I draw things as illustrations to stories. Take, for example, the protagonist and hero of Catch a Falling Star.
Dorin Dobbs is boy from Iowa. That tells you some terrible things about him right there.
He was ten in 1990.
He hated girls.
He met some pretty green-skinned girls from outer space, amphibianoid frog-girls with fins on their heads. He danced with them to Mickey Mouse Club music while he was their prisoner on a sectet base on the planet Mars. They were dancing naked in the nutrient bath that all Telleron tadpoles use daily.
Brekka and Menolly are two of the Telleron frog girls with fins on their heads. They love Earth music in the 1990’s. They are background characters in Catch a Falling Star. They are main characters in the book Stardusters and Space Lizards, where they help Davalon and Tanith to conquer the dying planet of Galtorr Prime after the Telleron invasion of Earth failed in the previous book.
Galtorr Prime is undergoing drastic climate change and environmental collapse and ends up being saved by superior Telleron technology and the lizard-girl heroine, Sizzahl, who has a plan for fixing the atmosphere and saving fundamental eco-systems. Of course, this is all science fiction-y stuff based entirely on fantasy and imagination and has nothing to do with the real world we now live in.
Of course, not all characters I illustrate are people or aliens.
Millis, Tommy Bircher’s pet rabbit, is an ordinary albino bunny who eats a piece of alien technology that evolves him into a talking, walking-on-two-legs, near-human form.
He becomes the chef (who cooks only vegetable dishes) for Norwall, Iowa’s own mad scientist, Orben Wallace, in the book The Bicycle-Wheel Genius.
I think I have now given out far more spoilers for stories than I have any right to do. But the thing about character illustrations is that your get to know the characters at a glance. And to know them is to love them.
While visiting in Iowa, I ran into an old high school friend at a local eatery. I remember how in high school and junior high, I played basketball on the same team with him, I listened to his exaggerations about a probably non-existent sex life, and helped him on one or two occasions to get answers on Math homework (even then the teacher in me wouldn’t let me just give him the answers, I always made him work out the answers step by step).
Now he is a judgmental and basically crabby old coot. He is a Trump supporter, hater of immigrants who take American jobs, and an unpleasant arguer of politics. And the sorest point about his intractable coot-i-ness is the fact that, as a classmate, he is the same age as me and I am, therefore, just as intractably coot-y as he is.
So, how exactly do you talk to a mean old coot?
Well, you have to begin by realizing that it is not like the dialogue in a novel or TV show. This is a real person I was talking to. So, I had to proceed by accepting that he thinks I am an idiot and anything I say and think is wrong. Not merely wrong, but “That’s un-American and will lead to a communist takeover of our beloved country!” sort of wrong. I can then laugh off numerous Neo-Nazi assertions by him, make snarky comments about his praises for the criminal president, and generally get along with him like old friends almost always do. I play my part just as furiously as he plays his, and we both enjoy the heck out of it.
We are both of us crazy old coots, likely to say just about anything to get the other one’s goat. Getting goats is apparently vital to the conversations of real people. But we have more in common than we have as differences. We don’t keep score in our world-shaking debates, nor do we count how many goats we get. And that is how you talk to real people.
Old Missus Rubelmacher was most definitely a witch in Valerie’s estimation. Miss Rubelmacher had been teaching Science forever at Belle City. She taught it in both the Elementary and the Junior High. Valerie had the extreme bad luck to have her for the one and only fifth-grade class she taught. And single old maid teachers who taught Science were definitely witches when they made you learn the scientific names of ten butterflies and recite them by memory. Ten Lepidoptera! Who in their right minds was ever going to need to know that a Danaus Plexippus was a Monarch Butterfly? She ought to get an F on purpose just to let the old witch know how stupid that was. Homework on a holiday weekend on top of it all.
But Valerie always made A’s in Science. That wasn’t about to change.
Still, after hating the old witch all the way home on Milo’s bus, she rode on into town with Danny Murphy. Milo, the crotchety old bus driver, never seemed to mind carrying her on into town when he stopped at the end of her family’s lane… as long as she told him she was going with Danny. Milo probably thought she was Danny’s girlfriend, the way he always smirked when she told him about going into town. But that was no never-mind… She had no interest in Danny as a boy. Only as a friend. Only as the one person in the world that she could really tell secrets to because she had seen him naked and could embarrass him royally if he ever told anyone else.
“Why are you coming into town today, Val?” Danny asked. They were sharing a seat in the middle of the
bus, as they often did. Val waited until
they were both off the bus to answer.
They walked past the Post Office together.
“Well, I’m a Norwall Pirate, now. I have responsibilities. We are going to try to get Billy Martin into
the gang, right?”
