In Acrossing the Miles, the Beat’s intrepid Animal Crossing travel reporter Avery Kaplan will leave her home base on Dharma Island to soar across the Dodo skies and visit the finest creators in comics on their respective virtual islands. This week, she’s visiting Emma, a.k.a. Pseudonym Jones, on the island of Hollyhill!
On the afternoon of Sunday, July 12th, I left Dharma Island and headed to Hollyhill, the island shared by Emma and her wife, Lish.
Even from the air, I could see the many carefully tended flowers that surround the island of Hollyhill.
Emma came to meet me at the gate, where she had some very nice things to say about my mermaid dress, which I had been given by Pascal just a few days before. In fact, she even presented me with the matching shoes as an extremely thoughtful gift!
Emma explained to me that when it came to flowers, her wife was the one with the green thumb.
“She’s really into gardening, so she’s got her little greenhouse looking thing there, and then all the flowers here,” Emma said. In fact, Lish has even managed to breed the most coveted of hybrid flowers, the blue rose.
Emma told me that while she and Lish had played Animal Crossing games together in the past, this was the first time they had shared a single game.
“Lish and I did play the original Animal Crossing together, a little bit, where you had to swap memory cards,” said Emma. “But this is the first time we’re like, really playing it together – and sharing an island is really really playing it together. We have to share resources and everything, and honestly? It’s going really well.”
Emma said that the game had been especially helpful at this point in time. “It’s been nice playing this with my partner, especially during quarantine,” she said.
Nearby is perhaps the hottest spot on Hollyhill: a combination music venue, coffee shop, and pizzeria.
“Really, I just need that in real life,” Emma said. “Sorry, a lot of this is just going to be me wishing that I could go outside!”
Hollyhill also has a centrally located bamboo island, which you can only access by hopping over water.
“I do love my little bamboo island,” Emma told me. “It’s going to be a shame when I have to tear it all down and replace it with all the mushroom stuff… But I absolutely have to do that.”
The shops on Hollyhill have been arranged near one another to create a commerce district, which Emma says has been useful for replicating the experience of a casual trip to the store.
On a sea-level cliff along the Northern shore of Hollyhill, Emma has placed a backwards doghouse beside the lighthouse to create a forced perspective illusion.
“This idea I stole from somebody on the internet,” Emma declared. “Sometimes you just have to do that. Not everything can be original!”
Just beside the bee hives is the Hollyhill Museum, which features some nice statuary around its gardens. Emma demonstrated the creepy, jerking movement that takes place when you activate the T. Rex skeleton out front.
Emma told me that it was important to her to feature Redd in her decorations for Hollyhill’s secret beach.
“I made it very Redd themed, because I love Redd,” she told me. “I wish he had showed up today, but he is not here!”
Using clever placement of hedges, Emma has created her own secret garden filled with money trees. By ensuring the gap in the hedges is directly behind a freshly planted sapling, Emma can be sure that when the tree grows, its branches will block the player’s view of the garden’s point of ingress thanks to the game’s fixed outdoor camera angle.
“Lish has never stolen a money tree from me before,” Emma said. “But it still feels nice to have a secret garden.”
From the secret garden, we don our wetsuits and dive off the cliff in to the ocean surrounding Hollyhill.
Emma explained that she and her wife had split designing duties on Hollyhill, with Lish designing certain areas and Emma designing others. As we toured the Hollyhill Cemetery, she explained that as we were getting closer to her home, we were seeing more of the areas she had designed.
We also visited with some of the villagers of Hollyhill.
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) May 9, 2020
Emma told me that the villager’s propensity to wholly embrace the gifts you give them has created something of a stylistic crisis on Hollyhill, particularly when it came to a certain Bunny Day hat.
“My wife was giving the villagers presents every day when she started playing, and I don’t think she realized that they put the bugs in their house or start wearing the clothes,” Emma said. “So she started giving all of our townspeople Bunny Day stuff, and Patty still hasn’t gotten rid of this hat!”
Emma joked that she may even have to consider having Patty move out if she doesn’t reconsider her sartorial decisions.
“I don’t know if Bunny Day counts as a religious holiday, but I think we’re done observing it,” she remarked.
“I’ve got some gnomes and dandelions,” said Emma. “And yellow mums, which looked like dandelions before we actually got dandelions, so I was very excited about out that.”
