The Boat Gnome Mercantile 2020-2021 Trading Season is Open!

Greetings, Mariners!

If you’ve been here for the last couple years, you might remember that I’m an authorized representative of an intergalactic entity known as The Boat Gnome.

If you haven’t been here for a couple years, here’s a visual introduction:

A photo og Lucy dressed up as The Boat Gnome. She wears a pointy blue felt hat covered in nautical rubbish and poses in front of many delightful trinkets, shells, and other treasures.

This spacefaring nautical merchant, operating in association with known Space Gnome representative Shing Yin Khor, accepts trinkets and trades via post in exchange for a special Trusted Trader pin. (You can also trade with the Space Gnome for pins by becoming a Patreon supporter of Shing’s, but you didn’t hear it from me.)

I’m delighted to announce that the Boat Gnome has now updated her ledgers and is open for the 2020-2021 trading season!

Desired items for this season are as follows:

  • A favorite passage describing the ocean (from an artistic work of your choosing)
  • A (mailably small) piece of driftwood
  • A design for a flag
  • A sea creature in any condition (illustrated, bottled, described with words—ideally not live because the ship has no aquarium in which to keep them)

To participate, print this intake form, fill it out, and pack it up with your trade item of choice AND a self-addressed-and-stamped box or bubble envelope (5×7” or larger) with at least $3.50 in regular postage (for US residents), or the equivalent for a 4oz package (for international residents). This envelope will be used to mail back your Trusted Trader pin. The Boat Gnome regretfully cannot accept thin paper or cardboard envelopes—padded is best!

Mail your trade item and SASE to the following address:

Boat Gnome Mercantile

c/o Lucy Bellwood

PO Box 734

Ojai, CA 93024

In exchange, and under no specific timeline, you’ll receive one of these shiny Trusted Trader pins in the post:

A colorful postcard showing a small lapel pin. The pin features a creature called The Boat Gnome and a ship's wheel. The colors are nautical blues and greens.

That’s it! The Boat Gnome is very much looking forward to pawing over all your mailed offerings and I, as her Representative, can’t wait to file all the necessary paperwork.

Yours in aquatic shenanigans,

Lucy Bellwood

Boat Gnome Representative

Slowly, Slowly

For many months, earlier in the Pandemic, my elementary school had a banner of this Kobayashi Issa haiku hanging outside their driveway:

O snail 
Climb Mount Fuji, 
But slowly, slowly!

The entire family had a very good time yelling “O SNAIL” very loudly whenever we drove past. It made a hard season easier to bear.1

A pen and ink illustration of a snail, moving along slowly from left to right.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on a collaborative publishing project with my friends Tara and Stefan called Tell the Turning. It’s an illustrated collection that’s very much rooted in place: a poetic celebration of flora and fauna, a compendium of walking companions, and a testament to three people finding out that they’re on the same page about the correct pace at which to make something special (slowly, slowly).

In contrast to that preference, the Kickstarter campaign we launched this morning funded quickly, quickly. It took 78 people 4 hours and 42 minutes to turn this from a book we three collaborators believe in very much to a book that will actually exist. Though her poetry’s been published in various external venues, this is going to be Tara’s first book-shaped collection of her work. When I think about the difference it made in my life and career and whole *arm waving* identity as a creator to cross that threshold, I get choked up.

It takes so few people, relatively speaking, to make this transformation possible.

I felt allergic to the idea of crafting a bunch of flashy Instagram graphics to try and plug the launch earlier today, so I just sat in a field and recorded a 7-minute video ramble on the things I love about my collaborators and how capitalism traps us with a false sense of urgency and posted that to my story instead.2 (I’m no expert at these things, but maybe you can watch it at this link? Unsure. It’s pinned on my profile, anyway.)

The Kickstarter doesn’t have to be a runaway freight train. In fact it feels nicer as something intimate, held close to the chest, tucked into a pocket, or passed to a friend.

A pen and ink illustration of a sand dollar.

I have a lot more thoughts about this whole experience (of course I do, hi, hello, I’m Lucy Bellwood), but for now I’m gonna go take a long walk. If you want to investigate the campaign and watch the goofy video I made and marvel at Tara’s work, you can absolutely do so here, but you don’t have to pledge a dime because it’s already going to exist. This is enough.

