How I Feel Human

I made a zine this year for the Johnson City Zine Fest. It’s about nudity and anxiety.

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More specifically, it’s about my own personal anxieties and how nudity strangely helps me handle them. It’s something I’ve been trying to articulate since last year when I finally stopped hiding that I’m a nudist. It’s such a huge part of my life that I couldn’t let it go unaddressed. It took forever to work out, gestating in my head for several months before I sat down and typed out my thoughts, and another two months before I organized those thoughts into a semi-readable outline that I could start building pages around.

I put the actual book together in something like two weeks. It’s only 8 pages, so it wasn’t a LOT of work, but it was still a strangely difficult and somewhat painful process to do. I knew I was really going out on a limb, completely opening up and making myself vulnerable, and I wanted to be as clear and concise as possible so that there would be little margin for any kind of misinterpretation. Even though I didn’t think anyone would want to read it, it was still important to me not only to make it, but to get it right.

Which means that days after finishing it and printing off 13 copies to take to Zine Fest, when I realized I left a sentence out, I went back and wrote it by hand in every copy.

I was really surprised by how well it went over at JCZF. I sold seven copies and traded three others, and the leftover copies were bought by close friends, two of whom are in my figure drawing group. One friend stood at my table and read the entire thing while I was talking to another artist, paid for it when she finished, told me she loved it and understands me better now, and gave me a hug before leaving. I was quietly freaking out as I watched her read it, but hearing her thoughts on it was a huge relief, and I hope everyone else who got a copy wasn’t put off by it or anything. I’ve had to reread it a few times myself to remember how phrased certain things, and I feel pretty good about it. I’ve printed a handful more for upcoming shows, and I think I know of a few other people who’d want a copy, so I guess it isn’t the one and done thing I had planned on it being.

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Still, there are things I wish I’d maybe included: I wanted to dive deeper into how I’ve been like this since childhood, how I discovered nudism/naturism, and WHY I felt so much shame about it, especially as a teenager, and why I was so worried for a while (last year especially) that maybe I was mentally ill in some way because of it. I would’ve liked to elaborate on the footnote about being taken advantage of, pointing out how that person behaved around me and talked about my nudity, how there were red flags I didn’t quite pick up on. I wanted to talk about my first few times modeling nude for figure drawing, and how that was the spark that eventually led me to be more and more open about this major part of my life. I wanted to say more about how spiritual it feels to lay naked in the sun, watching deer run by.

I wanted to bring up how lonesome it sometimes feels, being the only naked person amongst your friends, and how I keep thinking about trying to set up a super positive nudist/clothing optional game night at my new house, never going through with it out of the fear that nobody would show up and undress or that someone would make it weird. I don’t want to be some kind of evangelist shouting about how life is better naked, but I still wish I had other friends who wanted to just hang out and play Mario Kart nude, you know?

I also deleted a small section where I wondered how differently people would handle it, how they’d look at me, if I was in any way different, if I were heavier, or had any kind of physical deformities or scars or whatever. If I wasn’t some fairly conventional looking white cis guy, would people be as accepting?

I guess maybe I could always make another zine. Or just write about those things here sometime. I’m not sure.

Either way, I’m happy I made this zine, and I’m happy that it seems to be well received, or that I at least haven’t gotten any ugly comments from anyone about it. The big point I wanted to get across with it was: find what makes you feel human, what calms you down and makes you feel better when it feels like black clouds are trying to smother you, and live by it. My mantra this year has been to get naked and make art as often as I can, and living for those two things has really helped me along. I hope others find something like it for them.

Worth a Million

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There have been a lot of conversations these last few years over representation in pop culture and its importance, particularly revolving around LGBTQ people and people of color. Obviously, everyone looks to see themselves reflected, and Janelle Monae recently coming out as pansexual was huge for me, but there are other, smaller forms of representation I sometimes ache for. I always get excited when I see other left-handed people, oddly enough, but a weird one hit me this past week when I started watching a Japanese drama on Netflix called Million Yen Women.

