Cool stuff

Day at the Cirque

This should be a fairly image heavy post, but my camera tragically didn’t want to cooperate with me. I apologize in advance.

Before last weekend, I had never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance. The Cirque passes through my city on a fairly regular basis during their tours, but I’d never gone to see a show, usually because of the price of admission and my lack of funds at the time. Also, any friends who might join me were also affected by a lack of funds.

However, when the Cirque set up a city over with their Steampunk show Kurios, I had to see it. The result was a weekend trip through rain, wind, and weird smelling popcorn.

Since getting tickets, I was excited for the show, but in that subtle way most people are when they’re looking forward to something. That was until I saw the tent.

It was in a tent and I was suddenly seven.

We walked in to the smell of popcorn and cotton candy. Booths sold souvenirs ranging from keychains to soundtracks both vinyl and disc to shirts to DVDs of older shows. The center-most support pillars hosted bars selling beer and wine. Despite the pouring rain outside, the interior of the tent was quite warm. Our seats were nearly ring-side, giving us an excellent view of the stage, and the intricate steampunk devices set up there.

The soundtrack for this show—which I bought during the intermission—was upbeat, almost like swing. A woman in a gram-o-phone hat sang alongside the music, but there wasn’t much for actual lyrics. It was mostly musical sounds like “la” sung, though it fit, giving the illusion of lyrics, without words to distract from what was happening on stage.

The acts were varied, with balancing acts, acrobats, contortionists, and high-flying stunts. If I had to pick my top three parts, I would say the contortionists and the comedy acts. There were two comedy acts done between some major performances. One involved a tiny stage rigged with machinery to play an invisible circus. Another was a skit of a man trying to impress a girl, only for his cat to take over while he was getting them something to drink.

The guy did an absolutely brilliant impression of a cat, from kneading to sticking his ass in her face to hopping off the couch to use the litter box and then coming right back for attention.

While the acts were all very impressively performed and costumed in their own right, I thought the best act was the quartet of contortionists. They were wheeled in on the back of a giant mechanical hand, all intertwined in a pile. Dressed in fully body suits, they invoked the image of an orange, blue-spotted octopus when they moved. They were mesmerizing. Their bodies contorted in impossible ways that seemed to flow so naturally from them. And despite the fact that they were all five-nothing with ribs that were visible in some of their motions, you could see the strength to them.

I wouldn’t want to fight a contortionist. Just saying.

Kurios was a grand show, hampered by only two things: the torrential rain that poured throughout the day, and the smell of salt & vinegar barbeque popcorn my dad had purchased from the refreshment booth.

My first Cirque de Soleil was an absolutely fantastic one. I’d recommend seeing Kurios if you get the chance. And if you can’t see that one, well, they’ve got a plethora of other shows as well!

Categories: Cool stuff, stuff i like, This is my life | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Words to Art: My Experience with a Concept Artist

As many of you might be aware, a lot of artists—freelancers especially—earn money through commissions. The process varies from artist to artist. You send references or a character description; they send you a sketch for approval. Once approved, the artist will clean up the sketch, ink it, colour it, and send it to you. Some artists ask for pay in advance. Some want half-now, half-later. Some don’t make you pay until the final piece is done. I’ve purchased artwork this way, often with very little coming from my end in the way of description.

            Working with an actual concept artist, however, was a different experience. It taught me not only how a writer might work alongside an artist in a project, but about the characters I was getting drawn.

            The artist in question is Mildred Louis. She was an animation student as Sheridan College, now looking to get a career in visual development, and is currently working on two major projects: A graphic novel called “Catalyst” and a Magical Girl web-comic called Agents of the Realm. She’s a legitimately awesome artist and a super nice person and I was glad to have learned so much from her.

            Now, I’ll start by saying she was one of my first experiences with an artist who didn’t use an anime-esque style. I had fallen out of buying commissions for many years until a friend told me about Mildred. Intrigued by the idea of an actual concept artist drawing my characters, I decided to check her out.

