For January 2009
January 2nd 2009
The Fourth Year
To Save Her begins its fourth year now! It has become my longest running comic, surpassing the three years of Unicorn Jelly and three more years of Pastel Defender Heliotrope. To think; I began cartooning on September 5th, 2000, nine years ago. I have been cartooning now for nine years.
Wow. I started drawing nine years ago. I've gotten better!
I kind of regret not giving To Save Her its own unique web address now. It really stands on its own. I personally consider it my second best work of the three, and the best illustrated, hands down. But then, it would not be that, if not for Pastel. Pastel was a real education, just doing it. I experimented wildly in Pastel. I tried all kinds of strange things in that book!
Four years of To Save Her. Goodness. At 314 strips so far, it is still less than half the size of Unicorn Jelly, but it has taken longer because the artwork is much more demanding, and cannot be done on a daily basis.
And today's strip is special. 314 is the very, very strip that I have been waiting three... no FOUR... years to finally draw; Kaye loses the top of her head. This is the mark which has been driving me all these years, this strip, this milestone, this moment. Only, creeping about in the backgrounds now for weeks and weeks of strips, in a window there, in the darkness of a corridor there, sticking to the ceiling somewhere else like a little gooey ninja, Only zips in and slices the top of Kaye Haychold's mechanical skeleton skull right off. Snik! Fabulous.
It's a roller coaster to hell from here, kidlets, and the bottom is dark and rushing towards us. Whoo!
It's time to put the 'dark' into 'Noir'. Those shadows in the comic have been gradually deepening for a reason. Buckle your story-belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride!
I am positively chuffed right now. It's going to be a slaughter... that's the spirit!
(The Last Starfighter was awesomely awesome, wasn't it?)
I am working steadily on next week's comics. They take longer now, because... well, just look at them! Compare now with four years ago. That takes longer to do. So bear with me if I am a little slow sometimes with the updates. I am trying to do a really good job for you. I want this to be good.
I want you to love it. I hope, anyway.
January 19th 2009
Killing Off Characters
Over the last four years I have come to love the cast of To Save Her. As I have marginally improved as an artist, as my renderings of them all have apparently improved, they have become increasingly dear to me in numerous ways. It is wonderful to have a cast of very different characters, all with defined personalities that I know intimately. I know who these people are, I know what they want, what they would say in any given situation, what they dislike, what they favor, what shaped their lives, what they are hoping for and what they fear. They have emotional weight for me.
Only is a Unicorn Jelly, and as such there is a mass of baggage associated with that term for me, as well as a number of 'rules', or at least archetypes that define, for me, what a 'Unicorn Jelly' means and represents. The baggage includes the whole of the original Unicorn Jelly, which was a powerful experience and time for me, and the original Uni was a lovable character who was adored. He represents a kind or sort of magic for me, even though basically he is a living symbol, a cypher, a wee blobby paladin without much emotional depth or complexity; then again, being such, he is also a vessel into which the reader can place their own ideas. Sometimes that can work out to make such a character mean more; we become sure that he is this or that thing that matters to us personally. Unicorn Jellies are cute, and there is an air of nobility about them, as well as a bit of the 'poor little puppy' so killing one off is sacrilege.
But, being a sort of unicorn, there is some cultural stuff going on, and having researched it all far too much, I am driven to make use of it. It isn't just that I am finicky about the tails of unicorns being long and lion-like rather than horse-like, or other such little visual characteristics that I fuss over; I also am compelled by the mythologies surrounding such creatures that define their behavior and temperament.
A unicorn can be gentle, but only to the innocent, it can be ruthless and fierce, a terrifying monster to those it opposes. Unicorns are immortal, yet they can be killed, they certainly can be tricked. In most unicorn myths they end up thus, betrayed and finally killed; old European culture made them into symbols for the mythology of Christ... unicorns die on the metaphoric cross of a virgin's lap, speared by a king and his hunters playing the part of a collective Gaius Longinus. The unicorn is a miracle, discovered it is endangered, finally it must die at the hand of Man. A Unicorn Jelly, therefore, has a kind of Fate in a story in which it is used, and the suggestion is that it is killed, perhaps with a hint of treachery.
This puts a bit of a burden on this character; a unicorn jelly may help to create a happy ending, or to protect others, or to act as a catalyst for change, but the Unicorn Jelly itself cannot have a happy ending; its reward is transcendental, its reward is in 'heaven', or at least beyond our knowing, if it even has one. It must also seem otherworldly, not quite of any place, out of place, we may never truly know it. But the bottom line is that it doesn't last; it is a terminal character that will leave the stage before the story is over because it must. It is a sacrificial character by tradition.
In the original Unicorn Jelly, Uni vanishes, and nobody notices at the time because they are so busy; later an innocent child demands an answer for this and the suggestion is horrific but never fully defined. Uni becomes a metaphor for the loss of magic in our lives through being distracted by worldly events and needs, as well as having the wonder beaten and educated out of us; Uni is Tinkerbell and nobody claps in time. The loss of Uni also invokes sacrifice, arguably Christ-like, to permit the salvation of the entirety of Tryslmaistan, the universe, thus keeping with the European mythology of unicorns.
In To Save Her, Only is far darker, more disturbing; he is always trying to kill Kaye, our heroine, our protagonist, and only now can we see why; she is fucking insane and monumentally dangerous - she is out to destroy everyone, everywhere, including herself. Where Uni was the noble, Unicorn-as-Christ, Only is the earlier, pre-Christian Unicorn-As-Magical-Beast, sweet to the pure-hearted (even if that pure heart is dark!), but violent and dangerous to anything with even the mildest taint of selfish duplicity, or a conflicted nature - the raw, Pagan unicorn is all about purity, in whatever guise, its evil is not Christian evil, rather its evil is impurity. Only does not attack Texto/Virtue; he may be a sociopathic creature, but he is utterly guileless about it, he knows what he is, and he is utterly OK with that, he pure, unconflicted, whatever path he takes he takes with a full heart, be it for slaughter, or for heroism. But Kaye is impure, conflicted, she is unsure what she is, what she wants, she is a battlefield of opposing drives, to the Pagan unicorn, she is abomination.
But the pre-Christian unicorn also dies, in the end (which is why the Christians found it so easy to make use of the creature I think), the more ancient unicorn dies of its own fierceness. It may fight to the end and die in battle, it may impale its horn in a tree, or a boulder, and die trapped there, a prisoner of its own final attack. It may rage such that it murders all around it and suicides in despair knowing that it went too far; but however it happens, in the end it must perish somehow. Only is this; Kaye has killed him in mid-charge, his last attack against her, he has been warned, his fierceness does not care, and is the end of him.
That said, he has made a difference, and what he has accomplished will become only increasingly clear; his destruction has just this moment guaranteed the possibility of survival for the rest of the cast, if they would but accept his gift, as we shall see very shortly (this Friday, in fact!). Of course, our quick-witted Pho must take advantage of the loss of Only, which he is, ever the master tactician, always looking for an angle. I love that about Lymcit Pho; he never lets any opportunity pass, he is always thinking, always working out a path to victory whatever tragedy happens, whatever he has to work with. Pho is my Ideal of the ultimate intellectual warrior; he fights with his mind, every event, every thing is a tool to him, his army is the world itself and every moment within it.
I don't want Only to die, I didn't want Uni to die. But they had to, because that is their purpose; to enter our lives, show us something wondrous, act as a catalyst for change, and then sacrifice themselves for the greater good, for everyone. Mythology works, it is powerful, it is a tool, and like Pho, I will use it.
All of this so, I still wrestle with myself when it comes time to kill off any character. Truth be told, my heart wants every story to end with happy-ever-after for everyone, Christmas In Heaven, everybody lives; everybody forms a big group family and lives in love for eternity in paradise.
Problem is, that makes for a sucky, sucky, SUCKY story. What is nice is not dramatic, blatant wish fulfillment is amateurish at best and utterly deplorable at minimum. I might as well just stick 'Magickal Aeala' in the story, a blatant Mary-Sue, and have her save the day and become the best pal of every cast member. YUK!!! I am vomiting in my mouth a little at the thought.
To Save Her is a Noir story. If I am going to do Noir, then dark things have to happen. Treachery, subterfuge, violence, loss, and death must occur. People must not be what they seem, and what they turn out to be cannot be nice. Ultimately, people gotta die. Nothing is more Noir, dark, than that. So, with a pure heart, I have to kill off my characters. At least many, perhaps most, perhaps...even all of them. You can't know until the very end who, if anyone, will survive this treacherous, insane Kay-Wai.
Kay-Wai, my favorite character. Loving, gentle, always helpful, forever decent, true, utterly Good. Self-sacrificing to a fault. But such grand goodness comes at a price; Kay-Wai was forged by sorrow, always out of place, always rejected, always the freak, Kay-Wai is noble because she has chosen a positive path instead of a negative one as a reaction to her pain. Where a lesser soul would become bitter and seek vengeance, Kay-Wai defiantly, heroically stands up to the misery of her life and proclaims 'I won't be like those that hurt me, I will be love, I will be kindness, I will embody what should be, rather that what is'. Kay-Wai intrepidly replaces depression and bitterness with hope and devotion. I love that. I admire that. That is my Ideal.
You want a Mary-Sue? It's Kay-Wai. That's me, my Ideal me, the me I want to be, the me I can only try to become, even if I am not strong enough to succeed, or noble enough to succeed. Kay-Wai is the light that leads me, to turn potential sorrow and bitterness into joy and love, to not give in to the cruelty of the world, but instead to embody kindness. Perhaps nobody can be such, but I think it noble to at least try.
So it has been fun for me to explore that Ideal turned sour, to look at one possible symbolic Dark Side, the one Kay that couldn't handle this Ideal and went insane from trying to live up to it. A Kay gone horribly, horribly wrong, a negative-image Kay-Wai. I'm insulting my own sickly-sweet Mary-Sue, I am reaming it, and myself, right up the cosmic wazoo. That's good to do, now and then, I think. It's a kind of spiritual tonic. Ya gotta knock yourself on your own ass, sometimes. For your own good.
So Kaye Haychold is twisted by pain into a monster, and Only is the foolishly fierce, raging Pagan unicorn doomed by his own stupid determination, and Texto -my true dark side, the nasty 'kitten' that I know to be my own recognized evil self (I think it important to identify the nature of your own evils. Self knowledge.)- has been inverted to become a paladin, and neutral, intellectual Pho is changed not one bit. Pho is duality-agnostic. Everything that can be is flipped on its head, inverted, reversed, the opposite. Storytelling fun!
But it's disturbing. I'm raking my own muck here. I love these characters. They are golden to me. And to be true to the art, I have to murder them. I have to kill them off. I have to have awful things happen to them, things a miraculous healing bed can't fix. That's going to be a bit of irony right there; they have a device that can make anyone immortal, repair any damage, regrow arms, legs, internal organs, maybe even freaking resurrect the dead, and this has been shown repeatedly, and it is going to end up useless. That's a trick, isn't it? Without breaking the healer unit, how do you kill everyone off? A little challenge I have set myself. Hee!
Yes, there is also a little of that 'Charles Dickens' unholy glee, too. Supposedly, Dickens used to chortle out loud to himself as he wrote his tales of woe and misery, utterly delighting in how he would cruely make his readers squirm and fuss over the latest indignity that a beloved character might face. I have a little of that in me, of course. That's Texto in there, making aesthetic destruction, pretty murder. You go, kitten. Play with your dinner through the safe medium of storytelling. Let it all out. Release all of that pent-up rage and sorrow and bitterness and anger. Make good art, so that my stories don't suck the special suck of being overly treacle.
So that's how I feel; driven by mythology, conflicted by my own need for happy endings, determined to tell a dark tale precisely because it is difficult, grieving early for my beloved cast, and also giggling over the cruel necessities of the process.
I guess that must be being a storyteller.
By Jennifer Diane Reitz
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