Redefining Man and Machine: Ghost in the Shell

Inspired by this week's reading about Ghost in the Shell and Hans Bellmer, I requested friend acquire the movie. I think Ghost is so popular because it directly tackles the relationship between robots and humans. It questions what defines living beings - our bodies? Our ghosts? When a human police officer receives robotic implants, or a gynoid robot receives a girl's imprint, the boundary between man and machine dissolves. In the end of the first movie, Major Motoko Kusanagi merges with the aether of the internet, director Mamoru Oshii suggests the audience prepare themselves for a redefinition of society through interaction with machines.

I feel this is a reflection of Japanese thought. My roommate showed me a video news article she found online. It describes the roles robots play in actual Japan, today. It suggests, with the country’s aging population and low birth rates, Japan has turned to immigration and robotics to maintain its labor force. There are robotic wheelchairs, servers, and pets, many of which resemble humans and have a defined facial structure. One professor shows off a robotic duplicate of himself and theorizes that giving robots faces makes them easier for people to respond to. The movie shows how close Japan is to achieving a society like that in Ghost in the Shell.

The news article claimed that the Japanese are more receptive towards innovation and everyday contact with technology. I would disagree. The United States has many brilliant researchers who have invented many mechanical devices. Instead, I believe Americans are less friendly towards robots which imitate humans. Ghost in the Shell disturbs us because it questions our sense of being. When watching a film like Beowulf, with entirely digital characters, we turn away in disgust instead of marvel at its technological prowess. Imitating human life causes us to crash headfirst into the uncanny valley. Nevertheless, the United States is also a developed country where families are beginning to have fewer children, and baby boomers are beginning to age. One day, given the economic and health situations, we may face the same issues as the Japanese.


Sketches: Sena, Dominance War, 1714, and Pokemon

Every so often, I find I have a new follower. Thank you, it really brightens my day to know people are reading this. :) Even if you are secretly making fun of it. No matter how weird my stuff is... Now, speaking of weird.

I have a thing for very old mythology, and a lot of old mythology is very dark. Prior to the Victorian ages, fairy tales were very different, and I'm trying to craft my own set of similar stories which possess these themes - in particular, transformation. Obviously, male-female relationships have been a point of contention since the beginning of humankind.

Long ago, the ocean was perfectly still. Sena Mahara is one of four gods and goddesses whose human forms were crafted from animals. She was a great, silver fish. Her human body retained the same svelte qualities, and every mortal man worshiped her, hoping to find a woman half as beautiful. Verulis was the only man who dared court the goddess himself. After much searching, he trapped her in a net and impregnated her against her will. Enraged, the goddess took him between her legs and dove into the sea where the ocean bloated her flesh like a beautiful corpse. The mortal man clung to her like a parasite, and the water beasts turned them into a tentacled, symbiotic creature. Since then, the sea has always been a seductive yet furious mistress towards all sailors, and Verulis is a name for men whose downfall is caused by women or their own rampant libidos.

Ta-da. More Dominance War - his final design, I hope. I'm sick of drawing him, though. So I'll color this and be through. The 3D model is so close to completion as well. Color compositions soon.

During my friend's swing dancing show, my other friend leans over and says, "Grace, your spirit animal is a zombie." My other friend, Joe, says, "My spirit animal is a bear - with sharks for hands!" It escalated. So, here we are: YiYi (Wall-E), Kristen( Cat in Apron), Daniel (Black Hole), Alice (Piranha Pete Plant), Jake (Talking Cupcake), Hamster Riding A Dog Riding a Bigger Dog - All Pink! (Rebbecca), Meerkat (Zoey), Other Meerkat (Nirav), Zombie (Me), Drunk Golden Retriever With Eye Patch and Bow Tie (Ted), Penguin with Shotgun (Rob), and Bear With Sharks for Hands (Joe).

I have awesome friends.

