Archive for the 'ambition' Category

who are you calling an aesthete?

(11:58:27 PM) me: i have been having really strange thoughts about visual art this year
(11:58:32 PM) madeline: ?
(11:59:03 PM) me: sometimes it seems like i am much more impressed by art than most people
(11:59:14 PM) me: and not just visual art.
(11:59:22 PM) me: there’s like this essential mystery that blows my mind
(11:59:45 PM) me: somebody can put a few lines together, or a few words together, and suddenly it is this extremely meaningful thing
(11:59:57 PM) me: and it communicates so much
(12:01:37 AM) me: maybe it’s because i’ve never been a creator myself
(12:01:50 AM) me: so it seems like this magical act
(12:01:54 AM) madeline: I think you think too much about never being a creator
(12:02:12 AM) madeline: I think you need to just forget worrying about whether you can create and whether it’d be perfect and do it
(12:02:19 AM) me: but i mean, a while back i sat down and sketched out some ideas for comics stuff
(12:02:25 AM) me: and i was impressed at the things i was able to make
(12:02:30 AM) madeline: *nod8
(12:02:31 AM) me: i was like “it’s this easy?”
(12:02:34 AM) madeline: er
(12:02:34 AM) madeline: *nod*
(12:02:35 AM) madeline: heh
(12:02:44 AM) me: i guess i have written songs
(12:02:56 AM) me: but they were silly and easy
(12:03:01 AM) me: like the Pope song from 24-hr theater [essentially: an acoustic guitar, a chord progression, some witty lyrics, an ordinary melody, and a repetitive chorus, that I continued to get compliments on for weeks after the show]
(12:03:13 AM) me: that doesn’t feel like real creation
(12:03:37 AM) madeline: heh
(12:03:45 AM) me:
(12:03:46 AM) madeline: “real creation”? What is that?
(12:03:53 AM) me: but i’m sure that’s how Jaime Hernandez feels about that sketch
(12:03:56 AM) me: took him five minutes
(12:04:07 AM) me: and somebody will treasure it forever
(12:04:09 AM) madeline: I think that term is, inherently, a little bit insulting for just the reason you said
(12:04:33 AM) madeline: to yourself, to everyone who does create
(12:04:46 AM) me: i don’t understand the “economics” of art
(12:04:54 AM) me: how can something be so disposable and so valuable at once?
so unlabored, so unintentional, so accidental, and yet so meaningful?


lengthy pondering about ambition, sophistication, and formalism in comics

Of course, I’m also constantly trying to apply these ideas [i.e. art/lit theory/criticism] to making comics. Anybody who’s tried to talk to me in the last year knows that I’ve had comics on the brain, but the development of the last month or so is that I’m thinking about making them. There’s a strong argument to be made that comics is the ultimate artistic medium (except perhaps film), really. Any criticism or theory that applies to literature or visual art should theoretically apply to comics just as well. It’s a very young medium still, and the collective intelligence of its creators has never been terribly high*, so there’s only a bit of work that shows a care for really high-level concerns. But we’re getting there.

*as in pop music, it’s probably less appropriate to speak of a dearth of intelligence as it is a dearth of education: Jack Kirby was a brilliant guy, but he never went to college. There’s also been a lack of ambition until recently: I can’t get that image out of my head from Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics of Rube Goldberg telling Will Eisner that they were nothing more than vaudevillians.

Reference list for structurally/theoretically intelligent comics:
Ernie Bushmiller (need more of him in the MLLL)
Eddie Campbell
Howard Chaykin (him too)
Will Eisner (him too)
Warren Ellis?
Los Bros Hernandez?
George Herriman??
Paul Hornschemeier (him too)
David Mack
Winsor McCay (him too)
Scott McCloud?
Dave McKean?
Frank Miller
Peter Milligan?
Alan Moore
Grant Morrison
P. Craig Russell (him too)
Bill Sienkiewicz
Dave Sim
Art Spiegelman (him too)
Osamu Tezuka
Chris Ware

And presumably a whole heap of stuff I’m not yet aware of, probably including:
-Small-press “pretentious art-school fucks” that The Comics Journal loves
-Forgotten pre-WWII innovators that The Comics Journal loves
-European and Japanese innovators that even The Comics Journal tends to ignore

on the comics industry

Backstory: Rivkah went to WizardWorld Chicago, and was depressed by the work-for-hire mentality of the artists working for hire.

