Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sketchbook Scans: Origins of Klexmur

First sketch of "Alien Reporter."  Does not have name yet.

I am about twelve strips into a weekly comic I publish over at Black Magpie Theory called, "Klexmur, Alien Reporter."  It's been a life-long fantasy of mine to create and publish a regular comicstrip.  If you've paid attention here, you know I have more than a passing interest in comics.  I also approach my work from a performance studies background, which holds (at least in some versions) that the best way to understand something is by doing it.  So, several months ago I weaseled my way onto the collaborative blog Black Magpie Theory with a promise to write regular commentary and try my hand at political cartoons.

1st Klexmur cartoon as envisioned in my sketchbook.
About a month into that gig (can you call it a "gig" if you are providing the content for free?), I hit on a concept for a regular strip: What if a reporter were an alien, providing an "alienated" perspective on both current events and our journalistic practices?  It's not exactly an original idea.  As I note in the accompanying commentary for that first strip, Strange Horizons lists "An alien observes and comments on the peculiar habits of humans, for allegedly comic effect" as number 16 in its ever growing list of cliches it doesn't want to see in submitted S/F stories.  Meh.  But this was a collaborative blog focusing on Left-leaning political commentary.  And did I mention that we don't get paid for the content?

Klexmur has an earlier ancestor in my web presence.  Back in the 90s I used to be active on Vampyres, a listserve (remember those?) devoted to academic and popular interests in vampires.  The postings there were pretty evenly split between academic discussions of the vampire in films and literature, announcements and reviews of new publications, and the creation of "fluff" (on-line vampire fiction).  Whether a critic or a fluff writer (most participants did both), the norm on the site was to take on a suitable vampire-themed posting persona.  I chose the mysterious persona of "The Gray Adept," who overtime was revealed to be an alien ethnographer studying subaltern vampire (and other supernatural) communities on Earth.  I pay homage to this origin in the Klexmur series with this comic; at Vampyres we actually produced a long collaborative fluff  saga about the dire consequences of what happened to a vampire who made the mistake of trying to drink alien blood. 

My original plan for his name.
Klexmur owes much to The Gray Adept, although in the absurd world of comics, Klex can be "out" as an alien without raising eyebrows (although he did once get arrested in the Nevada desert).  Originally, his name had one less vowel.  Something happened in my first post, and I accidentally added the "e."  I originally left it out in a rather oblique reference to Superman:  "Mr. Mxyzptlk" is one of Supe's oldest nemeses, a visitor from the 5th dimension who's vowel-less name is a bit of a pronunciation mystery.  I wanted Klex to have a similarly alien name.  However, when I made that first posting error, I was amused with the other Superman reference in his name -- "Clex" is "slash" fanfiction in the Smallville Superman mythos that imagines explicit sexual encounters between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor.  Klexmur already resonated with fan-produced web fiction.  I haven't played around much with queer themes in Klexmur (yet!), but they are always potentially there, lurking in the name.  Klexmur, by the way, has already interviewed Clark Kent (or, at least as close as he can within copyright infringement).

Sneak Peek: Klex does Palin drag!
As of this posting, I am at about #12 in the Klexmur series.  Who can say if I will be able to keep it up?  I have a deepening appreciation for the time it takes to do a weekly comicstrip.  And of course, BMT seems to be at a bit of a crossroads, either encountering a seasonal slump or sputtering towards oblivion.  The Klexmur images here are scans from my sketchbooks.  For the strip, I tend to write out script ideas and loosely plot them out in rough panels in a notebook.  The comics themselves are produced digitally, working back and forth between Manga Studio and Photoshop.  It takes about 2 hours (sometimes more) for me to produce a strip.  Given the other demands on my time, this is sometimes a luxury I can ill-afford.

But I like this little guy.  Creating Klexmur comics is truly a labor of love.  I remain convinced that we need to constantly remind ourselves to take a step back and consider what we are doing...and how we are doing it.  Darko Suvin famously announced the defining attribute of S/F as "cognitive estrangement," a particular kind of "alienation" (Suvin directly references Bertolt Brecht's "A-Effect" with this idea) that encourages us to consider present conditions through a distanced lens.  I think comics provide a similar function, although with a different stroke.  And Klexmur?  He lands his saucer right where these two forms meet. 

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