The Ten Things

Sorry about the lack of updates on here lately.  June of 2012 turned out to be a meat grinder, and I’m only now curling my toes around the foot holds on what I still call my “schedule” — not by any means the least help has been a small disciplinary exercise I came up with and have been observing for the past month.

If you’re anything like me, a creature of ritual, you have a fixed set of things you like to do before you actually start drawing, writing, or whatever it is you do.  The attendant “sup” with the Skype buddies.  The near-Pavlovian Facebook Like.  The snarky midday Tweet.  In the midst of all this, I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping a .txt file on my desktop titled “Ten Things.”  If you hate lists, you might as well stop reading now.

What it is, is an enumeration of all the work-related things I accomplish over a work week, as they are accomplished.  But as a play on my OC-ness, it starts out as a blank list already numbered one to ten.  This way, I am always aware of how much I still haven’t gotten done.  A partially complete list exhudes a sort of cognizant want to finish it, or as close to ten as you can get.  The mechanism is simple but surprisingly effective.

Comic pages.  A set of layouts.  A character design. These are all aspects of my job that I can accomplish over the course of the week. Seeing the list build up mid-week not only gives you an idea of how much further there is to go, but also gives you a better sense of accomplishment.  So you did five pages?  Great, that’s five items on the list.  Snuck in a character design or two?  Even better.

There are of course some caveats. One will ask “What about blog updates? Those are work related.”  Sure.  But unless this is what you get paid to do, for all you role-players, This effect does not stack.  So you posted ten blog updates?  That’s one item on the list.  Same goes for personal art.  One item.

It didn’t seem to have a point at first, especially because all it did was make me feel bad about not always reaching my number ten.  And I won’t lie, most of the time you won’t.  But what you learn very quickly is that it’s not hitting that number that’s important, but trying to.  And when all is said and done, it’s still art, right?  Hopefully most of it succeeds, but some of it always fails.  The important thing is that you tried.  And y’know what?  there’s always next week’s list.

 

Grid Talk 4

These are collected ongoing conversations via the interwebs about work experience, professional opinion, and unabashed foolishness.  Here are excerpts from a talk with one of my local heroes and long-time comics vet Gerry Alanguilan.

Grid Talk monks

Continued from Grid Talk 3.

Amor: It’s interesting that you brought up Watchmen though because though I do still feel that it’s essentially unfilmable, the movie did seem like a decent enough adaptation. But yeah, I see your point about the crazy special effects… I’ve come to accept that it’s only a matter of time before the limitations of CGI will become so miniscule that even Sinestro Corps-level space battles will be no challenge. That being said, Moore was onto something when he didn’t just play with the story and his characters, but even the format of the medium itself — in reference of course to Watchmen #5, Fearful Symmetry.

Gerry: I thought Watchmen was a terrific film. The opening montage alone was one of the most awesome things I’ve seen in film for quite a long time. I wouldn’t say it’s Alan Moore’s Watchmen, but rather an alternate reality version of Watchmen that was good on its own. I felt it suffered from some weak acting and some over exposition though. Rorschach droning on about dog carcasses as he went to investigate Blake’s apartment got a bit tedious. It works in the comics, but in film it just didn’t translate well. Much of that would go over the heads of the audiences. In comics, you can at least slow it down and ponder the words. In film where pacing is fixed, all you get is Rorschach rambling on about nonsense because you don’t get the time to think about what he’s saying.

Amor: Pacing issues.  Relating that to our original talk on discipline, I sometimes find myself feeling a bit bored with my pace on a certain page I’m working on that I skip to another page in the book and distract myself by cutting loose over there. Know what I mean? And sure it’s possible that the page was just horribly laid out or whatever and that I’m a total hack (ah crap), but I’m mostly alluding to just creative ADD, y’know? Like a conversation between Peter and Aunt May on page 5 is just so boring that every few panels you finish, you skip to page 10 where Spidey is fighting Venom.  I don’t know if that counts as a discipline issue as much as a problem with focus, but I just wanna put it out there.  It certainly doesn’t bode well for my wanting to make pages interesting enough to grab attention and keep it.

