29 Dec 2018

Good Intentions: Retrospective

DORMANT, NOT DEAD: this blog, that is. The simple truth is that I have had another craaazy year. A lot of new art was created, and I did a little more travel than usual, plus a couple of surgeries. Nothing like rehab to knock one’s good intentions ass over teakettle! Still, writing a year’s-end retrospective now is in order.

A spell-casting magician, with a header "Liz Danforth is Creating Mages and Sages" with a link to patreon.com/LizDanforth

Over the last year, Patreon has received most of my attention. There, I talk about my art and show off my creative efforts. Fear not: you can read many public posts. In other cases, I let my supporters see what I am up to before a post goes public. And about half of what I write is for my patrons alone.

You are genially invited to become a supporter! Patreon support gives me time to do projects I wouldn’t otherwise be able to undertake. It buys me time to make Wonderful Things, and share these things with those who make it possible.

So Much to Learn

What else has been happening? The mentorship I took under Donato Giancola this spring was everything I hoped for, except I have much more I wish I could have done. I poured every day into painting my fingers off, learning, studying. Yet had the class lasted 30 weeks instead of 13, I would still have more I wanted to do: more to learn, more to accomplish. And especially more I wanted to finish.

The incomplete work-in-progress, below, is an homage to the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Begun during the class, I have not been able to get back to it. I did a lot of work on two other pieces during the class, also unfinished. Because they may fit into a specific project I have ahead of me, they might get completed sooner rather than later.

Painting of a golden-metallic "Dr Frankenstein" building a human in a steampunk-like laboratory while a storm rages out the window.

Talking about these pieces as I worked got a lot of my time on the Patreon, by the way. I shared sketches and thumbnails, noodling about how I got from initial concept to this stage of completion, and more. If you like getting into the weeds, looking behind the scenes of my work, Patreon is the place for you.

Travel: Denver and Anaheim

I travelled a bit this past year. I attended two Magic Grand Prix events (but more on that below). In October, in Denver, one of my oldest friends, Rose Beetem chaired the 50th anniversary of the venerable MileHiCon convention. MileHiCon is a literary/fannish convention where I was Artist Guest of Honor back in 1997. (Those in-the-know remember it as the infamous “DonnerCon” where the entire convention was snowed in by a record-breaking blizzard.) For the 50th anniversary, all the previous (still surviving) GOHs were invited to return, and I did, gladly. I visited with Rose and many other old friends, even if their lives, their changes, and the distance of time passed made some almost unrecognizable.

A clear Lucite star commemorating MileHiCon 50, 2018, Special GOH Liz Danforth.

MileHiCon made me feel like I’d come home. Fannish conventions are where I started, after all. One of my first-ever cons was WesterCon in San Francisco, 1973, where I discovered the truth of that cliché about the coldest winter being a summer in that city by the bay. Silly desert rat that I was and am, a sleeveless shirt was NOT suitable despite the midsummer season. I made a similar mistake going to I-Con in April in Long Island NY, many years ago. April in the desert is already HOT, so I left my jacket in the car at the airport. I froze the whole time!

At that early Westercon, artists Alicia Austin, Tim Kirk, and George Barr were all the rage at the time, and I remember one of Alicia’s pieces going at auction for the unheard-of price of over $100 dollars!! The audience gasped and applauded; you’d have thought it was a previously-unrecognized da Vinci painting. I thought Wow, people sell their ART at conventions like this?! I can do that! How awesome would it be, I thought, to be able to travel and have it subsidized by people who wanted to have my art for their very own! (This theme will reappear in a subsequent post next year.)

A staged picture of Liz Danforth (teenaged) with Spock-ears and eyebrows, playing 3D chess.
Straight out of Geeks’R’Us.

It was about the same time I attended one of the earliest Star Trek-focused conventions. (I told you I was a hardcore Trekkie back in my early days!) That convention was Star Trek Lives! if fanlore is accurate. Regardless, I was in the Big Apple for the first time, freakin’ New York City… and I revelled in it. Admittedly, I spent as much time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2.5 days) as I did at the event. Travel provides such opportunities! Gene Wilder’s agent’s offices got a spontaneous, impromptu visit (because I had been a pesky fangrrl writing him fanmail for awhile. And yes, he generously replied, letters I treasure to this day). The day I left town, I had the unnerving experience of being so utterly directionally-challenged that my brain SWORE that I was watching the sun rise in the south. I love to travel but this is an experience I’ve had since–my sense of direction sometimes goes completely haywire.

