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  4 days left in art auction; giants old & newJun 30, 2016 9:05 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:First, I need to mention that there are four days left in the auction for the new Selenis watercolor painting I did this past weekend; here's a glimpse of it—the eBay auction page has the full view!
 
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Second, some of you newer readers may not have been around for it, so while we're in this giant (of the robo monster kind) scene here in A*, I may as well mention that back in the early days of A*, when behind-the-scenes A* stuff wasn't eating into my weekends and I was otherwise free and frolicsome : D, I spend my Saturday nights making a weekly black and white fantasy comic called The Princess and the Giant, involving a young princess and, yes, a giant—though a young and friendly one. PatG ran from 2009 to 2012, technically, although toward the end it got sort of weirdly off-topic and random. (._(. (I was doing some other comics at the time, too. ":P)
 
I hadn't even thought of the connection until I actually sat down and started drawing this latest giant—and a day or two ago a long-time reader pointed it out, too—but I guess I've still got giants on the brain to some degree. They're fun to draw, although it can be pretty darn tricky to keep finding ways to fit giant-sized and normal-sized people in the same panel. So maybe we'll just have a giant in A* every four episodes or so, how's that? = D : P Ooh! And we can rename it "Supergiant Black Hole A*"! : D Yessssssss.
 
 
 
 
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  A* in a list! Also I have this paintingJun 29, 2016 9:01 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Image
 
I've got a special vertical-format 10"x12" watercolor Selenis painting up for auction on eBay right now; she's looking swanky in her starry evening gown. Check it ouuuuuuut! : )
 
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A reader on Google+ tipped me off to A*'s inclusion as the very last entry in the very last part of science fiction writer David Brin's A look at Science Fiction webcomics. Brin just quotes the description from my "about" page in his "quick look" entry on the comic, but hey, if any of you other folks feel like including A* in any reading lists you show people, you go right ahead, it makes me happy. : D (Also, you just may find some other comics you'll enjoy in his list!) Thank you, Mr. Brin!
 
 
 
 
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  Special Selenis art auction ends on the 4th!Jun 28, 2016 10:28 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Just a little reminder that I'm currently auctioning off a special vertical-format, 10"x12" watercolor painting of Selenis, right here on eBay.
 
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The bidding starts at $12.99, and the auction ends—with fireworks? : o—on the evening of this coming Monday, July 4th! Thanks for looking!
 
 
 
 
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  Selenis sparkles in special portrait : DJun 27, 2016 10:00 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:This weekend I painted a special vertical-format portrait of Selenis, which I have put up for auction on eBay! There are higher-resolution views of it you can check out in the eBay listing, but here's a smaller one that fits in the confines of this blog : ) :
 
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It is watercolor, 10" x 12" (for 120 square inches, slightly more than the 108 square inches of the daily 16" x 6.75" pages that I also put up for auction each day : ), she's modeling a variant of the "starfield" dress she wore at the end of episode 21, and I hope everyone likes it and maybe even a few people bid on it—starting bid just $12.99!—so I can pay rent and stay here in my studio making more A* pages for us all. = )
 
And yes I will be bugging you about it for most of the next seven days of the auction. : D
 
 
 
 
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  Rrrrr!Jun 24, 2016 4:59 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Here's an ink sketch I sent to a reader as their monthly reward for helping me keep this comic going by contributing through the A* Patreon campaign : ) :
 
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Thank you! : D
 
 
 
 
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  Yawn!Jun 23, 2016 9:34 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Page done! I'm turning in soon. = P
 
 
 
 
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  The Bugs and the BirdsJun 22, 2016 8:27 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a little nature-lover my family and I came across in the park (Magnuson Park in Seattle, that is — map) on Sunday:
 
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A spotless ladybug! : o
 
That is, I've pretty much always heard them called ladybugs (and I don't recall ever having spotted a spotless one before). But apparently that's mostly a US thing, and Brits call them "ladybirds": "The name 'ladybird' originated in Britain where the insects became known as 'Our Lady's bird' or the Lady beetle. Mary (Our Lady) was often depicted wearing a red cloak in early paintings, and the spots of the seven-spot ladybird (the most common in Europe) were said to symbolise her seven joys and seven sorrows." And furthermore, "entomologists in the United States widely prefer the names ladybird beetles or lady beetles as these insects are not true bugs."
 
