Bear Necessities…

TrioSo. None of these are real animals — or rather, they’re neither real animals nor representations of real animals. You probably knew that. But you also probably knew they were supposed to be animals, even though they’re not real. You probably also knew that they’re two vertebrates and an invertebrate — a bird, a mammal and an insect, no less. Maybe you even would broadly class the top as a hunter, the middle as a hunter or forager, and the bottom as a forager or grazer.

Or maybe you’d peg them as something else entirely, but if you did you’d probably still have Reasons, and even if said Reasons were chiefly imagination-based they’d still probably be grounded in personal real-world observations. Pointy faces and forward-looking eyes belong to those that pursue and subdue; small eyes and heavy armor suggest a less active lifestyle. And so on. There are obvious influences here; falcons, civets, rhinoceros beetles, ants, and so on. There are also deviations from those models that make them look, subtly or blatantly, “wrong” in comparison. We can see both the real and the unreal in made-up or mythical animals because we tend to have a lifetime of personal experience looking at real-life beasties for one reason or another. More or different experience leads to finer discrimination or varying conclusions.

Why am I going on about all this?

As usual, blame a book.

Rant mode: Activate

I saw “The Princess and the Hound” sitting there when I was straightening a bookshelf in the library, and figured I’d give it a go based pretty much on the interesting title and a quick look at the first page. And, as sometimes happens with such chance encounters, we actually got on surprisingly well at first. The story seemed intriguing, despite some quirks of language (if you’re going to coin a term specifically for your book, and use it several times per page, COME UP WITH SYNONYMS or at least an abbreviation for variety’s sake), and I was getting to like the characters. But then the animals came in.

I mean, there were always animals in it if you want to get technical. It is ABOUT animals, though in that odd sort of way where it isn’t really about them at all. It needs animals, so to speak, but doesn’t really do much with them directly. Apparently, neither did the author. Now, normally I’m willing to forgive a few faux pas and difficult suspension-of-disbelief situations in a fantasy story, especially one set in a slightly different world that could easily just go, “Magic!” to hand-wave away any anomalies. You know, like every dramatic film or TV show does with “Science!” and/or “Martial arts!”

But there’s really no indication that this world’s fauna are measurably any different outside of the “susceptible to magic” sphere. Well, there might be a couple things, but none of it’s actually spelled out (more on that). There aren’t wacky made-up names or weird environments or even dragons. Not a single dragon! I assume this means it was supposed to be kind of realistic in that aspect? And yet this is a world where it’s implied that boars (routinely!) hunt medium-sized children for food, where wild rabbits in a lowland forest environment are white OR spotted, and dogs … well, dogs are deeply confusing at best, and we’ll leave it at that.

I still soldiered on because the story itself had been going so well, but really, I should have just given up there. The story got weird fast (and I do like a good weird story, don’t get me wrong; what I don’t like is a bad weird story that smacks of “oh man, I didn’t actually think of how I’d resolve any of this — heck, I’ll just throw all the storylines together and have the main character act like it makes sense, that’ll fool ’em”). I’m still not entirely sure what happened with the bear. I’m not entirely sure the author knows what happened with the bear. I’m not entirely sure I want to know what happened with the bear. Either it all falls under the “Magic!” umbrella or it’s one of those hazy folktale-type settings where you can totally be a bear-dude with a dog-wife or whatever, and nobody gets eaten or abandoned in the forest. If she was going for metaphor, which frankly even hazy folktales often manage well enough, I think she was trying a bit too hard.

But honestly? That’s not the part that bothered me the most. I read on past that and finished the book, which was almost done anyhow at that point. It was just the overall feeling that, despite trying to portray characters that had a deep connection to wild animals, I felt like I was reading the work of someone who never really bothered to look closely enough at another living thing to develop that “well wait, this doesn’t really make sense” instinct. Like. Really. Have you seen a rabbit? ANY rabbit? Outside? On a lawn or something? I get that there are feral animals and all, and that the book establishes that there are feral populations of other species in the woods. But do you just go out into the woods and see like, three white rabbits with random black blobs and think, “yeah, those are some normal everyday wild rabbits there”? And there are just enough accurate things about animals in there, things that must have required some modicum of research, that the other things seem all the odder. I feel I must be missing something, and yet it doesn’t seem there’s anything to miss.


But that’s just me. Literally, it’s just me — it has decently good reviews online, and the low-star reviews are for other perfectly-valid storytelling reasons (some of which I whined about above). Maybe there’s no reason to get into the little details if you already dislike the book for the really big obvious details? Anyhow, since I couldn’t point at a review and go, “Ha! See, my complaints are justified by this internet person!,” I had to complain about it here. I can wail and whine, but I don’t have to be held accountable for an actual star review that people look at. Which, incidentally, seems to be the purpose of a large portion of the Internet. Lucky me!

And if you want to buy me flowers….

