christmas wolves, part two

(Our classic Kekionga Christmas episode continues.)

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“I can’t believe you’ve never heard of the Christmas Wolves.” Iowa was slightly amazed.  “It must really be a local thing.”

“Sorry, never heard of them,” Jack replied, shrugging in an embarassed sort of way.  “They look cool, though.  Very …lupine. But very Christmassy.  Never seen anything like them.  So they’re characters from a story?”

“They certainly are,” Iowa replied, and she led Jack over to a park bench between two of the wolves. “Want to hear it?  You can’t really have a Kekionga Christmas without the Christmas Wolves”

“Yes, please, Miss Iowa!” Jack imitated the audience at Story Hour at the Public Library during Iowa’s brief internship in the Children’s Department and earned himself a light kick in the shin as he sat down.

“Hush now,” she said, in a quite professional voice, “And I will tell you a story.

“Back in the earliest part of pioneer times, before Kekionga itself was founded, even before the new United States had started to show much interest in what would become Indiana, the first settlers lived in scattered settlements all around what is now Salt County.  Just one or two families in a little clearing, maybe a mile or two from their nearest neighbors.  A lot of them didn’t know each other very well—they came from all kinds of places and some of them thought the others were … strange.

“Then there came a winter that was much worse than the previous ones.  This still happens today: winters come along in clumps, and when a harsh one comes after several mild ones, people can be caught unprepared, especially newcomers.  So when the lake effect snow started to pile up early in December and some domestic animals and even a couple of people had already died, the settlers got frightened and sent messengers around the the settlements  and they finally decided to hold a meeting at the Deer Tavern, which was pretty much the only gathering place there was.”

Jack looked down the block, where the Third Deer Tavern occupied the space between the bike shop and Iowa’s favorite café, The Beanery.  “Yes,” Iowa said.  “It was right there, a big log building where the Old Fox Road passed through the district.

“At the meeting, the settlers voted to move in closer together and winter over in the Tavern and a couple of big houses that had been built over the summer, so they could pool their resources and protect each other other and their animals.  The snow got deeper and deeper and even the short journey in from the clearings was frightening, but by Christmas everyone was gathered in, even the animals, the cows and the sheep and the horses.  The men fenced some big corrals for them, and the women and children built them shelters out of pine branches and chopped up turnips for them to eat and melted snow for them to drink.

“Then on Christmas Eve it got terribly cold.  There was a full moon, and all around the Tavern and the houses packed full of people, and the corrals packed full of horses and cows and sheep, from Mystery Hill and Rook’s Hill and all the high places along the Terminal Moraine as far as Balancing Rock, wolves started to howl.  So many wolves, and they were howling so loudly that the animals panicked and knocked over the fences, which had been built very quickly, of course, and all the horses and the cows and the sheep stampeded away out into the snowy woods.

This was a disaster. The wolves were sure to eat all the animals, which the settlers needed to work the land and give them milk and wool, and without them things were going to be very bad even if everybody lived until spring.  The men were getting ready to go after them, and the wolves, with their guns when it started to snow again.

“The women and children made the men put their guns away and come to bed.  Having their animals freeze or be eaten by wolves would be bad, but having their husbands and brothers and fathers freeze or get eaten by wolves would be worse.  But a few teenage boys and girls stayed up and watched, thinking that if the snow stopped the search party could still go out.

“So they were awake to see the sky clear up, and the moon come back out, and the howling start again, as the wolves drove the animals back to the corrals and stayed by the toppled gates, pacing and growling, keeping them inside until, very timidly, the young people crept out of the taverns and the houses.  They were terrified, but the wolves stepped back and let them come closer, and they were brave enough to put the fence rails into place and set the gates back up, and close them.  The wolves never touched or threatened them,  and as soon as the pens were secure, they ran off.

“But they didn’t go far.  The wolves clumped together on a little hill nearby and howled in the moonlight for a long moment before fading into the woods.

“By then, the adults had woken up and the boys and girls told them what had happened.  Nobody wanted to believe that wolves had actually done what they had done, but the animals were in the corrals and the snow all around was thick with wolf tracks, so the evidence was there.  The settlers decided to thank the wolves by making a second Christmas dinner for them and they put it out for the wolves the next night, at a safe distance from the animal pens, of course.

“The winter eased up after the new year, and the settlers returned to their homes.  But after that Deer Tavern and the little hill where the wolves had howled were the center of a new community, and well, you know what happened after that.

“And to this day, when it snows hard on Christmas Eve in Kekionga, you can hear the Christmas Wolves howling in the wind, and  if you do, you might put out some of your food on Christmas night to thank them.”

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christmas wolves, part one

(Once again, it’s time for our classic Kekionga Christmas Episode, the story of the Christmas Wolves.)

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Iowa Ginsberg walked through downtown Kekionga, enjoying the weekend-before-Christmas holiday atmosphere with the glorious smug relief of someone who had finished her last exam yesterday.  Finals were over and it was almost Christmas—what else did a person need?

