There are certain things that keep me going when my connection to the mortal coil begins to chafe and itch. Apple blossoms are one of those things. The apple blossoms have bloomed in our two Texas apple trees in April of 2016. As I was raking endless live oak leaves out of my yard, making it harder for myself to breathe and continue living because I am allergic to live oak… and most of the rest of Texas to boot, I saw that the apple blossoms had burst forth from their buds. Between coughs and gasps for breathe, it made me smile. I ended the raking of endless live oak leaves after only thirty minutes and one sack of leaves. I am laboring in the face of impending doom, but I am not stupid. I needed to live to rake another day. Otherwise I’ll never get it done.
But apple blossoms are worth the heartache and pain and toil of life. They are not only something to remind me why I keep going. They are a reason for being. So I used my phone camera to take a picture of an open blossom. Then I photo-shopped in a picture of my novel character, Valerie Clarke, the character I created as an amalgam of my lovely daughter and the pretty little girl in my third grade class that I fell madly in love with when I was a little boy. Like most artists, I am quite capable of slapping beautiful things and ideas together haphazardly to make something that is either a huge pile of kitschy crap, or even more beautiful. And like most artists, I am entirely too close to the feelings and memories and realities that make up this work of art to ever know for sure which of the two things it really is. Forgive me if I chose the opposite one that you did. I try not to offend with my Paffoonies. I try not to be a creep or a bore or a Philistine… but those things are not always possible to avoid. But there are apple blossoms, and sunrises, and a number of other things as well that, in the end, balance out the equations quite nicely.
I have been working on the beginnings of the novel When the Captain Came Calling. It is not the first draft. It is the third entire re-write. I wrote this as a graphic novel before graphic novels were an established form. Then I tried to rewrite it as a traditional novel, and it is now coming into its YA novel form. But I can’t begin to explain this novel-writing project without telling you about the Clarkes. Yes, they are a very important Iowegian family who farm and are entirely fictional. (Kids, what other words do you know that begin with the letter F?) They are based, at least a tiny bit, on my own family when I was a kid, but very specific parts of it. My Uncle Larry, mother’s older brother who is now gone (but never forgotten) was the inspiration for Dash Clarke. Kyle Clarke, the father in the picture, is Dash’s younger brother… though he is not based on my other maternal uncle. The daughter in the Paffooney picture, Valerie Clarke, is based on my own daughter combined with a girl I had a crush on in grade school and a girl who had a deeply felt crush on me when I was a young teacher. The Clarkes are third generation farmers, just as my own family were back in the time this story is set. Unlike my family, the Clarkes do not come out of the 80’s with their family farms intact. What grandparents built, the sons lose hold of, and the world becomes a much sadder place because of it. The story is about a lot of things in addition to a family losing their farm. It is filled with magic, telling sea stories and other lies, and the truth behind both the magic and the lies.
I posted this today because today is the day I finished the Paffooney illustration that started the post. Here is what it looked like in progress;
Paffooneys are a made-up thing by which I name the whole great glob of artwork and stories I have created that represent the never-ending music in my soul. I am not a singer or a song-writer. The only way these tunes come to life is through the toons which I ignorantly call the Paffoons because the loons have nothing on me.
Here is a cover mock-up for the novel which shows another picture of Valerie Clarke, the most beautiful little girl ever born in Norwall, Iowa (a phrase that her Uncle Dash christened her with when she was small, and it caught on with the entire town.)
It took three days to complete. I watched a lot of TV while I was doing the drawing. So the goofiness of this Paffooney is easy to explain. I am not, however, dissatisfied.
The work on this latest Paffooney is coming along nicely. I confessed to mess-ups yesterday. Today I can show you real progress without further oopsies. The figure of Valerie Clarke is the most important part of both this illustration and my novel project. She is the single focus-character in When The Captain Came Calling. I usually vary the focus character from scene to scene in my fiction, because I have a pathological need to play around inside the heads of multiple characters. This book will be the first one I’ve written to stay inside the same head through the entire novel. The story, assuming it doesn’t totally take on a life of its own and change itself, is about how a young girl sees and evaluates the people in her life… Mom, Dad, the boy she has a crush on, the girlfriend of that boy, the goofy members of the Norwall Pirates (a 4-H softball team and liars’ club dedicated to adventure, story-telling, and being a kid while you can), weird people who live in tiny Iowa farm towns, and mysterious strangers who can somehow be invisible. It is about friendship, love, sex, and growing up. It is also about overly-protective parents and a world full of dark magic and mysterious dangers. I am trying to capture that in my Paffooney, to hopefully make it into a possible cover illustration. I intend to show you in this blog each stage in the completion of the project… the making of colored-pencil Paffoonery.
