For this commission, Fraylim wanted a before & after type of piece featuring their character Stuart/Stacy from a mostly unrealized series of theirs called School Daze. Stuart is a shy, stereotypical nerd whose aunt takes it upon herself to make him more popular at school. Naturally, she decides that the most effective way of accomplishing this is by transforming her wallflower nephew into an attractive girl. The rest of the details were left up to me.
As someone who knows a little something about what it was like to be a shy, unpopular, somewhat nerdy kid, I was able to draw upon some of my own real life experiences for this: chiefly, my memories of sitting alone at lunch through most of middle school. There was also an incident in fifth grade in which a kid at the next table tossed a roll at me. I tossed it back at him and the vice principal made me stay inside during recess. The other kid didn't get punished because she hadn't seen him. One of the few times I decided I wasn't just going to meekly tolerate the almost daily harassment I received and I was the one who got in trouble for it. Dredging up that memory caused me to become incredibly irate at the inherent unfairness of it all, even all these years later. This is why I tend not to dwell on the past much; it angries up the blood.
Painful memories from my time at school were the primary reason I turned down an illustrating gig last year. An author with whom I've worked a few times in the past (one who I meet through Bea, actually) contacted me to enquire if I'd be willing to illustrate a book about a school in which the boys are forced to wear girls' uniforms. Based on that bare-bones description, it sounded intriguing, plus no other illustration projects had come my way in quite a while, so I expressed a tentative interest. Then I read a draft of the story and I could feel my enthusiasm draining out of me.
One of the main characters in this story is sent to this school against his will as punishment for misdeeds that were actually committed by his troublemaking twin brother, who seems to revel in his twin's unhappiness. That was bad enough, but the fact that all the authority figures in the feminized twin's life are either blind to or (in the case of the lady who runs the school) actively enable his brother's asshole behavior really stuck in my craw. To be honest, I have such discriminating tastes, I haven't liked most of the feminization stories I've illustrated, but I've usually managed to put aside my personal feelings when doing my work. Unfortunately, this story hit a little too close to home for me to simply shrug off my misgivings. I didn't have an evil twin, but I was picked on so much by my peers and was so miserable in school that I couldn't bring myself to work on a story like that, particularly one where there's no happy ending. My assumption is that people buy stories of this nature in order to be titillated, but all this one did for me was make me extremely annoyed and frustrated.
As far as I'm concerned, that was more than sufficient cause for me to back out of the project, but if I'm being completely honest there was another reason. No, not laziness. The more I thought about it, something about the tone of the story really rubbed me the wrong way. Spoiler alert: the real reason this school is forcing boys into skirts and silky blouses (this author is really in love with the word "silky"; I counted over a hundred uses in the draft I was sent) is to influence change in society that will supposedly somehow gradually lead to a complete reversal in traditional gender roles. Now, within this genre, a secret conspiracy by women is probably a pretty common trope. But the way words like "progressive" and "politically correct" were employed by the devious so-called "feminist bitches" in the story, it read less like a crossdressing fantasy and more like some right wing crackpot's paranoid fears of feminism run amok. Perhaps I was overreacting, but liberal snowflake that I am, I didn't feel comfortable lending my art to a narrative that seemed to have a warped view of what any of those terms actually mean.
This is completely apropos of nothing, but seeing that I've already basically hijacked the blog to talk about whatever's on my mind, I might as well finish by taking a quick moment to acknowledge the passing of Dolores O'Riordan, the lead singer of The Cranberries, which I learned about as I was in the middle of writing this. I'm embarrassed to say that I've never bothered to retain the memory of her name before now and I didn't even know the band was still together after all this time, but I've been a fan of their music for over a couple decades now and it's just a bummer to lose someone whose work you've enjoyed, especially at such a relatively early age.