Except maybe a headband with reindeer ears and antlers and a green and red scarf that looked quite cute with the camel colored cashmere sweater you’d gotten as an early Christmas present from your boyfriend. Well, it was more “web safe tan” than camel, but it was cashmere and really warm and soft and Jack had declared he was celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas with twelve presents for his Best Girl, the sweater being number three in the series.  Iowa knew, of course, that the Twelve Days of Christmas were technically the twelve days after Christmas, between that holiday and the feast of the Epiphany, but she was not going to ruin Jack’s romantic idea with trivial details.  (Also, presents.)

She turned onto Lincoln and crossed the street to the Courthouse square. The Parks Department had finally finished the decorating. From the red and green lights in the Bell Tower to the white ones in all the windows and the strings of little blinkers wound around the banisters and strung through all the trees and bushes, the red sandstone bulk of the Courthouse looked fairly festive.  And, two on each side of the square, facing the street, were the topiary wolves, slightly larger than life size, decorated with burlap harnesses lined with silver jingle bells and wearing red Santa caps trimmed with fluffy white fur.

Iowa loved those wolves   They’d been there every year since she could remember, watching over the town in every direction.  It wouldn’t be Christmas without the wolves.

“Hey, Iowa!”  She turned around, and there he was, only slightly late, and dressed up as she’d reminded him.  Jack had never spent the holidays in Kekionga before and he’d had no way of knowing that you always wore something Christmassy when you came downtown to shop and look at the decorations on the “Saturday before.”  He hadn’t done anything elaborate, but he looked handsome in a green sweater under his usual grey hoodie and a Santa hat like the ones the wolves were wearing.

(Very handsome.  Really.  He was seriously a bit of a dreamboat, and no one had any business looking that … attractive in a Santa hat.  You go, Iowa.)

“Uh, Iowa?” he asked, looking charmingly baffled.  “The … plant sculptures? Are those wolves?”  Wow.  It really was his first Christmas in Kekionga.

“Of course they are.  They’re the Christmas Wolves.”

 

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public holiday decorations in kekionga

(The second introduction to the classic Kekionga Holiday Episode, which really does start tommorrow.)

Yes. In Kekionga, they’d be wolves.

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One of the topiaries on the courthouse square in Kekionga.

Starting tomorrow: Christmas Wolves.

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on public holiday decorations (the holiday blog begins again)

(Our annual holiday daily blog begins again, with the introduction to the Official Kekionga Christmas Episode.)

christmaswolves-photo4-blogThese photographs were taken last year, when the powers that be in our town in Northwest Indiana decided, for reasons best known to themselves, to decorate the courthouse square with festive holiday topiaries in the shape of hunting dogs on point, slightly larger than life size.

My first thought was that in Kekionga they would definitely be wolves.

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(More to come.)

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meet wolf cub lupita!

I’ve been having trouble with a comic about the Moon.  It’s for an anthology with that theme, and you would think that any cartoonist with a major werewolf character would have no trouble writing about the companion planet. (The Professor’s lupine alter ego is called the Mighty Moondog, for the Moon’s sake.)

But instead I ended up with another in my Articles from Strange Publications series, and there was something horribly wrong with it.  I had a brainwave this week while sitting in the chair at the eye doctors while waiting for my pupils to dilate.  What this story needs is a narrator.  A narrator who is a werewolf.  And who isn’t the Professor.  Or his nemesis, Cassandra Wolfe.  Maybe it could be a kid.  A girl. A girl werewolf.  In keeping with my  Corny Naming Program for Werewolves, she’s named Lupita. And she’s wolf and proud, into werewolf lore and customs, a junior editor at WikiWolf– she’s Wolf Cub Lupita! 

I did this little drawing of her in my pocket notebook at lunch after my eyes returned to normal.  (Ballpoint pen on Moleskine notebook paper.)

And here is a more or less final version of Wolf Cub Lupita’s character design, ready and willing to costar with a Giant Lunar Hare in the story about the Moon.  The first image is the pencils, the second the finished inked drawing.  (2H pencil, various TWSBI fountain pens, and the dreaded Pentel Color Brush EF on the cheap paper of the Emergency Backup Drawing of the Day sketchbook*.)

*Anybody who knows where I put those four (four!) brand new good sketchbooks I bought on sale last fall, please let me know.  They are conspicuously absent from the box where I keep the spare sketchbooks for the drawing of the day project.

 

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holiday cards

It’s been years since I sent out paper holiday cards, but I just had a brainwave– I could send some electronically via the blog to all my friends and readers!  And I had just the images, both taken within the week with my Polaroid Cube toy camera. I’m even offering both a secular and a sacred image, just like a real card company or the Post Office when it issues stamps.  So please accept, from me, Pam Bliss, everyone at World Headquarters, and the entire population of Kekionga, our very best wishes for the upcoming holiday season.  Whether you love it or just try to sleep through it, have as good a time as you can.

