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Review – Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 (Top Spec)

MobileStudio Pro 16

 

Today I finally get to review Wacom’s MobileStudio Pro 16. It’s a device I’ve wanted to use since – well, really since before Wacom even made tablet computers.

Way back in 2012 or so (the dark ages of mobile art tablet computing), I provided a little feedback to Wacom during their early design phase on what became the Cintiq Companion. Our first visit consisted of me giving opinions on two pieces of wood, each carved roughly into the shape of a tablet computer. There were two because one signified a device with a 13 inch screen, and the other, a 15 inch screen. I quickly made known my lust for a 15 inch tablet that would run a full operating system. Sadly for me, the Wacom rep replied that they would probably ship the 13 inch version. It made some sense – in a world where the iPad sets consumer expectations for thin and light, a relatively hefty 15 inch slab may have been a harder sell.

But here’s the all-important distinction between the joy-promising iPad (even the iPad Pro) and a device like the MobileStudio Pro: Functionality. In my business (comics), professionals are used to drawing on a traditional-media surface that’s 11×17 inches and up. It’s a good size for making images. Head into illustration and painting, and the surfaces tend to get even larger. Most creatives that tech companies love to woo with lines like ‘simulates the feel of paper’ or ‘8 bajillion levels of precision’ – they’re used to big surfaces. They’re used to schlepping paints and canvases and portfolios and lighting gear and nude models and God knows what. For those traditionalists, something that’s ‘impossibly thin’ but still doesn’t make their work life easier should not be seen as sexy.

At the root of this rant is my essential question: why move from traditional media to digital? Why give up the pleasure of natural media for silicon and glass? I’d wager the answer for most professionals is not the promise of more joy, but greater efficiency: More images created in less time typically benefits our bank accounts (unless we’re working hourly – then curse efficiency). Mobility is nice because it gives us the option to create efficiently from wherever we are.

Now, the iPad is great tool for many. I’m not disputing that. I’ve never owned one, but I’ve tested it and appreciate its aesthetic, ease of use, and (now that the iPad Pro and Pencil exist) its facility as a creative mobile device. The Pencil is a great drawing tool. Also, the iPad’s apps have matured to the point where a lot of great functionality’s possible via programs like Medibang Paint, which does much of what you’d look for in say, Clip Studio Paint (formerly Manga Studio in the US) and Photoshop. But here’s what an iPad cannot do: It cannot provide a mobile computer system that’s as powerful and agile as one which runs a professional operating system ala OSX or Windows. Functional file management, multitasking, and the fine-grain control which professional creatives employ on a second-to-second basis, and which makes digital workflow efficient vs. traditional media, is leaps and bounds better on a system with a full, professional operating system. The iPad is simple and elegant, but that comes at the cost of efficiencies like hardware buttons, which are a necessity to efficient workflow on a tablet device. You can use a keyboard for these functions, but if that’s your only option, you can’t be as mobile with your drawing tablet and that’s really the point for its existence.

In other words, if you’re not getting the benefits of a full computer, why not just stick to your watercolor brushes and a sketchbook? Those pack down pretty damn well and they’re still more fun to use than any of the digital options (unless you hate messes, and if you do, why are you making art?).

Adventure

 

That was a lot.

Maybe we’re beyond the need for debates. Maybe everyone at this point knows whether they want an iPad or a computer like the MobileStudio Pro. If you do have clarity, and that clarity directs you towards a full computer system like the MobileStudio Pro, read on. If you just want to make the occasional sketch, or hate the idea of carrying something that’s not ‘impossibly thin’, go buy the iPad Pro.

Getting back to my lust for that cruelly set-aside 15 inch screen… The original Cintiq Companion came out in a 13 inch Windows 8 model alongside another version which ran Android and could be used as a second screen for a PC or Mac (a feature Wacom later built into the Companion 2 and this current MobileStudio). The Companion 2, which I also used, was very similar to the first gen. It was a little lighter and a little thinner, and it had a better screen. Coming from it to the 16 inch MobileStudio Pro, the weight and size feels very similar. The MobileStudio 13, which I have not tried, is supposed to be lighter. For me, the all-important thing is having a little extra screen real estate for my creative work.