Also, continuing on the "cute" theme, I'm making Pokemon keychains for convention season. It's going to be a lot of work, especially since I have to re-draw almost all of these. Only Espeon and Jolteon don't look like they're diabetic. :(


Sketches: Original Character Amalgam

I have a really long post in store for today because I have been drawing a lot but not updating. I will be compiling a few sketchbooks to sell this summer, and I hope they will do well. They will be 80% original, so each one will be a great reflection on me and my characters. So far, I will have one each for: Mondigan, Tailor's Daughter, other Original Characters, Gore, and Fanart. Then again, at the venues I go to, my style is the last thing they like. I have little confidence in how others view my work (I even think only a handful of my school friends actually like it, lol!), but it's very much a reflection of me.

Enough moping. It was Hey Day, and we all got covered in condiments, so while I did the boys' laundry, they all walked about topless. That's where this idea came from. The concept is Willowren greeting Rivek in her private quarters after he's been released from internment. She wants some but understand he's still a little in shock.

I want to dispel the assumption that Rivek is gay. He's far more complicated than your classic yaoi boy, maintaining a close relationship with a strong, yet naive, woman. One of his defining conflicts is he can never be stereotypically manly - because he is skinny as all hell, and he serves a woman. But he loves this woman more than anything else. Super long forearms are super long. Must stop drawing in low light.

I asked Yiyi what I should draw, and she said I should do an original character that I don't draw too much. So I reached into the depths of my brain and pulled out my old, old RP character, Aidan Faulkner - the occasionally smoking, frequently drinking, use anything as a weapon, journeyman Watcher. He's the good boy who tries hard but never quite seems to make it - the road to uselessness is paved with good intentions. He bartends and takes acting classes on the side.

Ted said that I must have modeled Aidan after him because that's the way he sits. No, Ted, you are not that awesome. (I came up with Aidan far before I met him.)

Another amalgam of old characters. On the left is Vikku, the god of lust and war in the Mondigan mythos. He's also the alter ego of Amorek. He was made human from a fox, and when he played a trick on the head god, he got his legs cut off on replaced them with that of his horse.

At the bottom is Ailinar Vaulkner, the direct ancestor of Rivek. He had the entire right side of his face destroyed by shrapnel -like magic. Despite this, he remains pretty cheery until someone takes advantage of his blind spot, killing him. He is the kind of guy whose personality is so warm that you ignore his disfiguring. That said, he's also got a great body. Rivek's scar and surname are a homage to Ailinar's.

Whether my friends deny it or not, the girl on the right is not Madeline, Marissa, or Barlow. Long ago, I was inspired by Alexandria to draw a girl with matted black hair. This evolved into a possible concept - Rivek's child. I didn't want him to have a son, nor would I want the child to be with Willowren. Then again, Rivek is also a character who would never leave an heir. I don't know if I should put this into the story. Anyhow, this was me playing around with what she would look like - stick-thin, large almond eyes, wavy black hair. I'm still not sure about the long nose.

More concepts for the Tailor's Daughter - outfit designs for the gull and environment designs for the kitchen. Which do you like best? Most like the first and second outfits, but I don't want to convey him as royalty. More like a dock-worker. Girls shouldn't have to fall in love only with princes.

And one more sketch for Dominance War. He looks way too happy. I need to re-do this. I'm trying to figure out something for the final beauty shot.

There are recurring motifs in my art - missing right eyes, skinny men, people turning into birds. I can't tell if this is my uncreative qualities or my theme.


Writing: The Issues with Convention AAs

As part of my final project in Japanese Popular Culture, I am researching the Artist Alley community here in the United States. I have already taken information from my previous travels as well as closely, statistically, documented one particular event. The final product will be published on DeviantART - but be warned, it will be long.

If you would like to provide me with information (quotes, experiences, opinions, etc), you can comment bellow, contact me on AIM/MSN, or e-mail me at fongmingyun@gmail.com .

The following is the best I can do to clarify, in writing, the issues that faces this community. I hope, if you are interested in being a con artist (no pun intended), that this short essay gives you insight into what you will encounter.

The Artist Alleys at American anime conventions differ greatly from the Japanese Comiket as well as those at United States' Comic, Science Fiction, and Fantasy conventions. Comiket is filled with doujinshi, amateur comics written by groups of people called "circles." American Comic Alleys have professional artists signing and selling his latest issues they worked on. On the other hand, at anime conventions, most artists are students, some of which have no interest in studying art professionally. Given the differences between each artist community, two major issues have arisen : fanart and crafts.

