Tank Baby

5 Sep

Humility is meted out in interesting ways over time. For example, if you spend years openly shit talking things like therapy, alternative treatments for physical and mental health, or smoothies, you will find yourself frantically and pathetically availing yourself of all of those things all at once. The final tap to the nuts is discovering the fucking things are actually beneficial.

I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty but this has easily been one of the most putrid summers of my life. Professional failures, personal disappointments, insomnia, major housing issues, chronic pain- top that all off with days that consistently vaulted over 90 degrees that left me in a sort of brine of anxiety- by the start of September I shook constantly and couldn’t eat more than a few mouthfuls. Sleeping was right out since sleeping required staying still, staying still meant hours of laying in the dark while my heart tried to beat out of my chest. The thoughts and lists of things to do, people to appease never stopped. I panicked at random moments. Any anomalous feeling in my body was the immediate onset of cancer. Just going down a flight of stairs was an exercise in fantasy where my legs would fail and I’d split my skull open on the bannister.

Terror is a bone in my throat I can’t cough up.

The only time I could catch a break was knocking back wine like it was medicine to give me a couple hours of stillness so I could complete some work. That’s not just putting a bandaid on it. That’s having a vagrant lick the bandaid, slapping it on your open wound, then flashing a thumbs up to horrified onlookers. Nothing gave me pleasure, everything was just a conquering of minutes for a reason I couldn’t find between passing out.

I think the therapy came first. I picked out PK because she has a dog. Once a week I sit in her office and she picks apart my coping mechanisms. Her tone of voice suggests there were things I didn’t deserve. It’s deeply uncomfortable. She asks useless questions like: “If you could talk to yourself when you were a child, when that was happening to you, what would you say?” When I refused to answer she proceeded to tell me what she would say. I instantly blocked that shit out. I still go every week.

Massage therapy came next. Every two weeks a friend of mine cuts me a discount and tries to undo a lifetime of damage 90 minutes at a time. It’s probably the first time in my life anyone has handled my body with anything resembling ongoing concern in a medical context. Andrew knew I’d been in a car accident in my late teens, that I carry the most tension in my left shoulder, and that working in the vicinity of my kidneys triggers what he calls ‘guarding’. That’s when the body reacts immediately to protect itself despite your best intentions.

It’s a slow, irritating process trying to heal yourself. More irritating is that once people find out you are doing it they set a timeline for you on when you should be acceptably fixed.

The shaking didn’t let up, and the pain in my chest was like a hot metal splinter in my sternum. I was walking around with a stomach full of iron slag. After waking up one morning feeling, again, like I was experiencing the final moments of death while not just dying, for the love of god, I went: ‘Fuck it. Let’s get woo woo.’

And I called the immersion tank place for the next available appointment, to pay money to lay in a really dark tank half full of salt water for an hour and a half. I don’t like to be touched for very long, I got over that. I don’t like to talk about the things that hurt me in any genuine way, but I- okay I’m not over that one yet but get off my case. So really, I could probably get over my aversion to hippie shit.

That was my rock bottom. Feeling so fucked up that if a young white guy with dreads told me that a kale enema would provide me relief from this mental and physical agony I would have turned and presented my butthole with a quickness. Ninety minutes in a tank? No problem.

I stumbled into Float On unwashed, barely dressed, and really early. (I ran out of fanfictions to read so I just headed out.) I crammed myself into the furthest corner of the lounge after paying to wait my turn.

“We like to have you pay at the beginning so that when you’re done with your float you can just come out and have some tea, hang out…really enjoy your post float glow without having to worry about anything!” I was told by the clerk who took my card, the most placid goddamned woman I have ever encountered. At this juncture I am absolutely certain that I will not be hanging out, glowing, with or without tea.

There are six private rooms in this joint, each with a shower and the big ass float tank. The lady that led me to explain how it all works was very, very…kind. She seemed genuinely dismayed when I told her I was in to see if I could do something about my panic attacks. She had like, 7 separate suggestions on how I could manage any anxiety. I don’t trust kindness and sympathy, not without trying to find the angle. You have to really anticipate as much as possible about other people so you can’t be caught unawares when they turn vicious.

That’s what I think.

You shower before sliding into the tank. The shower scared the shit out of me. Do you know they make shower heads that like…fucking glow and change colors?! Because they do make them and I guess float tack places are big buyers. I’m washing my depression filth off under a goddamned aura detecting showerhead! When that sucker came on, the work part of my brain, (which is actually the whole thing and never, ever shuts off), was like ‘remember to write about this showerhead later. Holy shit.’.

I tried going in with my glasses. That was a bad idea.

The lady said that due to the amount of epsom salt in the water it would be slippery. That’s an understatement. I went sliding into that bitch like a shaved hamster through a layer of warm KY jelly, sloshing around in this tank and getting the water all over my glasses. The first couple of minutes were also when I found out any open cut or irritated skin was gonna sting like a motherfucker.

(I want to pause in my essay to thank whatever loving god gifted me with mental issues so crippling that I couldn’t find the energy to shave my pussy lately. Good looking out, big guy. I owe ya one.)

