Cold Snap December 2, 2015 11:32
As a kid, I don’t remember begging for much. Even at Christmas. I wanted stuff. And I asked for stuff. Every December I’d make a list of things I wanted for Christmas based entirely on the contents of the Sears Wish Book. For those of you too young for this reference, the Wish Book was Sears Christmas catalog. It was about an inch to an inch and a half thick. It arrived on your doorstep around Thanksgiving. And everyone got it. Everyone. In Colorado, at least, there were several things that were automatic after you were born. You received a birth certificate, a social security number, inoculations for Rubella and Polio, and a chip that was implanted in your forehead that would radio your location to Sears so you could receive your Sears Wish Book on time. If you were lost in the Rockies around the end of November a peppermint helicopter would drop a German shepherd into the snow and she would bring you your Sears Wish Book held gently in her jaws.
I, like millions of other children, was convinced it came from Santa Claus.
After receiving it, we (and by “we,” I mean all the children of Colorado) would fight over it with our siblings, and spend every waking minute of the next four weeks pouring over it, memorizing the page number and description of every item we wanted so we could list it for our parents and more importantly recite it in person for Santa Claus when we met him at the mall. For us, Santa materialized outside Lakeside Shopping Center inside a gigantic fiberglass mountain, complete with artificial snow and Christmas Music. It was outdoors in the blistering cold, and you waited in a long line that stretched around the base of the mountain. Eventually you shuffled inside, into a tunnel of sorts. It was a welcome shelter from the cold wind.
The tunnel was sculpted to look like the sort of place a little Yeti might have felt at home were it not crowded with kids and their parents in winter jackets. The tunnel was dark at first, and full of whispers – kids rehearsing their lists like so many tiny monks mumbling scripture as they shuffle to their quarters. The tunnel may have been out of the wind, but it was still cold, and the breath rising from these little monks filled the chamber with an eerie fog. A fog of wishes. Desires for trains, dolls, slot-car racers; the contents of the Sears Wish Book.
Adding to the eerie atmosphere were periodic windows set into the sides of the tunnel - icy fluorescent aquariums that captured scenes of elves at work. These weird little motorized dioramas featured papier-mâché elves who toiled to make the things we love at Christmas. They had cheery faces and hand-sewn clothes that hid steel bones and oiled metal joints. Each window featured a different activity and passing them one by one gave the same pleasure as passing the windows at the Natural history museum that housed stuffed walrus, polar bears and wolves. Here in this mountain tunnel, greasy little elves slowly hammered toys, cut down Christmas trees, painted ornaments, made candy. I remember one particular elf, my favorite, dressed in a green cloth outfit that turned a crank, eternally stretching a gob of dusty pink taffy.
If you made it to the mountain’s center you had to face Santa himself, sitting in an actual throne of gold in an otherwise undecorated chamber. Maybe it was decorated but I just didn’t register as much in there as I was so focused on the impending sitting where I would have to recite my list. I don’t remember it as being very happy in there. Tense was more like it. There were always some helpers – girls dressed not unlike the trapped window elves only with the small dusty pants replaced with stiff felt skirts trimmed in white fur. These living elves controlled movement here at the mountain’s core. When your turn came you were pushed forward, lifted to Santa Claus’s lap, you recited the list as quickly as possible, were lifted down, given a cellophane-wrapped candy cane from a silver bin, and ushered back into the cold.
The list I recited always ended with the most important present - an Alpha present that my parents and Santa were made to understand was the most important present. Should funds be short, other things on my list should be sacrificed so that the alpha present would arrive under the tree.
