Slowing down to Smell the Roses

The last year of my life has been one of a lot of changes. Well, not changes, more like leveling up. I moved to a new city (Portland), distant friends became closer friends, and close friends became more distant. As the song goes, “Love Changes and Thug Changes, and Best Friends become Strangers” Word up. I never have worked as much as i have worked this year, in a career of my own choosing. I got my own apartment, and i thought i’d be terrified of being alone, but that never happened. I became really angry at comics, angry at everyone who makes and likes comics, and then mostly got over it. I’m always terrified that my life will crash and burn, that my career will fall apart, that all my talking shit will come back to shit on my parade. So far, no shit storm. So what did i learn?

I’ve just finished inking a really big detailed piece for possibly the biggest project of my career so far. Big detailed pieces are what i’m known for, but lately i find that my speed in drawing them has decreased. I’m unable to draw as quickly as before, but i think its because i’m unable to skimp or rush or be satisfied with lackluster panels or illustrations. A lot of times, all i could think about was “GET THE JOB DONE” And truthfully, i could probably continue to do that. There’s really no such thing as negative feedback in comics. For instance, i felt my Catalyst Comix work, could’ve been more rendered and got way more love from me. At times, i’d see reviews, and it was indistinguishable from earlier praise of my work. This was praise-inflation in action, the process of never ever giving real critical feedback so everything is just this monotone mediocre rehash. Overall, i loved working with Joe Casey and Dan McDaid and Paul Maybury, but i feel like the book could’ve been a blast-off, but it started off with a bang and then sorta walked pass the finished line. Now that the book is done, and is all collected and wrapped up in a nice cover (that i drew :D), i’m happy I got the chance to work on it, but i’m not happy with my own work in it.

I did a lot of complaining about comics in the last year, and so many people’s response to it was plain stupid, i heard countless times “You should focus on your own work,” Now looking back at it, they were right, but for the wrong reasons. The response to a critic that “You can’t do better” is a dumb position, because they aren’t trying to get better at making art, they are trying to get better at talking about art. So a lot of the conversation then shifted to “You can’t do better than (insert other critic)” It ended up being the same conversation. I wasn’t satisfied with my own work, and i knew there was no outside force that would ever call me out on it. I can ignore the random fandoms that just hate whatever isn’t familiar, but i found it really difficult to accept that i’m joining a conversation where everyone quacks like ducks. But I shouldn’t go to a lake and blame the ducks for quacking, and economic concerns will always trump aesthetic goals in the real world. If i wanted to make better art, i had to stop caring about everyone else. Comics and good comics, criticism and good criticism, it’s all pointless. A circle jerk of faux intellectualism in a niche interest in a young medium. I was the only person to blame if my work wasn’t as good as it could be. If the scene sucks, its because you suck? No, not really. You can’t just leave the dishes in the sink, and say the flies are a coincidence. But if your work sucks, its because you suck.

I do really enjoy good art, i really love seeing friends of mine and artists i know make work that impresses me. I love seeing my brothers and sisters hustling to tell stories. I am passionate about everything i do, and i don’t know how to look at something bad and not have a revolting reaction to it. If you don’t have strong opinions about art, and you’re an artist, i think you should quit.

I love Moebius, i know so many artists who love Moebius. I don’t want to be Moebius. I want to be better than Moebius. I have friends that get straight up disgusted when i say that. Like “How DARE you?” But i don’t believe in sacred cows, cause i love eating beef. But it’s not pride, it’s respect for myself and for other artists, because i have to believe that he’s not unique. He picked up a pencil like any other man, and he kept drawing til he got it right, like any other man. Anyone can be the best there is, and i love seeing beautiful art so much, that i don’t want it to be unique. A rising tide lifts all boats. My dissatisfaction with comics on a whole, stems from a dissatisfaction with myself. I knew i felt dissatisfied, so after Catalyst, i made the conscious effort to really pull out the stops for Judge Dredd – Mega City 2.

Mega City 2 was a unique book. I didn’t expect to have as much creative control as we did, and maybe it was because i stopped worrying about deadlines and rushing before actually making it look as nice as possible. I hate missing deadlines, and i missed them by a good month at one point, and after that, was racing to catch up for the rest of the series. But i just thought “Fuck it, I’d rather lose the project than make a comic where i can’t be proud” Was that the wisest decision? I don’t know, probably not. Did it make my editor happy, absolutely not. I’m amazed that Ryan Hill was able to pull off such stunning coloring on such a crazy schedule.

