The Abroad and Aback of

The World is yet young in Experiment with intelligent Life:
Home to it in pitiful Number but abundant Variety.

Set in this hypothetical Era before or beyond any Civilization known to History,
"Runaway Weer" is an Exploration of Language and Loyalty,
as well as a primeval Parallel to the Personages and Relationships
of its contemporary Companion and early-er Work: "Li'l Lynn."

The Experience

Living in South Korea as a foreign English teacher truly was a formative experience for Charles Shearer: he traveled the world, improved his language skills, picked up and developed old interests as new hobbies, earned and saved a substantial amount of money, and gained valuable experience with children. Every goal seemed to be within reach. All that this adventurous lifestyle lacked was what he no longer needed: the writer and artist self that had been the cornerstone of his identity. Years of honest effort in comics, including the unfinished and forgotten "Li'l Lynn," had been hidden away in a footlocker in his native United States ever since Charles began his life of prosperity and independence abroad, five years previously. Living real adventures and having real relationships, himself, he felt no need to invent fictional ones, thus drawing was relegated to satisfying other people's requests for artwork and to amusing students in class.

...until his life took a disastrous turn... and the sorrows came not single spies, but in battalions: he lost his job, work visa, home, and many of his personal possessions. In panic and dread but still having hope that all was not lost, he pulled himself together to use this crisis as a catalyst to not only repair his life, but also, to set it on a better course for success than before. Once the damage was contained, he took respite and turned his homelessness into an adventure by wandering alone around cities and countryside of South Korea and a volcanic island of Japan, living out of a backpack and taking shelter wherever it was offered or available. Having been of lesser means and worse location during his years-previous first incidence of homelessness, this second one was of relative ease and comfort, in terms of physicality. His more difficult task was to suss out the false allies from the faithful ones.

Though true friends were revealed on all sides, there also were traitors and deceivers that were all too close-by.

Bitter, unemployed, and repatriated after five years abroad, Charles was on what he intended to be a sabbatical of a few months, after which time he would again escape his unfulfilling old American life by spiriting himself away. However, once he began production of "Runaway Weer," as a way of keeping himself creatively occupied and thoroughly distracted in the meantime, the sabbatical changed from a vacation to a lifestyle: growing in scale and increasing in complexity, the project consumed his attention and dictated his priorities. Periods of production were intense, and so were the breaks in between: weeks or months of indulging in persistent sensory distraction from time and space. Sleep was long of time, cavernous of depth, and hard-won from creeping thoughts, yet unrestful with nightmares: an erratic and wholly ungoverned yet welcomed respite from the burden of being awake. Heavily informed by Charles's experience of having been a traveler and a foreigner, the far-away journey of the eponymous protagonist Aspynn Weer the runaway, who creates and consolidates her own different selves, made work on "Runaway Weer" just as miserable and ruinous as it was rewarding and necessary.

The Process

Charles produced "Runaway Weer" quite differently than previous comics that he had done, because he was anticipating it to be his longest and most ambitious project ever attempted, but knew that he was quite out of practice: rather than fully producing batches of pages at a time, he wrote and penciled the three volumes in full, before any ink touched the paper. This meant that even a year after production had started, he neither had any finished pages to show nor could even be sure of the final look of the project, but this lack of definition had the worthy benefit of letting him easily adjust and alter the story, language, and compositions, for the sake of the continuity and narrative of the three volumes collectively as equally sized pieces of the entire story. Next, the lettering for the three volumes was inked in about a week, and some ink tests were conducted. Charles's best ink-drawing tools had been left in South Korea, so after a month-long trip there to retrieve them (and to handle some other business), he returned to the States and began inking the three volumes, which took a considerable portion of a year to complete.

On a technical note, "Runaway Weer" was mostly written via thumbnail drawings with mechanical pencils in a few sketchbooks, with only occasional typed scripts. Though there was a very loose concept of the overall plot of the series, sequences were generally only worked out in handfuls of pages at a time, before entering art production. Layout was with a single 2H pencil on many pads of Bristol board (a make-and-model of irregular quality), beginning with panel gridlines, then moving to the lettering (which dictates the room left for images), and concluding with sketchy indications of the figures and environments. This was just the transitory, experimental phase in which the composition was discovered through trial-and-error, hence the pencilwork was as sparse and light as possible, for cleanliness despite repeated erasure. This was also the phase for testing the dialog: panel width occasionally required using alternate wording, and it was sometimes the case that intended dialog had to be edited down, for the sake of leaving adequate panel space for drawings. Meanwhile, the lettering itself had to be large enough to be legible in reduction of page size in publication; the live area of the originals was 10" wide by 12" tall, which is a small-to-adequate working size but is inconveniently large for reproduction on a computer screen or in a book.

