Hey, y’all. As you’ve most likely noticed, 2022 was….well, not a good year for social media. Twitter’s on fire, Facebook’s been under federal scrutiny for years now, and seeing as I don’t have a face for anything but radio, I’ve never bothered with Tiktok.
So, now that I’ve finally updated my website again, I’ve decided to just go back to basics and start a little blog here instead. I’ve always been more long-winded than most social media sites want me to be as it is, and this kind of format gives me more of an opportunity to write a bit about things I wouldn’t normally get the chance to talk about otherwise.
I’ve been putting off updating my website for over a year and some change now. 2022 wasn’t exactly my year, and even if I had the energy to do it then, I’ve been so unreasonably busy that I wouldn’t have had the time. But now I’ve got more than enough time, and so in the interest of ensuring that I’m not constrained to the character limit of Twitter or the weird “photo not posted!” behavior that Instagram gets every single time I write a caption that contains phrases like “trans rights”, “nazis have no place in modern society”, or “fuck”, I’m going to do what a lot of other artists are doing and go back to longer-form writing here ye olde web 1.0 style.
It didn’t take long for me to think of an opening salvo, either. Seeing as I’ve been happily plunking away on this computer terminal working on this codebase for half a month, I can’t think of a better (or more stereotypically trans) topic to start with than my perpetual aesthetic obsession with my Linux desktop and open-source software, especially in an industry that isn’t exactly known for going open source.
As a good portion of you know, I’ve used Linux for the vast majority of my creative career. Given the fact that I do professional illustration, audio work, and creative work in general for a living, that’s not what you’d call a “typical” choice. Linux has a bad rap for being what most creative professionals would refer to as “functionally unusable” (and for good reason, especially in the professional audio space). I’ve been involved in free and open source software since I was a teenager, however, and at this point I can’t really imagine using anything else.
There’s quite a few reasons I use free, libre, and open-source software (or FLOSS, for short) in nearly every applicable scenario I can (and tend towards using abandonware and old software when I can’t)–it aligns with a good percentage of my principles and way of being in the world, I appreciate the freedom to cusomize and tinker, I can’t stand rent-seeking behavior in corporations that like to clamp down monopolies on certain industries (especially creative fields), etc., etc., ad infinitum. With that stated, there is a fairly importing contributing factor as for why I got into Linux in the first place: I’m poor as all get out, and always have been. Linux is a lot of things to a lot of people, but for me it has one thing that has always set it above the rest–free as in freedom. I got into Linux back in the days when I couldn’t afford a computer that can run anything else. The vast majority of my early career saw me too poor to afford anything even remotely close to cutting edge, and so I just grabbed whatever computer I could find, slapped Linux on it, and made the little bastard do what I needed it to do. And to this day, I’ve been happily doing the same thing with all my computers ever since.
At this point in history, it’s fairly easy to get your hands on a relatively usable thin-client (like the Lenovo Thinkcentre M93p I’m using here) and it’s also easier than ever to customize whichever distro you’re using to get it to behave exactly how you want, or just to pick and download a free and open-source distribution of Linux tailor-made to audio production or graphics and bonk it over the head to function however you want. With companies like Adobe having a reputation for needlessly screwing over their customers at any given opportunity and other companies that were, at one point, “better about that” going much the same way, there’ll probably be fewer better times to switch.
I don’t use a stock distribution. Never really have. What you’re seeing here is a borderline /r/unixporn-ready power user workstation, beaten into the ground and painted in a nice patina of trans- and femboy-pride colors. (Just like this website, if you didn’t catch the intentional color scheme choices.) That’s not a purely stylistic choice (although I do have a fondness for the artistic merit of a finely tuned-workstation) as much as it is force of habit. For the longest time, all I had to work with and create work with were 10-15 year old laptops, and if you’ve ever had to get a crotchety old crank like a IBM T60 humming again, you’ll know that there’s nothing that can do the job quite like a minimalistic desktop environment and using nothing but command-line apps for every task you can squeeze into a urxvt window.
Thankfully, I don’t have to do much of that sort of thing anymore (although I do keep my old Thinkpads very close to my heart, as you can see in my author photo in the “about me” page on this website–that lil’ guy there is my beloved Thinkpad X60, Conseil.) and can use the full range of what modern open-source software has to offer to my advantage. I currently run two different computers for 90% of my production; a Lenovo Thinkpad P90 (named after my beloved Piranese mix, Polyhymnia) that sits just above my drawing board that I use for listening to radio shows, podcasts, and Let’s Plays while I work on inks (and which hooks directly down into my oversized scanner and an ancient screenless Wacom tablet in case I need to do digital touch-up or color work on whichever piece I’m working on) and this little old guy here, Herotodus (named after the ancient Greek historian).
If it involves me having to do some writing in any form, be it research for a new book, bullet journalling, hacking away on the website or other development projects, working with the index card catalogue that I use in lieu of a functioning memory, or even reading a bit, Herodotus and Goliath (the secretary desk she sits on) is the dynamic duo I turn to. I’ve also managed to do quite a bit with Winetricks to get some of my favorite classic games running, so you can often catch me in the mornings in the studio playing a hand of Cribbage or Spades or running through some old text adventure games as well.