I no longer own a big desktop Cintiq because I like to take my workstation with me around the house/town/world, have it be comfortable and efficient, and then to make it disappear when I don’t want a hunk of technology sitting around. The Mobilestudio Pro 16 is just about the perfect size to do what I want it to do. It emulates the larger working area I’m used to from traditional media while bending to my every will. Heading to the couch? Check. To the studio? Yes. On the plane? Sure. Running any piece of software I can on a real computer? Uh-huh. Keeping all my 500 MB+ TIF files at the ready for editing wherever I am? Yeah.

Whether the screen size/weight tradeoff between the 13 and 16 incher is a big deal to you probably depends on your intended use, but if you’re a professional, I’d counsel you towards the larger screen. It’s a bit more comfortable, a bit more functional, and given its 4k resolution and color reproduction, a great representative for what your work will look like in print.

Getting down to the techy jargon, let’s discuss the advancements of the Wacom Pro Pen and the screen digitizer. The Wacom pen now has over 8,000 levels of pressure sensitivity. Do I note an improvement from the former 2,000-odd levels of pressure sensitivity? I do not, sir. Some people claim to be able to tell the difference between 1,000 and 2,000 levels of pressure, but the fact is that most devices have pressure curves that are calibrated distinctly from one another. This results in a different response device-to-device. A good drawing program like Clip Studio Paint allows you to fine tune this pressure curve, even from one brush to another. Because of this ability, it’s more important to customize your pressure curve so that it responds well to your own mark-making than it is to just accept that a higher number of potential pressure levels results in better marks. It’s only after you calibrate a device with 8,000 levels to your own preferences that it serves you as well or better than your last, more familiar device with 2,000. Does that make any sense? If you care about that stuff, hopefully it will. 

Another point is that most digital brushes will lag like mad if they’re 8,000 pixels wide. That’s effectively what we’re talking about here, at least hypothetically: A pressure response that begins with one pixel at its lightest and ends with 8,000 pixels at its heaviest. No uber-powerful workstation computer I’ve tried on this earth is going to give anything but a laggy response to a brush that size, and then all that potential for fine control is moot.

One area where Wacom practically and appreciably improved is in the digitizer’s accuracy. Parallax (the distance between the pen’s physical tip and the on-screen cursor lying beneath the glass) is less than previous models, but more importantly, accuracy around the edges of the device is much better.

An example of how this edge accuracy can break down and become an efficiency drain is the contemporary Surface Pro. HA! You thought I could only rip on Apple.

Versions 1 and 2 of the Surface Pro were very good drawing tablets. I used the first one for almost a year (fancy video proof above). These first units used Wacom digitizers, and although edge accuracy wasn’t great, the devices were very usable for both artistic mark-making and interface navigation. Since drawing programs (and most other programs) position their interfaces at the screen edges, it’s important to be able to navigate these areas quickly and accurately. When Microsoft switched to the N-trig digitizer starting with version 3 of the Surface Pro, it was disastrous for its use as an illustration tool. Now, when the pen came near the screen edges, it would lag behind the stylus tip like you were dragging it through molasses. By the time it caught up, you’d likely have already depressed the pen point, expecting to hit a button near the screen edge – but no! You hit something else, because the cursor wasn’t there yet. AAAAAAAAHHHHG.

Even drawing in the center of the screen became rough after versions 1 and 2 of the Surface Pro – diagonal lines would be jagged, the bluetooth pen’s signal would drop out at random times… It was a mess. Maybe they improved things for the Surface Studio. I don’t know. But I will say, if you’re interested in this kind of tablet technology and want a serviceable device, find a used Surface Pro 1 or 2. It’ll be far less money than the current Wacom model, and you can get a sense of whether you like working this way at all before you fork over the big bucks.