Returning to the present day: I also attended my first BlizzCon in several years, the annual wallet-extraction extravaganza put on by Blizzard Entertainment for those who love their games. Yes, I still play World of Warcraft (and have since 2005), as well as other games in their franchise, but this was my first opportunity to meet several of my <Smash Mode> guildmates face to face. I got to touch base with Christie Golden, someone I’ve known since we were both just launching our careers. She has been far more prolific and successful than me, with the former doubtless empowering the engine of the latter!

Photograph of Christie Golden and Liz Danforth at Blizzard's autograph booth, November 2018.

The coolest part of going to BlizzCon was not, in fact, the convention itself. As noted elsewhere, it’s the other stuff that happens at the same time. Stuff that happens because one is in the right place at the right time.

Christie was too booked with appearances to get away for even a cup of coffee (unsurprisingly), but my guildmaster (TheMock) knew another Blizzard employee, Carl. Carl kindly led an insider’s tour of the Blizzard campus, Mock and me along with the self-styled President of Kilrogg, guildmate Docworm. While much was (understandably) off-limits, there was a mini-museum, sword-and-shield displays for veteran employees (and you just got a lapel pin for your 5- and 10-year work anniversaries, right?) along with many other wonderful sights. I grinned myself silly over iconic statuary and a Hearthstone tavern, and had an excellent lunch in the on-campus cafeteria. Thanks again to Carl for the kindness and the tour, and to Mock for setting it up.

A twice-life-size statue of the character Illidan from World of Warcraft, a bat-winged and massively-horned night-elf character. The sculpture appears on the campus of Blizzard Entertainment.

More Travel: Magic Grand Prix Events

Less fannishly, I trekked up to Seattle and also to Las Vegas for the Magic Grand Prix tournaments. In both cases, I was able to visit friends I don’t see nearly often enough. During the events, I made sketches, sold prints and cards and books and playmats, and signed a bajillion cards for the fans and players attending the high stakes tournaments.

Announcement of the Magic the Gathering Grand Prix, Seattle, April 5-6 2018.

There is a controversy growing in the artist community about the GP events. I definitely have mixed feelings. On one hand, I agree with those artists boycotting the events: if we are expected to be featured guests whose presence and activity increases attendance as a value-added benefit, then the organizers should make it easier and provide more support than what they do. (Generally, they give nothing more than the cost of an unmonitored table. If you’re lucky, you might get a hotel room but that’s rare.)

However, for now I choose not to boycott, because I see other benefits to attending. Nevertheless, the lack of significant support is altering what events I will go to, and how I participate when I am there.

Although I write in this blog erratically, watch for another after the first of the year that I am calling “Good Intentions: Anticipation.” I plan a look forward into 2019, a Janus-headed pairing to go alongside this retrospective. And I will talk more about this subject then.

Health and Wellness

This has generally been the year of A Turn for the Better for me. I am not so young as I once was (who is?). But a couple of surgeries later, I anticipate being able to keep Making Wonderful Things for more years than I thought I was going to get.

In 2011 after attending GenCon, I mentioned being unhealthily overweight and redoubling my efforts to get into better condition. Despite my best efforts, I began to reach the point where my weight was significantly disabling me. I had broken my left ankle in my 20s and spent years running on the scar tissue and growing arthritis. After I tore the meniscus in my right knee more recently, combined with the bad ankle, I began limping which just made everything worse. I started to use a cane during IlluxCon in 2016. I declined some highly desirable conventions in 2017 because I doubted I would have the stamina to make it through. Sometimes I needed a wheelchair or walker to navigate the places I did go.

This spring, concurrently with my SmART School work under Donato, I underwent VSG bariatric surgery. As I write this nine months later, I am unhungrily eating a few hundred calories a day (mostly protein) and weighing 100# less than I did the day of surgery. I stopped needing the cane for everyday matters in short order. I used a walker to get around BlizzCon because it was so spread out, but by then, it was mostly my knee giving me trouble.

So I got a new knee for my birthday in November this year. I got off the nastiest pain meds in about 10 days, and now I walk my dog, drive safely, and get around without the difficulties I had before. It is the difference between day and night. Physical therapy continues for awhile yet, but I signed up for a workout class in January with the city’s Parks and Rec Department. Rapidly, I am building back the mobility and strength I used to have.

