Tuesday, September 28, 2010

DIY Not?

I just finished reading "Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World," by Mark Frauenfelder (founder of Boing Boing and editor in chief of Make magazine). I never thought of myself as much of a DIY guy, but I enjoyed his Colbert Report interview enough to hunt down his book at the library. It chronicles his misadventures in do-it-yourselfing -- undeterred by failure, he hacks his way through several ambitious projects, including the building of a chicken coop (and the stewardship of its residents), the construction of several cigar-box guitars, and the raising of a colony of bees. I wouldn't have predicted I'd have been interested in any of those things, but it turned out to be a fun ride.

Frauenfelder quotes some interesting folks. For example, there's this gem from Charles Martin Simon's "Principles of Beekeeping Backwards":
Our apicultural forefathers, those great men who defined the principles of modern beekeeping, Langstroth, Dadants, Root . . . why were they so extravagantly successful? The answer is simple: because they didn’t know what they were doing. They made it up, as it were, as they went along. That is the creative principle, and that is the way it works. Once the standards have been set and carved in stone, the pictures and diagrams and procedures etched into the books, we have then models to live up to, and we can’t do it. Everything that comes after primary is secondary, or less. It will never be the same. For us to succeed, we have to become primary. We have to view beekeeping with entirely new eyes, just as our great pioneers did.
I haven't been at comics long enough to know if that's true, but I'd sure like it to be true. Clearly, it's not enough to be clueless -- otherwise, we'd all be accidental Picassos. But to be unsure of what you're doing while wanting desperately to figure out the answers on your own -- that might be some kind of sweet spot.

Later, Dr. Peter Gray critiques the way modern schools work:
"...our education system is set up to train kids to be scholars, in the narrowest sense of the word, meaning someone who spends his time reading and writing." This is a poor way for kids to learn, Gray explained, because people survive by doing things. School, however, is about "always preparing for some future time when you will know enough to actually do something instead of doing things now. And that's such a tedious approach for anybody to take in life - always preparing."
Could it be that school just prepares us to prepare for things? No wonder the local Utrecht is doing such brisk business in Moleskines and watercolor kits, but so little is actually getting made! He goes on:
The right way to approach learning, Gray said, is by encouraging play, "where you just go out and do things, and learning is secondary to doing. In school, you learn before you do. In play, you learn as you do and you're not afraid of mistakes -- you make mistakes and that's how you learn. Whereas in school a mistake is something bad. In some ways you become afraid of taking initiative and trying things out for fear you'll make a mistake."
It was near the end of Frauenfelder's book that it occurred to me that making your own comic also counts as a DIY project. I guess I had associated the movement with sawdust and calloused hands, maybe because there seems to be so much caveman back-to-the-land stuff mixed in with the maker subculture. There's one bit where he even says his DIY activities take away from some of his other hobbies, which include painting and drawing. Somehow those two don't qualify as "true" DIY, I guess? Too sissy? I wonder where Make magazine stands on the subject of Cintiqs?

Anyway, the book's a great read for anybody who's trying to overcome that inner schoolmaster who keeps telling them they're not good enough to get going on a project. I could have used that encouragement a year ago. Heck, I can still use it now.

A few people have asked me what's going on with the Nonplayer publishing situation. I'm really, really close to signing something, and as soon as I do I'll make an announcement. We're in chickens-about-to-hatch territory now. I'm looking forward to being able to breathe again.

Issue #2 is bopping right along.


  1. Hmmm... Now I'm wondering if what I thought about my behaviour in school was really what it was. This makes me think that maybe I avoided everything because I was so cripplingly afraid of failing.

    Well, crap. That completely dashes my idea that I just wasn't being challenged enough. Too smart for anything.

    I was really just a fearful, wimpy little shit who never took a chance.

    Thanks, man. It's a bit of a relief, really. I had this idea of having a burden, something to live up to. Now just about anything I do is actually a step up.


  2. great post !
    ive been spending alot of time preparing a comic, but so little actually making it... ive also noticed allot great artists spending allot of time making up back stories, character line ups etc for their own comics, but... they never get around to making a comic.
    and thats a trap ive been trying to escape my self.
    by making one story at a time, and avoiding the 'impossible task' of a massive epic.

    its really great to read your posts as you create, i can identify so much and find it a great help.

  3. Fantastic post.

    I love the quote about the school system, this is something that I've believed for some time. In fact, I've always found it as a bit of a conundrum. I am able to succeed very well in the modern school setting, and as such I find myself propelled along it through high school and now into college where I continue to be constantly preparing. Preparing so much that I find I don't have time to do other things. I've made a point to work on my own creative projects, but I constantly wish that my time could AT LEAST be divided 50/50 between preparing and doing. instead of the 80/20 it seems to be.

  4. This is a fantastically entertaining blog to read and I think your artwork is top notch (coming from a artistic-lay person).

    Just a random thought which has less to do with this particular post but more to do with your site in general; Your little bio says you took a year off to give comics a try. Your posts start back in Jan. of 2009. Maybe I'm chronologically challenged, but it seems like you've taken a bit more than a 'year off'. :)

  5. Well, the year was for the learning. Now he's learned enough to get moving in earnest. Oh, there's still plenty more to learn, but that'll come with more doing.

  6. Love that you brought this up. It's so true, when we create without preestablished ideas we are capable of so much more. Although that doesn't apply to everything, of course. We don't want architects and doctors who are figuring it out as they go!
    One of my jobs is assistant to a calligrapher and he often lauds the very early examples of arabic script we pore over, because there were no rules yet and as a result the early calligraphers took creative freedoms that would be unthinkable today. I think a middle ground is possible, though. We can bear in mind past discoveries of what works and what doesn't, without letting ourselves be bound by them. Isn't that what the great masters did? They mastered the rules, and then went on to work as if they were discovering their medium for the first time.

  7. Eagle - I'm pretty sure your theory about not being challenged is the correct one. Maybe you just smelled futility in the whole thing, so you decided to run out the clock. But you're right -- you've got quite a few steps up in your future. Because you are rad.

    Teuvo - Yeah, everybody I know (including me) has this too-much-preparation problem. I mean, I spent fifteen years preparing for my last project! Ugh. Comics has no shallows -- we just have to jump in and start swimming! Besides, you couldn't be more ready to draw a spectacular comic. Your stuff is amazing! It's time for Teuvo to set the comics world on fire!

    Hopefully not literally.

    Dave - Yeah, I felt the same way when I was in school. I just couldn't find the time to work on my own stuff. Then again, you've got the summers!

  8. J. - You got me! I wrote that one-year thing back when it was true, but it's been longer than that now. The error has been corrected! Thanks for the heads-up.

    Eagle - Yeah! What he said!

    Joumana - "We can bear in mind past discoveries of what works and what doesn't, without letting ourselves be bound by them. Isn't that what the great masters did?" This is right on. What a tough balance to hit, but that's why we get a few more decades to figure all of this out. Thanks as always for the astute comment.

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  10. Interesting post , lots to think about.

  11. Dominic - Yeah, I think the lesson here is to quote people who have interesting things to say. It's a lot less work than writing something interesting of my own!