March 24, 2013
For most of medieval literature, there were no female elves. Tolkien was criticized by fairy-genre purists for having female elves in The Lord of the Rings because it was considered redundant. To the pre-modern mind, there were men, and the mystery of the female was represented by elves and fairies. The male elves represented women, so it breaks the genre by creating female elves. It’s like making chocolate out of chocolate.
Tolkien was the master of the genre, and knew which rules he could break and which ones to uphold. But given the liberties he took with the genre, I find his use of women and elves in that epic tale fantastic. The same rules were broken by another, C.S. Lewis who had Father Christmas show up in Narnia. If Aslan is the Christ, then Father Christmas would be Father Aslanmas… but Lewis, like Tolkien was transcending his genre in the same way. They were pointing to something higher than the boundaries even of fairy tale.
This from Tolkien on the Virgin mary:
“Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded.”
To fully understand the Lord of the Rings, one must first understand that Tolkien was a devout, pre-Vatican II Catholic who faithfully attended the Latin Mass. As a Protestant, it’s difficult to view Mary like a Catholic. She is called “the Coredemptrix” which they believe tells of her unique role in participation of the redemption of man through Christ. So you’ll find elves in LOTR constantly co-redeeming mankind throughout the epic. It’s not specifically about Mary, because even in the language of story, Mary is just a conduit, to be blunt. It is the female mystique that represents the mystery of God, beauty and longing for glory.
Tolkien never publicly spoiled the spell of LOTR, he was even careful to ascribe future edits of the work to a failure in Bilbo’s memory when he put pen to paper. But in a private letter, Tolkien spills the beans:
“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion”, to cults or practices, in the Imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”
This is telling, because he protected the story’s religious elements by removing religion from within the narrative. It’s also what freed him up to make female elves… for elves no longer symbolized women, but symbolized what Mary stood for to a Catholic, a coredemptrix. Similarly, it was Dr. Michael Ward in his book Planet Narnia who explains why Father Christmas can show up in a land with Aslan, because the entire book was more about Jove or Jupiter, the Christ figure of the universe who changes winter to spring in any land, not just Narnia. There is no need to have religious characters soap boxing within a fictional narrative, because the whole story is the soap box.
In Middle Earth, like in our Earth, all of mankind is low, prone to the weaknesses of the male species. Man is proud, greedy, and cannot resist overt power. This is embodied in Boromir. Every man who is tested by The Ring fails, but Aragorn is the only one to turn it down when offered the ring by Frodo. Why? Aragorn was raised by elves. He inherited their suspicion of men, and it tormented him. The elves, or the women of fairy tale provided him the humility that made him resist the power of low men and made him the only worthy king of men. Being a ranger, he was still a man’s man, so he also embodies the humanity of Christ, triumphant on Earth.
A further symbol of the redemption of man, is that Arwen, an elf, gives up mortality to marry him. This is the Christ who marries the church. It doesn’t cost Aragorn anything, but it will force Arwen to experience death. When the beauty of the higher things redeems the lower, it injures the higher thing.
Tolkien’s view of women personally? No higher praise could be given to his wife, Edith Mary Tolkien where her tombstone read: “Luthien” while J.R.R.’s read: “Beren.” These are the elvish names for Arwen and Aragorn. After 50 years of marriage, Tolkien claimed he could still remember how Edith sang and danced while he sat on the grass, spellbound. This is also how Aragorn first meets Arwen in the Appendix of LOTR.
Legolas and Gimli
It’s a long story, but elves and dwarves are long rivals in Middle Earth. Elves are considered high while dwarves are considered low, not only in stature, but their own creator Vala Aulë offered to destroy them before they ever awoke. But the creator of all, Ilúvatar, offered to adopt them as his own with the condition that they were awaken after the Elves. That’s Jacob and Esau, but off topic for the purposes of this post.
