Hylia’s Chosen Knight

I had a horrible thought about the Legend of the Zelda mythology the other day. Demise’s curse supposedly follows the bloodline of the goddess Hylia, so all she needs to do to release Hyrule from an endless cycle of destruction is to stop reincarnating as a mortal. Why she insists on being reincarnated isn’t clear, but Skyward Sword strongly suggests that it’s because she loves Link so much. This is a little creepy…

…but I have nothing but unironic respect for ancient deities who behave like teenage girls!

Once I started thinking about Hylia being creepy, all sorts of interesting possibilities presented themselves. What if Hylia isn’t just a “goddess,” but also completely inhuman? What if she isn’t a sky goddess, but a being from beyond the sky? And what if it’s not necessarily Link she loved, but Hyrule? The idea of an eldritch cosmic entity who wants to become human because she loves the earth is beautiful. It’s also romantic, sort of like The Little Mermaid but endlessly apocalyptic.

Then I started thinking about the Sheikah, the group of people who have historically served Hyrule’s royal family from the shadows. In Breath of the Wild, the ancient Sheikah built incredibly sophisticated technology that is completely at odds with the otherwise medieval world of the game. In addition, their technology also features cosmic and sidereal motifs. What if the Sheikah always knew what Hylia was?

I was partially inspired by (this) comic about how potentially creepy Hylia is in Skyward Sword, and by (this) illustration of Zelda as subtly but undeniably monstrous. I’m fascinated by darker interpretations of the Legend of Zelda universe, and I would love to see more horror-themed Zelda art in the world. While I’m waiting for the sequel to Breath of the Wild to be released, I figured that I might as well create some myself.

Frankiesbugs is one of my all-time favorite horror artists, and I was beyond thrilled when she accepted my commission to draw this comic. She had the brilliant idea to model Hylia on Ebrietas from Bloodborne, who bears the sobriquet “Daughter of the Cosmos” and is theorized to have enabled the dystopian world of the game because of her desire to coexist with humans. Frankiesbugs also drew a connection between the iconic eye motif of the Sheikah and the possibility of Hylia having multiple eyes as someone who watches the earth from the skies – or as someone who always keeps watch over her chosen hero.

Frankiesbugs posts original horror art and video game fan art on Instagram, on Tumblr, and on Twitter, as well as on Teepublic and on Redbubble if you’re interested in wearing some creepy-cute graphic design.

Even Wizards Need Day Jobs

In my post about how I’m rewriting The Demon King to be a proper novel instead of serialized story, I mentioned that it’s important for the reader to know from the beginning that the main character is using time magic, but that the extent of his time travel will only be revealed gradually. It turns out that Ananth, the eponymous demon king, is actually from the present day, and that the world of the story is postapocalyptic in a major way. Just to amuse myself, I drew an illustration of the world before the apocalypse in which Ananth is the IT manager of a private biotech research firm. Even in a world where magic is commonplace, Microsoft Excel is probably still a dysfunctional mess.

The other day I saw a tweet that resonated with me. It reads: “The key to making ‘better’ art is to keep making ‘bad’ art shamelessly and consistently.” And damn if that sentiment didn’t resonate with tens of thousands of people.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “bad” art recently, and I realized that this illustration might be a good example of just how much trial and error goes into making something halfway decent. Here’s my process…

This is a quick thumbnail sketch that took me about five to ten minutes to draw. I thought it would be fun for Ananth to have his bangs tied up in a baby ponytail, which is something a lot of boys at UPenn do around spring finals season after having gone months without cutting their hair. I immediately realized that this looks way too young for him.

This sketch is a bit more refined, with each of the separate elements drawn in a different color on a different layer. This makes it easy to make each element larger or smaller, and you can move them around to experiment with how they fit into the overall composition.

In the last sketch, the character doesn’t really have any distinguishing features, and his eyes felt a little too “anime.” For this sketch, I studied photos of real people to try to refine his face. The style still feels a bit flat, however.

In order to think about how to stylize the character, I made a separate test sketch that broke away from the original composition altogether. This style still feels way too anime, mainly because the eyes are too big and the face is too wide.

I made another test sketch, and I really liked this one. The proportions of the face and eyes are more realistic, but they’re balanced by the stylized mouth. I felt like portraying the character’s grit teeth as small and sharp was an apt way to convey the frustration of being the only technologically literate person in your office.

Now that I had a grasp on how I wanted to stylize the character, I returned to the original piece and overlaid another sketch onto the composition. I decided that it’s not necessary to show Ananth’s hands on the keyboard, but that it would probably be good to look at reference photos for the computer. In the real world, an IT manager would definitely have a set-up with two monitors, but I decided that this would be too much of a pain in the ass to draw. Ananth’s tie is also a bit on the short side, but I decided not to care about that either.

I inked over the sketch and added flat colors. I originally intended to draw a background, but I decided that the photo reference I used for the test sketches would suffice. I generally have a fair sense of what will do well on social media, and I knew from the beginning that this illustration wasn’t going to get much attention. Since I don’t have any interest in drawing offices anyway, I don’t think it matters that I left the reference photo intact. I’m also not entirely satisfied with the character’s face – the eye on the right is a little too far away from his nose, for example – but we only have so much time on this earth, and you have to choose your battles.

When people talk about the value of making “bad” art shamelessly and consistently, I think the messiness of the creative process is a large part of what they’re talking about. You do the best you can, and you try not to let it bother you that what you’re creating in the real world isn’t as brilliant as the image in your mind. Even if the final product isn’t great, you’re building the skills that will be ready and waiting for you when the perfect flash of inspiration strikes.