“Yeah. Billy needs
some friends. He has a sorta tough
Church ladies were always tutting their tongues about the horrible,
sinful Martin family. Victor Martin, the
head of the family, owned the bar that was once the Uptown Café in the middle
of Norwall’s Main Street. Sinful things happened there. There was drinking beer, playing pool, a lot
of bad language, drinking beer, women who couldn’t be trusted around other
peoples’ husbands, and did drinking beer come up already? In the middle of it all was a long-haired,
mostly unwashed boy who was made of spindly sticks and always looked like a
lost puppy that someone had recently kicked.
Billy was the son of Richard Martin, the extra-lazy brother of
Victor. The sister of the two Martin
brothers, Kelly Martin, was the closest thing that Billy had to a mother in the
house, though Valerie was pretty sure that she was not the boy’s real mother.
“We need to do some research about Billy,” Val said like an
expert. “We need to find out more about
him. He doesn’t talk to you much, does
“I don’t think he talks much to anybody.”
“How do we ask him to be a Pirate, then?” Valerie asked.
“You go right up to him, introduce yourself politely, and
just ask,” said a grating voice from behind Valerie. The girl immediately turned to catch the
amused glint in the glittering eyes of the dreaded Mazie Haire.
“You were listening to our conversation?” Valerie asked as a
sort of justified accusation.
“Of course I was,” said the gray-haired, gimlet-eyed
hag. Truth be told, Valerie was deathly
afraid of the old Haire woman. She was
as scary as Dracula’s coffin on Halloween.
Of course, everyone had her pegged as a real witch… a thing that Mazie Haire took no trouble to deny.
“What business is it of yours?”
The old woman bored holes in both kids’ souls with her
eyes. She was a scary and formidable
“I am an old woman who doesn’t tell lies. I have a lot of knowing. I see things, and I don’t forget. This boy you are talking about does indeed
need your help. But it’s not for the
reasons you think. You need to forget
about these stupid little kids’ games you and these other little Pirates keep
playing. You need to actually see what
you are looking at.”
Valerie was completely at a loss for what to say. She just nodded at the old crone stupidly,
like she agreed to whatever was being asked of her.
Apparently that satisfied old witch Mazie Haire. She nodded.
Smiled a tight-lipped and thoroughly scary smile, and walked away.
“What was that about?” Valerie asked Danny.
“She’s mysterious,” Danny said. “It is hard to know what she is really up
to. They say she spends most of her
waking hours in the attic room of that gingerbread house of hers and looks out
the window at us all through her little telescope. She watches people. She creeps me out.”
“Do you suppose she’s right about just going up to Billy and introducing ourselves… and say what we want?”
“Well… she has a good point about the direct approach… but
she’s a witch, you know. Do you really
want to do what a witch wants?
Especially if she’s a wicked witch.
Do you want to do what a wicked witch wants?”
Valerie grinned at her awkward, silly-sounding friend. “What a
witch wants? You sound silly when
you say that.”
Describing the feeling of entering the Ghost House for the
first time would prove quite difficult for Valerie when she tried to do it later
on in Miss Bierstadt’s class for an English essay assignment. But at the moment she crawled through the
Tunnel of Doom, she would’ve described it as a feeling in her belly like eating
a bowl of iced earthworms and trying to find a place to throw up in a jungle
full of man-eating plants that smelled an awful lot like marigolds or
something. It was that kind of
combination of anticipation, bad smells, icky things to see and touch, and the sensory
deprivation of entering a candle-lit darkness from the bright September world
“Welcome, Miss Valerie Clarke,” said freshman football hero
and huge Polish hunk Pidney Breslow.
Valerie was deeply in love with the square-shouldered giant, and
sincerely hoped he would be the leader of this Pirate club.
“Hello,” she said, almost timidly.
“You are just in time for the first official meeting of the
reforming Norwall Pirates’ Club,” said Mary Philips brightly. Mary had extended the official invitation to
Valerie to come here, although Val didn’t really know why. Mary had said that she didn’t want to be the
only girl in the club, but why would a girl like Mary want to be in a boys’
club? She had a bad feeling that the
high school freshman girl also had her cap set for winning Pidney as a
boyfriend. But, plain-looking as Mary
was, Val was only mildly concerned.
A quick look around as Danny Murphy crawled in after her
revealed the other boys in attendance at the secret meeting. Ray Zeffer, another high school freshman was
there. He was kinda handsome in a way,
too, but he was always so sad-looking with those big puppy-dog brown eyes of
his. He had a neatly combed mess of jet
black hair too, which was also attractive.
