Umbilicus

The funny thing about being a comic artist for a living is that even though enjoying the medium is definitely escapism… the act of actually making the comics is very often not.  In fact, it’s the furthest thing from it.

You may be drawing images of fantasy, and the creative potential in that is near limitless, but I find it difficult to allow myself to get lost in that frame of mind when things are rough in the real world.  Of course, I may just be one of these overly dramatic types who can’t separate their lives from their livelihood, but consider this — how safe would you feel jumping into the deep blue depths if you weren’t sure you’d have a boat to swim back up to?


There is no spacewalk to fix the Hubble if the shuttle is not in place.

Just Say No

Scripts.  I have to admit to at least one thing I hadn’t prepared for when building my doomed comics career over the past year and a half or so, and that is the amount of script reading I’d actually have to do.  I mean… that’s precisely why a handful of us drawhappy types become artists in the first place, yeah? So we don’t need to read? Hehah! Welcome to the half-movie, half-book medium… care for a brain smothering with miles of text? No. Ellis was once asked at a con about how Darrick came up with the idea for Spider’s glasses, after which Warren explained that most artists can actually only express themselves in pictures and grunts.  “…guhh… colors… STAR WARS!”  Hilarious business, that.  Sad part is I know exactly what he meant.

But yeah, I’ve had to read.  And I don’t just mean reading so I can put it on paper… I mean reading to find out if I even want to put it on paper.  Know what I mean?  I get a healthy stack of scripts to choose from every couple of months, and I get my next project from this pile.

But I need to be smart about it… because if I’m not, I’m gonna be stuck with something I don’t love for what will seem like too fucking long.  Whore yourself out just a bit too much and you risk committing to something you’re not sure your creative attention span can handle.

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Son, when choosing a gig — big or small — you gotta be excited about it, because if you aren’t it will show in the pages, and that will make the book an ugly part of your portfolio… assuming you even manage to finish it.

It’s the irony of ironies, really — having worked so hard to get to a place where you don’t need to kill yourself pimping anymore, just to learn how to turn things down.

Bowing out of a project is easily one of my least favorite things about working freelance, because not a lot of writers take it very gracefully.  Too many assume that the reason why a project is declined owes a lot to the story’s quality… even when you make it clear that you just don’t feel you’re right for it.  Comes with the territory, I guess… an insensitive writer probably isn’t really much of one, I’m inclined to imagine.  But what do I know?

All the same, it all boils down to decision making and having the balls to stick to it.  Gladly grown a pair, hoping it lasts through harsh winters.

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.