I still remember several of them. The Strange Change Machine, Astro Light, the giant 32-inch Eagle One spaceship from TV’s Space 1999, Ghost Gun, the unrelated Green Ghost game, the deluxe Cookie Monster hand puppet, a Daisy BB gun. The Strange Change Machine is so odd and amazing that to this day I still find it difficult to describe to people. The Ghost Gun projected ghosts on your wall, and allowed you to ‘shoot’ them by punching holes in the paper strip they were printed on. The Astro-Light was a system of bent acrylic rods and spheres that fit into a grid of holes drilled into a relatively large base that housed a light bulb and color wheel; when you plugged the rods into the base they lit up and transmitted their light to other pieces as you built futuristic sculptures and cities. The Green Ghost game is easy to find on eBay and featured a large glow-in-the-dark ghost that spun, its finger pointing at a number that would direct you around a board with plastic haunted houses, black plastic doors and black plastic keys that uncovered cardboard chambers beneath the board filled with rubber-band snakes, feather bats, and plastic bones.
Years later I would recognize that most of my Alpha gifts either glowed, and/or were used in the dark. I also came to recognize that they were odd. I knew this on the first day back to school after Christmas break, when we compared Christmas stories with other kids in our class.
This happened on the playground, where we gathered in the morning and waited to be let into our classroom. We waited outside no matter what the weather or situation. 100 degrees or 100 below, rain, sun, snow, blizzard, rabid raccoons, atomic bomb scare, guy wandering the playground dressed as a clown pushing a wheelbarrow and snipping kids heads off with rusted hedge trimmers; you waited outside. In the cold months kids pressed together near the door so we could get inside fast when the time came. You entertained yourself by carefully scooping plates of ice off the tops of puddles, holding them aloft and declaring in your best British archaeologist voice, that you had just uncovered priceless hieroglyphics before pretending to sneeze and dropping the ice sheet artifacts on the ground where they shattered into a million shards. It never got old. The bigger the plate of ice the bigger the laughs. Sometimes you’d trip, sometimes you’d toss them to a fellow idiot archaeologist, sometimes you’d use an icicle to point at them, they always smashed. To this day if I see a frozen puddle of water I’ll scoop off the top plate and declare it a hieroglyphic before sneezing and putting my forehead straight through it. Any kid between two and seventy-two who sees this will laugh and blow milk out of their nose and then go to find their own ice sheet to fumble and destroy.
But on the first day back after Christmas we weren’t shattering artifacts, we were comparing Christmas morning stories. And this is when I realized I was different.
Happy chatter outside Mrs. Weidman’s fourth-grade door.
“I got a football.”
“I got Hot Wheels.”
“I got an Easy-Bake oven.”
“I got an Astro Light.”
Everyone falls silent.
“Astro Light. You know, ‘building with light’?”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Sears Wish Book. You know. Page 47, item C. Ass… Trow… Light?”
Then from the back – “I got the official Denver Broncos football helmet.”
Calm chatter resumes.
This is where I was different. I had an eye for the unusual. The unpopular. And this is where the begging comes in.
You see, I never begged for any of those Christmas presents. Just put them on a list, read them to Santa Claus, and hoped. But around 1977, I begged for something. And it wasn’t a toy. It was food.
At least it said it was food.
Now I’m not sure where to stop and mention this but I’ve decided to tell you now: if you aren’t from the vicinity of Denver, you probably won’t know what I’m talking about. If you are from Denver chances are you don’t know what I’m talking about. As an adult I talked about this thing, told the tale of this food, for years, and never got a glimmer of recognition. Even in this time of the internet where you can find anything I’ve found barely any trace or a mention of it.
But I have uncovered a trace. And what I learned was that it was a futuristic frozen dessert that was the brainchild of scientists working at Procter & Gamble. This futuristic dessert would be test marketed in one place – Denver. That’s why no one I know in California ever heard of it. I’ll give you a couple links at the end and you can begin your own research.
It was summertime. I came in from riding my gold spider bike with the gold-flecked banana seat and three-foot sissy bar and saw it on TV. An advertisement for a new dessert. A dessert unlike anything ever seen before. It was tasty. It was cold. It was futuristic. It was “Ready in a snap,” and it made itself!
