Wednesday, June 29, 2005


We're all feeling sad today because Sweetheart, J's rabbit, died unexpectedly last night. It's difficult with rabbits because - in a similar way to birds - they hide their illnesses as long as possible, so it's often too late before you know.

When we first bought Sweetheart (about 2 years ago, along with Patch, the guineapig), we were told he was a girl. During the first few weeks we had him he was very sick and nervy, and had been sold in poor condition, with developing mange. Jill bonded with Sweetheart after nursing him to health and he settled in well with us after that. As he was a house rabbit, he was allowed almost full run of the house during the day, and was happy to go into this cage at night. The Petshop also said Sweetheart was a dwarf/lop x rex, but he grew towards rex size!

We were all delighted by just how much personality a rabbit turned out to have! As a house rabbit, Sweetheart trained well into the rituals of our daily life. He used a kitty-litter tray (they're house-trainable, unlike rodents - rabbits are distant relations of deer). A big problem was his chewing: he gnawed and even ate quite a few books (including Being and Nothingness - I didn't know rabbits liked existentialism). Early on, he chewed a couple of electrical cords (alarming!) and bit through the telephone wire for the computer. I tried to keep some apple-tree branches around the house, as rabbits need to gnaw, but old paper and coloured brochures are apparently very tasty :). A fair number of our clothes got holes chewed in them too, if we weren't careful. This all settled down a bit after he was neutered, as did his biting and the "hoomph hoomph" courting noise he previously made.

Sweetheart will be missed by all of us. He was constantly around the house - a beautiful animal who looked a lot like Durer's hare. He always sought to be near either Jill or J, often sitting on the chair next to Jill at the computer, or on the end of the bed (like a cat), or near someone's feet or the children playing on the floor. He let J pick him up without resistance, but didn't like anyone else doing it, and he always enjoyed being stroked and licking whoever of us was patting him. Sweetheart would come out to see us when we came home, unless we were gone too long, in which case he could be snooty. He was very social, not just with us, but also with Patch, and Percy the cockatiel, who used to sit with him at times.

Yesterday morning when I let Sweetheart out of the cage I thought he was behaving a bit distant. From what I can figure out, he probably died of enterotoxemia, as right at the end he seemed to have some digestive twitching and did appear a bit bloated. He'd gone to ground under L's bed while we were having tea and we pulled the bed out to check around 8.20pm - when I rang the vet - and somewhere in the next 5-10 minutes he appears to have died, though his feet twitched for a while after (we did still rush to the vet to be sure). He was a bit overweight and we sometimes gave him treats that we shouldn't have (the odd bit of oatmeal biscuit, as he would appear when the kettle boiled) - I don't know if this contributed to the problem, but if we ever get another rabbit, it's not going to happen. The recent changes to grass and hay (due to drought conditions these are poor quality) food were probably also contributing factors.

I'm taking this afternoon off work to bury him. I don't know whether we'll consider getting another rabbit - like Percy, Sweetheart is quite probably irreplaceable, and another one might just be really disappointing, but rabbits do make wonderful pets if you invest in them and care for them.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Ian strips, er, Ian's strips... 

The Cartoon Competition at The Sydney Morning Herald closes today. I got my package - a booklet of 10 strips with a covering letter - sent in on Thursday. Getting these done on such short notice was difficult, particular as it involved designing characters from scratch (and it takes a bit of drawing before they really become who they're going to be).

I chose this strip because it doesn't really give anything away about the central premise of the series. Actually, I wrote this one as a standalone piece but decided to adjust and include it with this submission because of the specified need for some Australian content. The characters and strip have a title, but I don't want to announce them just yet.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Black and White for Illustration Friday 

A black horse with white stripes or a white horse with black stripes? Actually, neither, just the plain old, fancy-looking zebra! This is my picture for Illustration Friday this week, on the theme of "Black and White."

