Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Production philosophy and my newest inspiration

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I recently discovered Cerebus... Dave Sim's incredible self-published comic book. I love the way it's drawn - I love the way it's written - I love the ongoing artistic/philosophical/social commentary (aside from a few incendiary issues he has). I bought the massive tome called Jaka's Story - widely considered one of the best parts of the series, and I loved it. I've ordered a few more of the books, and while waiting for them to come in I wanted more Sim and more Cerebus, so I went websurfing. And I found cerebusfangirl.com. That link will take your directly to the Letters From the President page, collecting Sim's writing from the back of the issues. He's brilliant (if somewhat twisted) eloquent and deeply thoughtful, as well as a powerful and insightful observer of human nature (which let's remember aint always pretty folks!). Ok, so in the article called Tangents he went completely overboard on a misogynistic shooting spree (hey, some of what he says makes perfect sense... but yeah, he does mave female issues).

I've read all the articles now, and what really strikes me is the ongoing sense of how hard he's working. He always mentions it, and the fact that he had to find time to write up each article in between the work it takes to produce a self-published comic book. His background artist Gerhard (who does some mind-blowing ultradetailed and often surreal drawings behind Sim's characters) lives in the same house, and is always working in the background (he gets mentioned frequently too, always laboring away as Sim writes). What a monumental accomplishment! Two guys who are doing what they love most sitting in a house day after day after day cranking out drawing after drawing after drawing, scratching out line after (ok, sorry, getting carried away)... and the result is the longest-running series ever done by the same creative team all the way through. Reading what he has to say about what it takes to do this has changed my outlook on production... it made me realize that ALL the comic books I've ever read - love em or hate em - only existed because they were finished... on time, under deadline, and complete, month after month after month (well, certain Image titles excepted). The ones that weren't well... you've never seen them. Because they don't exist outside of someone's imagination. Ok, I think I got my point across. Below is a paragraph excerpted from his article on "whether to draw comic books or become a plumber". It applies to making stopmo flicks as well:

"To start self-publishing in this day and age you have to be prolific and you have to be able to compete with the best work out there. At the time that I started Cerebus, writing and drawing comic books was something that you did until you could do something else. There are still many creators who are here temporarily, until they are lured away by Hollywood or whatever else. But, face facts. Wendy Pini is not going away. Neither am I. Neither is Neil Gaiman, Eddie Campbell, Jeff Smith, Colleen Doran, Steve Bissette, Larry Marder. (footnote) The greatest mistake you can make is to say that your work is better than a lot of the shit that's out there. No doubt. But being better than shit is not exactly a shining credential. Do you have anything to say? I mean, if I read one more proposal for a post-apocalyptic nightmare society ruled by remnants of a blah blah blah, I'm going to throw up. I mean, who cares? Likewise two hundred issue story-lines that consist of a handful of character sketches and a rough outline. I mean, so what? If someone comes up to me with fifty pages in photocopy form and the last page is better than the first, I tell them what Mike Kaluta told me in 1973; 'You're on the right track. Keep going.' I just got in the first issue of a comic called Strange Attractions ($3.00 plus postage - Retrografix, 2130 Williams #3, Bellingham, WA 98225). I read it and enjoyed it. I could follow the story no problem and when I got to the end, I wanted to know what happens next. If the work doesn't have that effect on you, it's largely wasted effort. The work has to come first. Until you've produced a couple of hundred pages, you aren't going to know if you have the aptitude, ability or inclination to do comics for a living. The work has to come first. Once you have produced a couple of hundred pages, you have to move to the next level, doing a number of things simultaneously; producing the work, reproducing it in some fashion (photo-copies, mini-comics, booklets), circulating it and promoting it. All of those things. Simultaneously. If you produce the work but fall behind on reproducing it; if you produce and reproduce it but fail to circulate it; if you produce it, reproduce it, circulate it but fail to promote it; nothing (I repeat, nothing) is going to happen. Chester Brown did a number of issues of Yummy Fur as a mini-comic and then became too big to be confined to mini-comics. That effect will happen only if you are productive, only if you circulate your work and only if you promote it. The work has to come first. If your family comes first, or your girl-friend, or your wife or your kids or socializing or drinking or drugs, you are better off learning how to be a plumber. The work has to come first. If you have a natural talent and you produce a couple of hundred pages in the course of a year, you will get better and things will start to happen for you. If it takes you five years to produce a couple of hundred pages your improvement will be slower and you will find it almost impossible to make a living. There is nothing wrong with having any of those other things as top priorities in your life. Most people do. Almost all people do. The only way to make an impact in the comic book field is to be an exception to that rule. It there is anything you would rather do than sit down and write and draw a really good page, that thing is going to be an impediment. The world is full of distractions. Take two weeks and decide to do a page a day; 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."

3 comments:

herself said...

Excellent article, Mike. I like what he said very much, especially the part about not likely being able to make enough money to live on if productivity is too slow. I've found that to be true in my design work. I haven't been able to produce enough to make a regular living wage at it.

I like this flat-out practical approach and think he's quite right about the rest you showed as well.

Men and woman are very different creatures, each with their own strengths though. So, take what works for you from this guy but leave the rest I say. If someone has a one thing, say 1% of what they have to say, that I can take away for myself, that's pretty good. I don't think anyone of us has 100% right.

Darkstrider said...

Of course making a monthly self-published comic book is a very different process from making a stopmo flick, which tends to take months or years. And there's no way I'l be making money at this... hell I have to PAY to do it! And unfortunately here are no simple pat yardsticks... two pages a day pencilled inked and lettered. Nothing so formulaic about making a stopmo flick.

But I'm becoming hyper-aware that time keeps passing relentlessly like a river, and we can sit and watch it pass or we can build a paddlewheel or a hydroelectric dam and harness it's flow. To mix my metaphors, it's a focus thing. Most of the time my energy is scattered all over the place..... after getting home from work I want to relax for a while, eat something, watch a show or two, do some reading. Pretty soon it's time to eat again, and several times by now the dog has demanded to be taken out.

But if out of all that unfocused activity I can manage to spend half an hour making some arm armatures or whatever, then I'm farther ahead than I was the day before. I like that.

herself said...

Exactly, well said.