I posted this picture and the following bit on Facebook because that’s where most of my high school friends are online, but I’m posting it here as well. It’s true in both places.
One final picture from the Webb Schools Alumni Weekend, if I may: A picture of me with Krissy, standing in the same spot, 22 years and some-odd months apart. Krissy and I got married at the Vivian Webb Chapel and she wanted to recreate a particular photo from our wedding album. I think we did a pretty good job of it, considering we were doing it from memory.
22 years have passed and there’s not a moment of it I would change. Being married to Krissy has been the great joy and privilege of my life, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about how much better my life is because she is in it. Those of you who spent time with her at Alumni weekend, some of you for the first time, understand what I mean. I was amused and delighted how quickly she became Your Favorite Scalzi — a thing which I approve of, because I feel that way too. She just makes everything better.
I am blessed with my marriage, blessed with my friends and blessed with a wonderful life made better because of both. We recreated the photo but every day we create and commit to our love, just as each of us, in small and sometimes large ways, create and commit to friendships, building them to last the long years. This reunion reminded me how much I am bettered by these constant acts of creation I get to have with each of you. Thank you, all of you, for that.
And especially thank you, Krissy. I love you more, 22 years and some-odd months on, than I loved you that day we stood in front of friends and family and vowed to be married. And on that day, I loved you more than I had loved anything in the whole of my life.
Last weekend I was on the campus of my high school for my 30th reunion with other members of the class of 1987 (as well as all the other classes ending in a “7” or “2” and indeed any other alumni that choose to show up). It was a delightful time — I went to a small private boarding school (this one), so I knew everyone in my class and everyone knew me and we mostly liked each other and our affection has maintained and in some cases increased over the years.
Me being me, I also took hundreds of pictures and selected about 100 of them for four albums documenting the day. Would you like to see them, even though you (probably) didn’t go to my high school? Sure you would! Here they are on Flickr:
Every writer has their own process to develop a novel. But for writer/illustrator Gregory Manchess, the process for creating his visual-rich novel Above the Timberline was something rare, arresting, and inspiring.
I found my own private portal into a future world through a painting called, “Above The Timberline.”
I created the painting on-camera for a documentary about how I work as a freelance illustrator. I know the power of a strong image, how it inspires, how it drives a narrative. That images tell fast what words can only catch up to.
Creating work that makes people curious is probably the most compelling thing to offer them. A picture is it’s own reference, and makes ‘a thousand words’ superfluous. Paintings don’t tell. They show. They build curiosity because we come to them with half the story already. Through our experiences.
A quick visual read, “Above The Timberline” is a man-against-the-elements kind of image, with a slight twist. His pack animals are polar bears. Why is he out there and how does he manage these man-hunting killers? What is he looking for? Even more, ‘what was I trying to get across,’ ‘who is this guy,’ etc. These are the questions put to me after I completed the image in late 2009.
I’d written things my entire life. Children’s stories, articles on the illustration business, poetry, philosophical thoughts about painting, and outlines for film ideas. Could I build a book that combined imagery with words to tell a visual story? Why not write a few thousand words across a hundred paintings?
I hadn’t set out to do this with Above The Timberline, but now I challenged myself to write the story-behind-the-story already inherent in the painting. A story that describes without description. Explains without explanation. Tells without telling.
I wasn’t after a graphic novel. Word balloons clutter the simple clarity a good image can depict. I don’t need to know what a character is accurately thinking because no one thinks accurately. I don’t need countless panels to depict time like film sequences. I wanted a simple, clear, direct passage of storytelling that pulls the reader along with curiosity and payoff.
I’d read books that inspired me to build words and images together: Dutch Treat, Gnomes, a Japanese story from the 1600’s with panel pictures and words. Then James Gurney’s fascinating Dinotopia came along. Turns out he’d been looking at many of the same books and feeling the desire to tell his own stories, too. He got his chance when he painted a compelling image that opened a world for him.
I knew an ex book-buyer, Joe Monti, who became a literary agent and I told him about my idea. He was intrigued, and challenged me further. How much story could I tell in how many paintings over what length. And of course, ‘how are you going to get this done?’ I had no idea. But I looked to my experience in illustration for clues.
Illustration has incredibly short deadlines, with fast turn-around times for advertising or editorial assignments. An illustrator trains to work under pressure on multiple assignments with multiple clients at the same time. To not only hit those deadlines, but be effective, maybe even award-winning, each time. It’s a skill developed over years. And I had 35+ years at it.
To accomplish the feat, I started with very small, postage-sized thumbnail sketches. These gave me story scenes that I wrote. The scenes gave me more image ideas, which gave me more scenes, and so on. I finally sat down and wrote a 300-page novel. Then I did something inconceivable for a writer.
I stripped it of all description. The images would carry that load, thereby paring it down to about 10,000 words. I worked those ideas into sketches. Sketches came and went, sequences appeared and drifted away. Images revised words, and words revised images.
The process wan’t a linear sequence, so my story swung to past events and current events with ease. I knew the reader would be able to go wherever I took them because we all drift backwards and forwards in time. Our thoughts make sense to us even if they’re scattered and random. The brain keeps them all arranged in an overall through-line, based on understanding, not logic.
I worked to maintain one overriding theorem: give every page visual impact, but with words to express what a painting cannot say, and images to show what words cannot easily convey.
Six years of writing and sketching, planning, revising and designing, and the book idea was sold. Eleven months and 122 paintings later, Above The Timberline was complete.
I had found my portal, like opening a wardrobe door, and stepping into a world of snow. It was brutally cold, and oddly comforting. The warmest place I’d known in years.