The MobileStudio Pro 16’s other updates vs. the former Companion model include a touch ring (for controlling things like brush size as you would track lists on an old iPod), a 3D camera, and a dedicated graphics card (the Nvidia Quadro m1000).

The touch ring isn’t of huge benefit to me. On my Companion 2 I controlled brush size by depressing a button and dragging my pen tip, which made for a fast and accurate resize. I can set up the MobileStudio the same, but to use the touch ring version, I have to first depress one of its four corners to ensure the brush size operation is selected, then scroll with my finger one direction or the other in a less-than-precise way. Rotating the canvas with the touch ring, at least in Clip Studio, was non-functional because my finger would inevitably slide farther than I intended, resulting in an upside-down canvas. It’s far easier for me to manipulate canvas rotation via touch. Your mileage may vary. On that note: I was baffled for a few minutes as to why touch wasn’t working correctly in Clip Studio on the MobileStudio Pro. It ended up being that I needed to go into the program’s preferences and select Tablet PC instead of Wintab for the program’s driver. That solved my problem.

The 3D camera seems like a neat novelty, but in my limited attempts to scan objects around my house, I’ve found it pretty difficult to use. My results usually look like a Dalí painting filtered through David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, and while that’s sort of awesome, it’s probably not the intended result. I’ll withhold judgment under the assumption that I’m doing something wrong, but I have a feeling that the camera’s not up to what a professional 3D modeler would use to digitize, say, J-Law’s head for a video game.

Speaking of video games, I went out on a limb and tested the Quadro m1000 graphics card on the most punishing thing I could think of: The PC version of The Witcher 3. Insert big nerdy musical flourish here. I fully expected it to not even run, but much to my surprise, it did run, and quite well at medium-high settings on 1080p. Didn’t check the frame rate, but it was very playable. I also tried it at the machine’s native resolution of 4K, which did slow things down to a slide-show, but daggum if this little tablet didn’t keep from crashing, artifacting, or exploding even under all that stress. Could you build a computer that’d run the game better for 1/6th the money? Absolutely, but tablet PCs rarely contain the guts to even load up a demanding game. I was impressed.

An area that impressed me much less was the MobileStudio’s included accessories. The previous model from Wacom came with a carrying case, already-applied screen protector, video-out cable for connecting it as a second screen for your desktop/laptop, and a stand. A terrible stand, but a functional, multi-positional stand. Now you get none of those. If you want them, you have to buy them or source them from other manufacturers.

In regards to the stand, that would be the worst omission if I hadn’t discovered a magical and inexpensive solution via a lovely internet forum: Use two ultra-cheap rubber-coated-metal bookstands as an infinitely flexible and surprisingly rigid support for your several-thousand-dollar tablet. I can even bear down on the screen with some weight and the angle doesn’t budge even at an extreme horizontal. It works amazingly well. Just use pliers to bend the ends of the bookstands so they cradle the tablet and you’re good to go. Plus, they’re way lighter than the old Wacom stand.

With that problem solved for no money, the video-out cable and protective case are the worst omissions. Really, Wacom? This thing costs $3,000 and you couldn’t include the video cable? This seems like a decision based on some tough financial turn or a competitive acquiescing to Apple and Microsoft’s methods, i.e., some people may not use this thing towards the purposes for which we designed it, so let the everyone else buy the Pencil and Keyboard for another hundred bucks apiece. To that I say, “NYEH.”

What Wacom does include is the pen (thank goodness), a carrying case, a charger, some color rings to make your pen… forget it, I’ll never know why you need a color ring… and a little plastic doohickey that lets you mount the pen to the side of the tablet while it’s stationary. That doohickey also attaches to the top of the pen case. What’s here, Wacom designed with care and that care really extends across the tablet hardware itself. It’s a well-made machine. Aside from my ambivalence towards the touch ring and camera, I have no issues. It’s sleek, it has a big beautiful screen, and a ton of programmable buttons. It’s a design geared toward getting work done.