And now we get to beam at each other and go make something beautiful.

1. According to Wikipedia, the poem was used to title a novel by the Strugatsky brothers called Snail on the Slope. I only learned about the Strugatskys for the first time from Jez last year, which made this feel like a bit of serendipity.

2. Apparently Stefan watched the whole thing with his young daughter and it was the first time she’d heard anyone say the word “motherfucker”! I feel honored.

What Goes Around

Okay, listen: I’ve been pretty consumed lately with barking up my own mental redwood tree about patronage and interdependent communities and what it means to try and support artists during late-stage capitalism, but this morning I got an email from my friend Luke Kruger-Howard that felt like turning around and realizing that this isn’t just one goddamn redwood. There’s a whole forest out there.

Luke’s email (and it was an email, addressed tenderly to many friends, which is the kind of thing I love getting) announced a new physical publication (Goes #1), released under the aegis of a new publisher (Goes Books), but it stopped me in my tracks because there was something different going on.

He wasn’t running a crowdfunding campaign. He wasn’t encouraging people to preorder. He wasn’t even asking for money.

Instead, I got to read this sentence:

This comic will be free for all readers, gifted by other anonymous readers along the way.

Hear that? It’s the sound of my heart exploding.

The only encouragement in the email, beyond asking people to talk about it which, like, DUH OF COURSE HOW COULD I NOT TALK ABOUT THIS I WILL NEVER SHUT UP ABOUT THIS, is to sign up to receive a free copy of the comic in the mail. That’s it. 2,000 copies of this new beauty are headed into the world and they will all be gifts. I already have so many questions! Is there a Mysterious Benefactor who financed the initial print run so that, potentially, every copy could simply be given away even if nobody chose to pay it forward? Or is there no initial capital beyond Luke’s own savings and this is just a massive trust fall? Is it more or less of a trust fall than running a Kickstarter?

Whatever the answer, I’ve never rushed to give somebody $20 faster in my life.

In the delightfully-illustrated financial transparency page, Luke writes:

This is an investment in the relationship between artist and reader—between stranger and stranger. Financial profit is not possible here.

The comic will always be free.

The comic will always be free.

A screenshot of the Goes Books website with the title Pay It Forward. 
The body text reads: would you like to gift a copy of goes to another stranger or strangers?  simply use the button below to pay with paypal or credit card. no financial profit is had in the making or distribution of 
these books. money received by goes books will be put toward gifting copies of these books to other readers. any money earned beyond that will be donated to charity. it takes about $4 to make and send a copy of goes to a stranger - more or less than that is perfectly wonderful, friend. <3

Oh yeah also P.S. any money raised beyond what’s needed to pay forward all copies of the comic will be donated to RAICES. HELL YES TO THIS.

I’m going to save all the other yelling I want to do about this for Friday because you can bet your ass I texted Luke the moment I finished reading the email and begged him to sit down for an interview. If there are things you’re interested in hearing us talk about, let me know.

Nesting and Turning

My working theory is that the silence and the sunshine and the singing are key materials of the nest I am always building, to hold whatever thoughts, feelings, rhythms, and ideas become my poems.

Tara writes a monthly guest column on Nicole‘s blog. Every installment holds several gems, but her latest is particularly gemful. The nest! I adore this metaphor. What are my nest materials? How do I tend to build with them? I don’t know yet, but I have hunches. I want to lay them out and inventory them like a bower bird.

An additional thrill is that Tara and I will be working on something together in the next few months. She’s a spectacular poet (in addition to being a thoughtful and lyrical essayist), and sometime last year she shared a new collection of work with me under the title Low Tide Book. (You can hear me explore her idea of “a low tide of the spirit” in Ramble #20, notably before I got with the program and started pronouncing her name properly. It should be terra, like earth.)

I read the poems and loved them, and then I can’t quite remember what happened next but somehow I got to do my very favorite thing and smush two good people together while yelling “MAKE SOMETHING!”

The other person in this equation was my friend Stefan.

I say “my friend” in that way I do to refer to anyone I know primarily through the internet, and it’s true we’ve never met in person, but I do think of Stefan as a friend.

