Sideways Pride

The Kickstarter for Tell the Turning has come and gone. It funded with joyous speed, which helped me lean into treating it as an exercise in enoughness over the course of its lifespan, but I still experienced the odd pang of guilt that I wasn’t saturating the digital airwaves with more promotion. It helped that I was undergoing a massive slate of complex life things during those three weeks: second vaccine doses, unexpected deaths, preparations to return to Oregon and pack the rest of my life into boxes for a more permanent move. It was good to remember that we already had enough, and that I had two amazing collaborators doing their part as well. (If you haven’t read any of Stefan’s project updates, I recommend them wholeheartedly.)

Now we get to make a book, arguably the meat of the thing, but a Kickstarter leaves one with some delightful side products.

Volunteering to make the video for the campaign was a chance for me to practice editing (something I’ve been wanting to work on), and a challenge to capture the eccentric flavor of our little fellowship. It was also an exercise in embracing imperfection, since I’d started adhering to absurdly high standards on my own campaigns and needed to shake some of that loose.1

With the campaign over, I find myself wondering: where will that video live now? Does it still serve a purpose? I don’t know. But it’s funny how sometimes the parts of a project I’m most proud of are those adjacent to the work itself.

Once (and only once) I got my shit together for a talk far enough in advance to craft a deck of custom-illustrated slides that came out better than I could’ve hoped.

The website Robin helped me put up for The Right Number still makes me beam.

I organized my year-long tour for 100 Demon Dialogues via an Airtable database that can soothe even my darkest moments of self doubt.

I love these bits and pieces, even if they don’t go in my portfolio or grace the front of my site. Even if they’re for projects in hibernation, or enjoying their final rest. They’re still out there: not the whole thing, but part of the thing.

1. Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled with the animated demon Patrick and Chris helped me pull off for the 100 Demon Dialogues Kickstarter video. I watched it the other day and grinned thinking about the day we spent filming in Patrick’s apartment, me staring at a chopstick with a post-it note demon stuck to the top to try and line up eyesights correctly. It has been extremely worth it to pay friends to help make my work better—hell, Chris is responsible for helping me line up those three long-distanced waving shots for the Tell the Turning video—but there’s something to be said for doing it less well myself sometimes. It’s good to remember that I can.

Jesse

The first funeral I ever attended wasn’t for a family member; it was for a cartoonist.

Three illustrated comics panels done in ink with a grey-blue watercolor wash. Panel one: a woman rides up a hill on a bike. Panel two: she takes off her helmet, looking sad and worried. Panel 3: a wide shot of mourners at a funeral, all looking back at her.

Dylan Williams passed away in 2011, shortly after I’d spent a formative semester as his student in the IPRC’s Comics Certificate Program. He’d battled leukemia for many years, but I didn’t know him as someone struggling with a disease. I knew him as a generous teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure and unsung cartoonists, a champion of small press creators, and a source of quiet humor and encouragement.

I’m almost certain that the first time I met Jesse Hamm—or maybe only saw him—was at Dylan’s funeral.

I realize, looking back, that Steve was there, too. And Greg. And probably countless other Portland comics people who would come to feel like a patchwork family in the years that followed. I was just a newcomer to that crowd at the time, still trying to find my place within the medium, but the funeral left a huge impression on me. I ended up drawing my thesis comic about that year in the IPRC program, and my first convention experience, and Dylan’s death, which led to my first Kickstarter, which led to my becoming an intern at Helioscope (then Periscope Studio), which led to the career I have now, ten years later.

A graphite portrait of Dylan Williams, a middle aged white man with short buzzed hair and a pencil behind his ear. He's smiling gently.
Dylan Williams, by Jesse Hamm

I remember using this portrait Jesse drew for his memorial post about Dylan as reference when working on True Believer. It was uncannily accurate and tender, as were his recollections of Dylan as a publisher and community member.

Toward the end of his post Jesse wrote:

Dylan understood that comics are really for and about people — that people are what give comics value. Like he said elsewhere in that interview:  “Encouraging people is like the greatest feeling in the world.” And he did encourage people. One blogger recalls: “He was able to say …the things I needed to hear in a way that I actually heard them. [H]is support and encouragement changed my life.”

It felt so true to what I knew of this man, even if I’d only known him for a short while.

Three comics panels in ink with a grey-blue watercolor wash. Panel one: the exterior of a building with the words "Individual voice is something to be treasured and respected" coming from a window. Panel two: the words "You've gotta make comics your own way. Every time." over a classroom full of students. Panel three: Dylan saying "Don't forget that" from his seat at the head of the table. Lucy enters the room panel left saying "Hey guys" and clutching a notebook. She's rushed.

I was in the middle of writing a difficult email yesterday morning when I opened the Studio’s Discord page and saw that Jesse was dead. A blood clot in his lung. Sudden and unexpected and impossible and awful and so far away from me at this laptop in California. Far away from my studiomates. Far away from the cemetery where we had buried Dylan a decade ago—the same one where another dear friend buried his mother late last year.