A last couple comments on the hardware: There’s now a full-sized SD card slot, making transfers from your SLR easy-peasy. There’s also three tiny USB-C ports instead of the big old USB ports. You know, the ones that everyone and everything still uses? It’s one of those things where it’s hard to imagine they couldn’t have fit even one full-size USB port into this thing (it’s not that thin), but then again, there’s the future, and there’s high-speed transfers, and there’s added durability with the tablet’s charging ports (an area of common failure in the older Companion models). I ordered a pack of four little USB to USB-C adapters from Amazon, and they work great. Just remember to travel with one in case you’re out in the world and need to use a standard device.

Regarding performance, my model came with an i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. Comparing my day-to-day work against that done on the top-tier Companion 2, I don’t notice much difference, but they’re both very capable machines. Having 16 GB of ram is the nicest aspect of the hardware spec in terms of my work with multiple huge image files. I can keep a number of pieces open and not deal with slowdowns or calls to virtual memory.

Plenty of people will wonder about battery life, and the answer remains pretty similar to what I found with previous tablet PCs, Wacom or otherwise: About 2 to 2.5 hrs of image-creation work. Now, before all the iPad folks start raising Cain, consider this: Even the very-efficient iPad Pro, rated at 10 hrs of battery life gets only 2-3 hrs of actual battery life under comparable strain. By strain I mean working with 11×17 color image files at 600 dpi or better and a couple dozen layers. Maybe a few of those at the same time. That’s a very normal work scenario, but if you’re just sketching or working at lower resolutions, you can certainly squeeze more battery out of the MobileStudio. Most people buy a machine like this to use its full capacities, though, so expect a few hours at best – about the same as other similar options on the market.

So what’s left? How nice is it to draw with, I suppose?Josie and the Pussycats

It’s real nice.

I hope I provided you with a balanced impression of this machine. I like it very much, and I’m tickled that Wacom finally released the larger model that’s only lived in my dreams for four years. If you want to travel, move around the house while you work, create art in coffee shops or airports and want to have a full arsenal of the best creative tools at anyone’s disposal, this is a great choice. Get a bluetooth keyboard for it (I like the Logitech K850) and between storyboard jobs you can write your next book on it – which I’m doing right now. When productivity’s done and you need to chill, hook up a game pad. When you want to be free from your high-tech art studio, stuff your studio into a backpack and be with your fellow humans.

This is certainly a specific (and expensive) computing device, but it’s also versatile enough to be the only one you need.

Day 16 – Monarch Central, Santa Cruz

monarch grove

The Monarch Grove, Natural Bridges, San Diego.


 

Casa LatinaLeaving Berkeley on Tuesday we caught lunch at a great little Taqueria – Casa Latina on San Pablo Ave. Seems to me they’re all great once you get deep into California. This one was outfitted with a table for Day of the Dead remembrances: candles, bread loaves, and sugar skulls with names of the deceased spelled out in purple sequins. Dorothy asked if there was an ‘Otis’ on the table, but there wasn’t. We did later see his name on a street sign as we pulled into Santa Cruz. And that’s where we found one of the largest Monarch groves on the coast.monarch trail

If you grew up in Santa Cruz, maybe the thousands of overwintering monarchs wouldn’t seem so impressive. The Cases, however, were impressed. Monarchs come to Santa Cruz every October and stay over til spring. They’re generation 4, the special ones, built stronger and with greater life spans than generations 1 to 3 combined. This is all so they can travel from far northern territories to this tiny part of the earth they’ve never seen before. Here they will survive the winter, reach their postponed sexual maturity in spring, them push north again to bring on the next generation of migrants.

