Life at Sea with R/V Falkor

Happy New Year from the Pacific Ocean!

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I’m writing today from the outer lounge of R/V Falkor, the research vessel I’m currently working on as an artist-in-residence. At this very moment we’re motoring through the middle of nowhere, but thanks to our Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) there’s satellite Internet on board!

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One of two fiberglass domes on Falkor’s main deck. These domes protect the satellite dishes within from ocean conditions, while still allowing them the mobility necessary to maintain a connection.

The science team on board are surveying the ocean floor using multibeam mapping, and I’m doing my darndest to learn all I can about their methods and draw a summary comic for the Schmidt Ocean Institute during our 3-week transit from Guam to Honolulu.

We’re collecting data all the way, but our specific area of focus is the seafloor around the Johnston Atoll, which has never been mapped using this particular technology.

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(This is a map from a previous research expedition with NOAA, but it gives a helpful idea of location relative to our eventual port of call.)

So far the trip has carried us across hundreds of miles of the Pacific, with roaring trade winds tossing the spray into white crests around the ship. I’ve never done an open-ocean crossing like this one before, so it’s been even more of a thrill than usual to scramble up the companionway every morning to drink in the view.

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The surf kicked up around the ship is never the same twice.

The crew are very welcoming and ready to assist with the science operations, and we’ve been having daily lectures on subjects like the Mariana Trench and its surrounding islands, the history of sonar, and the intricacies of multibeam data.

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Since it’s not every day you find yourself on a state-of-the-art research vessel, I thought I’d answer some general questions from Twitter! Here’s what everyone was curious to know:

How loud are the engines?

Quite loud on deck! My berth is two decks down, so it’s fairly insulated from the noise when I’m sleeping at night, but there’s a general rumble at all times. Between the rush of the wind and sea and the roar of the engines, you have to speak up to be heard when you’re outside.

How are day-to-day tasks different here than on a sailing ship?

Unlike previous trips where I’ve been embedded with a tall ship crew, there’s not much for me to do here from a vessel maintenance perspective. There are no lines to haul or sails to furl—the crew generally keep themselves occupied with navigation, engineering work, and watchkeeping duties. There’s still lots for them to do, but a lot of it is outside my area of expertise, so I’m getting on with the drawing work.

The science team is monitoring the control room as we map the ocean floor to get a sense of what we’re passing over, the marine technicians are processing data and making sure the systems and sensors stay online (you can even follow live cruise data here), and the housekeeping staff do an amazing job of keeping everything spick and span. The vessel is more of a floating research station than anything, so there are more departments with greater specialization, rather than a collective team who all take turns handing various tasks.

This leaves me somewhat at loose ends—I’m used to being more active—but I’ve got my work cut out for me when it comes to creating this comic, so I’m taking all the time I can to draft blog posts, work on outreach projects, and script the story that will explain our time here to the outside world.

How does the vessel handle?

Given that we’re motoring against the trade winds, the ride has been a little choppy. We did adjust our course to a lower latitude so that the wind is coming at us aslant rather than right on the nose, which means we’re not being slowed down quite as much. In the next few days we’ll turn north toward the Johnston Atoll.

There are stabilizers on board, which help keep things relatively level, but we still make liberal use of Non-Slip Shelf Liner—just like I do back home on my angled drawing board!

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How are you getting along with the scientists? Was there any friction to start?

The science team are fantastic! We have a wide range of specialties, so I’m learning a lot about the terrain we’re covering from various angles (oceanographic, geologic, etc.). They’ve all been very patient with my barrage of questions about how things work and the lengthy time it takes for me to work out anything mathematical.

Is there a lot of turnover in the research crew?

Different research teams join Falkor every time there’s a new cruise. This particular trip is unique in that it’s a hybrid Transit Cruise. The ship needed to get back from Guam to Hawai’i, and John Smith (our lead scientist) applied to piggyback some of his mapping research on top of the already-scheduled travel days. All three of the science crew have been aboard Falkor before for various other research trips, so while there’s a high turnover from trip to trip, the overall pool of people associated with the vessel is pretty well-connected.

There are five of us “outreach” crew members: myself, Andrew (Graduate Student from Guam), Brocks Jr. and Sr. (Ambassadors from 11th Hour Racing, a program of the Schmidt Family Foundation, and Sail Martha’s Vineyard, a maritime training program benefitting underserved populations on the island of Martha’s Vineyard), and Jena (High School Teacher from Hawai’i).