The real drawing phase was done with the bold definition and permanence of black, waterproof India ink (applies transparently with brush and superficially dries quickly in thin layers) via sable watercolor brushes (Raphael 8404 round #2 and Winsor & Newton series 7 round #2 are high quality and function alike) and various steel dip-pens, with markers (permanent or archival ink) used for lettering, utilitarian convenience, and/or as substitutes when the paper occasionally proved to be defective for wet media or the abrasiveness of steel nibs. White acrylic paint was used for most corrections and certain effects, which was very unfortunate: though the white initially applied as opaque, the black underneath it soon emerged, requiring so many thick layers of paint that every patch of it scanned messily and had to be digitally re-corrected. (The unsuitability of the white acrylic for this purpose was a source of long frustration and confusion, but after art production had concluded, some materials testing revealed that [1] the "waterproof" black ink remained extremely water-reactive after initial "to the touch" drying and only resisted water at all after drying overnight, [2] the white acrylic caused even overnight dried black waterproof ink to re-activate, which explained the illusion of "fading" and the tendency of making gray sludge through overworking, and [3] thinner white substances would function as desired, if applied with surface tension preserved, but remained extremely reactive to moisture, even after drying overnight.) Black acrylic paint, however, was successfully used for covering small areas, applying opaquely in single layers over white acrylic paint, which would not accept coverage by black ink.

The original artwork was scanned as binary black and white (as if text) at a resolution of 600dpi. Because of having not owned any scanning equipment until art production had concluded, there had been no method of testing the scan-appropriateness of the original artwork while its production was ongoing. Since "Li'l Lynn" and "Runaway Weer" underwent post-production (scanning, editing, cleaning, publishing) together, despite having been originally produced with a five year gap between the end of the former and the beginning of the latter, there were about 325 pages in total to process (plus artwork made for the presentation of "The Arcane Apocrypha"), requiring extensive work (and re-work) to make them print-worthy: over several months, they were cleaned and edited in Photoshop CS4, then organized for print with InDesign CS4. This was also the period of time in which this website was designed and constructed, requiring Charles to recall and improve his use of HTML and CSS. Also during this time, he studied and practiced painting, for the sake of gaining a practical means of using color and tone; his painting instructor advised him about materials and techniques that would be more conducive to the application of white-over-black in the medium of binary black and white for reproduction, as well.

American Acknowledgements: Artistic, Linguistic, and Literary

Leaving a vague yet indelible impression within Charles's childhood memories, explored in depth during adulthood, is the 1982 theatrical animated feature "The Secret of NIMH," a film with a haunting and melancholy mood that challenges a child's comprehension, the ambiguous Unknowable as the ultimate victor in a clash between subjective morality and unnatural scientific meddling, and a courageous yet vulnerable and endearing female protagonist whose motivation as a worried mother and a grieving widow tempers her fear into heroism. Charles's ultimate goal as a writer and artist is to create that which, through the limitations of the silent, static medium of black-on-white comics, is as artful and worthy as the full-color, full-motion, and full-audio of "The Secret of NIMH," as inherent to the medium of film.

The 1850 novel "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathanial Hawthorne, first encountered in high school, has also been a primary source of Charles's affinity for female protagonists, as well as for child characters, antiquated language, and the theme of bearing and burying guilt. That "The Scarlet Letter" is typically described as a "romance" is curious, as the plot revolves around a sex scandal that is handled distantly and discreetly; the extreme sexual repression and fear of all things carnal, in both the Puritanical setting and the tasteful narrative of the novel, force the intimately personal matter of a woman's heart and body to be addressed through the cold, unnatural judgement of religious extremism. It is a story of corruption and hypocrisy: they who most believe in sin are they who most commit it, and they who seek vengeance upon others destroy also themselves. The desire for our own to be rewarded and our enemies to be punished is at the core of religion, which says much about humanity but nothing about the divine. We need mysteries to intrigue and terrify us, and would do well to have humility in attitudes toward the Unknowable.