There are lots of exciting areas and guests in the immediate vicinity of Emma’s house.
“I just caught an isopod, and he’s my new pet!” said Emma. “He does a little wiggle, if you pet him. It’s a very slight wiggle, but it’s happening.”
Next to her house, Emma has constructed a cliff-diving area, for immediate oceanic access.
“So this used to be where my lighthouse was, but now it is another cliff diving spot, so I can leave home and just run directly to the ocean,” Emma said.
Touring Emma’s House
From the cliffs, we headed to Emma’s house.
Emma told me that she was very excited about the bug cage that she had received as a prize in the Hollyhill July Bug Off, which took place the day before I visited.
“I just got this bug cage from the bug hunt, and that’s where I keep all my clothes now,” she said.
She took a moment to show me some of her favorite outfits, mentioned that the clothing wands were one of her favorite parts of the game.
“I’ve got to keep a wand handy, all the time,” Emma said. “It’s very important to me to have at least eight outfits at any time!”
Emma also modeled a cosplay based on her original character, Spätzle, who is featured in her Fanlee and Spätzle slice-of-life comics (including Fanlee and Spätzle Make Something Perfect, a 64-page comic collecting their adventures that includes a vinyl sticker). I asked Emma if there was a creative origin story for the pair of incredibly endearing characters.
“My wife and I were both sick at the same time, and both pretty heavily medicated,” said Emma. “And I was like, ‘Here! I’m just going to draw some cute little guys.’ And that’s what I did!”
While there was some ongoing development, the foundations of the characters were already in place. “They look a lot different than they do now,” Emma said. “They’re like the same height, and then a big head on a small body for both of them. But otherwise, their features are mostly intact.”
With the drawings complete, the medicated Emma called her wife over.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know what their names are,’” Emma recalled. “And she said, ‘This is Fanlee and the other one – ’ well, Spätzle’s old name, her deadname – is Guatemala, and she just picked that off the top of her head. And that’s kind of how they got their names! And um, that’s how they came into existence. And I never stopped loving them since that moment!”
an artist must die pic.twitter.com/pG3TKXZxlP
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) February 8, 2018
fanlee & spätzle pic.twitter.com/KB0x3Ym621
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) November 3, 2018
Emma’s affection for the characters is clear, but in comics, conflict can be inevitable.
“I do realize, last year I had Spätzle and Lentil break up, and then had a character trip and fart in front of them,” Emma said. “So sometimes I do laugh at their pain!”
Emma explained that the comic had a unique developmental process, since the role of the character that trips and farts was played by a contest winner.
“That was my birthday present to myself last year,” said Emma. “I was like, ‘How am I going to make this breakup comic not be miserable?’ And I got the idea for the reader contest. It really made my whole day! It made by birthday. It really just worked out exactly how I wanted it to.”
We visited Emma’s bedroom, which included some very impressive artwork and a nice writing desk.
She told me she is particularly fond of the wallpaper: “It’s got a star field effect on it that’s very good.”
Emma’s kitchen is very nicely coordinated, with the red refrigerator on one side of the room complimenting the Red Snapper print above the kitchen table on the opposite wall.
Across the main room is the bathroom, where Emma has utilized the bamboo screen as a privacy shield, dividing the toilet from the rest of the furniture and added a nice bit of verisimilitude to the room’s layout.
The basement is Emma’s art studio space, which includes an area for a model to pose while being drawn as well as several vending machine options.
And the upstairs floor of Emma’s house is devoted to her study.
“Its just another thing that I would really love in real life, is just a room full of books,” Emma confessed. “It just makes me feel happy being here!”
Spätzle Trips On Nothing (Pseudonym Jones, 2020) pic.twitter.com/YLc6n48dBd
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) July 4, 2020
Before I left Hollyhill, we had to stop by Lish’s house, to see how she had decorated her house.
Upstairs, Lish had arranged the spoils from the fishing tournament, along with some other fish items, to create a very nice effect.
And downstairs, Lish has arranged the furniture for maximum comfort in “the Chill Zone.”
Getting Out of the House
~Fanlee & Spätzle Future~ pic.twitter.com/3YELuu27CP
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) May 17, 2020
To conduct the interview, Emma and I returned to the Pizzeria/Coffee Shop/Music Venue. Before we started, we paused to reflect on the fact that people used to actually go to restaurants together outside of Animal Crossing.