img_9299No parent ever communicates with the monarchs or guides them in their mission, at least in any way humans understand. We don’t know how their navigational intelligence works, but we believe it includes knowledge of the stars, the sun, and the earth’s magnetic fields. Whether genetic or mystic, there’s a driving command in the monarchs that endures beyond their lifetimes. Maybe that’s why native peoples see in them the spirits of their departed. Monarchs bear not only a consciousness that overcomes death, but an unmatched grace and boldness even in their frailty. In spite of my family knowing the butterflies’ link to the Day of the Dead, our arrival on that very date to their winter home at Natural Bridges was pure serendipity. We’ve made no reservations on this trip, planned few plans, and really just let the wind blow us south. We felt that something greater than us had worked to time our arrival. Inside the monarchs’ eucalyptus grove Sarah and I could only stare up in silence and watch them. She shed tears for Otis. I held her and thanked God for another moment of awe – never sufficient, but a little healing.

More Connections

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After lingering in the grove and absorbing what we could, we traveled outside of town a few miles to camp on some distant relatives’ rural property. Our host, Luke, whom I’d only met earlier this year at San Diego Comic Con, told us that my brother Quentyn had camped in our spot years ago. Like Otis, we lost Quent too soon a little over four years ago. He was 42. Before bed we lit a candle for Otis and Quent and thought of what it might be like if they were sharing some time together. I think they’d be well matched. Both handsome brown-eyed men, both lovers of machines. Otis might teach Quent to just embrace his sensitivity already, and Quent could teach Otis how to write – something he did well but never showed me during his life.

The truth is that even though I believe in God, I’m less and less sure about life beyond death. I don’t know anything about it and I don’t trust anyone who claims certainty. I do know, though, that there’s mystery beyond mystery, and reason behind what seems impossible. Monarchs navigate to places they’ve never seen or heard about with confounding confidence. If they can do it, I suppose I can keep my little faith for now, and hope that more will be revealed in time.

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Day 14 – Victory on Albany Hill

Albany Hill

Yesterday, in the eucalyptus trees on top of Albany Hill, I saw monarchs. This was in spite of my timing being early for their arrival in this particular part of the Bay. It was a definite high point in my journey to bring The Guidebook to life, and one of many small miracles I’ve encountered on our trip.

Until last night I’d only seen one monarch in the wild, this summer on top of Portland’s Mt. Tabor. I’d just finished the day’s work on my rough draft from my mobile hammock+notebook studio. At the moment I closed my notebook I looked up and saw it fluttering ten feet directly over my head like a little spirit come to say, “Yes, grown man. You may perform your work in the woods, in a hammock. Good idea.” I watched the monarch for two or three minutes before it shot west down the mountain. I chased its shadow through the leaf canopy for a few paces before it glided into a clearing, across a road, and out of sight.

Historically, I really try not to force meaning from these moments. I want to tell the truth as best I can, even through the complete fabrications that are my books. Then along comes this year with its tragedy upon tragedy and I find it just a little easier to embrace the big pile of schmaltz that’s inside me. If I have to find gratitude in impossibly awful scenarios (and I do have to), acknowledging the miraculous in very small moments becomes natural.

Last night, when I finally found migratory monarchs on Albany Hill, there was no clear message like that time on Mt. Tabor. mexico day of the deadStill, I have to claim a growing bond to these creatures and all the mysteries they embody. Butterflies are a symbol across world cultures for those who’ve died before their time: Soldiers in war, lovers, and lost children. Mexico’s Day of the Dead is rich with monarch iconography. Even Shigeru Mizuki, Japanese master of manga, recounted a spiritual experience with butterflies in his autobio and history of Japan, Showa. A vet of WWII, showaMizuki tells in one chapter of his return with war buddies to a South Pacific island and an old battlefield covered with decades-old bones from dozens of Japanese soldiers. After a restless sleep in the jungle, Mizuki and his friends share with each other that they all had the same nightmare: the bones rose to ask them why? Why did they return? How did they deserve to live? Shaken, the men decide to gather all the remains they can find, anoint them with sake, and hold a makeshift funeral. After praying over the bones for a time, they’re shocked to see butterflies pour out of the jungle from all directions, then descend to cover the bone pile in a blanket of living color. Were they just attracted to the sake? Were they the movement of spirits? Shigeru asserts the latter. I think I would too.