On the left, an X-ray of a titanium knee replacement; on the right, Liz Danforth in a hospital bed selfie.

Of course, nothing is the shape it was when I was last at this weight (in college!). That’s okay. I do not anticipate running 10Ks or even 5Ks as I did in my 30s and 40s. That’s okay too. But instead of wondering if I had my end-of-life paperwork in order because I might need it soon… Well, I still need that paperwork, but I should have a little more time to take care of it. Meanwhile, there is a lot of new art and creative works I can plan to make and share, and—if the Fates are kind—time in which to do them.

Speaking of Paperwork

I am bemusedly watching the hobby I have been part of for four decades being (finally?) captured in documentaries and films, articles and books. Once we were the Young Turks, but now we are beginning to age and pass away. Catch us before we’re gone!

One such example is the recent release of The Eye of the Beholder by friends Brian Stillman, Kelley Slagle, and Seth Polansky. (No, I’m not in it. I did a little art for Dragon magazine once, and for some Elminster’s AD&D supplements, but I am definitely not notable as “a D&D artist.”) This film took Best Documentary 2018 at GenCon, and I cannot wait to see it! It will surely garner even more accolades yet to come.

Logo for movie "Eye of the Beholder - the Art of Dungeons and Dragons."

Brian has long expressed interest in my stories about the early days of Tunnels & Trolls. He is not the only documentarian to have shown interest in my memories of RPG gaming’s early history. That said, Shannon Appelcline’s 2011 Designers and Dragons has information about me that someone transferred to my Wikipedia page–and it’s just wrong. (Makes me wonder what else is wrong in there. I have put in a request for it from my library’s Interlibrary Loan to have a look-see.) For now, what showed up in Wikipedia is where my gripe lies.

Danforth left Flying Buffalo after its 1985 move to Scottsdale, Arizona.


See, Flying Buffalo has always been in Scottsdale, Arizona. It isn’t a big gripe, but neither would it be difficult to fact-check. So it irks me. Flying Buffalo’s president Rick Loomis comes from an old pioneer family that settled in the area, ranching there before the town was even “a town”. I believe Flying Buffalo’s articles of incorporation were done with Scottsdale as its headquarters of record.

I submitted my first paid professional drawing ever, to Rick for Flying Buffalo, as a cover for his newsletter Supernova, probably about 1974. It was a simple line drawing of a blazing sun with a slew of spaceships swarming around it. I had been paid for my art as early as my freshman year in high school, someone’s poster for student body president. I’d had my art published in my high school literary magazine, but of course that wasn’t paid work. I remember walking up to Rick’s house (in Scottsdale), knocking on his door and saying “Ken St Andre said you’d pay $10 for this drawing for your newsletter.” Rick nodded, asked me inside, and paid me.

Ink drawing of a sorceress casting an enchantment in a glowing bowl. A cat sits nearby. Adventuring heroes enter the room's door behind her.

I freelanced more art for T&T’s earliest supplements, and for solo adventures like Buffalo Castle, Deathtrap Equalizer Dungeon, and Labyrinth. In 1977, I had moved to Flagstaff to work for the state, but didn’t like living there. The following February, Rick hired me (back to Scottdale) as Flying Buffalo’s staff artist. The publishing arm of Flying Buffalo grew, and I eventually became the head of the productions department, overseeing about 15 crazily-creative people. (For a time, we were Blade Publications, a subsidiary of Flying Buffalo, to distinguish our work from the popular but very different play-by-mail side of the company where it all began.)

Although Flying Buffalo was briefly headquartered behind the company’s game store in Tempe, otherwise all the offices during the nearly-seven years I worked there on salary were… in Scottsdale. City directories and historical phone books would provide readily-accessible verification of the company’s address. When I left Buffalo in 1985, I left some very nice offices… which were and had been in Scottsdale for awhile, in a small industrial park location. That is what the historical record would show to anyone who went to the trouble to do their research. (Please note my ETA corrections at the bottom of this post.]

A street-side photograph of an industrial-looking building, the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix Arizona.
Burton Barr Library, CC BY-SA 3.0 Visitor7

I left Buffalo for a variety of reasons, but chief among them was the opportunity to work part-time at Phoenix Public Library’s Quick Reference Department at the Burton Barr Central Library. Working half-time, I could earn about two-thirds as much pay as I’d made from Buffalo working full time. (Not to cast aspersions on Buffalo’s paychecks–the library paid its part-timers well.) With half-time work to stabilize a freelancer’s income, and enough shortfall to motivate my gumption, I could freelance in the other “half” of my workweek. I worked for almost every large-ish company in the industry, Buffalo included. I made more money overall and took control of my own destiny.