People are more likely to purchase things they are familiar with. Therefore, people buy fan art. Comiket thrives due to fan-made comics. Most American comic conventions frown on, or even restrict unlicensed fan art. However, many people who come to anime conventions treat the Artists' Alley as a handmade, sometimes cheaper, alternative to the Dealer's Room, where companies sell licensed merchandise. This has led to a "bootleg flea market" atmosphere. Otakon, in Baltimore, Maryland, went through an issue where a handful of artists' fan work actually threatened dealers' profits and caused the con staff to hire lawyers to discuss the issue. Anime North, in Toronto, Ontario, is famous for "lowballing" where artists loudly sell their work less than market average to increase sales. All fan art only exists in a legal gray area of "parody," but if fan art were banned, many artists would not make enough money to support themselves.

However, at anime conventions, the term "fanart" has begun to encompass crafts as well. This broader interpretation of "art" means that more people are competing for the same number of spaces. In 2008, Anime Boston sold out of Alley tables in 34 seconds, and many people complained the system was "unfair." Traditionally, artists have sold prints. However, since shoppers prefer practical items, many people now make dolls, bags, and cosplay accessories. In turn, many illustration artists have delved into a trinket market. Keychains, buttons, stickers, with cute, semi-deformed, "chibi" are consistently popular, and sometimes make more money than printed work. This is especially true in a tough economy where people are unwilling to pay as much for a piece of colored paper. However, in trying to make items cheaper and more practical, the Alley has become more focused on "mass production" and come in direct competition with the Dealer's Room.

I wish I could explain this better, but the issues the Artist Alley has are all intertwined. Explaining one leads to explaining another. However, I hope my attempt at summary makes the situation clearer to those in and out of the anime artist community in America.

P. S. I need a summer job...


Sketches: Requiem & Dominance War

Since it looks like I will be doing conventions again this summer, I'm going to try to put together some sketchbooks to sell - everyone has prints and trinkets, so I think this would be a novel turn.

We watched "Pleasures of War," a short animation by Ruth Lingford, in class. It is a highly sexual re-telling of the story of Judith and Holofrenes. The story does not bear much resemblance to that of my characters, though. It's meant to be Kai and his (yet unnamed) pregnant, girlfriend.

Rivek and Willowren being very much out of character and out of canon. Done as if they were zombies, one feeding off the blood of the other. More representative of their relationship than anything.

Finally, some Dominance War sketches to try and figure out how my character's eyepiece works. I think I might name him Dr. Jonathon Gisbourne. The thing is, despite being English, has very Asian eyes. I think his nose is my favorite feature, though.

And a bad sketch trying to form Sorian - he needs to somewhat be comparable to Rivek but looks like he is from an entirely different society.


Sketches: Requiem

An accompanying picture to the last one I posted - no dismemberment, but significantly more blood. I made a recent revision to Rivek's death - execution was out of character, and my friends are right when they said he would go down fighting. His arm is too long. Story stuff because I feel obligated to explain this (so, you don't think I'm crazy. I'm not deranged! It's just canon! :D ) :

"She always liked your eyes," Sorian sneered. Pain pinned Rivek to the ground, bleeding from the gaping slashes in his left hand and abdomen. "There was no way you could win. I know your every tactic, down to which hand you favor. Your legs, your left arm, your eyes, without them, your agility disappears, and you're helpless as a soldier."

The walls were burning. Rivek's eyes teared from the smoke just as much as from the pain as Sorian dug the knife into their sockets. He tried not to scream. Moving would make it worse. The open wounds oozed blood like burning acid.

His ears rang. His chest tightened. His body cried out for someone else's life force in a feeble attempt to sustain itself. "You're wrong, Sorian. I have something you never will, I still have magic," Rivek muttered. "Vika, be my eyes."

I asked you not to do something so stupid as get yourself killed.

