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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Ghosts in the Machine

I'm excited to announce that, starting in today's Knoxville Mercury for the next nine weeks, I have created a short comics series titled "Ghosts in the Machine" in honor of the upcoming Knoxville Stomp festival in May.

Each week pays tribute to musicians who participated in the sessions. Many, but not all, came out of nowhere, recorded a wonderful record, and then disappeared again as a result of the Great Depression—it was just too difficult for many of them to make a living in music. 

Knoxville Stomp is a festival celebrating the re-mastering and release of a newly recovered collection of recordings made at the St. James Hotel in 1929 and 1930 in Knoxville, known as the Knoxville Sessions. The festival will include exhibitions, live music, a record show, and panel discussions which will include the great 78 record collector Joe Bussard and many, many more.

I really loved creating this work that combines my love of 1920s-1930s-era music with comics. It's a good lane to travel.

Here are the first two panels:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Trouble with Eyes

"The pressure in your eyes is a little high," he said.

Say this to a visual person and that person will picture exploding eyeballs. 

I was making my annual visit to my favorite ophthalmologist. You bring in the big guns when you've had Type I diabetes for almost forty years—people who check your retina, your optic nerve, the blood vessels in your eyes. Your eye pressure. I had a cataract removed from one eye years ago. Lasers have zapped leaky blood vessels in the other eye, also years ago. They've been watching the pressure in my eyes for a while now. This is what you do to keep your vision when you have this disease. 

Off to another room to do visual fields, which I hate. Visual fields are done to check peripheral vision, something that can be compromised due to high pressure in eyes (ocular hypertension) or, in more worrisome cases, glaucoma (where there has been damage to the optic nerve because of prolonged high pressure in the eyes). And glaucoma can mess you up, big time, if it's not treated.

I hate the visual field test because a) I don't like being tested, and b) I dislike the person who's usually in charge of this test. To call this person a masochistic psychopath would be mild. And it makes me very angry indeed that this person has power over frightened people who are concerned about their vision. You don't need a condescending person barking at you while you wonder if you're going blind.

Next came more pupil dilation, eyedrops for numbing the eyeball, and the doctor peering into my eyes while shining bright lights and using Seussian doodads on them to check the pressure again. 

Your eyes have their own pressure independent of your blood pressure. Different things can cause pressure fluctuation: ducts inside the eyes that aren't draining fluid properly; eye trauma; certain medications like steroids, and so on. My diabetes may or may not be the cause of my elevated eye pressure, and there's nothing I can do about it except take medicated eye drops to try to bring the pressure down.

I don't seem to have any optic nerve damage yet, but doctors don't mess around when it comes to diabetes. If you have symptoms for anything, they pounce on it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. "I want to start you on eye drops to try to bring the pressure down," my favorite ophthalmologist said. I heard it as, "I want you to stick hot forks of displeasure into your eyeballs." Because I was on the verge of panic, and nobody at the Eye Doctor Palace was as generous with sharing information as the Internet.

I started thinking, "Shit! Shit, shit, shit!" and immediately thought of when my Dad neared the end of his life. An infected gall bladder had landed him in a hospital. Here he was, ten years into dementia but still living at home, and that stupid gall bladder had turned gangrenous. He woke up in his hospital bed, looked around, and, realizing he was in some sort of medical facility (and thinking he was alone in the room), started saying to himself, "Shit! Shit, shit, shit!" It's that animal-backed-into-a-corner feeling, a cold chill you feel deep in your bowels, the thought of no escaping this one, bub.

I could feel panic rising, and I started to cry, startling my very kind favorite ophthalmologist. "Are you okay?" he said, reaching for a Kleenex. I was surprised, myself. "I…m…sorry…I…muh…terrified," I blubbered. He truly did look surprised at my reaction. "Well, things aren't so bad," he said. "You don't have any optic nerve damage, and the eye pressure is elevated, but it can be controlled." He said he understood my feelings. But later I realized my reaction was mostly because I didn't have enough information about what was going on, nobody seemed forthcoming about giving me more without my asking questions, and I felt like I didn't know where to start with the questioning because I was so unnerved. Reading more about it later on did help, and it gave me the ability to ask halfway intelligent questions the next time I saw him (two weeks later).

I went home with a sample of prescription eye drops—one drop per eye at bedtime—after being told the side effects of this drug include, weirdly, eyelash growth and the possibility that my blue eyes could turn brown after prolonged use.

"Oh, Bwoonhilda, you're so wovewy." I guess I won't need false eyelashes…

The drug has reduced the eye pressure a bit, and I go back to my favorite ophthalmologist in a month to check its further effectiveness. I'm not crazy about taking another prescription drug, but in this case there's nothing else I can do. Chances are, even if I weren't a Type I diabetic, I might still be cursed with high ocular pressure.