Photos from Albany Hill, ordered to give you an impression of my hunt:

albany hill cross

I don’t think it was the random giant metal cross that prompted it, but as soon as I reached the top of the hill, I prayed for a monarch. I’d spent a few minutes circling and climbing the park with no sign of any flying insects whatsoever, maybe thanks to the thriving robin population. But… robins don’t eat monarchs.

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This little one appeared moments later, maybe sixty feet above me. I thought this might be the best photo I’d get. I lost the butterfly in the trees, then spent about ten minutes circling the hilltop looking for more. I gave up, grateful for the brief sighting, and headed back down towards my car…

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When I saw another! Just down the hill the same way I’d come up. Again, far off, even with the telephoto lens.

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Closer, but not better.

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I took a few dozen wasted pictures as I tried to follow one, then two butterflies through the tree limbs. Finally:

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Some color! Blurry, but now most definitely a monarch. Then I saw this:

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A whole cluster of them!

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Two clusters! Just 15 – 20 feet above me.

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Then another flash of orange…

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Then a slow fanning of wings. A gift.

With night about to fall, I celebrated this victory with a Japanese dinner accompanied by a giant Sapporo beer. Just me, Shigeru Mizuki, and the memory of two dozen little miracles.

Day 12 – Get Rhythm

the rhythm rig

Now on day 12, the Cases have established trailer life rhythm. Roughly: Comics, eat, hike. Eat, drive, eat. Comics, read, sleep. Sleep more. Repeat.

The sleeping portion came easily. With Dorothy to bed at 7:30 PM, we’re never far behind. Everyone more or less sleeps ’til 7:30 AM barring obedience to my 5:00 AM work alarm clock. Obedience has happened, twice. Taskmaster Jonathan wants a reasonable defense for that behavior, and I do have one… The quality and quantity of my dreams on this trip trumps early morning productivity. I haven’t dreamed big technicolor d
reams like this since college and they’re much better creative fuel than the spoils of un-rested critical thinking. Someone in an old Italian art-house movie (La Dolce Vita?) said people who talk about their dreams are bores, but they were just trying to sound cool. No one writes better dialogue than dreams.

In spite of my justified lazing, work on The Guidebook progresses at a steady pace. I’ve gathered field data for about 50 locations according to my plus-sized Garmin watch, monarch mapand I’ve filled notebook #1 completely with rough draft pages. I look forward to this weekend and our arrival in Alameda County, where we just might start to see Monarchs in the first of their overwintering sites. Santa Cruz is a more certain bet. Either way we’re very close, and we get to spend most of our remaining travel time in monarch territory. Just look at them there on this migration sighting map (thanks to learner.org). East of the Rockies they’re lousy with monarchs, but in terms of our Western population, the Bay Area’s the place to be.

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Dear Creature HCSigning at The Escapist Comic Book Store – OCT 29

Another upcoming event, also in Alameda county, is my Saturday signing at The Escapist Comic Book Store. Dear Creature’s hardcover edition is the main deal, but they’ll probably have a smattering of my other work, too. Looks like the trade of Superman: American Alien just topped the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels, so…what else can I say? As one of the six contributing artists on Max Landis’s retelling of Superman-history, I’m one sixth of a yooge deal. Come get yours signed. Get a quick sketch for free if you’re a kid or really nice. Whatever you do, if you’re in Berkeley on Saturday at 1 PM, come say hey.

american alien

Speaking of motivating a turnout: What do you think’s required, decoration-wise, to invite trick-or-treaters to a trailer door when said trailer’s parked on a random Bay Area street? Probably depends whether we’re in the Tenderloin or Haight-Ashbury.