Gerry: I remember reading the original Spiderman issues of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko many years ago, and the strange thing is I was so fascinated by all the personal stuff. You know, those bits about Peter and the girls and the relationships he had. I was so fascinated by it that I skipped the bits with Spiderman fighting the baddies. I wanted to know if he’s going to go out with Betty or not. Yes, I’m kind of a freak that way. I’m not sure if it’s a discipline thing rather than “I’ll read what I want” thing. As comic book creators, it is perhaps part of our job to keep things like this from happening. I know how difficult that can be, so I’m always amazed when I see such storytelling problems solved spectacularly well by other artists.  I would see how David Mazzucchelli or Alex Niño solve those problems and I’m always scratching my head. “So THAT’s how you do it!” I’d think to myself. And then I would try it myself and I still have a hard time doing it. It’s a skill that I have yet to learn..

Amor: Well I gotta say it’s refreshing to hear a veteran like yourself saying that some things are still a challenge to pull off.  I like to think my storytelling and pacing skills are decent, or at least passable, but my biggest flaw is really the inability to pay attention to just one thing for too long… which brings us full circle to what this talk is really about… discipline.  Any closing remarks, gems of wisdom, or verbal bitch slaps for a fledgling artist trying to make it in the field?

Gerry: Storytelling is actually one of the most underdeveloped talents that our artists have, even the popular established ones. I look at their comics and I go, “What the fuck is going on in this page?” More often than not, storytelling is sacrificed for flash, but I believe you can achieve both. In fact, if storytelling is done right, flash becomes an important tool for telling the story.  For others, storytelling means a whole bunch of words, which defeats the purpose of the medium..  I think all of us doing comics here in the Philippines need a serious seminar on storytelling from someone like say, Wally Wood or Alex Toth, but they’re dead. But you get my point.

Discipline really just takes a lot of will power. You really just have to find ways to make yourself sit and finish that page. Make little deadlines for yourself. You promise not to go and do stuff until you finished that panel. And when you come back, you make a deal with yourself not to get up until you finish that panel. And you have to stick to that.

But keep in mind if you have to keep forcing yourself to work on these pages all the time, you really have to start thinking if this is what you really want to do. Believe me, you don’t want to be stuck in a job that you have to force yourself to do.

Amor: I sorta live by this saying a heard a long time ago: “Find a job that you love, and you won’t have to work a single day of your life.”  Now more than ever, it is exceedingly relevant and has almost taken on a weight of it’s own.  I definitely love what I do.  I love the process of taking a script and visually composing scenes.  I love playing with character expression and body language and making them relate to one another.  I love controlling the pace of a story with panel design.  I love tweaking the effect of a scene with camera placement and lighting. I can’t imagine myself being happy doing anything else.  But I’ve also added like, an addendum to that mantra… “but stop ignoring deadlines or it’ll be cup ramen for the next few months, you dumb fuck.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: sure you’re an artist if you can draw, but you ain’t a comic artist till you can learn to churn out pages and hit deadlines.  I love this thing Kelley Jones mentioned in a podcast once, and it was told to him by a past Batman artist, Marshal Rogers I believe, one of the old guard… he said, “The last issue of your run, without missing your deadline, that’s how good a comic artist you are.”  And when I heard that a couple of weeks ago it sank its teeth so deep into my jugular and made me wish so bad that I had heard it much sooner.  That saying is getting tossed into the train’s furnace for sure. Now it’s a matter of working… and living by it.

Grid Talk 3

These are collected ongoing conversations via the interwebs about work experience, professional opinion, and unabashed foolishness.  Here are excerpts from a talk with one of my local heroes and long-time comics vet Gerry Alanguilan.  We cut out the first part of the convo where we were still… getting to know each other… physically.

chickens-wjAmor: See I don’t know if you, as a veteran in the business, still have this problem… but I find it hard to keep my attention on a page for several hours at a time, no matter how interesting the project.  As I’m drawing, I’ll watch a movie, read a book, or even hit random people up on chats just to give myself information overload so that certain aspects of the work just don’t seem very tedious.