Cold Snap. That’s what it was called. Cold Snap.
It was easy to remember because a lady snapped her beautiful fingers in the commercial at the same time they said, “It’s ready in a snap.”
It came in different colors and different flavors. Its closest living relatives inside the grocery store would have been a tub of ice cream and a package of instant pudding. It was a sort of space-age ice cream that came in a box.
According to the commercial, you opened up a series of packages, pouches, and poured the powders into a mixing bowl in a precise sequence. I think you may have added milk. Yes, I’m pretty sure you added either milk or water. Then you opened up the last pouch. And that’s where the future-ish bit came in.
The last pouch held a sort of clear-ish gel that, when added to the other mixture, started a reaction. The powders and liquid began to change, evolve. Grow! That was a huge selling point. It went from something the size of a softball to filling a small mixing bowl. According to the commercial it would roughly double in size. You placed your bowl into the freezer and left it for an hour or so to finish its work in dark privacy. After dinner you opened up the freezer door you had… a dessert! A colorful, happy blob of Cold Snap just waiting to be spooned into littler bowls and distributed to your family. Delicious, cold, satisfying and delightful. Everyone in the family gathered around and laughed and pointed and screamed in delight as they ate spoonful after creamy spoonful of Cold Snap.
At least that’s what happened on the commercial.
I wanted that. Not only the delicious stuff itself, but to be one of the first to experience the future of dessert. Our house didn’t have air conditioning and our yard didn’t have a sprinkler system, but we could be pioneers in this. This was like a jet-pack of flavor that I could bring to my family, carrying us all into the stratosphere of kitchen fun and togetherness.
So I begged.
I’m sure it was ugly, and demeaning. But I needed the Cold Snap. I’ll skip ahead.
My parents relented, and I went with them to the grocery store to find it. We did. I don’t remember where it was stocked. It was in a box so it wasn’t in the freezer, but it was still a frozen dessert - this may have been one of the problems. Once found, there were choices. I picked the box that indicated the Cold Snap that would be closest to purple when it had completed its transformation. I believe I picked strawberry, if that was a flavor they offered. I remember the finished product was pink, so I’m reverse-deciding it was strawberry. We bought one box. The kit. It came home with us. What I didn’t know at the time was it would be my last chance to buy it.
I don’t remember how long it took before we made it – a few days, a few hours? I’m guessing not long. First I made ready a space in the freezer to receive the bowl. Our refrigerator was the sort with the freezer door on top. I remember being told by my grandparents what a wonder that freezer compartment was. “It’s self defrosting,” they would say. I wasn’t sure what that meant but they described the horror and drudgery of having to chip ice out of the compartment of older models of refrigerators.
In previous decades your refrigerator freezer would slowly make its own ice from the moisture that was naturally present in the air. It started as a happy white frost that decorated the inside of the freezer chamber, making it seem like a little neighborhood that a mouse might want to go Christmas shopping with his mousewife on the first frost of the year. Gradually that frost thickened, molecule by molecule, till there was a little coating of clear ice over every surface of the freezer - even the walls and roof, and now it seemed like a place a mouse might want to take his mousewife ice skating. At this point the freezer door might resist a little when you pulled on it, making a little ripping sound as it popped open. And so on, till the freezer was almost completely filled by ice. If you left that door closed too long it wouldn’t open at all, and you’d have to pull the plug on the refrigerator, let it warm up for many many hours, since the thing is insulated, and eventually rip the freezer door open to find that you were staring at a cross-section of a glacier. Had the small mouse and mousewife been in there they would now be hazily visible, suspended in the center of the block, his small pipe still clenched in his teeth and her scarf trailing backwards. They would be holding hands in death, and it would take many more hours of chipping at the block with butter knives and spoons to retrieve their bodies for burial.