We connected on Kickstarter in 2012 because we were both running our first projects at the same time.1 He ended up with a copy of True Believer and I ended up with a copy of Cedar Toothpick and then we sort of fell out of touch. I do remember that his campaign didn’t have a video, but rather a delightful audio recording taken in a field. Possibly with some bees. Anyway, I loved his attention to quality in paper stock and his creative focus on the minutiae of the natural world. Cedar Toothpick still has pride of place in my poetry shelf.

When we reconnected via Instagram many years later, he floated the idea of collaborating on something. By that point he’d been branching out into publishing work by other writers under his imprint, Bored Wolves. Somewhere in there was when Tara sent me Low Tide Book, and somewhere shortly after that was the moment I realized they were perfect for each other. She had this manuscript full of contemplative poems crafted in conversation with the natural world, he had a tiny, remote cabin in the Polish highlands and access to a boutique printer. It writes itself, really.

So the long and the short of it is that we’re all making a book! Tara’s already written it, and I’m going to illustrate it, and Stefan’s going to publish it.

The title we decided on was Tell the Turning and it’s (as of May 1st) ON KICKSTARTER RIGHT NOW!

1. The ecosystem was much smaller then, so it was common to just become pals with whoever else showed up in the Discover tab. It was nice.

FAQ

Hi friend! If you’ve landed on this page, you probably just asked me a question about my move, possibly prompted by hearing about it for the first time via my 2021 Hourly Comics. Hopefully your question is answered below:

Whoa, you’re moving?

I have, in fact, already moved! I drove away from Portland on February 4th, quarantined for a week upon arrival, and then received a negative COVID test so I could relocate safely.

Where are you off to?

A dusky digital painting of a desert at dawn. The sky is light blue and there's a tiny moon rising above pink mountains. The foreground is full of yellow, scrubby brush.

Ojai, California, the valley I was raised in, to move in with my parents and my 21-year-old cat.

Is this permanent?

Is anything?

(By which I mean: I don’t know!)

Why now?

I realized I needed to move now the night before I was due to give this talk, so if you’d rather hear me verbalize why I’m making this choice, you can watch it.

The textual version is that my dad is 81 and has moderate dementia. He also had a couple of micro-strokes last November. My mum’s been shouldering the bulk of caretaking for the last few years, barring the odd break when I’ve come down to help. I’m an only child. We’re all muddling through a Pandemic. It’s the right time to be here.

I’m also going to be head-down working on my next graphic novel (Seacritters!) for the foreseeable future. Given that a publishing advance isn’t enough to live on for the time it takes to complete a book, reducing my financial overhead right now is a smart move.

This sounds really hard!

I have a remarkably functional and loving relationship with my parents. Ojai is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the most beautiful places on earth. (It also has the best bookstore.) I’m near the ocean. I’m in a community of people who’ve known me since I was very small. I get to focus more fully on work that delights me. I’m no longer panicked at the thought of missing opportunities to care for and connect with my dad. This is all, actually, really good.

I don’t want to downplay the fact that caretaking is complex and often devastating. This will not be a walk in the park, but it is 1000% the thing I have been longing to do for several years. Being in this place, with these people, gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment and love that is irreplaceable.

Do you need anything?

If you’ve had parental caretaking experience (especially if you’re also under 40), maybe drop me a line and say hello. Never a bad idea to have allies who know what this is like.

If you want to support me materially while I make my next book, I’m sharing stuff on Patreon and would love to have you in that community.

Can I have your new address?

YES! I got a PO Box and nothing so exciting has ever happened to me ever. It is:

Lucy Bellwood, PO Box 734, Ojai, CA 93024

I would love to receive mail from you.

Three elongated human shadows, holding hands and walking along a dusty trail.

Okay! The end! Thanks for reading!

(Obviously if there’s something I didn’t talk about here, please return to our conversation on whatever platform you came here from and ask about it, but at least you have the facts now. I appreciate you reading through all this so I don’t have to repeat myself a bunch 💛)

Convening the Poetry Cabal

Walking the walk RE: my last post and sharing something utterly delightful that just landed in my inbox.

Phil and Liam, the folks behind Galaxy Brain, are hosting a digital Burns Night celebration this Friday. Come prepared to read a poem and share a toast in memory of Scotland’s beloved national bard.

