Emily S. Whitten: Making Art and Words of Wisdom
It’s Friday night and I’m standing on the crowded floor of a packed concert with friends when suddenly, it hits me: the perfect little plot point to tie together two parts of the first storyline for the new comic I’m working on. Naturally I immediately have to make some notes before I forget the idea. Five minutes later I’m back to the show, but kind of wishing I could be in two places at once so I could enjoy the rest of the show and be working on the new idea at the same time. Too bad reality doesn’t work that way.
Instead, we all have our own little difficulties and stumbling blocks to get over when it comes to creating art – like procrastination, or writer’s block, or fear of failure, or what-have-you – and I’d just been hit by one of mine, which is definitely distraction. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, the way my brain seems to like multitasking all the time. Sometimes it can be a good thing – like when I haven’t worked on a story in a bit and suddenly an idea comes to me out of nowhere. But other times, the distractions come at all the wrong times, like when I’m in the middle of working on the story and something else comes along; or when I have a great idea but no good way to preserve it or to start working on it right away. (Thank goodness for the notepad-type apps on smartphones, at least, which have helped a little with that problem!)
Creating is a funny process. Sure, there are some universal fundamentals to it, but everyone does it differently. Some writers are prolific, while others take years to write one novel. Some comics artists want a detailed script from a writer, while others like a loose framework they can play with. Some people like to get feedback as they go; but others don’t want anyone else’s eyes on their work until they think it’s perfect.
No matter how different each person’s process may be, though, everyone has to face their own hurdles as they create, because, let’s face it – it’s not easy. Sure, sometimes it may feel easy – you’re barreling through a story or a page of art and everything is flowing out like it’s never going to stop; but then it does, or you get stuck on one paragraph or frame of artwork for a ridiculous amount of time; or you look up at your clock at three in the morning and wonder if everything you just made was terrible. Or maybe none of these things happen to you; but I guarantee something in your process feels like a struggle from time to time.
At times like that, I find it helps me to be painfully aware of my shortcomings, so that I can remind myself of ways to overcome them. The reminders may be deceptively simple – e.g. don’t get distracted; that other thing will still be there when you’ve run out of words to write about this idea; you need to stop doing everything else and get back to the story – but just by owning the flaws and actively calling my brain to attention to overcome them, I have a much easier time actually doing so.
I think this same concept can be applied all the way through the process – from the very beginnings of your creation through to the part where you’re hoping to share it with the world (presumably in a profitable way). And since all of us experience the process of creation and sharing that creation in different ways, I thought it would be neat to see what some successful folks in the comics industry might offer as their best advice for successful writing or making art; giving us a window into what these creators find most important to keep in mind throughout the process (or possibly what they’ve learned by overcoming their own challenges), and providing us with some helpful thoughts, reminders, or encouragements as we work on our own art.
Thanks to the handiness of Twitter, through which I solicited advice, these contributions are all coincidentally in the form of handy, bite-sized little mantras that we can memorize, put up on a Post-it somewhere, etc. as needed to help keep us all on track as we make good art amidst the busy whirlwind of life. So without further ado, here they are!
@VictorGischler: Know yourself. Look inward and identify in which direction your enthusiasm lies. Also coffee. Lots of coffee.
@GailSimone: No one looks back and says, “I wish I’d taken fewer chances.”
@Reilly_Brown: Have a clear goal in mind from the start. “Success” is if the audience gets your point.
@MikeSHenderson: Keep challenging your weaknesses, and never stop acting like a professional.
@AletheaKontis: My Best Advice = Shut Up & Write.
@FredVanLente: There can always be one more draft. Have fun. Be a good person before a good artist.
@Janet_K_Lee: Sit your butt in the chair is #1. #2 Be fearless. Always try to learn and try something new.
@PaoloMRivera: I always tell everyone to sculpt. As for writing, just make people care. That may not be advice, but that’s the goal.
@JimMcCann: Allow yourself to fail every once in a while. Then make it better. :)
@kabalounge (Georges Jeanty): Make sure you are telling the story and not just trying to show off your artistic skills.
@MOWheatley (Mark Wheatley): Write. Draw. Do it again. Do it a lot. Keep doing it. Do it some more. Then do it again.
@brubaker (Ed Brubaker): My advice would just be keep doing it. You can’t control success.
@BenMcCool: Work hard, often & with abundant passion. Also, resist urge to drunkenly hassle editors. [ESW note: This is very wise.]
@jpalmiotti (Jimmy Palmiotti): Don’t listen to others’ BS, and stay focused.
@DennisCalero: Write and draw as much as you can and take it seriously.
@SkottieYoung: Do it a lot then do it more after that. Then, you know, keeping doing it.
@jerhaun (Jeremy Haun): Honestly @skottieyoung has it right. It’s all about being the guy that just doesn’t quit.
@GeneHa: @skottieyoung Exactly. Dave Sim said everyone has approximately 10K bad drawings in them. Keep drawing until most are outta your system. Also look for people who draw things differently than you do. Why does it still work, or even work better?
@PatrickZircher: Marry money. [ESW note: Hee!] Also, read any interview in which a mature comic pro talks about the work itself.
@JeffParker: Keep it short, be extremely clear to the extreme. Directness is harder than it looks.
@PaulTobin: Don’t stop. Choose what you love, not what you think will sell.
Also, study what you love. Understand why. Give your voice freedom.
@DavidGallaher: Always keep making stuff.
@PeterDavid_PAD: Buy my book on the subject.
@JoeKellyMOA: Do what you do every day. Intentionally do bad drafts so you get to good ones. Know when to take a nap. Go out for inspiration.
@LForLloyd (David Lloyd): There are really good books recommended by professionals here, but practice makes perfect, too… : )
@JamalIgle: Be yourself. Cliché, I know, but I’ve had more success when I listened to my gut. Your voice is precious; hone it, shape it, no one can take it away from you.
@DeanHaspiel: Live. Love. Make. Don’t hate. Be true. Show up. Commune. Commit. Deliver. Repeat.
@ColleenCoover: Read comics from before you were born. Don’t keep trying to redo stuff if it’s not perfect. Learn from mistakes and move on.
@FrankTieri: Also, get used to hearing “no” a lot. Even after you break in.
Excellent words of advice from great creators, all of whom share their work and wisdom on Twitter (so I’ve provided their usernames in case anyone is wondering where to follow them). I hope you all find them as helpful as I do!
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this column, and until next time, Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold