Monday, October 31, 2011

A Halloween hallucination

It’s a strange feeling to meet your character in the real world.

I’m told that Sir Terry Pratchett visited the set during the filming of the TV version of his excellent novel Hogfather. He had a cameo role in the production, sharing a scene with perhaps his most iconic character, but actually running into the guy was a little jarring. You see, his co-star was Death—the Grim Reaper himself—robes, scythe, and all. Death makes a personal appearance in nearly every novel in Pratchett’s Discworld series (37 of 39), and takes center stage in Hogfather, where he takes over the role of a Santa-Claus-like figure after the fat man’s untimely demise. (Imagine children waiting up for Santa and getting a skeleton down the chimney instead. Exactly—hilarious!) So you can imagine Pratchett’s reaction when the first person he met on-set was a 6’7” Dutchman in a black robe with a polished white skull for a face. On the one hand, it’s delightful to see the fruits of your imagination brought so vividly to life. On the other, it does tend to make you worry about your sanity—and, in the case of Sir Terry, your impending mortality as well.

So here’s what Johanna looks like in her custom-tailored Peregrine costume, which you’ll all be seeing later on the cover of the collected edition of Masks:

I was happy to find the costume came out pretty close to Nicole’s original drawings. The tunic turned out to be a bit more complicated than I expected—any big sewing project always does—but I think it’s still within the abilities of a talented sixteen-year-old with sufficient motivation. The real problem was appliquéing the Peregrine insignia on the back, which was probably eight or ten hours’ very fine and fiddly work. (Next time I design a superhero costume, the insignia is going to be a circle or something just as easy to sew!)

I’m rather proud of the pin, though. I was unable to get a metal fabricator on board, and unlike Rae, I don’t have access to a metal shop, so I had to make do with polystyrene and the judicious use of a Dremel rotary tool. It was my first time using a Dremel, and I am inordinately proud that I didn’t injure myself in the process. Last time I checked, I still held my high school’s record for the largest number of objects broken in a single chemistry experiment, so I fully expected to spend my weekend in the emergency room, but I didn’t even come close to cutting myself, and with a little touch-up paint, the results weren’t too bad. My only real complaint about the pin is the mirrored finish; I don’t think Rae would wear anything that reflective, but I didn’t know how shiny the plastic would be when I ordered it, and it was either that or take my chances applying silver paint to flat black styrene. Still and all, not a bad job, and any little inconsistencies can be fixed digitally when I take the cover photos.

Still and all, it was weird to look at. I’ve known Johanna for years, but as soon as she pulled that hood up over her hair, it was like someone else was standing there. She borrowed my favorite black bandana to use as a facecloth, something I’ve done myself as part of other costumes, and even though I’d seen and handled every part of the costume while making it, something about seeing her pull the bandana up over the bridge of her nose transformed her into someone I didn’t know in quite the same way. I found myself taking mental notes on little things—the way the folds of the bandana settled around her neck when she tugged her mask down, the way her eyes moved in the shadow of the hood—as if I were observing a stranger.

So this is what it’s like to hallucinate, I thought as I put my camera up between myself and my creation.

There was a little bit of pride involved (hey, look, my character design actually works!) and a little trepidation (gee, I hope this doesn’t look stupid to everyone else), but mostly it was just weird. I remarked that I was probably more excited about seeing Johanna in the costume than I would have been about wearing it myself. Johanna asked why.

“Because,” I said, “if you dress up as my sixteen-year-old character, it’s cute. If I dress up as my sixteen-year-old character, it’s creepy.”

But that wasn’t the only reason, of course. There’s more than a little of me in Rae, and I can’t help wondering … if I start dressing up as my own creation, how will anyone tell where she ends and I begin?

Will I still be there at all?

Oh, well. Happy Halloween, everybody!

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