illustrative storytelling

“MA! MA!!!”

Fritii snapped out of her doze, startled. Between the warmth of her six nestlings, her grandmothers’ quilts, and the spring sun streaming in through the knothole, it had been near impossible to stay awake. Her little ones were sleeping–finally, after emptying all of the nearby caches–and her exhaustion had finally overtaken her.


She recognized her son’s approaching voice, and relaxed slightly. Only slightly, however–Peter recently had been developing a lot of hare-brained ideas about starting a delivery business with that goose friend of his. Which would mean hiring Hunters. Which made her uneasy. Her boy had promise as a Soothsinger, but was only fledged a year ago, and had much to learn about the world. She prayed the business fantasies remained just that.

A flutter of grey feathers in the entryway settled themselves into the familiar shape of Reet, her mate. Fritii lifted her feathers in affection as he moved into the nest, holding something in his bill.

“MA!!” A second flurry of grey feathers obscured the cavity’s entrance as Peter landed beside his father. “MA! Pa and I got you–a beetle bun! The first one of the year!!”

Fritii raised her crest in pleased surprise. “A beetle bun, darling?” She hadn’t had her favorite treat–crunchy and nutty on the outside, soft and juicy in the middle–since last year’s beetle harvest.

“YEAH!!” Peter raised every feather on his body until he looked almost perfectly round. “The baker migrated back two days ago–we got in before even the bluebirds!”

Reet stepped into the cavity with the bun, still steaming. “A little quieter, Peter,” he said softly. “Your little siblings are sleeping.” He leaned in, setting the bun on the edge of the nest, and gave Fritii’s brow a brief, affectionate touch of his bill. “Why don’t you go visit some of the caches for your mother? Only come back with your crop full!”

Peter’s eyes lit up. “Okay!” In a moment he was gone, and blessed quiet filled their nest cavity.

Fritii closed her eyes and lowered her crest. “Thank you, brightheart,” she whispered. “Peter is a good fledgling, but also a loud fledgling.” None of the nestlings had awoken, mercifully.

“It’s likely Bronk’s influence,” Reet said good-naturedly, and nudged the bun, steam rising from it temptingly, towards her. “Enjoy, love. You deserve it and more.”

Happy Mothers’ Day, everyone! Bring your mom a beetle bun–she’ll love it!

(Fun fact: tufted titmice sometimes do hang around for a year to be “helpers” with their parents’ next breeding season! They do not exchange currency for insect-filled pastries, however.)

THUNDER THURSDAY #45: When to Break the Rules

Hey folks, Paul here for THUNDER THURSDAY! I was inspired to write about this week’s topic by the latest episode of Samurai Jack (”XCIV,” aired Saturday, March 25).

  • Side note 1: If you appreciate visual storytelling, and you’re not yet watching Samurai Jack, GET ON IT. (If you–like me–don’t have cable, be aware both Amazon and iTunes offer a Season Pass for $19.99. That lets you download each new episode after it airs; it’s money well spent!)

  • Side note 2: The first four seasons of Samurai Jack (aired 2001-2004) are kid-friendly. The new season is intended for mature audiences.

Now, when my students make fully rendered imagery (digital, traditional, or any mix thereof), I often advise them…

“Rule”: Avoid large areas of flat white.

One might think “brighter highlights = more contrast = more visual interest,” but consider Thundercluck here:

Note that when the highlights retain some color and texture, the image feels more natural and cohesive. When the highlights are pushed to flat white, they draw unwanted attention to themselves and reduce believability.

Whether you call this a “rule,” a “guideline,” a “principle,” or any term you like, there are three important things to keep in mind:

  • The “rule” can be broken, but first…
  • Understand why it exists, and then…
  • Only break it to serve a deliberate intention.

For an example, check out this still from last weekend’s Jack:

It’s tempting to post tons of images with a thorough analysis, but I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it. Just trust:

  • This scene breaks the “rule” above, but…
  • It serves both visual interest and narrative intent, and…
  • The storytelling result is stunning.

(For fans of Jack, this scene echoes the Shinobi fight in Season 4, but the latest episode is on a whole ‘nother level.)

If you’re watching Season 5, you know what I mean… and if you’re not, then again, GET ON IT. Thanks for reading!


Samurai Jack was created by Genndy Tartakovsky.
New episodes air 11pm EST Saturdays on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

“The Writer” This is my submission for the Stephen King show at Gallery 1988 opening this Friday. Inspired by the idea that nothing good is ever written, only rewritten, often times the creative process requires us to go through so many versions of what doesn’t work to finally get to that one thing that does.


…some panels from the first few books of ‘The Waters of Deadmoon’ (Story: Patrick Cothias - Art: Philippe Adamov - Heavy Metal, May 1990 through May 1991 - originally published in France as ‘Les Eaux de Mortelune’ by Glénat, 1986 through 1989), very much to my liking in the same vein as ‘Freakwave’ by Milligan/McCarthy & very Moebius…