No, that’s not a new breakfast cereal, but what I find myself in right now! Yesterday was the first of my five scheduled conventions for this spring, with the next three weekends booked, all away-from-home conventions. Then a bit of a breather before a one-day local event. Today I made a long list of all the stuff I have to get done in the brief times I’m at home in between cons — I got exhausted just writing it!
What this means for me (and for you, dear readers) is that Mermaid Music is about to slow down for a bit. In fact, if I had any sense at all, I’d just put it on hiatus until the conventions are over and be done with it, but I do have a couple of pages in process, so I’ll just say they will go up when they are finished.
In the meantime, here’s some news — my long-term children’s book project is finally being published, by Heritage House Publishing Company right here in Victoria BC. This book and its almost-finished sequel have been years in the making, and I feel it’s some of the finest work I’ve ever done. The paintings and drawings had to be scientifically accurate but also tell a story and be appealing to look at — a challenging order, but very satisfying to fulfill. The book is called Explore the Wild Coast with Sam and Crystal and is available for pre-order right now. Here’s the cover:
And if you’re missing your webcomic fix while I’m running around Canada promoting my comics, and if you like zany cat stories, please head on over to my other webcomic, The Quadra Cats! I’ve already got two books done and am posting pages twice a week (the webcomic is currently nearing the end of the first book), so they won’t be interrupted by convention season. The Quadra Cats is silly and fun, and I hope you enjoy it. Here’s the cover for the first book:
So I will be seeing you again soon, one place or another — you can keep track of my trajectory on my main art blog, Karen Gillmore Art. If you are at any of the conventions (see the sidebar for quick links), please stop by and say hi. It means so much to me to meet or hear from readers. Let me know if you like the Quadra Cats if you check that out, too!
As morning dawned on the second day of the singing, a ship appeared on the horizon. It drew near, but instead of singing, the sailors were quiet, crowding to the side to listen. Then one sailor jumped into the water. Then another. And another and another, until no one was left to steer the boat. The sailors were drowning, not even trying to swim, rapt in the song.
The Great Singers saw this, and stopped singing to catch the sailors and bear them up to the air. As the song faltered, the new people also saw and caught them up in their arms and held them to the air. The sailors became aware, choking up the sea, and thrashed in fear. Some drowned because they could not be held to the air and they could not swim.
Why couldn’t they swim? Well, Limpet… I suppose if they could swim they wouldn’t need ships to move around on top of the water. Maybe it’s because they don’t have fins like we do. I don’t really know… some of them can swim but some can’t, and we still try to help them if they fall in the water. That’s why every pod must have someone carrying a pouch of gill-sponge.
Anyway. The Great Singers captured the drifting ship and brought it back, and a few sailors were lifted aboard by great leaps of the Singers, who then drew their surviving fellows up to the deck. But they were afraid and confused, not understanding that they had been saved, thinking only that they had escaped through their own cleverness. They began to cast spears at the new people and the Singers; many were injured, and one of the sea people was pierced nearly to the heart, and even after the Singers’ healing, was pained there to the end of her days.
The new people were shocked. Then they were frightened. Then they were angry, and began to cast angry songs and thoughts at the ship and it’s crew. The sailors dropped their spears and held their heads, for the anger-songs were painful. They cried out and fell to the deck.
The Great Singers saw this and began a song of their own. Both sailors and new people were captured in it, and ceased their raging struggles. The Singers bore the new people away with them, and as they left the ship behind, cast a song-borne thought that it had all been a dream.
The new people swam with the Singers for many seasons after that. The Singers were uncertain that they had done the right thing, in giving such powerful voices to these unpredictable new beings, and their councils were divided over it. The new people, for their part, were shaken by their own abilities, and that their first reaching out to their land cousins should have had such disastrous results. They begged the Singers for guidance.
The Singers reluctantly gave it. They urged that the new people avoid the ships of the land dwellers, or if they could not, to not allow themselves to be seen, and never, ever to sing within the hearing of the land people. For their desires and emotions, combined with their powerful new voices, could cloud the minds of those who had no defence, and that was wrong.