The first ten minutes were not the soothing journey into consciousness the website had sold me. I have a nervous habit of ripping the skin off of my fingers until they bleed, so soaking them in a huge pool of salt water wasn’t putting me on the road to serenity. My glasses sat weird on my face and dripped the salt water into my eyes. In very short order I called mulligan. On my way out of the tank I smashed the Jim Christ out of my head on the entrance. Naked, clutching my head, blind as shit, and you betcha, crying like a baby. I slathered vaseline over my fingers, showered the salt off of my face and took my glasses off.

Because here’s the thing: I spent 65 american dollars to lay in that dark bucket and find some inner fucking peace and so help me, inner fucking peace would be found. I was not going to call it quits at ten. Back in the tank, still crying. Feel free to assume the crying is an intermittent but frequent staple of this experience for the rest of the essay.

I pulled the door shut and laid down. I was aware that buoyancy was one of the core points of floating but damn my ass was buoyant. I just floated in there, not really trusting that I was actually being held by anything. A few minutes of sniveling and I started paying attention.

In the total dark, away from my phone and email, questions, other people, in a tank of salted chill juice, I was alone where no one could see me. For a little while I wasn’t answerable to anyone but myself. The thought was clear before any actual action upon it took place; whatever fresh hell might be waiting for me when I got out was going to have to wait. Nothing was coming to get me for a little while. No one was going to be able to measure me up and find me too small.

The body came first. I knew I tensed but I didn’t know precisely to what degree. Without the pressure of gravity, other hands, clothes, anything, I was still rigid.

‘You aren’t going to fall.’ I told myself. ‘It’s fine. There isn’t anything to hold yourself against.’

An immersion tank is structured to remove the impression of time. Even without and thing to mark it by, it took a cool minute to relax one piece at a time. Left calf, right thigh, clenched hands, shoulders too high. A muscle in my back spasmed rebelliously, but whatever. I’ll deal with that asshole later.

I learned something really young, and that’s that you need to watch your tells, especially your flinches. Flinching is a sign of weakness. If a rabbit flinches in front of the dog it’s the signals for the dog to snatch it up and shake it to pieces. Flinching is just a way of saying to a bigger animal, “Your yelling is scaring me, yanking my hair while I’m trying to eat hurts me. Your hand coming towards me terrifies me.” And it’s saying to the bigger animal “I can do as much of this as I want and I’ll never get bored of it.” Catch a flinch, smother an expression and you can save yourself some trouble.

It tooks some coaxing and focus but I managed to unwind bit by bit. Then the rest of it came. There was nothing wrong with my heart. It’s just a heart. It’s only doing it’s job like it always has. The other organs follow and stopped being a source of fear. There are my lungs, nothing suspect. My stomach, empty but not full of lead ingot, or tumors, or parasites, or any other weird shit. It’s not my enemy. It’s just what I’ve been given to work with.

The body proving itself fine meant I could think about something else. So I thought about these things in no particular order:

How much jealousy and resentment I’ve had for people who openly, candidly share their feelings. I read autobiographical comics and journal posts with a harshly critical eye. Not judgement for the actual topics shared, but the execution thereof. Frank vulnerability is a dangerous thing.

Here is something else I learned when I was younger: Never show your flank. Sharing too much of yourself without a deft joke or a blase attitude to deflect is a bad idea. Being vulnerable around someone, even if you think you can trust them, is like sharpening a knife yourself then handing it off to that other person and saying, “When you decide to cut my throat this is what you can do it with.” If it doesn’t sound like you are actually upset then it can’t be used against you.

That resentment is just cheap sour grapes and cowardice on my part. I shied away from writing anything genuine about myself without making it into a buffoonish joke because being a buffoon has little cost to me. There are some people who I’m sure would be completely delighted to know that i’ve been making myself sick like this. To speak frankly on how it’s affected me is to show my flank.

But here is a thought now and it is stronger than the fear and resentment. It is:

I did not work this hard for this long to hone my craft only to curl my fingers away from the keys in consideration of people who do not love me.

At this point my eye itched like an unholy bastard and I thought I was going to get away with rubbing it. Nope. That just made it worse. In my desperation to really rub my eye without getting out of the tank I had the genius idea of sucking my fingers into my mouth to get the the salt water off of them which was duuuuuuumb. I should have saved myself the time and just taken a break from catharsis to open the damn door and scrub my face with a towel, but oh well. If wishes were fishes.

That hot iron splinter in my chest not gone, but dislodged slightly, I settled back in and thought about whatever pleased me. There wasn’t anyone to stop me. Not even myself.

I’m uncomfortable with the concept of forgiveness as applied to myself. Every time I had food thrown on me, or was grabbed and wrenched back on task for my mind wandering, attracting too much attention so a class full of peers could discuss in in detail, in front of a listening teacher, if I was fingering myself in the bathroom before 3rd period, was a test I failed. I should have played the game better, used a different word here or there. The deliberately thrown elbow I took to the eye trying to get around another kid who knocked me cold was a failure. I should have moved faster, ducked further left, not gotten so close. That was my fault, my mistake, and when it happened again I now knew how to get out of the way.

