Illustrations and Authorial Intent

There are 15 illustrations in Homer VS the Elf. I won’t pretend they’re any good, but they’re probably the best so far, and I had fun making them. Today I’d like to describe my illustrative process and illustration’s relation to authorial intent, which is the latest buzzword I see online nowadays and might get me some views if I put it in the tags.

I started making little illustrations with Akayama DanJay because the psychedelic anime-robot-fight felt deserving of art to draw people’s attention. I didn’t worry much about making the illustrations actually match up with the text. Sometimes I’d elide scenes so the illustration transitioned from one to the next. The style is minimal with flat colors, and each character is color-coded. I started with only one illustration at the end of each section, then returned later to add another to each section’s beginning. Some sections have more than ten pictures.

A chapter of The Minotaur’s Board-Game might have thirty illustrations. The first step is always rereading the chapter and writing “pict1,” “pict2,” and so on whenever the readers meet a new character or visit a new location, or if the text could be clarified with pictures.

Once I’ve figured out how many pictures I want, I open up the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). There are other image editors, like Photoshop, but the GIMP is free and I can write plug-ins in Python to, for example, automatically generate any number of empty images with a white background layer and a transparent layer for sketching.

pict4comm.png

(I made a palette so it’s easy to keep colors consistent from chapter to chapter. I won’t pretend to know any color-theory, but I think my palette looks nice. I made it here.)

I sketch all the illustrations in one go; it can take a whole day. I’ve got a Wacom tablet and pen, so I can use natural hand-movements to draw on my computer. The harder I press the pen, the more opaque the line!

pict1comm.png

Then I decrease the opacity of the sketch layers and color all the backgrounds; that can take a whole day, too. I color unimportant background characters like Akayama-DanJay-style mannequins so they don’t distract from the real characters.

pict2comm.png

Then I draw all the main characters in a new layer over the background. It’s often convenient to put each character on their own layer so they can be moved independently, especially if they overlap. Finally I disable the sketch layer.

pict3comm

Pictures are especially helpful for table-war. Whenever a table-war strategy is hard to describe, I know a picture can save my butt.

But sometimes the text and the pictures disagree. I describe huge audiences but draw less than ten spectators. I’ve probably put Homer’s eye-patch on the wrong side more than once, and in the pictures he has hooves instead of fingers. Sometimes when eliding two scenes into one illustration, asynchronous events appear simultaneous. In these cases I’d argue the text takes precedence, if only because text is easier for me to edit and update than illustrations.

But as an author, can I declare how my work should be interpreted?

This has recently come into question with the latest works from J. K. Rowling and, more classically, George Lucas’ Star Wars. Is it appropriate to retroactively declare a character’s race, gender, or sexuality? Must we accept midichlorians as canonical? Who ultimately decides a work’s meaning, its author or its audience?

One of my goals in writing these commentaries is to show that authors only pretend to know what’s going on in their stories. Writing is literally just making things up. An author might plan some plot ahead of time, but that plan is just made up, too. Iterative making-stuff-up is the name of the game.

So maybe an author is the grand maker-upper whose holy word is the only authentic source of interpretation, even if their book disagrees with them. Or maybe an author’s word is worthless, because stories are ephemeral visions appearing differently to everyone and the text is the only thing we can all agree on.

When we talk about our favorite fantasies to fellow fans, we like to imagine our visions of the fiction match, or at least overlap. Hence, I’ve added some pictures. My illustrations don’t perfectly encapsulate the text, but I hope they provide a cohesive universe and showcase characters’ emotions or whatever.

Anyway, thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed my rambling, or you like minotaurs and board-games, feel free to follow me and catch the next update.

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The Point

In Homer Vs the Human our minotaur protagonist wins a seat in an upcoming tournament by beating Queen Anthrapas’ champion commander, Harvey.

In my last commentary I talked about the “virtue wheel,” a method of charting a story’s characters to make sure they’re varied. If you want your story to have a point, character variety helps communicate that point.

But do stories need points? Or “themes” or “meanings” or whatever?

Nah. I didn’t write the first draft of The Minotaur’s Board-Game with a point in mind; I just liked minotaurs and board-games and writing. People can write stuff for a reason, or for no reason, or without even considering reason.

