a great blogpost outlining the build. He, Lucy and Katherine got the Beest built in pretty short order, and got inventive when it required a bit more windpower:

Now that’s better. And also: SCIENCE!

Rob Chamberlin: Serendipity.

There’s an outstanding profile of my neighbor and friend Rob Chamberlin in this month’s Encore magazine. His life is exactly as magical as they describe it, and every meal or conversation I have with him and his wife Suzanne is remarkable. Rob’s a heck of a guy, and one of the things I admire most about him is that he leaves his life open for miracles and mysteries, and they find him with unerring timing. Check out the article here.

And the balloon comes down!

Here’s Mark’s initial report on the Stratoballoon launch:

The launch of the balloon went off as well as can be expected. The deployment steps I was most worried about – filling and securing the balloon, and stringing all of the components together – went just fine.

The liftoff similarly went very well. We released the components one at a time to prevent any sudden jerks on the line, and then had a countdown when it came to the capsule itself. The girls jointly released that piece. We had very little wind, and a bright, clear sky when we released, so we were able to watch it ascend until it was just a pin-prick – about 2000 feet. We even had a small audience to watch it go up!

Read the rest here — and stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion when I’m back from Wizard World!

The balloon goes up!

A little over a year ago, I posted a signal boost on the JanerBlog about my coworker, Mark and his daughter Katherine, who were working on building and launching a stratoballoon.

As the launch date approached, Mark informed me that the test pilot had been selected: Rainbow Dash. Now, My Little Ponies being a favorite of mine when *I* was a kid, there was only one thing to do: Make an aviator outfit for Dash so she could ride outside the capsule like a boss:

Fast-forward another few weeks to today, and the balloon is ready to launch! Mark’s amazing wife CJ cut a bunch of press releases to the local media, and the results are equally awesome: two local TV stations came out to the house for interviews. Here’s the first:

The launch as been delayed a day thanks to the first thunderstorms we’ve had in two weeks (shakes fist at sky) but a launch date of tomorrow means that I can still be their water-rescue crew in case the capsule splashes down in a lake rather than on land.

If you’re as interested in the SCIENCE! as I am, Mark’s written a fantastic series of informative blog posts about the process of building all the components, purchasing the weather balloon, prepping the capsule — even dyeing the parachute a bright orange for better chances of recovery. Check it out, and check back in a few days for more pictures and reports from the stratosphere!

Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis have a new book — er, webcomic? — out!

Hooray, hooray! Fire up a new browser window, because Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis have a new book out! It’s the story of Alan Turing’s life, and as you may be able to guess from standing next to me for five minutes, I’m kind of nerdy about history, especially the kind of true story that involves a brilliant, driven man who helped break the Nazi code during World War II:

Our world is one of computers and secure communications, and Turing’s work is at the heart of both. He was an eccentric genius, an Olympic-class runner, a witty and clear communicator about complicated ideas, and open and honest to a fault. The secret he kept to safeguard his country could have saved him; the secret he refused to keep to save himself meant his destruction at the hands of that same country.”

At the moment, it’s serializing on, and will update daily for its entirety.

What’re you waiting for? Go read!

Two fine vendors at TeslaCon

Hey, are you in Wisconsin? Are you into Steampunk? Are you going to TeslaCon?

My buddy Jeff Berndt and his friends have a new Steampunk-themed candy-selling venture called Sweet Steam.They’ll be selling their chocolatey wares at TeslaCon this weekend, as will my other buddy Rollande Krandall with her Singing Lemur Jewelry.

If you’re in the area, you should check them out!

Final Clockwork Game post

Thanks for reading, everyone. It’s meant so much to know so many folks were pulling for me to finish this story. The final Signal Boost of the Week goes to all of you. Thank you, every last one of you.

As I mention over on the site itself:

Work is progressing well on the print edition: the InDesign file is complete and is out with my editors, the foreword is being written by the award-winning Nisi Shawl, and with luck, I should have a Kickstarter up soon. I have an estimate from my printer, have spoken with my Diamond rep, and my hope is to have physical copies in hand by Christmas.

If you’d like to be notified of the Kickstarter, Clockwork Game‘s appearance in PREVIEWS and of any upcoming convention appearances I might make next year, please sign up for the Clockwork Game Newsletter. I won’t share your email with anyone, and won’t send you more than about three updates a year.

Thanks again for being such great readers, and for all your support over the years.

