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Mer-movie trivia for your 2020 Leap Day February 29, 2020 18:35

From Jess:  

My husband and co-author Chris's movie "The Call of the Wild" FINALLY came out earlier this month! Hooray! And although the film is an adaptation of Jack London's classic tale of a dog overcoming adversity and getting in touch with his inner wolf in the 1890s Yukon, there was originally a mermaid-related Easter egg or two before -- in true Hollywood fashion -- the relevant parts of that scene ended up on the cutting-room floor. Bummer. But, because I love filmmaking trivia and deleted scenes, I'm going to share that with you here!

The town of Dawson's saloon, the Argonaut, advertises a "magic lantern" show. For a place full of prospectors and not much else, a slideshow of tintype photographs from around the world made for an exciting evening, and several of the images that Chris chose referenced some of the Disney films he'd worked on in his lengthy animation career: the Eiffel tower for "Beauty and the Beast," lions for "The Lion King," and hula dancers for "Lilo & Stitch." Also included were some geishas, the leaning tower of Pisa... and yours truly, dressed as a mermaid (naturally), which served double duty for "The Little Mermaid" (the film that was wrapping up production when Chris started at Disney) and "Rescue Sirens."


(Crown, jewelry, and tail by none other than my beloved Merbella Studios, of course.)

This is a really-for-real tintype: a "wet plate" form of photography most popular in the mid- to late 1800s (so, totally period appropriate!), made -- per Wikipedia -- "by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel and used as the support for the photographic emulsion."

So where do you go to get a tintype in the 21st century? In our case, we visited Bailey-Denton Photography in Garden Grove, California. Using authentic equipment -- hundred-year-old cameras and original 19th century lenses -- this husband-and-wife team really knows their stuff, and Chris and I left with multiple stunning images that were developed right before our eyes like an 1800s Polaroid photo!

We were so pleased with Bailey-Denton's work that I suggested Fox hire them for the crew gift at the end of principle photography for "The Call of the Wild." Because tintypes were a portable photography method, this means Bailey-Denton can travel, and indeed they do much of their business at Civil War reenactments, steampunk events, and Victorian-era festivals. With racks of fun clothing and props to choose from, the cast and crew were able to take home a really unique memory of their time on the film. Of course, Chris and I took one together!


(Finally, my RBF comes in handy!)

While the saloon scene changed focus and the tintype slideshow was sadly lost, I'm happy to be able to share this little bit of trivia with you. Maybe part of it will show up on the DVD? Fin(ger)s crossed!

Mer-Made in the USA May 21, 2019 16:00

From Jess: 

This is not going to be a fun post, but I think it’s a necessary one. We'll return to your regularly-scheduled happy Mer-May news soon.

In the past week, I have observed two American small businesses that I admire and support — a well-known mermaid tailmaker, as well as deluxe art book publisher Flesk Publications — struggling with the new 25% tariff being implemented on goods produced in and imported from China. These are smart people who are doing everything rightcreating things of beauty to share with all of us at prices we can afford, and now they're being forced to question their companies' futures.

”Well,” the knee jerk response seems to be, “just stop doing business in China!”

Okay. Let me tell you a story  a story about a book.

Chris and I printed our novel “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” in the United States. Right here in Glendale, California, in fact! Both the hardcover first edition and the paperback second edition were printed and bound in the USA.

There were a lot of advantages to this! We have a good relationship with our local printer and were happy to work with him again, we were able to drop in and see the books in progress, the entire process was really fast (we needed the first editions in time for San Diego Comic-Con 2015), and the books turned out beautifully both times. Chris and I like to support small businesses and to buy American when we can, and it was gratifying to know that the money we’d spent on printing the books was going back into our very own community.

But there’s one big disadvantage: with all the books we’ve sold since 2015, we have not profited ONE CENT.

”Well,” asks the same person who suggested not doing business with China, “why don’t you just charge more for your books?”

That’s an easy one: because people won’t pay what’s necessary for us to make money when printing in the United States.

Here are some numbers for you. I don’t normally discuss finances this openly, but it’s vital in this situation to drive home my point.


HARDCOVER FIRST EDITION:
Illustrator fee: $8,000
Colorist fee: $1150
Printing/binding fee: $19,924
Total cost: $29,074

PAPERBACK SECOND EDITION:
Printing fee: $16,442


Those were the costs for 1,000 books each time, which makes figuring out the unit price really simple: $29.07 per hardcover, and $16.44 per paperback.

We sell our books for $20 each.

See where this is going?

Every single copy of “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” has been sold for a profit of about $3.56 (paperback), or for a loss of $9.07 (hardcover). Once we sell every copy of our novels, we will still be in the redAnd that’s not even taking into account the inevitable damaged books, gift and personal copies, or books we’ve sold through Amazon subject to their FBA fees (compounding the loss). We're just trying to fill the hole as much as we can.

The thing is, Chris and I knew going in that we were going to lose money, but printing and selling these books was important to us and that was a sacrifice we were willing to make at that time. We figured we’d compensate for it in other ways. He and I are fortunate enough that we were able to take a loss in order to get the first “Rescue Sirens” book out there — but most people are not. If this was our livelihood, we would obviously be screwed.

Let’s take a look at what we would have to charge in order to make this financially feasible. Keep in mind, we’ve already received plenty of complaints for selling our books for twenty bucks apiece! If we had, instead, offered them at 250% of our cost — which 1) pays for production, 2) provides us the same funds to print the books again, should we need to, and 3) earns us some actual profit on top of that — then we’d be charging $41 for the paperback and $73 for the hardcover. Do you think people are going to pay that for an 8.5"x5.5", 192-page novel? Because I can tell you that they won’t. I sure as hell wouldn’t.

”Well, why don’t you just sell the books digitally?”

Yeah. We do that. You can purchase “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” on Amazon for your Kindle or tablet/smartphone for $2.99. It’s almost pure profit for us. And, over and over, the feedback from customers has been, “I just prefer a book that I can hold in my hands.” Digital sales have been negligible (around five hundred “copies,” last I checked).

So, tell me, what are Chris and I supposed to do when it comes time to print the next "Rescue Sirens" book and we don't want to (or can't) take another multi-thousand dollar hit? As I think this post has proven, keeping book production in the United States is unsustainable, and our current government is busy making it too expensive to work with overseas manufacturers, as well.

Is the US-China relationship and how it relates to the state of American manufacturing today a problem that has an easy solution? Of course not. I would never claim that. It's complicated, and has been for decades. But punishing small businesses by charging them money for having their goods produced overseas at a cost that allows them to actually make a living isn’t helping.

If these new duty taxes aren’t affecting you or someone you know now, they will be soon, even if it’s indirectly through the items you purchase. And if this keeps up, we’ll see a world in which products either cost a LOT more, or they simply cease to exist. I don’t want to lose beautiful fabric mermaid tails, or Flesk Publications’ gorgeous art books; I want to see these businesses (and the families behind them) thrive. That means something has to change... and these new tariffs need to go.


Further reading:

John Fleskes’ Facebook post about how the new tariffs are affecting Flesk Publications


INKtober 2017 October 23, 2017 06:00

From Jess: 

Now, if you've read our past blogs, you know about Mer-May -- when everyone spends a month drawing mermaids -- but are you familiar with Inktober?

As the name suggests, artists take the month of October to work on inking traditionally: with a brush, pen, or quill; some draw every day and follow prompts (just like the prompt lists you'll find during Mer-May), but other artists just draw what they feel like as often as they can. No matter how you do it, Inktober is a celebration of all things inky! With so many people creating their drawings digitally now, it's awesome to see such a dedicated return to hand-drawing.

My husband and "Rescue Sirens" co-author, Chris Sanders, is a master with a brush and a bottle of ink. While he often colors his drawings digitally in Photoshop, Chris still sketches them on paper with a pencil, then inks them with a Winsor & Newton Series 7 sable brush. It's like magic to watch, and, last Inktober, Chris recorded himself inking a cute witch pin-up for Halloween, which I then edited into a short time-lapse video.

Several months ago, I did the same for an illustration of Rescue Siren Kelby that Chris drew earlier this year as part of the artwork on our booth backdrop at San Diego Comic-Con. I waited until now to upload the video because, hey, Inktober!

Take a look:




Isn't it mesmerizing?

As a bonus, let's revisit the adorable chibi-style drawing of Rescue Siren Nim that Chris offered as a prize in our "Rescue Sirens" fan art contest this past May:




Inking even a relatively simple drawing like Chibi Nim seems like witchcraft (appropriate for this time of year!), at least when it's done by someone as skilled as Chris. I could watch him ink all day long! Between Halloween (my favorite holiday) and Inktober, October is a pretty fin-omenal month.