Well, jeepers. First of all, why were they first referred to as Mary's "birds" rather than, you know, insects? Not dainty-sounding enough, I suppose. And as for scientists preferring to call them "ladybird beetles or lady beetles" on technical grounds, well, I'm no scientist, much less an evolutionary biologist, but I'm just gonna go out on a limb and guess that they're more closely related to bugs than to birds. Heck, if you really want to be technical, you'd be better off calling them oh, say, "spiderbugs"—I mean, I'm just guessing they're also more closely related to spiders than they are to ladies. (Arachne, Spider-Woman, the Black Widow, and former first lady Lady Bird Johnson excepted, maybe.)
 
Anyway I'm going to keep calling them ladybugs. : P
 
 
 
 
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  Scribble ScrabbleJun 21, 2016 8:35 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a sketch I mailed off to a reader as their monthly reward for supporting the comic through the A* Patreon campaign : D :
 
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Thank you!
 
 
 
 
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  Almost there again!Jun 20, 2016 9:24 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Hey, we made it through Monday! Only four days left until the weekend! : D
 
 
 
 
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  Cheer up, it's a strollJun 17, 2016 5:18 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Lots of readers help me keep the comic going by contributing a buck or two or even more a month automatically through the A* Patreon campaign! It's a huge help and I even get to send out some rewards each month in return, f'rinstance here's a sketch I mailed to a reader as the reward for their contribution in a recent month:
 
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Thank you! : D
 
 
 
 
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  We're lucky if we see the MoonJun 16, 2016 9:35 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:This BBC article from last week about light pollution mentioned that "a third of the world now cannot see the Milky Way." I know I've never seen it from here in Seattle! And I'm not sure I did see it then (this was some time ago), but maybe the closest I've come was when my dad and brother and I were out clambering around some rocks or something out in a wilderness area at night—I think this was the time we drove down to the Grand Canyon, maybe—and I looked up at the non-light-polluted sky and was like "ohhhhhh"—because there were a lot more stars than I'd seen before! Psh. City folk. (Also the Milky Way is lower on the horizon and thus harder to see from the northern hemisphere. : p)
 
 
 
 
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  Episode 27 sketch flashback!Jun 15, 2016 8:43 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a monthly reward sketch I sent to a reader for helping me out through the A* Patreon campaign!
 
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It's a huge help! Thank you! ^^_^^
 
 
 
 
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  Compelling and richJun 14, 2016 8:53 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:A page of my chat from eh conversations taking place this afternoon while drawing and painting today's A* page on my Twitch live art stream channel : D :
 
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*I* had fun, at least ^_^
 
 
 
 
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  Top Web Comics widget refresh!Jun 13, 2016 11:50 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Top Web Comics has got the bulk of their stuff working again since their big revamp on Friday, so the little TWC voting widgets a little way below the right side of the comic and on the "about" page are back showing the comic's current rank in TWC's big list, based on daily votes by readers. (Thanks for your votes :D)
 
The TWC widget on the comic pages differs from the one on the "about" page in that it is a static image that only updates once per day; I set it up that way because some browsers, like Google Chrome, will flicker each time they load an updated version of the widget. So the rank shown on the comic page TWC widget will not always be as up-to-date as the rank on the "about" page widget, which always shows the comic's current rank.
 
Additionally, since I'm now pulling the daily image of the entire widget from TWC instead of just the comic's numeric rank—they have a function to return a comic's rank number, as text, from a web query, which was very handy for scripting custom stuff, like the text overlay I used to show the daily rank on the widget before, but it seems to be inaccessible by scripts since their big weekend system overhaul—or by my script, anyway : P; because, I say, the comic page TWC widget is now a static image, you *may* have to refresh your browser's view of the comic page before it will realize that the widget image has changed since the previous day and needs re-downloading. Refreshing a page in your browser works differently depending on what you're running on: most browsers have a "Refresh" button or menu item or something, and then there are sometimes keyboard shortcuts; in Windows, for instance, you can press the F5 key to refresh the browser window.
 
 
 
 
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  She doesn't look thankful but I am : DJun 11, 2016 2:27 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Yes it's another monthly reward sketch I mailed out to a reader for supporting the comic through the A* Patreon campaign!
 
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The support I get from readers through Patreon, even if it's just a buck or two a month, really is actually keeping this comic going, and I really enjoy making it, so thank you very, very much for your help! : D
 
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(You may notice the little blue Top Web Comics voting widget thingy a little way down below the right side of the comic is not showing A*'s ranking in their list at the moment: they just changed around their whole system and broke all their widgets, and from the sound of it, the earliest that working widgets might come out—if at all?—is some time next week, but for now you should still be able to click on the widget to go to the A* voting page.
 
