Recently a fellow comic creator and friend demontales wrote about his frustrations in having abundant ideas in the medium but being unable to see them through.
Having suffered plenty of my own dead ends and prematurely concluded projects it got me thinking that it might be good to share how my own methods have evolved to accommodate limitations. It’s ironic that I’ve been meaning to write more often about my work but failing to find the time so this struck me as an ideal topic to jump in with.
To my mind there are two main overlapping areas that have changed in the last couple of years, ambition and time.
Time is has become a truly finite resource for me and it’s only looking back now that I realise what an obscene amount I had before, and how much of it was squandered chasing stars rather than following a road with a clearly mapped out beginning and end. Between taking on a demanding (occasionally rewarding) design job and entering a into a serious relationship the gaps in my schedule have contracted enormously.
This is where management of ambition comes in; first and foremost in the department of ideas. The thing is that everyone has ideas, some good, a lot bad and maybe a few that are truly brilliant. The trick is in getting them out of your head into the real world, preferably in a form which others can appreciate.
Ideas are not such a problem for me – not that I can objectively vouch for their quality – but my main failing since getting into comics is in overestimating my abilities and thinking that the best way to approach the medium is with everything planned out in one go and taking idea generation out of production entirely. For some folks this might work but I know now that it was a huge mistake.
With my last comic ‘Branch‘ I wrote out a complete script for an enormous complex story, and drew concepts for nearly every character before I even made the first page. None of this was necessarily bad, some of it indeed I’m still pleased with but the mistake was in assuming I would continue to be motivated over a lengthy production by the ideas I’d had then rather than the ideas that I was continuing to have and develop.
This is just me, I wouldn’t suggest it applies to everyone but what I’ve learned is that I’m only truly inspired to draw comics when I have lots of room for improvisation. It flies completely in the face of what I learned when I was educated in film – never shoot without a finished script on at least draft three – but I’m sure now that it’s only way I can really make it work and see something through.
I do still plan of course, but it’s with a great deal more restraint than a formerly had; looking to the humble successes of my short one-shots rather than my failed epics Apothcary Supreme is at present only backed by a single script for a 30 page opening story rather than an enormous tome charting an odyssey with complete back stories and conclusions. Sure, I have notes and ideas for further stories, but I deliberately left myself room this time to change them and inject new ideas without upsetting some grand arch narrative and feeling like I’ve wasted lots of time. Time which – as I pointed out – is considerably diminished.
Even what’s actually scripted has and likely will change before I’m done, I’m not entirely decided on my existing ending to the issue and honestly that’s what keeps my creative spark going; the feeling that almost anything can still happen should I have a good enough idea. It’s this approach which keeps the project truly alive for me, a true creative outlet rather than the outdated light stream from a fading star.
It’s an approach which also applies to my reasoning for going back to basics with the drawings and largely eschewing digital techniques from the process. Going pen to paper may be crude in some respects with more painful mistakes which are potentially difficult to correct but the immediacy appeals to me in a way which digital work increasingly fails to, feeling genuinely cathartic rather than a chore. People will nearly always favour colour, but black and white hatching simply feels like a truer representation of my creative drive than one filtered through a computer.
None of this is to say my problems are now solved and that there aren’t more struggles and mistakes ahead. I’m still fighting for time between everything life has to throw at me while Apothecary Supreme’s backlog buffer is getting progressively thinner.
Still I know this has definitely been a step in the right direction for me.
I think you really hit the nail on the head for many comic creators with the planning aspect. Too much planning and scripting also kills it for me. I end up feeling like I’ve already lived that story and it’s time to move on. I used to write a lot of prose and I believe creating the story itself is probably the most exhilarating part. But not enough planning and the story may fall apart when it’s time to fix it on the canvas.
So far I’ve been enjoying what I’ve seen of Apothecary Supreme. And it may not be a surprise that I really like your black and white rendering. I wish you well in continuing, you seem on the right track!
@DT: Many thanks – as always – for the kind words, hopefully the best is yet to come! The next few pages I’ll be uploading are some of my favourites thus far ;)
Like that notion of already having ‘lived’ a story ad nauseam; perhaps if I were more disciplined I could stick to a rigid longterm script & detailed plan in spite of it, but as something that I frankly do for enjoyment rather than money/obligation I doubt it could ever really work that way.
It used to be the other way too, where I’d launch into comics with no planning whatsover! Fun but I imagine what I turned out was complete garbage :P Finding a balance between the two extremes really has been the hardest part so far.