#5: Open loops & Wolfwalkers

Skid Row
Do the words Skid Row just make the music pop into your head or what? Or am I aging myself?

This one should be interesting because this morning my mind is blank (except for having Skid Row’s ‘I Remember You’ stuck in my head). One sucky aspect about middle age is having days thrown off-kilter from one night of bad sleep. I got 2h of sleep Tuesday night and it feels like I still need some catch up winks.

Good thing I keep a list of topic ideas and stuff in my Notes app. I’m sure once I get going, the only thing that’ll stop me is my self-imposed two hour writing time limit. (Lol that didn’t happen)


Keeping your desk clear isn’t about finding better ways to organize your stuff—it’s about deciding what matters to you. It’s about deciding that you are unwilling to waste your time and energy—your life, in effect—tending to things that don’t matter to you. And most people think that’s what they are doing when they put something in a pile…but it’s not. You have to deal with those piles sometime.

Donna Davies Brackett
Click this image & buy the book so Jeff Bezos can give me 0.00000000000000000000001% of his wealth

I’m still working through Growing Gills by Jessica Abel and this week included cleaning up my space. I’ve always been messy, since I was a kid. I’m guessing now that was a response to being a little too controlled for my preferences. When I’ve had jobs the mess was confined to a drawer or two, because keeping up appearances is important at a job.

Side note: I mastered the Art of Looking Busy at one of my jobs, where my responsibilities took 15 minutes a day, split between the beginning & end of the day. I don’t know how people did jobs like that before the internet – I spent most of my day surfing, doing fantasy sports, and – most importantly – teaching myself html & css.

Since 2014 I’ve been working exclusively from home and my work space has usually been … a bunch of stuff surrounding the computer. Stuff that I have to deal with but don’t want to. Except I have to, because adulting.

Jessica (Ms. Abel if you’re nasty) talks of open loops – things you’ve started but not finished.

Here’s the deal: our brains can hold only so much in active memory. And you’re trying to hold everything you want or need to do in active memory, so you’re constantly anxious that you’ll forget something. Which is smart, because you will.

Jessica Abel

The first time I did this exercise, back in August or September, was before I realized that I have a fair amount of anxiety. When I cleaned up my space this time, I noted that it was all stuff that could have been resolved pretty easily, or filed for a specific purpose. Hopefully this pile won’t grow much moving forward.

So what the hell do people do with open loops?

You need a system to keep track of stuff you need to keep track of. A to do list, if you will. I tried using a bullet journal for keeping track of tasks but that turned into a chore. I love writing by hand, except my handwriting sucks. So not only did I need to carry the journal around everywhere, I sometimes couldn’t decipher what I needed to do.

Open loops
Kinda how the brain feels when we have too many open loops – it’s just a mess.

Since we live in the age of smartphones, I needed a task manager that worked well on my phone as well as desktop. I settled on Todoist, after years of trying different productivity apps (starting with Remember the Milk for Gmail) and even kicking around the idea of making my own because nothing seemed to fit how my mind worked.

I don’t want to do a deep dive into Todoist – I’ll just note that it’s flexible enough to fit my brain, with projects that can be subdivided, due dates, lists/kanban boards (look it up, this cool), and recurring tasks (the ‘every workday’ option is great to keep day job tasks from infringing on weekends).

Whatever I need to do or want to remember, I just log it and then forget about it until the time comes. Except, apparently, for remembering blog topics & quotes. There really is an exception for every rule.

It’s taken a few months to make it a habit but it does reduce anxiety to not try to remember a zillion things. Set it, forget it, do it when the time comes. It frees the mind to focus on the important stuff, without forgetting about the stuff that needs to get done.

(I’m getting tired of waxing on about productivity, despite its’ necessity. Let’s move on.)


Stuff I’m loving

What’s Arp?!! Issue 5: Open loops & Wolfwalkers
I’m in love with Maria Pareja’s trees. You can see the influence in my bonsai tree short comic.


