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Thirteen years

by Theo on August 9th, 2011
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That’s how long I’ve been drawing and writing Tiern. He’s the protagonist of this thing I keep calling The Fantasy Series What Ate My Life (heretofore known as TFSWAML) – a trilogy plus stand-alones sprawling beast of a story┬áthat grew out of a fanfic idea I had in eighth grade.

It’s okay, you can cringe. I think just about every writer has that horrible fantasy space opera story concept that seemed like a good idea when they were fourteen. It’s only the truly foolhardy who actually follow through on writing the mess down. I was one of them. I started writing a sci-fi short story when I was fourteen, and it grew and morphed. Psychic powers appeared in it. At fifteen, I spent an hour curled up in the fetal position on the phone with a friend, whining, “Oh god, I think I’m writing a fantasy novel, what do I do?” By sixteen I’d accepted my fate, and when I was seventeen, I finished the first draft of a 250,000 word monster that now had two planned sequels. Now, at twenty-six, I’ve reworked that first book twice (and cut it nearly in half), and I’m halfway through the third book in the trilogy and plotting out a stand-alone novel and a fake memoir for one of the characters.

There was never any saving me. A special note to any young writers who are looking down the barrel of a trilogy or more: WALK AWAY NOW. WRITE “ROCKS FELL AND EVERYBODY DIED, THE END” AND FLEE. THERE WILL BE OTHER STORIES. STORIES THAT WON’T EAT YOUR LIFE.

That said, I love TFSWAML. It’s the story that made me want to be a writer. I have every intention of finishing it someday and revising the hell out of it until it’s publishable.

It’s also the story that got me interested in illustration and comics. I was an art nerd before I was a writing nerd, so character designs of the cast started showing up in my sketchbooks early on. And they kept showing up – especially Tiern. It’s still rare these days that a sketchbook I own doesn’t have at least one doodle of Tiern somewhere in it. He’s kind of my artistic touchstone.

Today was his birthday. I usually celebrate by buying an ice cream cake (yes, I celebrate my longest running character’s birthday, with ice cream cake, and if you don’t understand why then clearly you don’t understand either a) the depths of my dorkdom or b) it’s ICE CREAM CAKE), but this year I’ve had so much on my plate (stuff that is sadly not ice cream cake) that I nearly forgot it was today. So to mark the day, I dug through my old portfolios and came up with a bunch of portraits of Tiern from throughout the years.

Brace yourselves, folks. The following contains art from high school.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you one of the first ever drawings of Tiern, circa 1998.

By 1999, he had his own backstory and, apparently, his own sense of style.

There’s so much “why” in this image. Why is his hair like that? Why is he wearing leggings? (He’s wearing black leggings in pretty much every image I drew of him that year. WHY?) Why did he steal a poofy shirt from that girl in Labyrinth? WHY IS HIS HAIR LIKE THAT? These mysteries are lost to the ages.

2000 was evidently a big year for planes flying sideways:

Oh, that second piece. A print of that second piece was actually the first piece of art I ever sold, at my first convention art show. The buyer was a friend of my mom’s. Ah, youth.

I actually still sorta dig most of the stuff I did in 2001. There was a lot of growth that year, and a lot less hairtastrophe. This is about the time it stopped being a bad sci-fi saga and started being a marginally less bad fantasy saga. You can tell by the appearance of AGGRESSIVELY RAINBOW BACKGROUND.

2002 may as well be called The Year Tiern Had Demon Wings For No Good Reason.

2003 had attempts at actual backgrounds.

From 2004-2005, I hardly had any time to draw outside of art classes, and in those I was usually drawing/painting things like architecture and piles of fish. Most of my Tiern drawings during that time were done in the margins of notebooks for other classes, which have long since been recycled. He started showing up more in 2006, when I was in high enough level painting courses to do some independent work. This is still my favorite oil painting I’ve ever done:

(It’s almost four feet tall and a little difficult to scan because of that. Click for bigger.)

2007 – intaglio printmaking class.

2008 – playing with a brush pen for the first time at a comic convention.

Unless I’m going for illustration of a particular scene, I generally draw Tiern looking like he does at the point I’ve written him up to in the story. When I was a teenager working on the first book, he was an angsty, withdrawn sixteen-year-old with floppy hair. Had I been drawing him during the gap at college, he would’ve been seventeen, with uncombed shoulder-length hair and a haunted, unfed look about him. I’ve spent the last few years working on the third book on and off, so he keeps appearing as a short-haired, sorta kickass eighteen-year-old with a curling mark spreading across his face.

2009 – more comicky.

2010 – more sketchy. (Also the Year of Disembodied Profile Shots.)

And today.

Happy birthday, Tiern. Here’s to many more years of people pointing at my doodles and asking, “Who’s that guy?”

Maybe I’ll go get an ice cream cake this weekend.

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  1. Gypsy-Maria permalink

    Awesome seeing your art progression throughout the years! I… should probably just go burn all of my old high school art. XD

    I have one or two characters like this, but they never seem to want to settle down in ONE story, they just like to hijack any role-playing game or comic project I try to do (though they also notably worked their way into my NaNovel ’09 in an attempt to tie some of their multiple incarnations together). Kudos on having a character with an actual story that has stuck with you this long!

    Now I don’t feel quite so alone regarding writing/art projects that I’ve held on to since high school (*coughcoughFTLYcough*). <_<

    • Nicole permalink

      I’m of the mindset that old work should be saved whenever possible – especially the crappy old stuff that shows how you learned and grew as an artist. Then again, I’ve been accused of being a pack rat where creative work is concerned.

      (I still have every writing notebook I’ve owned since middle school, organized by year on a bookcase in my office. It’s my dream to one day have an event for TFSWAML where I bring some of my shittiest high school scenes and do dramatic readings of them.)

      It’s normal to dismiss shit you made in high school as, well, shit you made in high school, but I think it’s worth hanging onto those ideas so long as you’re willing to let them grow and change over time. The first version of an idea you came up with when you were fourteen is probably terrible. The second version is probably still terrible. The hundredth version, years later, when you’ve had more experience with storytelling, might actually be pretty cool. It takes a lot of revision and an overly friendly relationship with the Delete key, but it can be worth it!

      *coughshouldn’tyoubeworkingonFTLYrightnowcoughcough* *coughIwanttoreadmorecough*

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