One of my friends keeps asking me to update this page, so I figured today’s as good a day as any. I stopped blogging in the middle of last semester, when things started to get tough. In hindsight, perhaps that was the time to have kept writing, working out all the angst as I went along.
Quick stage setting: Soon after I moved to Portland, someone from last year’s certificate program told me about the “weird old guy in his 40s” from their class who made comics no one understood. From about the midpoint of last semester on, I’ve felt like this year’s weird old guy. Which sucked for a while, but two friends have convinced me it’s something I should embrace. (!)
During the first half of the first semester, our instructor Nicole truly made me feel as if I could accomplish anything and everything I ever set out to do. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that good about my writing or like I have a voice worth hearing. No one person should have power to make me feel I do or don’t have a voice. But a good teacher, I believe, is someone who instills confidence in her students and who makes them want to take chances. Nicole did that for me. Even when I submitted work that was only so-so or that showed visible signs of struggle, she spurred me on and encouraged me.
The first comic I ever created and submitted to workshop was received well. The second comic, the one about love, confused people a bit. The script for this three-pager received an okay response, and though we didn’t officially critique the comic itself, comments were mostly positive.
At the midpoint of the semester, we switched instructors. The first assignment Jesse gave us was a photo comic, and I had a really great time creating it. I loved the concept and the execution and spent five days laughing about the story while I worked on putting it together. Alas, when I showed it to Dan he didn’t get it at all. That night, prior to workshop, I asked Jesse whether he ever created comics he thought were hysterical that people didn’t get, and he said all the time.
I titled this comic “Say what?” but later I wished I’d called it “That art of deflection,” because to me that’s what it’s about:
When I presented the photo comic to class, it was greeted with mostly silence. Pretty much to a person, the other creators’ comics were funny, so prior to my dud the room was filled with laughter. Jesse read mine and said, “I hate these kinds of conversations. They make me want to live alone!”
His comment called to mind two things—a short story I wrote that I think is really funny and that Dan finds utterly depressing; and a career counselor who once told me I’d likely not become a famous writer because I was too much of a niche taste.
That night, a visiting cartoonist read us a series of elephant jokes, then Jesse assigned one to each of us and asked us to make a comic out of it. All of the jokes were from a book I had as a kid, so I incorporated my assigned joke into this autobio comic:
I had a difficult time with the following week’s assignment to create a “How To” comic using no words. My lack of drawing skills hit me hard as I struggled to create a comic instructing readers how to write a story. It took a long time to draw, and I was never happy with it. In addition, I tried out new tools to ink the comic, and the results basically sucked. We were working on page layout, as well, and as I inked the page I realized two panels, one above the other, read as too similar, so I cut them out with an X-acto knife and rearranged them using tape. Alas, when I did that, I inadvertently flipped one of the panels upside-down and didn’t notice until I’d already made 12 copies for class. Suffice to say, even with my explanation of what happened, the comic was difficult to understand.
Here it is in all its badness. (The middle panel is supposed to be our protagonist washing dishes at a sink, but it doesn’t quite read that way!)
In the process, I did create this wonderful little guy, though, who I like very much:
By the time we got around to working on our final projects, I was feeling pretty insecure. What did I want to do? What was I actually capable of producing?
For the thumbnail stage, I created a pantoum comic…a series of images repeated using a specific pattern, based on a poetry form called a pantoum. This piece actually generated a lot of discussion as the class attempted to suss out a narrative from the wordless piece. It was fascinating and fun to listen to the group create a story about a dog, its master, etc. etc.
Later on, I colored it with pencils:
My initial thought for the final project was to create a series of one-page pantoums, but in the end I decided to move forward with a different plan: to write a new poem then illustrate it. I actually loved most of the process. I love writing poems, even if they suck, and wrote in my head every morning as I walked around Sellwood. I loved working the language. I loved, too, abstracting the images, even as I struggled to do so. But when the time came to present my work for critique, I was petrified.
Lucky for me, only half of my classmates were there that night. I almost held back my work-in-progress, but I decided to go ahead and present. People didn’t seem to get or enjoy the piece. I don’t think they liked the poem. Jesse wasn’t keen on the pages with only abstract images. To his credit, he did try really hard to get people talking. Still, It was a tense and unpleasant experience.
When I got home that night, I felt pretty lousy. But a couple of days later, as I kvetched to myself and my pal, Claire, and fretted about what to do for my final project, I came up with the idea to combine imagery from the poem’s four pages into a one-page abstract painting/comic sans poem. I traced some boxes, added imagery, did a bit of an ink wash and sponge painted the background. I fell in love with the resulting piece, which I turned in as part of my final project.
During the five-week semester break, I filled up a brand new sketchbook, which was extremely satisfying!
Here’s Dan, then 10-second Dan:
Here’s a little coloring:
This semester, our two instructors—Lisa Mangum and Dunja Jancovic—are really into abstract comics, which has spurred me on. We’ve completed a bunch of exercises (which I’ll share next time), and my current focus is on completely non-narrative comics. I’m enjoying the work and am producing a lot. I suspect it’s still not my classmates’ thing, and an overall sense of community is still missing for me here in Portland. But Lisa and Dunja insist that if I keep following my path and stay true to my vision, I will find an audience and my tribe of fellow creatives.
I do miss my artist and writer friends in various spots around the world and wish I could bring them all here for a week’s retreat and play. In the meantime, I will keep on keeping on.
We’re midway through the term and switching to a new instructor, John Isaacson. We’ll focus on narrative structure, plot, character, and more. To begin, we’ll adapt a story or poem into comics form, which I’m really looking forward to! I’ll continue my abstract work, too, since that will make up the bulk of my final project (which will likely be a 12-page comic, although I’m considering other forms as well…more on that another day!).