But I had to remember the specifics of the failure. Forgiving it would be forgetting it. Forgetting it is being caught unprepared when something like that happens again. I learned how to anticipate a trap and disarm it ahead of time when I was younger. It’s good that I learned not to flinch when I was spit on. I’m glad that happened, since now I’m ready as an adult if it happens.

I explained this logic to my therapist, PK early on. She sidestepped that bullshit and parried with a smooth thrust that sunk into a soft spot.

“Our trauma gives us gifts. It doesn’t make the trauma something that was deserved.” She said.

I didn’t have anything for that.

Then she started asking about the specifics, and I swallowed around the bone in my throat and started telling her.

In the dark, with no one to see me, I visited my own private country. It’s made up of fragments of things seen and half remembered or read about somewhere. Bits of rocky coast, a field in the summer full of sulpher butterflies, drowning cities, old mossy caves. This country isn’t populated by anything other than strange, quiet animals who prefer not to be seen and versions of myself at different ages.

“If you could talk to yourself when you were a child, when that was happening to you, what would you say?”

There is me, age 5. My first pair of glasses are huge and heavy on my face, I’m wearing my favorite black costume dress. People bigger than me are speculating about what’s wrong with me, and what should be done about it.
As I’m passing by I’d say:

“Listen, you are gonna learn some hard shit in the next few years. You’re gonna learn the difference between ‘can’ and ‘should’. You are gonna learn that ‘can’ is an easy word and that ‘should’ is the hard one that takes work. Some people ‘can’ do things to you and they will. They will do it because it’s easy and satisfies them. It’s not going to be fair and no one is going to protect you from it.

When you are a little older there is going to be a boy in your grade who tortures you, you are gonna ask him what if he would do if he was in your place. All he going to say before he goes back to touching your face with his wet hand is: “Yeah, but I’m not.”

You will begin to understand what the word ‘should’ means when he says that. That’s going to be hard, but it’s going to define you.

It shouldn’t have happened, but it did.
It’s not fair, but it’s going to build you. “

Ah, here I am, age 15, surly, salty, and spoiling for a fight. I’m a little more clipped with her.

“Listen, You are doing too much ‘can’. Just because you suffered and you’re angry about it doesn’t mean you get to inflict more on whoever you please. Stop being such a shit to your parents. You asked them not to intercede on your behalf and they respected your wishes. You don’t get to punish them for that. Besides, they protected you as best they could out of your sight. Mom told a teacher to get bent when they suggested taking your books away to bring you
in line. Dad asked a teacher who called to drill him about your failing grades if she knew you were reading Paradise Lost. When she said no, he said, “You don’t know shit about my daughter.”

You don’t know about that now. You’ll find out much later and you are going to feel like a real dick when you do.

Also, have fun looking back on these years once the word Weeaboo comes into common usage.”

Here is me in my 20’s on my own, confused but ready to consume everything put in front of me. We saw each other recently so I can be to the point.

“Listen, what happened in that motel room wasn’t your fault. You were new to the city and you’d never been around people like that. Good thing that one guy stopped the other guy, but still what happened that night and how other people treated you afterwards was bullshit. You didn’t deserve it. It didn’t make you dirty. A dude you thought was hot because he wore a cologne you like is going to call you a whore in front of the whole dorm. No one is going to defend you. The word will hurt you then but it will be the last time it ever touches you. You are going to realize that people who use that word say more about themselves than they do you.

Also that motherfucker will die of a drug overdose about a year later so go on brush your shoulders off.

I gotta get going, but listen, you are going to say ‘yes’ to a lot of people who don’t deserve you because you didn’t get a lot of chances to say it earlier. You are gonna give a lot of men your body, time, and consideration who don’t deserve it. That’s fine. Every choice you make in love now is going to place you in the position to recognize what David is when you find him. The road leads to him and it’s going to be so worth it.

There are two of us now going forward, The me that ‘can’ and the me that ‘should’. We are a bit cagey about each other, not really friends at all, cruel and judgmental. But we are headed towards ourself at age 45 or so, the image is hazy but I’m sure I’ve aged gracefully into the kind of wardrobe my classy mother wears now. David is there, more handsome than the day we met him, the people who do love me, who I do owe consideration are there. Maybe somewhere is a shelf full of books I’ve written.

In my own private country on a trail that looks like one I used to hike in St Louis, I look at this bitch next to me, who might be my good face or my bad face, and nod. I underestimated your resilience for a minute. I’m sorry about that. This is just a minute to breathe before we put down the things that didn’t work and focus on refining things that do.

An unstoppable force in the universe.

I thought about having a talk with the staff at Float On about the music they played to signal my session was over. When the grinding dirge started I sat up out of that tub like, HAS THE WAR STARTED??? Did holistic people forget about Enya? I mean maybe don’t go with the blood pumping jam of Orinoco Flow but definitely get a good copy of Shepard Moon, you know?

I did hang out in the lounge and have tea. I texted with my mother for a while and then went to my favorite plant shop and talked with the owner for about an hour. Fascinating guy. I bought one of his terrariums and invited him to be on my show sometime. Then I called mom, wandered around the neighborhood for a while. It’s September now, so the heat’s broken. I went to have my head shaved over at Bishops. I drank the beer they gave me and didn’t feel the need to pour five more on top of it. I actually just enjoyed a beer.