The “chipping out the freezer” story was one I heard many times. It must have been awful. Ice flying, melting all over the kitchen floor. A hodgepodge of mixing bowls used to collect the melting shards before the started sliding under the refrigerator. And all the while your milk and eggs going bad because the entire refrigerator was now shut off. It was a race against time to free the freezer chamber of its ice block and plug the whole thing back in again, just so you could repeat the process a few months later.
I heard this story almost every time that freezer door was opened. And I remembered it now as I cleared a place for the Cold Snap. I had let my family know not to worry about dessert on this evening, that I would have it covered. I would be making Cold Snap for everyone.
I gathered the supplies I would need. One large mixing bowl, the packets of powders laid out in precise order, spoons, milk (or water) carefully measured. And the final packet, much heavier than the rest and made of pleasing silvery plastic foil, something that a space suit might have been made of. That was the one I was most interested in. That one was from the labs of Procter & Gamble.
I poured the first powder. By now, because I’d made such a big deal of this, everyone in the family had gathered: Frank, Dorothy, and my grandmother who used to chip ice from her freezer. Second packet opened, the flavor packet. I poured and mixed the dry ingredients. Strawberry-smelling dust wafted in the sunlight of our happy, now futuristic kitchen. Milk (or water, wish I could remember) poured in and mixed thoroughly. Perfect. Actually, my grandfather hadn’t come in. He was in the living room, relatively disinterested. He would arrive soon enough.
Now for the silver packet. I carefully snipped the pouch open as close to the seam as possible, lest I waste a molecule of the… catalyst. That’s what it was, a catalyst. It would start the dessert’s transformation.
It was like unusually heavy Vaseline. Vaseline with an extra atom added somehow. I squeegeed it out of the pouch with my fingers, and it plopped into the bowl in one oblong blob like a little space-angel had gone poop. I was hoping it would react like in the commercial.
I didn’t need to wait. The reaction was instantaneous. Even before I’d picked up the mixing spoon the Cold Snap had begun to expand. I mixed vigorously.
“It’s… wait, is it supposed to do that?”
With only two revolutions of the mixing spoon the reaction had kicked in - powerfully. The Cold Snap doubled in size. Then tripled. I thought the bowl I had chosen was going to be too big. It wasn’t. The Cold Snap filled the bowl to the rim and kept growing.
“Get another bowl!” someone cried. I don’t remember who. Drawers were being pulled open, their contents spilled over the kitchen floor as another bowl was located and rushed to the scene. We poured half of the Cold Snap into this second bowl. But it didn’t stop. Now we had two bowls that were filling themselves. I hadn’t even mixed the gel thoroughly – that bothered me. So I stirred each bowl a couple times each. Stupid. The reaction sped up. The large and medium bowls began to overflow.
My sister screamed.
“Get another bowl!”
We had another mixing bowl but couldn’t find it. We ripped open cupboards and got cereal bowls, coffee cups, divided the Cold Snap into them. Now we had five containers of a pink blob that was now seeming less friendly than it had appeared in the commercial. Little drops that had splashed onto the counter and floor were growing individually from the size of a pea to the size of shooter marbles. Every part of this stuff seemed to have a mind of its own, a purpose, a mission. I scooped up the drops and put them back in the bowl, I didn’t want to lose a precious drop of the Cold Snap. I wasn’t thinking straight.
“It’s not stopping!”
“What the hell is going on?” My grandfather had arrived.
“It’s Cold Snap,” I screamed. “It’s our dessert!”
“Put it in the freezer!”
“No, the box says we’re supposed to wait for five minutes.”
“We don’t have five minutes.”
All containers were breached. You couldn’t see the handles on the coffee mugs. It was flowing out onto the counter. Everyone picked up the bowls, mugs, and ran for the freezer. There wasn’t room for it all. I snatched out the ice cube trays to make more space. Our time was running out, the blob was running down everyone’s arms, dripping onto the floor. The Cold Snap seemed less like something that needed chilling and more like something that needed killing.
“Get them in. Make it stop!”
