Category Archives: comics

Things That Make My Life/Art Easier: Pens

As s.e. wrote about in a post earlier this week, I am a cartoonist in addition to all the other crap that I do. I’ve been drawing (and writing) for most of my life, and finding the perfect pen has been something of a wild turkey-chase with mixed results. I know that an entire post devoted to pens may seem silly, particularly given the more serious things that I have written about here on FWD. Re-reading some of Amanda‘s Things That Make My Life Easier posts has inspired me to write about…well, writing (and drawing) implements, because the right ones do make things easier for me.

I first read about the pain-reducing benefits of felt-tip pens in the second edition of Starlanyl and Copeland’s Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain: A Survival Manual; the authors, both medical professionals, include the use of felt-tip pens in a lengthy list of tips designed to reduce pain on an everyday basis. Felt-tip pens tend to be easier on the hands and joints. My one huge issue with felt-tips, however, is that many of them produce stronger lines than I would like. This is more of a problem when I attempt to use them for artistic purposes, as I don’t mind a little more heft in my hand-written notes and scribbles. I do use felt-tips on occasion in my cartoon work — especially for panel borders and heavy lines — just not very often.

Felt-tips are good for writing, but depending upon what sort of lines you’d like in your artistic works, the ease of use that felt-tips produce may be their only advantage. Obviously, they’re not the greatest for detail work. I tend to shy away from brushes and pens that require the use of an inkwell or a separate bottle of ink, as the gorgeous lines one can produce with those tools so often translates into absolute hell on my hand and wrist joints, plus a lot of repetitive motion from dipping the brush or pen into the ink and bringing it back to the page (which often equals further hell).

Ball-point pens that don’t have a lot of ink “flow,” in my experience, aren’t great for cartooning either, though they can be useful for storyboards and quick sketches. The ball-points that have worked the most effectively for me have been the “business”-type pens that most folks associate with actual business work. Perhaps people in business have to write things quickly and therefore cannot depend on crappy ball-points and/or face the frustration that inevitably arises when said crappy ball-point runs out of ink. Non-crappy ball points, such as the Uni-ball line of products, may be a bit more expensive than “traditional” ball-points, but if you want a smooth line that is not going to translate into extreme wrist or hand pain, a “business” pen of this sort might be for you.

Another pen type with which I have had some success has been actual drawing pens; many brands are available at art-supply stores or bookstores. I have found that experimentation with different types of pens is a good bet, if you’ve got the time for it (and assuming that you are cool with dropping a couple bucks on pens that might be either awesome or a total disaster). The Preppy fountain pen, made by Japan’s JetPens, may be a good bet for people who would like to experiment with fountain pens and the lines that these pens can create, but who may not have the time, energy or inclination to use a more traditional fountain pen (it has a reloadable ink-cartridge system that is very convenient). There is also the Stabilo brand, which I discovered quite by accident in the clearance rack of an art supply store (I bought a couple specifically because they were on sale). I use the Point 88 type because it’s light, comfortable to hold and can do excellent detail work, but your artistic/writing mileage may vary.

There is no “perfect” pen, of course, but there are some damn good ones out there if you’ve got the inclination to experiment.

Portrayals we love: Melody in Girls With Slingshots

Back in November I did a Guest Post for Bitch about Ways of doing characters with disabilities ‘right’. I think it’s been since November since I’ve had time to consume any media with characters with disabilities (I’m permanently on thesis time now), but I want to go back and talk about the comic I mentioned then, Girls With Slingshots.

As I said then:

I’m not actually a fan of Girls with Slingshots and thus haven’t read the whole run, but I did read the recent wedding-related storyline because it featured two new ‘bit’ characters: Soo Lin, who is blind, and Melody, who is deaf. (Sadly, the strips don’t seem to have a transcript that I can find. I’ve written up a transcript for the relevant strips.) [Soo Lin’s first appearance] [Melody’s first appearance]

What I like about the jokes in this strip are that they’re all over the place. Some are about how clueless people can be about blindness. Some are disability-related humour as told by people with disabilities. I think my favourite is this joke about getting a bad ‘terp. There are others, of course.

The jokes are all based around disability, sure. But the jokes aren’t “ha ha ha, look at the crippled person having difficulties getting around!” And at no point is the humour about a very special lesson for anyone else. Soo Lin and Melody are part of the joke, they aren’t the butt of it.

One thing has changed: Since then I’ve definitely become a fan of Girls With Slingshots, and actually look forward to Mondays because I know I’ll get a new strip. (The weekends are so long.)

Since November, Melody has also become a recurring character, and I totally love how Danielle Corsetto uses her in the strip. Basically, Melody still isn’t a very special lesson in Deafness, she’s a fun and funny character who’s developing a romance with another recurring character, and is gradually being accepted by the others as just another member of the group.

One of the things I am enjoying about the plot line is the growing romance between Melody and Chris. Chris has had a crush on Melody since the wedding arc, and has decided to learn Sign language. While other writers might go with “And then Chris instantly learned Sign so there could be no communication problems, the end”, Corsetto has shown Chris’ learning curve, in all its glory.

Darren and Chris are talking at the local bar. Both are clean-shaven white dudes, probably in their mid-20s.

Panel 1:
Darren: So is that why you’re here? Hoping to catch a glimpse of your beloved?

Chris: I guess. I’ve never seen her here except for that one time, so I don’t know why I’m trying.

Panel 2:
Darren: Aw, that’s romantic. And even if she did show up you could only stare at her creepily because you don’t know Sign Language.

Chris: I’ve been learning!

Panel 3:
Darren: Really? Let’s see this magic.

Chris: [Signing awkwardly] umm… Hello how much does this cost?

Panel 4:
Darren: That will get you slapped.

Chris: I’m only on book one!

Other than Darren pointing out that Chris is still learning (slowly!) Sign, none of the characters in GWS question the possibility of the relationship. The constant match-maker, Jamie, merely encourages him to not keep his feelings a secret [transcript], and Melody’s sister, Maureen, is nothing but thrilled.

As I mentioned before, the humour in people’s interactions with Melody is still focused around the foibles of hearing people who are still getting used to having a Deaf friend, and the assumptions they make about it. In one scene, Chris is horrified to be told that Melody can read lips (I’m not sure if this is true) after he said something embarrassing, and in another a rather drunk Maureen starts shouting for Melody, having forgotten this might not be the best way to get her sister’s attention.

The only flaw – if one can call it that – is that this plot arc is very much about Chris and about his growing as a person in finding a woman he wants to be with. On the other hand, the whole strip is about people growing up and learning about themselves, often through finding romantic relationships, whether or short- or long-term. Characters have tended to be introduced this way (Chris was once a potential romantic partner for Hazel) and then become more fully-fleshed member of the cast.

In short: I really love Melody, and I’m so glad that Corsetto has kept her in the strip. While not everything about GWS is perfect, I’m just happy to see a popular comic strip with a recurring character with a disability. I can’t wait to see where Melody’s story goes.

Commenting note: I am, as I said, on Thesis Time right now, which basically means I’m hardly at all around. If you decide to comment, please keep commenting policies in mind, and I’ll do my best to keep up with them.