This is Minami, played by Rila Fukushima (who I vaguely recall seeing in trailers for one of the Wolverine movies I didn’t watch), one of the titular women and, holy crap, a nudist:
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Nudism in TV, movies, etc, is mostly a joke, like the nude beach episode of Bob’s Burgers, . It’s always treated in a gawky fashion: hey, look, these people don’t wear clothes around each other, how crazy is that? Naked people are abnormal and make normal people uncomfortable, let’s all have a laugh!

It’s…frustrating, and seeing jokes like that for most of my life is one of the things that always made me anxious about my own nudism, why it was so hard to tell people this thing about me, more so than my sexuality, and why, even though I have a number of wonderful, accepting friends, I still feel like I’ve got some kind of mental illness or something.

Million Yen Women pretty much ignores this trope altogether. Outside of a few comments in the first episode and a joke involving a tabloid in a later episode, Minami’s nudity is never brought up in the show. It’s just who she is when she’s at home with the other girls and with the male lead, Michima.

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One of the rules within the show’s odd, off the rails plot is that Michima and the titular women living with him have to eat together every evening. Minami is always nude in these scenes, but the show doesn’t make any effort towards calling attention to it. It’s carefully shot so that her body is never revealed, but it also feels natural to how the other characters are shot in these scenes. The same angles repeated to hide Minami’s breasts are used repeatedly, but those same angles are used for other characters too.

And again, outside of a few comments in the first episode, nobody else in the show says anything to her. No one is seen to be visibly uncomfortable. She’s an active part of the group, she’s engaged in conversation with them, and it’s…it’s no big deal. It’s normal.

And that’s what really got to me: instead of being played for titillation or humor, Minami’s nudism is treated as ordinary, even mundane, which is especially interesting given just how wild the show’s plot is. She’s always nude at the dinner table and nobody cares. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything come close to my personal experiences being nude around friends. We still have normal, nerdy conversations and play games and ramble about whatever interests us.

There’s still the voice in the back of my head, pointing out how unusual it is to be in a room full of people and being the only naked body, but with a few small exceptions, I’ve never felt like others are singling me out, or excluding me, or trying to ignore me or anything like that. I think that’s just me still being super self conscious, a trait which Minami notably lacks, as evidenced by the scene where she throws a chair at reporters trying to barge into the house without even attempting to cover herself up.

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I don’t share anything else in common with her: she’s loud and outspoken, not afraid to make difficult decisions or get her hands dirty, and she slings insults at everyone around her with no hesitation. I can hope to have that same kind of self assurance, but I’m not sure I ever will. Even so, it was so cool seeing a character like her, seeing her treated as an actual a human, her nudism no big deal, the typical jokes and general sense of othering completely missing.

It made me realize that yeah, I wasn’t aware of how frustrated I was by not seeing this kind of representation before, how badly I wanted to see nudism treated as ordinary. I hope I come across more examples like it someday.

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Finding comfort without armor

Hi. It’s been two years since I’ve posted here. Just last month I decided to delete this site’s Facebook page, which maybe wasn’t a great idea considering I’m coming back here to write this one, possibly final new thing. But at least I still haven’t killed the site itself like I’d been considering?

Obviously, I started this site as a way to open up about my own body issues and let others open up about theirs. I thought putting myself out in the open in the most vulnerable way I could would help force me to accept myself a little more, and I thought I had the capacity to help others do the same.

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I burned out on things two years ago, dropping this and a webcomic that I was simultaneously working on. Sorry about that. I still feel bad about it, but in the time since then I’ve found other avenues to explore the same things I was doing here.

Last year, I rounded up some local artist friends and started a figure drawing group. We try to meet monthly, though it doesn’t always work out that way. At our very first meeting, though, I worked up the guts to model nude. It was only for about…not even a half hour, and it was uncomfortable and strange and I didn’t feel too good about it.

At our second one, there was alcohol. I felt a little better that time.

Early this month, I modeled nude for the first time this year, and I no longer feel any real discomfort outside of a concern that my friends are bothered by me standing naked in the kitchen during a break talking about anime. A couple days later, on July 4th, I skinny dipped in a friend’s pool in front of my girlfriend’s mom, who gave me shit for hiding in the corner of the pool for the first few minutes. Tequila was involved, but uh, this is what I’ve become now, I guess.