Rivek closed his eyelids over empty sockets. The pain had begun to fade, and his senses heightened as his heartbeat increased: wrath, a dark-mage's last resort for survival. From Vika's perspective, he could see himself, broken on the ground, black-tinted blood pooling as his side. He pulled his left hand through the knife which pinned it down. It felt like a pinprick. With the extra adrenaline, he found an unknown strength to drive the blade across Sorian's right arm, searing his hand off at the wrist. The shocked king drew back, and Rivek let his arm fall back to the ground.

"Argia dena pilio. E leva ei senta ni pienara. Em corvi reduca ta tarri en cinera." Wrath begets Pardon. I depart and feel no pain. My body returns to the earth in ashes.

The flames consumed his body, and his bird plummeted to the earth in a column of fire.

Two, dark, beasts locked in a fight to the death. Much of Mondigan's storyline comes from the dichotomy between two symbolic characters. Rivek and Sorian are parallels, both similar and different to each other. Both men, despite coming from polar opposite backgrounds, are caught up in the same war, with the same woman, with the same desire for peace.

Both have a complex relationship with magic, a power they do not completely understand. Sorian, born in the lap of luxury, will do anything to get it, even at the cost of others' lives. And Rivek, born with it and thus ostricized, would rather be rid of it and maintain his position as a decent person.

In terms of Willow, she is the woman Sorian has who will never love him. And for Rivek, she is the woman he loves but who can never show him true affection.

Given their upbringing, they have strong, conflicting, world views. Both are very religious and prejudiced in their own way: a mix of "modern" thought and old traditions. For Sorian, life is something which must be controlled, and for Rivek, something which must be balanced. Each harbors a deep-seated fear and hate of the other, but upon analysis, it is more a more complicated mix of resentment, jealousy, and respect. In turn, Rivek did know, that if he had actually killed Sorian, there was a very slim chance he would survive from leeching his life-force. Insofar, in terms of development, Sorian runs away and survives, though.

Vika is an entirely different can of worms, haha. Another semi-symbolic relationship. On the surface, Vika is a familiar, who gained a human level of consciousness and picked up his master's personality. If Rivek dies, so will he and vice-versa (thus he has a relatively human lifespan). He is Rivek's foil: how he would be if he were untethered by human politics. He is, in a way, both conscience, private thoughts, and true desires, with a much more humorous take on things. Which is why he is there in the end for his master.

Alisian sounds like Latin. :F They traditionally cremate their dead, hence the ending.


Sketches: Ave Maria I

For pieces I want to turn out very well, I usually invest a lot of time sketching in development. Ave Maria is an idea I had in freshman year, but only now do I feel I have the skill to attempt it.

I tend to find one semi-famous person for each of my character references. Torino Bronze Medalist, figure skater Jeffrey Buttle, is my reference for Kai because he's got the hair and a perfect, goofy smile (I hope, if he ever sees this by some off chance, that he doesn't find this creepy). While searching, I came across this, a picture of his routine to Schubert's "Ave Maria":

I have always had a thing for old church music - it's so beautiful, so sensitive. As non-religious as I am, I can see why it would bring people closer to God. Mary, as the mother of Jesus, has a much gentler, parental association. One of Kai's notable traits (other than "pirate") is that his father abandoned him when he was young, and he in turn, is a teen father. Much of his personality is defined by a dichotomy of whimsy and hedonism versus regret and responsibility. Since I created him, though, I knew he die before his child was born. The concept behind Ave Maria is this sensitive, private, moment where Kai, just seventeen, knowing that the next mission might just kill him, is scared enough - for both himself and his unborn child - to actually pray.

On to background sketches, outfit sketches, pose sketches, facial sketches... (I always forget where his piercings are...) Many just go unfinished.

Often, I do sketches and writing which don't directly relate, but have some character development story-wise (too short or unfinished to be standalone pieces themselves). The easiest way for me to get into a narrative is to change my mood - an easy thing to do with music. So, with the power of YouTube, I found this glorious version of Ave Maria - not Schubert's, but it had more of the feel I wanted. Turn it up, her voice is gorgeous. (I can't believe she's my age... I feel so unaccomplished).

You betrayed me. Kaiaden glared at the traitor through swollen eyes. "I trusted you."

