Folklore Thursday: Cray

Seymour Roger Cray was an American supercomputer engineer. Beneath his suburban home he constructed a series of tunnels. When Cray reached a creative impasse he would retire below. “While I’m digging, the elves will often come to me with solutions to my problem”

John Reppion on Twitter

“Whether we’re supposed to take it that Cray’s elves were literal Other Folk, or a kind of metaphorical muse I cannot be sure.  “

John Reppion on Patreon

I’m fairly sure: Cray was messing around. And I think we’re only just getting by with this as a folklore tale by the skin of our teeth. THAT said, having slept, ate, and breathed computers from an early age and always ALWAYS been fascinated by Cray super computers, I’m not gonna argue the point. If Elves are what he said, Elves is what I’m drawing.

Reading John’s tweets usually fairly quickly pops an idea into my head, and this idea appeared fully formed. Initially though, I drew the supercomputer in Cray’s head with a whole bunch of Elves working away at it, but then it felt wrong – we don’t hear mention of the elves until later in the tweet and so I didn’t want to spoil that fun surprise too early. If anything I regret not making the direction of Cray’s walk follow the reading direction, if I had time I’d redo it (and if a publisher comes along and wants to print the entire run of these things, I’ll certainly look at them all again…)

I can’t remember when I first heard or say a Cray supercomputer, but it was fairly formative. Look at that weird part alien, part Henge computer design (it’s actually more of a C shape, with a gap, but I stuck that in the rear view on this drawing). She’s a beaut. And, as time wears on and Moore’s law keeps progressing, she’s now only about a fraction of the power of whatever device you’re currently reading this on. Ain’t technology grand?

(Now If I can just convince John that Turing got his ideas from pixies, Ada Lovelace from Gnomes, and Steve Jobs consulted with swamp monsters then we could have a full set of technological folklorist…)

Folklore Thursday: Threshold

Crank up the manifest, hoist the gibbert, weigh up the anchorage. We’re back!

Having tried to push myself to do a little bit of writing over Christmas (you can see the results at my blog pauljholden.com) I thought I’d approach this first Folklore Thursday of the new year with an eye to creating some sort of story (and I mean more than just the surface thing). I started laying out the pencils to the tweet and found that, well, all I was really doing was illustrating John’s words. Not actually adding anything of significance. So I thought I’d add a character – that at least gave me a little agency.

Having adding something like a protaganist, I figured the easiest thing to do with those words was make him get younger – so he’s stepping back in time, but ONLY in his own lifetime. Then I thought – I don’t think that’s what John meant, but I liked the fact there was room to decide that’s what it could be. So then I added a little impetus to our character, maybe he’s finding this place and wants to travel back in time but he’s been tricked.

That decided, I started seeing what I needed to add to the art to sell that little narrative. I added a loved one in panel one (thus fulfilling something I’ve always wanted to do which is to draw a doomed romance comic) and then panel two I was going to have him drop a note detailing the cancer diagnosis of his wife. But then I wondered if I couldn’t add a second narrators voice, a conversation he was having. (or had had). Which would help explain what was going on for him. Layering and layering the story telling. I’m hoping it worked.

Also, that last bit of captioned dialogue is partly the response in the conversation he’s having with some unnamed person but also partly me having a little fun and saying to John [Reppion] har har, I tricked you – you thought this was going one way and it went another 🙂

I’m not sure what John makes of it yet. Could be he hates it (hope not!) but we’ll see.

Happy New Year, everyone!

(And bonus, the b&w version…)

Folklore Thursday: Chronos

Chronos was the Ancient Greek word for time, Cronos their sickle carrying God of Agriculture. Romans related Cronos to their own Saturn, and made him an old man. His sickle became a scythe, and Cronos became Old Father Time who, in turn, became The Grim Reaper. #FolkloreThursday

John Reppion

As befitting a strip about time, my time has not been my own the past few weeks, so the resulting strip isn’t quite what I wanted, but it’s good enough for government work (as they say)

One thing I like doing is a little bit of research, and panel one, the first sentence was an opportunity to ask yourself some questions – like “wait, what DOES and ancient greek time keeping device look like”. So I googled it and got this odd looking sundial. Now I have a new friend on twitter, Dr Rena, an archeologist and expert in this time period and she pointed out that this isn’t wrong, BUT more common would’ve been a water timer – but I’d already drawn the damn thing, and that at least looked like a thing I’d recognise as a time keeping device, whereas the water timer just looked like two pots.

