The Greg Hill Reading List

Mouseguard

Mouseguard

Hello, internet folk! Welcome to our regularly scheduled tomfoolery!

You may recall that a couple months ago I started teaching a graphic novels class at the elementary school. One of the bazillion things that I did in preparation was to interview local graphic novels guru Greg Hill. Mr Hill is The Guy for graphic novels at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and has given several talks and workshops throughout the state. (In fact, I met up with him through the school librarian, who had gone to one of his classes at the Alaska Library Association’s conference last year.)

In addition to knowing just boatloads about the structure and design of graphic novels, Mr Hill also lays out a pretty gorgeous recommended reading list. Take a gander at the following list, and maybe find a new favorite. (And for anybody interested in the history of comics, designing their own graphic novel, or listening to background baby destroy everything, be sure to catch Mr Hill and I’s full interview [at an hour long! whew!] that I’ll be posting next Monday!)

Happy reading!

Little Nemo in Slumberland

Little Nemo in Slumberland

Greg Hill’s Graphic Novels Recommended Reading List

Marguarite Abouet- Aya

Carl Barks- Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge

Alison Bechdel- The Fun Home

Ernie Bushmiller- Nancy

Will Eisner- A Contract with God; The Spirit

George Harriman- Krazy Kat

Takehiko Inoue- Vagabond

Winsor McCay- Little Nemo in Slumberland

Mori Kaoru- A Bride’s Story

Grant Morrison- anything

David Petersen- Mouseguard

Alex Raymond- early Flash Gordon; Rip Kirby

Gabriel Rodriquez; Eric Shanower- Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland

Art Speigelman- Maus

Chris Ware- Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth

A Bride's Story

A Bride’s Story

Dealing with Depression

Heads up, y’all!  Today, I’ll be discussing my own dealings with depression and how this affects me as a writer and a human.  If you’re not feeling up to reading about depression, including references to self mutilation and suicidal ideation, maybe go check out this cool video about biodiversity instead.  Or, you know, do both! Cheers!

It’s very tempting to start a post like this with statistics and definitions.  I want to talk prevalence and symptoms and stuff like that, because it’s so clinical, so quantifiable.  It’s concrete and factual, about a thing that can so often feel hidden and only quasi-real.

But in the interest of keeping things brief, I’ll skip all that.  I’m not a psychologist, I’m a patient, and I can only write what I know.  Here’s what I know about depression.

I get down sometimes.  I can’t always predict when it’s going to happen, or how bad it’s going to be.  Sometimes it’s just several days of being glum and unfocused and listless.  Sometimes it’s weeks and weeks of hopelessly wishing there was some graceful and acceptable and not-sucky-for-the-people-who-love-me way to just not be alive anymore.  And then eventually I slog my way back out of the tarry hole I’m in and things are better.  Often, things are great, and stay that way for weeks at a time.  But then I peak somewhere and start my decline again.  I go through this cycle maybe four times a year, although I’ve never really counted, but it’s always hardest in winter and easiest in summer.  I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember, well before I moved to Alaska with its pronounced seasonal shifts.  The first time I specifically remember thinking about suicide, I was somewhere around eight years old, and I’ve been fantasizing about it off and on ever since.

Depression reminds me of the time I was still figuring out my intestinal disorder, became severely malnourished, and lost the ability to properly taste food; everything took on a strange metallic taste that just made it that much harder to force myself to eat.  Likewise, depression affects everything, tinting the taste of my every thought, my every reaction, my every emotion.  It takes the bad things and places the blame on me, no matter what.  It takes the good things and tells me I don’t deserve them.  It makes it harder and harder for me to engage healthfully and happily with those around me, because I don’t deserve them and they would be better off without me.

This is especially devastating pertaining to my children.  A parent constantly works hard to do right by their kids; depression strangles the joy and amplifies the pain.