Somehow, I shoved all the containers into the freezer. The last thing I saw as I slammed the door was the Cold Snap, continuing to grow.
It hadn’t gone down the way it had in the commercial. There were no smiling faces, no golden retriever barking happily as a beautiful mother whisked a single small mixing bowl of larval Cold Snap into a freezer. We were sticky, shaken, frightened. We stood in a semi-circle staring at the freezer door. Would it hold?
Despite this I clung to the dream. I spoke up cheerily. “It will be a dessert by tonight!”
Looking back I think it’s a little strange no one opened the door to check on it. Maybe we were frightened. Maybe we hoped it would reverse itself. Maybe we wanted to forget about it. But I didn’t. After all, making it was only half the fun.
We finished dinner and I ran to the freezer door to fling it open and distribute the space-age bounty. But the door wouldn’t open. My grandfather, who used to pick up Model T’s to impress girls, couldn’t open it. We pulled the refrigerator plug and waited. Finally, with his foot against the refrigerator my grandfather ripped the freezer door open.
We were looking at a cross-section of a pink glacier. The reaction hadn’t stopped till the compartment had been filled completely. There was no bowl to be pulled out – the bowl and mugs and containers of normal ice cream had all been swallowed up.
And that’s how it ended. Not at all like the family on TV. We weren’t a family from the future. We looked like a family from the dust bowl with our sad eyes, each standing in line in our own kitchen as my grandmother chipped the Cold Snap out of the freezer with a butter knife and a spoon. With every few chops a chunk of Cold Snap would break free, the first person in line would catch it in their bowl and go to the back of the line to eat it as they shuffled forward to get another chunk. It was still oddly precious, and we did this longer that we should have.
It was good. Melted in your mouth. You worried a little what would happen when it got warm inside you. Eventually my grandmother burrowed deep enough to find a corner of the original mixing bowl. After a half hour of this we all called it quits and got down to the business of trying to get the remainder of the sticky stuff out of the freezer. It was a hellish job, chunks flying everywhere, melting on the floor. We didn’t use a hair dryer for fear it would come back to life.
Decades later as you pulled a tub of normal, earthly ice cream from the freezer you might find a little blob of Cold Snap clinging to it. It was still in there somewhere. Waiting.
Next trip to the grocery store it was gone, never to return. Had some family not been as lucky as us? Had the grape flavor been stronger than the strawberry?
Five years later when I saw John Carpenter’s The Thing, I thought of the Cold Snap.
Though by then I’d learned that no one else would know what it was.
Bringing "Rescue Sirens" to life: a guest post by Jessica Steele-Sanders! July 2, 2015 09:22
Jessica Steele-Sanders, here! I can’t tell you how excited my husband Chris and I are to finally share “Rescue Sirens” with all of you. Like Chris, I’ve always been fascinated by mermaids. I mean, who isn’t? Mermaids are awesome. From the time I was a little girl growing up in Florida, I’ve been drawn to the ocean, and, to me, mermaids represent all the beauty, power, and mystery of the sea. They’re irresistible.
Especially Chris’s mermaids. Seen scattered throughout his six sketchbooks in his trademark style, Chris’s take on mermaids is the perfect blend of fantasy and realism; I love that his mermaids’ tails draw inspiration from real-life sea creatures, since that's how I used to draw mermaids, myself, and I think it makes the most sense. The question was, what could we do with Chris’s mermaids beyond those drawings? In 2013, we saw one of his sketches memorialized as a beautiful sculpture by our talented friend Anders Ehrenborg, but I wanted something more.
People say to write what you know. I know water. Before I moved to California, my jobs in Florida had almost always revolved around getting wet: I helped care for and train dolphins, went diving with sharks for a living, taught marine conservation programs, and spent a summer working as a lifeguard. I got to wondering... what if mermaids worked as lifeguards? Well, then, you’d call them “Rescue Sirens”!