(Exactly what mice plans is he talking about here?)

Burns Night is technically the 25th, but since the celebration traditionally involves a certain amount of Scotch Consumption, they’re opting for a weekend-friendly date. Alcohol is optional, sharing a poem is mandatory.

Friday, January 22nd. 7:30 Pacific. Online. Details here.

Smut Peddler: Sordid Past

A few months ago I got an invite to pitch a comic for the latest installment of Smut Peddler, the wildly popular, sex-positive anthology series from Iron Circus Comics. The current volume, Sordid Past, captures sexy escapades from days gone by, making this the first time my track record of drawing comics about both maritime history and sex toys (and also the intersection thereof, sort of) has paid off in the form of a professional opportunity. Never again will I joke that my brand is in tatters; THERE IS ROOM FOR EVERYTHING!

The book is already fully funded on Kickstarter and features a truly stunning lineup of artists. I mean, let’s start with this cover from Yuko Ota:

An illustrated book cover with gold text that says "Smut Peddler Presents" across the top and "Sordid Past" at the bottom in large type. Three people in period clothing seductively embrace on a grassy hillside. There's a tiny silhouette of a tall ship in the background.

DELIGHTFUL. (And I’m not just saying that because it features a Good Boat.) It’s also chock-full of stories set everywhere from a temple in Pharonic Egypt to a 1980s American arcade, all of them sweet and sexy and consent-driven and magical. Truly, something for everyone.

I’ll admit: I was scared to say yes to this gig. I’d never drawn Actual Sexy Comics before and the folks in this anthology are…well, they’re very good. So many skillful artists who’ve been doing this stuff for years, including people whose work I’ve followed since I was in high school.

No pressure.

Because I’m me, I said yes on the condition that I could make a comic about queer lady shipwrights plying their trade under the radar in 1750s England. This is partly because of a long-running gag that I’m some kind of Boat Pervert, but also because it seemed like a story premise I could really get excited about.

A warm-colored three panel selection from a comics page. Two women look at plans for a ship on a large desk. One of them is saying "Ah! This keel line! And the curvature on these headrails! Unf! Nobody draws timber framing like you."

Even with an exciting premise, though, it’s hard to focus on whether or not something is sexy when you’re busy desperately trying to make sure the page layouts are engaging and the anatomy is correct and the dialogue works and the colors look right while also subjecting yourself to scathing perfectionism. But! Contributor Lyndsay McSeveney had made a Discord channel for Smut Peddler artists, and with some wrangling from Harriet Moulton everyone ended up in the same digital space sharing process shots and trading feedback. Seeing all these amazing creators working through their respective anxieties over the course of the project—and cheering each other on—was an invaluable reminder that we all have our demons and hang-ups in doing this work. (You’d think I’d’ve internalized this by now having literally written a book about it but SURPRISE! I have not.)

Anyway, after a lot of self-flagellation (not like that) I managed to turn in a 12-page story I’m very proud of, and I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the book. Sordid Past funded on Kickstarter almost instantly, so this thing is definitely happening—and every $5,000 raised over the initial goal translates into a $5-per-page raise for us artists! This is such a smart move on the part of Iron Circus: limits liability for the publisher, passes Kickstarter success onto the creative team, and generally forms a more symbiotic relationship between everyone involved. I love it.

I’ll be sharing a proper process write-up (including some of the hilarious reference photos I had to come up with) over on Patreon, so join me there if you’d like to learn more.

That’s all! Thanks for reading about this very, very niche thing. I hope you enjoy it.

The Right Number

Hello, long-neglected blog. I hope the tumbleweeds and bits of lint accumulating in the corners of this platform have been keeping you warm, even if they’re singularly unable to keep you company.

I’m back because I launched an odd new project on my birthday last month and I wanted to talk about it here to break my long silence and maybe goad myself into blogging more often on a website I actually own.

So: the new thing!

A navy square with elegant gold lettering that reads "The Right Number: a place to speak and be heard." Underneath it is a number: 503-673-6267

The Right Number is basically a secular confessional housed in a voicemail box. Dial (503) 673-6267 and you’ll hear a brief prompt, after which you can record a response for up to three minutes. All messages are confidential, prompts rotate every two weeks.

