I am blessed to live in a community with many talented artists. One of the artists this community can and should boast about is Marvel, IDW, and Valiant comic book artist Jeffrey Veregge. Thankfully, we are both geeks, so we've gotten on well since we first met. Even more thankfully, Jeffrey is a wonderful guy who did me the great favor of speaking at Northwest Indian College (where I teach) for my Pacific Northwest Native Art History class.
We are on the modern art portion of class, right now, because I know many talented Native people currently practicing art, and I don't want my students to think of Native art all in terms of the past. Absolutely, the history of art is a huge part of the inspiration to create for members of this tribe--that cultural, ancestral tie--but it's not the only inspiration. Native art is alive and well. It is not history; though it has a long history. It is not stagnant, but varied. Jeffrey Veregee is an example of an artist who has strong ties to home, but whose art is a very real expression of his complex personhood.
The Early Stages
Jeffrey began his journey as a young geek, wearing Spock ears around the rez, even being teased for his geeky obsessions. At 23, he was thinking about a job with the FBI; he went through the arduous background checks and extensive questioning. The FBI told him that, if he was serious about a position in their ranks, college had to be in his horizon. This opened the door for Jeffrey to think about what he wanted to pursue in college. When he went over it in his head, though, the same thing kept coming up: art.
He started off at the Art Institute wanting to get into special effects or action figure design (which he did pursue for a short time), but his path took him somewhere else. Design called to him, and he had a knack for it.
"Breaking the Rules the Right Way"
Jeffrey grew up around many local artists who had a knack for design. He mentioned local elder Jake Jones (recently deceased) as someone who he looked up to. He thought about those people whose art he grew up seeing. He didn't want them to think he took shortcuts, that he didn't understand Native art. But he also wanted to break the rules a little, have his own style.
He approached Tsimshian artist David Boxley to learn more about Native design. "I wanted to break the rules the right way," he told those assembled at his talk. He combined what he learned from Boxley on Tsimshian formline and design with what he learned at the Art Institute. He refers to his work as a hybrid of graphic design and Pacific Northwest Native design elements, or "Salish Geek."
After school, he worked for 12 years at Market Works, where he was able to learn about branding and marketing. He worked his way from an intern to studio design manager, but he wasn't completely happy.
He started painting again, gave up his steady job and paycheck and took the plunge into full-time artistry. His work didn't come into the limelight over night, but through much hard work he was able to start getting it out to the world. His art was featured in sets for the Twilight movie. He won a few art contests with his mesh of Native-influenced themes and Matisse/Picasso style graphics, but he hadn't quite found his style yet.
Finding Himself in Art
Jeffrey approached a pop-art gallery in Seattle, selling his idea of "Coast Salish Star Wars." He was disappointed when his first approach to Lucas Films was passed up, but not long after he created his now extremely popular Batman and Spiderman graphics (featured, not long after, at the Seattle Art Museum).
In these designs, Jeffrey found something that spoke to his heritage and his own unique design-style. He played with formline shapes, feathers and negative and positive spaces, while also integrating stances, colors and movement that represented the nature of the heroes and stories he was designing. And the designs didn't just speak to his roots; they spoke to the world of geekdom.
Jeffrey has now done at least 100 comic book graphics/covers (IDW, Valiant and Marvel among them). He's done murals, graphics for major companies, and special designs for many a convention.
He's been chosen for several major projects this year, which I will not spoil for him in this blog post. His design for Ironman was shared and appreciated (and later worn) by Robert Downey Jr. (something that brought his proud wife to tears). He's worked with George Takei, and the daughter of Nemoy.
Currently, Veregge is working on his own comic book hero, who will be the first ever S'Klallam comic book hero to hit the world. As someone who has been privileged enough to read the early stages of this book, I have to say that I cannot wait for him to be able to bring his own book (front to back, words, design and all) to fruition. As a mother of S'Klallam children, I can only thank Jeffrey for giving them a S'Klallam hero to read.
The Roots of His Passion
Jeffrey's love of his tribe, his family and life is a big source of pride and passion. He teared up a bit when he spoke about his tribe. He said, choked up, "I'm so proud of where I'm from. I try to always say I'm Port Gamble S'Klallam. You all are the best part of what I do."