Once I stopped laughing at my own joke, more questions bubbled to the surface. What if these mermaids worked as lifeguards because they were sworn to an ancient vow to protect humans? What if living topside for a time was a requirement for all mermaids as soon as they came of age? What if they had to keep their identities a secret from the humans they lived amongst? I was intrigued and delighted by the possibilities. The more I thought about it, the more things fit together. Far from being silly, it started looking like a world.
I thought up a detailed backstory, rooted in mermaid tales dating back over three thousand years — from Assyria, Turkey, Ancient Greece, and every community near a coastline. I described my mermaids’ anatomy and physiology based on the marine life that I know and love so well, their culture’s mythology, and the “rules” governing their world. I then began writing a short story-within-a-story that laid the groundwork for these mermaids, which I showed to Chris. He loved it, and, with a few tweaks from him, that initial pitch became the prologue for our first book, “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist.”
I’d never written a novel before, so Chris and I jumped into the deep end of the pool together. After I built the outline, we split the work fifty/fifty, dividing up chapters and then going back over one another's work; it went so much faster that way than if either of us had tried to write it alone, and our respective writing styles complement one another well. I highly recommend working with a writing partner, and Chris is the best. He’s known for directing Academy Award-nominated animated films and for his incredibly appealing artwork, most recognizably featured in “Lilo & Stitch,” but a lot of people don’t realize that he also co-wrote “Lilo & Stitch,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” and “The Croods.” Chris’s writing is full of quirky but relatable characters, humor, and heart, and I don’t hesitate to say that all the best parts of the first “Rescue Sirens” book are his! His imagination is truly impressive, and I consider myself the luckiest woman in the world to get to work with him. If you’ve enjoyed any of Chris’s animated films, you’ll find the same sensibilities in “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist.”
On the artwork end of things, Chris and I were privileged to have an awesome collaboration with Genevieve Tsai, who drew all seven of our book’s gorgeous black-and-white interior illustrations. While Chris and I wrote the manuscript, Genevieve and I exchanged lengthy, lively emails about the images we wanted to feature in the book, and her insight was invaluable. Genevieve “got” “Rescue Sirens” instantly and completely, and working with her was a genuine pleasure. I really can't say enough good things about her, both as a person and as an artist. The creativity that she brings to the table never failed to blow us both away, and I get such a thrill thinking about people picking up the book and meeting these characters for the first time through Genevieve’s drawings, which are simultaneously cute, dynamic, smart, detailed, and full of joy. Chris and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect illustrator. She nailed it.
We were really fortunate to work with Edgar Delgado, as well, who we knew from “Ultraduck” and from his coloring work on a variety of projects for Marvel and others; I think I first saw his colors in J. Scott Campbell’s “WildSiderz” comic book, and I was downright giddy when Edgar said yes to coloring Chris's work on “Rescue Sirens.” Edgar took Chris’s linework for the girls in both their human and mermaid forms and gave them all a life and dimensionality that’s striking — and he did so in record time, with the clock ticking! You’ll see his colors on the front and back covers of the book as well as inside in the gallery/sketchbook section. For the “Rescue Sirens” poster, we’re also deeply grateful to skilled illustrator Teresa Martinez, who drew a version of Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive that’s even more fun than the real thing! When we picked up the books from the printer on Tuesday, we saw the proof for the one-sheet poster that we've having made for San Diego Comic-Con, and you guys are going to go crazy. Chris's drawing of the girls, colored by Edgar with Teresa's background, looks cool at any size, but it's truly impressive at 27"x40"!
With the first full day of SDCC just one week away, Chris and I are currently in last-minute prep mode. We can't wait! Over the next few days, we want to share with you more of what you can expect to find when you come see us at booth #4616.