Card 1 (secular)

  • Whatever your holiday journeys,
  • may you find your way safely home.

Card 2 (sacred)

A joyous and peaceful Christmas to you and yours.

 

(From the lobby of the airport hotel, and of course, Menards.)

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doodle festival!

Found myself doing a fair amount of doodling over the weekend.  Doodling gear is highly flexible.  You can doodle any time you have a tool that makes a mark on some kind of surface, and even if you limit yourself to writing and drawing tools and some kind of paper as the surface, the options are pretty much infinite.  Here you see my very favorite combination: good old fashioned wide ruled canary yellow legal pad and a Zebra Sarasa gel pen, 0.7 point in this particular shade of red.  Zebra calls the color “porto”, but it’s sometimes sold as “mahogany” or “maroon”.  I buy them by the dozen from JetPens and do almost all my writing (plus a large amount of my doodling) with them.

This particular pen was new but had spent a while in storage, so it took some work to get the point fully lubricated so it would drop properly.  That would be a whole page full of work.  The upper right corner is redacted because of some spoilery notes.  The research questions in the lower right quadrant are “with which direction is the moon associated?” and “any cultures associate the wolf with a direction?”.  You may be able to detect some of the themes that may appear in my new story.  Then I reached the bottom of the sheet and turned the page …

The pen was working properly on the second page, which included these characters, and a discussion of the correct spelling of the word “pomegranate”.

Pomegranate, pomegranate, pomegranate.  Doodle and learn, doodle and live.

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friday after thanksgiving bonus: handprint turkeydragon creature.

(It’s not Black Friday related!  It is free and you don’t have to go anywhere!)  Yesterday I drew and posted my annual Handprint Turkey.  And then I went to lunch at Steak and Shake– one of the few restaurant chains that still offers a paper placemat– and I drew you a Bonus Handprint Turkey. **And** it’s a Placemat Handprint Turkey.  Well, a Placemat Handprint Turkey-Dragon Creature.  Drawn in a restaurant (mostly) with a ballpoint pen.

Technical note: I have posted placemat drawings here many times before, often with the note or caveat that the placemat is larger than the bed of the faithful studio scanner.  People have mentioned to me a number of times that it is possible to “stitch” together selections from different scans to create a complete image on the desktop, and this is the first time I have tried it.  The “composite” nature of this image is the result of my very first attempt at this process.  If I had continued in my usual workflow, I would have saved the image as a two bit file and again in greyscale, which would have eliminated to the color bleed through and gotten rid of the composite edge.  But I decided to show you this state because I am ridiculously proud that I have figured out how to do this.  Even though I am quite sure the average fifth grader today is much more accomplished at it than I am.

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happy thanksgiving, with all the ambiguities, and also plus a traditional craft

Happy Thanksgiving to our readers in the USA, and a vague introduction to an ambiguous US holiday for everyone else.  Thanksgiving can be treated as a reason/excuse for a feast, with or without family (and therefore something you either really enjoy or make an effort to avoid) or as an occasion for study/deeper thought about US history and the relationship between indigenous people and colonizers, and how this reflects on views on immigration today.

Fairness probably encourages us to do both.  But like all matters of food, family, history and memory, nostalgia is at the table as well.  And one of the fun and weird Thanksgiving traditions we all remember is making handprint turkeys as a craft.  For some reason, that’s the Thanksgiving thing that means the most to me.  So every year I make a handprint turkey for you, my internet friends on the blog, and which you a satisfying day, whatever that means to you.

(This year, brushwork on yellow legal pad.)

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stan lee (and a color special)

Stan Lee died a few days ago, and since then the internet has been full of tributes, critiques and well considered combinations of the two.  I can’t compete with the thoughtful essays of culture vultures and/or comic book mavens, all of whom have far more knowledge of both the comics and the context than I will ever have.

So I set out to write about the characters he created and co created, and ended up with a list so vast that it shocked me, and I have known and loved these four color people for years.  One site I found had them sorted by universe: the people of Asgard, the Inhumans, The Wakandans, the mutants of the X-Men’s circle. the casts that surround Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange …, the outer space of the Watcher, Galactus, the Silver Surfer …  It goes on and on, a list of hundreds of people I know by name, powers (if any) and personality, people I could take a shot at drawing from memory, people whose voices I can hear in my head.   Whatever else you can say about Stan, he created a body of work.

So I decided just to shut up and make a little comic.  My personal Mighty Marvel Team-Up happens to consist of two of Stan Lee’s characters: The Incredible Hulk (of his own comic and the Avengers) and the Fenris Wolf (of the Asgardian mythos), also known as Hulk and Fenny.   If the Wolf seems too small to you, remember that my Hulk is a very big Hulk.

 

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