By the beginning of The Two Towers, Legolas and Gimli have struck such a rich friendship that when Eomer the Rider of Rohan threatens to kill Gimli, Legolas points an arrow at him and says, “You would die before your stroke fell.” Gimli the low is defended by Legolas… womankind. It is Gimli who is completely smitten by Galadriel upon meeting the highest elf of all. It’s no coincidence that the highest elf is a female. At the end of the age, it is Legolas who builds a boat and brings Gimli with him to the Grey Havens (heaven).
Frodo and Arwen
When Frodo is sure to die by a mortal wound from a Morgul Blade (the weapon of the most powerful of men, the Witch King) Arwen shows up just in time to save him. (Correction: since I posted this, reader Jenni Noordhoek corrected me that it’s not Arwen who waves Frodo in the book, it’s Glorfindel who saves Frodo. But the point still stands, because it’s an elf who rescues Frodo.) When Arwen gives up her own immortality, she gives Frodo her place on the boat to the Grey Havens. Enough said.
Eowyn and Theoden
When King Theoden is crushed by his horse from a blow by the Lord Nazgul, it is Theoden’s niece Eowyn who stands between the King and death. The Lord of the Nazgul is the most powerful man, brought down by a woman who was forbidden to join the battle. She wears the armor of a man to participate. Eowyn is womanhood militant on earth, forced into battle.
Shelob and Sam
Contrast the soaring beauty of elves with Shelob. Older than Sauron, she is the last daughter of Ungoliant (the devil) known as the giant spider Shelob. There is no character described by Tolkien as more gut-wrenchingly foul than Shelob. Female gone wrong is a horror far worse than even that of the greatest failings of mortal men. The oldest, most powerful female of Middle Earth is defeated by the lowest, most humble male character: Frodo’s gardener, Sam.
Female as the North Star
The three great females of LOTR are named after lights and stars. Stars are fixed ideals by which we can guide a ship, measure the size of the universe and keep from getting lost in the woods. Their names: Galadriel, the Lady of Light, Arwen, the Evanstar and Luthien, the Morning Star. Each of these characters play a role in guiding men. Even Galadriel has Gandalf’s number. He may be a wizard, but he is subservient and knocked off his feet by the highest elf.
Tolkien was criticized by feminists for his lack of female characters in his books. I don’t have go into how thin that view is, but I believe it proves how Modernity forces us to not only miss what would be obvious to a pre-modern mind, but by addressing those false problems it ruins good story telling technique. Women weren’t short changed in Tolkien’s world, they were the firm backbone of that entire work, elevated to the highest place in a Catholic, pre-modern, story-teller’s mind: the magic redeemer of fallen men.
February 11, 2013
I got this question from a pal on Twitter about my Kickstarter campaign:
But may I ask how you were able to get so many backers? It’s incredible! How did you promote, advertise and spread the word about your project? What’s the trick? I would really like to know how this works.
Any help would be hot. :)
I didn’t go into Kickstarter knowing anything about the process. I was in contact with a few friends who had successful kickstarter campaigns: Kazu Kibuishi, Jake Parker and Jason Brubaker. They didn’t make it sound easy, but they made it sound possible. That was all I needed. At the time that I launched my own campaign, I looked up every project that launched within my category of book making and comics and I looked at what failed and what succeeded. The problem is that most of the things that succeeded weren’t necessarily the kind of project I was thinking of, while the projects that fail are from every type and style of book imaginable.
There’s one great thing about Kickstarter, which is that it doesn’t cost anything to fail. There aren’t a lot of things in life that are like that, so all I had was my pride at stake to get kicked if it didn’t work, and my pride has a lot of scar tissue on it by now, so why not?
My backers aren’t entirely from my list of Kickstarter friends (4,000) or from Twitter (5500), but that gave me a good head start. About 500 of my donors came from those lists. One thing I didn’t anticipate was that I would gain about 1,000 followers on Twitter from having run my Kickstarter campaign! It was the new people that spread the word to their own networks that I didn’t have access to. They did it, not me.