In addition to the hardcover edition of "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" ($20.00) and the 27"x40" poster ($5.00), we'll be offering some rad "Rescue Sirens"-themed freebies (while supplies last!): 1" buttons, temporary tattoos, and a special gift for the first thirty people to buy "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" every day of the convention. We'll also have a new limited edition 13"x19" fine art print showcasing a drawing of one of the Rescue Sirens, Nim, stunningly watercolored by Chris. This numbered print is hand-signed by both Chris and yours truly, and it features an embossed "Rescue Sirens" stamp to prove its authenticity. Add to that more of our open edition 11"x17" prints, all six softcover sketchbooks, Ogo plushes, and -- yes! -- more of the Club Coconut resin figurines from last year.
If you can't make it to SDCC, don't worry -- we have plans to offer "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" and a few other items for sale online later this summer, after our usual break to recover and rebuild following the wonderful madness that is our yearly pilgrimage to San Diego. =) There will also be an opportunity to get your hands on some of the merchandise that's usually an appearance-only exclusive (like prints), so stay tuned for more information as the month goes on.
Introducing Jessica Steele-Sanders' and Chris Sanders' "Rescue Sirens." July 1, 2015 09:35
To introduce this blog post, I have to go back a couple of weeks to when I was in Colorado -- Boulder, to be exact. This is a place I return to every now and then, for varying reasons. In this particular instance, my wife Jess and I were both there for my brother's wedding. But that's not what this is about. It concerns the morning after the wedding, when Jess and I were up early, having oatmeal and coffee at our favorite breakfast place on the Pearl Street Mall.
We were the first people there, sitting out on a patio. As the sun rose, a few scant people drifted past, taking advantage of the warm Colorado morning. A couple passed by with two little girls in tow. Sisters, we're sure. And those two little girls were having an argument. About something very specific. Something not unusual to little girls.
Not unusual to older ones either.
Jess and I smiled at each other as they passed -- the subject of those girls' argument had been very much on our own minds for a while now. Years, in fact.
If you’ve spent any time looking through my sketchbooks, you’ll be familiar with my fondness for mermaids. A couple of years ago we even partnered with Anders Ehrenborg to introduce a mermaid figurine unlike any ever made. Fact is, I’ve long been interested in going beyond designing mermaids; I’ve wanted to build a home for them. Create a world that they could live in. I tried to crack the code for years without finding anything that had the right energy, spirit, and scope. I didn’t want a pond; I wanted an ocean. I wanted depth, if you will.
It was my wife Jess who kicked in the door. In 2013, she pitched a concept that I went crazy for. To be fair, I think she cheated a little by becoming a lifeguard when she lived in Florida. Her concept was simple, unbreakable, and limitless. She started with the title: “Rescue Sirens.” In solving the problem, Jess combined several things, all of which I love. Mermaids, Miami, beaches, old hotels, and vast underwater realms. Her pitch, in short: mermaid lifeguards. I signed up immediately.
Since then, we’ve been very quietly working on it. There were a lot of things to do, and this is where my time at animation studios came in handy. The first thing was to build the mythology, the landscape, and the characters. Jess handled that while I wrestled with finding the right designs — harder than I expected. Many nights and weekends were spent drawing, inking, and then throwing it all out and starting again from scratch. We worked in parallel, and I adjusted my characters as their descriptions came into focus. I even storyboarded the opening title sequence for the show. At this point we had compiled a complete bible for the world. Then we made the biggest decision of all: we chose to actually write the first book.
For Nim, lifeguarding is more than just a summer job. She and her friends are Rescue Sirens, mermaids sworn to an ancient vow to watch over and protect humans — and the best way to do that in today's world is by hiding in plain sight as lifeguards. When the Rescue Sirens receive word that a special human — unwittingly possessing the rare power to turn into a mermaid — has made her way to Miami Beach, it's up to them to find her before she transforms on her own and is either discovered... or lost forever.
How long would it take to write? Jess and I weren’t sure. We set the deadline at the end of June so we could bring the finished book to San Diego. We divided the chapters and dove in.