I started with a sketch in pen and brush, scanned as a pure 2 bit black and white TIFF, then cleaned up a little. Of course, I had to eventually scale back to a greyscale JPEG to put it online, but I think it's still as "pure" as I can make it. In the sketch I had outlines around the legs, but when I viewed the reversed image I knew these had to go, as they contradicted the logic of the design.

All in all it's not to far from my stripey fish for "Aquatic." Lately, I have a bit of a fascination with shapes and objects expressed as linear forms. Sometime soon I hope to put up a page from "Moth & Tanuki" #4, which really shows it in action!

Update: Been there, done that? Check out the T-shirt!

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Healesville Sanctuary and a Quoll article 

Vet Talk at Healesville

 Today we went to a Vet Talk at Healesville Sanctuary (through Friends of the Zoo), which was fascinating and informative. Sasha, the locum vet who spoke to the group of parents and children, was brilliant - it's inspiring to hear someone speak who is so fully engaged with and committed to what they're doing, especially when it's so worthwhile! Her particular interest was in the area of veterinary orthopaedics, particularly of birds, and also diet, though she had worked with all kinds of animals and birds, previously at Singapore and Taronga Zoos.

We walked around in the drizzle and saw many of our favourites. A lot of the birds and animals had babies, as they mate and breed over Winter. The mangy-looking old retired bilby had a new friend, the feathertail gliders had even tinier little ones, L got to pat a dingo and a red-necked wallaby, the apostle-birds were practically talking and the female tiger quoll was her usual friendly self (about to be fed). I've include some pictures from J and L's sketchbooks.

Speaking of quolls... Today's Creature Feature, in the KidsView section of The Sunday Age Preview magazine (free with the newspaper) was on the Tiger Quoll, now mostly called the Spot-Tailed Quoll. While featuring such a little known animal is a good idea, unfortunately, as usual for these kinds of things it contained a lot of misinformation: one point begins with "Uniquely Australian" and another with "There are four species of quoll" - both wrong! Evidently, the bronze and New Guinean quoll (both from New Guinea) don't count. That's two points wrong with the other five basically right, so it could be worse. See also, previous Blog entry about monotremes. Honestly, I wish they'd ask me! :)

(Sketches: - Red-necked Wallaby, Bilby/Mountain Pygmy Possum by L, Spinifex Hopping-Mouse, Feathertailed Glider/Spot-tailed Quoll by J)

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Summer for Illustration Friday 

There was a bit of a learning curve on this one. I decided to go with simple, flat colours in a children's book illustration style. To begin with I drew a black line picture (extract at left), then scanned it as a 300dpi TIFF and did the colours in Paintshop. Working with outlineless coloured shapes on the computer is new to me, though I have experimented similarly with cut out colour paper.


Friday, June 10, 2005

New animals and an old bird! 

The much maligned borderline science of cryptozoology is having a bumper year so far, with the discovery of two significant new species of mammal, and the news that the ivory-billed woodpecker also appears to have survived!

The ivory-billed woodpecker is a large, iconic American bird that I remember seeing in books of rare (or extinct) creatures when I was a kid. The last confirmed sighting was 40 years ago. It's evidently an elusive species, left now only thinly distributed in the Big Woods region of eastern Arkansas. Previous sightings, which were almost invariably attributed to the pileated woodpecker, it seems, should have been believed.

In May, came the news that a new rodent, the kha-nyou, had been discovered for sale at an Asian food market, by scientist Robert Timmins (Wildlife Conservation Society, New York City). As is usual in these cases, the locals - people of the Khammouan region of Laos - have always been familiar with the animal. It's a large rodent - around 40 cm from nose to tail - and appears to be related to South American rodents, such as guinea pigs and chinchillas, though it's not closely related to any other rodents and has been assigned its own family. As with the Vu Quang ox (a kind of goat-antelope discovered in Vietnam), it seems to be an important member of its order, providing critical information about evolution and spread of its relatives.

Mostly recently (also in May) came the announcement of the discovery of the highland mangabey, a new species of monkey. It's apparently slightly larger than a baboon, with long cheek whiskers and a tall crest on its head (see picture), and it makes a distinctive call. Of course, it's in low numbers, and living in an isolated location - the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania - which is what has enabled it to survive this long. In this case it was apparently so isolated that even the locals were unaware of its existence!

