17 posts categorized "TIPS FOR CREATIVE TYPES"

April 03, 2007


Train_from_wrj (a doodle from the train ride) Been thinking about inspiration. I jotted a few things down on the train ride back from the Center for Cartoon Studies, where I had a most impressive visit. They're doing something amazing up there, Sturm and the gang. The following musing wasn't directly related to the CCS though, rather to the ongoing journey of discovery of what it means to edit for First Second's creators. INSPIRATION Sometimes it seems like we only have a helpless view of what inspiration might be; and little or nothing known about how to invite it, summon it, woo it. As though it was something fickle and unpredictable, that strikes like lightning, with seemingly no reason. But even lightning strikes where it must. Why are some artists lightning rods all their life, and others “one shot thunders”? Some artists seem to have the notion it’s a game of roulette, and the terrifying thought is that luck may run out somehow. “Maybe the lightning will never strike again!!” Enter the fearsome monster called writer’s block. The drying up of the well. The vanished muse. It’s all a bit like a game of wait and hope, relying on random chance. Then there are those who package and sell the work of creators; in the worst cynical cases, some think inspiration can simply be cranked out on demand. Like something one can control, that can run 9 to 5, and conform to the timings of a quarterly report. Some creators even act that way, delivering up like a short order cook in a busy diner. To the former, it seems like inspiration is arbitrary and wholly out of one’s control. To the latter, inspiration may or may not be present in what they do; regardless, they do it. There is a third way, which goes beyond both of these views, in which inspiration isn’t random and wholly irrational, nor is it something we can boss around or endlessly milk for profit. Everything works by natural laws and inspiration is no exception. For instance: like everything, inspiration needs to—eat. Can one learn to invite or attract, to care for, and to feed one’s inspiration? Maybe that’s the work of it, on the human side of the equation. So what does it eat? Perhaps a little time, open time, unpressured, blank time, without demands or immediate result. Perhaps a little regularity, daily attention even for a small moment; some nourishing IMPRESSIONS, from nature, or other artwork, a conversation, a book, a movie, a favorite tune, a beloved face. Perhaps inspiration needs an arena to play in, a project, a problem to solve, a challenge to rise to; perhaps sometimes it likes us to be busy, with our conscious mind out of the way. OUT OF THE WAY. Getting out of the way. Some people rely on drugs or alcohol to get out of the way. But that eventually robs everything in sight, gutting out the very home one is, and driving inspiration away forever. Some people use distraction, like music, conversation, other things – to distract their front brain and its chattering. This is like the Greek sculptors of old, who used to produce an astonishing number of superb statues of the Gods in very short order: they were at all times surrounded with beautiful young dancers and musicians, food, distractions, to keep them from interfering with their own genius. Where else have I seen this getting out of the way? Ever seen that absent look little children have when they’re eating ice cream? Or the old woodworker who makes a perfect dovetail as though it were easy, with a kind of faraway look? What about the champion figure skater Michelle Kwan, or the violon prodigy Itzhak Perlman – why is it that we see them, and it’s like sometimes something else takes hold of them and they surrender to it — getting out of the way. So skill, technical ease, confidence, increasing mastery — these might be some of inspiration’s foods too. Even working on our skills, at whatever level they currently are, must be sweet music to inspiration’s ears. Does it mind schedules, contracts, all that? I think not. I doubt it even knows about those things. But if inspiration is my friend, it can perhaps read my stress and panic about those things, which must make quite an uninviting noise. (Maybe there’s a case to be made for having a good professional manner; trying to hold deadlines and honor contracts, and be a bit organized in planning one’s work, right from the start. Not out of fear, and not because the Man says so, but simply because it’s a good way to keep cool, lower stress, and stay available for that unseen friend. And then—this may sound like a contradiction—having that sort of professionalism in place in one’s life … to forget it and not care too much about all that.) And then knowingly trust, you know it will come, given half a chance.

March 02, 2007

Favorite Scene, by Danica Novgorodoff

It’s no secret that I love Gipi’s work – I did my best to sell out all our copies of Garage Band last weekend at the New York ComicCon (and succeeded!).

One of my all-time favorite scenes is when a big-shot in the music industry offers Stefano a job working in the head office of his record company – an opportunity to rub shoulders with “real musicians” and to leave behind his pals and their small-time garage band. It’s pretty obvious that this record company guy is a bit sleazy (he meets with Stefano smoking a cigarette and wearing nothing but a flowered towel, after all), but his ghost image standing next to Stefano at poolside and the transparent hand on Stefano’s shoulder in the next panel give him an eerie quality, as if he were in fact the specter of disillusionment, corrupt ambition, and greed. The devil is perched on Stefano’s shoulder, whispering sweet and sickening temptations in his ear.

(click to enlarge)



The scene ends with the two gazing in silence over the man’s vast and empty swimming pool – a symbol of wealth and success, but also of the complete soullessness with which the man operates in the world; a vacuity that is being offered to Stefano in tandem with material gains and the possibility of fame, if only he’ll give up his friends and the music that he loves.


I think that in Garage Band, and in Notes for a War Story (forthcoming from :01 in the fall of 2007), Gipi really gets at the core of what it means to grow up – to have your idealism challenged, to realize that because of social and economic differences not everyone is on equal footing and not everything is possible, and to make decisions based on those hard realities and still try to hold on to what you love and know to be true and right.

p.s. Oh yeah, and the art is gorgeous.