That is, the link is a new one I hunted up off their site, and it seems to be the right one currently, but I'm not sure they won't change it again at some point as they get the rest of their functionality back up to speed, so anyway if it stops working, just let me know (emailing me at smbhax@gmail.com is one way to do that!—there's also @smbhax on Twitter, etc) and I'll change it around to match whatever they change it to. And thanks for voting, by the way. : D)
 
 
 
 
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  Tooth and saberJun 09, 2016 10:27 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Scientists calculate that saber-toothed cats had relatively weak bites: a Smilodon, for instance—the type on which the cats in today's page were mostly based (I should note that not all "saber-toothed cats" were actually cats: for instance, the first saber-toothed animal was a mammal-like reptile, a precursor to mammals, and a couple orders of later saber-tooths were more closely related to marsupials than cats)—had a bite strength only a third as strong as a modern lion.
 
One theory to explain this apparent disadvantage notes that while the muscle powering the lower jaw of the saber-tooths was relatively weak, the muscle attaching to the base of the skull from the neck was larger than a modern cat's, suggesting that they stabbed their enlarged canine teeth (some got up to nearly 20 inches long) into their prey with a powerful downward motion of their neck.
 
 
 
 
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  There's a sketch over there!Jun 08, 2016 8:48 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:I've got so many sketches sent out as monthly rewards to readers supporting the A* Patreon campaign to show you! I do a bunch of these each month and mail them out to those folks—and I email e-book downloads to a bunch of other readers, too!—because the support I get through Patreon, even if it's just a buck or two a month from a reader, is a really big deal! So here's another sketch! : D
 
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(I don't show the sketches right away 'cause I want to make sure the reader they're sent to is the very first person to see 'em : D.) Thank youuuu!
 
 
 
 
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  That Bram Stoker's Dracula hairJun 07, 2016 8:38 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Thanks once again to all the readers keeping A* going by sending me a buck or two—or even more if they are so inclined!—automatically each month through the A* Patreon campaign! It isn't easy making ends meet while making a webcomic full time, and those kind folks are the reason I've been able to keep bringing you new pages of space adventure every weekday. : ) I certainly appreciate everyone helping me out over there, and sometimes I even get to send back little rewards, like this sketch I mailed off to a reader some months ago for their latest month of support:
 
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Thanks, all!
 
 
 
 
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  NASA's Juno reaches Jupiter July 4thJun 06, 2016 8:27 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:In less than a month, on the 4th of July, NASA's Juno ("JUpiter Near-polar Orbiter") probe will reach Jupiter; the plan is for it to orbit the gas giant in an elliptical polar orbit 37 times—through 2018—studying Jupiter's water content, core mass, gravitational and magnetic fields, atmosphere, aurorae, and the distortion of spacetime caused by its rotation (a relativistic effect also known as frame-dragging).
 
Taking a long curve in over the poles will allow Juno to avoid long-term exposure to Jupiter's intense radiation belts; the previous Jupiter probe, Galileo, orbited through the radiation belts, and suffered numerous faults as a consequence of the bombardment of radioactive particles during its eight years of orbit, including loss of photographic images (and complete loss of its camera for the final year of the mission), loss of data playback, radio frequency shifts, gyroscopic anomalies, and current leakages that could cause the spacecraft to reboot into safe mode. By avoiding the worst of the radiation belts, Juno will hopefully be free of such problems; it also has a 1-cm-thick titanium wall to act as a radiation shield.
 
All previous spacecraft to operate in the outer solar system have been powered by the decay of a radioactive material, but because of "the global shortage" of the isotope generally used, plutonium 238, "as well as advances made in solar cell technology over the past several decades," Juno is the first probe of the outer solar system ("the farthest solar-powered trip in the history of space exploration") to obtain its power entirely from solar panels—three rather large solar panels, because only about 4% of the sunlight that would reach it around Earth will reach it at Jupiter; its polar orbit will also allow it to maximize its time exposed to sunlight.
 
Juno launched in August, 2011, and its nearly five-year trip to Jupiter included, funnily enough, a fly-by of where it came from—Earth—about midway through, in October 2013, in order to get a boost in velocity from the pull of Earth's gravity as the planet circled the Sun: Juno's initial launch from Earth flung it into an orbit wider than Earth's around the Sun, but after a year and a month, a little thrust from its engine arced it back to meet us again a little over two of our own loops around the Sun later, and it swung by at just the right distance to get enough of a tug from our gravity to fling it even further out against the pull of the Sun's gravity than before, this time far enough to meet Jupiter coming around the Sun on its own very long orbit; this is all visible in an elegant NASA animation on YouTube.
 
