You get into dangerous territory if you expect the art you make to change people’s minds. But if someone can watch a film and then go home and talk about it, that’s doing a lot.
—Ryan Coogler, quoted as one of Time magazine’s short list for Person of the Year for 2018.
When I was doing my topical (and increasing political) strip “Continuity and Vine”, I was taken aback when someone at a show said he was glad to read my comics … so he’d know what to think about the news! I certainly wasn’t writing those strips to become some sort of political guru, so reading Coogler’s take on that aspect of making art was a revelation for me.
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.
–Ernest Hemingway (from Rest: why you get more done when you work less / Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Basic Books, 2016).
I found Rest to be a fascinating read, and really useful after a period of feeling stressed and unproductive. Pang writes about the science of resting, the cultural history of rest and how it’s changed over time. The book frames work and rest as equals, and how taking conscious time to rest can act as “a playground for the creative mind and springboard for new ideas.” Rest is something more important– and indeed more essential– than merely time away from my creative work!
The book is full of great anecdotes about how great minds, from writers to world leaders, have used rest to become better at what they do. My favorite was the description of Winston Churchill’s habit of a daily afternoon nap (even during the Blitz); if he could do that when the fate of the free world was hanging in the balance, is anything I’m doing really more pressing or urgent?
Pang also writes about the benefits of a morning routine, and how that can even be helpful for a night owl like myself. I’ve worked some of his tips into my mornings over the last few weeks and it’s really helped me capture the relaxed creativity I used to enjoy late at night. The best steps I’ve taken are to not read the paper in the morning, and to keep my space dark and restive to begin the day. Keeping the world from intruding– ideally fairly soon after waking from the dream state– and getting to work while my internal editor is at ebb have really changed my attitude. And the amount of work I’m accomplishing in a shorter time, too! Keeping Hemingway’s advice in mind has also helped; that way I don’t have to think about what I’m starting my day with, but can get right to it!
Reading Rest was time well spent for me; I highly recommend it!
People have always needed a safe place to escape reality, whether it’s Oz or Middle-earth or Hogwarts or the Marvel/DC Comics universe. It’s very therapeutic to go from the stress of everyday life to a place far, far away. That’s the gift of Star Wars.
—Mark Hamill (from Parade magazine, 12/3/2017). The “Oz” remark helped me get newly excited about the value of working on “Watusi in Oz” again. And maybe, kinda, Wonder Valley can fit into that mix, even if its circle of recognition is much (much much much much) smaller than the creations Hamill mentioned in his quote…
No artist who can write should avoid words; no author who can draw should avoid drawing.
—Al Capp, creator of “Li’l Abner” (from The enigma of Al Capp / Alexander Theroux. Fantagraphics Books, 1999). I’ve highlighted this quote before, but I still think they’re words any cartoonist should take pride in. And live by.
Capp is a complicated figure to say the least, but his story is an interesting one. If you want to find out more about the man, I recommend the fine biography by Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen, Al Capp, A Life to the Contrary (Bloomsbury USA, 2013).
Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t enough room for all of the really small actions or subtle moments I originally imagined. There isn’t always enough room on a page to show every nervous glance or stepping foot as a character runs along the roof of a train. Sometimes I have to cut those less important moments to keep the story moving along at the right pace.
—Shane McDermott, 2016 (from his excellent recent exhibit at the Memphis College of Art, Seahorse in Sequence: Creating a Comic). Not only did that show feature Shane’s work from various stages of the process, he shared well-written descriptions such as this, too. It’s a great reminder that creators– myself included– need to be willing to make those kinds of cuts to make a better story. Probably more often than I’m willing to admit, too…
Comics are both art and commerce. I believe in the former and live with the latter. With the comic’s inflexible daily deadline there is little time for rumination. You do the best you can and then you let it go. You don’t live with a piece; you live with the process.
—Patrick McDonnell (from Mutts: the comic art of Patrick McDonnell. Harry N. Abrams, 2003). The best of many insights of what goes into his strip every day to be found in this beautiful volume. I’d definitely put this book in the same class as those by Schulz and Watterson I wrote about last month.
I felt then and now that sometimes comic-book stories, in an effort to always raise the stakes, keep getting larger and larger until there is nothing left for the readers to identify with. If all the people a super-hero meets have super powers of their own, it takes away the fragile layer of reality that we depend on. That’s why characters like Sarah Simms, Terry Long and others exist: to ground the heroes in some manner of reality and to make the readers believe this could be happening right now around the corner, if only you can get there in time.
Long-running series need to be like roller coasters, with stories that move along faster than a speeding bullet followed by others that slow you down and remind you what you like about the characters even as you are being set up for the next major thrill. If you are constantly being shouted at you will eventually be numbed to everything. You gain perspective and have time for reflection only when there’s some quiet.
—Marv Wolfman, 2004 (from the introduction to The New Teen Titans volume two. DC Comics, 2015). Sadly, this kind of writing style has been ignored for far too long in most ongoing comic series.