Then I went home to David. The bone coughed up for the time being, the splinter in my chest not as sharp. Nothing fixed exactly, but less fearful, less noisy. I don’t know how I’ll feel later, but right this moment what I feel is good, stronger, and sure that I can do this.

And if I feel like I can’t then I know I can go spend 90 minutes in a dark bucket down the street to figure out how. I’ll go to therapy once a week, massage therapy every other week, and I’ll figure it out.


Blood at the Roots

18 Jun

This isn’t really something any black person needs to read. They already know it. To not know the sort of things I want to tell you about is to court death and disaster. If you are black (or really any person of color.) don’t worry about this essay. Have a drink somewhere nice, go eat tacos with your kids. For the love of god go enjoy yourselves for a while.

Now I want to make it understood that from this point onward when I use the word ‘we’ I’m talking about us. The people who look like me. White people.

Because there is a soul deep problem with us that’s worked it’s way in, like a thorn in the foot that festers and poisons the blood. Let’s call the thorn racism and the resulting putrid fester a lack of humanity. Now some of this is ignorance, after all how do you pluck out a thorn you didn’t know peirced your heel? But there are two types of ignorance, one is a simple lack of knowledge, easily cured, and the other, willful ignorance which is tricky. The wilfully ignorant see evidence of something unpleasant or disagreeable and wrench their faces away. Try to force their head back around and they’d break their own necks to stay unknowing.

Both of these types of ignorance come into play and it starts young. I attended K-12 in three separate states. Now i’m sure different district have their own curriculum, but I’ll hazard a guess that they were all fairly similar in this regard,  that the history of race relations in this country, the unvarnished truth of it, is ludicrously softballed.

And it’s to protect white children from feeling bad.

I am, of course, paraphrasing but basically the facts presented to me as a child sounded a bit like this:

“So the pilgrims came to America and had a lot of trouble with the indians. The pilgrims tried to be nice but there were some problems and a lot of fighting. Black people were slaves but that was mostly in the south, stick a pin in that one, we will get back to it later. So England was tryrannical, we fought a war, and won! Yay us! Here is this part where the indians had to take a long, shitty walk but they got a new home at the end of it! So, okay, African Americans. The north was totally fine but the south loooooooved slavery so we fought another war and it was super tragic and inspiring. Then the slaves were free! America had another little snafu with black people in the 60’s but we got over that and now it’s fine.”

The Trail of Tears, the forced removal of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole from their lands to suffer a long walk to Oklahoma. Between 2,000 to 6,000 died en route out of 16,543. This was the ultimatum the indigenous people were given: assmilate to this new way of life or go elsewhere. Tens of thousands of human beings were forced to weigh cultural survival against individual survival. This upstart fledgling nation that broke every promise it ever made gave five autonomous and ancient nations a rusted broken scale, one side weighted with shit and the other with dust.

Then these upstarts came for the dust too and subsumed their new lands and continued on with their cultural genocide. Look up American Indian Boarding Schools. Look up information on the current day conditions of the reservations.

My college friend was navajo from the Flagstaff rez. She told me about the schools she went to. The catholic teachers took their names and gave them new ones. There are photos of shackles small enough to fit a disobedient native child.

Chattel slavery. The word chattel means personal property. 12.5 million africans sent across the atlantic ocean kept like livestock and stacked like cordwood. 10.7 survived the journey to be put to work under a foreign sky. Stripped of their names, their families, and their culture to sweat and bleed for indigo and cotton. The north and the south did this. The glorious founding fathers of our glorious nation kept human beings for work and amusement.

The Emancipation Proclamation. Where the slaves were given their freedom. You can’t give freedom, everyone is born with freedom. You can take it. At the most generous you could maybe give it back. At the end of the civil war, in which many black patriots fought and died on ground that didn’t love or care for them, brutal sharecropping, segregation and violence continued to thrive.

Tuskegee, Omaha, Rosewood, Tulsa, Los Angeles, Montgomery, St Louis. The reservations, the Japanese internment camps littered west of the Mississippi, the unmarked graves of Chinese immigrants who helped build the transatlantic railroad. A million bloody steps through history. Look into the records, the photos, the personal stories. It’s all there, much of it transcribed by our own hands, a booming pride and exultation to brutality in service of some great civilization we did not ever build. We did this. People who look like me, like you, who share the same color flesh did these things. It’s irrefutable.

We live in a country with a legacy of violence that has built the fortunes of many. It’s not something we like to examine too closely. We like to think it was all our own individual gumption that netted us the job, the nice house, a good car. It’s not that simple and we don’t care to look to closely at the knotted, filthy complexity of it.

When Eric Garner was murdered a tv news reporter was doing a story about his death. I didn’t watch it but I saw a still from it. In the back the background a jubilant white couple was recreating headlock that suffocated Garner. The woman is smiling, the man has his tongue out  in a caricature of choking. I’ve never wanted to go to a place and a moment in time to beat someone before. That was cruelty, barbarism, and inhumanity personified that they would do something like that. A pile of cops squeezed the life’s breath from a man for doing nothing at all and it was funny for these people.