“Do you ever draw anything for yourself?”

The reaction I got to that querry both confused and inspired me. One guy . . . I can’t remember his name but apparently he’s incredibly popular for his catwoman covers or something . . . said outright, “No.” And he gave me this look of confusion that said, “Why the hell would I do that?” Like I was *nuts*.

…apparently those who work for Marvel, those who work for DC, those who work for the companies that have premade-characters fashioned out of plastic molds and branded with the seal of corporate approval…

Understandable scorn from somebody coming entirely from the creator-owned world. But some traditional comics fans respond:

: While I can see how someone who creates their own stuff could think this way, I think it’s actually as much of a talent to continue the stories about these characters. I can see how much it would suck to be stuck writing or drawing a crappy “just draw her from angles where you can see her ass a lot” character, but there are characters out there who have such a rich and complicated history that it is possible to take risks and do new things with them. If someone told me I could draw and write wolverine for the rest of my life I would poop myself. There is just so much history there to play with, and I think the challenge of staying within the character while still making it interesting would be worth the boundaries.

: i’d feel the same way if someone told me i could do that with spider-man or batman

Rivkah compares such work to fanfiction, which she could never really get into. I think the comparison is apt.

: look at it like this i guess. anybody can take a picture of a sunset or a person. but it’s the way you do it, using a combination of personal style and technique that makes it yours. (even if it’s for a little while)

: I think that may actually be a good analogy. I know that it’s tremendously exciting to go to some famous beach and take a photo (that you took yourself!) of that gorgeous sunset, or a picture of you in front of the Eiffel Tower.

…But how many people around the world are going to want to look at pictures of you in front of the Eiffel Tower?

For people that have never seen the tower (or a sunset) before, it’s great for them to see it through photos, but great photos have been taken of it already, probably better than you or I will ever do. Nobody wants to see a hundred different versions of this.

Same with comics. Lots of kids love superheroes, but there’s a huge archive of pre-existing superhero comics that are better than almost anything coming out today! Why continue to flog a dead horse! Celebrate the masters of the past, but the best way to honor them is to use your own creativity, not suck money out of their ideas.

: y’know, that occured to me too after i made the analogy and sent it. very good point.

but i always tend to think of something i read stan lee saying one time. (paraphrashing of course) “everyone has a first comic.” meaning that, even if you’ve seen a million pictures of the eiffel tower or a sunset, it doesn’t mean everyone else has

so, that’s why i don’t think it’s always flogging a dead horse or sucking money out of past ideas. all stories have been told before, in one form or the other, but it’s the way you tell it that makes it unique.

in the end, every storyteller should set out to tell good stories. wether it’s company owned or your personal creation. (cause i don’t think you should only write one kind over the other. i think one should do both.)

My response:

“everyone has a first comic.”

I hear what you’re saying. If comics were never reprinted, if they were truly as ephemeral as some people seem to think they are – basically, if comics were like radio (heard once and it’s gone) – I would agree with you. There’s a reason radio stations play the same songs over and over again – because people are constantly tuning in for the first time, and probably missed it the last time it was broadcast.

But comics aren’t ephemeral. Not in today’s industry. Archival editions (DC and Marvel, not to mention publishers like Checker and Fantagraphics) and continuously-in-print trade paperbacks are swiftly becoming the rule, not the exception. Creators (of mainstream comics, even!) are starting to create with an eye towards the final product, for aesthetic and economic reasons (Bone is still paying the bills for Jeff Smith, and Sandman will buy groceries for Neil Gaiman the rest of his life). The industry definitely hasn’t progressed as far on this issue as I’d like (i want cheap, high-quality paperbacks of everything ever published!), but progress is being made, and the ephemerality of the medium is no longer a valid excuse for unoriginality. Comics aren’t like radio any more, but we haven’t made it to the permanence of film/DVDs yet either… we’re more like television – almost every popular show nowadays gets quickly committed to DVD, and studios are starting more and more to release older shows in high-quality editions.

in the end, every storyteller should set out to tell good stories. wether it’s company owned or your personal creation. (cause i don’t think you should only write one kind over the other. i think one should do both.)