The nice thing about a thin client is that you can fit the little guys damn near anywhere–in a drawer, wedged between some books, mounted underneath the desk, or really anywhere you can think of that you can pipe some cords out of. I can’t look you in the eye and tell you that I’m a strict observer of the teachings of the Church of Cable Management, but I am someone who believes in doing the equivalent of “going on Christmas and Easter to see Grampa and take a family photo in the name of keeping up appearances”. Some rubber bands, a bit of “shove the cables in back of stuff” and the old “wrap the cords around the monitor” trick are more than enough for me.
Herotodus is hooked into an old-school 4:5 aspect ratio monitor I snagged from an old job I worked at. I don’t know if it’s neurodiverse impulse, writer’s habit a la Jerry Seinfeld’s old “yellow legal pads”, or just plain old aesthetics, but I can’t seem to function with anything involving getting words or code down if I’m not typing it out on a clicky keyboard and seeing it displayed on a 4:3 or similar aspect ratio monitor. 16:9 doesn’t do it for me, for some reason. I’ve had my fair share of CRTs as well over the years–they’re just easier on the eyes, at least for me–but not only will one not fit on top of Goliath at any viewable angle but the only one I have currently seems to have burnt out. (Quite frankly, I’d use my ancient Brother WP-3550 as a daily driver if I could–but that’s a topic for when I inevitably get around to spending a post opining about my typewriter and word processor collection.) This ancient HP 1755 does its job though, and I do love its side-mounted USB ports for transferring files and what-not, as well as its sturdiness. The old girl’s built like a tank. I’ve always admired that in a lady.
As far as software goes, I use a plethora of open-source software in my daily workflow. The entire system itself is a weird frankenstein monster of piping i3gaps through XFCE–you can check out The Feeble Nerd’s post on the subject if you want to know how to set that up–with a good amount of UI/UX customizations as well. Me being the absolute fruit I am (and also prone to headaches when confronted with any color emanating from a screen writ large that isn’t a variation upon a theme of black or grey), I’ve customized almost the entire thing in the pinkest and purplest colors I can find and installed a bunch of plugins and custom themes to ensure I never have to deal with “light-mode” anything if I can avoid it. At some point, I’ll probably clean up and upload my config files to my Github so anyone who’s interested can clone them and customize them to their liking; if that happens, I’ll link it here.
For practical software, I use GIMP for graphics editing and tinkering with larger UI elements, VS Codium with a Vim emulation plugin for programming and other code manangement work (although I used Atom until the crooks bought out Github and sunsetted the poor thing; RIP to the best IDE I’ve ever used), novelwriter for long-form document editing and planning (i.e. graphic novels, games, and other things that require keeping track of characters, settings, and concepts) ghostwriter for shorter-form Markdown pieces (like this blog here!) and a few other odds and ends here and there for other workflow-related things. I also use Wine and DosBox to emulate old PC games, Mednafen, Kega-Fusion, and a couple other emulators for console games, and I do play a fair amount of Linux games as well. PySolFC is a perennial favorite.
We’re moving studios (and states!) in a few months here, and while I’m not looking forward to carting an entire secretary desk and an army of computers, typewriters, and sundry halfway across the country for the umpteenth time, I can’t honestly imagine studio life without them. (Plus, I need the typewriters to give you folks half the lettering that shows up in Our Lady Maven! It just wouldn’t be the same if I used a font…)
I don’t know how often I’ll be updating this blog, but seeing as I don’t have Twitter anymore (which means I don’t have many other outlets to talk about games, books, and records I’ve been fascinated by in the studio), I can’t look you in the eye and tell you I’m completely invested in keeping Instagram around, and after years of having to use social media as a professional in this industry I’ve been burnt out to all hell on the entire concept, this is more or less going to be what I use to keep y’all updated. A large part of my struggle over the past couple years has been balancing the need for a “professional freelance illustrator branding” with the part of me that genuinely loves and wants to talk about creative pursuits, weird inspirations, and the troubles, tribulations, and triumphs of life that inspire a lot of my work in an honest and genuine manner. I’ve gone through a lot of different thoughts on how to tackle that problem, but this is probably gonna be how I do that, and I’ll try and update it at least a couple times a month to let y’all know what I’ve been working on, what I’ve been enraptured in, and what I’ve been listening to.
You definitely don’t have to read every single post on here if you don’t want to, but hopefully this will be a nice little window into the life and thought process of the giant dork who pens and voices what (I’d hope) are some of your favorite comics, books, and radio shows. If you want to get ahold of me to ask some questions about whatever it is I wrote about, request a topic for me to write a bit about (ask me about bits of my artistic process, for instance) or just send me a letter, you can check out my current mailing and email address over on the About Me page.. Maybe I’ll do a lil’ letter column if I get enough mail.
You’re all amazing and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not. Talk soon.