Understand this: the violence the black community faces right now, and has faced since they were dragged to these shores, is not a black problem. It is our problem that we inflict on the black community. One that we have been willfully ignorant in understanding and rectifying.

My husband is jewish. Not in a particularly religious sense but in the way I’ve seen a lot of jews identify. If they have the noted ancestry of a jew that would have landed them in the camps back in the 40’s then they claim that heritage. We woke up this morning to news of the Charleston shooting, the Memphis shooting hot on it’s heels. I checked tumblr to see a video of a young black girl in a bathing suit being manhandled and slammed head first into a cop car.

A different young girl in Ohio, not the one in Dallas. How pathetic. It’s happened so often I have to be clear about which young black girl was beaten by the police in the past few weeks.

So my jewish husband says something, he said many things this morning, but this is what struck me the hardest-

“Remember in Band of Brothers where they rounded up the villagers from outside the camps and made them clean up the bodies? The didn’t have a direct hand in it but it’s like… what did you do? You baked bread, you went to work. You didn’t look. It happened right next door and you didn’t try to stop it. That’s us right now. We bake bread and go to work but we aren’t stopping it.”

German citizens were actually forced at gunpoint to visit the killing fields of the camps. Spared their lives but not spared the knowledge of the consequence of their inaction. Maybe those civilians couldn’t have stopped it. However they didn’t try very hard either.

Willful ignorance.

We are all complicit in this thing to one degree or another. This thing that slaughters the young and old, women and men in communities of color. The American system as it stands now and, frankly, has always stood since it’s inception is a vast machine and it’s gears tear apart the undeserving.

I use the words ‘black community’. ‘White community’ is seldom heard. Those of us with pale skin are set up as the default, anything not us is other and thus subject to scrutiny. It’s a blood legacy. It’s our legacy, ugly, bruised, and hateful.

The white race historically has pretended at purity and civilization. All of this is false. Everything I see us doing is just a sick caricature of what I understand humanity to be. It’s cruel, uncaring, inhumane.

Brotherhood is not just a word but a deed, an action. When you hear someone degrade another culture, spit fire. When you see a black child called a man fit for some obtuse punishment throw a fit. When someone with black or brown skin tells you what their life is like, spare your arguments. You can do it. be that guy.  For the love of everything holy, don’t split semantic hairs over this kind of suffering. If you want to regard yourself as a good person, one that loves human life, you must speak ferociously against this sort of injustice. You must do it other wise you are just baking bread and going to work and pretending it doesn’t matter.

Your school, your culture has lied to you. It’s to your detriment, which is a shame, but worse it costs the people around you to stay so willfully ignorant. This brutality is unconscionable and unacceptable. Black voices are paramount in this discussion and I desperately urge other white people to set aside defensiveness and upset to hear and understand these real grievances. Horrible things are happening to our neighbors and they must be remarked upon in unwavering terms.  For better or worse this country is our home and we cannot allow this sort of suffering to be passively accepted with wry remorse. When an uncle makes a comment about lazy mexicans, fight him at the family dinner table no matter how awkward it may be. A friend makes a crude joke about a black womans body, shame him within an inch of his life. Its small, but maybe it will start to bandage some wounds. Our legacy is blood and it takes active effort to staunch that flow.

In this clutch of words I mentioned things, historical things. I would like to spend more time with them, crack open the fetid heart of it and show you it’s twisted guts. The crimes that have happened I only barely touched on. It’s bad. It’s awful. It’s rarely spoken of.

But I am no scholar. I’m not equipt to give true justice to the horror of these things. Know that they did happen though. This is the digital age and all that knowledge is at your fingertips. Read and listen. Don’t look away even if, and especially if, it makes you feel bad. Once you feel bad you may understand how to do good.

Episode 071 – Don’t Cost Me Nothing

3 Jan

Walking personification of nightmares Karla Pacheco joins our salty little shitshow to tell us about her awful children’s book, along with some other trash about hateful opinions, craft and Bobby’s fondest failure.

Download Episode 071 – Don’t Cost Me Nothing


iTunes here.

RSS here.

Follow both Leia and Karla, because it’s the best comedy on the internet since Bobby wrote for Cracked.

Episode 070 – Allegory of the Spaceship

27 Dec

Bobby and I fold ourselves in half to delve deep into the process of our respective ART. Enjoy my breathless enthusiasam for talking birds and Bobby detailing excatly how rockets work.

Download Episode 070 – Allegory of the Spaceship


iTunes here.

RSS here.

Is Leia never not writing? Only when she’s twittering. Which is still technically writing, so you should follow her twitter account if you’re gonna be a completist about it.

A quick break down of how I design characters

26 Dec

I posted a little bit on my twitter this evening about how I design characters as a writer who works with other artists. This is a little step by step for Juon Tiro, a character from a fantasy story The Deep Engines. There are actually a couple short stories featuring him on this blog if you want to check the Deep Engines tag.

