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November 1st, 2013

Austin Zine Fest this Saturday

Filed under: Events — Tags: ,

Hi y’all, I’ll be tabling at the first Austin Zine Fest this Saturday, November 2nd, from noon to 5pm!


I’ll have copies of Vortex #1, 3, and 4; Tranz #2; and several different prints. Paper Party will at the half table next to me with a bunch of zines and cards, such as the Kramer Sutra.

A painting by Michael Ricioppo and Drew Liverman from their show Young Sons at MASS Gallery
A painting by Michael Ricioppo and Drew Liverman from their show Young Sons.

AZF will be at MASS Gallery, which is now in the complex at 507 Calles Street. The current show is Young Sons. It’s a bunch of enormous collaborative paintings by Michael Ricioppo and Drew Liverman, which I highly recommend checking out even if you’re not interested in the zine fest.

October 31st, 2013

Hyperverse Halloween Special

Filed under: Web Comics — Tags:

Happy Halloween

October 1st, 2013

Barbara Hambly’s The Silent Tower and The Silicon Mage

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags:

The Silent Tower and The Silicon Mage are the first two books in Barbara Hambly’s portal fantasy series The Windrose Chronicles. For those unfamiliar with the term, a portal fantasy involves travel between two realms: our familiar Earth at some point in history and somewhere else, either Faerie, Heaven, Hell, a dreamscape, or another planet entirely. In this series, the two realms are Los Angeles in the 80s and the Empire of Ferryth on another world. In the first two books, it’s never explicitly stated whether the Empire’s planet is another Earth existing in a parallel dimension or a different planet orbiting a different sun altogether; however, both worlds contain human beings that are sufficiently similar for the same magic spells to work on both. What we are told is that our Earth, the Empire’s planet, and stranger worlds filled with utterly alien beings are all connected by the Void. The Void is only accessible by those with sufficiently advanced technology or magic. Out in the Void, there are drifting centers of power. The distance between a world and a power center determines whether or not magic exists.

So, then, we have the Empire’s planet, at the beginnings of an industrial revolution but still filled with some mages, and our Earth at the 80s, at the beginning of the computer revolution. Although mainframes, Fortran, and floppy disc drives were all in use when Hambly wrote these books, they’re now so outdated that 80s LA just seems like another secondary world, one which I’m more familiar with through old movies and clunky CGI than my own experience. As LP Hartley wrote, “the past is a foreign country.”

It’s interesting to compare the worldbuilding of 80s LA and the Empire of Ferryth. They both feel solid. In this portal fantasy, we’re given a POV from each side and, interestingly, we start in the Empire, with Caris. Although at first it seems that we begin at a generic magic school, where Caris has already graduated as a warrior guard to mages, it becomes clear early on that this world is modeled on a very specific point in history, when factories and programmable looms begin to appear in the cities but the majority of the population are still struggling farmers.

Economics seems like a primary inspiration for Hambly. The most vivid part of Joanna’s Los Angeles experience is her job at a defense contractor, programming missile control systems. Although there are no clouds of coal in her world, there’s the gloomy fog of a potential nuclear armageddon. In the Hambly books that I’ve read, these and Dragonsbane, her protagonists are not the typical fantasy women. They’re average or homely rather than beautiful, middle aged rather than teenagers. Joanna is a blonde, curly haired, shy women who’s more comfortable programming systems at 4am than talking to people, constantly staving off the advances of her seemingly oafish boyfriend Gary. It was very easy for me to identify with her and hope for her to succeed because her job is similar to my day job.

I thoroughly enjoy when Joanna applies her programming expertise to magic, breaking down problems into smaller and smaller, and easier to solve, subroutines. But this isn’t the type of magic that you get in a Brandon Sanderson novel. There’s no unified theory of magic for Joanna to discover, just the Dark Mage to trap and Abominations to destroy. I enjoy the clever construction of Sanderson’s magical systems but sometimes I just want to be awed by mysterious beings who can summon lightning from unknown dimensions.

Caris, who you might at first be fooled into thinking is the hero and love interest, is a young, lithe warrior with a perfectly proportioned face who has trouble thinking for himself and craves the clarity of rules from obvious authority figures. In these first two novels, which form one complete story, Caris is cast adrift with Joanna and the wry, mad mage Antryg Windrose. Antryg is an amazingly crafted character. Throughout The Silent Tower, I was never sure of his intentions, but he charmed me as easily as he charms Caris and Joanna.