Now, oddly, this was a very welcome extracurricular activity for me. I spend quite a lot of time writing, entire screenplays in fact. And believe it or not, some of them I don't even get paid for. So why would I want to do even more writing in my precious free time? As many of you may already know, when it's something you want to do, you find the time. And "Rescue Sirens," I really wanted to do. So I wrote every chance I had. Mornings, evenings, weekends. And every time I opened a chapter I lost myself in it. George R.R. Martin has said that writers are either gardeners or architects. You either lose yourself inside the writer's equivalent of a narrative rabbit warren, following characters down tunnels and digging new ones for them till they find where they want to go, or you build an orderly structure and then send the characters to work within it. Jess is the architect; I’m most decidedly a gardener.
Most things I have written, I swear the characters either said or did all by themselves. I'm just reporting on it all. At one point, I was so focused on following one of them I forgot that that particular chapter wasn't even about them, and I got quite a ways into it before realizing my mistake. I had to start that one over again, but I found an angle into the chapter nonetheless. Writing is never really wasted. I loved the characters and the world in this story, and actually felt let down whenever I had to leave it. Usually I’m thinking about mermaids from the outside in; this time I was working on them from the inside out. Jess and I were on target to finish the words by our deadline, but there was no way I’d be able to get the illustrations done as well. For that we'd need a power hitter. Enter Genevieve Tsai.
We were familiar with Genevieve’s work from the prints and books I'd found at Comic Con, and I immediately suggested her for the task of visualizing key moments from the story. I felt her strong draftsmanship and inherent appeal would match the vibe of the book perfectly. Jess was in agreement, so we located Genevieve, pitched the idea, and in no time she was on the job. Genevieve worked while we wrote, so she didn’t have the completed manuscript to refer to. Just the character designs, and verbal descriptions of the scenes she’d be visualizing. She immediately went above and beyond expectations, delivering what seemed like thirty roughs for every single finished image! From the first set of roughs she sent in, we knew we’d found the right artist. Genevieve's drawings glowed with the youth, energy, and optimism that Jess and I had labored to infuse the story with. With time short, we opted to leave the illustrations in this first edition in black and white, and after seeing Genevieve's finished shading, I can’t imagine them any other way.
With the book complete, we still had to color the drawings I'd done for the front and back covers, but we needed to go to press soon and we were nearly out of time. That's when Jess suggested Edgar Delgado, who we knew from "Ultraduck" and from his fine work as a colorist in the world of comic books. He colored each girl in both their mermaid and lifeguard forms, and it's those colors that you'll see on the covers as well as in the full-color gallery/sketchbook section in the back of the book. His vivid but subtle color captured the feel we were hoping for, and created the beautiful, smooth volumes of their tails in a way I could never do.
So as it is with these things, after long months and even years of brainstorming, sketching, writing and re-sketching and writing, gathering a small team and watching them do their magic, all the pieces suddenly fell together. "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" was done. The hardest part this whole time may have been keeping it all quiet until we received the books from our printer. Which we did yesterday. We're really thrilled with how they came out -- Maskell Graphics, whose precision work you've seen in our sketchbooks, did the printing, while Roswell Bookbinding bound each book in Arizona.
Oh, and what were those sisters arguing about outside the cafe in Boulder? Both insisted to the other that they were the real mermaid. Apparently in their family, there can be only one.
So there it is, or rather here it comes! The first place "Rescue Sirens" lands is San Diego, specifically next Wednesday for Preview Night at Comic-Con. Jess and I will be there, of course, but we also expect Genevieve Tsai to drop by on Thursday to say hi and sign the "Rescue Sirens" merchandise that we'll be bringing with us. We'll have hardcover books -- 8.5"x5.5" in size and 185 pages long -- as well as one-sheet posters, limited edition prints, and other goodies. Until then, we'll be sharing more images and details from "Rescue Sirens" so you can finally meet our mermaids. We hope you enjoy diving into their world as much as we have.