The project itself is what ends up driving the donors, because people don’t buy things from me they don’t want. I could just as easily have made a different project and the exact same bidders would have said, “We don’t want this.” I’ve thought of doing a board game, a card game, a video game and an animated short, and it didn’t seem like the right timing, the Sketchbook seemed like the best idea… and my audience confirmed my hunch.
The launch of the project is when it’s at its greatest risk of failing, because after one day I might have only had 50-100 or so donors. You have to get those donors to be proud enough of the project to think their friends would also want to buy into the project. That’s why Kickstarter is just like any other free market idea… people don’t spend their money on well wishes and good intent. They really do want to be excited about something and they can’t fake their interest in something they don’t want or need.
I’d like to pause for a second and offer a consolation for projects that don’t work out. Don’t be discouraged. I have a ton of projects and ideas that I try to launch that fail or fizzle out. I’ve read enough about all of our great inventors and idea men that their past is littered with more failures than successes. The one attribute that separates successful people from failures isn’t creativity, but perseverance. Are you the kind of person to try something even after failing in a big way?
Let me get back to answering your question. I don’t consider 1,725 people that many donors. Other guys like Jake Parker and the Creature Box guys had many MORE donors than I did and they didn’t even have the notoriety or fame of making Earthworm Jim and Neverhood in their corner. That’s how you know it’s the actual project that people want… it’s not based on the fame or marketing, it’s the thing itself that gets the donations. There are lots of great people making projects and I just don’t really want the project. Guess what? They still can’t get me to donate. It’s the project, it’s the project, it’s the project. Ask yourself if you didn’t know you, what would you buy from you?
While you can advertise your campaign, you don’t have to because Kickstarter already is a marketplace. Hot projects float to the top because even Kickstarter gets a cut of projects so that if they want to remain profitable, they want popular projects to rise up. They don’t want you to fail. If a project fails, it fails for very good reasons.
So the trick ends up being what all of us in mass media stay up at night thinking about… what do I want to make that enough people want? I’m still baffled by this and I’m the author of 14 books that haven’t lost money. My most popular projects aren’t necessarily what I would bet money would have been popular and some of my favorite “sure fire” projects were my biggest market failures.
Like everything in mass media, Kickstarter doesn’t lie. Give your best project your best shot and let the audience of donors educate you about your tastes. That’s what I did, and I was completely surprised (and humbled) by the response I got.
February 8, 2013
This is the second post on Kickstarter advice based on what I’m learning from my own campaign. The previous post was on setting a reasonable goal amount: http://tennapel.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/kickstarter/
As I ran my campaign, I made sure to regularly communicate with all of my donors through frequent updates and by responding to as many personal emails as reasonable. They don’t tell you about this part on the Kickstarter site, but maintaining communication, especially during the actual fundraising portion of the campaign, is important to build trust with donors.
Most of the donors don’t know that I’m a trustworthy person, so without going through my fiscal background, they trust me with a donation of real money. They make the first act of trust, and in my case, they were saying they would trust me with their funds for six months before they would get their rewards. The least I could do is keep them up to date on the project, even though I don’t really have time to produce constant contact.
The updates allow me to communicate with all 1,725 donors, and I can show them my due diligence by inviting them in to the process of both running the Kickstarter campaign as well as the construction of the project, in my case, a book. So I showed them images we were scanning, even showing them mistakes that we needed to fix. I got an outpouring of personal thank you’s from the donors and I was surprised to found out that other campaigns didn’t regularly communicate with their donors.
This advice comes with two warnings. 1. Some donors will send too many emails! I had to gently remind them that I couldn’t respond to every piece of communication, but I try to take care of big questions and big problems that multiple donors are asking about. 2. Don’t give too many updates! Every update sends a Kickstarter reminder to every donor and they can feel like the communication is too frequent and bothersome. If I didn’t talk to the donors for a few weeks I thought to myself, “If I donated to a campaign, I’d want to know if the guy was still alive at this point.” Usually there was some point of progress I could put together and send it out to the donors.
January 28, 2013
This is a quick ink of Eddie Paretti before erasing the pencils and doing an ink wash.
