Why create anything?

whyIn a recent USA Weekend essay by Michael Wolff, he posed an interesting– and as a creator, a somewhat daunting– vision of the near future as more content becomes more freely available:

This is, curiously, a crisis for the media business– a business that, even as we felt it encroach on our lives, actually thrived on scarcity. We wanted it more because there was relatively little of it. … Now everything is available at any time– there is not only more media, but soon all media that ever was will be instantly servable– vastly diluting the attention for, and value of, any one media experience. Supply has overwhelmed demand.

So in a world where my humble Watusi comics must compete with not only other currently active web cartoonists … where the $1.00 outlay for a physical issue must measure up to two great fifty-cent bin comics … but where even the time it takes to read my comics must compete with more widely available classics from Kirby, Toth, Aparo, Buscema, Gottfredson, and so many others … why should I work so hard making my own comics? Why create anything?

I asked this question of my fellow Dime Bag Comics creators, and here’s what they had to share:

J.B. Winter (of 50 State Comic fame):

This is tough question to answer, but one of the things I think about is this: What would it be like if Kirby or Toth, or any of the greats you mention started out in today’s market? They might find it tough in comparison to the past, but I think they could still make an interesting body of work if they challenged themselves to do it. While they might be appreciated less and make less money, I think the work itself would still be worth creating and sharing. Heck, some of my favorite creators are virtual unknowns from decades past. Their work lies in obscurity, but I think it certainly has value and the world is richer for it.

Matt Levin (of Walking Man Comics fame):

A comparison: even 30 years ago, taking pictures was the Art of the Photographer. There were a lot of pop cameras, like Kodak’s Instamatics, but still the taking of pictures belonged to photographers, not the masses. Nowadays, picture taking’s so readily available and risk-free (don’t like that shot? Delete it.), photography belongs to everyone. Why should anyone work so hard to get the right shot?

The market pays plenty for the Burke-Whites, the Steichens, Stieglitzes, Eisenstaedts and Avedons. It doth not pay for me. But there are people making money with their photography, because a photographer’s picture just is that much better than Uncle Bessie’s selfie, even with the bird.

Similarly, comics-making, 40 years ago the province of Publishers, is now readily and widely available to everyone with time, access to paper and pencil, and the desire to make story-telling pictures.

Similarly, the classics from Kirby, Toth, Aparo, Buscema, Gottfredson, are a large part of the market. That market, too, it doth not pay for me. But there are people making money with their comics, because a graphic artist’s comic just is that much better than Auntie Ginn’s super heroic apron, even with the bird.

There are so many songs in the world. And, nowadays, digital machines can make one sound like a flashy band– why should anyone work so hard to craft a really catchy, profound song? Why should I work so hard making my own comics? Why create anything?

Because y’gotta. Because if y’don’t make your comics, you get grumpy, even angrily disconsolate, and y’can tell people notice. Your sense of self-worth lies on the ground. All that time you now have for doing Other Things instead of making comics just fritters away and you wind up thinking, only too often, what a waste of time–

–Might as well make some comics. [“Watusi: suddenly human, mute, in a world he never made. Has to be told.”] And again take up that ever-present challenge: what next? Write a samba. Photograph only rocks. Use your page differently. Write a story as fits the new page. Dump story-writing for 12 calendar-sized pages– Watusi posed in dramatic settings suitable to each season. It’s a fun challenge, solving problems, frustrating but entertaining, sometimes even rewarding. And y’know, y’feel good while yer doin’ it, right?

That’s why; why I keep doing what I do. It seems to be of little or no worth to anyone else, which, frankly, drives me a little nuts. I’m compelled. I do it because I have to, or feel bad. I write songs. I take pictures. I make comics. I plant gardens. I do it the very best I can to please myself in the doing and, the best of coincidences be praised, there are perhaps a dozen people who praise what I do.

Why should I work so hard making my own comics? Why create anything? Because y’gotta. Because there’s always that chance, it’s rare but it happens, that something you make will be immediately known to be beautiful.

Keith O’Brien (of Samurai Slate fame):

I HAVE to create. If I didn’t, I would explode.

And as for me, the essay obviously gave me much to ponder, and it was a good question to think about. In my Dime Bag Comics intro I referred to my comic-making “compulsion”, but it’s more than just a drive beyond my control. Making comics is the best way I know to create something of my own, on my own. While I know it’s unrealistic to expect I could ever have the audiences that existed for the greats I mentioned earlier (from an age of mass– not niche– media), their careers inspire me to create my own substantial body of work. Telling the stories in both words and pictures that only I can create, using my own creations– and being able to connect those with the audience I do have– has its own sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

What drives me to create new work in an age of unlimited media choice? A belief that I can create something of worth from nothing but my own hands and my own imagination.

Why do you create?

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2 Comments to “Why create anything?”

  1. I create because even though a very limited number of people will ever see it, it gives me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, and thus makes me happy. It can also be a good conversation starter, because I can watch others creating at conventions, and ask questions about all of the things they do so well with which I have difficulty (so many things!), and I can ask questions about how or why they do things certain ways, or what tools they use to get certain results. Such conversations are almost invariably pleasant, and sometimes very instructive.

    • I guess that’s an advantage we have over the likes of Kirby and Toth– it’s still possible for readers to have those kinds of interactions with us today…

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