The new people were sad, for they had hoped to establish trade and friendships with the land folk, but they saw the wisdom in the Singers’ advice and agreed to abide by it.
And we still do — for the most part. Sometimes we cannot help being glimpsed as we listen with longing to the songs drifting out from a ship, and if we cast a thought and a snatch of song behind us as we swim away, to not see, and forget, forget… well, sometimes it hits its mark and sometimes not. And that is why you sometimes see carvings of sea people at the heads of boats or paintings on their flanks; memories are strange things and will sometimes take on a life of their own.
What’s that, Gull? You saw a Great Singer once? Oh yes, that would have been when my sister, your Auntie, returned from her Healing. She learned many things on that journey. Yes, I know, Auntie’s a little strange… you’ve still got to go help her with her urchin garden, though – that’s enough stories for today!
Now, where was I? Ah yes. While the young sea-people gazed in dismay at their former home, all closed up with the sponges and corals of the reef beginning to engulf it, they heard a tremendous song throbbing through the sea. Turning from the ruins, they spied a pod of the Great Singers approaching, their mighty fins propelling them smoothly through the clear green water, their voices weaving together the very stuff of life. As they swam, they tended the life of the ocean, healing what was broken and strengthening what was not with the vibrations of their songs.
As the Great Singers swam past the new people, their immense eyes looked on them and their songs looked through them. “What is this?” they said, in their many-stranded voices. “What is this? Something new!” they replied to themselves, and wove the new people into their song.
The Great Singers saw that the new people were unhappy, and asked them why, mind-to-mind. The new people said that they wished to sing with the sailors, but had no voices.
The Great Singers contemplated, and said that this would take more thought. They asked the new people to swim with them on their journey to the other side of the world so that they might come to know each other better. The new people were glad to do this, as they now had no home, and wished to see more of the world. Along the way, they made themselves useful; their clever hands cleaned itchy barnacles from skin and removed lost fishing nets from fins. They met smaller kin of the Great Singers, and found friends among the playful dolphins, and made pets of the octopuses and eels and turtles, who were all delighted with the people’s ability to crack open the shells of succulent clams and urchins so that all could feast.
Yes, Squid, you’re right; this is when the Fins began to call us Hands!
The seasons turned, and the Singers were once again drawing near the new people’s old bubble-home. They said, “we have thought long on the matter of your voices, and we have found the way to give them back to you. Are you ready?”
The new people were eager, and urged the Singers to begin. The Singers surrounded them on all sides, an immense globe of massive bodies. A thrumming began in the water, and for a while, maybe days, maybe moons, the new people only knew the music and the long, slow thoughts of the Singers.
At last the silence of the sea returned. The new people awoke to the expectant gazes of the Singers. “Go to the air”, they said. “Sing for us!” And the people rose to the water’s bright top, and felt the air wanting to be inside them. They drew it in, then exhaled a sound that was like the surface of the sea itself: sparkling, crystalline, ever-changing. They sang for a day and a night, and the Singers and the dolphins joined them. The seabirds wheeled overhead joining their cries to the music.
Today begins a three-part series about how our mer-folk, the Hands, came to be. I’m posting this in lieu of comic updates for today and the next two Mondays, partly because it’s a good time to add this to the story, and (full disclosure) partly because I’m working to deadline on a book and need to be free to work on only that for the next little bit.
So grab a cup of tea, and imagine that you are a friend of Gull’s and Whelk’s when they were wee ones, listening to an age-old story, told once again…
Gather round close, my little ones, it’s time you learned the history of your people. Not quite that close, Whelk, you’re sitting on my tail! Gull, leave that poor eel alone! Squid, dear, stop pulling Limpet’s hair, it’s not nice. And stop squirming, you’re stirring up the silt and it’s getting in my gills!
All right, is everyone settled? Good. Now listen closely, for someday you will tell your own children this story, for it must never be forgotten. You will hear this many times as you grow, and when your time comes for choosing a name, you must be able to tell this as I, Saleeka, tell it to you, as I heard it from my mother Mareela, my father Doonri, and my Auntie Kareesh.