January 7, 2013
“Thank you. I can not tell you how grateful I am for you to be in this world, you are my inspiration, you are my hero. About 2 years ago I lost one of the most important people in my life, he committed suicide. his name was Jacob (he was a very close family friend). I wiped away all faith in everything, my art, my friends/family, and my personality. I was truly terrified of life and what scary things come with it. The pain i felt is hard to explain. My mom took me to the book store and said to buy something, anything, to make me happy. I bought your book called Ghostopolis. I had never red anything better in my life. And still to this day I cry thinking that it turned out this way but I am OK that it happened.
P.S. Don’t ever, ever stop making books. Do you Promise?”
January 3, 2013
This letter from a fan was a real punch in the gut:
I just wanted to thank you for restoring my enjoyment of comics. As a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s I loved comic books. But they became so expensive and grim I gave them up by the mid 1990s. I always missed them, but I just couldn’t find anything that made me feel the same sense of wonder and fun I’d felt as a kid. That was until I checked out a copy of Tommysaurus Rex from my local library. What a fun read. I shared the book with my autistic nephew (I’ve been caring for him since my sister passed away Autumn of ’10) and he loved it too. Since then I’ve managed to find Monster Zoo and Power Up also at my local library and loved them both. Books are I and my nephew and primary source of entertainment. We don’t get out much (I too am disabled). But we really love sharing a good read and talking about it. Thanks for writing such excellent and entertaining stories!
I do my comics for my own story telling reasons, but I really do want to make my audience experience something good. So my internal motive is the cake, but these readers are the frosting. Cake is a lot better with frosting.
December 31, 2012
This is the final post in a three part series on how I ink a two page spread comic page. Make sure you’re familiar with the post on penciling pages…
…and spotting blacks…
Now that I’ve got the pages penciled and have spotted the blacks, it’s time to make the final ink details. It’s important to make sure the foundations of an artwork are right before going on to detail. As I critique a lot of portfolios of up-and-comers the most common mistake I see is a poor foundation. That is, and artwork isn’t likely to gain strength if the foundations are weak. A bad start will limit the greatness of a final work. I observe this problem across almost all disciplines including writing, music, sculpture and even marriage! No amount of detail and finesse can completely cover a bad start. As an impatient artist, I’m tempted to go straight to detail because I want the thing to start looking good right away. Experience has taught me to avoid going to finish right away.
Here’s a look at my final inking tool; the Winsor Newton Series 7 brush (size 3):
Notice that I’m not trying to give everything the same amount of detail. Nature doesn’t present everything to the natural eye with identical weight, and our perception isn’t trained to look at everything the same way. As an artist, I want the picture to look natural since I’m trying to convey reality to the viewer. That means I’m not just expressing whatever I want from inside my head, I need to address my audience and consider their perception of the work. This is particularly true of mass media works, the bigger the mass that I want to read it (everyone) the more I have to hold that masses hand through the reading of the work. When I’m doing pencil doodles in my personal sketchbook, I don’t consider an audience other than myself. That will necessarily produce different content and presentation.
Below shows how well those spotted blacks hold up against the new detail. Oh, I almost forgot! Just as you spot in chunks of blacks to hold the page down, we also have to preserve large chunks of whitespace for contrast. I learned that from doing watercolor painting, because once you paint over white in that medium, you’re never going to get it back. So we “preserve the white pace” in inking because putting black marks on a paper is generally a one way trip. You can always add more blacks to white, but it’s hard to pull them back out if you over detail something.
This page is getting close to done. I’ve worked from the upper right focal point to the left, where I’m at the end of my drawing session and I can easily blow in some detail and be done with it. If you squint your eye, there should still be a good amount of blacks and whites to create an interesting, solid, cluster of shapes to hold the page down. Then upon closer look at the page, the details emerge and a story is constructed in your mind.
Once again, we can ink details with confidence if the foundation of the pages are done right. If I find something wrong with the page at this point, I can usually trace it back to a weakness in the pencils, or thumbnail composition, and it’s rarely due to the final inking phase. The final inks reveal strengths and weaknesses that were there all along at the start.