This is where i really disagree with you. Would you insist that every film director shoot a James Bond movie every once in a while? Bond movies can be fun, and some of them are genuine classics, but I’m not about to tell Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, and Wes Anderson (or Darren Aronofsky!) that they should stop making only “one kind” of movie and spend some time with laser ballpoint pens and exploding aircraft carriers.

Did John Steinbeck’s editor tell him “this Grapes of Wrath stuff is great, John, but what we really want to see from you is a Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn story”? Should James Joyce have written the continuing adventures of David Copperfield? Of course not. We don’t need Steinbeck to tell us how the Tom/Huck story goes: Twain’s stories still exist, and we can read them in any bookstore or library in the world. The comics industry is almost to the point where I can say the equivalent about the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four.

In a respectable artistic medium, creators tell the stories they want to tell – their own stories. They don’t exploit other people’s creations for profit, or out of twisted “tribute.” Fanfiction is well and good: for all I know, Stephen King secretly writes Harry Potter stories in his spare time, but he doesn’t try to sell them for God’s sake. Rowling would sue the pants off him, and rightfully so.

on Warren Ellis (and being 19)

This guy was GOD!
[Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, p. 175]

In the last month I have spent quite a bit of time discovering, on my own, what an absolute bloody genius Warren Ellis has been for the last ten years.

Thanks in part to the lawless, Wild-West frontier nature of the Internet (a blessing and a curse), it can be difficult to find coherent archives of anything, let alone scattered serialized rantings from a deranged madman for half-a-dozen companies on two dozen web sites. But when I stumble across something like Streaming (good lord, what a terrible interface UBB is for long-term content) or Come In Alone (considerably better; thank you CBR)… It brings on the sort of all-day (or -night) kid-in-candy-store binge mindfuck that comes from suddenly discovering a giant repository of ancient brilliance. (Which is, sort of, what comics are all about, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Essentially, most of the thoughts I have had about comics in the last year have already been thought by Warren, five years ago. A sample:

The graphic novel or album (or other more suitable nomenclature yet to be coined) is the optimised form of “comics.” The intermediate form is the serialisation towards collection, what used to be termed the “miniseries”. DC Comics did not become the No 1 publisher in sales terms because of all its ongoing titles. It became No 1 because of the massive and growing revenues generated by its graphic novels and albums. Comics are not “habitual entertainment” that need to remain static and require broadcasting regularly until death us do part. That’s the comic strip, and even those are sometimes allowed dignified endings. Comics, like their related media of novels and cinema, must be allowed to tell complete stories. If you can’t handle that, then you really need to be in another business. Those who support us will be rewarded by increased sales and given the gift of the Future. The people who attempt to stop us will be stamped on.

Fuck superheroes, frankly. The notion that these things dominate an entire genre is absurd. It’s like every bookstore in the planet having ninety percent of its shelves filled by nurse novels.

There’s room for any kind of good work, no matter what genre it’s in.

But that doesn’t excuse you from going out and burning out all the bad work at the fucking root with torches. It doesn’t excuse all the nameless toss that DC and Marvel and Image and all the others slop out every month. If you want to read three hundred superhero comics a month then you are sick and you need medical help.

Rip from their steaming corpses the things that led superhero comics to dominate the medium – the mad energy, the astonishing visuals, the fetishism, whatever – and apply them to the telling of other stories in other genres. That’s all THE MATRIX did, after all.

Too much of the industry’s energy is focussed on creating comics for children that children either won’t read or won’t find. The comics retail culture is almost exclusively an environment for adolescent males of all ages. Trina Robbins is fanatically devoted to producing comics for girls, which is great. We need more genuine fanatics. But Trina Robbins producing comics for girls that are then exclusively sold through the direct sales network for comics specialty stores is nothing short of retarded. Because girls won’t know it’s there. Mark Waid was frequently heard to complain that, in IMPULSE, he was writing a children’s comics series that was only being read by forty-year-old men. Because here’s the news; kids don’t go into comics stores any more. Even the nerdy kids go down to the Virgin Megastore to rent some Playstation games, if they’re not at home downloading some porn. “The kids” couldn’t give a rat’s arse about your shit. If kids get comics, then they buy, or get bought, comics off the newsstand. And comics publishers gave up on the newsstand a long, long time ago. Hell, they gave up on kid’s comics a long time ago. I mean, do you see a dedicated campaign to tell parents that there’s a POWERPUFF GIRLS comic available in specialty comics stores? One of the perks of my job is that I get complementary copies of all DC books. My four-year-old daughter practically tears my arm off to get at the new POWERPUFF GIRLS comic. If anyone cared enough, mobs could be gathering at comics stores tomorrow in search of this work. But they don’t. Evidently the POKEMON comics were shifting something like a million units a month at one point. Did you see those readers at your local comics store? Did you see those books listed on the Top 200? No.