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I’m still scrawny, with weird acne and all too pale skin and hair that doesn’t really do what I want. I’m still a deeply insecure person, awkward in public, easily overwhelmed and thrown off my axis, always skittish and scatterbrained. I still feel like an alien, questioning every decision I make. Discomfort is the norm.

But then, for whatever reason, and I’ve been like this for ages, stripping down completely helps me collect myself and feel normal. I sort of addressed this in that last post two years ago. When I modeled again for my group, I tried to talk about it there, too. This is how I’m most comfortable, as backwards as it seems. For all that I feel like an exposed nerve all the time, somehow making myself more physically vulnerable makes me feel stronger. And being so in front of other people? Even better, weirdly. With my family and so many others, I feel like a turtle that’s completely withdrawn into its shell. I feel like I can’t be myself. So being able to get naked in front of friends, and talk about Godzilla movies and art and Street Fighter and other things, is freeing and makes me feel less like I’m some outrageous weirdo who should be closed off at all times, which is how the rest of the world makes me feel.

I’ve always had nudist tendencies, but damn, this is the first time I’ve really opened up about them and what they mean for me in a sort of public fashion.

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So…yeah. Modeling for this group of friends helped me out. A lot. And it’s gotten me to work up the courage to be even more open. I’ve posted the occasional nude selfie on Instagram from time to time, had a big party for my birthday in April where I wore a robe and party hat and underwear, eventually ditching the robe…and then the underwear when only a couple friends were left at the end of the night. Things like that.

And here’s another part of it: with our current, terrible administration that’s fueled by hate and discrimination, it…it isn’t much, but I decided this year, especially after coming out as pan, that I wanted to just…be weirder, more queer, be more of the kind of person that these people hate. It’s a little thing, I’m still working on it, but I want them to feel as uncomfortable around me as I feel around them.

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My big concern is that I don’t want my friends to be uncomfortable with it and worried about losing some people by being like this. I’m still taking small steps. It’s just a weird thing to bring up (“hey do you care if I take my clothes off because I’m feeling stifled and antsy?”), to try to get folks to understand, and I guess it’s why I’m writing this? I don’t know.

That’s it, I guess. I’m still on the fence about shutting this site down altogether, maybe next year. I’ve moved on to other artistic things and have fended off my own body issues in this weird way.

But whatever. This is who I am, and who I’ve quietly been for years, sometimes without forgetting, sometimes trying to bury it out of fear over how unusual it is, but I don’t want to do that anymore. Life is short. Be weird. Do what you love doing, with people you love, dress how you want, do whatever you can to try and stay comfortable and focused in these ugly, uncertain times.

Selfie Insecurities

I made a joke last week that I’m more comfortable posting nude artwork of myself than taking an ordinary selfie for Instagram the way normal people do. It wasn’t much of a joke, really. I do have a problem where the idea of taking a picture of myself and sharing it makes me uncomfortable. After making that joke, I got an idea for a new self-portrait to draw, so I grabbed my camera.

…Which it turns out I haven’t touched since I used it to take reference pictures for the first Reflected Gaze comic about myself. Seeing these pictures again was just cringe-inducing, all lanky and scrawny and awkward, until I came across one that my girlfriend randomly took when she was helping me out. I still looked weird and alien in it, sure, but the poor lighting and graininess of the picture made it cool. For once, I identified with a photo of myself.

I set aside the idea I had in my head and decided to draw that photo. Which is NSFW, by the way.
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HeroesCon!

Hey, so have you read thew new comic about Diana yet? And how about that article by Andy Ross? Good stuff.

It’ll be a while before the next update, as I’ve been hustling a lot to get a bunch of other things done. This weekend is HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina, my favorite comic convention of all time! I’ll be at table AA-627 selling my books, doing sketches, and giving out postcards for Reflected Gaze!