Dr. Karl Shuker, author of The Lost Ark and The New Zoo, large books which compile new and rediscovered animals, will have to get busy with a new edition...

I always hope that new discoveries will lead to appropriate conservation efforts, and don't represent cases of animals being found because the last wildernesses are about to disappear!

Images & Sources:
  • Ivory-Billed Woodpecker - Watercolor by George Miksch Sutton, courtesy of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (Science Magazine)
  • Kkha-nyou - Robert Timmins (Kha-nyou site)
  • Highland Mangabey - Tim Davenport, Wildlife Conservation Society (Wildlife Conservation Society) (Donations welcome!)
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    Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    Life (and comic strips) 

    There seems to be a lot happening. The day after we'd been to look at yet another school, J got accepted into our first choice, so now we just have to worry about the money...

    My mother turns 80 tomorrow, so we're having a party for her on the weekend. I know what I'm going to get her as a present - a CD system of some sort (she doesn't have a CD player!) - but it's that usual problem of so many alternatives, so little choice.

    The Sydney Morning Herald is running a Comic Contest "to discover the new great Australian comic strip." Well, I'm definitely up for that, particularly as I'm working through a bunch of scripts now already! I'm not sure about the "Australian" aspect, but maybe something reflecting contemporary life includes that in any case. There is a limit of 10, which gives me marginally more scope than the 8 I had been working with for Operation Funnybone, but the problems remain the same.

    I think I'm much more of a character writer than a gag writer. That's not to say I don't write a lot of humour into what I do, just that it takes a certain amount of time and accrued information about characters and settings before it works. There are so many plot arcs in the series that I've written, and I just don't know which threads to pick, let alone which characters to feature. One thing is certain: any sample won't give a proper impression of the way it would work as a daily strip.

    Now I have a lot to draw (Moth & Tanuki to finish, two other stories I can't talk about just yet, several feature pieces for OF and now these strips). The deadlines are all so close now! This week's Illustration Friday topic is "Digital" but I just can't seem to find inspiration on that topic.


    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    Creative decisions 

    I'm at a bit of an impasse with a few projects. Maybe it's because I'm overtired, or getting a bit depressed, I dunno.

    Anyway, I dug out a bunch of scripts for a strip series I wrote some years ago and I think they're really quite good and have plenty of potential. I'd like to draw 8 of them as part of my submission to Operation Funnybone, but I just can't seem to select ones that work that way. As a series of nearly 40 strips, they're funny, with the humour growing out of the characters and situations, but that's exactly the problem: taken in isolation there's very few of them that work. The fact that the peripheral characters are the really funny ones compounds the problem, as I need to feature the main characters in such a short selection.

    I'm also trying to do some short pieces. The first one, I just can't get the wording of the last panel right! Jill thinks one idea works better, and J thinks another. I'm not sure either of them is really funny, but overall the piece works, it's just the ending that bugs me!

    I have a lot of projects on the go, but am too tired most evenings to work on them. It probably doesn't help that I spent a big part of today at an industrial rally, which is unfortunately already looking like a completely lost cause. We seem to be headed towards an era of absolute conservatism - I find that depressing!

    I've started reading The Magician's Nephew to J and L, marvelling as ever at Pauline Bayne's illustrations. There are themes and elements in the early chapters that recall Till We Have Faces, but maybe that's not surprising considering Lewis wrote both.

    Envy for Illustration Friday 

    Well, I finished last month with an Illustration Friday, so I thought it'd be nice to start this month with one directly after. This week the theme is Envy. Discussion below...

    The Earth and Mars were done in ink and watercolour on paper, then scanned and adjusted, after which I added space, stars, clouds and touching up on the computer. This is more a cartoon than anything else. I wanted to do the theme of Envy without going over into Jealousy or other emotional territories, but I don't know if I succeeded entirely. Actually, "Thirsty" might work just as well as a theme :).

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