At least, that’s what I think people are talking about. In the end, I’m a writer, and I don’t know much of anything about visual art. Honestly this is why I ask other people to illustrate my ideas, but that’s no reason not to enjoy drawing.

Demon Professor

The truth is that all of my students are brilliant and I don’t particularly care if a few of them slack off toward the end of the semester, but I still sometimes fantasize about being a demon professor.

This comic is a direct homage to the game Little Nightmares II, in which a super creepy teacher is the boss monster of the “School” level. Little Nightmares II is dark and disturbing and awful, and I love it. If nothing else, the visual design is fantastic.

A Public Service

Queens don’t have to do paperwork. 👑

It’s been a while, but I’m back to work on The Demon King, an original fantasy story about tired adults doing their best. I wrote a stand-alone novella last year, and I’m currently expanding it into a proper novel. I drew the thumbnails for a few comic scripts back when I first started playing with ideas, and I recently decided to ink and color a few of them just for fun. This one is loosely based on a study of a panel in Tess Stone’s Not Drunk Enough, a stylish horror comic with a target audience of me specifically.

The Magic of Fiction

I thought long and hard (so to speak) about the title of the book the Demon King is reading, but everything I came up with was awful. I decided to give up after “Dragon with a Hard-on” and just leave it up to the reader’s imagination.

This comic is written by me and drawn by Frankiesbugs, whose art is sometimes cute, sometimes creepy, and always stylish. You can follow them on Instagram, on Twitter, and on Tumblr for more comics, demons, and attractive people in fancy dress behaving badly.

The Shadows of Hyrule

Honey, everyone has a murder dungeon in Kakariko Village.

The joke is that, while the “evil” Yiga Clan is characterized as violent and bloodthirsty in Breath of the Wild, the “good” Sheikah Clan is canonically just as disturbing. They’re all magical ninja assassins. What do you expect?

These two characters are Sooga and Impa from the Breath of the Wild AU melee fighting game Age of Calamity, and this is fan art of the four-part Sooga/Impa fancomic Shadow Folk by Frankiesbugs on Tumblr. You can read Shadow Folk on Tumblr starting (here), or you can donate 1€ to download a PDF version (here). I have to admit that I never considered any sort of relationship between Impa and Sooga until I read this comic, but the art is stylish and beautiful and the story is a lot of fun.

On the Internet, No One Knows You’re (Not) Kris

I recently participated in the annual Yuletide fic exchange for small fandoms. More than a thousand people contribute their work to this exchange, in which each participant is anonymously matched with someone who requests a story for one of the fandoms they’ve offered to write for. The person with whom I was matched asked for fic about Deltarune, and they requested “existential horror about free will and the ethics of a player guiding characters with self-awareness.” I’m always up for existential horror, and the recipient’s description of how they view the player-character Kris really vibed with me: “A Weird Kid who’s kinda lonely but not quite knowing how to make friends/not liking many of their options in town before the game starts.”

This prompt inspired me to write a story called “On the Internet No One Knows You’re (Not) Kris,” which is an exploration of Kris’s character within a narrative meta-analysis of the game. You can find it on AO3 (here).

The person who requested the story confessed that they’ve spent countless hours diving down the rabbit hole of Deltarune theories, so I took a plunge into the internet theory maze as well. The game subtly implies that Kris isn’t in full control of their body or personality, and that what’s manipulating them is their SOUL, the red heart that represents them during battle sequences. Many Deltarune theories try to answer the question of who (or what) is controlling Kris’s SOUL. There’s also the issue of what connection Deltarune might have to Undertale, as the two games share the same metaphysics and many of the same characters.

This ended up being my favorite Deltarune theory:
https://theamazingsallyhogan.tumblr.com/post/663249972697907200/great-big-massive-spoilers-under-the-cut-part-1

What this theory posits is that Kris has made a devil’s bargain with their SOUL, exchanging their free will for the power to rescue a childhood friend who mysteriously vanished a few years before the game begins. Although this theory doesn’t explain everything that’s going on in Deltarune – which, after all, has only released its first two chapters – the essay shines light on the characters’ backstory, which is only very briefly alluded to in the game itself.

This theory led me to create an illustration (here) based on the scene from Howl’s Moving Castle in which Howl makes a pact with the fallen star Calcifer, and I drew the comic above about how the ostensible villain of the second chapter of Deltarune might have a radically different view of the concept of free will. I also created an animated illustration (here) of the secondary villain Spamton, but I ultimately decided not to include it with the story. Spamton is bizarrely beloved in a certain corner of Deltarune fandom, but I think it’s probably safe to say that he’s an acquired taste. Still, I had a lot of fun writing Spamton’s dialog in my story. Despite spending far too long on the Deltarune wiki, I regret nothing.

Free Real Estate

Just another day in the life of a powerful but clueless wizard and the princess who (barely) tolerates him.

This scene takes place at the end of the second arc of my original fantasy novel, The Demon King. In this segment of the story, Balthazar attempts to learn how to control the weather and ends up harnessing ancient forces at the limits of human comprehension. He uses his newfound power for silly nonsense that does not benefit him or anyone else, but you have to admit that floating islands are cool. And, as Ceres says, it’s free real estate.

This comic was written by me and illustrated by Mjoyart on Twitter (and elsewhere). I wrote the script and sketched a set of rough thumbnails, and Meghan was able to turn my stupid joke into something truly magical. Meghan posts Pokémon and Legend of Zelda comics and fan art on Twitter, and I highly recommend checking out her online portfolio (here) to see her original storyboards and animation projects. Her art is fantastic and never ceases to amaze me, and I’m very lucky to have been able to work with her!