24 Hour Comic, Failure with Advantage

17 07 2017

IMG_4594Last weekend I attempted my 14th 24 hour comic. By all measures, I didn’t finish. I penciled 13 pages, inked 11, and finished only 3 pages with fills and tones. I stopped drawing at 18 hours (2 hours after everyone else at my home 24HC event had gone home, just sayin) and at best I’ve got half a story. So, not 24 pages, not 24 hours, and not a complete comic.

What I do have is close to half a story on paper that I’m really excited about. I’m definitely going to finish it. If it’s not mostly done by October, I’ll finish it on the official 24 Hour Comics Day.

So what happened? And what should I do next? And what good is any of it? I tend to turn everything into a referendum on everything (see the title of my blog). But for real, in the wake of this fruitful failure, I had to examine what my goal is with 24 hour comics, and what that means for my art in general.

I’ve done a lot of 24 hour comics. By the 4th one, I figured out all the tricks necessary to succeed. If you use smaller paper, bigger panels, and favor expression over realism, you can pretty much finish as many pages as you want. So I started adding little wrinkles for myself to keep it challenging. I’ve had what I consider some big successes.

I love me some cartoon logic nonsense, which is what drives most of my 24 hour comics. This time I decided to try for a real story, using a scenario and characters that have been languishing in a bundle of notes since my days with the Eugene Comics Guild (for the handful who might know what that is) as if I’m someday going to turn them into a series of graphic novels. I decided it was time to bring the thing to life. I would just have to find the right kind of minimalist drawing style to finish the story while doing it justice visually.

Well, obviously that didn’t happen. But what’s more important– gaming the system to get to 24 pages, or making a decent piece of art? The latter of course, but the rules of 24 hour comics have served me really well. So, again, what am I doing, and why??

To answer that, I’m making the following assessment of my present and future creative life:

  • I have lots of stories to tell.
  • Comics is my art.
  • I write better than I draw.
  • My drawing will never meet the standards I want it to.
  • I will always draw my own comics. I will most likely never have the resources to hire an artist, and my drawing, being mine, is the most appropriate for my stories.
  • The parts and the whole of each comic will be the best I can make them. The whole of each comic will be the best I can make it, regardless of the faults I perceive in it’s parts.
  • I will always try to get better.
  • I won’t be satisfied with how it looks, but I will create it, complete it, and share it anyway. I can only draw how I draw. I will make my comics, and their imperfection won’t stop me.

Update 10/4/17: You can read the comic, I’m posting it here. Pages 1-4 are up, and a new one goes up each Wednesday. All pages are inked digitally, and I made some other small changes here and there. Turns out the story is too big for me to finish now, and I have another plan for 24 Hour Comics Day this weekend. But Simane will continue, and Aethernaut will continue.



A Shomen for Drawing

18 10 2013

shomen3Awhile back my friend Anna wrote a post about building a physical, external aid to creativity. Hers was an automat– a replica of one of those old-timey walk-in vending machine/diners, which she would stock with things to help her get writing when she’s feeling blocked. I thought this was a really cool idea. She invited her readers to suggest their own constructions, but I couldn’t think of anything. But then, writer’s block isn’t really my problem. I have miles of story mapped out for my webcomic. My problem is sitting down and getting started on drawing pages, and then continuing to draw pages rather than re-watching old seasons of Breaking Bad.

One morning I was doing what I always do. I’d had breakfast, read the paper, and I was reading all my online newsfeeds, comic subscriptions, and Facebook updates, trying to rev up for some drawing before it was time to walk the dog. I go through the same routine every day. It’s a ritual with no clear conclusion. There’s always more to peruse on the internet– I just stop when I feel guilty enough. Or I don’t stop until Teagan starts bugging me for a walk, and the morning is a wash. And then I have other obligations that eat up the day and the comic falls behind.

I decided that rather than a construction like Anna’s, I need a better ritual. One that sends a clear signal to my brain: now is drawing time. Kinda like how we bow in for Aikido. In fact, almost exactly like that.