            Once initial contact was made, I had to send in a description of my characters. However, Mildred’s range of artistic styles—going from extremely realistic to expressive animation style—meant that there was more description to be had from me than I was used to.

            The characters I chose were from my current writing project. Their names are Vianna and Fahrad, and this is what I knew about them at the time:

Vianna—multi-ethnic, but with more prominent African features; paler skin; short hair; endless freckles; mid-thirties; blue eyes resting on black sclera.

Fahrad—early-to-mid twenties; dark hair and dark eyes; a trimmed beard, but no mustache; handsome; Middle Eastern features.

            And the basics of their relationship: mainly that Vianna is an information broker, and Fahrad is her assistant. However, she treats him more like a younger brother and they sometimes look like gossips when they’re together. They are not intimate or romantically involved.

            With that description in hand, Mildred took to her art and eventually sent me several headshots, asking me to select which features I liked.

Headshots, Part One

Headshots; Round One

            This marks the first point where the artist influenced the writer. Truthfully, I had Vianna’s appearance more solidly engraved in my mind than Fahrad’s, as he was newer character. I had a vague outline and a vague age.

            So, Number 2 was extremely handsome, but appeared older than I would have liked. Mildred agreed that it might be the beard. The second set of headshots came in a bit later.

Fahrad, Round 2

Fahrad; Round 2

            He ended up looking obviously younger, but more cute than handsome. And honestly, by that point I’d become attached to the beard and the almost “Prince of Egypt” look of the first head sketch. If anything, I thought I’d just make him older to keep those fine features. Mildred said it would be easier to show the age difference once both characters were in a picture together.

            (On a head sketch side note, I always appreciated how Mildred drew Fahrad smiling, as opposed to having a neutral expression like Vianna did. It definitely fit more in with the personality I had in mind for him, even if it wasn’t wholly fleshed out at this point.)

            The real questions came in when their outfits had to be designed. When choosing your character’s wardrobe, you have to ask yourself several questions. What’s the climate like where they live? Where do they sit on the economic scale? What’s their personal sense of style? These were all questions Mildred would need answers to.

            I had already determined that Vianna and Fahrad’s city-state, Serrok, had a rather warm climate. Something around what you might expect in Mediterranean countries. However, it’s also a large trade city, so daily-life was heavily influenced by that. As such, the resultant fashion was a fusion of Middle Eastern and Indian styles, especially in the summer.

            Money-wise, Vianna is well-off, so I knew their clothes would be nice. However, I didn’t feel it would be in Vianna’s character to own anything too extravagant. She prefers pants to dresses and toned-down designs. Fahrad, being in a more servile role, wears well-made, but simple clothing.

            And colours! I had to delve into Fahrad’s backstory for this. He was pretty much raised by a sect of priests for the world’s resident Death Goddess, the Blue Lady. Unsurprisingly, members of her order wear blue. As such, depending on the culture, there might be different restrictions on the colour. Some places consider it an absolute taboo. Some only wear it as a mourning colour. Some don’t care.

            In Serrok, wearing blue outside of the order is considered odd and slightly unlucky, but there’s no rules against it. I figured Fahrad might not be used to the idea of wearing other colours, and would stick with dark blues even though he’d been out of the order for several years.

            Fahrad’s colour choices, and Vianna’s slightly sinister appearance might have been what led Mildred to think that Vianna also wore dark colours. I had imagined Vianna to be a woman with simple fashion tastes, but undeniably fashionable. She always wears vibrant colours.

            Clothing settled, Mildred asked about something I’d never thought of: jewelry. I actually had to think on this one. I knew it wouldn’t be something Fahrad would wear, but what about Vianna? The only accessories I had in mind for her were gloves. Thinking on it, I realized she probably has simple jewelry tastes as well. Mostly bracelets or anklets, but no earrings, finger rings, or necklaces.

            There were a few suggestions, but the end result was this:




            (Throughout this whole process, I did send Mildred pictures of clothing or people as references. In some cases, the images made their way into the concept. Sometimes, I had a set idea of what something should look like (Fahrad’s belt, for example, was far different in my mind) but then Mildred would draw her interpretation and it just looked so much better.)

