[From the Drawing Board of Warren Pleece]
Reading some of the reviews for my new books recently, First Second’s very own Life Sucks, with ultra talented duo, Jessica Abel and Gabe Soria (buy, buy, buy) and Incognegro, written by the very talented Mat Johnson (DC Vertigo-buy it now, too), I felt a little put out that I was described as an “old stalwart” and in one case, “veteran Pleece”. There’s no pleasing some people. Until I realised that maybe after 20 years making a living, more or less, on the outskirts of the comics mainstream, that maybe even I had something to add to the mentor-like blog, plug my new book as a First Second creator and tie it in with the Vampire month thing all in one shebang.
I can’t offer any great philosophical exercise here on comics and graphic novels; there’s been a lot of good stuff already that says it better than I ever could. Also, I don’t think I can make something as compellingly interesting as my old mate Nick Abadzis’s sketchbook diaries. What I can offer to young pups and old sea dogs alike, is a slightly different take on drawing comics from the outside insider.
One of the first and most important things I figured out quite early on, is not to be afraid to stretch yourself and your abilities and to make a load of mistakes; I’ve made/am making tons. Still if I hadn’t I wouldn’t and couldn’t improve on what came before. Horses galloping was always a pain for me, but if you want to be an artist worth your salt you’re going to have bite the bit, chomp the nosebag, or something. Being into old films, I’m always thinking of mad and interesting angles, aerial shots, knee high angles, not for the sake of it, but to add drama, suspense and interest to the storytelling. Go ahead, draw that impossible angle. You can do it, or maybe you’ll nail it the second time round.
I’ve always been very critical of my own stuff and I’m always looking for better ways to do things, but I reckon that’s healthy. I still cringe over the long chin phase I had in the mid-90s and as for the sausage fingers phase in the early Velocity days, well, that’s legendary, but maybe my glory years?
The thing is, if you spend too long perfecting your craft at the expense of any one seeing what you do, you’re just going to become one of those artists spending too much of their time falling in love with their own cross-hatching and missing out on life.
That was my other tip: get a life. Drawing comics/graphic novels is great, if you get the chance and even better if you can make a living from them, but don’t forget to get out there, see people, have a laugh. Drawing Life Sucks, I became haunted by the endless rows of cigarette packets I had to draw in the Last Stop convenience store, yeah, thanks Jess and Gabe. In fact, the self-portrait on the creator’s page is actually drawn from life and not some spoof, mock vampire tie-in kind of joke. My skin colour was that pale from lack of sunlight and being chained to the desk at the bequest of the evil Abel, the blood on the neck from reckless shaving due to tiredness and the eyes red from those bloody cigarette packets. Don’t ask about the teeth. If you look closely, you’ll see a longing in those ruby red eyes. Just like a dog that needs his walkies, all us arty types need to get out take life in.
I hope from telling you this, you’ll appreciate even more the vampiric screwball fest that is Life Sucks if you’ve still yet to buy it and the poor state of the artistic animals that went into it’s creation for your appreciation.
Final tip, reflecting on Nick Abadzis’s recent blog about always sketching. If you don’t happen to have a sketchbook at hand and after 13 years of looking after kids, it hasn’t always been a priority when stepping out the door, though it’s always a pleasure, just keep on looking. Over the years, I seem to have developed a photographic memory for life’s background detail that’s much healthier than traipsing through Google every time you want to draw a telephone pole, an interesting face and, not forgetting those galloping horses.