We bow a lot in Aikido. At the beginning of class, at the end of class, when we practice with someone, when we pick up a weapon. We bow to other students, to the sensei, and to the shomen, which is a kind of altar at the front of the dojo. It may look like a lot of pointless rigamarole, but it actually serves a purpose. Aside from being good etiquette, treating the time and space of practice in a certain way we separates it from the outside world. Starting class with a bow is a way to clear the mind, set aside whatever else went on that day, and focus on training.

shomen2So I started doing this for drawing. I made a very rudimentary shomen by hanging up a collage of artists’ work I would like to emulate. I found a nice box to hold my favorite drawing tools when I’m not working. I do a formal bow at the beginning and end of the work day, and a casual bow when I step away for a break.

I did this for several weeks and managed to crank out pages consistently. Then some other obligations came along, and I stopped bowing, and page production slowed way down. Causality? Or spurious correlation? Rather than a pure cause-and-effect relationship, I think the ritual and the work feed each other. I’m going to get back in the habit of bowing in and see what happens.

Moving: The Drive

31 12 2012
We're not skiers, but our car came with protective snow charms.

We’re not skiers, but our car came with protective snow charms.

Day 1 – Out Of Portland

We’d heard from various people that we were varying degrees of nuts for driving from Portland to Minneapolis in the middle of December. We didn’t have much choice; the timing was determined by the sale of our house, which happened much faster than we expected. Still, we thought we’d have at least until Idaho to worry about the weather, but it snowed in Portland the morning of our departure. We loaded the last of our stuff, said our last goodbyes to the neighbors, and drove through rush hour in a town that gets totally paralyzed by an inch of snow.

Once we got out of the Willamette valley, the weather cleared up completely. We had an easy drive from Hood River to Pocatello, Idaho, our first night’s stop. The animals both adapted to the car really well. Teagan usually rides with her front feet on the center console or the passenger’s left leg. To tempt her into the back seat, we built up a thick nest of blankets and pillows. She was willing to settle in back there if one of us rode in the back seat with her. Fizzgig’s carrier was on top of some other stuff in the very back, with the door propped open and a cat bed inside. After he had explored the whole car, he decided the carrier was the place to be and spent almost the entire ride up there.

Since we can’t stay in motels with the dog, we had booked a cabin at the Pocatello KOA. We tried to reserve KOA cabins for all three nights, but had trouble finding ones that were open in December. Tuesday night, we understood why. It was 17 degrees outside, and 17 degrees inside the cabin. There was a small electric space heater, but it didn’t appear to have any effect. We brought all the blankets in from the car and got under them with the animals. We wore our hats and gloves. Marcie wore her new coat, purchased for the sub-zero Minnesota winter. It seemed impossible that we would ever warm up, but we did. Teagan eventually crawled out and slept on top of the covers. No one froze. We did get some funny looks from the staff in the morning when we checked out.

Day 2 – Crossing the Rockies

This was the part of the trip we were most worried about. We chose to drive east on I80, thinking we’d do better than the more northerly I90 and not wanting to go as far south as I70. Even though I grew up in Denver, my knowledge of Rocky Mountain geography is vague. A cursory search of online topographical maps made I80 look the most promising as far as easy mountain passes. This may be because, as I learned from our road map on the way, I80 crosses the continental divide at a location where it flattens out into a wide basin. In any case, this was another easy day. We had beautiful weather again and no problems at all with the roads. We came down from the mountains out of Laramie, Wyoming, on a winding stretch of freeway that was a bit more treacherous, but only lasted for 20 miles or so. By the time we hit Cheyenne it was smooth sailing again.

From there we turned south to Denver, to stay with my parents for the night. It was a bit out of our way, but we got to visit my folks and my brother, and there were no open cabins in the Mountain time zone. It was great, except for Teagan fighting with their dog.

Day 3 – After the Blizzard

We left early Thursday morning, knowing we had a long day ahead of us. We had to be in Minneapolis by noon on Friday, so our next stop would be a lakeside cabin in Fairmount, Minnesota. From there we’d have an easy 2 and a half hour drive to Minneapolis.

From Denver, we headed northeast on 76, which meets I80 at the border of Nebraska. On the way, we saw signs saying I80 was closed. The weather was so clear we had trouble believing it. But sure enough, shortly after getting on 80 we were diverted to a truck stop in Big Springs. The day before, a massive blizzard had rolled over Nebraska, and they were still clearing wrecked trucks off the interstate.