Val could easily learn to like this club.
The other boy, a high school junior, was kinda creepy. His name was Conrad Doble. He was the only one at the meeting who had
been a member of the original Norwall Pirates.
He was tall and thin, with lank blond hair that hadn’t had a haircut in
too long. He had a distinct problem with
facial Acne. And he insisted on leering
at Valerie, like he wanted to take a bite or two and eat her up. For the first time Val understood why he had
the semi-Shakespearian nickname of King Leer.
“You know that re-forming the Pirates is a sucky idea,
right?” said Doble, leering at Mary Philips for the moment. “There’s no way to go back to those
things. Milt Morgan had all the ideas
and told us what to do. Brent Clarke was
the leader and made the ideas happen.
How are we gonna fight werewolves or undead Chinese wizards without them?”
“You know that those adventures were mostly lies and fairy
tales,” Mary said.
“Still, who will be the wizard? And who will be the leader?” Doble glared at Mary accusingly. “I actually saw the werewolf!”
The two older boys, Ray and Pidney looked at each other
“Re-forming the Pirates was my idea,” said Mary. “I think I should be the leader.”
“A girl as leader?” asked Doble. “We only used to let girls in for sex
“Be careful what you say to Mary, Goon,” said Pidney.
“Or what? You’ll beat
me up with your football muscles?”
“No,” said Ray. “The
two of us will beat the crap out of you.”
The fire flashing in Ray Zeffer’s eyes was even more intimidating than
Pidney’s football muscles, and Pidney’s football muscles were seriously huge.
“Yeah, well… I guess
there might be benefits to having girls in the Pirates,” grumbled Doble
“So, it’s settled.
The Norwall Pirates exist once more,” said Mary with a sparkly
smile. “I will be the leader and Pidney
will be second in command.”
“Who is the wizard?” growled Doble. “Milt is the hard one to replace.”
“I get that you always thought of Milt Morgan as Merlin and
Brent Clarke as his King Arthur,” said Mary, “but do we really need a wizard?”
“Yeah, I think we do,” insisted Doble.
“You know we don’t have to let you be a Pirate this time,”
“I’m the only real
Norwall Pirate here,” said Doble imperially.
“You have to have my permission to even do this.”
“It’s all right,” said Mary.
“What is it you think we need a wizard for?”
Conrad Doble stood up to his full height and lightly bonked
his head on a cellar rafter. After he
rubbed his somewhat flattened head of hair, he went over to a nearby cabinet,
and removed the right hand door which basically fell out when you touched
it. He reached in and brought out a
large peanut-butter jar filled with formaldehyde. Floating in it was the severed head of a huge
black cat, its dead eyes popped and staring.
He placed that on the crate in front of the old couch.
“Gack! What’s that?”
“The secret mystical symbol of the Pirate leader,” said
“Smart girl,” said Conrad Doble. “If you know that, then surely you know what
a wizard is for.”
“I’m guessing the keeper of secrets,” said Mary.
“The teller of stories!” Valerie blurted out.
“Yes!” said Doble.
“Both of those things. But
story-teller most of all. That’s what
Milt used to do. He told us stories and
made us believe in stuff.”
“So, who here is a story-teller?” asked Ray Zeffer.
“Tell us the story of your Uncle Noah,” Pidney said to Mary.
“He is NOT my uncle,” said Mary. “He’s just Dad’s friend. I used to call him uncle when I was little.”
“But that’s the idea, isn’t it?” asked Pidney. “That story you were telling me about your
dad’s friend on the freighter in the South Seas? You could tell us that.”
“Maybe. You have to
give me time to pull it all together. I
think we need to leave that position open for the moment, to give others here a
chance to tell a story of their
own.” Mary glared in Conrad’s direction for a change.
“Okay,” said Doble.
“It’s a deal.”
“Who will be in the club?” asked Pidney.
“I invited everyone here to be a Pirate,” said Mary. “I think all of us need to be here. The Norwall Pirates used to be a group of
friends that supported each other and helped each other through hard times. That’s what we all need again. Especially Ray.”
Ray Zeffer blushed and looked off into the darkness of the
far corner of the cellar. Valerie
wondered why. She decided she would find
“Why didn’t you invite Billy Martin?” asked Danny
Murphy. “He needs to be a Pirate too.”
“You are right,” said Mary with a smile. “But I didn’t know where to find him or how
to get the message to him. Inviting him
can be our first club project.”
“Club project? You
make it sound all girly!” complained Doble.
So it was decided. Valerie Clarke was now the second girl ever to be a Norwall Pirate. She smiled to herself, but when she caught Doble looking at her again, she changed the smile for a frown.