So here we are.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Soon it will begin to look a lot like Christmas…

The temperature is around fifty degrees outside here in Tennessee, but we'll ignore it (except when we walk the dog and feel thankful for the moderate temps) and begin to drag out the Christmas stuff.

Bread will be baking. Christmas cookies, too. We'll disentangle the strings of lights, plug them in, and curse over the ones that refuse to work. We'll buy batteries for the outdoor light strings, pull out the Dickens Village houses Dave's mom and dad gave us, and freak out the cats and dog with the tree we've just bought from the lot around the corner. I'll play the Bing Crosby holiday 78s on the victrola, we'll think about those we've lost (especially Dad, who loved Christmas), put the ornaments from Dave's grandmother on the tree, and get a little wistful.

I've noticed many Christmas decorations were put up pretty early this year, and I wonder if people need a little extra hearthside light and warmth due to the terror and sadness in the world that feels closer and closer to home.

* * *

The graphic novel work continues, and yes, I'm still getting up somewhere around 5:30-6 a.m. most days to write and draw. This does seem to be working for me, much to my surprise. I'm still not sure how I will get this book out into the world. It seems to make sense to offer it online, or at least a part of it. I guess I'll decide once I'm closer to finishing it a couple of years from now.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Choogling along

You know that graphic novel I've been working on for the last few months? You, know, this one?

I'm up to page 63 in the illustrations. The story has been outlined and about 1/3 of it written. 

I originally planned to write the whole thing first, then sketch it all out, work a second draft, and then do some finished art for submitting the whole thing to a publisher.

But I was itching to start working out the art—figuring out how it should look, colors, etc.—while I wrote. I figured if I set up the detailed story arc via the outline and wrote a section of chapters, the second draft of that section could be worked out while I did the sketches for each page in those chapters.

This is probably madness, and no doubt an experienced comics person would snigger in disbelief at how I'm doing this, but it seems to be working for me so far. But stay tuned—the projected finish date I've set up for myself is August 2017. I might be singing a different tune by then.

The most I can do per week is 3 finished pages of art—sketch to finish—while I do other work that actually earns money. Maybe at some point I'll be able to work faster without the quality of the work suffering, but for now I have to be content with this pace. 

But the surprising thing is this—me, Ms I Will Never, Ever Be A Morning Person. Ever.—decided to started getting my butt out of bed early in the morning: 5 or 6 a.m. I'd read a blog by comics creator Greg Ruth, who has some pretty sound advice:

Sure it means you're hungry for lunch at 9-10 am and that's weird, but the overall effect on your health is impossible to disregard. Even if I had superpowers and stayed up late woking on INDEH I'd still never have turned it in on time. I was producing someday as much as five or seven pages of fully finished lettered and printable pages of art every two days waking up early. It was exhausting, but like the kind of exhaustion a nap can solve, not the bone burning tongue-wagging hellscape you enter when you've clocked the same hours late into the night. Humans are daytime animals, even we natural night owls must accept this. Your pals scoff at your crashing out around 10pm where they're just getting started? Just wink at em and walk away knowing you're doing it better and in the end, your tortoise will totally crush those obnoxious rabbits at the finish line. Seriously- try this out for a week and see if it doesn't change your thinking. You don't like it, switch back. But I think you'll dig it. Even after I turned in the book, I'm still on this schedule. This is my new schedule now, (though not the seven day a week thing. that sucks and should never happen).
Link here.

Let us all pause for a moment of silence while we ponder "five or seven pages of fully finished lettered and printable pages of art every two days." Holy shit. I think he's talking about black and white art, not full color, but still! I bow to you, Greg Ruth.

Changing work hours made a lot of sense to me, and I thought why not try it for a week? And I was pleasantly surprised at how much more I was able to accomplish when doing the work at the beginning of the day instead of the end of the day. And if I need a short nap in the afternoon I don't feel guilty about taking one. I'm in the third week of this experiment, and it seems to be sticking.

Oh, and before I go, here's a project I'm really excited about. Knoxville Stomp is a new music festival to be held May 5-8, 2016. It will celebrate the Brunswick/Vocalion record label recording sessions made at the St. James Hotel here in Knoxville in 1929 and 1930. Country blues, hillbilly, and popular music were recorded, but the Great Depression interfered with the release of much of it. Bear Family Records, highly respected as a source for archived historic music, will be releasing these recordings in a new box set, and the festival will celebrate this and the musicians who music at the St. James.

Since I love Depression-era music and collect 78 rpm records, I will be creating little bio comics about these musicians which will run in the Knoxville Mercury, if all goes as planned, in the weeks leading up to the festival. This so satisfies the inner librarian in me as I research who these musicians were and what they looked like while I write their stories and listen to their recordings (which are old but mostly new to me). The title of the comic may change, but for now I'm calling it "Ghosts in the Machine." I hope it sticks. Listening to music made in that era is kind of haunting, but in the best way.


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