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The Outreach Team! Photo by Mónika Naranjo González.

Is there an initiation rite for new crew?

I’ll get back to you. So far nobody’s covered me in krill.

What’s the best part? What’s the worst part?

Best: Working on deck with the whole world swaying and the air whipping around like warm silk—especially after months of Pacific Northwest winter.

Worst: Trying to draw straight lines in a rough seaway.

What’s everyone eating?

Our chefs, Peter and Greg, are magnificent. Before I arrived a lot of the shoreside support team were cooing about how lucky I was to be going aboard because of the food, and now I see what they were talking about. In addition to a steady supply of snacks and treats, we get really magnificent meals three times a day (with an extra late-night meal for those standing watch). I mean, just look at this New Year’s Day feast:

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Wait, I thought pigs were bad luck on boats?

I hadn’t heard that one before! (Most of my interest in pigs has been around their history as a good luck tattoo.) A cursory Google suggests that pigs are considered bad luck specifically on fishing vessels, which might explain why I hadn’t heard of the notion before. If anyone has anecdotal evidence: leave a comment!

What are the bathrooms like?

Ahh, the perennial question. Like everything else on the vessel: SUPER NICE. I’m so impressed by the standards of cleanliness and design everywhere on this ship. The heads (that’s what they’re usually called on board) are relatively small, but well cared-for, clean, and modern. I’m used to the old torture-chamber-type pump action heads, but these ones flush with the touch of a button like a standard toilet.

The major restriction: only toilet paper can go down them—absolutely no chemical cleaners—because the waste system is biological! The bacterial colonies responsible for breaking down waste in the blackwater tanks are very sensitive, so we can only use a special cleaning solution for the toilet bowls. I’ll see if I can’t snag the chief mate and find out a little more about how this specific system works, since I’m curious myself.

That’s probably enough for today, so I’ll get back to sketching this very complicated-looking hydraulic sea crane. If you have more questions about life at sea, drop me a line in the comments or on Twitter at @LuBellWoo! You can also read up on the rest of the cruise outreach by following #MappinTheFloor on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

New Comic: A Week at Sea with OHP

I’ve put a new comic up this month! To fight off the winter chill, here’s a travelogue from my week of sailing aboard the Oliver Hazard Perry back in August/September.

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This trip with OHP was a great opportunity to refine my practice of joining organizations as an embedded cartoonist, merging the duties of a deckhand (line handling, climbing aloft, maintenance, etc.), educator (teaching classes on scurvy and nautical trivia with Baggywrinkles as my de facto textbook), and artist (frantically sketching the students and their activities at every turn). Each trip I take I feel like I’m getting a better handle on this format, and how best to adapt it to different kinds of experiences.

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You can read the whole comic online right here, or purchase a copy in print via my store.

While I completed all the artwork during my time aboard, getting the scanning, cleanup, and formatting squared away in-between all my traveling from August to November proved tricky, hence the lengthy lagtime. I’m thrilled to finally have it all put together. Here’s a look at the trip in photos:

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The Oliver Hazard Perry is America’s newest sail training vessel. You can learn more about her and her programs at OHPRI.org.

Big thanks to my supporters on Patreon for making this comic possible! If you want to join them and get a behind-the-scenes look at these pieces as they come together, head on over here.

 

 

UK Trip + Thought Bubble Ahoy

The time has come for me to fly away for my FINAL convention of 2016!

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This has been a very, very busy year indeed, but I’m planning to go out with a bang at the wonderful Thought Bubble Festival November 5th and 6th in Leeds. If you’re a UK reader, now’s your chance to get Baggywrinkles, A Life in Objects, Bombshells, Irene #6, and all my minicomics without having to pay those pesky international shipping fees!

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I’ll be away in the UK for two weeks total, mostly seeing family and friends since I don’t get to come out very often, but I might see about staging another sketch crawl while I’m in London. Drop me a line on Twitter if you’re interested.

Here’s a map of the Royal Armouries Hall (one of the show’s three exhibition spaces), where I’ll be exhibiting at Table 67. There’s also a load of other wonderful creators in the same hall. I’ve taken the liberty of pointing out some of my favorites on the map below.