For me, there is a terrible guilt to depression.  How can somehow who is so blessed be so sad?  It’s not my darling husband making me sad, who works so hard and loves so completely.  It’s not my sweet sons making me sad, those cheerful boys who always get good grades and never ever get in trouble at school or at church.  So what’s wrong with me?

The answer is probably a bit chemical, probably a bit learned.  I don’t know the exact nature of it, and I don’t think knowing would make one lick of difference.

It’s hard for me to tell exactly how far it extends, too.  I know that it changes my perception, but I don’t know if it changes others’ perceptions of me.  Can they tell?  I know they can sometimes, when it’s really bad, and those are the times when it’s hardest to make myself keep going out.  But those are the very times when I need to keep working at the school, keep going to church, keep talking with my friends.  When I drift away from those things because I don’t want people to know, I sink deeper and deeper and deeper.  That’s when things start to get out of control and I begin hurting myself.  Sometimes the pain helps me to feel a little more control.  Sometimes it stands in as a small punishment in place of the larger one I think I deserve.  Sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing it, or even that I am until I see the damage.

How does it affect me as a writer? As a volunteer at my kids’ school?  As a teacher at church?  As a wife and parent?  In every aspect of my life, depression settles first like a shroud, just a gray veil that I see the world through.  But as it gets thicker around me, it’s hard to stay connected.  I forget things: birthdays, appointments, walking the dog, eating.  I find it harder and harder to connect with the people around me, whether they’re family or strangers, on the internet or in real life.  It’s difficult to write because anything that feels genuine sounds melodramatic and whiney, but anything else feels incredibly false.  It’s difficult to work and volunteer because I feel so useless.  It’s difficult to love because I feel so unlovable.

Not everything about depression is terrible, at least not for me.  There are a few things that this struggle has granted me that I don’t know if I would have been able to learn otherwise.  Greater depth of emotion.  Stronger sympathy for any kind of suffering.   The desire to comfort people going through struggles.  An incredible love and loyalty for those who help me through.  I don’t know if I would have these qualities any other way.  These are deeply personal things and vary person to person, but this holds true for me.  Besides this, I worry that if I were to blunt my ability to feel the very deepest of my depression, I would similarly be shaving off my ability to feel the pure joy and true elation I so often do between those bouts of sadness.  I’ve never been any other way, so I don’t know.

This in no way means that I don’t fully support the use of medication under the advice of a doctor.  My illness is such that I respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, but requiring medicine is a reality for many people struggling with mental illness.  This does not make them weak or a failure any more than a cancer patient requiring chemotherapy is weak or a failure.

I’m not sure why I’m posting this here.  This is, after all, a writing blog, and depression is certainly not just for writers.  Besides that, I feel least like a writer in my deepest bouts of depression.  But I felt like it should be said.  There is an awful loneliness to depression, in that it feels like nobody understands how deeply it aches.  Maybe one of you readers feels that ache right now.  If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone, even when it feels that way.  I wish I had heard that message more when I was younger and at my most fragile.

 

Things that help me:

Give someone close a heads up when things are getting bad. I always tell my husband at the start of a bad spell, and he helps me get through. A relative, a friend, a spiritual leader, a trusted teacher: anyone who loves you would be honored to stand with you.

I keep the national suicide hotline programmed into my phone, and those wonderful folks are glad to chat for as long as they are needed.  They are so kind.  If you feel like things are starting to get out of control, look up your region’s hotline and give yourself easy access.

When I begin to sink, it’s so so important that I stay busy.  The distraction is nice, but more important are the connections to other humans.  Staying busy, whether with work or with volunteerism or just playing cards with my family, makes me feel more valued.

Exercise.  This one is so hard to hold on to when I’m in the pits, but it makes a huge difference. Whether I’m exercising by myself or with a sports team, it helps me to feel more alive at a time when I otherwise feel numb and exhausted all the time.