A lot of my work ethic has been “Just get the job done” and just not worry about the shortcomings of thinking that way. Discipline and focus are all fine and dandy, and i do hold all artists to a very high standard, but just getting the job done isn’t enough any more. Yes, there are lots of shitty things that get in the way of making great work, but i have to think “What am i capable of?” and not “What’s keeping me down,” I can’t pull all nighters anymore, instead, i go to sleep when i’m tired, and try to wake up at the same time everyday. Instead of powering through and crashing, i take my time and value each page. I used to just ignore mistakes or quickly ink unfinished pencils, but now i’m learning to see my blind spots. Artistic blind spots are the worst, because you know you’re bad at something, so you work around it, constructing a universe around a black hole. Everything orbits it, gets distorted by it, and for the artist, absorbs their focus every time it’s in the real world, hoping no one will mention it.

Maybe that’s how i’ve been approaching everything. Hating on comics like i was hoping to drag light away from an event horizon. I don’t know why i thought trying to do my best Catcher in the Rye impression was gonna save anyone. No, where fans of bad comics are going, they don’t need eyes to see. I wasn’t being honest with myself. I wanted to love comics like Brandon Graham loves comics, like Joe Keatinge loves comics, like my boy Derick Skuds McKinley loves comics, like a lot of my friends who i respect love comics. For whatever reason, i thought i had to. I make comics, i should love comics!

I was in a mad dash to find what i loved, that i never thought “But this isn’t how i love things” Everything i love, i learned to love over time, slowly. I’ve never been a voracious reader, i’m more of a mosey on around reader. This year i learned the importance of focus. Not only on focusing on what is good, but learning on what to focus on at all. I love action movies and i love good art and i love hard workers and i love working hard on my own projects. So many things, like Michael Bay movies, i love to fight about. I love a good fight, but i don’t like a pointless fight. I thought i hated bad work, but i don’t actually. Because i don’t care that people love reality tv, or that my mom loves the Harry Potter movies, both things that i think are pretty bad usually. It wasn’t that i hated bad comics, it’s that i hated insincerity. Inflated praise for mediocre work, or feigned hate for work you’ve never read or watched. I was fighting the wrong fight. I was guilty of being insincere myself, in hating on something i wasn’t even a fan of.

I offer no fixes for ‘comics’, i seek no experts or critics, or recommendations. Now my focus is tighter, and i just love what i love and that’s usually not comics, but that’s okay, and i love talking about comics and i love hating on things, but it’s only satisfying to hate on things you have hope in. Thinking back, it was only 11 years ago that i didn’t even know what a convention was, or what a comics career looked like.  Now i’m arguing on the internet like i’m an expert, with other artists and non-artists, writers and wannabes, fans and fanboys, and everyone is pretending they are an expert on a medium that’s can’t even decide if they should call it a graphic novel or a comic book. Critics who spend their entire days on twitter, throwing around playground wisdom in 140 characters. Talking about what’s beef, talking about talking shit, talking about who’s hip hop and who’s not. I am wasting my time in recess. We are all juveniles, and i think it’d be better for me to just stay in study hall now, and practice my panels.

I read this post by Jed Alexander, an artist i frequently bumped heads with about comics. He wrote that we are living in the golden age of comics, and i agreed with it, even though i felt like i should disagree with him. Now thinking about it, i realize why. Because i don’t believe we are living at the end of a golden age, where all the pioneers have explored all the lands where the milk and honey is flowing, i believe we are at the beginning. It’s not these last 10 years, or these next ten years. It’s been these last hundred years, and will be the next hundred. None of us can be experts, its impossible. When i go on wikipedia and i click through the eras of art history, they pass by in the hundreds of years. A hundred years ago, Little Nemo had just begun falling out of bed. Presently, dozens upon dozens of artists from around the world, are drawing Little Nemo falling out of bed, with hundreds and thousands of fans around a newly formed instant communication device contributing funds so that it can be published, so they can read it, using a wholly new economic system. The times, they are a changin’.

I’m creating for the future, but i’m in a conversation that has only recently began in the past, and stretches infinitely in the present. My perspective has changed, in an effort to bring whats important into focus. That is what i’m learning this year. I apologize however, if this entire post seems a bit more scattered than usual. Ain’t that just how it always is. Try to see one thing, and everything else goes blurry.

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