The Evolution of the Books of Anieth 2006 - 2014
Although I had been seriously trying to get any work, illustration or writing, for many years, I started getting small jobs in 2008. I had joined a writing group in 2007 which did not work out, but in trying to sell stories, I also solicited magazine work. I began to be hired to do covers and illustrations for small press because I could draw anything. This was what I needed to get past my inhibitions about drawing, which were many. I had always assumed my work was not good enough and believed those who told me. I did not realize that most of the NY portfolios were the best work of illustrators and that many of them could not come through with consistent drawings on deadline. I got many jobs because other artists could not handle the pressure. Some of my drawings were very good, others not so good, but for two years I had to draw a drawing of professional quality every day. It was still not enough, for even working that hard, I was making about a tenth of what I needed to support my family. Gone were the days when a writer or illustrator could make a living. Most of the illustration work had gone overseas where the standard of living was not so high and a person could make a living drawing every day. Most of the lower rungs of publishing were full of computer generated art that was good enough to sell.
I also discovered how much I hated drawing. I always had. My mother had got me into it when I was very young and had wanted me to be an art teacher. I had always felt the pressure to perform and had never liked the actual process of drawing. This made it almost impossible for me to enjoy drawing for other people. I discovered that illustators were considered to be a kind of servant like a layout person, not the "creator" of the work but there to make the work more attractive. This was anathema to me, since the whole joy of anything for me is in the creation, not the performance. But, the illustration got me over my bugs about drawing and forced me to improve my drawing. The first thing I would say to anyone writing or drawing is to write and draw. I did about 5,000 hours of drawing in those two years.
In 2009, my son challenged me to do a graphic novel. I did not feel ready for the incredible amount of work to do such a work. I had written a book at the request of an interested editor in one week that was about 100,000 words (be careful what you query!) along the lines of the multi-character, multi-story threads, line, which was too confusing and too brief for each character. At this point, I realized that my writing was every bit as good as the writing I was illustrating and that what had shut me out of the publishing market was not the writing, it was the empathy for the characters. I am of a very, very rare personality type, about .003 percent of the world, so I could not just "write what I felt" and have it be popular. I am also not expressive emotionally and not a writer who can write about people's problems. I grew up heavily influenced by heroric fiction and wanted to write about people doing heroic things that were not just fighting wars or winning the ring. It was about this time that I began to seriously write about the Four-Fold Way or the divisions of magic and understand more about the Hero's Journey and where it failed. I had written a book on this subject that almost sold; it caused a huge fight among the editors and they rejected it because not all of them were a hundred percent behind it. I knew that I wanted to write books that were not the hero's journey, but I started writing a graphic novel that was a hero's journey. However, I started with a multiple player book that was way too large to do graphically.
I read many many books on how to do graphic novels. I worked very hard for several months and got up to forty pages done. Then I stopped. I was extremely disappointed in the results of the novel. Not only was it the wrong story, but I had worked in pen and ink for magazines and it was not a fast enough medium for a graphic novel.I was disappointed in the quality of the drawings; I hated the word balloons; the story was too unwieldy; some pages were good (like this one) and some were not so good. It was difficult to do and did not look "good enough" that I would be able to keep looking at it for years to come. However, having said this, it got me into Anieth visually in a big way. I had tried and tried to do a web site, but lacked the illustrations. Now I felt as if I could illustrate my own books.
At this time, I also got employment. I wanted to help my son through college and I could not make enough off of illustration to do much of anything except buy some groceries and pay the utility bills. I went back into bookkeeping to do something completely different from writing and illustration. I knew many writers who had tried tech writing or artists who worked in galleries or did graphics who were too burned out to go home and work. I was good at math and it used a very different part of my brain. Little by little I dropped my illustration clients as I worked part time, but the stresses of family life soon made it clear that I need to work full time again doing books. Before I did this, we made one more valiant effort to do a project that would make some money, and so I wrote and illustrated to ebook/programs. One I did was based on the Four-Fold Way. I tried to do a number of drawings that I hoped to use in book illustration.
I then extracted the story of King Raol from the Drakkis novel to do his story alone. King Raol was another of my bad guys. He was the key man in the Zelosian invasion of Anieth. I had also expanded my nested story so that Anieth was a game played by a group of Earth people. I backed up the story of Raol so that he was a boy on Earth with a twin brother who had wanted to "play" Raol's twin in Anieth since the boys were little. Nick Stanford (Raol) got dragged into playing the part because of his twin. Raol, in the original game, betrayed his people and had sold out to the Zelosians. Nick was suffering badly from post-traumatic shock since Raol had died in a horrible way at the hands of the Ash Clan. In order to drag Nick back into the game, his twin convinced him to change the game by changing Raol's fate. The book, Aveldonacc was about Nick's attempt to change Raol's fate by forcing him to win the election to the Briar Throne rather than the Ash Throne. The story was a wonderful modification to the Drakkis story, but the book was a total failure, even though some awesome illustrations came out of it.
I was still illustrating in pen and laying out the drawings on the computer with the text. My friends online enjoyed seeing the pictures, but I fought and fought for about eighteen months with the layout. I wanted to get away from the comic look, but the text competed with the illustrations. I tried all kinds of different layouts, convinced that if I could just find a way... Then I tried to do a picture book approach with one picture and the other side of the spread, one short paragraph. This was closer, but I was still unhappy with laying the illustrations out in the graphics program.
