Saturday, February 12, 2022

Inspiration is for amateurs...

I've had a love/hate relationship with Chuck Close's quote. If you're unfamiliar,

"Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” 

It's how I've lived and breathed my work in comics. Just keep working. Page after page. Almost nothing scrapped or revisited. Learn by doing. Though there have been some embarrassing results when I look back at early work, for the most part, I think my diligence and perseverance paid off. Each project better than the last.

In comics, I've focused more on my draftsmanship, and I can easily operate by showing up and getting to work. Inking, no problem to shut my mind off, listen to music or British comedy panel shows while I get the page done. Penciling for me requires silence, but still, I usually have no difficulty sitting down and visualizing a panel, page, or spread layout, compose in my mind, and draw. Though it never looks as good on paper as it does in my imagination, my best is my best.

Looking back at the quote, I might want to differentiate between inspiration and being inspired to work on a project. The latter is always more fun!--not being able to fall asleep because you're thinking of a project. springing out of bed in the morning to work on it, eager for the day job day to end to get back to the project. 

Writing had been where I probably had been letting inspiration strike. And, given how long it takes to draw a story, I could afford to wait. Entering graduate school, inspiration wasn't an option, and good or bad, I've kept writing.

Lately, I've been worried that I've still needed inspiration, with a few challenging writing projects at my door I've been delaying, postponing, and also procrastinating. But, huzzah, a breakthrough! Though I'd been ignoring the two projects, it was always due to a higher priority, often with deadlines in the latter half of 2021: thesis proposal, grant application, my final graduate course work, a short story for Image.

Turns out I didn't need inspiration, or to be inspired, I simply needed time! Without other work and projects with deadlines looming, I was able to produce respectable drafts of two projects that had taken the position of dead weight. Though my lack of progress had been nagging at me, creating an unsavory appeal for them, once it was their turn, I could simply get to work

The first was writing the pilot episode of Baby Makes Three as a radio/podcast play (you can read the OGN via comiXology). I'd had a few false starts... it was difficult to divorce myself from visual writing. The plan so far has been that my singer/songwriter friend Thom will write the music and songs. 

The second was the third vignette of my Sandwich Shop at 9th and Pine series. The first vignette was published in the peer review journal Clamantis (I'll blog about it soon), the second vignette has been penciled, inked, lettered, awaiting colors, and the third vignette was spinning wheels in the mud. But here, too, I was able to produce a good first draft.

Progress on these two projects has been a huge weight off my shoulders--knowing that now for writng too, I don't need inspiration, or to be inspired. Still lots of room for improvement, of course... so please excuse me while I get back to work.



Friday, February 4, 2022

Work you will and won't see


In the Spring 2020 term, when the College was scrambling to convert to classes via Zoom 10 days after the world (or at least our corner of it) went into lockdown, I took Playwriting Workshop.

I was a little nervous for the class, as I am not much of a theatre-goer and I was uneasy using the medium to its fullest potential. But I ended up loving the professor, the class, the plays we read, and writing a few plays of my own. 

Our first assignment was to write a short play (a page or so) utilizing an element difficult to use on stage. I chose a stream and running water. Nothing special there, except it was a good warm up.

The next assignment was to write a 10-minute play. Here I turned to a stalled comics project. I had drawn a page of a short story, of a Roman soldier and a shepherd, with the general premise, but as I mentioned, I was stalled. Shifting gears, I developed "The Roman Road" as a 10-minute play, and I was very glad for it. The story (I think) worked well relying on dialogue. Set in Britannia 400 AD, it's a story of the oppressor and the oppressed, and finding a common ground as a starting place.

The centerpiece of the class was to write a one-act play. I dug up an idea I had in my head for a very long time, which felt somewhat relevant to the moment. I wrote "Radio K.N.O.W." as a metaphor for people's reaction to change associated with the pandemic. I read about common reactions to change, both of people, as well as organizations (not quite the same thing). I had hoped to keep the character set more contained than it ended up being, but, I didn't really want to leave a common response out. I wanted people to see themselves and others they knew in the play. The central question, "what are you going to do?" calls the characters and I hope an audience to manage their reaction, response, and actions against adversity as a choice to make (of course, we're imperfect beings, and even our good decisions and choices can be difficult to adhere to, as the main character Sharon experiences along the way). I re-read my draft at least twice a day, editing and tweaking it. I was living and breathing it. I'm not sure I've ever been as invested in a group of characters as I was this set. It's a relatively straight-forward play, but I loved writing it, and reading it. An added treat: a group of former colleagues of mine, including two with a little acting experience, did a table read of an early draft. I wish I recorded it! It'll never be a comic... but I hope you can experience it somehow, someday.

After the course ended, I wrote "On the Roman Road" as a comic short, drew it, and colored it for submission to the graduate school peer-revue journal Clamantis. You can read the whole story on the journal's site. It was a very strange experience re-creating the story as a comic. It's definitely a bit different, since a comic can't lean on dialogue lest it become a "talking heads" comic but there was an easier avenue to introduce a bit more action than the stage might easily allow.