The truck stop parking lot was packed with cars and trucks. The multi-purpose building had people sitting at every table and milling about everywhere. No one had any real information about what was going on. A woman at a tourism desk said the road was supposed to open by noon, which would mean a half hour wait. We had lunch and then sat in the car with the animals. Shortly after noon, it looked like things were moving, so we decided to get out of the parking lot before the mass truck exodus. However the freeway was still closed, so we got diverted to the ramp on the opposite side, and parked in the line of cars along the edge, pointing at the on ramp. It was a much better position to be in when traffic started moving, but there was nothing to do but wait in the car. We turned on our audiobook of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. We looked for alternate routes on the map, but all of them would add 3 to 5 hours, if the roads were clear, which we had no way of knowing. Luckily the animals were calm. In town, if we drive around with Teagan, she gets antsy and whines if we stop and sit around in the car. This time she curled up on her pile of blankets and went to sleep. Fizzgig stayed happily ensconced in his carrier. After a two and a half hour wait, the road finally opened.

For the first twenty miles or so, it was perfectly dry and smooth. But, gradually, we encountered more and more chunks of packed ice and snow. It was a little slippery and very bumpy. We had to slow down to 40 mph or less, all the way across Nebraska. We passed several wrecked trucks in the median, one that looked like the trailer had been wrung out like a towel by giant hands.

It was a long, slow, nerve-wracking drive to Omaha, which we reached after dark, but we could only thank our lucky stars that the bad weather had stayed ahead of us the whole trip. We were very glad for the Subaru, for all-wheel drive, for snow tires, and for anti-freezing window cleaner. Though it wasn’t snowing, passing vehicles threw up a shower of sticky, frosty grit. We stopped for gas, and I scrubbed the grime off the windows, with a gas station squeegee also resting in antifreeze cleanser. We’d heard more bad weather predictions for Iowa, so we turned north on I29, and would continue east on 90. Heading up 29 I thought the headlights were giving out, or the air was foggy, or fatigue was making me blind, until I realized I should have scrubbed the headlights as well as the windows. We gassed up in Sioux Falls, at a station that had their squeegees resting in a bed of crystalized, frozen cleanser. But it worked okay on the headlights. We reached Fairmount at 4 am, unpacked our bedding and the animals stuff, and slept for 3 hours.

Day 4 – Into Minneapolis

We’d been lucky, there was no denying it, but we’d also benefited from our own good decisions. Still, we didn’t want to congratulate ourselves too early. It was hard not to. We woke up on Friday to more clear blue skies, more clear dry roads. We learned that if we had stayed on 80 to Des Moines, we’d be stuck at the wrong end of 35, now closed all the way to Minnesota. But it was open north of 90, which was what we needed. We cruised up into the Twin Cities, and arrived at our new house twenty minutes before our appointment for the final walk through. The car looked like it had been through some hellish parallel dimension, covered in competing filigrees of frost and dirt. I sort of wanted to leave it that way, but we ended up washing it a couple days later.

It’s now just over a week later. Marcie is back to work in an office for the first time in a month. We’re still unpacking. It appears that all of our stuff made it here, the vast majority of it intact. It’s a brilliant sunny day, hovering between 10 and 20 degrees, like most days since we got here. Fizzgig is right at home, prowling the house at night and lazing around all day. Teagan is still a little anxious, but adjusting to the cold. When she makes some doggie friends, all will be well.

Friday night we met many of our neighbors at a holiday block party. There are three families on our street with adopted children. Hopefully this year we will become the fourth.

Moving: Final Flurries

9 12 2012

It’s been almost a month since my last post. A month of ridiculous frenzied activity that I can barely reconstruct at this point.

Here’s one highlight. We had to repair a couple things as part of the deal to sell our house. One was replacing the Federal Pacific electrical panel. Apparently they are prone to explode, set the house on fire, and shoot deadly shrapnel across the garage. Ours was original to the house in 1979, and it’s never exploded, but we had no problem hiring an electrician to replace it. It’s a simple job, but it seemed to drag on for three weeks. First the electrician had to reschedule once or twice. Then the inspector came without warning while I was out walking the dog. The the panel failed the inspection failed because– I promise this is absolutely true– one of the screws should have been green. So the electrician came back and colored the screw with a green Sharpie, and we were up to code at last.