Two things had haapened by the writing of Aveldonacc: the settings on Earth became very important to the series arc and the arrival of the Thorn King. A friend had said to me that all my people had long faces and not all Celts were such. The Thorn King alos emerged with Lucia Shields, Peter Shields younger sister, who also lived on the estate on Earth. The concept of the Game emerged with what the players did on Earth affecting their situations in Anieth. The series took a huge jump in complexity and became more than just a vehicle for my learning and ideas; it became a larger vehicle for meta ideas, like a restudy of the Tarot, the ways of Western magic and folklore, and a way for me to write the encyclopedia. I began to see the studies of the world to be studies of the players and had them "author" the articles about the world.
Parts of Aveldonacc were a disappointment, but parts were a learning process. I decided that I loved the layering and the horizontal layout. I enjoyed making an illustration for the story and then layering in decoration for a deeper symbolism. This was an important step to my work in which I had tried to load all the symbolism in the text. Like trying to take a plane and squeeze it into a line. I needed to write on different levels: the dramatization and action line, the emotional line or tension between the characters and the world, the intellectual line about the ideas conveyed are all normal elements of a good story. But what I loaded into my work was a symbolic line that was very heavy and strict such as weather patterns for different sections, but also a deep philosophical set of themes that were not only reflected in the themes of the stories but in the way that they were presented in their structure of the inward directed spiral of philosophical failure leading to an epiphany.
However, despite the "almost" experience with Aveldonacc,, I gave up on it. I was sick of trying to make it work. I decided that I had to start fresh with a short story so I would not get quickly enmired in too much plot. I also knew that I had to go back to the graphic novel presentation and do it all by hand. After over a year of work, this was a difficult decision, let me tell you.
I started work on The Dawn of Zelos in November of 2012. I was particularily taken by the work of Charles Vess and the graphic novel series Northlander. I began to do the first splash page and lay it out, most of it drawn by hand, but layered up on the computer. I quickly realized two things. One, I loved the color, but if I did color it would take about three times longer to do each illustration and the files were almost two large to work with; and two, the vertical spread was still damning, even in a large format book. It was not until I spoke with my printer that I had a breakthrough. It used to be that the binders' machines could not do more than 8-1/2 wide and that was the limit for perfect bound, softcover books. I had seen some that were larger, but the price was too much. This was no longer the case. I could work with a horizontal page. I then conceived of separating out the story exposition and interior thoughts from the dialogue. I also decided to go with gray scale. Suddenly, things began to happen in the right direction. However, I decided also to do all the comic illustrations as fast as I could and then wait to layout the book because I was getting too bogged down in layout and writing. My mother was sick and I wanted to get a real book to her, to finally show her that my years of frustrating labor had a worthwhile result.
I also made a decision to work online. My friends could see the emergence of the "silent" comic and if it worked without words, I knew that the dramatization was all right. Part of the problem with graphic novels and comics is that the story often has to be very simple because it can be hard to follow. Manga has this problem with the strange jumping of the "camera" which can cause the reader to be confused. The challenge was to slow down and show the story as if it were filmed. This was a daunting task, which was why I began with a short story. This story had also been roundly nailed by my writer's group, but people had seen something in it. Editors loved it but would not publish it. People loved the idea of a boy astronomer in Stonehenge times, but they totally missed the story theme. Many people identified heavily with Teig, who was borderline autistic. I decided to tell the story in first person, but I needed to show the action separately because part of Teig's problem was that he was a genius and had an very narrow, sharp focus and was largely oblivious to things going on with the people around him.
I was very pleased with the results of the comic because I was just drawing a series of pictures that connected together without worrying about the words. When I started laying out the book in the winter of 2014, everything went smoothly. When drawing the comic I had to keep saying to myself to not fret over the small stuff such as if someone's face wasn't quite correct or some small part of a drawing did not work out. It was inspiring to draw the comic "live" but I had to warn people not to get critical, for I knew that if I got bogged down in perfection, I would not finish the book. I ended up with 180 pages in the comic. Then I began to lay it out. The horizontal layout started to work. I could remove the exposition from the comic and just put in dialogue. I did not need the balloons or as much room to show the characters "talking." I could then write Teig's story in the sidelines and put in decorative pictures that were both symbolic and informative on a different level. I was pleased with being able to do my own layouts by hand and get away from the traditional comic look. The drawings had a silvery feeling that I liked and I used a texture on the "paper" to add to that feeling.
In 2014, I finished work and published Thorn but my mother had died before I could give her the book. This was devastating and unexpected. She had had a small medical problem that curtailed her ability to get around and so she had spent two months trying to commit suicide by starving herself to death, but that had not worked. She had succeeded in making herself sick and weakened herself so that she did get sick enough to die. She had spent my whole life hanging over my work, driving me, and criticizing me and now I had to make a decision: to go on or to give it up and do something I wanted to do. I had too many years vested in it all, so I made the decision to go on and get past my mom spooks. I could no longer run to her with some drawing, but I would never hear her again say that my work wasn't good enough and it was my own laziness and poor quality that kept me from getting published. I could not win her approval, but I could no longer disappoint her. We had patched a bit of this up, but it was hole in my driving force. Luckily, I was at this terrific place where I finally had a finished product that I liked. I could go on.