To start out I do a basic write up of the character, background, place in society, general info. Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 5.59.57 PM

This is what it looks like when I start out. Then I refine a bit with personal details. These are things that would suggest how a character would hold themselves, how they react to stress. Details that would be shown on the page rather than told. The notes section is pretty brief and staccato. I think that’s helpful for an artist so they can get the distilled info without being bogged down with a 3 page essay trying to condense every aspect of the character. Just easier to parse.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 6.00.11 PM

When I write for comics I cast it like a movie. If I see a photo of a model or an actor or whatever that I think suits the character it goes in a reference folder labled CAST. For Juon I stumbled over this guy who’s body type and facial expression would be at home in a scene.


Handsome, cocky, trim, long limbed, dark skin. I can point to this and say, “Here is the basic physical make up.” But I want Juon to have long hair that he takes pride in and a little bit of an impish look. Model Cykeem White was an ideal stand in.


With these references I have a visual I can point to and then refine. For example I’ve told artists who are interested in this project that the above model is a very good idea of Juons shape, but he’s a little too baby faced for Juons age and street wise experience.

So I take a crack at it myself.


Sorry about the quality but fuck a scanner.

Now here is some advice that may seem super daunting to writers who don’t draw at all, never studied art or what have you but i strongly recommend it. Try to draw your character the way you picture them. What’s the shape of their build? do they have broad shoulders and a narrow waist? Well, shit, you can draw a triangle. In comparison to the people who collaborate with me I’m trash and I can’t illustrate my ideas as skillfully as I can construct a sentence but it’s a starting point for what I specifically had in mind. Also I think it’s good for writers to see how the other half lives. I hear from some younger or just starting out writers complaining that an artist isn’t capturing their ~vision~. Cut that shit out. Sit down and try to draw you vision. Can’t do it? Well then if the artist you are working with thinks a character would look better with bangs I guess that bitch is getting bangs isn’t she?

Anyway, this is my pass at combining the details I like from the references.

I also have stacks of reference for costume. Juon is from a race called the Kef. Over all the Kef like bold, solid colors, geometric shapes, asymmetry, and gold adornments. However the details vary from location to location. Juon is from Benga Loa, which is tropical. The colors his people wear are brighter and the outermost layer would typically have an embroidery or pattern that would be considered a frivolous but Kef living in other cities.



Again, I have boatloads of images. When we get down to brass tacks of illustrating I can say, the color blue of the jacket, the shilloutte of the black costume above, but it would leave one shoulder bare.

Here are some sketches of Juon done by other artists using the information I’ve given them.


Juon by Dechanique.

Juon concept art by B. Sabo

Juon concept art by B. Sabo

Annnnnd by my frequent collaborator B. Sabo.

Last but not least, Anissa Espinosa.


Three different artists, one character. Three different styles but if you were to read a comic series with Juon and each artist drew a section you’d be able to spot him from the get.

Anyway your milage may vary, but for larger projects this is how I communicate with artists and it seems successful thus far. Just remember don’t dump all the visual leg work on them! Drawing takes a lot of time and if you know how something should look, find a picture or something that looks close or evokes the general idea and give it to them. It’ll save time and effort and wont necessitate (many) redraws. And if you can’t find a reference? Try drawing it yourself to figure out the look. Sometimes the frustration of drawing something actually makes me better at articulating the thought in words.

Episode 069 – The Bounty of the Sea

6 Dec

Episode 069 – The Bounty of the Sea

Sfe R Monster calls in from the frozen, seal riddled wastes of Halifax to help me explain why you just haven’t had seafood the right way! Have you had it grilled? In between you’ll hear some deep shit about some stuff or whatever.

Download Episode 069 – The Bounty of the Sea


iTunes here.

RSS here.

So yeah, there’s a long-running sitcom on twitter, and it’s kind of like the Odd Couple, but instead of a couple, it’s just Sfe and Leia, and they’re just being ruthlessly horrible in the most endearing of ways.

Episode 068 – Swooping the Pancakes

1 Dec

Ohio human being Ritzy joins us to basically spoil the shit out of Dragon Age: Inquisition so heads up on that.

Download Episode 068 – Swooping the Pancakes


iTunes here.

RSS here.

You know how Ritzy was funny on this show? She’s like that all the time on her twitter. Leia? She’s more of a harried, question-asking wreck as she tries to navigate the game. But that’s pretty damned funny to read, too.

Mea Culpa

14 Nov

I joked after the completion of the first book in The Legend of Bold Riley series that it was full of mistakes I wouldn’t make again, that moving forward with book two I could look forward to making fresh, exciting, new mistakes.

And holy shit, did I make a mistake.

Liz Conley is a friend and colleague I’ve known for years now. When the artist for the Wicked Temple chapter was unable to complete the color work for his chapter, Liz stepped in and completed the remaining ten pages under a tight deadline. Keep in mind this chapter was colored using traditional media, watercolor. An accomplished painter, Liz blended her own colors to match what was already complete. The transition is seamless. Looking back now I almost have a hard time picking out where the change took place. Her work on book one was what made me hire her as a colorist for the chapter Warp and Weft. Illustrated by Zack Giallongo I wanted to give Liz a book where she had the freedom to work in her own style.

This lady has held it down for me through two volumes. She’s fast, professional, and talented.