Then there was last week. Saturday we had an all-day farewell party at our house. Sunday we met the couple buying our house (they are cool), then went to the holiday party for our adoption agency. Monday we made the hour drive to Salem to visit my aunt, and then Marcie’s mom. When we got back home, we finished separating out all the clothes, books, and other gear we will need for the next 3-4 weeks before our stuff arrives at our new house. Tuesday morning, Marcie got on a plane to DC for a one day meeting. I spent that day making all the last minute preparations for the movers, which took me until midnight. Wednesday, the movers came to pack up everything we had not already packed, and inventory the whole house. On Thursday a different crew came to load up the truck. In between–that is, Wednesday night–Teagan got skunked. She went out the dog door around midnight, came in and woke me up by aggressively rubbing her face on the comforter. The bathtub was full of junk, the whole house was packed up, so I gave her a spit bath with a soapy towel on the bathroom floor. Luckily she didn’t get hit too bad. I think she must have rubbed against a bush or something that a skunk had sprayed, rather than taking a direct blast. Still. Eech.

Thursday, Marcie arrived back home while the movers were finishing up the loading. That night we set up our travelling air mattress in the bedroom, watched John Stewart on the laptop and ate take-out teriyaki. Friday we spent the day carting our remaining possessions two houses down, to the home of our excellent neighbors Barb & Matt who are putting us up for 10 days, and cleaning the house.

When it was all emptied out, we took a last walk through to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. We’d been too busy throughout this whole moving process to ever get sentimental about the house. At this point, it didn’t feel like our house at all anymore. With the new floors and new paint, it didn’t look like the house we bought. With all our stuff gone, it didn’t look like the house we lived in. That house had mysteriously vanished while we weren’t looking. Which was probably easiest.

We are now set up at Barb & Matt’s house and having some much needed down time. Our dog plays with their dog. Matt is terribly allergic to cats, so Fizzgig is confined to the guest room, which we have lined completely with painter’s drop cloths to catch the dander. We’ve got our own blankets on the bed, which the cat is happy to burrow underneath all day. Marcie is working from here and from the library, and we continue to meet up with various friends to say goodbye.

Aaaand, there’s a blizzard rolling across Minnesota.

Moving: The Setup

11 11 2012

Marcie and I are moving to Minneapolis. It’s been suggested that I chronicle the trip here on the blog, and I am nothing if not suggestible. So first, some background.

We’ve lived in Portland for 11 years. Last year, the nonprofit Marcie works for began moving operations to Minneapolis. Before long it became clear that the company would leave Portland eventually, and we had to decide if we would move with it. We’ve put down a lot of roots in Portland and will be sad to leave our friends, but in the end we decided to take the plunge. 

We spent the last several months gearing up to move. There has been a ton of planning and traveling and juggling of various tasks. As of today, the situation is this; our house in Portland is sold, closing on Dec 7. We’ve bought a house in Minneapolis, which closes on Dec 21. In the interim we’ll be staying with our current neighbors. Movers are packing up our house on the 6th. On Dec 18, we will load up the dog and cat in the car and drive into the nice chilly mid-western winter.

Last week we sold the Mini Cooper. We were always going to sell it when the adoption came through, so decided not to try to move it across the country. Today we bought a used Subaru Outback, good for carrying us and our animals across snowbound mountain passes and camping out in if need be. We debated having our pickup shipped to Minneapolis, but have decided to sell it as well, and buy another used truck in a few months.

Oh yes, the adoption. We are still in the pool of waiting families, which is great. If we had to plan and execute this move while learning to be parents of an infant, somebody would have had an infarction. Once we move, our file will be put on hold for six weeks or so, until we can get a new home study done. That’s also great, it will give us a chance to get our bearings and recover a measure of sanity. Of course, it’s still possible we’ll get a phone call saying we’ve been chosen by a birth mother, who may or may not have already given birth. If that happens, it will probably be about Dec 19. But we are working under the assumption that it won’t.

Aikido is Timing

19 10 2012

I wrote a couple of weird posts recently about my attempts to make use of ki when practicing Aikido. In fact I’ve made a lot of vague attempts at ki manipulation over the years, but it’s never helped me on the mat. Only in preparing for my Nidan* test (happening tonight!) have I begun to understand why.

I can’t remember now exactly when or how this concept crystallized. Somewhere in the instruction I’ve received, the notion of timing shifted from an abstract concept to something very specific. That is, as nage I must meet uke at the optimal time, when uke is compromised; and in the optimal shape, with my body aligned and balanced.