Have you seen Wolfwalkers yet?!!

(I’d also yell WHY NOT, except that has an answer: it’s only on Apple+.)

Wolfwalkers is the third movie based on Irish folklore by Cartoon Saloon. You might have heard of the other two: The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. (If you haven’t heard of any of these go find them right now, you will NOT regret it.)

A young boy in a remote medieval outpost under siege from barbarian raids is beckoned to adventure when a celebrated master illuminator arrives with an ancient book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers.

The Secret of Kells
I just discovered that I can watch this for free online using my library card.

I don’t recall when I first watched The Secret of Kells but it was around ten years ago. I was transfixed. The character design was stylized, unlike the sameness of much computer animation. Everything was hand drawn (often on computers, but still drawn by hand).

Everything – and I mean everything – was beautiful. You can watch it and notice something new every single time. The design has soooo many lovely details.

The movie industry seemed (and mostly seems) to think that 2d animation is for tv and has resolutely stuck to computer animation. Thank goodness for the vision of Cartoon Saloon’s founders (Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey, & Paul ‘Not the Singer’ Young). Hand-drawn animation is a brilliant form of art that got shoved aside by the new and fancy thing when Pixar came along with Toy Story. Hollywood seemed to forget that there was more to 2d animation than the Disney & Warner Brothers styles.

The Secret of Kells woke a little part of me that wished I could do that. Maybe not the animating bit (it seems like a job for younger people without kids who can handle the hours) but definitely the drawing bit. 10 years ago it was a mystery to me but now I’m confident that I can replicate the techniques behind every visual with a much better understanding of brushes, layer modes & such.

269ac28d 6012 4081 a578 ed177b7d3d76
Purtiness Level: 200

Cartoon Saloon followed up with Song of the Sea, another beautifully drawn and emotional story that begs for watching over & over again.

Ben, a young Irish boy, and his little sister Saoirse, a girl who can turn into a seal, go on an adventure to free the fairies and save the spirit world.

When you’re already familiar with the movie your eyes start wandering away from the focal points of the scenes and then you notice the care and craft involved in the design. I feel the word design doesn’t give the craft enough credit – these movies are art come to life.

Song of the Sea was a worthy follow up to The Secret of Kells. It felt like there were some incremental changes and growth in the art & skill, in all aspects. Wolfwalkers, on the other hand, feels like a giant leap forward. It’s the difference between an artist who’s finding out what they can do, and an artist who’s established a confident level of mastery.

A young apprentice hunter and her father journey to Ireland to help wipe out the last wolf pack. But everything changes when she befriends a free-spirited girl from a mysterious tribe rumored to transform into wolves by night.

83a19557 0acc 41d8 b3d5 944bffd69fd3
I barely mention the story but it really pulls at the heart strings.

I thought the first two films were masterpieces but Wolfwalkers outshines them both. I honestly didn’t think they could do better, but they did. It’s shockingly good and simply mesmerizing.

I found myself watching the whole film wide-eyed, trying to keep up with the story while looking at all the art, which has a much more analog feel than the previous two films. Like before, they don’t skimp on details. I’ve watched it 6 times already and I’ve found new things to marvel at each time.

(FYI I’ve seen Kells & Song about 6 times each. That I’ve watched Wolfwalkers 6 times in less than 2 months of existence should give you a clue as to how good it is.)

All 3 movies have a strong dichotomy of the magic & mystery of nature vs modern life but Wolfwalkers takes it to the next level.

The city is drawn with hard angles, in darker, drabber colors – and in a medieval woodcut style. The forest is drawn with curves and colors. Everything in nature flows – especially the wolf pack, which literally flows like water. They did this in Kells with the angular design of the medieval outpost and the extremely angular designs of the barbarians vs the forest but it the difference was not as a stark as it is in Wolfwalkers.

0dcb0ecd 4143 4ebc 865f 52cdb571c848
Look at those angles, and the flattened perspective. Oh – and the drab colors that are clearly less vibrant than the colors outside the walls. This is some joyous visual storytelling.

