Friday, October 7, 2016


MTGinktober continues with "Sad," which is probably my favorite emotion, featuring Jhoira of the Ghitu, as depicted by the legendary Kev Walker.

I thought for a good while what to do when I got this prompt, and initially started trying to think of my saddest Magic memory so I could maybe channel that into a more tangential fan art, but ultimately decided to see how emotastic we could go on an official character instead. Looking at my notes, I had Gisa, Jhoira, Feldon, Liliana, and Pia Nalaar shortlisted after briefly considering Chandra (even looked up reference from that old Chandra manga, which I guess is retconned away now?).

I was just about done with the face and when I pulled the trigger on Jhoira over Gisa (despite longing to interpret Karla Ortiz's work!), with the deciding factor being the hair: I felt Gisa's veil/helm/sombrero just limited how expressive I could go, so I costumed our figure with Jhoira's garb and that left me free to let the hair play a larger part in the emotion of the piece, sorta evoking despair or doom for Jhoira.

I don't usually like my stuff too much, but I have to say I'm actually pretty happy with this one. I tend to take on the emotions of my figures while I'm drawing them, and I even unconsciously make the same expression, so this one really got to me. Even looking at her now, I can start to feel the emotion welling up in me. Haven't felt that way with a piece in a long, long time. I took inspiration from Slow Motion for the background and gesture, but had to guess on most of the bracelet--I did manage to sneak a Planeswalker logo in there. In my head, she's getting left behind in a time rift or something, and is crying for the viewer to stay or take her with, or it's possibly even just her accepting severance.

Next was "Hidden," which I decided to use to depict Talinthas, from Tumblr, who wrote an incredible article on racial depiction in Magic (Kaladesh specifically), who I first noticed when he spoke some quiet, respectful, but powerful words at the PAX Kaladesh World-Building Panel Q&A.

I should note I am a dark-skinned Mexican-American, but I hold no particular fondness for my own race any more than say, how I think it's mildly interesting that I have looped fingerprints or that I like water as my beverage of choice. But I was almost moved to tears at the passion in his article; the utter frustration and disappointment in his account of Kaladesh rendering his identity hidden and relegated to tissue-thin window-dressing were incredible. Speaking of the broken promise of finally receiving an Indian-flavored plane to add to the pantheon of depictions in the Multiverse, he wrote,
Not only was the invite no longer in the mail, but the party was at my house, and I was sent outside to wait for it to end. --Talinthas, Kaladesh, you break my heart
So rather than a cheeky drawing of a girl commanding creatures with ninjutsu and morph or whatever, the article inspired a more "serious" take on what it means to be hidden in Magic. I wanted a sea of shadowy black with a chorus of cheery white faces to contrast his non-white optimism. I thought of simplified mask forms to echo that gorgeous Paul Laurence Dunbar poem, "We Wear the Mask," too.

From his article, I found it interesting that we share the same sentiment about self identification, which perhaps affects me more evidently as I must draw (that is, actively depict) people--there's always that uncomfortable moment not just on color pieces, but even BW, where I have to decide what skin tone I'm working with (a keen eye will notice I often just use gray drop shadows but leave the skin itself uncolored). As I've discussed before, my natural inclination is indeed simply to go "white." Not because I hate my race or anything, I just have been "programmed" to think "white." There's no maliciousness, just simple conditioning for as long as I can remember, "White is default/neutral/normal." And then when I look at my Copic collection, despite my efforts to collect darker skin tones, I simply have more expressive options for light skin.

In any case, I remember first really being confronted with considering these subconscious racial design decisions when reading fellow Mexican-American Jhonen Vasquez's posts on his Randy Cunningham designs, where he wrote, "I had Randy as a ginger and more of a regular looking kinda dude," (with the black guy being a bad guy, I noticed). This made me ponder, after Zim's all-white main cast (which was his show, unlike Randy Cunningham, which was just him being on character design), what did Jhonen Vasquez think about drawing white characters versus non-white? Were these racial decisions made out of obligation, were they even conscious decisions, was non-white even an option?

