I started listening to a new podcast called ComicLab, in which comics professionals Brad Guigar and Dave Kellett (and sometimes a guest) sit down and talk about making comics and making a living from comics. It’s something of a spiritual successor to an old podcast I used to listen to called Webcomics Weekly, which also starred Guigar and Kellett, along with Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub. Unfortunately, Webcomics Weekly petered out some years back. However, it was one of the driving forces behind me resuming work on Mike and the Ninja at the beginning of 2008, after a hiatus of more than a year. Not only did I get a lot of useful and funny information from the podcast, it also inspired me to just sit down and work. I wanted to make comics, but that can’t happen without a lot of work, and it took me a long time to realize and fully appreciate the amount (and sometimes complexity) of work involved. Webcomics Weekly came at almost the perfect time, the first episode landing maybe two or three months before I decided to put serious effort into Mike and the Ninja, once and for all. Listening and re-listening to those episodes kept me going during those first fragile months of tackling a long-term project, and gave me the motivation to press onward.
In addition to their podcast, the four co-hosts of Webcomics Weekly also published a book, How to Make Webcomics, a great guide and reference that supplemented the podcast, covering everything from best practices for scanning artwork to building a community around your webcomic. The book released in January, 2008, and on one of the most recent episodes of ComicLab, Guigar and Kellett realized that ten years have passed since the release of the book.
It didn’t occur to me right away, but that also means that it’s been ten years since I started working on comics in earnest. It’s hard to believe that it’s been so long, but here we are. No, comics are not my day job like I hoped they would be. No, Mike and the Ninja never found an audience of thousands of dedicated readers. And no, I’m not even as good of an artist as I hoped I would be by now. However, the work I have done has been extremely fulfilling and educational, I’ve grown a lot in ability, and I feel pretty good about where I’m at. That being said, upon reaching this milestone, these are the things on my mind, presented to you to help keep me accountable. (I hope you don’t mind.)
I would like to spend A LOT more time drawing
When it comes to any skill, getting better means lots and lots of practice. I’ve naturally gotten a lot of practice just working on comics. The work is my practice, and one of my favorite talking points on Mike and the Ninja is how much the artwork improves over the years. Much of that improvement came strictly from drawing more and more pages of Mike and the Ninja. However, at this point in my life, since I’m not actively working on a long-term project, I’m not getting that regular practice, and since Mike and the Ninja ended, my progress has mostly stagnated. In some ways, I think my skill has actually worsened a bit. I know I’m not supposed to compare myself to other artists, but when I see their sketchbooks full of doodles and thumbnails and lots and lots of work, I know that there is a lot more I can be doing to make myself better. And while I do sketch, it’s mostly for the purposes of posting stuff on social media. It needs to be more than that. It needs to be for experimenting, working out visual designs, and, well, practice. I think I’ve filled a sketchbook once in my life. I would love to start filling one every six months (or maybe a year, if it has a lot of pages). That’s how I’ll know I’m putting in a sufficient amount of time drawing.
When it comes to comics, I think it’s really important not to underestimate the importance of good writing. Pretty artwork is all well and good, but it’s the writing that ties all of those pictures together into something coherent and compelling. This is going pretty well, at the moment! I just need to keep it up. Right now, I’m writing blogs and a story outline for a future comic project. The outline could use a little more attention, but I am making progress, and the blogging serves as excellent practice. (I hope.)
Working faster would be nice
I’m slow. There’s an old saying: “First, you get good. Then, you get fast. Then, you get good, fast.” I’m probably still somewhere in the “get good” phase. For me, drawing something that looks good takes a lot of time. This is another one of those things that the lots and lots of practice mentioned above will help. (I hope. Again.)
I would like to develop more of my own artistic style
With regards to my original works, I think I have developed something that amounts to my own style. However, when drawing fan art, or really anything that requires working from a reference, what I draw typically ends up looking too much like the reference. Instead of using the reference as a starting point, a visual queue, I tend to just recreate the reference, instead, which is not what I’m going for. If I’m drawing Cyclops and using an Arthur Adams drawing of Cyclops as a reference, I want what I draw to look like my version of Cyclops, not a poor reproduction of the one Arthur Adams already drew! I gotta keep working at it. I’ll get it one of these days.
Use sketching to work out visual designs
This may seem like an elementary, common-sense concept, but it is something that, for whatever reason, is a major struggle for me. If I don’t quite know how to draw something—a pose, a face, an object—I just draw it once, and even if it doesn’t meet my expectations, I just go with it, anyway, and end up disappointed. Or, I decide I don’t know how to draw it, and never even try. I don’t know how many ideas I’ve squandered with this line of thinking. Why would I do this? Why not sketch it out a few times, first (in a sketchbook, maybe?) and figure out exactly how I want it to look, and then draw the final version? I don’t really think things through, sometimes.
I have a lot of work to do!
I have two long-term comic projects “in development,” which is a nice way of saying, “these are really big projects that I am scared to start because I haven’t done enough pre-planning and world-building and also I need to write them and also they are gonna take a while once I actually start on them.” In addition to those two big projects, I often have ideas for silly one-off jokes that I never draw because of the above “don’t know how to draw them” excuse. So, as far as comics go, I have more than enough on the horizon to keep me busy.
Fortunately, I’m not running out of time
I’m about to turn 34. Of course, with the passage of another year, my mind immediately turns to creators who are way younger than me, way more attractive, and have much bigger audiences. Then, panic sets in, the idea that I’m past my prime and running out of time. This is, of course, self-defeating, and I need to stop at once. Comparing myself to other people is a really quick way to stall positive momentum. All I can do is the work—it’s never too late. If the final product is what I want it to be, and I enjoyed making it, that’s all that matters. Everything else is the cherry on top. Do the work, and have fun doing it.