It drives home the point of the city as a hard, dark, brooding place where you’re trapped, and the forest as a place mystery and freedom, without hitting you over the head with exposition.

Cartoons and comics are an AMAZING visual medium. I know I could go on and on and on about this movie (and I haven’t even touched upon how deeply emotional and moving it is, even more than the previous films).

Before I forget: they left a lot of the sketches visible in the animation, it’s not just clean finished lines. You’d think it would look unfinished but it just adds to the artistry.

You need to see this movie.


Stuff I’m reading

The art of wolfwalkers book cover
I know I’m using a lot of full-width pix today but Wolfwalkers is sooooooooooo pretty. We get a great look at Maria Pareja’s leaves & trees on the cover.

The Art of Wolfwalkers

I have a bunch of ‘art of’ visual development books and The Art of Wolfwalkers (ref link) has taken the title from The Art of the Book of Life (ref link) as the Best Visdev Book I Own.

I tend to buy these books because I really enjoyed the movie but their quality varies. Most of them focus on character design and background layouts while filling up space with words or tons of white space. (Some of them really mail it in.)

Not The Art of Wolfwalkers.

This book shares a metric shit-ton of visual development examples (I was pleasantly surprised to find one of my favorite comickers Cyril Pedrosa amongst them)(I actually recognized him, it was a Wait that looks like oh crap it is him moment).

They talk about the woodcuts and sketching trips to the woods & around Kilkenny (location for the movie & Cartoon Saloon). They show the designs for trees and the forest (the trees are all thanks to co-Art Director Maria Pareja). They show the design of city vs forest. The chapter on Layout and Background delves a lot deeper than most books, discussing scenes and framing. The chapter on Animation shows the how & why behind sequences, including some frame by frame choices.

This is the first art of book I own that left me with a much better understanding of the process behind an animated feature film after I’d read it – even though I read about animation quite a bit.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough – it’s a treasure trove of inspiration and knowledge. I own the art of books for Kells & Song too, but this one is something special.

Once & Future

Once & Future #1
Cover for issue #1, sans logo

Once & Future, a monthly comic by Boom Studios, is a fun romp for nerds who who like their action steeped with literary & mythical references.

When a group of Nationalists use an ancient artifact to bring a villain from Arthurian myth back from the dead to gain power, ex-monster hunter Bridgette McGuire escapes her retirement home and pulls her unsuspecting grandson Duncan, a museum curator, into a world of magic and mysticism to defeat a legendary threat.

I might not know the details behind all the references (I really need to brush up on Gawain and the Green Knight), but I love the concept of stories coming to life. There’s plenty of action, some modern post-Brexit life, some romance, and quite possibly the best senior citizen character ever.

Go read it & have some fun. Just note that Hoopla has all issues so far but also 2 TPBs. Since there’s a 10 borrow limit per month, make sure you read the TPBs first.


Until next week…

If you got this far – THANK YOU. If you know anyone else who’d enjoy reading this, please do share (share buttons are to the right).

Did you know that subscribers to my newsletter get to read these issues 5 days early? It’s true! Subscribe to my newsletter in the yellow box below.

What’s on your mind? Hit reply and let me know.

2 thoughts on “#5: Open loops & Wolfwalkers

  1. Good morning Arp! I wish I’d read your review of The Art of Wolfwalkers before buying the GN version of the film. The GN version was such a disappointment after being blown away by the movie (my birthday present no less) – and watching with my son and daughter-in-law was also a gift). Now I’m itching to get my hands on The Art of Wolfwalkers. Thank you Arp and see you later across the aisle at KCIntensive!

    • Sorry – it is a disappointment from the craft perspective as it’s just pictures from the movie collected into comic form. I still enjoy it from a fan’s perspective, being able to linger on the frames and take in all the details.
      The art book is still on another level – it’s unreal how good it is.

Leave a Comment

Already a member? Login here.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.