I stayed with the library system another 18 years. Sometimes that was 20 hours a week, but often far less when I had a bumper crop of assignments. The library fostered many creative types: authors early in their careers like now-superstar Jenn McKinlay, Chris Orf (her musician husband), at least one orchestra musician, someone running a small yoga studio, and other artists and illustrators like me. We had no benefits, but could manage our hours around our creative efforts.

While working on the Tunnels & Trolls computer game Crusaders of Khazan, I took a 3-month leave of absence to do nothing but write. If I had to travel to GenCon or Origins, I could. Guest of Honor for a convention somewhere? No problem. Asked to do a signing gig crosscountry or even take international trips for Wizards of the Coast’s Magic the Gathering, or Iron Crown’s Middle Earth game, sure! I could go for as long as I needed to… and did. Other part-timers could pick up extra hours, and everyone was cross-trained across every department.

Box cover of computer game Crusaders of Khazan.

Eventually I quit the library. I was being offered more freelance assignments than I could accept. But even so, I went back some years later. I missed it and its hours gave some structure to my life without making heavy demands on my time. Heck, it was just nice to get out of the house to do more than go to the grocery or (as I was back then) train to run another 10K.

When time moved on (as it does), I became caregiver for my mother as her health was failing. The library provided a reliable paycheck when caregiving and other problems of Life-in-Progress sapped my energy and stamina, wearing me down with fatigue and depression. I could not keep being consistently creative and motivated when my creative well was bone dry.

It took a time for me to recover. My post on this site about “Rebooting the Freelancer” is where I really mark my return to Being a Maker, in December 2010. It had started before that, but this is where I went public with my intent to make creativity, once more, the primary focus of my life and my work.

Ink drawing of an elf surrounded by monsters, undergoing some kind of painful transformation.

I think I have written enough now. Maybe more than enough for a retrospective, of 2018 but also to touch on many past events in my history.

I cannot promise to write here regularly. Unlike Patreon, this blog is still work but unpaid work (seven hours and counting). This blog cannot be a top priority; I have to make choices. You will, however, get another post after January 1st, as promised. I want you to know what I am looking forward to, and when I might be travelling your direction for a convention or other event.

I am also looking seriously into a complete overhaul of this site. (Squarespace, are you really a better option? Or would a more up-to-date theme salvage this site where it sits?) This website needs to highlight my artwork and portfolio of works, but I’d still like to offer the occasional post like this one. For me, writing this is more like a quiet conversation with friends and acquaintances. Wine or beer optional.

Time will tell. Check in occasionally, or sign up for a subscription to be notified when I pop in. I’d like to know you’re out there.

ETA Correction:

As I was writing this post yesterday, I dropped an email to Rick Loomis asking him if my recollections were correct, and for permission to expand on something he had posted online but in a closed forum. He responded after I published here, so it didn’t get into the main body of this post. I felt it incumbent on me to share his information here at the end, with his permission.

“You are mostly right – Flying buffalo’s OFFICIAL
location, according to the IRS, has always been my house in
Scottsdale. However that nice building in the strip mall … was in Tempe, not Scottsdale. It was at the corner of 52nd St and University. Definitely in Tempe. But all along, the official address was (and is) Scottsdale. All that time our PO Box was still in Scottsdale of course.

Rick Loomis, quoted with permission, private communication 29 December 2018.

Rick wrote in the “Let’s Talk About Tunnels & Trolls” forum on Facebook, saying Flying Buffalo went into a rough patch because of some shenanigans at the printing company where we had our line of credit. (I won’t repeat unsubstantiated rumors, but Buffalo was not the only business affected and it was through no fault of Flying Buffalo’s that chaos ensued.) I left Buffalo’s employ to work for the library because of that chaos. And Buffalo did close up that industrial strip-mall location, with the business run out of Rick Loomis’ pioneer-era(?) Scottsdale home from then to the present day.

So Appelcline’s quote is almost correct if you squint and keep one eye closed, except I left Buffalo before they moved the offices back to Scottsdale. And the move itself was unrelated to why I left, which the Wikipedia quote implies. Correlation is not causality. Ultimately, Flying Buffalo was always a Scottsdale company and remains so to this day.

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