Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Five Things I've Learned in the Last Two Years

It's anniversary time. I started this blog two years ago, so time for some reflection. Here is a list of things I've learned about the practice of making comics.

(I was going to write "Two Things I've learned in Two Years", but that wouldn't be much of a list, would it?)

#1 Everything takes longer than you think it will
On the project level, this is pretty obvious; it's hard to judge how long a given project will take unless you've done a lot of projects like it. Even if you've completed a similar project before, your mind remembers it taking much less time than it actually did.

This also applies to the overall project of building a following. When I started this blog two years ago, I figured by the first couple months in, I'd have dozens, if not hundreds of followers (Stop laughing). After two years, I have a whole eleven followers on this blog (and I love each and every one of you!). Yeah, this is taking a lot longer.

I think the sub-lesson here is that the amount of completed work is more important than just random blog posts. People are more attracted to things you have completed rather than talking about your process (Which is mostly what I've done up to this point).

#2 Finishing things is important
Finished work is what gets you attention, not sketches or doodles. I look at my body of work online, and I don't know that it really shows what I'm capable of. It doesn't present me as the artist I aspire to be.

Also, I've learned more from projects that I have actually completed. The lessons learned doing my first zine for CAKE 2012 directly applied to my mini-zine, "Orbital Plumber". I'm using lessons learned from that on my next project, "Stories from this Solar System".

I draw everyday, even if it's just a doodle, but that is no substitute for putting my nose to the grindstone and finishing something from  beginning to end.


#3 You're allowed to abandon things
I realized lesson #2  pretty early on, which made me vow to never give up on a project. I intended to stick to it no matter how flawed or underdeveloped. While admirable, this attitude might not always be beneficial.

I have two examples of this. 

The first is "Bone Dog". When I first started drawing Bone Dog, I envisioned it lasting years and years and hundreds of pages. I had a story lines sketched out that I knew could keep me busy for years. 

Then I changed. When I started Bone Dog, my biggest inspirations were George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland), and Sergio Aragones (Groo the Wanderer). I still love all those artists, but I've also been  exposed to so many great new artists that influenced me: Brandon Graham and the whole Prophet Crew, Farel Dalrymple, Ken Garing, Morgan Jeske, James Stokoe. There are also the "New to Me" artists: Moebius, Enki Bilal, Miyazaki (Specifically, Nausicaa).

All these artists opened my mind to more things that comics could do or be. Not that I was limiting myself, it just didn't occur to me that I could do the kind of stuff they were doing. After that, I just didn't want to do Bone Dog anymore.

The other example of me abandoning a comic was "Phantom Kangaroo". The problem with this one was that it started as an interesting idea without knowing where I was going with it. I drew the first three pages (and an incomplete fourth) and wrote some scripts for the rest. Some versions of the story went 5 more pages, some went 10 more pages and I think I even  had a 35 page version.

The problem was I had no idea where it was going when I started it. I thought the germ of an idea would be enough to grow it into a fully realized story. I should have worked the idea a while more before I even started.

#4 No one is paying attention and that's a good thing
For as long as I've had this blog, I bemoaned the fact that I had a hard time building a following. I mean, that's the point of this blog, right? 

When think about it, it's actually a pretty good thing. If I had garnered a lot of fans quickly, there would be pressure to keep them happy. I've changed a lot in the last two years, and no one has really noticed. If I did have a "core audience", I'd be at risk of losing them.

Right now I have the freedom to figure out what I want to do without a lot of people watching and potentially being disappointed.

#5 Progress is upward, but not straight.
There are days when drawing is easy. I picture something, put my pen to paper, and it more or less comes out. Then there are days when drawing is hard. Really hard. Those are days I feel like the last two years have been for nothing. Then the next day, I bang out something that I never imagined I could do, ever.

Doing art is just like that, I guess.

That's it for now, class. I'll be making some changes to the blog int he next couple weeks, so stay tuned.