Valerie was on her skateboard on Main Street. She was thrashing. It didn’t matter how dangerous Daddy said it
could be. She was a thrasher, and she
knew how to ride. If he thought he could
forbid her from doing it, well, that was just so boofoo! No.
She couldn’t use that
word. Not after Danny Murphy told her
what it actually meant. Yeesh! Okay, un-cool, then.
She was ten. She was wearing her latex biker shorts. You know, the ones Mom forbid her to wear because they were skin tight. But why did it matter so much? It was not like she actually had a butt to show off. She could ride her skateboard naked and no one would really notice. She did an ollie off the edge of the sidewalk and onto the hot pavement. Summer was ending, but the last day of the Labor Day weekend was still hot. Iowa hot. Eighty degrees in the sun with warm, humid air that boiled you right out of your biker shorts sort of hot. But Valerie wasn’t ready to find out if it was true that no one would notice. She needed to keep them on. They were black with a purple slash of color on the sides. Her favorite thing to wear.
Across the asphalt street her wheels and trucks buzzed as
she rode to the south side of Main Street.
It was a small Iowa farm town.
Only maybe four cars were parked there at any one time, and no one was
on the street but her. Still, she wished
she could burn her way across right in front of someone’s moving pickup truck
and scare them into dropping a bale of hay or two. No one marked her passing by in one of the
most boring places in the whole Mr. Boofoo Universe. No.
The Mr. Un-Cool Universe. She had to remember not to say that other
thing anymore. Especially in front of
Mom, even if Mom didn’t have a clue what it really meant.
She was headed for the Ghost House on the south eastern edge
of town. The Ghost House was the only
remaining haunted house in Norwall, Iowa, and it had collapsed in on itself.
It was more a pile of broken boards and garbage than a house, but it was
the place where she was headed because, unknown to most of the adults in town,
the Ghost House still had a functioning cellar, shored up with railroad ties by
her cousin Brent Clarke and the rest of the original Norwall Pirates. The Pirates had been a secret club in the
1970’s, a secret that nearly everyone knew at least one thing about. They had been a liars’ club of young boys who
supposedly caught a werewolf once and chased an undead Chinese wizard around
town. Liars’ club was more than just a
local nickname for it. It was more of a
literal definition. But she had been
called to attend a secret Pirate meeting.
A meeting that shouldn’t exist because there had been no Norwall Pirates
since they had graduated high school in 1978.
Mom would have a fit if she knew Valerie was headed to the
Ghost House. It was the kind of run-down
rattle-trap that all mothers worried about.
No decent mother worthy of her official Mom-card would stand for a child
of theirs going to such a place, especially not Val’s Mom, the Queen of
She thrashed her way down Whitten Avenue and then around the
corner, zigzagging for two blocks, and then passing Ugly Bill’s Junkyard to the
huge pile of broken crap that had been described to her as being the actual
She came to a stop, kicked up her board and grabbed it, and
looked around, not quite as certain now as she pondered a wilderness of junk,
thistles, and burdock leaves. Ugly Bill
Pixeley had tons of used car parts and wrecked truck parts from which he
salvaged the pieces that he, his brother, and his two idiot sons put together
as trucks and other vehicles which he then sold at a huge profit. Pixeley was a talented mechanic and a very
crafty self-taught engineer.
“You here for the Pirate meeting?” asked Danny Murphy,
pulling up on his bicycle.
“Yeah,” she answered, popping her Bazooka Joe bubble
gum. “Mary Philips says it ain’t just
gonna be for boys anymore.”
“Yeah. I heard that
too. And I’m glad you’re gonna be a Pirate,”
Danny said with a sly grin. He was a
sophisticated man of twelve… well, not really… but he was a boy older than
Valerie by an entire school year, though only about five months in age. Older boys being in the club was one of the
main attractions for her. “It will be
cool to have the most beautiful little girl ever born in Norwall in our club.”
Valerie blushed and dropped her eyes a little bit at
that. Her Uncle Dash had always said
that about her since she could remember.
But it was one thing to hear it from family, and something else to hear
it from somebody she rode the school bus with.
Some things get around by word of mouth a lot faster and farther than
you ever wish they would.
“Do you know how to get inside?” Valerie asked.
“I can show you a secret entrance … for a kiss?” Danny blushed intensely as he proposed the
bargain, a truly dark red that can only be achieved by somebody as
boney-skinny, white-skinned Irish, and shy of girls as Danny Murphy was.
“Boys who think like that all grow up to be rapists,” Val
shot back at him. “That’s what my Aunt
Jennifer says, anyway.”