Timing and body position accomplish everything I’ve always attributed to mysterious ki. If I meet uke before there is any strength behind his attack, it doesn’t matter which of us is stronger. If I am in a position of leverage, it doesn’t matter which of us has the longer reach. If I can seize the initiative in the encounter, I can take uke’s balance.

This is a major shift in my thinking, and I’m still trying to internalize it. This is energy. This is ki. I don’t counter strength with invisible force beams, I counter it with strategy–by being in the right place at the right time. The right place being out of the line of danger, at the fulcrum of the encounter, with my body in the appropriate shape. The right time being before uke’s attack has built up momentum. Still, the right place and the right time are not enough without the right intention. In other words, there has to be commitment behind my movements, honesty in my utemi, a lucid assessment of danger, compassion for my attacker, trust in my training partner, ownership of my own space; a clear, motivating energy behind everything.

This is something concrete that I can practice. I still believe there is value in visualizing the flow of energy in various ways, but ki does not have to be mystical and mysterious. Ki manifests at the junction of a particular physical action and mental focus that I can construct and reconstruct. Energy flows through every technique and every blend, not because someone is doing magic, but because that’s the nature of techniques and blends.

Basically I just need to do all the things my teachers have always been telling me to do. Enter, move my center, relax, extend energy, keep one point, weight underside. Catch the timing. I don’t know why it took me this long to make sense of timing, but I’m hopeful that it will improve my Aikido and empower me elsewhere in life. Lots of people’s success is attributed to being in the right place at the right time, as if by accident. By adding right intention, perhaps we can generate opportunities rather than just wait for them.

*Nidan: second degree black belt
nage: the one doing the technique
uke: the one attacking and being thrown
utemi: a counterstrike made by nage in the midst of a technique

How To Recognize Your Life’s Work

1 08 2012

While gearing up for the launch of my current webcomic, I began to think of it as my Life’s Work. But what the heck is a Life’s Work anyway? That’s one of those phrases that takes root in my mind, but seems suspect the minute I write it. Why should anyone’s life be dedicated to just one work? There’s no need to put that kind of limit on oneself.

But I’m still stuck with this label. I’ve attempted to figure out why, and identified the following reasons. Perhaps you’ll find them useful if you’re an artistic type with too many projects in the pipeline.

  1. It won’t leave you alone. Aethernaut started out as a handful of character sketches in high school. In college, I learned some new things that lead to building the world around them. I made a graphic novel out of it for my thesis (The U of O Honors College is the only way to study), and spent the next 17 years making notes, revising and expanding the story. So I’ve literally been working on it my whole adult life. Obviously it’s important to me.
  2. It brightens your future. This is the flip side of #1; the project stretches forward in time as well as backward. Generating comic pages from my notes on Aethernaut will easily keep me busy for the next ten years. My failing has always been doing too many things, never arriving at a signature style or project or (gods help me) brand. I will undoubtedly continue to have side projects with different aims, but the prospect of dedicating myself to Aethernaut for the foreseeable future feels liberating rather than limiting.
  3. It enhances your life. My own experience of this one is complicated to explain. I’ll try to keep it simple. Since working on Aethernaut, I’ve become more interested in lots of things, especially the planets and the history of science. But more than that, the whole world is more vibrant. Real life has all the magic of escapist fantasy. I can look at something, the Moon for instance, and see a distant mass of rock hanging in space, as well as a made-up, within-reach alien world, and both are equally uplifting. It’s bizarre, and wonderful. If you find a project that makes your personal world better, stick with it.
  4. It’s your most unique contribution. This is sort of a flip side of #3; a measure of how much the project adds to the world at large. I won’t claim that Aethernaut is absolutely unique and original, but it’s the most unique and original thing I’ve ever come up with. If you can follow Shel Silsverstein’s advice and “put something in the world that wasn’t there before,” please do.
  5. You’d hate to die and leave it unfinished. Do you ever imagine what would happen if you were to die right away? Not wish for it, not obsess over it, just consider it at idle moments. I think it’s a normal thing to do. Anyway, along with the obvious sadness of seperation from loved ones, when I think about dying, I want Aethernaut to be finished. That’s probably a pretty good sign that this is the project to get cracking on.