“You’d get to see another human? And you got to see their mouths?” Emma joked. “I don’t want to be rude, but you got to see their mouth, right? Weird. It was a crazy time. It used to be so weird.”
my friend fanlee works here pic.twitter.com/zb8HAE0In3
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) December 13, 2018
Emma told me that the shift from working in an office for her day job to working from home, made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic, has been challenging.
“I have a day job where I switched to working from home over the last few months, and it’s been a real struggle,” Emma told me. “And I think Fanlee’s coping with that in a similar way that I am… kind of hoping to lean more into that with some comics I’ve been working on. The Fanlee arc about her working from home has basically just been me venting about my own frustrations.”
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) July 14, 2020
“Working in the healthcare industry, doing healthcare IT, doing it from home, has just been… extremely stressful since March,” said Emma. “A lot of what I do is with our patient portal, so you know, with people suddenly relying on video visits and just telemedicine in general, work has never been more busy or more stressful.”
Emma said that the demands of her day job were encroaching on her comic time.
“I mean, it’s cut down a lot on my time to make comics, which is something that I’ve been trying to cope with in releasing just one page at a time, maybe just like once a week,” she said. “I’ve also been making comics about it, at least in Fanlee’s case.”
The fact that we are all in this together has been a huge motivator for Emma during the incredibly challenging time.
“I mean… it’s not just me. That’s all that keeps me going,” Emma explained. “Not ‘knowing that everybody’s going through it,’ but knowing, like, ‘Oh, I’m working like 12 hour days, I know it’s for something that’s helping people not get sick… It’s literally all I can do.’ It’s literally all that’s keeping me going.”
incoming call pic.twitter.com/GRuVp0OJQr
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) June 30, 2020
Another consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the cancellation of comic book conventions. I asked Emma how she was dealing with the lack of cons.
“Last year was kind of the first year I went to a few cons,” she said. “I did VanCAF and TCAF for the first time. And before that, all I had ever done was SPX. And SPX is still kind of my favorite show. But going to those bigger ones really blew my mind, especially TCAF, which is like levels and levels of convention.”
Emma told me that there were plenty of things she had been missing about conventions.
a simple wish pic.twitter.com/tlKngcoufY
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) May 7, 2020
“I miss hugging my friends. Like, that’s pretty much all there is to it!” she said. “I miss sitting at a table and meeting new people, or visiting strangers and getting to see new art. I miss trading ‘zines. Like, I miss trading ‘zines so much. I miss the pressure to make a ‘zine, first of all, and I miss having a reason to trade them.”
direct action pic.twitter.com/YJEnROpqli
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) June 19, 2020
Emma told me that making (and trading) ‘zines was one of her favorite aspects of going to conventions.
“In the few weeks before I know I’m going to a con, I make a big stink about how I will be making something to trade for this,” Emma told me. “And making ‘zines is so much fun, so y’all should do it too, and we should all trade stuff! And without fail, I usually get like one or two people who don’t usually make art making ‘zines, so they have something to trade with me, and that is my favorite thing about the con experience is that one-to-one interaction of a person being like, ‘I don’t usually make things but I made a thing and I would like you to look at it.’”
I asked if she had a specific memory of a traded ‘zine to share with the Beat
“I got one from a young enby who stopped by my table last year at SPX,” she told me. “It was the first thing they’d ever made, it was basically fanart, it had a lot of Kingdom Hearts stuff, like they drew an illustration of a Keyblade on the back, and just a bunch of Kirbys. I still keep that with me – I keep it in my bag, because it makes me really happy every time I’m reminded that I have it.”
Emma elaborated, “It wasn’t even like a proper published ‘zine. This person drew it on a piece of paper with a ballpoint pen, and handed it to me, and it really made my whole year since then. And I miss not having that opportunity to connect with people in that way.”
While we may not have the chance to connect in person at conventions this year due to the pandemic, Emma cherishes the memory of the connection she made over art.
“Yeah, I’m getting a little emotional,” admitted Emma. “I don’t even know if it was a big deal for them, they were just like, ‘Hey! I made a thing.’ And it just really made my whole weekend.”
— Pseudonym Jones (@pseudonymjones) June 8, 2020
You can follow Emma, a.k.a. Pseudonym Jones, on Twitter to keep up with her latest work, and you can support her comics directly through Gumroad. And please be sure to read more of Acrossing the Miles!