            So, faces approved. Outfits approved. Time to wait on the sketches and colours. Now, I did learn some more things about the artistic process from sketch to colour. Sometimes, an essence that was in the sketch gets lost upon being coloured. I guess this is why some artists groan about ruining their awesome sketches as soon as they’ve tried to colour it.


Oh no.

Oh no.

OH..wait, something went missing.

OH..wait, something went missing.

            He squints when he smiles. Ugh. That’s so cute. I needed the squint back in the coloured version, at least a little bit.

            During the whole waiting period from initial contact to final product, I was thinking heavily on these characters, and Mildred’s fantastic work played no small part in that. By the time I was waiting for the finished product, my vaguely made-up characters were more fully fleshed out. In the end, her completed piece even left me with new questions.

oh no they're hot

oh no they’re hot

            Her work is wonderfully expressive. I can easily see the scene unfolding now. Someone has sought out Vianna for information she might hold. Perhaps this someone is being targeted for assassination. Perhaps they are the subject of a scandal. Perhaps they have deep connections to some big incident. I can see this person giving their plight and, once they finish, Fahrad leans in and whispers something to Vianna.

            What did he say? Whatever it is, he seems to think it’s funny. Vianna seems very pleased. Whatever he told her must be useful.

Is this just a day of work, or will this turn into something that could shake Serrok?

            What the heck does Fahrad have in those glowing bottles?

            Working with a concept artist was enlightening. I feel like having someone to ask me question and help interpret my vision has led me to know more about these characters in a shorter period of time. To see how writers and artists can work together was throughly educational. And, I now have a reference I can look to for consistency in their appearances.

            Or just grin stupidly at because of how good they look.

            I recommend an experience like this to anyone. I will certainly be calling upon Mildred’s skills in the future.

            If you’re interested in seeing her work (which you should be), you can find her here:

          Mildred’s art blog: Adventures in Concepting

         Her web-comic: Agents of the Realm   

Categories: Cool stuff, On Writing, This is my life | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Rat Queens, Vol. 1

I don’t read a lot of comic books, at least not mainstream ones. I’ve got maybe one volume of Gail Simone’s recent Batgirl run, and that’s it for Marvel or DC. Any comics I do read are collected in volume format, and have nothing to do with super heroes.

I’m here to talk to you about one of those comics. It’s called Rat Queens.

Cover of Rat Queens Issue 5

Cover of Rat Queens Issue 5

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated by Roc Upchurch, Rat Queens is about your near-typical fantasy RPG group—consisting of a dwarf warrior, elf mage, human cleric, and smidgen (Halfling) thief—with the twist being that the entire group is made up of women. The story follows Hannah (elf), Dee (human), Violet (dwarf), and Betty (smidgen) as they do everything from starting bar brawls to slaying trolls, to out-classing assassins.

While I’m not intimately involved in comic book culture, I know that it’s not an easy place for women. Sexism is abound with unimagined ladies who are killed off to cause man-pain, and women are drawn without the figure necessary for housing vital organs and apparently have snakes for spines. The lack of diversity and development for female characters is a serious issue with female fans. It’s to the point where DC has put out a slew of Superman and Batman movies, but Wonder Woman has been stuck in development hell for years because the idea of a super hero movie with a female lead was deemed “too confusing.”

There’s nothing confusing about Rat Queens.

When Wiebe created these characters, he set out to make women that people could relate to, or recognize as a friend, family member, or lover. His goal was to create realistic women, and I think he succeeded. These ladies are vulgar and badass, but they’ve got kind, sensitive sides, and struggles that are only hinted at so far. Dee the Cleric, a class that relies of divine magic, seriously questions her religion; Violet has struggles with her family; Hannah, easily the most vulgar of the group, has a soft-side that comes out in her relationship with the guard captain Sawyer Silver; Betty has relationship troubles (largely thanks to Hannah). They’ve got very real lives outside of their day-jobs as battle-maidens-for-hire, and the friendship they share is genuine. I would totally hang out with any of these women (and sometimes I get the impression that I have) even at the risk of horrible mutilation via orcs.

