< Piro >
Saturday - December 14, 2002
It's been an interesting month since I lost my senses and started doing this stuff full time. The support from the MT community has been mind boggling. Both Seraphim and I thank you very much, and I hope to continue doing whatever the heck it is I'm doing right that seems to warrant this kind of support.
To be honest, I feel horribly guilty because to me the comic hasn't been up to snuff for the past few weeks. The current story arc is missing something - its not horrible, but I know I can do better. The artwork has been a struggle, and I have been finishing and posting comics with the belief that half of doing something is doing it - waiting till things are perfect is why many people never do anything at all. Do what you can now, make the next ones better.
I know why I'm having these problems. Some of it comes from a combination of writers block and artists block, some of it comes from the mad scramble to keep myself afloat and the planning needed to make sure I can still make my rent payments in April. Most of it, really, has to do with the transition from doing this as a part time hobby to doing... whatever this is... full time.
Recently, I answered a few questions for a student who was writing a paper on the career they wanted to pursue. Since I am technically a 'comic' artist now, I said sure. Then I read some of the questions... "name 3 schools that offer the necessary training for cartooning." "How many years of training are required for a professional cartooning job?" "Range of starting salary?"
It dawned on me that I could answer these questions if I was talking about being an Architect, but I had no clue how to answer them based on what I am now. Am I really a cartoonist? I dunno.
Humans love to categorize and organize things. We break up time into hours, days and years. Everything has to have a name, a history, an understanding of it's origins and must be indexed somewhere on Google. Part of this comes from the fact that the human mind really can't absorb and understand everything. We need this information available to help us connect the dots of everyday living. As amazing as the brain is, most of what we work on is interpolated between the small bits of factual information we take in. Much of what we know is not based on personal experience, but learned information. Humans have a remarkable ability to do great things with limited information. One could also say that the various control and or influence over information can have drastic effects on human history. Personally, I feel the concept of montage works not only in film and art, but can be applied to all thought processes (for example - film and video are nothing but a series of still frames flashed before our eyes at a so many frames per second. Our brains fill in the gaps, interpret it as movement, and we understand what we are seeing).
The reason I bring this up is because I'm finding myself pondering the question of what exactly it is I'm doing. A 'webcomic artist'? Yeah, but what is that really? Isn't there more to it than that? Isn't that just one of the things I do?
When I was in high school, I dreamed of being an animator for Disney or Bluth some other studio. (Japanese anime wasn't really around when i was in high school.) This was back in 1986 - before 'The Little Mermaid' came out, and the Animation industry in the states was not exactly healthy. I felt that I needed something stable - a real career - not following some fantasy path that might lead to a dead end. So I became an architect instead. I took an established path, an existing category.
I don't really regret this. I think that if I had studied to be an animator, I would have been pretty heavily indoctrinated with styles that were developed by other people, in stead of being free to, over time, develop my own.
The struggle to find a 'path' in life is something every young person deals with. Colleges and Universities have made fortunes by becoming the 'gateways' to these paths. All you have to do is take the right course of study, get the degree that gives you the 'pass' for that path, then off you go into the industry to make a living, get married, settled down buy a house and have 2 1/2 kids. What i'm doing now doesn't really fit into any category. Yet somehow, all of the things i've done, both good, bad and otherwise, have made me what I am today.
Maybe I can't put a clear label on what I am. Some people don't fit well into categories. All they can do is find spaces in between them. Maybe its in these in-between spaces that I'm defining myself, maybe that's why the paths there and the labels for them are so elusive.
Ah well, I hate labels anyway.
Labels aside, there is some structure to what I'm doing. Continuing with Megatokyo is, of course, one of the primary activities of my new 'career'. Megatokyo really has been a vehicle that I've used to build not only a series that people seem to enjoy, but to introduce them to other things I might do. The reaction to 'warmth' has been very gratifying, even though people know very little about it yet. I've found that what I am learning how to control and manage, isn't projects as much as it is Creativity, Inspiration, Raw Labor and The Other Stuff.
Raw labor is easy. You kick yourself in the pants and make yourself draw. If the creativity and the inspiration are there, this is really not as hard as it sounds, it just takes discipline. Hell, without the day job in the way, this is easy.
The Other Stuff is also not so bad. It includes things like managing your business and finances so you can survive, plan ahead, and then the biggest part - spend time with the people you love and actually have a *life*. I actually have a better handle on that now than I ever have. I'm far less stressed.
Creativity is funny. It's not like a faucet, you can't turn it on and off, but you can learn how to coax it along and even 'fake' it using old bits of creative output laying around when you are dry as an old well. Truly inspired strips come from when your creativity is clicking along. Sometimes you literally 'got nothing', and you rely on bits of dried creativity that you try to bring back to life to get you along to the next bit.
Inspiration is also a funny thing. My old schedule was very hectic. I left out a lot of things that seem frivolous, but in truth can have a very indirect bearing on your creativity, raw labor and other stuff as well. Reading, watching tv, going shopping, watching anime, playing some games - I write stories about life. Kinda hard to do that when you don't have one. It's nice to have one again.
I've been wondering why I identify so much with "Haibane Renmei", (Charcoal Feather Federation), a new anime based on several doujinshi by Yoshitoshi Abe (Serial Experiments Lain). I enjoyed Lain, but it felt so empty. With Haibane, Abe has created an oddly remarkable story and world that probably won't appeal to everyone, but for some reason stirs some deeper things in me. The Haibane are exceptional creatures, but they only exist in between things. They don't really understand what they are, but they manage to get thru and take every day one day at a time. It's a remarkably comforting anime. Even the odd mechanics of Abe's little world isn't so much fantastic as... well, just there. It works. It's Ok. Its just how things are.
Inspiration is valuable when it helps you challenge existing categories, existing perceptions and preconceived notions. Like Abe, I'd never do this just for the sake of shocking or annoying people - that's a very shallow reason to push boundaries. Tweaking boundaries helps you find those odd little turns where you can often see something profound that's just a little out of reach.
Out of reach things often defy categorization and labels... personally, I prefer it that way.