This was in early 2000. Five and a half years ago.

Very little has changed at the big boys, but (it seems) sentiment has continued to build that something must be done, and people like Warren and Larry Young and Chris Staros at Top Shelf have leapt into the breach and made comics the right way (joining others who’ve been doing it for years), while the Isotope and others have reinvented the comic shop, inspiring others like Rocketship and Riot. Image Comics, birthplace of Witchblade and Youngblood, is now publishing Age of Bronze and Walking Dead and Bonerest. Newspaper journalists STILL can’t write a headline about comics without clichés, but fuck them.

This is going to happen.

I’m going to be a part of it.



i’m not sure what to say.

which, i suppose, is as appropriate an opening as any. because what i’m feeling right now is a general inability to capture what i can clearly see.

(00:22:23) me: i am growing ever-more-impatient with any experience that falls short of the sublime
(00:22:40) me: i think because i’m becoming more aware of what sublimity is possible

also, a line from Blake: “damn braces. bless relaxes.”

~ ~ ~

wandering through Barnes & Noble with Chawk and Lauren (great fun), we looked through the teen girl section and found (and mocked) a novel consisting entirely
of chopped-off sentences
and pseudo-free-verse
like this.

~ ~ ~

my brother once was to deliver a speech
to the congregation of my church.
he worried that he would speak too quickly
(as he sometimes does)
and be hard to understand.
so he wrote his entire “meditation”
in fragments like this
to encourage himself
to speak at an appropriate pace.

~ ~ ~

i often enjoy speaking on instant messenger
because i can deliver my thoughts in such segments
unrestricted by concerns of
“appropriate English style.”

~ ~ ~

apparently, i still have friends
(good ones even)
who are capable of saying:
“I wasn’t even aware they had serious comics in a more ‘literary’ style.”
i still have work to do.

anyway, i was talking to this friend
about jeff smith
and craig thompson
[i wish i could link to print articles in the comics journal. issue 266 had brilliant articles on both men.]

what i was trying to convey
was both men’s sense of space
and visual storytelling,
visual writing.
i guess “composition” is a good term after all.

thompson especially
is influenced by french art comics
and life drawing – “fine art.”
one of the consequences of that
is that his work – at least in Blankets

each moment takes exactly as much time –
– which, in comics, means exactly as much space
as it deserves.

especially magical moments
(a new snowfall,
a first look at an unclothed girlfriend)
are given entire pages
if not more.






~ ~ ~

i respect ambition, in art.
i don’t think very much of people who overreach their capabilities,
but I’m much more inclined to like something if a heart and soul (and mind?) has been put into it.

i ran across sarah ellerton’s inverloch graphic webnovel tonight.
the entire 700-page novel is already plotted and scripted.
she illustrates roughly four pages a week,
and she’s halfway done.

every page is a work of art.

i like the confidence it shows.
she knows exactly what she’s doing and how she wants to do it.

is that jealousy on my part?
maybe it’s just resonance. inspiration.
i am very ambitious. i’d like to think i could accomplish great things.
it’s nice to see confirmation that such things can be done.

~ ~ ~

i have never been more excited for the future of comics than i am now. DC and Marvel are having a bit of a crap year, because they’ve forgotten how to do superheroes and they don’t know how to do anything else, but they’ll either come around soon or collapse. there’s a renewed interest in the old classics (schultz, mccay, herriman, king). independently-minded creators are putting out amazing work – that’s been true for decades, but there’s just more of them doing it now. we’re finally, slowly, looking at comics as an international medium as American publishers import more and more European and Asian work.

and i understand it better, have a better view on things than ever before.

~ ~ ~

I’m wandering off topic.

listening to
great works of art
always fuels my ambition
and my discontent.


all i need is TIME.

god, i need it so badly tonight.

Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).


Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.