And they’re backed up by an equally interesting and hilarious cast. Outside of the ladies, we’ve got Tizzie, another elf mage who has an intense rivalry with Hannah; Braga, a half-orc woman and all around badass whose part of Tizzie’s group; Old Lady Bernadette (who’s only thirty-nine); The Four Daves, another group of adventurers similar to our heroines but made up of four guys named Dave; and fucking Gary.

And that’s just a few. There’s promises of more in future issues.

Upchurch’s art is fantastic. The characters are wonderfully expressive and all of them are identifiable at a glance. The women actually look like women, and if they’re being twisted into uncomfortable positions, it’s because some monster is trying to rip them apart. Rather than make fun of the typical skimpy female armor, the characters all have proper outfits: Violet wears metal armor, Betty wears loose clothes to allow for maximum range of movement, Hannah and Dee both wear cloth armor, with Hannah’s being more elfish while Dee has a cool tribal voodoo look going on. The cast showcases a variety of body-types (rare stuff with female comic book characters), species, and ethnicities. The world is well-imagined despite not going far out of the city of Palisade, and has a lot of room for expansion.

Rat Queens also has a lot of offer in the way of comedy. From the main group’s antics, to the vulgarity, to the good natured jabs at fantasy MMORPGs, there’s a lot of laughs to be had. Readers may get a sudden laugh at unexpected gore or an accurately placed curse.

Rat Queens has a lot to offer in the way of character, comedy, and adventure.  The first volume started and ended with a bang, and now I’m hungry for volume two. Whether you’re a guy who enjoys fantasy, a girl who wants to see more strong female leads, or someone off the binary who just loves a good story, I recommend seeing what the Rat Queens have to offer.

Categories: Cool stuff, Reviews, stuff i like | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Things Research Brings

Can I talk about the Victorians? You bet I can.

Writing a series that takes place in an alternate version of Victorian era London (with some jumps into other locales) means I’ve had to do research. Whenever you write about a time you never lived in or cultures you’re not part of, you need to do extensive research. Yes, research can be boring. Different topics are interesting to different people—I’m not the most attentive person when it comes to wars and rebellion or science—but everyone can find that one topic that is just utterly fascinating and makes them jitter like a caffeinated squirrel.

One of my chapters required research on Victorian era funeral practices. I haven’t been to many modern day funerals, but I expected Victorian ones wouldn’t be much different.

It is absolutely delightful how obsessed with death these people were. The Ancient Egyptians applaud their efforts.

There were burial clubs, many of which persuaded people to reach beyond their means for the most expensive funerals possible. Families took morbid photographs alongside their deceased loved ones, propping the corpse up like a doll and painting eyes on the corpse’s eyelids. You could get jewelry made with a strand of hair from your dead loved one. There was mourning attire, and you were expected to wear it. They had periods of mourning and half-mourning, which varied depending on how you were related to the deceased. There were superstations that revolved around death: seeing yourself in a dream meant you would die soon, not stopping a clock in a death room brought bad luck, if you didn’t hold your breath while passing a graveyard you wouldn’t be buried.

Death in the Victorian era is absolutely fascinating, but all of these fails to excite me as much as something I learned about only a few days ago.

Death. Nightclubs.

In the late Victorian era, especially in Paris, there were places you could go to celebrate death. The Cabaret du Néant (The Cabaret of Nothingness) served drinks named after diseases and customers drank off coffins and caskets.

Cabaret of Nothingness

There were also two of these nightclubs taking cues from Dante, one being the Inferno and the other being Paradiso. The Cabaret de l’Enfer (The Cabaret of the Inferno) was right next to the Cabaret du Ciel (The Cabaret of the Sky). Both these clubs were decorated and had servers and musicians to fit their themes.

Cabaret of the Inferno and Cabaret of the Sky

I’d have loved to see one of these. It’s fiendishly cool what kinds of things you can uncover with research and what those things will inspire.

Read More Here

Categories: Cool stuff, research findings, Victorian Era | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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