Clockwork Game Update: 8/29/13

Two pages left.

The Signal Boost of the Week goes to T.S. Lamb, who recently illustrated four (!) books from Pie Plate Publishing! Her three newest titles are educational books about Paganism for young children: What is Magic?, What are the Elements?, and Who is a Witch? Congratulations, Tiff! Way to go!

Clockwork Game Update: 5/23/13

The Signal Boost of the Week goes to Dan Kastner, founder of 1977 Mopeds and co-founder of the Moped Army, who has recently started a small-business incubator here in Kalamazoo:

“Right now we’re in absolute renovation mode, the building was ruined,” Kastner said. “We’re doing it all ourselves. Our office upstairs is wrapped up and the rest of the renovations should be finished in two months. We’ll have two buildings, and the field behind will eventually be set up for community events.”

The first floor of the building will be a machine shop for each business to utilize for prototype models, small-scale manufacturing and repairs. The second story of the building is multi-use office space with hardwood floors, couches and computer tables.

A screen printing station is sectioned off in one corner of the office space, which is made distinct by flooring made of recycled and plastered real estate signs. A full-use kitchen will eventually be installed to be used for Emily’s food blog.

Connected to the building is the shell of what will be a finished warehouse, intended to store some 3,100 retail parts sold at 1977 Mopeds and possibly as a moped showroom, that will be accessible through a garage door.

The crew decided to call the incubator “The Reality Factory,” Kastner said, after finding another site perfect for the incubating business environment they envisioned, which they coined “The Fantasy Factory.” However, the site was entirely out of their financial reach.

“We had to settle for reality,” said Kastner, with a laugh.

You may remember me mentioning Dan’s equally-talented wife Emily here in a previous signal boost. I’m so lucky to have such amazing neighbors.

Clockwork Game Update: 4/4/13

The Signal Boost of the Week goes to my coworker Mark Gilbert, who is doing a most seriously awesome kid-science podcast with his ten-year-old daughter, Katherine. Mark and Katherine started off with the kind of experiments you’d expect for a grade-school science geek: the good old rubber eggshell trick, some Coffee Filter Chromatography, that sort of thing. But then Mark upped the ante, bigtime.

He came into the office one morning and showed me this mindblowing video of a guy who sent his son’s Thomas the Tank Engine toy into outer space, and announced that he was not only going to try the same experiment — but that he and Katherine were going to do the project together and add it to their science podcast. How great is that? Katherine gets hands-on experience, learning everything from how GPS works to how to fit LEDs to a breadboard and then write code to control them on an Arduino microcontroller. Katherine even got to interview candidates for the stratonaut position.

Mark’s got several sensors planned for the unit, and if everything goes right, it’ll collect all sorts of data, including pressure, temperature, altitude, and positioning and export them to an SD card for later use. Can you say best science-fair project ever? I’m getting all giddy just thinking how pretty the graphs are going to be. Data is so beautiful, you guys.

I even get to be a member of the mission team — in the event that the unit hits a lake on its return to Earth, Mark’s asked me and my kayak to be the water rescue patrol. I’m so geeked to be part of this project — especially since it teaches a kid something from every single STEM field. Stay tuned to the Mark of Quality blog for more updates!

Clockwork Game Update: 11/1/12

Signal boost of the week goes to Layla Lawlor, who — at long last — has her Freebird comic collected in book format!

It’s 52 pages, and retails for $12 US. It collects all of the Freebird strips from 2006-2008, the ones that ran in the now-defunct Fairbanks entertainment paper fbx square plus the online ones that I did after square died. There are also new strips (bringing the story to the conclusion that it was originally supposed to have) and two backup stories, plus extra sketches and previously unseen strips from the development process.

Buy your copy from Amazon, or Layla’s own online store — unfortunately, this is one of the few times you can’t buy an indie comic from your local comics store, unless you live in Fairbanks, Alaska and can visit The Comic Shop there.

Congrats, Layla!

Pam Noles could use some love

Pam Noles, who I have mentioned here many times before, received death threats earlier this week regarding her essays on Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil’s Black Dossier. Judging by her response, this isn’t even the first time it’s happened. It goes without saying that this kind of behavior should be condemned, and it’s the literal least I can do to speak out in support of someone who’s doing good work and getting threatened for it. Kudos to you, Pam, for standing your ground in the face of horrible people, and I’m so sorry that you have had this shit visited on you. Be safe, be as well as you can, call in support if you need it.

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