For March 2007


March 14th, 2007 

Spatchcock Horology

 The delightful word 'spatchcock' has several meanings, such as to dress a fowl for cooking, but I prefer the third meaning, which is to to 'insert or interpolate, especially in a forced or incongruous manner'. Horology is of course the science of keeping time, and so the meaning of this new chapter becomes clear; we are leaping far forward, into a place filled with flashbacks and remembrances, a mass of time forced together, as you will find, sometimes in incongruous ways.

In this time, Fuschia is very old indeed, and Ransei and Hannya are long dead. Heliotrope is literally on her last leg, and a great gulf of unclear but easily surmised events separate us from the devastation witnessed earlier. It is clear that Hannya and Aoi married and grew old together, and that Fuschia and Heliotrope were an important part of their lives. We can see that there are Slimes, and presumably Jellese, involved in this new land, and that this new land must have been a distant colony; Fuschia's chair is of the same type seen on Senryoku, especially onboard air ships, unbolted, it must have been a gift to her. The cracks denote its age; we can surmise that the colony is at least as old as she, and she is very old.

It is always a tricky thing, in telling a tale, to decide what to show, and what to pass over. It is often the case that entire lifetimes are not of such interest as to be worth detailing. A case is easily made for a domestic story where nothing of any great and cosmic import ever happens, and such stories abound, but such everyday adventures is not what Pastel Defender Heliotrope is focused upon. So it is that perhaps six decades have been leapt across as though a stream, and now, on the other side of that flow, a new field awaits.

We must assume that the domestic bliss of Heliotrope and Fuschia has been both sweet and bitter as all lives are, filled with the honey of love and joy mixed with the tart tang of loss. But for all that we can imagine has passed in the missing decades; laughter, tears, birthdays and celebrations, work and struggle, building and digging and hauling... what really matters is now what is to come, what is the resolution of everything that has been set up thus far.

For this is a cosmic story, a tale of universes and entities beyond full understanding, of spaces and powers beyond comprehension. We have the full measure of the mystery that is the Omnipitor to discover, and what it matters to a literal multiverse beyond the confines of such a small farm.

The Omnipitor. Immortal, eternal technology, capable of incredible powers, not the least of which is the generation of a living, human-like identity within it. An artificial personality that is capable of love and sorrow.

And it is in love with a terribly mortal human being.

More than this it has an otherworldly purpose it still does not know.

Sixty years have been skipped to find out the answer to the question: what will come of all of this ?




March 21st, 2007 

A New Computer

 With help from my many readers and my family, I have finally built my computer of the next five years. I had my old Alienware for the past five years, bought back during our more wealthy days, before our wealth was lost in the last stock market crash. My old Alienware served me well enough, but over time became increasingly unstable, and woefully underpowered. I've been enduring crashes several times a day, and the new art programs I use for my comics strained the poor machine. In it's day, it was cutting edge.

The problem with having a fancy-schmancy pre-built gamer rig like an Alienware, I have found, is that it is not unlike a console machine. It does what it does very, very well, but the hardware is fairly frozen. Oh, sure, you can swap in a new graphics card -to a point- but adding something like, say, more memory...can be a problem. Stephen made my old computer last longer by hunting down the specialized and no longer produced memory that was the only thing my Alienware could use...but even then, there were only two slots for it, and that was it.

So my new, homebrew machine was built to be expanded over the years.

The motherboard is capable of seating a quad-core, one day, currently it seats a duo-core intel chip. The case was chosen to be roomy enough to allow any number of configurations, and to provide serious cooling. The components, while quality, are easy to acquire, and not so specialized or obscure as to ever make it hard to find replacements or upgrades for them. Overall, it is not the bleeding edge, but it is capable of being upgraded easily, and significantly, over time.

Putting it together was a very interesting experience, and gave me a much better understanding of how the parts that make up a computer work together. Sandi helped me, of course, and towards the end, Stephen stepped in as well, to assist. I learned that the most valuable tool you can have when building one of these things is a magnetic screwdriver. I cannot even imagine how some of those screws could be seated without the use of a magnetic screwdriver! Some had to fit through tiny holes that no finger could ever fit in.