 
 
 
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  That "don't mess with me" faceJun 03, 2016 5:20 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:It's time for me to thank once again those readers supporting the comic through the A* Patreon campaign—all these people sending me a buck or two or even more each month to keep working on the comic makes a big, big difference! Thank you! : D Here's a painting that went off to a reader a while back as their monthly reward for their support:
 
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Yay! : D
 
 
 
 
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  King Tut's knife came from spaceJun 02, 2016 10:17 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Tutankhamun's knife was 'made from meteorite iron' says a new BBC article; the scientific study quoted says that the proportions of cobalt and nickel found in the unrusted iron blade of one of two daggers "King Tut" was buried with in his tomb in the 1320s BC "strongly suggests an extraterrestrial origin." : o
 
Ironwork of any kind was rare in ancient Egypt so this was something really special! Although apparently—if some YouTube video can be trusted—that type of thing (warning: loud music) still goes on today, as I just happened to find in a completely unrelated A* info search this evening.
 
 
 
 
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  More than you wanted to know about brushesJun 01, 2016 10:11 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:So last week I said that, starting with page 21, I was going to bring back an old brush I had stopped using two episodes ago, because I was missing certain things it could do—and that I would talk about that more this week, after I'd had a chance to get some new pages done with it. Now is that time!
 
Here are the brushes I'm currently using for A*'s watercolor work:
 
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From left: Winsor & Newton "One Stroke" 1/2" and 1/8" brushes, and RaphaŽl 8404 size 0, 4, and 3 brushes.
 
The newly brought out old brush is the RaphaŽl 8404, size 4: a long, finely pointed brush (it's a bit flattened after the day's work in the above photo : p) with a pretty big barrel that can hold a lot of paint or ink while still being able to make fairly sharp lines; it can also make pretty wide lines or cover wide areas if need be. In other words, it's versatile! But I stopped using it at episode 27, page 10, and what I said at the time was that I was using it to do too much linework, and I didn't think that was my forte; I wanted to focus more on composing areas of color, rather than lines, and I was going to do that using brushes with broad heads, rather than points.
 
I think that was a useful thing to practice, but lately I've been a little irritated by difficulty I've had in making tidy lines or even just edges in certain situations when it would have been nice to have them; without a precise edge tool, areas of color can fail to get across critical details as readily as one would like. Now, it happened that for the page near the end of the last episode with Selenis stalking down an alleyway—episode 28, page 73—I needed to pull out the tiny 8404 size 0 brush—which I hadn't used for watercolor before (they used to come as free extras with the 8404 size 4s : D, that's the only reason I had them in the first place!)—in order to paint the extra-tiny Selenis in the distance. Since then, I've kept it around, and found it sneaking into use here and there for intricate detail work—Agnar's face and hands in our first view of him on page 18, for instance—and it was actually working out rather well, letting me get across things I wouldn't have been able to get across with just the wide-headed "One Stroke" brushes I had been using. (I've been using the 8404 size 3 all along, too—although before I called it a size 4, but it's definitely shorter than the size 4 I pulled back out, so I *think* it's a 3? or it just shrunk over time : P—but it's an old beat-up brush, and I use it strictly for applying white corrective ink, which is all gummy and would ruin the nice point on a non-beat-up brush.)
 
So that got me thinking about the other 8404 I used to use, the size 4, and I started to realize that the One Stroke brushes couldn't quite handle everything: the big one is good for covering large areas, but trying to put large areas around detailed shapes is something it *can't* really do on its own; and the smaller One Stroke can kind of do shapes, but its rectangular head sometimes makes that a little erratic when I don't *want* it to be erratic—and it can't hold much paint at once, so it can't be used to fill in larger areas, which meant I had to use the big One Stroke for all but the tiniest areas, so medium-sized areas would definitely come out a little raggedy at the edges.
 
So anyway, the 8404 size 4 is back—for those medium-sized areas, and places where I need a smoother, medium-sized line. In today's page, for instance, the big One Stroke handled the large washes of color, the small One Stroke did the blocked-in cubbyholes in the background, the 8404 size 0 did the fine dark red and purple details of the faces and sword, and 8404 size 4 filled in the background color around Selenis and the sword, to keep the edges neat and tidy and preserve the outlines, and also handled the localized background color washes that produced the "glow" effect of the sword, and the 8404 size 3 did white highlights on the sword hilt and cubbyhole objects, and also tidied up a few edges and hid a few watercolor splatters here and there.
 
And that's all I should have to make you read about brushes for a while. : P
 
 
 
 
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