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I’ll also be on a Sunday panel with the great Dan Berry (whose podcast I had a really amazing time guesting on here) talking about MONEY IN COMICS. I’ve got a lot to say about this one.

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If you’re coming out, be sure to let me know! I had a great time at Thought Bubble two years ago, and I really can’t wait to see everyone again. Tickets for the convention are available right here.

As for all you American pals, I’ll see you at the end of November!

Alaska Robotics Minicon in Juneau this Saturday

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Hi friends,

Just a quick post to let you know that I’ll be appearing at the Alaska Robotics Minicon this Saturday in Juneau, Alaska! The show runs 10am-5pm and is TOTALLY FREE! It’s also got an amazing lineup of guests including Kate Beaton, Tony Cliff, Raina Telgemeier, and many, many more. Here’s a map of where I’ll be on the floor (Table 27):

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I’ll also be making a couple of school visits during the day on Friday, which I’ll try to document in some fashion. Really looking forward to talking about scurvy with a bunch of middle schoolers. I think that’s going to go over well.

See you in the wilderness!

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New Talk: The View from Aloft

I have new video up from my time at The Animation Workshop in Denmark, where I was teaching a class on webcomics and social media earlier this month. (This is the first time I’ve had video footage of my public speaking—thanks, Sam!—which is really exciting.) If you’re a person who makes things on the Internet, or a person who wants to make things on the Internet, or a cartoonist, or a budding creator—this probably has some utility for you.

Things I cover:

  • How I ended up doing what I’m doing now (full-time adventure-cartoonist-ing, most days)
  • How social media has enabled me to succeed in crowdfunding, freelancing, and basically everything else
  • What sailing has in common with being an artist (it’s more than you think)
  • Communities and gratitude economies and how they shape our work
  • My unified very vague theory of How the Internet Makes Us Better People
  • What you can gain by giving your work away for free

I had so much fun teaching at TAW, and I hope this talk distills some of the stuff we were exploring and discussing over the course of my two weeks there. If you enjoyed it and want to see/enable more, feel free to check out my Patreon page! I post a ton of behind-the-scenes, nitty gritty, creative-in-the-trenches stuff there every single week, and I’d love to have you on board.

Teaching in Denmark

Some big, big, BIG news for you this week, friends:

DenmarkBannerThe Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark has invited me to come teach a two-week class on webcomics, the Internet, and modern career options for independent cartoonists. I am beside myself with excitement. I fly in just ten days and there’s a lot to get done before I go, but I just can’t wait to meet this batch of dedicated students. I mean, seriously, go look at the work they’ve been doing here (comics-specific work can be found on this Tumblr). SO COOL.

Logo-sortI’ve also never been to Scandinavia before, so I’m extra thrilled to be exploring a new part of Europe. Apparently there’s nifty cathedral in Viborg, but you all know what I’m really holding out for.

Viborg_2Perhaps. We shall see.

I’m looking into options for capturing and broadcasting bits of the class while I’m there, so if this is a subject that interests you be sure to follow along on Twitter—I’ll do my best to share work in progress and notes from the trip on there!

That’s all for now.

<3

L

 

USA! USA!

Well well well, December already and I’m back in the States! I hope you all had a fabulous month.

England and France were absolutely spectacular. I had a sell-out show at Thought Bubble, met a load of great UK creators, explored some of London’s best museums, decompressed in the French countryside, and ate waaaaaaay too much cheese.

(Just kidding. You can never eat too much cheese.)

This is just a quick post to let you all know that my shipping deadline for holiday orders is THIS THURSDAY (December 4th), since I’ll be out of town visiting my family in California for most of December and won’t have access to my stock. If you’ve got a maritime enthusiast in the family, why not get them some quality nautical comics? You can check out all the stuff I’ve got right here. Be sure to request if you’d like me to sign ’em to someone special.

Also, because I feel bad that I don’t have enough time to do a full, in-depth write-up of the trip: have some pages from my sketchbook! (If you’d like to see absolutely everything I’ve done each month, there’s a Patreon tier especially for you! Supporting me making more comics gets you access to exclusive high-res PDFs of all my sketchbook stuff month-by-month.)

That’s all from me for now!

England, Ho!

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In case you haven’t heard, I’m on my way to England! I’ll see all you US cats in three weeks. The laptop is staying here in my absence, so please expect some delays on email communication. I’ll be around on Twitter, most likely, and posting art as I go. If you’re around London on the 20th there might even be a sketch meet-up. Keep your eyes on the web for more details.