I wanted, in the strip, to get across how simple and obvious the transition from Cronos, to Saturn to Old Father Time and then the Grim Reaper. I think I did that, but it’s clumsy and not at all subtle, but I am pretty happy with how that last grim reaper panel turned out.

I’m always making decisions about the rhythm of the strip, and these one pagers are interesting exercises in that. The tweet informs the panel layouts, but the panel layouts also inform how I’ll handle the tweet’s breakdown – in a neat little feedback loop.

I’ve always been interested in panel layouts, I used to keep a notebook that had a bunch of interesting panel arrangements, I’ve always preferred simple, straightforward reading experiences, but even with that limit (a zig zag panel layout) there’s a billion ways to slice it. But some panel layouts work great at the start of a book and some work better at the end. Middle is more open, unless there’s a scene transition in there.

It’s a fascinating exercise to open up a favourite book and just draw out the panel layouts. (For a certain level of fascinating, that is…)

Anyway, that’s your lot. Tempus fugit!

Folklore Thursday: Locker

Oh man, we messed up.

Well, we didn’t really, we work from a list in advance of what the next Folklore Thursday is gonna be. The list is pretty far in advance, and, apparently, this week, changed. So instead of whatever-this-weeks-topic was it became insects. BUT THIS WAS THE FIRST WEEK I WAS ACTUALLY AHEAD! so, poop. Instead you’re getting too Folklore strips. Locker, was my new fav.

Davy Jones’ Locker. The deep-sea Hell of the drowned, according to pirate-lore and later nautical-lore. Davy Jones a diabolical figure, sometimes said to be glimpsed among the rigging during a storm. More often than not though, the sea-devil simply waits below.

John Reppion via Twitter

I love stuff like this, instantly I could see it all – deep-sear Hell of the drowned. Class! Trying to get something of a narrative in there – the sailer with the red scarf, drowned in the waters. And shifting to a symbolic skull in the water, was fun in the last panel.

I enjoy drawing gruesome faces, so that much is fun for me.

Folklore Thursday: Boudicca

Oh man, let’s start with the Tweet. I admit, on first read of this, I got very excited, I knew EXACTLY what I was gonna do. Which sounds great, but it’s inevitably crushingly disappointing as your abilities fail to meet your ambitions (and even worse when the failing is one of laziness more than anything)

60AD. Britain 18 years into a Roman occupation lasting nearly 400. Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni – widowed, whipped, her daughters dishonoured – fought back. 70,000 fell before her. A layer of ash in London’s soil still marks the day she burned it to the ground. #FolkloreThursday

John Reppion

Straight off the bat, I knew we’d see Britain (grabbed here from an internet search of Roman Britain, just used as a placeholder graphic for inking over), then a single strong image of Boudicca killing thousands of romans (ambition) because of the nature of these things you don’t get too bogged down in realism, it’ll slow you down (if she was in the midst of the murderous revenge rampage, you’d probably not even see her at any angle, buried as she would be by roman bodies). So her leaping over a bunch of shields to get to the next tranche. Ideally I’d’ve drawn literally thousands, but (abilities) couldn’t (lazy) do (time) it.

Sent John pencils cus I actually thought this would be a winner of a strip and I wanted that early Dopamine hit of the writer seeing it and going “Awesome”

Pencils

The last panel would be a transition from the battle to modern day london, I thought that would be suitably poetic. The caption in the pencils was, though, destroying the transition – so I ended up moving it for colour.

Boudicca I drew as an older woman out for horrific revenge, coated in Blue Woad, unfettered by clothing (apart from some trousers – I mean my thinking was she would start fully clothed and shed it as the battle continues over days, untroubled by modesty)

Strongly muscular, and I tied the hair into a single braid – there is a historical description of Boedicca by Dio (not Ronnie James)

“In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire …” 

Dio, Roman History (LXII.1-2)

I’m willing to bet money he never set eyes on her (I mean, given she is reckoned to have died around 60/61AD and he wasn’t born until c155Ad, it’s a safe bet).