The first two prompts (“What’s something you wish someone would say to you right now?” and “What’s something you wish you could say to someone else right now?”) both elicited a wide range of thoughtful, heart-wrenching, funny replies. I’d say it was working as intended if I’d had any real sense of how this was going to go ahead of time, but I didn’t.

As it stands, I’m very happy with the project so far. The user base is still small—an intimate crowd of willing weirdos—and I’m perfectly content for it to stay that way. Recording freewheeling audio updates over on Patreon every two weeks for the last couple years has taught me that sometimes the quality of conversation and connection I’m hungry for online is best cultivated through sustained, vaguely directed projects over long periods of time.

So: that’s the thing!

If you want to play along, you can sign up for this tiny newsletter that’ll send you an email reminder every time there’s a new prompt (usually on Mondays, but I make no promises).

I’ll see you in the voicemail box,

L

Introducing the Boat Gnome Mercantile Trading Program

If you follow me elsewhere on the web, you’ve probably seen an uptick in posts about something called the Boat Gnome Mercantile Trading Program. Maybe it makes sense, maybe it doesn’t, so here’s a big ol’ post with some background about this zany undertaking and how you can play along.

If you just can’t wait to exchange goods with the Boat Gnome (even if you are, perhaps, a little unclear about what that entails), the Trade-by-Mail Program is already open to Patrons at any pledge level. You can find all the instructions for sending trades through the mail by becoming a Patron and visiting this post

The Boat Gnome’s desired items for the 2019-2020 Trading Season are as follows:

  • An interesting shell (level of interest is in the eye of the beholder)
  • A piece of seaglass (bonus points for unusual colors)
  • A transcription of your favorite nautical poem (typed or hand-written, as preferred)
  • A knot (tied in a piece of string, twine, rope, etc and labelled by name)

Okay, let’s back up and talk about Shing Yin Khor.

Shing, a nonbinary person in a bright red hat sits underneath a pepper tree. They have a spread of crates in front of them.
Here is Shing mysteriously showing up in the driveway of my childhood home in California.

Shing is an unstoppable, mischievous force for good in the world. Aside from creating immersive installation art and fabulous comics and unconventional fundraising initiatives and co-facilitating life-changing retreats, they also run something called the Space Gnome Mercantile Trading Program

The story goes like this: there is a gnome—a Space Gnome—who runs a trading outpost in outer space. She releases a list of desirable items prior to sending one of her representatives to conventions around the country. The desirable items are often simple. A nice rock. A cutting from a succulent. A poem. A story. 

Traders may present the representative with one of these objects and receive, in exchange, a limited edition enamel pin.

A set of postcards with enamel pins depicting a space gnome.
Some of Shing’s stunning Space Gnome pins.

Once a participant has made a trade and received a pin they become a Trusted Trader, and can return to the representative at future events (wearing their pin) and receive additional, special items. Shing also runs a trade-by-mail program exclusively for their Patreon supporters (DID I MENTION YOU CAN SUPPORT SHING ON PATREON?) in case folks can’t make it out to conventions.

I love this project. It’s subversive and human and playful and kind. So when Shing and I were on a ferry coming back from the Wayward Retreat this summer, I screwed up my courage and said:

“Do you think there might be other gnomes? I mean, hypothetically, what if there was also, say…a Boat Gnome?”

I felt self-conscious even asking. Why can’t I come up with my own ideas? Isn’t this plagiarism? But the beauty of this project lies in the fact that it’s not commercial in the slightest. Nobody’s making a profit. It’s a sandbox—a container for play, and as if to prove it Shing immediately shot up off the bench and shouted “YES!!!”

One month later they showed up in the front yard of childhood home in California (long story) and officially inducted me into the Association of Gnomes—a process I can’t recount here, so you’ll just have to flip through this Instagram Story really quick to experience it.

A pointy blue felt hat with a variety of nautical items attached to it.
My extremely good Boat Gnome Hat. Yes, you may be jealous.

Armed with my gnome hat, I started drafting ideas. Since Shing had already come up with a format for the pins and cards, I decided to keep things simple and just riff on the existing material.

