Archive for March, 2011

March 20, 2011

i believe it was voltaire who said, well, then fuck them

man. lots of things in my head, gonna do my best here.
a lot of my reticence towards writing lately has come from weird standards that set in on this blog almost immediately after it was created; things like no hyperlinks (it was a writing blog, not a place for dissemination), more emphasis on descriptive storytelling and less big-lesson narcissism (hey, it is going to be both! sometimes! i don’t know!) and other such business. i’ve been feeling crazy about having all these rules on what was ostensibly made to be a platform for my own expression.
this is me getting over it.
on a side note: i’ve also created a new tumblr page that will act as a holding ground for my ongoing sketches and more media-oriented interests (read: there will be youtube videos sometimes. i particularly love that ira glass quote near the bottom – it comes from this wonderful series of clips). and i have many, many more drawings to share – lacking a scanner has been a good motivator in that i have an excuse to head down to the iprc once a week to make use of their scanner and get out of the house.
in the past i have lamented being sick of myself, sick of my style and my creative history, and let it build up to the point of acting as a serious point of artistic asphyxiation. more recently i began reading dave sim’s cerebus’ guide to self-publishing, a mostly out-of-print missive on the hard truths about making it in the world of comics, and it crystallized a few points for me. i won’t quote directly here – sim is crotchety and occasionally threatens to blunt his own purpose by being such a hard-assed dick about things – but the merits and frankness of the book far outweigh the rancor and bile. but that is for another day, and another post.
what i have taken from it so far (echoed by the ira glass lesson) is the thing we all already know and never want to think about – the importance of starting something – committing to something – and sticking with it. wisdom holds (at least in sim’s world) that comic-makers, for instance, have 2000 bad pages in them, and the sooner you get them out, the better. it’s an obvious variant/parallel of malcolm gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. but sim touches on something more vital: the sheer irrelevance of knowing where you going or if you’re doing it right from the get-go. he argues that it is impossible to know such things at the beginning, when you are bound to produce work that is substandard compared to what you wish you could produce, and it has to be worked through until you reach a point where you know, through hard knocks experience, what does and doesn’t work for you. ask yourself: if you look at any comic that you love now (comic because of the sequential nature of the medium), how many of them got it right with the very first one? does that one even stand out in your memory?
the other thing sim touches on is the importance of making hard choices. you want to make something? great. most people, and this is a source of much of my frustration with humanity, want to make something, and will probably keep right on wanting to make it (or have made it, somehow jumping to that far shore) until they’re dead. in the meantime, the best way to make something is to start and keep with it. and with that, you set a hard goal and work to maintain it. holding yourself to a schedule is bare-bones, minimum-discipline stuff. i lied earlier and am going to quote sim here, because it is essential:

take two weeks and decide to do a page a day (ed: insert your own goal here) – pencilled, inked and lettered. if you miss a day, look at what you did instead. whatever caused you to miss doing a page that day is an impediment to your career.

look at the impediment.

look at the work.

make a choice.

i recently wrote about chris onstad and his struggle to continue achewood after nine years. after all the uncertainty and silence, onstad finally composed a lengthy and thoughtful letter to his fans (which can be read here). it warmed me with admiration to read it. earlier today i finally sat down to begin writing my first proper comic in awhile, and true to form, the old demons came out almost at once. the script got longer and longer, panels piled high, and i began envisioning which artist i would liberally borrow from to mask my own stylistic limitations. what began as an honest seed for a comic bloomed into a big, contrived mess, like it always did; whereupon i’d push through and make it anyway, usually dissatisfied with the results but reasonably sure that someone would like it. i am well trained in formula, thank you.
and then i read onstad’s post, and it just hit me in the face. fuck that! there is no way i am going to turn out another comic that compromises what i know it could be with a little more work for something passing decent that i can get out by this evening. i’m holding myself to the schedule (for now, two finished pages per week), but i am not about to manufacture something that amounts to little less than hiding behind borrowed words and voices just because it’s hard. i’m only an hour into the preliminary scripting and storyboarding; it is far, far too soon to be worrying about final form yet. and i am done settling for something passable.
i know two things: you don’t compromise on your goals, and you don’t lie to yourself about the so-called efforts you make. i’ve barely begun. page one of 2000.
i was reminded of an old achewood strip – sometimes i like to take a single panel out of its context to serve as a reminder for certain occasions. this is one such occasion. it acts as my current response to people (well, mostly my own internal voice that cries for consistency and control).
now, back to work. i’ve got a long, long way to go.

March 13, 2011

spending the night in powells

well! achewood still hasn’t updated, and neither have i. hello again.
yesterday i hopped onto the 4 wearing the gropius bow tie and tennant jacket, all packed up for an afternoon of working at powells on w burnside. i found a spot in the cafe, right in the middle of the cluster. i don’t know if it was being tired, or wearing the bow tie out into town for the first time, but it was difficult to concentrate and i managed only a few pages of sketches before i got self-conscious enough to pack it up and flee to the more sheltered parts of the store. i headed up to the pearl room and plopped down in front of the biographies.
i put the sketchbook on the shelf by my knees and started reading from simon callow’s welles biography the road to xanadu. i flipped to the part on war of the worlds and admired a couple hirschfeld drawings of the fat man, still feeling pretty uncomfortable in my own skin (it is one thing to be a dapper superhero at work but another to be alone in the world feeling that you may just look ridiculous). after twenty minutes i put the book away, did a bit more poking about, and left to go to work. it was a long night; the bow tie was well received as always (bow ties are reliable for this); by the end i was near the point of collapse. i got a ride home from one of the chefs and when i opened my bag i saw that my sketchbook was nowhere to be found. it had been a new sketchbook, so i wasn’t too bothered – three pages of doodles is not a great loss – and i made a note to call the store in the morning to check for it, and buy a new sketchbook if it was gone. then i went to bed.
when you’re exhausted, every dream feels like a fever dream: i went through scenarios of calling the store and getting nothing, and when i awoke i faced the prospect with a decent sense of dread, having been through it subconsciously a few times already. i put on a pot of tea and cursed daylight savings for robbing me of an hour and then dialed the number. eventually the call was routed to the manager; i explained around what time i’d been in, what section he should search, and gave him my information. an hour later i was on the 4 again to go see an old friend for coffee; while the bus bounced and hummed along the phone rang and the manager told me that he hadn’t seen it in their lost and found or in the section on welles. i thought, goodbye little sketchbook, i hardly knew ye…
i switched busses at the hawthorne bridge and headed for the art supply store. they were closed, so i went to meet my friend instead. after we went our separate ways i marched in, threw down a tenner, and departed with a replacement sketchbook under my arm. there was one more thing to do.
i hopped on another bus and soon the tall grey business world of downtown portland rose up before me, and i walked to the city of books. this time there was no pretense of stopping for coffee or playing on the internet; this time i was on a mission. treasure hunting in a bookstore is fun, because while there are a multitude of books around, you are only looking for one of them, with no guarantee it is there at all. i marched up to the pearl room and for a few minutes was unable even to find the right aisle – where was orson? – my eyes scanning everywhere for that particular shade of black amongst so many others.
and then i found the section, and there it was. right where i’d left it. pushed up nicely into the folds of the shelf, probably by a patron. thoughts of some tired and annoyed employees patrolling every damn corridor of that massive store looking for out-of-place books seemed so foolish to me now. i picked it up and looked at the few pages of sketches, like helpless pets who’d spent the night out in the cold. i may have patted it, i don’t remember exactly. then i tucked it firmly under an arm and marched out of the store, like a specter come to claim their last earthly possession before departing forever.