The CPU was very interesting in that it had no pins...instead the bottom was covered with tiny, square, flat contacts, and it was designed to fit, as a whole, into a precision slot. A cover could then be locked over it. The idea of seating a chip with a thousand pins frightened me; this modern solution was quite nice indeed. Things have changed a lot since the days of my ancient Alienware!

Indeed, unlike just five years ago, building a computer has become remarkably simple. We were able to construct the new machine in just one day, and it booted up and beeped the first time we switched it on. This quite amazed me; I was sure that it would take days or weeks of fiddling until it would work right. I feel that if I had a bit more practice, I could build a machine entirely without help. Wiring is still pretty daunting, but the basic stuff is almost like expensive legos nowadays. Plug and play, indeed!

I'm not yet certain what the full performance of my new machine is, but I can say that it is vastly faster and more stable than my old computer. Programs just sing on the thing, and I haven't had a single problem with lack of memory at all. I used to have such issues with large images, doing cut and paste and such of image parts - I would inevitably have the old machine lock up if I selected too large a bit of art. Now, I can rearrange panels in my comics without fear, have multiple windows open at the same time, all with large art in them, and not suffer any slowdown, or any fatal crashes. It's strange getting used to this: I am very ginger about it all, acting from what I became used to on my old machine.

As for games, well... what few of my old titles that I have installed on the old machine...let's just say it is interesting to finally get to see what they look like with all of the settings set above 'Low' or (if lucky) 'Medium'. Things look nice with decent textures, shading, and lighting on them. I begin to comprehend just how old five years really is, in computer terms. It's a lot.

The new machine is vastly more quiet too, despite having half a dozen fans in the thing. That's kind of nice - not having a constant loud whirr rumbling about. Just a soft sigh.

Overall I learned a lot building my new computer, and it seems to be a solid, reasonably powerful box that will last me a long while.

I am very grateful to everyone that pitched in with donations to make it possible, and I intend to put the machine to great use making the best comics I possibly can from now on.




March 27th, 2007 

My Basic Drawing Process

I love to see how other people draw. I learn a lot from even just a little information. I thought that this week I would offer up a little bit about the way I work.

The starting digital canvas I always use for Pastel is a blank .TIFF sheet at 2250 width X 3000 Height. These work out to the same dimentions as an 8X11 sheet of paper, if printed out, dots per inch. I think. I chose this after witnessing the immense effort that went into making my first epic, Unicorn Jelly, into a printworthy form... I have sworn to never make the same errors again.

This format should be easy as pie to turn into a physical book.

The process I use usually takes about seven steps.

The first step is either painting all the backgrounds -or- doing the initial sketches of the characters. The choice here varies depending on the subject matter. For panels where the background is important, or where the characters are small in relation to it, I paint the background first.

For panels where the background is unimportant (and could just as easily be left blank!) I sketch the characters first.

I very seldom use a blank (or textured/colored) background - as some cartoonists do- because I always feel like I am cheating my audience. If I do use this technique, it is because I honestly feel it acts to emphasize a 'character moment' better than anything else I could do.

Painting a background can take several steps just by itself, but I won't go into them here.

After the basic geometry -the skeleton- of the characters is completed, I do linework as the second step. I add details and refine what the sketch lines suggest.

The third step is usually hair. In Pastel, I have tried an experiment of drawing extremely hyper-detailed hair, with every strand visible. As time has gone on, I have learned more and more about how to draw hair, and how to highlight it, and how it flows. This experiment is basically a teaching tool for me, which, I think, adds a unique 'look' to this particular story.

The fourth step is painting in the clothing. This is essentially flat color which is then airbrushed to shade it. I am trying more and more to concentrate on how cloth folds,  but I have a lot to learn, of course.

The fifth step is flesh and any remaining details. I also may add shine, sweat, or other visual effects. I may also add any special effects at this stage.

The sixth step is to cut and trim the panels to give them distinct and clear edges. I may also move them about on the page, if needed.

The final step (not shown) is to add speech balloons and sound effects. This is a bit of a game, balancing how wordy I am versus how much of my artwork I can stand to cover up. My watchword here is to remember that the story is the reason for the art, and in any case, my art is not so good, so what the heck!



By Jennifer Diane Reitz

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