Finishing his talk, Jeffrey hit home the importance of persistence. He iterated that he only became famous when he stopped caring more about the paycheck than about doing something that brought him joy. He also cautioned those present about focusing on failure. "Don't be afraid of failure [...] We get one shot on this earth, so don't waste it. [...] Failure is a stepping stone to success," Veregge reassured the gathered students.
At the end of his talk, he joked that he wished he could tell that young, geeky kid with Spock ears, who was often teased, that he'd one day have a beautiful wife who would sit with him and watch Star Trek, that he'd be getting paid to recreate the characters he loved. Over and over again, he reiterated how blessed he felt he was, both by God and by the love of his wife, family and children, who support and cheer him on.
Veregge is certainly a talented artist, but he's also just a great human being. His work speaks for itself, but hearing his story was a joy for all those gathered, and an inspiration to those with dreams as big and obtainable as those Veregge has achieved.
Build a Whole New World
One of the most asked questions I get from both readers and fellow writers is about world building. Readers love to hate the world of Monochrome (my dark fantasy), and that truly fills my black heart with pride. But even as a writing instructor, it took time to generate an answer that was better than “Well, it just came to me.” That’s partly true, but it’s mostly a lame answer. So, eager world builders, here’s some actually helpful and honest world creation advice.
Be a Thief, Like Tamora Pierce
I’ve been stuck in the land of Tortall since I was seven. Even as an adult reading Pierce’s books to my children, I’m in awe of how real her world is. I know its corners, its people, its pitfalls. So when I met Pierce at one of her readings my first question as an aspiring writer was: “How did you make Tortall so real?”
And in her cheeky manner she retorted, “I steal a lot.” She laughed it off with everyone else and specified that she spent a lot of her time reading other good world builders and seeing what they did best. But she said it was more than that. It was about stealing from reality. She traveled a lot, experienced places outside of her own sphere, and researched the places she couldn’t travel to. So her world is tangible because it’s not far from our historical or current reality.
That made me think of my favorite world builders: Tolkien, Rowling, Lemony Snicket, George R.R. Martin. They all have that thievery in common. George R.R. Martin’s work is very Middle Ages, gritty old world. Tolkien is all mountains and wild, untamed New Zealand hillsides. Rowling’s Hogwarts is, for all it’s magic, just like middle school and high school was for so many of us, albeit with more ghosts and wand waving. Any young woman who read the Hermione yule ball scene feels me on this one. That’s high school in a nutshell—put tons of effort into looking stunning and have some young dude completely take you for granted. Lemony Snicket takes places we think we know—fishing villages plucked right out of a Dicken’s novel—and makes it his own. We can place ourselves in these worlds because they are linked to a reality we already know, even if in an offhand way.
Make it Moody
Think about the worlds that stick to the back of your mind. They have a feeling, don’t they? Labyrinth has a dark, fantastical, confounding feeling. Orwell’s Oceania feels stark, grey and heavy. It feels like the pounding of militant feet. Tatooine feels isolated, hard and hopeless. If you’re nodding along with me it’s because the writers of these places had a feeling they wanted conveyed in their world. They had emotional qualities tied up in that area and they used that mood to help guide the landscape. I’m assuming all this, of course, having never interviewed these people. But I’m also not.
When I went about creating Monochrome, I knew what I wanted people to feel when they stepped into it: afraid, uncertain, morose, desperate, and mind numbingly gloomy. I wanted to make the emotional state of depression so tangible that readers could walk through it. The authors I love gave me those feelings each time their characters stepped into a new place. When I creep into Borgin & Burkes I feel frightened and unsettled, just like Harry. But only a few blocks away I can hop into Weasleys Wizard Weezes, where hilarity and joy reign. Choose your colors, your landscape, your clothing, your lighting, and your smells based on the mood you want to convey in that place.
Map Your World
My last piece of advice is simple. Map your world out physically, even if you have no hand for artistry. Mapping out my own worlds with rough tree-like things, city-like things and little descriptions, swatches of clothing, and splashes of color, makes it more real to me.
