So there I was on Monday, unloading my folders – ironically amongst my own display – when I got that familiar feeling; the same one I got when I submitted my dissertation back at uni, when my A-Level exams ended or at the conclusion of any big work stretch, the slight sense of an anti-climax.
This isn’t to say I wasn’t happy or relieved. After going all out in my final week and missing out on a fair chunk of my beauty sleep I’d be mad not to be, but all the same it’s hard for the triumph not to feel just a little empty when two years worth of work leaves your hands in a bundle papers. They were reassuringly heavy papers maybe but as I put their weight down on the desk I felt altogether different kind of weight lift.
Overly melodramatic perhaps and I’m sure everyone else feels the same after they’ve poured themselves into something over a long stretch but in this case there may be a little more to the matter. While the masters is officially over with only my final mark – eek! – and formal exhibition yet to materialise, for me at least Branch remains very much a work in progress.
Oh the optimism this project started with! A 100 page self contained graphic novel by the end of the MA. I really believed it could be done too, maybe with a more skilled, efficient artist this might have indeed been the case. Not in my case it turns out.
My first year was spent on researching and planning; a year well spent. Where I might otherwise have rushed into production out of impatience to get drawing the course’s targets gently nudged that enthusiasm in a more useful direction, forcing me to really think about where my work was coming from and how I might better it. I never found time to look at everything I wanted or was recommended to, but nearly every source gave me new ideas and thoughts on how to go about realising the comic and how I might better it as a whole. Besides what it did for my world building, design process and script development, this in itself was a valuable lesson on the importance of ground work in any creative project.
Then second year began. I was filled with excitement over the prospect of realising my graphic with the build up having only increased my anticipation and so it was that I tackled my first pages with an electrifying enthusiasm. Initial reactions were encouraging while experimenting with new techniques and approaches every page enforced a sense of progress; sure they were taking longer than anticipated to produce but I remained confident that my productivity would accelerate as things went on…
Only it didn’t really work out that way. Without being arrogant I can certainly say I put the work in but I suppose the problem came down to where the work was actually going. As Branch progressed so did my ambition with the art; I didn’t want it to be ‘my usual BUT in colour’ I wanted this to be something I could feel genuinely proud of and frankly speaking I’m rarely proud of my own work. Not wanting to forcefully compromise and being pushed to make a realistic decision in the face of an imminent Expo I took up tutor advice and settled upon a 1st issue prototype as a statement of intent for my long-term practice.
Had it all been made of rudimentary sketches – as seen with my page plans – and unshaded colours then I’m sure I would have finished my complete graphic with time to spare. Still, I’m not really sorry I dismissed such a route. I could have mercilessly cut the script down, redacted the colouring or toned down the style to blobby approximations, but then to my mind that would be an even greater failure, whether I completed the story or not. Production needs to get faster somehow, there’s no question of that and given my continuing efforts and the right approach it will, but I’m more concerned that Branch is made to my own standards and not forced out like some embarrassing confession.
Maybe this all makes me sound like a selfish pseudo auteur? In my defence I’ll say that I’m aware my output is far from perfect, I’m not a genius, I frequently will make stupid decisions and I don’t have some flawless blueprint to which my comic must be made with Hitchcockian precision. There are always new things to learn.
The one thing I can claim to have for certain this time is determination.
I’ve had countless projects and ideas which have either never been realised or have been cut short; often there have been others involved, finite resources or absolute deadlines to be met meaning I had to deliver or change things to avoid letting people down. I’ve frequently put others first and on more than one occasion stomached projects I hated because I’d given my word I’d see it through to the end. Branch is probably the first time I’ve really pursued a serious project that is wholly my own: there are no actors, no co-artists no paymasters – for better or worse it’s all my project and it’s only my neck on the line for this one.
What I’m trying to say is I’m going to finish this thing. No matter what. Delivering my first issue, research and development wasn’t some hollow act of academia, I’m serious about taking what I’ve done here and keeping it going even if it’s only as a part-time hobby.
Also, lest I sound dismissive or overly negative of the MA itself I should also clarify one last thing as it ends: I’ve absolutely loved this course.
Even when I was racing against the clock in caffeine infused panic I’ve effectively been a pig in mud. It may have been my own project but the tutors and even other students have been so supportive and helpful it seems only fair that I extend my heartfelt thanks to them for everything. While I may not have met my initial targets it’s been a fantastic two years of exciting times that have flown by all too quickly. I know I’ll miss them.
Journey’s end? God no. More like a halfway island where I can rest up for a moment before launching to brave the creative seas once again. I can’t say how close my destination is or how long it’ll take to get there but I’ll promise you this: