The New York Times (registration required) has an excellent parlor on graphic novels, titled Not Funnies by Charles McGrath, including an overview on their history, their current place in the market, and some of the creators that are producing the work. It is no surprise whose work is examined here: Ware, Spiegleman, Seth, Sacco, etc. The best part of the parlor for me was the defining characteristics of a graphic novelist:
For those who do stick with it, the career of the graphic novelist can seem less a choice than a compulsion. The process of becoming one goes something like this: First there’s a conversion moment, which happens at a remarkably young age, usually when the artist is still in grammar school. To put it simply, he falls in love with a comic strip – fairly often it’s “Peanuts” – and then with comics in general. Soon he’s copying them, and then he’s generating his own. In high school, where this artist, a nerd, most likely, and an outcast, is unrecognized for the talent he is, cartooning becomes a refuge, a way to work out revenge fantasies and occasionally even a modest claim to fame.
McGrath continues on from there, nailing it all in the head perfectly. His general description could be used to describe anyone involved in comics creation. To me, it is a compulsion, a need. I know that I can generate the feeling of a scene to an audience in a sentence, but I’m compelled to draw the entire damn thing instead of using the simplest tools for the job (words).
More and more, I’m find myself trying to do longer work, experimenting more with style to hit the right notes with the audience. What kills most work in general is the thrusting of assembly line comics deadlines (Marvel, DC) into a young creators’ framework. By that, I mean you are nothing in the comic world unless you have a book out or coming soon. I think this causes many (potential) creators to hammer out half-ass work, when it is shooting themselves in the foot. I am guilty of the same thinking. It also causes many writers to bug their artists for not working fast enough, when the artist usually has seven side jobs to keep food on the table (not that writing isn’t hard, but it is less time consuming), because you got to have something for a publisher to look at, or you need to debut something at a convention constantly. It’s a viscious circle.
My friend Fredd gets approached at cons all the time by writers or other artists, and the first thing out of their mouths are “so what have you been working on?” He gets the biggest thrill when he tells them “nothing,” because they don’t know how to react. It isn’t so much that they’re surprised that he isn’t working on a book; it is more that he doesn’t care. He doesn’t. He worked in comics awhile, and went hungry. He’s happy doing his design work and working in comics intermittently, because he actually enjoys the work in this capacity.
While on vacation this past week, I’ve been thinking to myself about my career (or more appropriately, lack thereof) in comics, and where to go from here. To me, it is a fool’s game to try to keep up with the creative trends, because honestly, the trends are mostly crap. It isn’t a newsflash when I say there are a great many derivitave and poorly conceived material in comics. My theory is much of that is not from lack of talent. Far from it, since most of the people doing the work can draw or write circles around me. No, I think it is partly from a lack of time to do things well and partly from the fear of doing it all yourself (creating and publishing). I’m in a position to do work at my own pace since I am not reliant on comics work for a living (thank goodness). Why not take my time and do the next Blankets, Palestine, or Jimmy Corrigan. Hell, why not do a Charles Burns and release a chapter once a year?! Because in the long run… it isn’t that you went monthly for so many years, it isn’t how much money you had in the bank, and it isn’t how popular you were at conventions; it is about the work. If your work is rushed and crappy, it doesn’t mean a thing.
I don’t want to do crappy work ever. I want to have my lines work more expressively for me, to help reinforce my themes and my storytelling, instead of rushing a bunch of crap down on the page and hoping some of it sticks right. I want to do graphic novels comparable to literary novels. To be a writer, one must be a wordsmith. Why am I not a linesmith (for that matter, why am I not also a wordsmith)? Good minimalist writing means choosing the absolute best word, not using adverbs, showing rather than telling. I subscribe to the belief that the best designs are those which take the simplest route for the most effective solution. I do this in all of my work. This blog is a testament to minimal design, and sometimes I feel I didn’t go far enough with it. It takes time and practice to develop the discipline for ‘simple.’
Talent will take you so far, and I know that I can get better than where I am at right now with discipline. That takes time. I’m willing to put in the time now.
You can also browse through the Parlor archives.
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