I recall from an old Zim DVD commentary that there was an issue Nick had when he wanted to use mariachi music in one gag, which is actually where I believe my interest in his take on racial depiction secretly originated. So I know he did at least have race in mind at some point somewhere during Zim, if only like me, in that I only care when race can contribute out of necessity more than anything (in the maricahi music's case, in service of a joke). I myself always feel this conflict between forcing self-identification (which, again, holds no personally strong relevance to me) versus "neutral" skin tones (which I understand is simply ubiquitous, but is in fact also my default programming).

I of course understand the viciousness of white-washing, particularly the cruel stupidity of robbing ethnic actors of movie roles they ought to have dibs on when the part "clearly" calls for an ethnic actor, like in the Avatar, DBZ, Prince of Persia, etc. movies. But when it comes to visual art, drawing white characters doesn't actually rob any non-white actor of a "job," so realistically, it's ultimately up to the viewer to feel unsatisfied with the art when it comes to race. However, the artist can choose to insert any projection they want, and more and more I feel compelled to "do my part" and at least have non-white depictions as much as possible whenever applicable rather than just mindlessly draw "normal." I remember realizing one day that my comic had no white characters, not out of some agenda, but because that was simply what the roles called for. I felt proud for not falling into the trap of "default mode," but then felt weird for feeling proud of that...but what does it matter? It's my art, I draw how I want, who cares.

I should note, as a "minority" (are we still called that these days?), I absolutely disagree with shoving race down peoples' throats for the sake of inclusivity; it feels insultingly phony--in the 90s, you'd always see these ridiculous pan-racial cliques on school-aged media, just sheer, absolute pandering--that offends me (plus, I mean, even as a little kid I realized the white kid would always be in charge, natch, and if any race had multiple representatives, it'd invariably be the white homie). All-white casts and stuff don't bother me (is it supposed to?) because I'm conditioned to perceive it as normal, but when it's in contrast to what a "role" calls for, then that's when it becomes an issue of poor depiction.

This is why I was so relieved to hear this guy, who has infinitely more qualification to speak on Kaladesh than me, to tell WotC Creative directly that Chandra Nalaar is bewildering. I mean, if she's white, let her be white; if she's not supposed to be white, then don't put on airs and cheap costumes. There was that mild curiosity that emerged back when Gideon suddenly got darker skin in the creepy little figures they put out, but WotC announced it was because they were officially changing this guy to be naturally more olive-skinned as they decided they had intended. So, if you have to use a mallet-based solution like that, then fine, who cares? Just announce "ok, we're changing Chandra to look more accurate to what we now envision her as," then change her, and be done with it. Or make it clear she's not actually supposed to be Indian-ish, and knock it off with the seemingly incongruous name.

Ultimately, I'd rather have an all-white cast that's white than an all white-cast that supposed to be multi-ethnic-ish; if the role calls for it, let that race have their due role and let that depiction flourish; to do otherwise is in direct opposition to WotC's ambitions to be inclusive (I believe this TV Trope is called "but not too black" or something like that). I myself don't particularly seek an Aztec-y or Mexican-y plane or characters because first, race as box-checking is insulting to me and secondly, my race as a general theme is largely uninteresting to me. But if a character is supposed to be from Azteckopia or whatever, seeing a white depiction there might be enough to make me feel how Talinthas does in his article about his own peoples' depictions or lack thereof.

Anywho, I love Magic for the gameplay above all else; the creative trappings have largely left me ever since, again as Talinthas so eloquently puts it, "Magic shifted from I am the Planeswalker to These dudes are the Planeswalkers and you’re telling their story through cards." I love the art, and as long as it's good, I don't actually care about racial depiction, assuming they aren't going around touting how great their racial depiction is meanwhile keeping all the true cultural representation under their sombrero.


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