Meanwhile, the classic American newspaper comic strip "Krazy Kat" by George Herriman, a work which Charles discovered during college, has been influential on the gender ambiguity and the use of dialect in "Runaway Weer." However, rather than directly imitating historical or regional variations of English, all of the dialog in "Runaway Weer" is made of three invented dialects, which are themselves partially based on disparate features of German, Korean, and Classical Latin. The idea is that the three species depicted in "Runaway Weer" use native tongues that are mutually intelligible or learnable to linguistically talented characters (and to the reader) but are incomprehensible gibberish to others. The benefits and detriments of this unequal communication specifically, and the power of controlling information in general, are persistent themes in "Runaway Weer."

At some point early in the production process, Charles happened upon a non-fiction book titled "Daughters of the Earth: Lives and Legends of American Indian Women" by Carolyn Niethammer (Simon and Schuster Paperbacks 1977), which played an unexpected yet essential role in shaping the treatment of gender and fertility in "Runaway Weer": that the human protagonists Aspynn and Lindynn are adolescent females in the main continuity is necessary for the functioning of the plot, rather than merely being incidental. In this way, the topic of sexuality, which had already been addressed in "Li'l Lynn" as inscrutable adult goofiness according to a child's viewpoint, could instead be approached from an entirely practical, fertility-based perspective in which sexuality is largely ignored or unknown as a topic in of itself.

A Legendary Inspiration

Perhaps the most deep-seated influence on "Runaway Weer," spanning from some of Charles's earliest memories until even the present day, was the ongoing Nintendo video game fantasy adventure series "The Legend of Zelda," in which themes, imagery, and personages share parallels across vast stretches of time and space, re-occurring with intervals of generations or eras throughout a history that does not quite repeat itself but certainly rhymes. The idea of "Runaway Weer" and "Li'l Lynn" being parallels to each other in such a way most likely owes something of its impetus to a particular pair of games within the extensive Legend of Zelda series: "Ocarina of Time" and its immediate sequel "Majora's Mask." Allowed only a fraction of the former's development time, the latter borrowed various assets and featured the same incarnation of the hero character, using these limitations of time and resources to create a bizarro world that not only differed greatly from the original, but also stood out as an anomaly in the entire series. Whereas "Ocarina of Time" is leisurely paced and accessible, yet tonally inconsistent, "Majora's Mask" is relentlessly sorrowful, fearsome, and deathly in tone, as a countdown to doom ever ticks away the hours and minutes, and the instrument of destruction stares down with unblinking eyes upon the world; "Ocarina of Time" tells a morally simplistic tale of personal growth and self-discovery, of fulfilling one's heroic destiny across time and space, whereas "Majora's Mask" is an accidentally initiated quest to suss out villain from victim and to save the hapless from themselves, in an endless cycle from which attempting to escape is the only thing more dreadful than continuing to live. However, "Runaway Weer" avoids taking a definitive stance on the supernatural and is decidedly not a work of fantasy tropes, e.g. casting spells, slaying dragons, fulfilling destiny, rescuing princesses, etc., therefore rather than bodily transforming into new selves, the eponymous character of "Runaway Weer" makes herself anew by her talent of adapting newly discovered mindsets and languages, and struggles against ideals, ambitions, and guilt, rather than against actual demons or other simplistically evil forces.

Charles has also observed that the three volumes of "Runaway Weer" ended up being organized according to his own personal interpretation of The Legend of Zelda's single most iconic piece of imagery: the three-in-one divine relic called the Triforce, which is both a set of tangible objects of great power and a figurative way of understanding personal abilities and characteristics, typically ordered as Power (influence over external forces), Wisdom (command of information and sense of morality), and Courage (mastery of oneself). The idea is that these three attributes constitute a balanced heart; an unbalanced heart exemplifies one of the pieces over the other two, thus all three being in equal measure is the mark of completion. The three volumes of "Runaway Weer" explore Charles's view of the Triforce, as Aspynn tests, abuses, and then finds balance in each attribute: Volume 1 (Wisdom) reveals how Aspynn's severe ethical righteousness and litigious argument incite the adventure, then Volume 2 (Power) details how Aspynn lashes out to enforce her will upon others, both to reward the good and to punish the bad, and Volume 3 (Courage) depicts Aspynn's haunting struggle to find peace with herself, lest all were for naught.