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And then NEXT weekend is a little comic convention being held by the Johnson City Public Library, which I’ve been invited to attend. I’m supposed to give a presentation that morning on making comics. I have not yet started putting this presentation together. I’m trying to do that today. We’ll see how well that goes.
jcconI’ve got a few things going on in July as well, so, um, yeah, trying to find time to work on this project is getting harder and harder. For that I apologize. Still, if you’re anywhere near these two events, you should come out and say hello! It’ll be a great time!

Reconciling Yourself

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I’ve always been big. Even as a kid I was always on the chubby side. I began to grow tall as well. By the time I was in middle school I was topping near six feet. I’m now 6’2. Kids picked on me for being fat all my life, and for a while it bothered me, then I reached a place when it didn’t for a while. Until High School rolled around, and I became interested in dating.

High School was four of the worst years of my life. I felt terribly out of place and awkward. This is not shocking or foreign to anyone else’s experience, I’m sure. However, the added struggle of being a fat kid just amped up the feelings of anxiety and insecurity. I began dealing with depression when I was 16, and I’m sure feelings about my body had a lot to do with that starting. I never bothered asking anyone out on a date, because I was so convinced that no one would ever want to be seen out with me.

That’s something I still struggle with in my adult life. During most of my twenties, I was just haunted by this feeling that it was impossible to make dating work. I was very confident in my early twenties, but being rejected by one too many persons took that confidence away fast. I have even started to have panic attacks while asking people out, and that’s just the worst kind of hell. To lack such confidence in yourself, that asking someone out to a movie is an exercise in terror.

There was a time when I just hated everything about myself. I hated my body, how I looked, how I spoke, I even hated the things I loved. I felt just worthless and useless as a person.  That began to change, gradually. I soon started to realize I had some pretty shitty friends who didn’t value me as a person, and I ditched them.

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I began to lose weight, mostly for health reasons, and I’ve lost about 40 pounds. That helped me start to like the body that houses all the things that make me who I am. I tend to be really hard on myself, and I soon realized that I was treating myself in ways I would never allow a friend to treat themselves.

Confidence is still something I struggle with. I still have days where I hate my body and I think I’m just a terribly unappealing person. It’s not as bad as it used to be. I think a lot of men struggle with this, but we’re not supposed to admit to having emotions, feelings, thoughts, anxiety, and panic attacks asking someone to grab a drink at Starbucks.

People tell me that I’m handsome, and I will believe that. I’d like to think, or dare be arrogant enough to say I know, that I dress well. In my mind I think I’ve got a Cary Grant/Fred Astaire vibe in my sense of style. Even if the body is more John Belushi. This is all to say that, generally speaking, I really like myself.  I don’t think I’ll ever fully be without my struggles about how my body looks, but I am learning to be kinder to myself more and more each day.

Andy has a blog you should check out, a weekly column for the Loafer, and you can follow him on Twitter too! Dude is an expert on classic movies and garage band records too, just to let you know.

Mutate With Me

That's my girlfriend and her dog, by the way.

That’s my girlfriend and her dog, by the way.

While I’ve always expressed disdain towards my family’s suggestions of becoming a caricature artist, I do draw mutant portraits of people at conventions. Zombie portraits were a popular thing for a while there, so I decided to do something similar, but based more on ideas I’d explored through projects like Embrace Infection.

Most of the folks who get them are pretty attractive, a fairly even split between men and women. I get a kick out of getting paid to turn them into monsters. I ask them what size sketch they want, make them take a selfie on my Kindle Fire (which is always fun to watch, some are pros and others act offended by this step), and go from there. Occasionally I’ll ask if there are any specific features they’d like to have. Sometimes they’ll ask for certain things, but usually I’m just left to my own devices, putting extra eyes and lumpy parts wherever I want. I always skew towards comical, absurd features. I really don’t want to freak out or offend anyone, and I’m always mindful not to do anything that they may consider insulting towards them.

Westley (@westleythedog on Instagram!) and his wonderful owner HB!

Westley (@westleythedog on Instagram!) and his wonderful owner HB!