Once the page is done, I can go in and do some tidy up with white out or further blacking in sections that can handle it. Then I erase the pencils, and it looks like I just threw down a well structured, gestural landscape. But now you’re in on the secret… even the apparent spontaneity of final inking detail was completely reverse engineered from the start.
December 18, 2012
Ho-hum, just another day in the world of Nnewts.
December 15, 2012
Now that we’ve got this two page spread penciled (see pencil post: http://tennapel.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/doug-tennapel-penciling/), it’s time to go to the inking.
I have a concern before inking every page and it’s that the page will come off all chopped up with separate bits of black all over the place that don’t make the page look good as a whole. My way to address that is by spotting blacks. What is spotting blacks? It’s blasting in large chunks of black ink to hold the page down. I’ll look for any large section I can make black. Shadows are your friend when spotting blacks. They hold the character or object down on the paper and make it look solid.
Here’s my tools… a bunch of cheap, junky, Japanese horse-hair brushes:
Here’s the page after I finished spotting my blacks. I blotched in a bunch of trees, then hit the left side of every mountain, building and tree. This automatically sets the light source to the upper right so the volume of every shape will subconsciously register with the viewer:
This is a detail that shows how much fun I’m having with those horse hair brushes. Every artist is tempted to go straight in to detail, and that can be a bad tactic. But when people see the page, they’ll wonder how you were so bold with your inks. This is where the drama on the page comes from. Drama doesn’t come from the amazing detail, that’s where the finesse and secondary reads come into play.
More detail. You’ll notice a lot of trees and buildings are not hit with a shadow. If I treat every object with an equal shadow, it may be more accurate, but it’s bad for creating a focal point. Not all objects are equal in the arts. Some things aren’t useful to draw the eye across the page so to punch them up is a disservice to story telling. By treating things unequally, the reader will naturally read them unequally. It makes the story easier to read with clarity.
I could go into these buildings a put a HUGE core shadow down the left side of the entire structure. That might even be accurate. I mean, there are huge mountains here that I just outlined with a single line. I blasted in those big core shadows on GEAR and it starts to make a cartoon, light, fun world look like a heavy, dark, film noir atmosphere. This is where genre starts to dictate how you might render one story over another. Stories by Frank Miller or Mike Mignola are darker and justify heavy shadows, but a lighter fairy tale like Bone or Chicken Hare wouldn’t have these heavy noir shadows in a scene full of daylight.
November 30, 2012
|Question: Thanks for the logical kick in the proverbial pants Doug. I’ve wanted to create a graphic novel using my own characters since I was 13. At 37 it’s still on my someday/sometime list. Now, with 2 kids and one on the way, it seems extremely unlikely, but given your advice, I think I’ll try to commit a small portion of time during the week and just get it started. Any advice on using small portions of time during your day to make progress on your story? I feel like it takes me a long time to warm up creatively.|
Answer: Small increments are your friend. Commit to 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week for a year and you’ll be a more prolific comic artist, piano player, or carpenter than most others who long to do the same. The key is in the longevity of your commitment, not in the amount of time you are committing. Set aside 20 minutes a day, preferably in the morning before work, and only work on your graphic novel. Do this for a year and you’ll start seeing profound results.
The problem is that we aren’t used to seeing our art as a craft or a skill that needs practice and discipline, not inspiration and feelings. On any given day my feelings come and go about my faith, my commitment to my marriage, my place in the world, my sanity, my desire to draw or not draw, my care about you as a person, but my values do not change. Try to find the values-shaped handles on your art, not your feelings. Tell me that you will commit to it, that you will simply do it regardless of how you feel about it and you’ll accomplish a lot over time.
The ant is stupid. He has one millionth of your intelligence at best but moves one grain of sand until it is placed at its destination. Ants rework the whole world. The little termite can completely dismantle your house, not because of his passion, but because of his tedious, regular work at small, repeatable tasks. If you want to do something big, then the ant’s way is one good way to try.