So why, out of all of the giant cocksucking blunders I could commit, did I not to make sure that my publisher at Northwest Press had the full contributor list?? So that a thousand issues of Warp and Weft went to stores without the colorist credited. Oh, and then not notice until the colorist emailed me to ask what happened.

I was mortified when Liz emailed me to let me know her name appeared nowhere in the book. In the vault inside my soul where I like to keep my most shameful memories this one is sure to take a place of honor. In this industry your body of work functions as your resume. The collection of things you made or contributed to brings more work and recognition. So if your writer/art director drops the goddamned ball and your name is missing from a book you worked on? Well, you can see the issue.

Obviously I didn’t do this on purpose. Obviously I don’t really care that it wasn’t intentional. This is a fuck up that showed profound disrespect to Liz Conleys effort and craft.

The PDF’s have been corrected. The correct credit can be added to the trade when it’s released. In the meantime though I urge everyone who claps eyes on this post to go check out Liz’s webpages. My personal favorite project of hers is the watercolor illustrations of food, found at Filling Content. Her professional page is here. Please go check it out. I think you’ll like what you find.

Episode 067 – Black Nerd Cookies

1 Nov

Sweet summer child Terrence Wiggins joins us to talk about YouTube Celebrities, the joys of baking, and what a gross old man John Grisham is. Let a little tummy-time into your life with this delightful episode.

Download Episode 067 – Black Nerd Cookies


iTunes here.

RSS here.

Terrence was a guest because he’s awesome at twitter. So following Leia and Terrence on twitter simply guarantees more awesome in your tweetstream. So get on that.

Hilo Tamarand, Somewhere in the west

27 Oct

Was the sky stained this color red from the fires they had been forced to set or was it the just the sun setting? From inside her helm she couldn’t tell, the burning in her eyes from the noxious loads of smoking poison the Upsheer had dropped on the advancing lines of Boneblacked wasn’t helping.

Hilo Tamarand, squinted through the eye holes of the faceplate styled in the visage of a snarling, golden fox. It took a moment before it occurred to her that there was no call to wear it at the moment. She had lived, slept fitfully, fought for a five days in full armor, so many hours that she had forgotten this wasn’t her real skin.

She wrenched at the base of the helm until it finally gave way and she hurled it to the ground with what remained of her anger and strength. It hit the mud with a noise that gave only barest satisfaction before melting, congealing and rising in a thin ribbon of gold to wrap around her neck again as an ornate choker. The cuirass bled a little more easily back into the golden bands that wrapped around her upper arms. Hilo shook her hands absently and the gauntlets and arm guards slunk back to form the ten rings on her fingers and the thick heavy bracelets. The greaves confounded her a moment. She stamped her foot to reinforce her bitter thought. ‘Come on, damn it. Bloody work is done for now.’

It was always harder to shake off the full armor, golden but impossibly stronger than gold (Hilo hadn’t yet found out what this bellisfah damned shit was.) after so long in it but eventually the lower half obeyed her will and settled back into the bangles that ringed her ankles. Left finally in nothing but her thin, black undersuit, Hilo was annoyed but unsurprised to find the foul breeze of the battle field was scorching. She dropped to a exhausted crouch and looked out across the uneven ground.

She could see the hulking pieces of the ancient engine the Deep Wright has cloaked itself in collapsed some yards away. The flesh of the Wright oozed and dripped over the ancient steel, bleeding back into the rift it had crawled from to congeal back in the stinking well at the center of the earth. Somewhere near it would be Ahmia’s cold corpse, hands covered in the inky black tar from where she pulled it’s heart out, mouth twisted and likewise covered from eating it. Ahmia had managed to crawl from the monsters body only a little way before catching sight of Hilo and begging her to do what needed to be done. One kiss Hilo accepted but did not return before sliding the dagger, made by and named for Hilo’s lover, between Ahmia’s shuddering ribs. Her body a coffin for foulness.

Five years to come to this conclusion. Five years since she left Gosslet Ahn, mouth warm from Ellette’s kisses and heavy with promises that, ‘Big Girl, wait. Just wait until after this expedition. I’m going to come home with so many rare jewels to hang on your body you won’t be able to walk. You won’t be able to do anything except lay in the rich house I buy us -away from this piss soaked slum- on silk sheets from the Branchlands while I fuck you.’

Four years since she dug her way up to the surface again, starved, terrified and bound in these golden shackles that she was foolish enough to think were merely jewelry with no idea where on the map she was. A banner thrust into into her hands she’d never set eyes on before, declared one of a handful of prophesied hero’s for a war she never even knew was brewing.

Where were those heros now? The banner she could see, ragged but standing still on the calved rift lip. That image of two closed eyes had put a fire in Ahmia’s open ones but when Hilo looked at it she could feel nothing but abandoned. When Hilo turned from Ahmia’s body to move, just away, just somewhere away from where it had ended, she had passed the body of Boursen Ran. The burly Eidlemark lay crumpled, one powerful leg bent at a sick angle under his body. One of his sleek, sharp antlers broken off in the stomach of a twisted Couslet that had succumbed to Boneblack. As she passed, in her bewildered tiredness, Hilo  congratulated him on his excellent kill. Spoke to him like a still living comrade she had drunk with in the Kef sanctuary.

