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. 

Redwood Live Sketches from Portland Center Stage

Every so often the cartoonists of Portland get an open invite to a local theatrical production. Sometimes it’s the children’s theater, other times the opera. Occasionally it’s something with extravagant puppets. We get free tickets to whatever’s on in exchange for producing a batch of frantic live sketches, which  then get used to promote the production. 

This month the call was for a world premier play called Redwood, a story about race and heritage and relationships, intergenerational and otherwise. I’d gotten a mailer for it a few days earlier and really wanted to go, so when the invite to live sketch a dress rehearsal came in I was all over it.

Lucy holding a pair of clip lights up to her head like a pair of antennae.
Thank you JJ for this very good photo.

They issue all the cartoonists with these goofy clip lights and send them to sit in a row towards the back of the theater. We then have to do our darndest to draw like the wind throughout the entire show, capturing gestures, faces, moments, scenery—whatever we like. Here’s what I came up with! These sketches were all done straight to ink with a Pilot Carbon Desk Fountain Pen (the least well-named implement in my arsenal).

It’s a challenge for sure, but one I always come away from feeling surprisingly accomplished. It’s also nice to be drawing for folks who aren’t visual artists themselves, because anything you produce seems like wizardry.

I’m really glad I made time to go see this production—it was powerful and moving and laugh-out-loud funny. You can catch it at The Armory here in Portland through November 17th!

Don Giovanni: Boners Ahoy

So, as some of you may know, I attended a rehearsal of Don Giovanni earlier this week, courtesy of the Portland Opera. The company runs this great outreach program where cartoonists come and live sketch rehearsals in the days leading up to the show. I’m no opera buff, but the experience was fantastic. Stellar cast, dramatic staging, and no shortage of saucy thrills. If you’ve been wanting more bang for your operatic buck, this is the show for you.

Unfortunately, these sketches fail to capture the pathos and emotional torment of the show itself. I have, instead, chosen to focus mainly on the boning. There’s a lot of that.

Don Giovanni, his peasant rival, Masetto, and Masetto’s ridiculous hat.

Leporello, unwilling servant to Don Giovanni. This was the happiest I saw him in the entire production.

Most of the time he looked like this.

With good reason.

Giovanni spends a fair amount of time attempting to blame Leporello for his own sexual dalliances.

Masetto is rarely pleased with Giovanni’s party tactics.

Frustrated by his master’s shenanigans, Leporello threatens to leave Giovanni’s service.

Giovanni, however, convinces him to stay and switch clothes with his master, in order to go seduce some more babes. The disguise is somewhat lacking.

Meanwhile, Giovanni completely fails to impersonate Leporello.

Leporello learns that being Don Giovanni has its upsides.

Meanwhile, the grisly evidence of Giovanni’s murderous tendencies (displayed to their fullest at the very top of the show), continues to slide down the set.

Don Ottavio, fiance to the ravishing Donna Anna, is shocked when his beloved expresses her attraction to Don Giovanni.

At Giovanni’s party, he tries a new tactic.

Donna Anna, however, is too busy belting it like a rockstar to notice her fiancé’s change of attire. (Seriously. The women in this show fucking KILLED IT.)

In the process of lamenting her father’s murder at the hands of Don Giovanni, she makes an alarming discovery.

The Commendatore sings accusingly at Don Giovanni from beyond the grave! (Or does he?)

Leporello fears the Commendatore’s fiery gaze, but Giovanni knows the truth.

Don Ottavio makes a last ditch effort to grab the attentions of his beloved.

The Commendatore rises from the grave to deliver a striking revelation! (Also Giovanni gets whisked away to eternal damnation and there’s a big moralistic finale or something I wasn’t really paying attention to anything but the Merkin Mystery at this point.)

And they all lived happily every after!

***

Seriously, folks, with the flippancy of my goofy sketches aside, I suggest you all go check out this show. I had a wonderful time. To sweeten the deal, those of you in the know (i.e. everyone reading this blog) can get your tickets for the Thursday (11/8) show at 50% off! Head over here and enter the password MOZART to get in on the action.

If you enjoyed this you can find other excellent commentary, artwork, and cheap gags from the evening’s cartoonists and live bloggers on Twitter under the hashtag #pdxgiovanni.