A drawing of a cute gnome wearing the pointy felt hat from earlier.

So here’s our Boat Gnome. (Perhaps suspiciously like a smaller version of me, but WHO’S KEEPING SCORE.) I translated this small friend onto a postcard that would mimic Shing’s space-themed offering with a load of nautical motifs.

Step-by-step sketches of the postcard design from earlier.
I snapped a photo of this rough sketch with my iPad, then used Clip Studio to refine the art, ink, and color it! Printing by the trusty folks at Moo.com

And then came the PINS, which I wanted to match to Shing’s design so that enterprising traders could line them up in a handsome row on a lapel.

Step-by-step drawings of the boat gnome pin.
Here’s the design process!
The finished boat gnome enamel pin.
Aaand here’s the finished pin!

Once I had all my elements assembled, it was time to number all the backing cards and start assembling pins. The final result looks amazing.

The completed Boat Gnome Mercantile pin set.

The great thing about doing a project that won’t make me any money is that a lot of the perfectionism that usually dogs my steps during production is just…gone. Who cares if this isn’t utterly perfect? It’s a game. People are going to play.

I’ve spent a little over $500 assembling the materials for this project, which would’ve felt impossible three years ago. But I’m finally at a place in my career where not every expense has to turn a profit. There’s so much heart-felt fun to be had exchanging gifts with strangers and friends. And because of the support I receive on Patreon, I can do these kinds of projects. It’s such a wonderful privilege. I’ve already completed over 40 trades with people from all over the country, and the offerings are universally stellar.

So thanks. I can’t wait to trade with you all.

<3

Lucy

(Boat Gnome Representative)

Thought Bubble This Weekend

Greetings from England, everyone!

I’m back in the UK for my biennial pilgrimage to table at Thought Bubble (and catch up with English friends and family in the process). Since I was last in the country they’ve changed the date of the festival to September, which has been an enormous improvement so far. The weather is just beginning to turn autumnal, with a good few sunny days still in reserve.

If you’re planning on heading to Thought Bubble in Leeds this weekend, you can find me in the Ask for Mercy Marquee at Table 43. Thanks to some cunning distribution work, I’ve got a TON of 100 Demon Dialogues books and plushies already in the country, plus copies of Baggywrinkles and fresh sets of watercolor skyline postcards!

A selection of vibrant postcards featuring watercolor paintings of sunrises and sunsets with silhouettes of trees, tall ships, mountains, and other organic shapes in the foreground.
A third of the new postcard designs I’ll have with me. There are 18 new cards total!

As per usual I’ve made a goofy graphic to help you locate me at the event. Here’s a map:

Map of Thought Bubble venue including table location. Lucy’s Demon screams “It’ll be awful!” From the lower right-hand corner.

Being in the country a week early has left a lot of room for acclimatization and a bit of exploration. I’ve been going on six-mile rambles near Egham with my current host, cartoonist Dave Whiteland. We’re not far from Runnymede, site of the signing of the Magna Carta. Interestingly, it’s a landmark more beloved by Americans, who tend to view the Magna Carta as the precursor to our written constitution, but there are also a number of beautiful memorials and installations by local artists scattered throughout the open meadows.

A circular space with a pond in the center and an open circle in the roof. Text written upside down around the rim of the pool is reflected right-side up in the water. The walls are pale and rough, the sky is blue.
Writ in Water by Mark Wallinger

I have so many childhood memories of England coming into view out a plane window. It’s a patchwork quilt in hundreds of shades of green. Each border is picked out in dark hedgerows like raised lines of embroidery. After the rigid grids and circles of American crops seen from the sky, it confirms this sense of being somewhere other.

England is walking through fields and turnstiles and picking up fossils from beds of flint. It’s the particular smell of petrol and peat and cold air and river water. It’s tea and smooth wood floors and the familiarity of gentleness. It’s not perfect here, but it brings me back to a part of myself that feels foundational and true.

An imposing brick building under a blue sky. It has many chimneys and turrets.
Royal Holloway

After the chaos of touring all summer, I decided to forego scheduling a separate last-minute event in London or Cambridge. It’s enough to be here, and to see friends, and to have the festival to look forward to. I hope to see many of you there in a few days.

Be well,

Lucy