For those of you who are tired of my little 'classes' on self-publishing and who want to 'jump right in,' I'm reprinting Gary Reed's Guide to Self-Publishing in the back of this issue. For those of you who want to stick around a while, Gary's Guide will come in handy when we get to that part.
I know I promised to talk about circulating and promoting your work this issue, but I decided in between then and now that I was getting ahead of myself and I needed to talk a little more about the self-publisher vs. plumbing thing; inclination does not equal aptitude and all that.
I did an interview with Russ Heath back in the mid-seventies for a fanzine and had several chances to talk with him over the course of a month or two. One story stuck with me a long time and contributed a great deal to my attitude towards doing comics. Reader's Digest version: Russ Heath's comic strip was the last thing they needed for a National Lampoon project that was going to press on Tuesday and he had barely gotten into it by the previous Friday. So they locked him up in P.J. O'Rourke's apartment over the weekend and they weren't going to let him out until the story was done. Now if you know Russ Heath's work at all, you know that it is meticulous and pain-staking; from the Hal Foster school where you don't 'fake' anything; you work at it until it looks and is right. Well, he worked all weekend and he got it done; compared to his preferred method of working it was an impossibly-rushed job. I asked him what the job was (figuring I'd go look up this atrocity in my spare time). He told me it was 'Cowgirls at War.' That confused me. 'I thought that was really good,' I said. 'It was,' he said, 'One of the best jobs I've ever done. I was really happy with it.' That confused me. 'Would you ever do something like that again,' I asked. 'Never in a million years,' he answered. And that confused me.
If you can be that good going that fast, why go slow?
Bob Crumb's famous line 'It's only lines on paper, folks' points in the same direction (for me, anyway, there are a lot of different ways to interpret that quote).
I see comic books very differently from most people (oh, you've noticed?). I see anguish, self-examination, judeo-christian work ethic, waiting for inspiration to strike and re-doing work as largely posturing for the Sour Old Maid every artist has in their mind. Just sit down and do it. First you get good, then you get fast, then you get good and fast (I say that a lot). Most guys who take two or three days on a page could produce the same page in a few hours it they just sat down and did it. Newsflash; none of us are any threat to the reputations of the great pen and ink artists of the last century. We just don't draw that well; ANY of us. We have a peculiar ability that allows us to make a living in this field; we have some drawing ability and we know how to use it sequentially to tell a story. Like being able to fart and chew gum at the same time. I stopped anguishing about it long ago; I remember working on a page up at Gene Day's place and one of the panels was a close-up of a hand. I drew it and re-drew and re-re-drew it fifty times and finally, exasperated, I said 'I draw lousy hands'. Gene wanders over with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, squints over my shoulder, says, 'It's a Dave Sim hand' and went back to work. That cleared away a big road-block for me.
Stop trying to impress some art school teacher with a stick up his butt whose opinions you never respected from the time you entered his class until you left it ten years ago. Draw like you. Get a rhythm going. Draw what you like to draw the way you like to draw it. I spent a year trying to be Barry Windsor-Smith when I started Cerebus. Then I started trying to be me. People always comment on the jump in qualify in my artwork on Cerebus from the first issue to (fill-in-the blank; everyone has a different opinion). I didn't know how to draw accurately then and I don't know how to draw accurately now. I just do it until I like the way it looks and then I leave it alone. It is never going to be 'right'; the arm's too long, the eyes are a smidgeon too high, the hand doesn't connect at the exact spot on the wrist that it's supposed to, the folds in the shirt violate every rule of hanging drapery invented since the 14th century. Sticking to a monthly schedule for thirteen years, I'm a lot happier with the way I draw than I ever have been before. It still sucks. It's wrong. But I like it; and I'm the one who has to look at it for eight to ten hours a day. This is supposed to be FUN, dammit. And that's the biggest difference between drawing comic books and being a plumber. If you want to spend years learning the exact and precise way to do something, I'm sure plumbing offers you all of that you can handle; AND it's lucrative.
Get out of your own way.
Somewhere inside of you, there's an artist who wants to have as much fun as he can producing a pile of pages that look the way he wants them to look; telling the stories he wants to tell. Stop trying to go down the giant water-slide five inches at a time so you can enjoy it more and make it last; it's a SLIDE for fuck's sake.
For those of you who understand the preceding, go nuts. Let me know what you come up with. For those of you who still don't get it . . .
Just keep erasing that arm and re-drawing it. It should look fine by the time you're forty.