October 2011


The Dalek of Sleepy Hollow

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Halloween and Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. There is a lovely edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham, and this Dalek is encountering Rackham’s Ichabod Crane.

Growing up in Australia, Halloween was not an event – my mother, however, had many stories from her childhood in America, so my image of Halloween is in soft nostalgic shades, being made up of those tales, the costumes in E.T. and readings of poor Ichabod Crane’s misadventure with a pumpkin in Sleepy Hollow.

Australian pumpkins are very different from American ones, but I still consider them an unsettling vegetable. In my experience, they climb trees and are often found hiding under the bedclothes – I am not the only visitor to my parents’ house to have had this encounter.

It is 200 years since the first of Jane Austen’s novels was published. I was away from my usual equipment, but drew the following as part of the general spirit of celebration on Twitter this morning (aware that the first published was not P&P):

Dalek and Prejudice

In other news: I did manage to get a picture up for last week’s Illustration Friday: Fuel (because not everything is about Daleks, yet). There have been some lovely reviews of Steampunk!, and this one from Karen Meisner at io9 mentions my comic.

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Illustration Friday: Fuel

Pen and ink, with a background of old paper added in, for Illustration Friday. My little sister and I gathering firewood while camping (I am the unstylish child in front, and the frilly things around my ankles are denim sock-protectors, although we never called them that – “ratwalls” was the term at our house, while our neighbours called them “dollies’ petticoats”).  My mother always refused to go camping, saying it was primitive enough at the house.

 When I was little, my mother would sometimes find photos in old National Geographics of ancient rural women standing next to woodpiles as large as their houses, and she would tell my father, “There! That is what I want! Please don’t just chop two days’ worth of logs before you go away for a week!”

The woodpile was at the back of the house yard, under the silky oaks and behind the tall narrow white wooden building surrounded by four-o-clocks which was the outdoor toilet. There was a cradle of starpickets to hold logs while the chainsaw was used, a huge stump which was the chopping block proper, an axe, a mallet and wedges for splitting timber down to a size that would fit in our stove. The cut wood sat in a box on the front doorstep, beside a bucket of kindling.

I remember waking up early in the mornings and hearing my father rattling the stove and emptying the ash box before setting and lighting the fire. He would sit with it and have a cup of tea with a cat on his knee, or smoke his pipe, and wake up before bringing tea up to the rest of the family, and threatening to let the dogs into the bedrooms if we did not open our eyes.

We had to adjust the temperature by opening and closing doors, sliding plates and spinning wheels. Pans dried on the rack above the stove, along with a tin of eggshells waiting to be dried and crushed into calcium supplement for the chooks. Behind the stove was a window, and pardelots nesting in the warmth of the eaves would flutter down and peck bugs (or, my father insisted, ground glass) off the window. Once a cat recovering on my father’s knee (after being rescued from a fall into the watertank) launched itself at the birds and landed four-square on the stovetop.

And from time to time the copper hot-water box in the back of the stove would explode and flood the kitchen with sooty water, in which case my mother, on entering the room, would turn around and leave again until all had been put to rights.

Dalek's Thesaurus

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for that great and thrilling literary classic Roget’s Thesaurus. It is also an excellent argument for buying a small dalek for perspective in future drawings.

I was raised on books about words. They never moved from the kitchen catch-all, even when my father conducted his periodic lightning raid on the schoolwork and embroidery patterns and the specimens which collected in the interesting-things-basket. The Macquarie Dictionary sat with the Webster (my mother is American), the Hobson-Jobson, a few interlinear texts, Roget’s, a dictionary of quotations, a concordance and the rainfall register.

My father would stop mid-book to look up peculiar words – in the middle of conversations he still sends visitors off to verify a word’s origin. We played Tennis-Elbow-Foot on long car trips (there were no short ones) and Dictionary by lamplight during black-outs (although my father defined most words as “a rare Latvian squirrel). We read linguistic texts (last time I was home I started reading An Old English Grammar and the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language to my father, as a break from Australian war history and Pride and Prejudice).

And the main influence all this has had on me is that I am prepared to argue until you are blue in the face that Roget’s “meaning clusters” are a far more efficient and effective format than any alphabetical dictionary, and also cooler, and that dictionaries these days are cheapened by not having an appendix with diagrams of standard cuts of meat.

Also, “decimate” probably doesn’t mean what most people think it means.

Here is a fun party game: grab your rhyming dictionary, pick two sections at random and use them to write a limerick.

In other news: I saw and sketched the Queen with Deb on Monday. NaNoWriMo starts next week – I am under strict instructions to complete my current story OR ELSE, so if there is no word from me after November, ask Aimee what she did to me.

Preludes and Daleks

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes, by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Mike Dringenberg, Sam Kieth and Malcolm Jones III. I don’t recall any grand pianos in it but am willing to be corrected. Teresa Nielsen Hayden did a wonderful reread of the first issue on Tor.com here: Re-reading Sandman: Issue #1, “The Sleep of the Just”.

While I was at work yesterday, the Dalek Game and #dalekbooks seem to have taken on a separate existence. Thank you to those who have posted and commented and followed – I am working back through my inbox!

Prints: Several people have asked about buying prints. I would love to be able to sell them, but want to do the right thing, so I have written to the BBC and Arts Law to find out what that is. If I get a positive answer, I will not stay silent.