If you’re in the UK this month, be sure to come say hello at Thought Bubble in Leeds November 15th and 16th. Otherwise I’ll catch you when I’m back in the States at the end of the month.

Huge thanks to all you Patreon supporters and kind-hearted Thought Bubble Fund contributors. You made this happen. I’m so grateful.

P.S. Want some comics to tide you over till I return? Down to the Seas Again is up in its entirety for free on The Nib! Check it out here.

Boston Bound

The time is upon us!

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I’m departing for Boston this evening for a week of historical research and sailing aboard the Charles W. Morgan, an original 1840s wooden whaling ship. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, feel free to refresh your memory with this post. I’ve got some fun stuff scheduled for the blog while I’m away, so stay tuned for news and thrilling events that will autopost in my absence. I’ll also do my best to update from the road — or water, as it were.

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In addition: I would also love to see any and all of you in the Boston area at Trident Booksellers and Cafe, where I’ll be doing a reading/signing on July 14th at 7pm. This is my first solo signing event, and I’m really excited to meet all my East Coast boat comics people. Here’s a link to Trident’s site with some more info, plus a Facebook event where you can invite your friends.

See you on the other side, pals!

Thought Bubble Fundraiser, Girls With Slingshots Guest Arc, and the Oh Joy, Sex Toy Kickstarter!

Hey gang! So some of you may have noticed a new little widget on the side of my site. It looks like this:

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I’ve put up a donation button because I’ve been accepted to table at the Thought Bubble Festival in England this year (WOO!) and I would absolutely LOVE to attend, but the airfare costs are prohibitively expensive ($1200 for a round trip ticket plus train fare and lodging — haroo). I’m setting aside as much as I can from every job I complete this summer and pursuing other funding options, but I figure every little bit helps!

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Thought Bubble is one of those shows that I’ve been hearing about for years and wishing I could attend. It’s a great mix of independent and mainstream cartoonists, a hub for creative work in my home away from home, and an opportunity to dip my toe in the wider world of European festivals. If any of you feel like helping me raise the cash I would be eternally grateful. I haven’t been back to see family in England for six years (the longest I’ve ever gone without a visit) and this would be an amazing opportunity to bring my work overseas and connect with these dear people who I haven’t seen in an age — plus some new readers and fans!

So that’s that.

“But wait!” you say. “This charity stuff is all well and good, but what if I want to give you money and actually get something in return?” Well friend, I have exciting news for you.

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One of Thought Bubble’s special guests, dynamite comics lady Danielle Corsetto, is taking a giant road trip tour this summer and has hired me to write and draw a fill-in guest arc for her amazing comic Girls With Slingshots. I’ve been reading this strip since its inception ten years ago and was totally floored when Danielle took me on as one of her guest artists. What a trip! My guest comics will be going up in late July, so I’m right in the middle of inking them right now. Here’s a sneak peek at the pencils for strip #1:

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Okay so here’s where the money comes in: because Danielle is a rad professional, she’s paying all her guest artists a solid rate for their work, but she’s also running a Kickstarter to cover the costs for her summer book tour, and we’re really close to a stretch goal that nets all the artists involved a sweet cash money bonus. This extra chunk of change would take care of almost half my flight cost! So head over to the campaign page and check out the cool rewards she has lined up. It’s a great way for you to get some nifty swag and help me in my quest for international domination.

And as if that weren’t enough…

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You guys like these Oh Joy, Sex Toy guest comics I’ve been doing, right? So Erika Moen is also running a Kickstarter to print the collected first year of OJST, and her stretch goals also include paying her guest artists (new and old) a higher page rate for their work. If you like sex, sex education, sex toys, Erika, me, ridiculous laser cannon boobs, rope, or any combination of those things, pre-order her fabulous book!

My first guest comic (a beginners introduction to rope bondage) will be included in the print volume, along with over 200+ other pages of prime content. Again: you get sweet rewards, I get a super-helpful cash bonus that makes traveling to the UK financially feasible.

EVERYONE WINS!

If you’re looking for a more sustainable way to support my work, stay tuned. I have something exciting to announce before the end of the month. Until then, thanks for everything!

(Especially reading this massive post. You’re all champs.)