April Recap

*whimpers*

So April was… rough.  Last month was the kind of perfect storm that I’ve not seen since Sept 2015, when I ran out of blog buffer at the start of NaNo right after pooping out a new human.  Thank goodness that, in my infinite mercy, I scheduled myself a recap for this week, because boy howdy, that buffer is long gone.

In addition to some personal issues, I had Camp NaNo, with its super low word count goal that I still just barely squeaked out-

NaNo Graph

-as well as the near doubling of my hours at the library I work at (soooo much shelving)-

Books to Shelve

-and the seven hundred mile round trip with all babies in tow-

Screaming Mom

-and all the normal requirements of a household trying to appease the relentless gods of entropy.

Messy House

It was rough.  And so I’m happy to give myself a pass on a thoughtful blog post this week.  Instead, go learn about crazy math!

*passes out*

Trope Fail: A Competent Adult

You know how in all horror movies involving teenagers, they don’t have guardians?  It’s always like a pack of teenagers just getting mowed down left and right, and the parents and the teachers and the neighbors either A) don’t notice or B) don’t believe or C) don’t function.  It’s like all adults in the horror movie universe have the IQ of an eggplant.

Yeah. That trope. Urg.

Competant Adult

This comic was A PAIN. Not because it’s in and of itself particularly difficult. (Although there were a few rather annoying technofails setting me back, and I finally just gave up on those purple dialog bubbles.) But just because this whole month has been a pain. (Thank goodness it’s nearly over. I could use a couple fewer commitments in my life right now.)

The first day late with the post, I was like, ‘It’s okay, I’ll just put it up late.’ And the second day, I was like, ‘Ah, geez, I should do some kind of apology bonus. Like a funny extra panel!’ And the third day, I was like, ‘Man, this is really late, I should color it or something.’ And the fourth day, I was like, ‘Maaaaybe I should just concentrate on posting it at all.’

By the end of the whole affair, I was about as annoyed as Nurse Linda. But I did manage a lame bonus doodle. Nurse Linda is so over this.

img060

She keeps telling the principle to seal off the crypts. But nooobody listens to the nurse.

Happy Blogiversary!

Whew! Four years, guys!  Thanks for sticking it out with me!

In celebration, I made you a nifty coloring sheet.  (Apologies in advance for the wonky dimensions.  I never think about these things when I start a project, augh.)  I plan to color this and print it out as a poster for hubby’s classroom, (The original is hugenormous.) so you’ll probably see a color version up eventually.  In the meantime, feel free to print it out, color it, stick it on your bathroom mirror, but respect the copyright, man.

Happy blogiversary! Wahoo!

FrizzleB+W

Creating Cultures

(Sorry I didn’t post yesterday.  I am dying of an exciting new plague [again]. Today’s CYOA was: will I spend the evening posting on the blog, or languishing in a hospital gurney?  I figured posting was cheaper.  If you don’t hear from me next week, assume I died.)

culture

Image from the Anthropology Dept of Drew University. Thanks, guys!

Toward the end of last year’s post Setting the Scene, I mentioned the importance and influence of realistic cultures in a story’s setting.  This week, we’re going to geek out on sociology to create a flexible framework for cultures.

While there’s a bit of overlap between them, there are five widely accepted aspects of culture: symbols, language, values, beliefs, and norms.  When creating your own cultures, try to incorporate something of each of these aspects to have a layered, realistic culture.  If you’re not creating your own culture, but rather writing about a premade one (maybe you’re writing historical, contemporary, fanfic, whatevs), you should also include these aspects to avoid a society that seems more like a cardboard cutout than an actual culture.

But before we get into any definitions, let’s chat for a moment about keeping things appropriate.  No, I’m not talking about your characters’ potty language or sextivities.  I’m talking about keeping your culture in sync with your setting.  It wouldn’t make sense for a language to have forty words for ice if its speakers lived in the tropics.  Or if it does, there had better be a good reason, like mass immigration or cultural appropriation or whatnot.

