Ten Thousand Hours

I told her I’d only send my manuscript if she was ruthlessly honest. The next three years of my life could hang in the balance, and this was no time for subtlety.

“What you have here are three different books.  Can they be cohered into one graphic novel?  It’s possible, but, ultimately, I think that’s far more trouble than it’s worth.  More importantly, it doesn’t feel like that’s what the books want.  I think they are their own things, and what follows are my thoughts on each of them…”

Thus began the three-page single-spaced critique of my graphic novel.

In the days after receiving this, I went though old journals and added up the time spent working on this book. While doing so, I noticed some interesting things. For instance: This book was conceived the day after the woman I foresaw spending a lifetime with exited my existance. I observed how in the weeks following, I threw myself into the project, working on it five, six hours per day, like a man desperately trying to establish a purpose, a new identity, after having his world turned upside-down.

I also noticed how as time went on, I worked on it less, until last Spring I ceased to work on it at all. The problem with continuing is: I’m no longer compelled like I once was. In fact, the prospect of returning to the book resembles a joyless chore, and while I once firmly believed that an artist must suffer for their art, I choose not to believe this anymore. I choose to live a joyful existence.

The hermit of my book would balk at this. Sorry bub.

The fact of the matter is: I’m a different person now than I was two years ago. My mistake was making this book too ambitious, requiring so much time to complete, its initial emotional catalyst couldn’t carry it though to completion. Had I narrowed the subject matter and made the book a quarter or half as long, I would have something complete right now.

Oh well.

I was ignorant when I began; uncertain of how much time and energy it takes to create a book. Now I know.

700.3 hours. Seven-hundred point three hours is what it costs to get half a book. If you add the life-drawing sessions, the Prince Paupers, the Portland comics, and all the others, I’ve probably spent a thousand hours drawing in the past two years. Catharsis has never been so productive.

So it is with gratitude I place this book upon the shelf, believing with all my heart:
nothing is wasted; everything, a lesson.

——————–

Special thanks goes out to Sarah, who provided an incredibly thoughtful analysis of my manuscript.

Related reading:
http://www.wisdomgroup.com/blog/10000-hours-of-practice/

Confession

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I haven’t worked on my book for a month and a half. The last time I sat down to, I gave up because there was no energy there. Even though people seem to like my story and are eager to find out what happens next, I am simply not compelled or inspired to work on it.

So the question becomes: do I force myself to continue? When I look at how much work I’ve put into this project, it makes me feel like I cannot quit; yet when I look at how much work is left to be done, quitting feels possible. Not only possible, but a relief. An unloading of some great burden.

Which makes me ask: Am I simply being a quitter? A coward? Afraid of hard work, and lacking the determination to follow through?

I used to work. Like a real job, with real hours, and real pay, in a real office. I quit because I sensed it was killing me, in some subtle yet fundamental way. Now I’m a cartoonist and like to think of my “work” as play. When you look at the “works” of Bill Watterson, Dr. Suess, or Shel Silverstein, you can see they are playing. They are having fun. It’s THAT which makes their “work” great. Now of course it still takes effort and patience and skill. But when you’re playing, everything aligns and feel effortless.

The truth is, I don’t know what I’m capable of, and this book doesn’t feel like it’s helping me discover that anymore. I like to think of the mind as a receiver, like a radio. If I’m tuned into one station all the time (the book), how can I discover anything new? There’s something out there which wants to be discovered, but I won’t find it if I’m circling familiar territory.

The graphic novel has helped me get to a place where I’m able to pick up more “radio signals”, and I’m not saying that I’m definitely ending it. But I am putting it aside for now, and casting my fishin’ line into the depths to see what else turns up. It’s a little scary, but the unknown always is.

Graphic Novel Update – LA Edition

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Three months ago I set a goal: to have the first draft of my book ready to bring to Los Angeles at the end of May. At the time, I estimated the book would be around 110 pages long. Today, as I show interested family members the draft, I have 107 pages, which means I nearly reached my goal, right?? Well… not quite. Turns out the book will be more like 150 pages. Quite the miscalculation.