The kernel of these novels is the relationship between Joanna and Antryg. When I was in high school I got excited about the romantic relationships in books like the Wheel of Time, where horny teenagers fall for each other at their first meeting because they’re fated to but don’t have the healthiest of relationships. Now that I’m older and married, I prefer Hambly’s depiction of a relationship focused on partnership and mutual respect on top of attraction. Joanna and Antryg do have to work out their trust and communication issues, but what relationship is ideal?

There’s one unfortunate aspect of these books that prevents me from whole-heartedly recommending them. There’s one gay character who falls into the trope of decadent, depraved homosexual. Although Joanna sees his good qualities, she still refers to him as a “pervert.” This isn’t central to the book but I can’t blame anyone for finding this an insurmountable obstacle.

I’m going to leave y’all with one of my favorite moments. It’s a great example of Hambly’s all-too-realistic focus on economics but is a bit spoilery. In The Silicon Mage, Antryg and Joanna encounter a much hyped-up evil, an intelligent Abomination from another dimension. When they encounter the demon in its gorey lair, they discover that it’s not some fearsome hellspawn intent on devouring souls, but a low-level office worker who’s trapped in a world he doesn’t understand, trying to communicate the only way he can: through a body composed of human corpses. Even more humorously, he’s an technician like Joanna; only instead of computer systems, he works with xchi particles.

September 27th, 2013

Vortex #2 Sold Out; One Vortex #1-4 Combo Pack Left

Filed under: Admin,Print Comics — Tags: ,

I realized yesterday that I only have one copy of Vortex #2 left in my personal inventory. So I’m not selling any more individual copies of Vortex #2 and I only have one Vortex #1-4 combo pack left. The combo pack is four dollars cheaper than ordering each issue individually. You can order it in my store.

Vortex 2

Vortex #2 is still available through other stores and distros: Farewell Books in Austin, Birdcage Bottom Books, Quimby’s, Sparkplug, Telegraph Gallery, Wow Cool, and some other places I’m probably forgetting (sorry I’m sleep deprived).

September 24th, 2013


Filed under: Life,Manifestos

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve got an excellent excuse: I’m now the father of a beautiful, strong, and healthy baby girl!

Ruby Hensel

It’s hard to describe the swirling flood of emotions I’ve been immersed in in the months leading up to her birth and the weeks since, but I truly feel like my world has expanded immeasurably. I’m also more committed than ever to drawing comics and showing my daughter that our lives don’t have to just be day jobs, shopping sprees, and dreary broken dreams. I want to show her a world of joy, unbearable cuteness, and play. I want to show her a world where she can be whatever she imagines, whoever she is, a world where her choices aren’t constrained or predetermined by patriarchy. I hope that I can live up to my parenting ideals and that, when I fail to meet them, I don’t let that stop me from continuing to try. I hope that she knows I love her and that I’ll be there for her. <3

I’m going to post her when I can – this is my home on the Internet and I won’t abandon it – but if you want to see what I’m up to more regularly, follow my my Hypercastle Tumblr. Even if I won’t be completing another 128-page graphic novel anytime soon, I’m going to make a commitment to myself to draw in my sketchbook regularly.

August 27th, 2013

Drawing for Sparkplug Books

Filed under: Artwork — Tags: ,

I drew a splash page image for the Sparkplug Books site, check it out:

Sparkplug Books drawing

Sparkplug has Vortex #1-3 in their shop.

August 15th, 2013

Vortex #1-4 Combo Pack

Filed under: Print Comics — Tags: ,

I’ve added a Vortex #1-4 combo pack to my store. $20 plus shipping for the complete psychedelic adventure: 128 pages of sf madness, melting forms, digital lines, and thick textures. Here are some photos my wife, Glade Hensel, took of the issues:

Vortex 1-4. Photo by Glade Hensel.

Vortex 1 interior. Photo by Glade Hensel.

Vortex 2 interior. Photo by Glade Hensel.

Vortex 3 interior. Photo by Glade Hensel.

Vortex 4 interior. Photo by Glade Hensel.

Vortex 1-4 back covers. Photo by Glade Hensel.

