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.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sitting Duck

I just realized that I hadn't gotten around to posting the color version of page 8. Here it is. Click to enlarge:


There seems to be a lot of disagreement about the usefulness of sound effects. The anti-SFX people point out that big words look cheesy, cover up the linework, and ruin the general fine-artness of things. The pro-SFX partisans counter that sounds can make things more visceral and engage the other senses (if indirectly).

Then there's Japan. They'll add a sound effect for a gentle breeze or the sound of somebody blinking. This tool must have some value if it's been used for decades on multiple continents. Then again, so has dynamite. That doesn't mean I should use it to loosen a stuck spark plug.

I guess the real question is whether sound effects make sense for Nonplayer. I started out staunchly against them, but was surprised to discover that some pages seemed to come to life when I added them. Of course, I then went whole hog and put in too many, in some cases ruining entire pages. In the end, as with every other part of the book, it came down to trying every panel both ways and keeping the changes that worked. I ended up with a comic that has some loud events that go completely unlabeled and some muted events that make little noises. Did I make the right choices? I don't know!

That leads to a bigger concern: when Nonplayer gets printed, I'll be opening myself up to a kind of criticism that I've never experienced before. The internet is pretty polite when you're a nobody, but as soon as your name shows up in Previews, the gloves come off. I feel like I'm asking the web to kick me in the jimmy.

I'll say it right now: my comic has flaws. Sometimes it looks to me like it's made up of nothing but flaws. It's hard to resist preempting my critics by listing what's wrong right here. At least then I'll have scooped the griefers.

But that's a pretty unhealthy way to think, right? After all, one person's mistake is another's charming idiosyncrasy. I bet Geof Darrow felt like he'd totally blown it when he finished Hard Boiled (when in fact he had made one of the raddest things ever). Not that I'm anywhere near his level of bodaciousness, but who knows -- maybe some of my mistakes won't seem so big when I look back at them in a few years.

I guess this is the lesson I'm trying to learn this month: drawing a comic (or creating anything to share with others) requires a willingness to make highly-visible errors. Mistakes are like little badges that say "I'm trying as hard as I can." With comics, books, and movies (not so much with food), I care less and less whether something is good or bad. What matters is whether the creator is trying.

There's a lot of very polished, mistake-free art made by people who aren't pushing themselves at all, and there's some really terrible art created by people who are putting everything they've got into what they're doing. I prefer the second category of creators (not to mention, if someone's that into what they're doing, they'll have a hard time staying bad). I wonder if this accounts for the well-documented rock band trajectory -- proficiency usually increases over time as obvious flaws are polished away, yet the earliest albums are often the most prized. It's not that missteps necessarily make the early stuff more enjoyable (though sometimes they do), but they seem like an unavoidable consequence of pushing through unknown territory.

For all of Nonplayer's shortcomings, I feel I can say one thing with confidence: I gave my best effort. In what is surely a first in my creative life, I have no cause for regret. And if the script is any indication, issue #2 will drag me even further into Terra Incognita. There are eight pages in a fish market. Boy, I bet I'll know how to draw fish after I'm done with that one.

Anyway, see you in Previews. My jimmy awaits.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bombs Away!

When I announced on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that I'd finished the first issue of Project Waldo, the plan was to post something here the next day. Since then, I've been making the comic a little more finished. Today, I finally threw in the towel for good. It's done.

So first things first. "Project Waldo" has a new title:




With any luck, you'll be seeing this soon on a shelf at your local comic store.

Justin "Moritat" Norman went with me to Arcane Comics yesterday and we brought the cover along to see how well it would stand out among the other comics that started with "N." It'll be parked right next to Northlanders, which is some rotten luck, because that's one amazing-looking comic. Northlanders notwithstanding, I was happy to discover that most modern comic covers are so dark that a yellow-and-orange pile of fruitsauce like mine glows like a little campfire in the forest. 

One last thing: from now on, I'll try to post here once a week. Part of the way I'll manage that is by keeping my posts shorter. We'll all still be here next week, right? 

Back to issue #2. We can rebuild it. We have the technology. Better, stronger, faster.