Monday, May 12, 2014

The New Mutants and my artistic misadventures up to now...

This unfinished sketch began its life as just a dull portrait of Dani Moonstar (AKA the Greatest Comic Character Ever Created) I did months ago, possibly in ArtRage Studio or Sketchbook Pro. Yesterday, feeling kind of feisty, I opened it up in Manga Studio and penciled over it and, I believe, fixed one or two things that used to bother me about it.

 For some reason, I felt a Hulk appropriate to the story and once I added the Jade Giant, obviously we needed a cringing Sam Guthrie doing a sort of Archie comics fear pose on the right. Such was my thought process at about 7pm, the end of a full day of drawing and self-directed art study which began around 630am. By the time I started coloring it, I was physically exhausted. I only got this far and decided to call it quits, but at that point I'd discovered oil painting and I played around with a digital piece I did a couple of years back of a screaming Captain Kirk being left behind in deep space by the Enterprise.

Yesterday's efforts included the writing, lettering and laying out of a story I call, "The Legend of Billy Jack versus Bruce Lee." I also drew Conan attacking Mickey Mouse, an image I've been toying with for the past month. The idea I could make the Conan figure look a bit like a John Buscema drawing wrecked me. Then I discovered my own line and had to re-draw it in a more personal way. In blue pencil just for fun.

I find I've developed some measure of precision to go along with the speed I've long had. I also have a tremendous amount of self-discipline where I can keep myself drawing for hours, minus a couple of rest breaks here and there, and push through blocks and frustrations to keep putting down lines. What I lack are basic storytelling skills and an appealing aesthetic quality. I don't have a particular "way" to draw eyes, or a characteristic approach to shadows and highlights. What I seek is a natural way of drawing, without getting hung up on ideas like "style."

 But at the same time, I want something I can reproduce consistently that looks attractive in case people might actually come to desire my art in some financially remunerative way. The way to do this is simply to do this. Then do it again. And again. Do it a million times if necessary, or even more.

I wish I had all day every day to devote to art, but I also have to do my regular day job. So for now, I'll be getting up at 5am to draw for two hours and then maybe 4 hours on a Saturday and a Sunday each as long as my wife is cool with it. I mean, she's pretty darned important to me!

Anyway, as I've no doubt mentioned here, many years ago I had this idea I could write a 48-page graphic novel or the first two issues of an ongoing series, a kind of "slice of life" thing partially inspired by the existence of Love and Rockets, Ghost World and even Peter Bagge's Hate. Visually, I wanted it to resemble classic romance comics, but with the clothes and hairstyles all up-to-date. Then I thought, "Hey, why don't you try to draw it in as close an approximation to Alex Toth's style as you can?"

 I guess I kind of had in mind Mark Schultz's first Xenozoic Tales story, titled "Xenozoic!," which he drew as an extended Wally Wood riff. Well, I quickly learned I was in no way Alex Toth or Mark Schultz. But by that time, I'd already written the whole thing. I did it Sergio Aragones-style, with the entire 48 pages thumbnailed, complete with dialogue.

 Realizing I'd set the bar impossibly high for someone whose last lengthy sequential work was a three-page Jurassic Park parody done in 1993, I decided to limit myself to just writing it and getting someone else to draw it. I typed it up in what I think is standard script format, completed the forms and documents and sent the whole mess to Dark Horse Comics, the only place taking those kinds of unsolicited submissions at the time. That it then disappeared without a trace into their slush pile and then, no doubt, into a recycling bin where it eventually became an ingredient in someone's computer desk or a Blo Pop stick (I hope the latter!) let me know my writer's skill level and commercial instincts!

Rejection is just part of aspiration.  I don't save them because I'm not sentimental and I have little or no ego, but I've since received some actual rejection letters for short stories I've written.  That's more fun that silence, and from them I gained a feeling of accomplishment.  The thing is, you can't give up.  Ever.  So even though I was in the process of changing from a low-paying graphic design career to a higher-paying English teaching one, I carried the layouts and script with me to Japan where I worked on them from time to time.  When I bought Manga Studio 5 with my new-found education riches, the first thing I did was lay out the first half as a single comic book issue and letter it, editing and fine-tuning the dialogue throughout.  Soon I'll do the other half and complete the story.  I know how it ends and how to get there.  I know what everyone says and does and why.

I drew here and there, but largely just spent my time bouncing around between my adopted hometown and Tokyo, checking out rock shows and living the life of a language mercenary.  This left little time for the kind of dedicated study of art I'm making now.  And why am I doing this?  Encouragement from a pro who sent me a message on Facebook and asked me directly why I wasn't drawing.  Why I had never gone for it.  I thought about that for while and after I had thought about it long enough, I realized I had to start drawing again on a regular basis.  I couldn't let my skills rust anymore.  I then went to work drawing every single day and recently, I've been spending longer hours at it.  I'm improving faster than I ever thought possible.  And it's been pretty fun despite smashing headfirst into the upper limits of my capabilities, which aren't as high as I'd like.

There are some hugely talented people out there who can blow my wheels off!  I mean, WOW!

Then, this past weekend, I decided that so-called graphic novel needed some new thought and a new beginning.  I came up with a kind of one-page prelude to set the scene and one of the character conflicts.  This leads into my original opening sequence but enables me to show, rather than tell, and opens up the possibility for more natural, less expository, dialogue from the two co-leads.  They're half of a quartet of characters whose adventures and misadventures drive the story.  This made me re-think another scene near the beginning that will no serve to sharpen the book's main dilemma, the one shared by all four people.

And with that, I must go teach an English conversation class.  So I'm out!

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