Seeing the outpouring of love and grief on Twitter from cartoonists who’d known Jesse through his threads of advice and educational PDFs, I found myself reaching for that old post about Dylan.

Rereading it this morning wrecked me all over again, because so much of what Jesse wrote about Dylan echoes what people have been saying about him: that he was impossibly knowledgeable, and fucking funny, and deeply opinionated in a quiet sort of way. That he wanted to encourage people. To help us see and appreciate all the thoughtfulness and knowledge that goes into practicing this craft.

An ink and watercolor comics panel showing a classroom full of students seen from outside the window. Dylan sits at the head of the classroom saying "Whatever the project, we have to think about the stakes. We have to ask ourselves: why am I doing this?"

I’ve felt distant from the idea of the Comics Community for a while now, trying to figure out my place in an industry that’s changing so rapidly, caught between different generations and genres of creators.

But this loss, like Dylan’s loss, feels like a smack in the face; a radical recalibration toward what brings us to this practice. What binds us to each other as a wider community. How lucky we are. What a wealth of information and knowledge there is out there. And of course, as with any death, the question of who we are. What we’re doing. How we’re impacting the people around us.

I kept thinking about how much Jesse knew, and what a staggering loss that is, but then yesterday a studiomate told me she’d just drawn a page earlier this week with a piece of his advice in mind. “I literally think of him every time I use it.”

That’s how this works, if we choose it. We share our knowledge and our enthusiasm and we welcome people to the fucking table so they can make the things they came here to make.

Dylan couldn’t have said it better. And now we have to keep saying it for both of them.

Thank you for everything, Jesse. We love you.

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.

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.

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.

Atom

NB: I originally shared this post on Patreon on July 14th, 2017, just after launching the Kickstarter for 100 Demon Dialogues. I wanted to link to it in an essay I’m working on right now, but I’m also trying to consolidate my writing on my own website, so I’m reposting the whole thing here. This kind of low-key time traveling will probably keep happening.


This is a story about the first time I successfully orchestrated a theatrical cue of my own design.

I was a sophomore in high school, dipping my toes into other areas of the dramatic obsession that had consumed me from an early age. Us technical theatre students were asked to light and score brief monologues performed by members of an acting class. It was my first brush with the luminous cellophane gels that would become my livelihood for the next three years and grant me the financial freedom to travel on my own before college.

My friend Kendall was performing the opening speech from The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel. In it, a girl describes learning about the enduring nature of the atom for the first time in her life. I’d built up a multi-hued blue Fresnel background wash and a slow, warm Source 4 from house left, carefully trained on her face and nothing more. Kendall ran through the words, savoring the phrases—a tongue of fire that screamed through the heavens until there was our sun—until she closed with three lines: 

Atom.

Atom.

What a beautiful word.

A gentle beat after that last syllable, Jon Brion’s “Row” came in, one note at a time, while the warm front light dwindled until she was just a silhouette in blue. The lilting piano carried the moment for 15 seconds and then faded into silence. 

We’d rehearsed and tried all the individual elements and fine-tuned the timing, but the first time I got to call the shots and watch as light and sound cascaded into something that heightened the emotional impact of her performance, I burst into silent, happy tears in the booth.

Orchestrating the conclusion of The 100 Day Project and launching my Kickstarter this week pushed those same buttons in ways I never could have anticipated.

When I figured out how I wanted to end the series—and I knew a few weeks in advance—I started to panic. I’d never run a daily webcomic before. The notion of an audience investing in a storyline and hanging on every page was entirely new and utterly intoxicating. I’d largely given myself permission to shoot from the hip for so much of the project. Before, there were no wrong answers. Now, it suddenly felt like I had the potential for failure. 

The last few weeks were grueling—all frantic scripting and logistical production and minutia and a million moving parts (on top of the creative work itself). It’s something that flummoxes me when people ask for advice about how to run a good Kickstarter. All I can think is “Just do everything. Work the hardest you can at absolutely everything. And then somehow, magically, it works.” And I don’t think that’s what people want to hear. “Turn thrice widdershins and sacrifice a goat” is way simpler.

Wednesday rolled around and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I’d stayed up way too late finishing the final entry. Folks had sent me photos of themselves on Twitter to draw into the panel (though they didn’t know it at the time). I’d shot reference out my own front door and fretted over the sketches and then, in a rush, poured it out. The finished project resonated with what I’d pictured in my head. It felt, mercifully, right.

At 9:55 am, I posted the final entry, closed my eyes, and counted to sixty before pushing the launch button on the Kickstarter page, and then I counted to sixty again before triggering the blog posts and the newsletters and the updates and the notifications—all these moving parts I’d carefully structured to help guide a new project into the world.  

And when people flooded in to say “YES” to the ending, and the journey, and the campaign, I discovered that all those neurons were still there, lighting up at the pleasure of seeing a well-timed cue resolve all those moving parts into something more. 