As we work through each of these aspects (and order really doesn’t matter), keep in mind the climate and resources this culture would develop in.  Don’t make all the houses log cabins if they live on the tundra.  Don’t develop detailed hunting ceremonies for your herbivorous aliens.  Don’t have your country’s national flower be a blossom that doesn’t grow there.  You get the idea.  (But seriously, if there are great reasons, let ‘er rip.  Weird little discrepancies are wonderful, like how California’s state animal doesn’t actually exist in California because settlers and gold panners hunted it to extinction a century ago.)

Values  Although this will vary a bit from person to person, each culture has an ‘average’ set of values that people care about.  Values help to define acceptable behaviors within the cultural group by delineating between good and bad.  Keep in mind that a single character commonly juggles the values of multiple culture groups, such as a character who holds the values of an average Australian (such as egalitarianism) in addition to the values of an Orthodox Jew (such as daily study of the Torah).   For your culture, think about the values that people hold dear, such as freedom, wealth, lineage, etc.

Beliefs  Belief systems are the convictions and understandings that people hold as truth, and are structured upon values.  These beliefs often mirror those of a religion, but can also be purely secular.  Think about people’s beliefs concerning the dangers of GMOs (value of health and safety) or the glory of communism (value of cooperation and group-before-self) or the messianic Coming of Trump (value of success and independence); no matter where you stand on these issues, there are little culture pockets at the fringes of the spectrum with irrational beliefs about whether these things will save or destroy the world, and there is no convincing them otherwise.  Whether your culture has strong ties to religion, or strives to keep itself separate from such things, make sure to have a set of beliefs that factor into the decision-making process of your characters.

Norms  The rules and traditions of a culture make up its social norms.  Norms run the gamut from the practice of ‘folkways’, or things that are expected but not insisted upon (American examples: handshake at first meeting, eye contact during conversation), to the observance of taboos (no pedophilia, no cannibalism, nooo).  Breaking of norms can result in mild censure (an annoyed parent sighing “Kids these days”) to severe societal punishment (imprisonment, exile, execution) depending on the values and beliefs that they violate.  The more precious the value, the more harsh the punishment.  When creating your culture, think of the traditions and social rules that would arise surrounding a high value on knowing one’s lineage, or maintaining a prescribed diet, or raising children to be successful hunters, or whatever values your culture holds, and weave that into the norms.

Symbols  You know how Americans can look at a picture of a flying eagle and immediately start shooting off fireworks and chanting, “USA! USA!”?  That’s because this bird, who doesn’t give a flying poop about nationality, is a culture symbol (as are the fireworks and the USA chanting).  Symbols can be a physical object, such as the cross of Christianity, or a nonphysical act, such as a formal bow typifying Japanese politeness.  So think about what kind of symbols you can work into your culture.  What styles of art, music, architecture do your characters employ?  What significance do certain colors carry/shapes/etc carry?  What goes on the banner snapping in the wind over the troops?

Language  You don’t really have to go out and make up a whole language from scratch- although it is way fun- but have an understanding of how your characters speak.  What words and ideas come up frequently?  What kinds of phrases and idioms arise that wouldn’t necessarily find use in whatever language your book is written in?  Make sure that these language quirks shine through in your characters’ voices.  (If you do want to make a language from scratch, check out Language Building Basics to get started.)

Once you have considered each of these cultural aspects, go back and make sure that they make sense as a whole.  Do the different aspects all support one another?  Are these social norms something a person would actually be willing to live?  Does the culture make sense within the region that gave birth to it (allowing for the natural evolution of human societies)?  And as always, give yourself lots of room to tweak and adjust, since it probably won’t all come together on the first go.

A final note on creating cultures: as with all worldbuilding, not everything you come up with will make its way into the story (hopefully).  But understanding it as the author will lend more depth to your work, allowing for deeper immersion and a richer backdrop.  Plus, I am a nerd and this stuff is more fun than dishes.

Until next week, happy writing!