Gerry: Yes, I still get that problem.  I have a rather problematic discipline problem.  But you are not required to give attention to a page for several hours at a time.  Take short breaks just to stretch your muscles, relax your eyes, get a drink, piss, shit, eat, fornicate, whatever.  I too get distracted by Internet stuff from time to time, especially when I’m in a heated discussion with someone else.  Right now I’m up in arms about Carlo Caparas being given the title of National Artist that I can’t help but write about it and discuss/argue about it with people online.

But I have enough experience to know what happens when you don’t get your work done on time — your work is given to someone else, that’s what. And there you are, a hole burning in your pocket as you stare at all these Internet discussions you wasted so much time on.  I keep that image in mind and it keeps me going.  It’s not that I always have to force myself, because what good is that?  Don’t I love this job enough to keep doing it without having to motivate myself?  Of course I love it.  There just comes a time, once in a while when all the work starts to get you down.  And you need a break.  You just have to work through it, and deal with it.

Amor: I know how you feel, man.  I mean, I don’t mean to polish our knobs or anything, but I think we have pretty cool jobs… and how big of an asshole am I if I can’t even sit down and do it?  I was sitting at a coffee shop a coupla weeks back and having a late lunch, and I saw these construction workers pass by — hard hats, tool vests, the works — and it was a hot day.  It was about half past one in the afternoon and they were trudging their asses back to work for their afternoon shift.  And I looked at them and thought to myself, “These guys don’t wanna waltz back in there after lunch.  But they do.”  And then I looked at the page I brought with me that day and marvelled at the empty panels.

Gerry: Keep your polish-happy hands off my knob, Amor.  But yes, we have one of the greatest jobs in the world.  But believe me, what we’re feeling is not a rare thing.  Whilce Portacio told a story of how the Homage Studios guys, after a long stretch of intense work, just had to go off somewhere and relax where work wouldn’t be done and comics never mentioned.  Be wary though if this funk continues for longer than it should. As much as the work stresses me out once in a while, for the most part it’s glorious to be working on these comic pages.  As worlds are created under my pen, I sit here amazed at how utterly fantastic this job is, and I would just literally die if for some reason I couldn’t do it anymore.

Amor: Amen, brother.

Gerry: So how about it?  You’re the new kid on the block… are you insane or are you just a glutton for punishment for pursuing this job in the first place?  What is it about comics that you love doing? What is it that makes you excited about drawing and creating?

Amor: See to answer that, I first need to bring up Terminator…  I know it’s out of left field but bear with me.  Remember the beginning of the first or second movie?  When they showed the future war with the armies of robots and sentient war machines and stuff?  When we saw th actual war in the future?  Remember feeling disappointed that the rest of the movie was set in the present and we couldn’t see the rest of that war?  And we all knew the reason why that war wasn’t in the movie (until recently in Salvation, almost 20 years later) was because the visual effects and budget couldn’t handle it.

I love doing comics because there is no budget.  No idea is too fast, too big, too bright, too new, or too loud.  In comics, your head is the budget.  And I’m sure you agree that’s unbelievably satisfying.

Gerry: There’s nothing left field about Terminator, dude!  As soon as you said Terminator, I’m there, man.  You got me at “Terminator”! I get what you’re saying.  This is the reason why a lot of comic book people love doing comics.  For many years we could go places movies couldn’t. But I think we have to step it up because movies are catching up to us.  Because of CGI and shit, previously unfilmable sequences can now be easily done.  The new Star Wars movies?  Never mind the stories, but holy shit man, did you see the effects in those things?  It’s like mind orgasm from our most imaginative comic book creators.  Our wildest imaginations right up there on the screen.  Comic book people need to find new ways to offer something that film can’t.

In spite of what Zach Snyder says, I still believe Watchmen to be an unfilmable comic book because of the comic book conventions and storytelling innovations it made that are impossible to replicate with moving pictures.

To be continued…