July 26th, 2013

Vortex #4 Preorder

Filed under: Print Comics — Tags: ,

I sent Vortex #4 to the printer on Wednesday so I’ve put it up for preorder in my store. Here’s a preview:

Vortex #4 Cover and Endpaper

Vortex #4 Interior Pages

The preorder price is a dollar off until I get the books in early August. At that point I’ll start shipping out preorders and raise the price to the same as the other issues.

July 9th, 2013

The Dreamblood Duology by NK Jemisin

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags:

I’ve just finished the Dreamblood duology by NK Jemisin, and I can unequivocally say it’s one of my favorite fantasy series. These books, The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun, now sit next to LeGuin’s first three Earthsea books and Hobb’s Farseer series on my mental shelf.

Jemisin's Dreamblood duology, covers by Marc Yankus
Covers by Marc Yankus.

Maybe partially it’s fatigue from overexposing myself to Westeros, but the beautiful writing and novel setting of this duology gave me a serious buzz. Although it’s not explicitly stated in the text of the novel itself, but rather in an interview afterwards, this secondary world fantasy takes place on a moon orbiting a gas giant. The gas giant itself dominates the narrative as the banded Dreaming Moon, which rises and sets over a civilization based on ancient Egypt and its neighbor Nubia.

The Great Red Spot of Jupiter
The Great Red Spot of Jupiter. Photo taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 mission. I’ve always been intrigued by gas giants. It would be amazing to live on a moon orbiting one and see it rise and set.

I spent most of my childhood lost in imaginary quasi-medieval settings, so I get their allure, but so many fantasy books seem constrained by these tropes. In the aforementioned interview, Jemisin speaks about the difficulty of making a setting feel real without relying on the familiar tropes of castles and knights, but she succeeds. Jemisin goes even further by throwing out so much of what is recognizably Egyptian – pharoahs and pyramids – instead we get ninja priests and Jungian dream magic. But it’s all grounded by the annual floods of a river enveloped by a vast desert.

The Red Book by Jung
An image from Carl Jung’s Red Book, one of Jemisin’s inspirations.

Another similarity to Earth is that most of the people in this imaginary Egypt, a civilization called Gujaareh, are people of color. Citizens of the Nubian analog, Kisua, use skin color as a sign of social rank – the darker your skin, the more noble your family. There are several characters that an American would identify as white people, but they are secondary characters, Northern barbarians. My mind’s default setting is to imagine that the characters in the novels I’m reading are white unless it’s explicitly stated otherwise. It’s mind expanding to have that assumption, which comes from my privileged position as a white man in America, reversed.

The Red Book by Jung
Another image from Carl Jung’s Red Book.

I wish more novelists were brave enough to take what should be the default premise of a fantasy novel – this is a different world and anything goes – as far as Jemisin has in these novels. But enough about what makes The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun different. What makes them similar to the best fantasy novels is that they have an exciting plot; an interesting, socially integrated magic system; and deftly done exposition. At its beginning, The Killing Moon is a swirl of unfamiliar terms that are slowly defined through dialog and action rather than chunks of exposition. The plot progresses similarly. There are political schemes behind closed doors but we don’t see the truth until the climax. I enjoyed the emotional journey of the characters in the second book better because we see their relationships develop. In the first book, we’re told about the strong, complex love between a mentor and his apprentice, but their bond was formed before the book begins and it doesn’t waver. Although the plots of the books are linked, they focus on different people and have their own resolutions. At the heart of these novels are troublesome moral questions – Can murder ever be justified? What price should a society pay for peace? Jemisin doesn’t give us any easy answers. She looks at these questions through the eyes of many fully realized characters, both male and female, gay and straight, with diametrically opposed yet reasonable viewpoints.

The Red Book by Jung
A third image from Carl Jung’s Red Book.

I highly recommend these novels to anyone looking to explore new territory in their imaginations.

June 25th, 2013

Gabriel Corbera Drawing the Miizzzard

Filed under: Inspiration — Tags: ,

Check out this amazing drawing that Gabriel Corbera made of the Miizzard:

Gabriel Corbera Miizzzard Drawing

I’m a big fan of Corbera’s comics, especially his Monday Suicide series, an out-there mashup of thick black lines, patterns, monsters, and male pattern baldness.

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