October 13, 2006

For storytellers

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

May 16, 2006

SCOTT MCCLOUD to strike again

Coming in September, from the brilliant Scott McCloud, author of UNDERSTANDING COMICS and REINVENTING COMICS -- both vital reference by a master of conveying concepts clearly and intelligently-- this time it's MAKING COMICS, from Harper Collins.

I'm getting in line for Dr. McCloud's latest prescription.

And I hope this means UNDERSTANDING COMICS will get a reprint by the same token.


April 19, 2006

This doodle's for Tanya


I'm almost done reading Terrence Real's I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, Overcoming The Secret Legacy of Male Depression . . . Surprising where inspiration finds you sometimes, isn't it?

Real's book is filled with fascinating insights about the human psyche. I've been reading it on the train with a yellow highlighter in hand, and I keep thinking about you authors out there: this is invaluable if you're writing male characters with any depth.

October 07, 2005

Joann Sfar speaking at Astor Place

On September 22, Joann Sfar finished his US author tour for THE RABBI'S CAT when he spoke at the Barnes & Noble at Astor place.

In the course of the evening, he passed on a few interesting items for those of you working on your own graphic novels. So we're adding these to our TIPS FOR CREATIVE TYPES...

Roughly paraphrased, here are a couple of things Joann said, referring to some of the European comics masters who have influenced him -- Fred, Jean Giraud, and Edmond Baudoin.

"Jean Giraud [aka MOEBIUS] once told me that to make a story you have to be really smart, but it helps to also be a little bit stupid. You need to be smart with the overall structure, but stupid enough to be surprised by your next panel."

Moeb © Moebius/Jean Giraud

And along similar lines:

"Fred [author of PHILEMON] told me that it's easy to surprise your reader. He's reading in 20 minutes what you've been working on for maybe a year. If you can't surprise him, you're not very good. The real challenge is surprising yourself."

Fred_corb_1 © Fred

And from Baudoin:

" In creating comics, you want to make a picture that has the quality of a painting, but then mess it up. If a single panel is too good, too 'right' -- it will suck your reader into itself, like a painting ought to. But in comics, it needs to lead your reader onto the next panel, and onto the next. What matters is the flow of the story, not a perfect picture."

Baudouin_us_1 © Edmond Baudoin

Baudouin_procesverbal © Edmond Baudoin

September 19, 2005

Spy Report on a recent Graphic Novel seminar


On September 15th, 2005 a seminar took place with these luminaries. It was packed. And now it's over.

Fortunately, :01's Russian spy Danica Novgorodoff was there, and sent back some juicy items, which inaugurate our new category of TIPS FOR CREATIVE TYPES, because they're that good.

NOT verbatim, unless hemmed in by "quotes".


KIM DEITCH: I think, what would I like to read; what would I like to see in stores? Start with an idea.

Draw when you’re stumped on the writing. Write when you don’t know what to draw.

If you’re still stumped, sleep on it. Work when you wake up.

JESSICA ABEL: Come up with a situation to accommodate your idea/character.

Talk about your story out loud with others; verbalize it.

I write a script before I start drawing.

ART SPIEGELMAN: In writing Maus, I thought, what comic book can I make that needs a bookmark? I wanted to make literature, not kid’s stuff.

Whatever you write about, the idea has to justify the enormous amount of work this medium requires. What is necessary to write? Find something central. What’s the nugget?

Also, have a formal concept. Each page is a visual paragraph. Find a drawing style appropriate to your story.

In the Shadow of No Towers… “I had no idea it was a book. I was just making pages while waiting for the world to end.”


KD: You should. At least know the climax. It’s a terrible thing to be on page 4 of a 5 page comic and realize it’s a stinker.

JA: There’s nothing spontaneous about comics. Comics require structure.

AS: An editor once wrote, on endings: In the last chapter, every page has to double in weight till the end. On the last page, every paragraph has to double in weight till the end. In the last paragraph, every word has to double in weight.

It needs a feeling of inevitability.


KD: Make model sheets of characters for continuity. Front views, side views, back views. Different expressions. You should be doing a lot of drawing outside of the comics you’re already doing. Keep sketchbooks. That’s where the spontaneity happens.

Get to know your character. Take your characters out for a ride; a day in the life of your character. Write about them outside of your story, give them backgrounds.


AS: “The word aim is lethal. There’s something dangerous about targeting a work for a specific audience.” For example, Blankets wasn’t intended only for coming-of-age-aged people.

KD: “I’m not aiming for any one audience. It’s gotta please me first…. If you aren’t willing to stick your head out and take some chances, maybe you should get out of the game.”


JA: Make mini-comics. Submit to anthologies. Hand it out to your friends. Get feedback. Self-publish. Publish with small publishers. Build relationships. Go to conventions. Walk around with a box of mini-comics and a sign that says, “For Sale $2.” Do it over and over again.

AS: “There are a million wrong ways to do it – but many right ways also…. It’s not a career, it’s a calling.”

I got over 25 rejection letters for Maus. There was no context for it at the time.

Whether you come from a graphic bent, or have a strong narrative drive… if you keep knocking your head against a wall long enough, you’ll bring your other skills up to par.


KD: Winsor Newton Series 7 brush.

JA: Raphael brushes.

AS: The computer.

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