Saturday, March 20, 2010

Perfect from Now On

When I was a kid, I had this recurring dream in which I'd get into a fight with a bully, but the air between us would somehow slow down my punches. Like an animal trapped in tar, the harder I pushed my fist toward my adversary, the greater the invisible opposing force. That dream pretty accurately presaged the experience of creating a comic. The harder I've pushed for perfection, the more things have tended to bog down.

The painful lesson that's headed for my forehead like a Tomahawk missile is this: comics are compromise. An artist's ability to finish a comic is proportional to her willingness to tolerate imperfection. This sounds simple enough, but it's a real bear if you're at all invested in the world you're creating (which, if you've decided to make a comic on your own, you probably are). Then there's the added burden of knowing that even if you manage to complete a "perfect" comic, you'll look at it again after a year of further artistic growth and be unimpressed by what you see.

To offer one example of the sort of drastic compromise that's lurking out there: most people come to comics from one of two directions -- you either like to draw, or you like to tell stories. To make a comic, you have to do both. This, frankly, is ridiculous. Think about how divergent and how deep those two skill sets are. Invent a new type of art -- let's call it "shmizzling."  To shmizzle well, you have to bat .400 or better in Major League baseball, and you must also master the tenor role in the opera, La fille du régiment.  Shmizzling is exactly as difficult as creating comics. You're either Darryl Strawberry in a ruffled shirt trying to hit the high Cs of Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!, or you're Pavarotti trying to get his bat on Hideo Nomo's forkball. How do you move forward from that position without compromising?

I've seen three kinds of comic creators: those who are so uninvested in their work that compromise comes easily, those who care deeply but succumb to the apparent futility of the process before they can finish anything, and those few who keep chasing the mirage of perfection even as they understand that it can never be attained.

There's an infinite gulf separating the first kind of artist from the other two, but there's much less distance between types two and three. I don't know what ingredient makes the difference -- for a lot of people, it just comes down to money and time. Still, I wonder if the biggest distinction may be a willingness to recognize and improve upon your own shortcomings, and to be able to repeat this process for decades. It gets worse -- you have to be okay with putting all that imperfect stuff out in the world for other people to see. And some of those people are going to say mean things about you on the internet.  

Anyway, when the molasses of perfectionism drags especially hard on my drawing hand, I try to remember the words of Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything--
That's how the light gets in.

Man, this post is disjointed. I could either spend all night editing it, or I can just hit "publish post." See lesson above.

Page 20 in progress. Four to go.

Oh, before I forget -- Project Waldo got a page in the April issue of ImagineFX! Seeing it in print (even in tiny form) has gotten me excited to see the rest of it on glossy paper. The colors look way, way better on good paper than they do in my desktop test prints (surprise). Exciting stuff!