Many of us rely on our tactile and visual senses, so play to those. If you’re handy with a computer, graph it. If you’re an artist, paint, draw or charcoal your world out. For complex worlds where clothing, housing and weaponry all need to be thought up, look up different fabrics, shoes, and textures good for certain climates. Create a collage of what your people would wear, what they’d use to hunt with (if they’d hunt at all), the colors that would be logical for their station/city/rural outpost.
Just close your eyes and settle yourself in a sturdy but comfortable chair in the Shire. Picture its lush foliage, neat gardens, sprinkled hobbit holes, pipes, vegetable fields, and full larders. It is the color of spring grass or cherry wood trimmings, is it not? It is the smell of baked ham, eggs, and apple pie for first breakfast. It is the sound of quiet merriment, the pleasant baa of sheep. Touch the heavy cotton, simply dyed. Tolkien knew his world, truly thought about the comfort of a hobbit, the hard-as-steel home for a dwarf, the graceful greenery of an elf, the heat and fire of an orc. Each place has its own colors, textures, customs, culture and personality.
Martin’s worlds are so tactile that the authors of the Feast of Ice and Fire cookbook were able to show us what the different areas would taste like. When I first took a bite of Bowls of Brown I felt like my mouth had been transported to flea bottom. Martin clearly put a great deal of precision into his mapping out, an awful lot of research and a good deal of description.
World creation is not just a few descriptors neatly placed. Good worlds reach into reality, engage your emotions and become a truly tactile experience. History, and literature can get you started, but only your own full characters and their emotional, physical and spiritual needs can complete your world.
Now, off with you. Go create!
H.M. Jones can't build much with her hands, apart from a chicken coup and bookshelves. She's not sure if this machine she's in is a backhoe or some other piece of equipment. She'll do the research if she ever needs to write about it. Visit her website at www.hmjones.net to get lost in her worlds. She's also on Twitter and Facebook. Peace out.
I wonder if Zuckerberg et. all knew what Facebook would turn into when it was created. I wonder if he knew it would be a landing spot for predators, a privacy wash, a constant mental strain, a CIA, lack of anonimity field day.
I don't know if he knew, as a kid, that's what his social media platform would become. Maybe he thought it would be more like freedom--freedom of speech, freedom of thought, etc. Maybe neither. I know, now, that he knows what it is, has gained enough incredible wealth from it to understand...so much that he doesn't really care what it will be.
I know what it has become for me--a wasteland, a place for mansplainers/racists/dickpicktators to roam free, time away from my kids, time I could have spent writing, time thinking, running, laughing...precious time. Precious and few moments are ticking away, and I don't know how long my say in this world will be. I'm already 33. I have so much I want to do and see, and I don't want to have to worry about whether people know what I'm doing and seeing in this world, what my profile pic will be. I don't want to worry about the vanity of every moment, displaying the mundane as if it were EVERYTHING, then falling down in the abysmal, the drain of knowing it is all fake.
I want to create, not remake myself into a persona made of memes, gifs and snarky sayings. So I hit delete. And Facebook reassured me that it would welcome me back with open arms, told me to send a message to my friends, let them know where I'll land. But they aren't my friends if they don't know my number.
I can't say I'll be forever gone. I'll miss pictures of my nephews and nieces, who I never get to see. I'll miss sharing my kid pics with my family. I have a job that Facebook feeds. So, the hiatus might be short, but it will be heavenly.
Because after delete I found myself signing in, muscle memory, into an account suspended. Not just one, twice or three times, but constantly, though out the day. And I was worried for my brain, a brain I thought was too smart to be programmed in that way. But it's not. I am as susceptible to vanity, anger, ignorance, ego and obsession as any human. Maybe more, as a woman with a mood disorder.
So are my kids. And I don't want them to see me fall into the zombie sleep of Facebook memes, so I let go. I'll miss some of you, but I can find you off line. Don't worry, Zuckerberg, about my leaving. You'll be fine.
H.M Jones is the author of B.R.A.G Medallion Honor and NIEA finalist book Monochrome, its prequel Fade to Blue, the Adela Darken Graphic Novellas, Al Ravien's Night, The Immortals series, and several short stories.