And in other news: Kinds of Blue, an anthology of comics by my friends (I did the art for two) has been launched and is available to buy online! The YA steampunk anthology Steampunk! (with my first comic “Finishing School”) is available online and in stores – I will post a bit more about this soon. Friends and I went to see Monstrous Regiment at the Arts Theatre yesterday – their Pratchett play is an annual tradition, and this year’s Sergeant Jackrum is worth the price of entry alone. Today I am staying in and drawing Daleks.

Illustration Friday: Scattered

A scattering of grain and chickens for this week’s Illustration Friday. I was working on a portrait commission – fine lines with a touch of colour. This piece of paper was the palette for the watercolour pencils. The chickens were drawn over the top with pen and inks (and are also a commission from my mother).

I do not romanticise chickens, but I remain broadly fond of them. When I was growing up, the chooks were my business (care, feeding, egg collection, book keeping and so forth). I was even a subscriber to a monthly poultry magazine, I knew all about hatching temperatures, Sebrights and Wyandottes. I could make and use a chook-crook and could sing “Landrace Rooster” complete. Sometimes when I went to lock them up for the night, I would look into the roost – the rough branches which made the perches had been worn satiny by generations of chicken feet and the birds would huddle down for the night crooning peacably among themselves. It was a very relaxing atmosphere – chickens are much nicer when they are asleep (fortunately, they are also easy to hypnotise).

In other news: Our comics anthology Kinds of Blue is now launched and available to buy online!

Where the Wild Daleks Are

This instalment of The Dalek Game is for Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. I wanted to like the film, but couldn’t. It was very beautiful and atmospheric, and probably a very good film – but it didn’t have any of the brief wild joy and sturdy comfort of the original story, and I couldn’t watch it and forgive that loss (which was, I think, what the film may have been about). Hook came closer to the flight/adventure/return, and sometimes Labyrinth gets a little of it – but really, Labyrinth is best paired with Sendak’s Outside Over There, which in turn has more of the distant eeriness of the Wild Things film.

My favourite Sendak story, however, is still-and-always One was Johnny, for easily-frustrated little Johnny who “lived by himself and LIKED IT LIKE THAT!”

In other news: Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #52 is out, with a story and two illustrations by me (and some by other people) – I talked about them and the process here. And now I must run and eat popcorn and toast marshmallows and draw.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine issue 52 is out! (Cover by Olivia Kernot). My copy has arrived, but my housemate has pinched it and is lying on the sofa reading out extracts, preceded by, “This story contains the immortal line…” She appears to like it so – go, buy, read.

I am always delighted to see a new ASIM (even if I can’t get near it) but particularly so with this issue, because (in addition to two illustrations) it has one of my stories in it: “Undine Love”.

“Undine Love” started as a symptom of reading Gothic fiction (as in, actual Gothic fiction written in the late 1700s and early 1800s, with people being dragged off to hell and screaming “Wertrold, Wertrold, save me!” and wrestling anacondas in Ceylon, in case you ever wondered what Jane Austen’s characters were reading). I began writing a story in suitably anguished prose, then wondered whether (as an exercise) it would work if updated from wuthering medievalish riverbanks to a modern beachhouse. It worked, but it felt rather sandy and unpleasant, so I shifted the story to something like the Lockyer Valley, where my parents live now and where the side roads plunge into deep romantic creek-valleys, and set it at a farmhouse and a bed-and-breakfast above a little river.

It’s a world away, now, from Peter Haining’s Great British Tales of Terror. Along with a terrible pun it has acquired Tori and Jack, Bartok and George and the Damsons, a ute, bagpipes and an out-of-place apple orchard, and I’m still a little inclined to be in love with them all. It’s about… well, contracts and family businesses, longings, faithfulness, promises and fences, and a setting that – if it existed – would have been badly damaged by the floods which swept down this January, after the story was written.

To my delight (although I would still love to see another artist’s version of my words one day) I was asked to illustrate “Undine Love”, and filled several pages with detailed scribbles, but couldn’t suit any of them to a finished style (or get my sister to pose with the bagpipes). I think these sketches were a better representation of the word-pictures remaining in my head, but they were still made up of words and more like story-boards. I couldn’t pin them to the page to my satisfaction. Here are some of them (click to view larger on the Flickr page):

Rough sketches for Undine Love

I settled, at last, on a stark, decorative style (with a definite nod to Ichijo Narumi’s Female Nude Seated in Water, although I could never hope to match those beautiful ripples):

Undine Love

I will not rule out the possibility that the apple orchard is a reference to Anna Tambour’s heartbreakingly beautiful story “The Valley of the Sugars of Salt” (together with Dirk Flinthart’s “The Ballad of Farther-on-Jones” it is one of my very favourite stories). There is, however, another and entirely unplanned connection to Anna’s stories. We were discussing upcoming publications and I told her about the introduced species in “Undine Love”. She sent me a copy of her story “Gnawer of the Moon Seeks Summit of Paradise” (published in Sprawl) and our two stories touch on almost exactly the same theme in similar settings from opposite standpoints – in some cases, down to sentences which directly contradict the other story.

I also illustrated Liz Colter’s haunting story “The Unseen Truths”, although in an entirely different style. I really like working with new authors and stories, drawing out an illustration from unfamiliar words. The process is not at all like the process for illustrating one’s own story, which already has so much visual baggage associated with it.

The Unseen Truths

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