Gift…You’ll have to climb this giant tree to deliver them.

More of my beloved Nonexistent Theropods, this time in courting mode (rather like some of the birds that are still puffing up and singing their hearts out over here). We have a mate or suitor presenting a slightly bedraggled composite flower of some sort to his lady, who has stationed herself in a hollow tree to better collect her gifts. Her plumage is not quite so flashy (it really doesn’t need to be when you’re holed up in a dead tree), but she sports the same facial markings as the male — I picture these as serving a key, non-gender-specific social function, such as mood signalling or simply differentiating individuals at a glance (see also: gregarious seabirds, things with eyebrows). She has dark eyes instead of pale ones because … well, it seems to work okay for tortoises. Or maybe they have highly variable eye color like humans and domestic animals do.

The male’s tail might be lashing around for balance or as some kind of secondary display function, but then again it might also been too long to fit on the page if he held it straight out.

The rest of my day has been spent making chicken-mushroom risotto (yeah, I had leftovers to use up) and pondering the enigma of whistling. It’s like, the only sound commonly made by humans that doesn’t use your voice. This Deep Thought courtesy of my working in a place where co-workers are often within hearing range but not visible — I know who’s where by recognizing their voices in yawns, sneezes, coughs, and so on, but I can never tell who’s whistling.

The Mother Ship(per)

It Is Done. The Kickstarter is up and running, and I like to think that this means WE’RE GOOD FOR MOTHER’S DAY, RIGHT MOM?

The video is done, and in addition I’m contributing some of my Extra Fancy Artwork (i.e. prints of PSE drawings) to the cause. For the low, low price of fifteen dollars OR the high, high price of $120 (don’t worry, there’s a book and some other junk included in that one, plus those prints are ~signed limited editions~) you can have your very own Please Don’t Eat the Dashboard print by Drawn @ Random!

Full disclosure, some of these will be made on demand, more or less. They’re quick-ish to produce, but still pretty labor intensive, and since they feature animals from the book they’ll be used exclusively for the Kickstarter project. I don’t think it would be a wise time investment to make a ton of these without knowing people will actually want them.

But I do have a couple made up, and if anyone *does* ask for one then I’ll post updates to this blog whenever I finish a new set of pets. Starting us off is the book’s first pair of pet passengers, the Cattle Dogs. No, they didn’t have names — nor did the real-life dynamic duo that inspired them. Apparently, people who plan to sell or give away their animals are rather like farmers in that they try not to name things. Anyhow, you can probably (hopefully) guess how angelic these guys turned out to be…. (Ooh, I should include a little backstory about the Real Pets with each of these if I wind up making more)

1miniCattleDogsAn aside, here: You’ll notice (assuming you’ve gone and clicked on the Kickstarter link — if you haven’t, I’ll wait)…

Right. You’ll notice that words like “transporter” and “courier” are used to describe the protagonist’s job. The author (i.e. Dear Mother) wanted to use “shipper,” as it was her accustomed terminology and seemed to sum things up pretty succinctly.

I said that made them sound too much like cargo. I said it wasn’t what the job was actually called, I said it wasn’t classy enough. I said a variety of things, but mostly to support the one reason that would make sense only to me: Absent any extra context, “shipper” means a very different thing to my generation. Now, I don’t really think my age group is the target audience here, and even if we were we could probably figure it out after a couple seconds, but nevertheless. “Pet Shipper” just brings up weird mental images for me. Thanks, internet.

But of course, the internet allows me to share all the various imagery that spews out of my brain — plus commentary! — with the world every week, whether the world wants it or not. It also allows me to find reference images of Australian Cattle Dogs at 12:11 AM on a Sunday whilst listening to obscure Swedish alt-rock. Thanks, internet!

All the dog puns are taken…

…But hey, I work with what I have.

Anyhow, coming soon to a Kickstarter near you is: Please Don’t Eat the Dashboard. This is a VERY rough look at the temp cover, which hopefully will in turn bear some small resemblance to the final cover. Book covers are notoriously fickle things, which is perhaps why one oughtn’t judge by them, but blank cardboard looks pretty shabby. And so, a cover there must be!

DashboardMockThe promotional video took an unreasonable amount of time to make, but it had its fun moments, and it’s very nearly done now. Fingers crossed that the author doesn’t mind that my drawings of the main character are a somewhat hair-focused caricature of herself … ah well, it’s done now, no time left to complain!

In wildly unrelated news, I really love that libraries participate in Free Comic Book Day. Partly because, you know, offering free books is a very Library thing to do even if it’s not always people’s first thought of “where to get FCBD books” (especially here with two decent-sized comic stores in town). But in my case mostly because I am ALWAYS working on the first Saturday in May, and it’s nice to still have the option to grab some of the good stuff before it’s gone. Except for the Doctor Who comics, of course. The Doctor Who comics lasted about 15 minutes. I counted.