Here is the straight poop. (Wait a minute! Not poop metaphors again!) Okay, better idiomatic expression… Here is the truthful statement about work habits. (Better! But that was idiomatic not idiotic, right?) Right.
Sometimes I mess up. I am working slowly and steadily on the next story burning to be told, When the Captain Came Calling. In the illustration I am working on, you can probably see the mess-ups already. I very carefully blot my black ink pens when I am doing the pen and ink work. Even ball point pens can blot. I will admit I press entirely too hard on both ink pens and colored pencils. I break a lot of colored lead and make a lot of black pens bleed. I have arthritis in my hands and often push too hard because I am pushing back against the pain. I can sometimes use a lighter touch with the colored pencil, the area being covered may require a more lightly penciled mark and have more paper whiteness showing through. Black pen lines are never like that. To get a steady, even line, I push with pressure to get things dark and full and even. The pen that I was using had developed a leaky ball and had to be blotted with every use. When it made the first smear, I changed to a new pen. I cussed a little too. (Cussing makes it better. I learned that from Mark Twain.) But I didn’t panic and throw the drawing out. I can fix it up a bit when I add the color. But the second pen I was using was a pen I switched out earlier for bleeding. That’s how I got the second smear. Dang me! It almost ruined what I think is a very promising portrait of my main character Valerie Clarke. (Valerie, whom you may remember from Snow Babies posts, is based on a girl I once had a crush on, and my own daughter, the Princess.)
Now, ink smears are not the only thing that had to be twisted and worked around to get this project underway and at least a little bit tamed. The title was originally a problem. I tried to call this story The Captain Came because of the primary antagonist and the fact that he is returning from the South Seas to the little Iowa town of Norwall. This was a problem because Captain Dettbarn was running from a bunch of psychotic little Juju men (animated Tiki idols) who were chasing him because he made the witch doctor’s chief’s daughter pregnant. That made the title an R-rated joke that I hadn’t intended even before I considered this story a YA novel idea.
The Juju men themselves are problem. In this time of unintended racism, I had to work on them to make them be something other than a racial stereotype. They were not originally made entirely of wood. I had to eliminate cartoonist’s shortcuts in depiction that made them look like little black men or little dark brown men. They are of an indeterminate South Seas racial stock. Their language is mostly Tagalog (because it is a language I have tried to learn due to Filipino relatives). Their culture is mostly movie fiction that comes from the Captain’s own liar’s brain. Most of the information about the witch doctor and the mysterious island come from the Captain’s logbook which is a work of fiction written by a drunkard with a vivid imagination. So I am trying to be fair to a people and race that don’t actually exist outside of the story within the story. Whew! I’ve got to stop explaining complicated things now before my brain melts. Smoke is already coming out of my ears and making it hard to see here in my studio.
The picture is called “My Galatea” after the myth of Pygmalion. I drew it at a time when I was working on the Snow Babies character of Valerie Clarke. She was my creation, made up of my daughter the Princess, a girl I had a crush on in 6th grade, and a very strange part of my own psyche that is essentially female. Sometimes things come together in such a fashion that the creation becomes more real than what I know as reality. Have you ever created something that was so perfect that you fell in love with it? It is a very strange feeling. It doesn’t create happiness. It makes you feel regret that what should be real is only fantasy. It makes you feel longing for something that you know you simply cannot have. It makes you feel creepy, like you’ve done something wrong. You have stolen bits of other people’s lives and put them together, made them live in a new form, the whole Frankenstein’s monster sort of thing. The evil abides in those things that you could never foresee as problems. The torches are lit, the pitchforks come out, and chaos ensues.
Falconet’s sculpture of Pygmalion (1763)
Another celebration is in order. I have been blogging for a year and a half, a little more… And that doesn’t seem like very good progress, but the last 100 have come rather quickly. I think I am picking up momentum. Maybe somebody will get interested in reading my books.