Long and long ago, we walked upon the land on two tails, like the land people do now. But a bad, hard, sad time came upon the land-dwellers, and the people hid in the sea, in giant bubbles full of air that they attached to the sea-floor.
What caused the hard time, Squid? Well, there were too many of them, for one thing; they had killed all the land-sharks and land-kraken, and there was nothing to eat them. So they crowded the great islands and the shores until they were fighting for space to hunt and grow their gardens, and they grew ill from the closeness, and many died from the fighting and disease and starvation. But still their numbers grew. Their fires made the air hot, and made the sea warm so that all the ice on the cool ends of the ocean turned into water. The sea and the air became angry, and the sea swallowed the people nearest the shore, and the air became a vast wind and swept the people off the land.
Some of them had time to prepare, and as I was saying, they moved to the depths, where the waters were still cool and calm. They looked out of their bubbles and wept for their lost homes.
Most were waiting until the land was safe to walk upon once again, but there was one bubble city on a beautiful, fertile reef that was different. The people of that bubble, a tribe of mighty singers and makers, looked around them and saw the abundance of the sea, and wished to be part of it. They had powerful magic, and used it to transform themselves into beings who could live in the sea.
Many generations passed before they had perfected their new forms, but at last the youngest were ready to set off into the deep and explore their new world. Meanwhile, the other bubbles had been abandoned, having served their purpose as temporary refuges, locked up and becoming the heart of new reefs.
The new sea people encountered the ships of the newly returned land-dwellers. But they found that they could not talk to them, although they could hear and understand them; in the changes that had been wrought so that they could live underwater, they had lost their voices, and could only speak mind-to-mind with memories of the sounds the sailors used, the same that their ancestors had spoken.
The sailors on the ships would sing as they raised their anchors and tended their sails, and the young sea-people longed to join in, for the music of their singing ancestors was in their souls, but they were mute, and could only sing in their minds.
And so they returned to their home bubble to ask for their voices back. But some years had passed, and they found it abandoned, its lights extinguished and the inhabitants gone, leaving no message or clue as to where.
What, Whelk? What happened to the bubble people? We don’t know — that’s one of the puzzles that you may one day solve when you grow big!
Hello Merfolks! Happy Boxing Day! Today begins an eight-page story about Root Redwing, Sami’s enigmatic auntie. This flashback tale takes place in Root’s younger days, when she was a trader roaming through the islands, one of the many who stitched together these far-flung and sometimes isolated communities with news and goods. I hope you enjoy it!
Our main story line will resume in late February, with a look at what Aunt Root and Domnik are up to, before we get back to Sami on the Mermaid and the Fins and Hands.
Hi folks! Happy 2016! Mermaid Music is about to be back in the swing of things, and it’s appropriate to be starting a new subplot at the beginning of the year! I’ve got a nice buffer of pages drawn, and am right now finishing up the painting of the page of which I posted the inked version, oh, too many moons ago. *blush* I didn’t mean to take so long, but my art life has been very busy — just to prove it to myself, I wrote a post on my main blog about all the art stuff I have done in the last year.
I’ll be posting once a week, on Mondays. At one point I was posting more often, but that was part of what led to my burnout, and I felt that I wasn’t able to do the justice to the art that I wanted to do. I really care a lot about this story, and I’ve decided it’s more important to give each page all I can rather than giving myself too-tight deadlines. I have enough of those in other parts of my art life! It’s nice, and I think important, to have one project where I can give myself permission to relax into the process.
So stay tuned, and for those of you who have subscribed, you will start getting those weekly story updates in your inboxes again on Monday! I’ll be scheduling posts for 6 AM PST. In the meantime, here’s a fishy doodle, on the back of one of my band’s Christmas set lists, done during the open stage prior to our feature set. You can have some fun trying to decipher what we played!