"They should have never selected a boy to run a ship. Let alone one who's too small to hold his own in a fight and can't keep it in his pants." The child. "Not even with his own sister." His child. "Captain, my ass."

"Better than some hard-headed, uneducated, boor like yourself." He spat in the larger man's face, saliva mized with blood.

The former lieutenant slammed his axelike arm between Kai's shoulderblades, and the youth crumpled to his knees. "Words. That's all you have ever been good for." He turned to the army guards. "Take him away. I want him dead by nightfall."

"Andel, I am still your captain. If you really want to kill me, you will at least have the decency to do it on my ship."

He picked up Kai's own sword and placed the curved blade on the back of his neck. "If that is what you really want, so be it." The only sound that followed was his head rolling across the deck and the sea batting at the hull.

"My pleasure."

Sorry to subject you to my bad, emo fiction writing. I scrawled that during class. This is the closest to full body that I have drawn Kai in years. I also have a deep-seated fear that my real-life friends read about my story work and think I'm nuts.


Art: Tekkoshocon 2009

Tekkoshocon was very slow, so I really had time to put effort into my commission pieces. It makes me wish I charged a little higher, but what can you do? Tipping isn't common convention practice. Sorry, no scanner, so we will make do with photos.

YunaHellsing, a fan from deviantART, wanted a picture of Yuna, but in a different outfit. One of my specialties being pirates, she asked me to do an 18th-century gunner outfit for her that referenced her X-2 outfit. This ended up being my favorite piece. You can see I went pretty far with the colors.

For my second favorite piece, someone asked me to draw their two original characters, both of whom like guns. I noticed some design similarities between them and played off of the duality. The engraving on the silver gun is my signature, hohoho.

Someone commissioned a portrait of herself, and I turned it into a color experiment, trying to mix purple and yellow for lighting.

Sometimes, at cons, you get pretty weird requests. The strangest this time around was Alexander the Great. I drew him in profile because Greek noses are so characteristic. The girl said he was her hero. Honestly, she has taste. I mean, someone else came up to me and said Dante from Devil May Cry was her hero.

The same girl who got the previous commission also asked for a bird-beaked man. Again, very fun because I kind of like ugly things.

Not much to say here... it's a chibi of Bakura from YuGiOh.

This was my first commission all con and pretty much brought me out of the red. A girl asked for herself to be draw with L from Death Note and Kakashi from Naruto, both of whom are awesome. This is when I decided I would actually go back to inking. It's easier on my poor markers.

There are some I forgot to archive, specifically a waiter-like character, a jackalope girl, a topless Wolverine, a cleric original character, and some chibi portraits. But, oh well. If you commissioned me and would like to send me the work I did for you, please do.

Sketches: Rivek, Bohren, Cat, Dominance War IV; Again

I finished the sketchbook I started in August which I dedicated solely to original work, so I decided to christian my new one with a drawing of Rivek. Just plainclothes, though, something he would wear on a daily basis. I always draw him in something he would only wear on occasion... or not wearing much at all. On a funny note, someone at the con pointed to the sketch and said, "I would so date him."

A friend of mine commented on how long it would take my characters to get dressed in the morning because of all the bandages. I excuse myself saying the bandages are for pitched battle - which still exists in my all-too-hopelessly-romantic world - and with pitched battle, one can be ready ahead of time. That said, binding a wrist doesn't take too long. At least, not nearly as long as putting on plate armor.

I really like drawing the figure, using knowledge of muscle structure. So sometimes, I just get too damned lazy to put them in clothes. That happened here. Plus, my hands were shaking from too much caffeine, too little sleep. Rivek has a tattoo, but people always seem to forget/don't know that.

On the same note of too much caffeine, too little sleep, during the Giant Studios presentation, the Ph. D. student, Joe, leans over and says something about a big, fat, cat (He has one, it's name is GUI - like graphic user interface). In my fragile, sleep-deprived, state, I heard "draw a big, fat, cat." So I did.

Lastly, some sketches from Dominance War, trying to add some stylication and affect the body to show the way the character moves - bow-legged, close to the ground, active arms.