I’ll let you know!

Sanity Strategies

Last night we discovered an incredible method to keep energy-riddled Dorothy from tearing apart our trailer’s interior on a dark and rainy night. Sarah asked her, joking, if she wanted to go outside and run around the trailer a few times.

“Yes!” said Dorothy.

We geared her up with her raincoat, rubber boots, and my headlamp and scooted her outside. I asked her, just before shutting the door against the elements and my child, if she could do 10 laps around the rig. She did, pausing only to comment excitedly on her progress or the imaginary obstacles she avoided (a forest of pooping butts was the standout). I really didn’t think she’d make 10 laps, but she blew past every expectation. Visible only via the satellite orbit of her headlamp, Doro’s running monologue bounced passed my window a full 100 times before she reentered the R-Pod, soaked and elated with victory.

She says she’s going to be an astronaut. Sarah thinks maybe a proctologist.

She probably has a good shot at both.

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The Guidebook

The Guidebook Splash

Today I want to share a very little bit about my next book. As we travel the west coast, dodging raindrops and making memories, I’m also gathering data and reference material for a young readers graphic novel, The Guidebook. Here’s a snapshot from my proposal:

To survive in a world where mammals are nearly extinct, a little girl named Elvi and a brilliant naturalist, Flora, must follow and protect the monarch butterfly migration.

It’s 2260. Solar radiation, now lethal to mammals, has forced humans into underground bunkers while nature overtakes cities, roads, and landmarks. The only eight-year-old girl lucky enough to roam free on Earth’s surface is Elvira Jones. Flora, Elvi’s adoptive mother, is a brilliant naturalist who discovered a chemical in monarch butterflies that allows mammals to live in sunlight again. Against the wishes of important people, Flora escaped her bunker with a few supplies, a pigeon named Thoreau, and the only person she couldn’t leave behind – Elvi.

Now Elvi and Flora follow the western monarchs from north to south on America’s Pacific coast. Flora wants to make enough medicine so that every human can live above ground again. Along their adventure, Elvi and Flora rescue a mysterious baby boy, navigate considerable mother-daughter drama, and overcome a threat from five men who want control of the monarch’s secret. Elvi reflects on these and more important moments (like getting bit by a weird bug) in a journal she calls “The Guidebook.” Elvi’s journal pages pop up through the comics narrative to serve as a field guide. Sort of like Flora’s fancy naturalist textbooks, but much more fun.

On every page or two, in the corner of a landscape panel, there are coordinates and a compass heading. This allows readers to follow Flora and Elvi’s progress through real places and even travel their exact route themselves.

So we travel with Elvi and Flora. We’re in our travel trailer rig and they’re in an imaginary, heavily modified 1988 Toyota van (my dream rig – the one that never dies, even in a far fetched-future scenario). Our routes overlap as I map their fiction to our stops from Florence, OR to Big Sur, CA and beyond. These are the tools I use to merge our travels:

watch and compass

The big watch-like thing on my wrist allows me to get coordinates. It’s early 2000s’ tech, but it was cheap, it’s durable, and it gets the job done. The little compass on the right gives me a rough heading towards whatever view I take in. Once I double-check these numbers, I tuck them into the corner of a Guidebook drawing and add in my fictional details… In the example below, I put Elvi and Flora’s adventure van and an old driftwood stump I used to climb on as a kid in Pacific City, OR. Elvi hangs on it there in her red hammock.

The Guidebook

Adventure calls us down the road again now, so I’ll leave more details for later. We’re currently in Arcata, CA, headed towards the Avenue of the Giants – a place where my dad marathoned back in his wildman running days. After that, it’s further down the coast toward the monarchs’ overwintering turf.

Can’t wait!