“Good on you, goat man.” Hilo said, then tripped over the broken body of one of the Upsheer. She recognized the markings on the crumpled wing. One of the brave, who had held the brutal poison that could waste the flesh of Boneblacked to the core in their long beaks. Hilo had watched the legion of crane men dive from the sky into the ravaging hordes and to their deaths. That first devastating strike at the cost of so many of their people.

Some deaths she knew and others were a mystery she wasn’t ready to solve yet. Where was old Vespertine, and her great sword? Where were the Coustlet twins, hulking Veeta and Zouk? She had seen them back to back, swinging their war clubs before an arrow whizzing by her shoulder set her about more important business.

Where was Yamhill?

Hilo rocked precariously on her heels. She ran a hand through her dark, damp hair and listened to the cawing screams of the remaining Upsheer as they found the bodies of their loved ones. So many. It would take a long time for the smaller birds to pick apart the departeds flesh on the burial platforms, Hilo thought absently.

Because she didn’t want to look at death anymore she looked at her scarred, red brown hands and the gold rings, thought of Ellettes own calloused from working the forge braiding her hair into a que. The thick fingers swept over the stubbled sides of Hilo’s skull as Hilo drained the last of her weak ale and rose to tell the tavern that she would be joining the expedition into Mornay’s Rift.

When the braid came loose Hilo had mourned.

It was only the soothing chitter from over her shoulder that unmoored her from her absent thoughts. A considerate habit Yamhill and Hilo had developed over their years together to keep from startling the other. Thank Mother Sky, Yamhill did live.

“I was looking for you, Little Egg.” Yamhill said in the guttural chirps and whistles of the Upsheer.

She replied in the approximation of Sky Tongue her own mouth could form. The Upsheer could understand Trade Tongue but their beaks would never be able to shape it. Hilo considered it a courtesy to use his own speech as often as possible.

“I only needed to breath, Father Tall Neck.”

Yamhill slid his smooth beak across her neck, winding his own long feathered one around her. A supportive embrace as he understood her people gave each other when life became too much.

“No good breaths to be had out here.” He said. Hilo’s shoulders slumped in agreement. Yamhill unwound himself from her neck and she looked over her shoulder at him, frowning at the bandage on his wing. The crane man’s snowy feathers were stained with soot, the sticky tar of Boneblack blood, the more mundane red of their fellows. The emerald plumes of his tail were dulled with thrown dust.

Yamhill saw the wrinkle around her mouth and soothed.

“Very small scratch, Little Egg. I will fly again in a half moon.”

Hilo rose wearily to her feet. She twisted one of the golden cuffs absently, feeling the cold burn against her skin.

“Vespertine? The twins? Alive?” She asked dully.

Yamhill flicked his good wing outward and bobbed his head. “Old woman, we will see. A hole in her side that is very deep. The woman twin is dead. The man twin has a gone eye. One of my Wings found him clutching the woman twin and could not be moved. Until he wept to sleeping. A small mercy that sleep. He will recover.”

Hilo nodded. She twisted the cuff again. In the first weeks of taking the golden fox armor wearing it had been agony. She could barely bring herself to bathe, but now the feeling grounded her. She looked at the hulk of the Deep Wright, unseeing.

Yamill’s low squawk brought her back.

“We must continue, Little Egg. There are more of The Childrens machines buried d-”

“We go to Gosslet Ahn first.” Hilo said with finality and twisted the bracelet harder against the bones of her wrist. She felt the burn and thought of Ellettes mouth again.

“Little Egg,”  Yamhill started.

Hilo had come a long way in her studies of Upsheer language but the dam in her heart broke at his quiet reproach and so the words she spat were in Trade.

“No! I’ve spent years sunk knee deep in blood for this! I am OWED, Yamhill!”

He opened his beak but Hilo wasn’t finished.

“I’ve burnt and buried more friends than ever in my life. I’ve been away from my woman for so long I’m praying she remembers my face let alone forgives it. I put my blade into Ahmia’s heart because none of the rest of you were around to do it! Do you know what that was like? I had to hold her while she died! I did that!”

Yamhill ducked his head under her words and stayed silent when she stepped forward, accusatory finger leveled at his shining black eye.

“So this organization will fucking wait for me while I go see what’s left of my life. I’ll keep my promises but I will have this one thing first.” Hilo shook. “If anyone understands this I would expect it to be you.”

Yamhill raised his graceful head at that, because he did. He understood coming home to his nest, finding the eggs shattered against the carefully woven branches. Small unfeathered bodies laying in a pool of wet and his mates neck broken. He had laid his head next to hers and keened as one of his older hatchlings twitched and took it’s last breath. The sticky tar handprints of Some Kef or Child corrupted by Boneblack all over the entryway his nestmate liked to perch at while waiting his return during laying moons.

Hilo turned her back on him in despair to leave. She paused at the noise he made, the closest he could come to her name.


She turned.

“We go. To your old nest. For a time I follow you.” He said. “But Little Egg, we cannot forget what is to be done.”

Hilo shrugged, hitched up the crossed belts that held her daggers, Lady’s Kiss and Veldmark against the small of her back.

“As if it was possible to forget.” She said.