There’s a sentimental level to it. I’ve done sketches for people who later drag over friends or loved ones to get me to draw them. I had a couple friends throw down an absurd amount of cash at a recent con so I could draw them and their pets. I did so many drawings of children at Free Comic Book Day a couple weekends ago that I lost count. People, no matter what they look like, seem really into letting me turn them into horrible monsters. They find it endearing. I feel fortunate to be able to create something like that for them. These things connect with people in a way that my actual comics and prints I sell can’t, which is why I usually do more sketches than anything else.

(Here’s a Facebook gallery of nearly every mutant portrait I’ve drawn!)

So. Many. Children.

So. Many. Children.

It’s nice to take my obsession with body horror and transformation, based on my own insecurities, and turn it into something fun. It’s like some kind of cathartic magic. I don’t get it, really, but I like it a lot. It somehow makes me feel better about my own appearance, as I will probably forever look like a 14 year old still fighting acne problems no matter how nice of a tie I wear to a convention. I hope that it helps the people who buy them feel good about themselves, too.

That’s another reason I started this project: when I draw somebody, I really enjoy looking closer than usual at their features, things I may casually overlook, and doing my best to illustrate them. There’s potential in drawing to take something you may find ugly about yourself and make it interesting and cool, like how I enjoy drawing my own acne even if it makes me wince in the mirror. I think I tried to get that across in the first comic about myself, but I don‘t know how well I pulled it off.

Yours truly.

Yours truly.

In a couple days I’ll be at XCON in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I’m hoping I get to do a lot of mutant portraits there. I hope to do more pets too, those are kind of my favorite.

Becoming My Own Hero

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I was seven when I first started to hate my body. Seven years old and hating my body because others taught me how to hate it first.

I grew up. I kept hating. I let it wrap around me like a toxic cloud of something; like my own super-villain.

Except that I was never quite the hero.

Deflection was my best friend; my super-spy gadget that directed attention away from me.  I used humor to deflect – self-deprecation that was more like verbally abusing myself. If I could make fun of myself first, it didn’t matter if everyone laughed. I took control.

I took control but I lost something along the way.

I spent sixteen years hating my body and myself. More importantly, I’ve spent the last five relearning what it means to love myself.

What it means to heal myself.

I got into comics not long ago – maybe four years ago. And with comics came a whole host of issues – but it brought me to amazing people. People who told standards to fuck off and taught me how to reinvent my own standards. People who showed me what it meant to love myself.

I read comics like Captain Marvel and Hawkeye and relearned what it meant to be my own hero. I learned that you can be a giant fuck-up like Clint Barton but you can still do good in the world. You make people and lives and <i>yourself</i> better. I learned that life is going to knock you on your ass and Carol Danvers would be right there to pull you back to your feet and tell you to punch a dinosaur in the face like the hero you are.

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I got into cosplay and traditionally feminine things. I cosplayed at HeroesCon last year – my very first cosplay – and it was, hands down, one of the best experiences of my life. It redefined what I could do for myself. It redefined me, in a lot of ways. It showed me a whole new world of what I could be and what I could define myself as. It gave me freedom.

I had gone from having a super-villain on my shoulder to being the hero of my own story.

And I keep redefining myself. I began to find myself gravitating to make-up after many years rejecting anything feminine. I slowly started experimenting and I found out a few things.  I found out that make-up is fun and it makes me feel like I am readying myself for battle. It makes me feel like a super-hero putting their mask on. Once I started having fun – experimenting and learning and enjoying the experience – I found that a portal had opened and it lead me to a whole new world. Make-up is becoming fun for me because I have redefined my views.  Most importantly, I am always redefining myself.

But I still have bad days. I still have days were my super-villain has some new tricks; some new formula that brings me down. The point isn’t that I still have this super-villain riding shotgun.

The point is that I’m now the hero and saving myself is kind of what I do these days.

I met Christina at HeroesCon through my girlfriend a couple years back, where she got me to draw her a pirate lady surrounded by monsters. Since then, she’s gotten me into a sweet aquarium for free and talked me into watching every Fast and Furious movie last month. She’s great. Go follow her Tumblr!