If you'd like to see more "Rescue Sirens" videos, you can always visit our Videos page or our YouTube channel.

Underwater photography workshop with Brenda Stumpf March 31, 2017 13:35

From Jess: 

Back in October, I had the opportunity to do something really special: wearing my beautiful silicone mermaid tail and top from Merbella Studios, I participated in an underwater modeling workshop with photographer Brenda Stumpf that was facilitated by professional mermaid performing company Sheroes Entertainment here in Los Angeles. It was amazing! The resulting images of me dressed as Rescue Siren Nim have the dreamiest, most ethereal look to them; they're magical.

I've been photographed underwater a couple of times, but I still feel like a newbie; let me tell you, it's something that takes practice! Imagine everything involved in normal modeling -- striking a great pose, finding the right angle, making sure your hair isn't doing something weird, and wearing a casual facial expression that doesn't betray all the things on your mind -- and then add a giant mermaid tail and an inability to see clearly (because mermaids don't wear goggles). Oh, yeah, and you also can't breathe. Whew! I still tend to wind up with "thinking face" as I mentally tick off all of those boxes, which, of course, isn't usually what you want in a photograph.

Fortunately, Brenda has a ton of experience shooting models underwater, and she and Sheroes' Catalina Mermaid made the entire workshop experience really easy and fun. When Chris and I arrived at the shooting venue, there was a rig set up in the delightfully heated pool that I could grab onto and hang from when I was above water -- this allowed me to keep my tail still to avoid disturbing the fabric backdrop as I came up for air or chatted with Brenda and Catalina about our next shot before dropping back beneath the surface.

As you've probably guessed from the concept of "Rescue Sirens," safety is something that's very important to me; luckily, it's important to Brenda and Sheroes Entertainment, too, and Catalina acted as a safety diver for the workshop. She watched me closely and kept a lifeguard tube handy in case I experienced any sort of difficulty, and, knowing the extent of her lifeguard and rescue training, I knew I was in good hands and could enjoy myself. As you can tell from these behind-the-scenes photos snapped by Chris, I was all smiles!





The ninety minutes I'd booked seemed to fly by, and I was sad to wiggle out of my tail and dry off because I'd had such a good time with Brenda and Catalina; I didn't want it to end. Saying goodbye meant that I was closer to seeing the four final images that came with the workshop package, though, and I was thrilled when they arrived in my inbox about a month and a half later!

Click to enlarge:



If you're in the Los Angeles area, Sheroes Entertainment is facilitating another underwater modeling workshop with Brenda, coming up in May. There are currently only two spots left, so be sure to check it out if you've ever wanted to get incredible underwater pictures of yourself! (You don't have to wear a mermaid tail, either, although fabric tails are available for the shoot if you're so inclined.) Both Brenda and Mermaid Catalina are the very definition of professional, courteous, experienced, and responsible -- and they're friendly and fun, too! I'm already looking forward to the next time I get to work with them.

Nim and Kelby, drawn by Brianna Garcia April 23, 2016 17:29

From Jess: 

One of the artists that Chris and I like to pester visit with the most during comic conventions is illustrator, storyboard revisionist, and color stylist Brianna Garcia. Her drawings are fun, joyful, and utterly beautiful, and she herself is such a pleasure to talk to! We'd been wanting to commission her for quite some time, and we finally asked if she wouldn't mind drawing two of our Rescue Sirens: Nim and Kelby. Luckily for us, Brianna agreed!

Working with her was a breeze; after we briefly described what we were thinking about, Brianna went off and came back with four awesome sketches of Nim and Kelby being BFFs (best fins forever) together. The hardest part was choosing which version to bring to final!

(Click to enlarge.)


Any one of them would've been amazing, but we finally decided on the second of the four sketches. The endearing expressions and the poses that showed off both girls' mermaid tails helped make this our favorite, so Brianna cleaned up her drawing and gave it a striking paint job:


Gorgeous, isn't it? Chris and I are so happy that we had the opportunity to commission Brianna -- her take on Nim and Kelby couldn't be cuter!

To see more of Brianna's wonderful artwork, check out her Instagram and Tumblr.