It’s funny: when I first conceptualized this story, it was much different. Originally, it was a simple 30 page story about a Woodsman and a Wolf which acted as an allegory for love and loss. As I began working on it, however, I had a dream where a third character entered the story: the woman herself, the lost love. In hindsight it seems like an obvious addition that belonged there all along, but at the time, I remember thanking the Muses for handing me a creative break-through — one which would take the story to a whole ‘nother level.

Since, even more has been added, and what started as a cozy cottage is now become a towering skyscraper. The book is now not only a commentary on love, but also on creativity, ambition, fame, power, addiction, society, loneliness and failure. It’s a distillation of topics I think about and struggle with, and is a sort of manifesto on what I’ve found most important in life. The book itself is ambitious and experimental, and in my vision it’s beautiful and thought-provoking and emotionally powerful.

But it’s not there yet. And although my family is impressed and encouraging, they’re not seeing it the way I’m seeing it. Closing the gap between the soaring vision and the tangible object is the challenge and joy of the creator.

Girl Power! Part Two

A few months ago I blogged about my new favorite artists, all girls (possibly women). Well the trend has continued. I SWEAR TO GOD it has nothing to do with the fact they (presumably) have boobs. I don’t know why, but to me, the most exciting comic art out there is done by ladies. Maybe by the end of this post, you’ll agree.

Okay, geez, if you thought my art crush on Kate Beaton was bad, you should’ve seen my slack-jawed, eye-popped expression when I first stumbled upon Kelly Bastow’s website. In addition to fantastic illustrations, she has a wonderful selection of tiny-yet-powerful comics. kelly_bastow_1But her website only contains a fraction of her work — most of it is on her Tumblr. And now I will spam a bunch of her art because I love it. kelly_bastow_5 kelly_bastow_6 kelly_bastow_2 kelly_bastow_4 kelly_bastow_3 And that’s why I love her. Not only is her art a visual feast, but it comes from a deeply personal place, feels as honest as a confession, and has incredible emotional impact. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the work of women. Not to discriminate against men or anything, but generally I think women are more emotionally sensitive. Emotion is what gets me off in comics. (she does the funny too)

Amazingly, Kelly is just a kid. All this talent has been self-developed, and only recently did she begin formal education (bet she’s the only kid in her art school with an agent). Tonight as I was drawing, I listened to Kelly doing her first podcast interview. She’s your stereotypical polite and demure Canadian, but during one part of the interview, she slipped and said something like, “… oh, one day when I’m rich and famous…”. To me, that’s all the more endearing. Magic people know they’re magic.

Next up we have the audacious Jess Fink. Jess is great because she’s proven you don’t have to be a boy to draw dirty pictures. And why hide those dirty drawings under your mattress when you can put them online and have a popular tale of “erotic robot romance”? Pro tip: don’t look at these unless you have some time on your hands.

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Jess also has a graphic novel coming out next month about time traveling to aid her younger self. Great concept, right?

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I follow her tumblr, and seeing her so excited to be holding a hard copy of her graphic novel, makes me tremendously happy and hopeful. Especially since she’s published by my publisher of choice. You can preview the first seven pages, and preorder here.

 Noelle Stevenson has a huge following, and recently won Slate magazine’s $1000 “best online comic” prize for her comic, Nimona. Another art school kid with an agent and a book deal. sigh.

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And finally (because it’s getting late, and even being a fanboy gets old), there’s Stephanie Pepper. Take a look at her comic strip about a fruit cup, and you’ll be a fan too. Plus this: 

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Girls be putting us out of business. Time to step up the game.

Playing With Ink

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Got a shipment of art supplies I’ve been experimenting with. Inking with a brush is a whole lot different than working with a Micron pen or digitally. Not being used to it, it’s pretty challenging, but with more practice I can see myself falling in love with painterly experience of brush & ink.

I’ve been planning on adding tone to my graphic novel using an ink wash applied to the digital lines printed on watercolor paper. Am I going to end up doing the lines with brush and ink too?

It sure would be a lot more work… is the effect worth it?