That said, the way these things work (and the way they HAVE to work to make them viable) is John sends me a tweet (which is always smart, well researched and based on extant folklore myths or legends) and I use that as a basis for an inspiration that I do WITHOUT RECOURSE TO RESEARCH. I literally don’t have time to do that. Plus, it’s more fun.

Now, having read the description, I’d’ve probably kept the single mohawk braid, but made it a lot longer (down to her hips) and definitely given her a gold torc around her neck. But, that aside, it’s been interesting watching the reaction to the strip (there’s been some negative reaction which seems to come from certain people who reckon I’ve drawn her as a strong feminist and “ugly” – though they don’t seem to give two hoots about the diabolical liberties I’ve taken with the roman uniforms, so I’m choosing to ignore them)

Anyway, here’s the final, hope you like it!

And, finally, John wrote a really interesting article on Boedicca and it’s worth a read here.

Folklore Thursday: Labyrinth

Ok, I admit, this one got shorter shrift than some of the others. Totally on me, John gave me plenty of time (and a great bit of inspiration)

The labyrinth is an ancient symbol. Painted and carved across the world for millennia. Compared to the course of the stars, ripples upon water, the ridges on our fingertips. Perfecting and mastering the labyrinth may be one of humanity’s oldest magical acts. #FolkloreThursday

John Reppion

Time was short, on first read, I knew I wanted to play with a spiral shape – setting the panels in such a way that you’d have to read it in a spiral. I *think* it works, but not 100% sure. And then the final panel – totally on me – I thought it would be a funny undercutting of the building seriousness of the strip (and the dialogue here is mine rather than John’s).

Now, my original plan was to have John walk through a labyrinth as he talked you through of all these things and ending with him facing something? Unsure what.

But I didn’t have the time, so, instead, it was large images. Which meant grabbing stuff from wikipedia. It looked like this:

Images from wikipedia

I did toy with expanding the images out to make our first photo comic, but figured I should put some effort in.

Next week’s will be better.

(Oh, and have you ever tried to reset a pokemon trainer club password? INSANE)

Folklore Thursday: Lindwurm

Klagenfurt, Austria is home to a nine tonne statue of a Lindwurm, erected in 1590. Folklore tells of the beast plaguing the surrounding swamp, until it was eventually slain by a band of brave knights. Its skull was found in 1335, and is still on display today. #FolkloreThursday

John Reppion via Twitter

Well, this one came down to the wire. And, as a result, it’s the first one that’s been drawn digitally. Let’s talk you through it.

When I first read the tweet, I thought it would be fun to build up to the big dragon picture, have lots of Knights huffing and puffing and running towards it, lots of panels – a twenty panel page.

Then, I forgot about it and realised I needed to draw this just a few hours before midnight and so that all went out the window.

Luckily other options presented themselves. I took the text, chopped it up and popped it on a digital page – lettering before art. That gave me the structure and some notion of how I’d draw it. So I blarped out this super fast sketch that is, I suspect, utterly meaningless to anyone else…

Hit the drawing board to pencil it traditionally (still a more enjoyable experience than digital pencils) and … I think you can see the shape of those god awful scribbles above coalesced into what I had in mind (on panel 2 I dropped the idea of seeing lots of nights, because, frankly, I didn’t have time)

Notably Panel 1 the map I knew I’d basically find the location on google maps and redraw it, so that was blank, and the last panel, since it’s a real thing, I wanted to get the skull right – though I couldn’t find a decent picture of it, so figured it’d be alright on the night (which er… was the same night, I just mean it’d come together in the inking)

I wanted the inking to be be… richer? More line-y than previous pages. Wasn’t even sure I knew what I meant, but I wanted a different texture for the inks of the dragon. Woodcut.

Of course, I failed.

I’ll show the whole inks here, but notably, I inked panel 1 then coloured it, before moving on to the rest of the inks – I decided to keep panel 2 and 3 as a flashback / b&w but it didn’t want it to just look like I was being lazy – so – AHAH! a red spot colour would work really well.

Googled up some “medievil knights austria” to get some notion of the weaponry that would be suitable (though I wanted pikes) and here we are:

And, finally, the coloured art without lettering (for completeness sake)

Oh, John has written a fair amount of follow up on the origins of the Lindwurm in twitter (and if you’re curious, the skull they found was of a Wooly rhino). So go here to read all about the monster…