But, a point can make a story directed and streamlined. A point helps me, as an author, cut unnecessary prose. Since I believe stories should be as short as possible, a tool to help me trim is always welcome. So, the second draft of my story needs a point.

What’s the point of The Minotaur’s Board-Game?

I’m not sure yet. My opinion about the point will change by the end. But I found clues in my virtue wheel, so let’s start there! Three “virtues” which separate the characters in The Minotaur’s Board-Game are

  • Physical Strength
  • Intelligence
  • Political Power

I’d like to use these “virtues” to make a point about leadership and loyalty.

Board-games suddenly have symbolic meaning. The intelligent characters reduce the strong characters into game-pieces to control their physical forms. Meanwhile those intelligent characters are controlled by characters with political power, as if the real world is a board-game controlled by kings and queens. This makes the conflicts between individuals, nations, and races more abstract, distancing characters from the implications of their actions (is it okay to take a griffon from its natural habitat just to use its physical characteristics for a game-piece?). Even without real war, this isn’t exactly a Utopian environment.

The main characters, Homer and Aria, have a flawed relationship. Homer’s a sentient animal-biped who admires and trusts Aria, but she sees him as a pack-animal she can ride to greatness. Homer is stronger than Aria, and maybe smarter in terms of pure table-war talent, but Aria exploits him. Did Homer really want to fight Harvey? Would Homer prefer living in a labyrinth? Aria doesn’t care. She hardly seems to understand him.

The most powerful person we’ve met is Queen Anthrapas. She’s old and frail, but as queen of humanity, Anthrapas is imposingly unquestionable. Is it okay for her to manipulate her subjects to protect humanity from the threat of war? If so, does that mean Aria can justify exploiting Homer because she misses being a royal commander?

The human answer to this question won’t be the same as the elven answer. I want my elves to be weird and original; they’re insect-like, with a height-based social-system, lace wings, and pheromone-based communication. Their queen enforces loyalty and leadership chemically. They even lay eggs!

Homer will play table-war with seafolk next. Whatever’s up with them, you know their society will present a different commentary on leadership.

If you’ve ever read The Once and Future King, Merlin turns a young King Arthur into animals to show him different political ideologies. I recall ants, birds, and fish among others. Similarly, I hope meeting elves, seafolk, and dwarfs will teach Homer and the reader about different possibilities for the relationship between leaders and the people they lead.

To that end, I think each board-game should present a unique challenge related to the society proposing it. Homer must invent solutions reflecting his maturing ideology.

In his first match, Homer overcame dwarven siege weapons by setting skeletons on fire and flinging them with a trebuchet, immediately after Aria told him that using skeletons at all was a faux pas. As an animal, he’s naturally shameless, and in that particular scenario, shamelessness was enough to win.

In Homer’s second match, Harvey shows humanity’s tendency to exploit strength when he replaces his falcons with the griffon. Homer punishes him by understanding the deeper connections between animals. Maybe Aria taught Homer some sympathy for other species.

In Homer’s next match, what will the seafolk teach him? Follow to find out!

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PS. In The Minotaur’s Board-Game, animals impact their environment. Scales the ice-dragon makes its surroundings chilly. Homer the minotaur makes mazes when he’s anxious. Humans seem to live in an infinite field of rolling hills, and it’s not clear whether they live there because it’s like that, or if it’s like that because they live there. Dwarfs eat mountains from under their own feet.

I think that’s another major aspect of the point. When two individuals play table-war, they represent their nation and their race. Whole world-views are in combat, and when land is ceded, it’s assimilated into the opponent’s mode of being. The infinite field of rolling hills represents humanity’s stability. If the elves conquered some hills, I’m sure forests would grow there and soon you could hardly tell it was ever human territory at all. Understanding how we shape our environment is instrumental to understanding ourselves.

Nations/races are almost characters in themselves. They’re like amoebas with political borders as their cell-walls, whose interiors are homogeneous terrain. In this view, Queen Anthrapas isn’t a mastermind playing games with subordinates; she’s subject to the national over-mind. The scattered weapons left from the war against demons are the only true symbols of power, representing violence which can smite civilizations. Before them, an individual’s strength, intelligence, and political power are meaningless.