Danny turned an even darker shade of red-violet. Valerie was suddenly feeling guilty, as if
she might possibly have caused his head to explode from embarrassment by her
cutting remark about his personal urges.
She didn’t dislike him. She just
didn’t want to kiss him.
“Aw, I didn’t mean anything by that. I’ll show you the Tunnel of Doom.”
Danny pointed to a large concrete drainage tile that had been rolled up against the side of the Ghost House’s foundation. She could see that if you crawled through the tile, you could enter through a large crack in the brick foundation. Spiders and potentially snakes to crawl through. Ughh! But Valerie was no Shrinking Violet. She pushed Danny out of the way and went in.
As I continue to draw nearer to publishing my comic horror novel, The Baby Werewolf, busily polishing paragraphs and tweaking the format, I had to find time to do some drawing, some colored pencil cartooning, actually, in order to draw even closer to a comprehensive understanding of the title character, Torrie Brownfield.
I decided that what I wanted to draw was a full-bodied portrait of Torrie, displaying in short pants the full impact of his “werewolf hair” caused by his full-body hypertrichosis syndrome, a genetic hair-growth disorder.
So, I began by printing out a reduced version of the scan of Torrie’s face and shoulders that I created from the drawing I made of him back when the story itself was merely in outline form. I pasted that colored print onto a larger piece of drawing paper and first penciled and then inked the rest of his body. I then used my colored pencils to go all Crayola on the bulk of it, ending up with the complete Torrie Brownfield, holding the one and only copy of Dr. Horation Hespar-White’s recipe book for Magical Airborne Elixir.
Now it doesn’t make sense to create an image like this for no particular reason. Was it just something I was doing to keep my hands busy while watching Netflix? Well, yes, but I did get something out of it after all. I was able to think seriously about my monster theme as heavy-handedly I continue to beat the reader over the head with it. I am obsessed with this particular portrait because, minus the facial fur, it actually looks like and reminds me of the charming little former student the character in the book is actually based on. He was a thirteen-year-old Hispanic boy, naive, innocent, and thoroughly sweet-natured. And he shared with me a history of abuse during childhood. He was not sexually abused, but psychologically and physically abused. And that, of course, led me to the revelation while drawing that the monster of my horror story is not a real werewolf. Not even the murderer who is the villain of the book. The real monster of the story is a systematic abuse of children. It can have two possible results. It can make you into a sweet-natured determined survivor like Danny was, and like Torrie is. Or it can turn you into a vengeful psychotic potential serial killer lashing out because of mental scars and lingering pain. Believe me, I knew a couple of that kind of kid too. Drawing can, in fact, lead you to revelations about yourself and the universe around you. And so, this little obsession has done that very thing for me.
So, I end with this scan of the completed artwork so you can get a better look at it than you can from my crappy photography skills. Drawing something obsessively does have its uses.
I have slowed down on revamping Aeroquest. You may have noticed, I did not spit out the next Canto yesterday. But I am still noodling around with the characters and the story. I took as my model the short chapters and many characters of Frank Herbert’s Duneseries. And since it was intended as a comedy novel along the lines of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it has a lot of ridiculous things in it that subvert the plot and the many subplots.
The story is salvageable. But I will have to do some very big changes. I need to streamline the plot. I need to cut out unnecessary characters. And I need to give more extensive development and stage time to the characters I keep.
So here is an insight into critical characters and who they are.
The Aero Brothers are the two main characters who give the book its name. They were not created by me, but, rather, by one of the high school boys who played the science fiction RPG Traveller with me back in 1985. He created both characters loosely based on Han Solo from Star Wars. Ham was a hotshot space pilot. Ged was a rogue hunter who developed the psionic power of changing his shape. He was so powerful that he could use this mind power to change not only his size and shape but also his species. The boy who created these characters was a natural born leader even though he was small for his age and often taken for granted by his fellow players in the game. So these characters both reflect his real-life personality.
Trav Dalgoda, known as “Goofy” for his weird obsessions (like the eyepatch he doesn’t actually need), is a clown character who is constantly driven by his worst impulses to move the plot forward. He doesn’t mean to betray anybody on purpose, but he is obsessed with treasure hunting and watching things blow up. He can’t help causing massive destruction on planetary scales. Tron Blastarr, the scar-faced space pirate, is a bad guy turned hero who is often on the wrong end of Goofy’s plot-moving missteps. He ends up deciding that instead of merely being a pirate leader, he needs to lead a rebellion and form a new interstellar government.
These four are the most important characters in the entire story. I cannot rewrite it without any of them. All four of them are based on real people who played the science fiction role-playing game with me in the 80’s. I will tell you more about Aeroquest characters in future posts.