How to Kick Ass at Kickstarter (Video)

Last month I had the good fortune to return to The Animation Workshop in Denmark to teach a week-long course in their Graphic Storytelling department. You might remember the talk I gave two years ago, The View from Aloft, where I distilled my foundational philosophy about social media, online communities, and gratitude economies. This presentation follows up on that framework by talking specifically about crowdfunding and Kickstarter. Thanks to the school’s exceptional video rental equipment there’s now a very nice recording up on YouTube:

I get a lot of questions from folks looking to learn more about this weird practice. It can be the most soul-crushing, time-consuming, heart-tormenting process, but also an incredible jolt of energy, affirmation, and community involvement. Between the generous souls who support me monthly on Patreon and the people who launch individual projects of mine via Kickstarter there’s no doubt that my career would look very different without crowdfunding.

Everything that’s made my campaigns work feels like it’s come from watching my friends get smarter and better every time they launch a project, so it’s great to have this recording to pay it forward to more people. I hope some of you find it useful if you ever launch your own projects (and I hope you do).

Good luck out there!

Announcing: 100 Demon Dialogues

Hi friends,

Big, big news today! My latest project, 100 Demon Dialogues, is now live on Kickstarter!

For the past three months, as part of the 100 Day Project, I’ve been illustrating a daily dialogue with the little voice in my head who tells me I’m no good. (You might recognize him from my Inktober drawing challenges from the last couple years.)

I just drew the 100th entry this morning and I’ve been so overwhelmed by the response to the project. Hearing from people who see themselves reflected in these drawings makes my heart swell. I’ve also heard from a lot of people who want to own these comics for themselves! So here’s what we’re gonna do about that:

  1. The Books!
    • Today’s Kickstarter launch will fund both softcover and hardcover editions of the book. I am very excited about the whole thing. Here are some of the special features I’m aiming for: 
  2. The Plushies!
    • The Kickstarter will also be funding a run of PLUSH DEMONS to keep you company as you do battle with your own voices of anxiety and self-doubt. This little fella will measure about 15″ from tip to tail, and can easily sit up on any surface you care to place him on. (If you’d like to read all about what it takes to produce a plush toy from start to finish, I just did an in-depth blog post about it over on Tumblr.) Here’s a look at the prototype:
  3. The Print Shop!
    • Lots of folks asked for prints of particular demons, but since producing, stocking, and shipping 100 different print types is a massive headache for a long creator like myself, I’ve partnered with the fine folks at Buyolympia to provide archival-quality prints of any demon your heart desires. The store is almost ready, and I’ll be sure to link to it here on the blog once it’s up.

So there we go! You can read all the entries in the series here on the site, head to the campaign page to preorder books and plushies, or buy prints (very soon, I promise) from Buyolympia!

Thanks, as ever, to my amazing supporters on Patreon, who gave me the stability to devote so much time to the this project over the last three months. Y’all are the best.

LET’S GO MAKE SOME COOL SHIT.

Time-Lapse Boats

I had a ton of fun wrapping up these watercolor paintings for my top-tier backers on the Baggywrinkles Kickstarter last week. Here’s a look at the final lineup of paintings:

verticalships

Clockwise from upper left, we’ve got El Galeon (hiding behind PDX YAR’s First Mate), L’Hermione, Brig Niagara, and Kalmar Nyckel (in disguise under a different paint job, for reasons outlined in this Tumblr post).

In the process of getting all of these done, I learned a bunch about making time-lapse videos, which you can check out below:

And if you’re curious about the tools used for these projects, here’s a sneak peek at a post I put up for my supporters on Patreon all about my watercoloring setup:

watercolorsetup

I put up an informative essay each month about some aspect of my creative process, along with a load of other content for folks to read/watch/listen to/generally enjoy. I serious adore Patreon as a platform for making more of this work possible, so if you haven’t already checked it out, go take a peek! (There’s a lot of free stuff there, too, if you don’t want to commit to chucking some money my way each month.)

More news coming next week! Stay tuned.

Baggywrinkles Ebooks are Live!

EBOOKSFace

Dearest Bags and Wrinkles: I am so, so, SO excited to announce that the ebook edition of Baggywrinkles: a Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea is now available for purchase!

BaggywrinklesTitle

Stop

If you supported the Kickstarter campaign, you can find a download code to get the files for free in this update, otherwise it’s $7 for a bundle of two versions—high-res and slightly-less-high-res—so you can read the book from any of your devices with comfort and ease.

GetRady

Thanks to your sterling funding efforts, and the hard work of colorists Joey Weiser and Michele Chidester, the book is coming to you in full color for the first time ever! You’ll also be enjoying the publication design efforts of Allyson Haller, who did a fantastic job of wrapping the whole book in the loveliest branding a girl could ask for. This ebook also includes the complete guest art gallery with work from a stalwart crew of amazing artists. Here’s a brief selection:

PreviewKickstarterUpdate3

Ready to hop aboard? You can buoy (GEDDIT?) a copy for yourself right here:

Thank you all so much for your patience, enthusiasm, and support during the production process. Next step: printing the physical book! Stay tuned on the Kickstarter page for more news about that as the year rolls on.

Love and boats and comics,

Lucy