Having Fun vs. Making Art

  • On November 3, 2009 ·
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I don’t remember the exact date but I can tell you specifically when I decided to start making webcomics. I was in my college drawing class and we were working on a still life. Which means they pulled out some props from the back room, arranged them, and told us to draw. We all found the most approachable angles and started in. Let me be clear here: I was drawing a pile of shoes. There were other objects in the pile, but specifically there was a red lady’s heel and an old sneaker or two. I have nothing against shoes personally, but I was feeling no inspiration or passion to keep going. You’re not going to have passion for everything you have to draw, but if you find yourself becoming bored and disinterested making it, it creeps into the work. I tried to tell my professor I wasn’t getting anywhere and felt like starting over. He told me that, if I only pushed those darks darker, the whole image would pop more. In hindsight I know he was just trying to keep me from making the common student mistake of abandoning a piece before it can really be finished. But at the time my immediate mental response was, “Screw this, I want to draw cartoons.”

I drew a week’s worth of strips with the resolve to submit them to my school paper. I showed up at the first meeting, however, and was told that they already had a cartoonist and didn’t have room for a full comics page. In the interest of full disclosure, it would have been nice to know that the editor telling me this was also the sister of the current cartoonist. I’m not going to cry nepotism here, but turning artists away sight unseen is not how you find the best talent for your publication. Shortly after all this I got an e-mail from Keenspace (Back when it was Keenspace) that the web space I’d registered for in the summer without any real plans for was finally available. So started my journey onto the world wide web. It was a rocky start with peaks and valleys. A week in I accidentally deleted some necessary file and broke the site. Support at the time was practically nonexistent and everyone on the forums I spoke with said I was basically dead in the water until an admin could be bothered to help me. So I moved to a free site until later when I actually bought a domain and hosting.

Why am I telling you all this? To get across that the projects I was working on were my own and for me. This wasn’t for some class and it wasn’t for somebody else. I wanted to make cartoons and I was observing the rigors of running them on a site. Dealing with the daily grind of making updates, struggling to learn how to code an archive, the hassle of trying to grow an audience, realizing you really can’t just dump things somewhere and expect them to get read. These were all lessons I learned because I had the drive already. I was having fun drawing comics so when I had to learn to do something new I took it on.

So when did making art get involved? Eventually this thing I did for fun became more and more important to me. I started to care about it. The comics became bigger than myself in that I wanted to get better at certain skills in order to better serve the story I was telling. For example, I have an aversion to rulers. It’s a bother to dig them out  and who can’t draw a straight line? Then yesterday I saw a panel I drew without one. It’s wobbliness horrified me and I will use rulers more than ever on this project because I’m terrified to see something like that in a final page. When you’re starting out you can have a tendency to say, “That’s good enough,” and toss it aside. There certainly are times when “good enough” needs to be said. In the interests of a hard deadline, for example. Daily goals need to be set or else you can spend forever intending to post an update but never really getting around to it. But maybe, just maybe, instead of spitting out a million horrible comics every day, you worked on producing three a week that were really spectacular. Sometimes it’s ok to redraw something if you can make it better, as long as you don’t let it get in the way of actually putting something out.

I went to two very different art schools. The first one focused on learning history, on painting, on printmaking, on sculpting, on being a gallery artist or an art educator. The other one focused more on the trade itself and being a commercial artist, animator, graphic designer, computer modeler or  game developer. There are pluses and minuses to both. If you’ve ever seen Art School Confidential, you’re probably aware of the posturing that goes on. Nobody goes in thinking they’re going to be that guy who changes majors three times or drops out after two semesters because it’s just not working for them. But we all can’t be Picasso. We all can’t be Walt Disney or Matt Groening. But we can be the guy or gal who drew that funny picture that got passed around all week on Facebook. We can be that page everyone hits on Monday to forget all the crap they have to do this week for a few minutes. We can be what we want to be as long as we’re realistic, serious about it, and put in the effort and the work to accomplish it.