Every story needs a backstory, and I’ve given a lot of thought (some might say too much!) to what kind of world Sami, Aunt Root, and the Mermaid’s crew live in. As the plot has progressed, the world has revealed itself as well, sometimes in conflict with what I originally thought it would be like. As we journey with our characters, more will be revealed, but for now, I feel safe in presenting this bit of historical background of the world above the waves (we’ll get to the merfolk culture a bit later!).
The world of Mermaid Music is in some ways much like ours, but in some ways very different, at least from where we are now in our own history. At some point in the past there was foreseen a general collapse of a world-wide civilization due to environmental causes and overpopulation, if things continued as they were. Fortunately, there was enough warning, and due to the efforts of a few wise leaders, the population of the whole world embarked on a gargantuan project to avert the disaster.
A new cultural paradigm led to a drastic reduction in the birthrate, and every effort was made to study ways that people could work with nature, rather than against it (much like our concept of permaculture), and to educate every person in their implementation. This mitigated the worst of the impact on the human population, though for a while, they struggled with new diseases, hunger, and a collective, debilitating guilt that they had caused such severe damage to their world. The biological sciences ascended to prime importance during this time, and many experiments were made in an effort to preserve enough diversity to keep the planet’s ecosystems from total, irretrievable collapse. Some of the achievements will look very close to magic to our eyes, but as has been said, “one man’s magic is another man’s technology”!
However, all these efforts were not enough to forestall the rising of the seas due to the melting of the ice caps. Many lands were drowned, and the continents reduced, with chains of large islands where coastal mountain ranges had been. Huge storms and earthquakes caused by the redistribution of the seas’ weight further reduced the population and changed the landscape. Complete chaos was only averted by the fact that care had been taken to maintain a world-wide communications network, and caches of all human knowledge.
At last, the Earth settled, and the present, much reduced population lives in a calmer time; people make their livings in ways that look familiar to us, like farming, fishing, shipping, trade, and the arts. Because the population was once much more mobile, people have mingled to the point where most are some shade of brown, and racial tension is a thing of the past. Both women and men do any job that they feel an aptitude for; in the days of population reduction, all hands were needed, and any division of gendered work-roles fell by the wayside. They are also very sensible about relationships, and many varieties of partnerships and family units exist in harmony. But as utopian as this sounds, people will be people, and conflicts do arise; these are dealt with in various ways by the local populations, with greater and lesser degrees of success.
The technology level appears on the surface to be roughly equivalent to our 19th century, but only because people have chosen to eschew some of the more damaging sources of power that were used in the past, being wary of synthetic materials and processes which might cause damage to their environment. They do use wind, tides, and geothermal power, and have perfected extremely efficient solar power, and even use some steam power created by using alcohol-burning boilers, but these are regarded as somewhat suspect, as skirting too close to the old ways, not to mention using up perfectly good crops to produce it. There is some experimentation with solar power to produce steam to drive large ships, which looks promising. Horses and other animals are used on farms and for land travel. Most goods are made by skilled craftspeople, as mass-produced goods are regarded as shoddy and lacking a certain spiritual essence.
Most sea traffic is done by small, family or cooperatively-owned sailing ships along the coasts and among the islands where Sami lives. There are great solar-engine-powered ships, more like floating nomadic colonies, with the ability to extract drinking water from sea water, and these are used for longer explorations. Sailors and the owners of ships nominally belong to a shipping guild, which resolves problems and disputes involving shipping and commerce, but training and certification are left to the individual families and cooperatives.
Commerce is mainly in goods and services, though there are ways of tallying credit; people have a mistrust of portable money as a means of exchange going back to the collapse. Some places use a system of art objects as a means of portable exchange; the value of the objects is not fixed, but is negotiated with each exchange.
In a way, this is a post-apocalyptic story, but instead of the usual dark and gritty outcome, in this world people have managed to pull it together. It’s a world that I would like to live in and explore, and I welcome you along for the voyage!
(The drawing at the top is one I did many years ago for a short-lived mermaid magazine that some friends were doing. I added some colour to the original pen-and-ink in Photoshop, just because I can!)