As an indie comic artist and visual storyteller, I’m used to creating characters with complex backstories and edgy personalities. But none have been so strange and intriguing as that of Laurus Francoeur, my latest creation and member of my friend group’s first Wanderhome game.
Laurus Francoeur (better known by his pen name L. Francoeur) is a peregrine falcon in his early forties that belongs to the Poet class in Wanderhome‘s limited release (the full game and cast of classes will be coming out this summer, and we are ready for it!). As such, he is an accomplished author of several romance novels and short story compilations. His flowery verbiage and emotional writing style have captivated readers far and wide, and have made many a dedicated fan of his work. He writes about love in all its forms, blossoming from all walks of life. In fact, he has just published his latest book, The Blue Bonnet, which chronicles the lesbian love story of a fox and rabbit bonding over the loss of said bonnet, and it is an absolute hit.
When our group first encounters Francoeur, however, he is a far cry from what many have come to expect from a professional of his caliber.
There he is, hunched over in the corner table of a well-populated tavern, shoving sunflower seeds into one end of his beak while keeping his permanent cigarette in the other. Dark circles color his eyes thanks to his habit of rubbing them with his ink-stained feathers during late-night writing sessions. He wears a patched-up tweed jacket just shy of being unrecognizable as an article of clothing. In his breast pocket he has awkwardly stuffed a few hellebores in a vain attempt to hide the overpowering scent of tobacco and metallic ink. He can barely summon the courage to look up at anyone as he jots down a loose string of ideas for his next project, and the nervous tapping of his pen onto the pages of the well-worn journal in front of him suggests he is struggling to weave a new narrative.
If anyone ever does recognize him as the famous author, whether at a bookstore floating atop a river, among bustling crowds of folks gathered for a festival, or even under the scrutiny of a witchy shrew that lives on the edge of a swamp, he will immediately turn bright red, sweat profusely, and scratch the back of his head in the hopes that he’ll find some way to disappear.
It’s not that he dislikes his writing. It’s not like he would rather be anywhere but here. He has his supportive adoptive parents and a sister that have encouraged his writing career. He has lots of adoring fans. He has his old writing mentor, Aurelius Valentino (a famed romance author in his own right that goes by the alias The Violet Pinafore) who frequently showers him with praise, and may be secretly pining for him. And now he has a host of curious adventuring friends that are always asking how he is doing and where he thinks they should go next.
So why is he so socially awkward in real life, to the point where it’s a wonder he can put any words together to form a coherent sentence? What is his deal?
I’ll let you in on a little spoiler. Not only does he not have any real-world experience with love (something that may or may not be remedied through the course of our play), but more importantly, he has creator’s anxiety, and it’s something I and many artists and writers know all too well.
Sure, I’ve been getting Kickstarter comics funded and self-published projects off the ground since 2019. Yeah, I have a lot of people say how much they enjoy my eerie art and creepy stories. (I mostly write and draw queer horror, so it’s a wonder in itself that I’m playing such a gentle-hearted RPG like Wanderhome.) And you’re absolutely right, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else with my life besides throwing myself into my work and sending it off into the world.
So why is it so damn difficult to feel comfortable with all of that?
It’s like no matter how many times I put a comic together, run a Kickstarter, and send out orders for customers of my shop MystoPress, every single friggin’ time I feel a pang of anxiety and the self-doubt creeps in. What if they don’t really like my work and are just buying something out of pity? What if they were excited to back my latest volume of Paroxysm on Kickstarter and now they’ll read it and hate it? What if I spend the next six months of my life on my new graphic novel project (my progress is being chronicled on my Instagram and Patreon), only for it to prove itself a huge waste of time?
Over the course of our game, Francoeur has become what a fellow player has dubbed “a metaphor for your own anxiety,” which has made me really connect with this eternally anxious bird on a deeper level, all the way down to his sensitive creative soul. He is keenly observant of human behavior, always lending an ear to the sob stories and secret feelings of those around him, and has suggested on numerous occasions to his fellow adventurers that the scent of lavender would help calm their nerves. (Speaking of his eternal anxiety, he has become somewhat of a meme among our group, with various Discord emojis showcasing his increasing levels of fluster. Also there’s a parody of Hatoful Boyfriend I edited with Francoeur as his bird and human self, which was also a riot.)
As someone who writes comics and is constantly nervous about sharing them with the world, playing as Francoeur has helped me create more nuanced characterization for my upcoming work. Just when I thought I had such a crucial part of storytelling pinned down, the flustered falcon came around and threw a wrench into my certainty and comfort. Francoeur was really hoping to get away from the city to sit quietly and find ways to improve his writing before starting on new material, but a spunky rabbit mail-carrier, a curious porcupine poet, a good-natured shepherd of bumble bees, a light-bearing raccoon, and a brooding vagabond coyote swept him out of the warmth of the tavern they found him in and onto a winding road filled with adventure.
Much like Francoeur, my creative process is a lightning storm of images and ideas, and it is always exhilarating to watch them come together, all for the work to be received with open arms by its niche audience. But there’s that little piece of the creator that stays in the work, and no matter how hard you try to hide it, it is there. No matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable that piece may seem, that’s the part that people love about it. It’s almost assumed that it is there on purpose: of course a piece of the writer is in their writing, a hint of the artist in the strokes that make up their art. But it is such a personal energy, a glimpse into the unique conception of the work as it emerges into the physical world, one that feels as intimate as the moments of romantic interactions in the pages of a chain-smoking author’s novels.
Somehow, knowing that others are peeking into that intimate energy from the outside is rather invasive, but in a way it is a voluntary invasion of privacy. (Just recently, the vagabond coyote managed to steal a glance at Francoeur’s journal, and what he finds there is quite a revealing character study.) Just like Francoeur’s mid-career writing crisis, I’ve been at this for a while, but it’ll always be just as hard to create and let my latest work go without feeling some form of anxiety.
The dynamic natures of all of our player characters, as well as the fun and intriguing kith we have all created along the way, are helping Francoeur find a place in this world we travel. He just has to make sure he has plenty of cigarettes in his pockets to keep his mouth busy in case he doesn’t have the right words at the moment. They will come, eventually.
Natalia is a queer Latinx illustrator making queer horror art, comics, and zines. She runs MystoPress, a micropress that is home to her eerie and nightmarish works, and has been funding her comics on Kickstarter as of 2019. When she is not freelancing or working on new projects, she teaches classes to teens and adults in non-profit art centers around North Carolina.