Friday, April 8, 2011

New Old Routine: Revised & Revisited

Picking up the reigns and tying up loose ends of a haphazard career in comics has long seemed to be a series of feints and follies: a two-steps-forward/one-step-back slow waltz towards nebulous and elusive goals. It's an exhaustive and introspective process confronting "failure" - my progress in both academic and artistic ventures is a simultaneous, paradoxical lesson in perseverance and procrastination. 
(More below the fold...)

Large-scale projects long simmering on the back burners tend to turn instead into counterproductive deadweight that can throw my balance off. There's a slash & burn pattern that often exhibits itself in the stereotype of obsessive behavior common to many creative personalities. But I think I'm getting a wee bit too weary of burning the midnight candle for too many successive sessions, and need to learn instead to better pace out the output, carefully nurturing the melted-down candle-stumps. Perhaps my single biggest obstacle to getting things done can be seen in this all-or-nothing/one shot approach, which might work great for single panels or strips, but not so much when it comes to the discipline needed in maintaining momentum over many pages.While it's relatively easy to turn around and sweep up all the collective results of many months of steadily cranking out the usual cartoons and be impressed at the big pile of subsequent leftovers, but for some reason it can be more complicated staying focused on one single project. Surely but slowly events are conspiring to afford me the time and place to tackle these, and I'll start posting them here, hopefully sooner than later. There always seems to be just one more funny to draw first.
In the meantime...

"Yeah, yeah... it's all beautiful"

Been putting in some major footwork peddling the wares: making the rounds, schmoozing networking, and following up contacts with phonecalls and emails. Been a while since I've beat the street with portfolio in hand, trying to test the waters and see what opportunities might arise in a new place. The market is tight  and it's a tough sell to try and convince folks to pick up a new feature, even with a long, proven history in another market. I put great value in face-to-face interactions versus anonymously sending images via emailed attachments. It helps if one has a winsome personality (reminiscent of waitering skills) as opposed to reverting back to the charisma of a surly, ingrown cave cabin-dwelling barbarian. It can at turns be exciting and invigorating to face down the intimidation of asserting yourself to strangers who very well not care about you, your damn cartoons. Juggling all the lists (note to self: always always always double-check the correct spelling and pronunciation of people's names!) and maintaining a meticulous list of all the different irons in the fire is part of the deal when attempting to establish a foothold in a new environment. 

This is all above & beyond putting in the inestimable hours coming up with a completely new backlog of regionally-appropriate themed material: one of the more disheartening moments happened after reviewing something like six years of stuff from Alaska and culling only maybe a dozen that would conceivably translate here in Maine. Which also speaks to the strength of hyper-local humor, as there's a definite flip-side to catering to community cartoons.
It might be indomitable self-conviction or stubborn denial (usually a mix of both) to get over the inhibition that you're wasting people's time showing them your work. I tend to view it as simply good practice, regardless of success or failure, and it's an analogous testing ground for the average reader or viewer to cold-call a show & tell to every new set of eyeballs as you possibly can. Sucker-punching for feedback is a powerful and immediate tool to gauge reaction and see firsthand what folks react to the best, which is at marked contrast to years of flying on autopilot and throwing work out into the indifferent, cold and empty void, and safe behind the buffer zone of relative anonymity.
I'm always grateful when an editor takes time out of a busy schedule in between meetings with Important People to sit with a lowly cartoonist - on the other hand it does make for a nice break in their routine, maybe a nice excuse to have to read some funnies as part of one's job description. It's an acquired skill to balance between maintaining insistent contact while attempting to get an interview and crossing over into being an arrogant, annoying schmuck who can't take a hint. There's been some mixed results after another intense round of putting multiple feeders out; highs and lows, hits and misses - just enough to maintain momentum and not be completely crushed disheartened. In-between these sorties, it's time to get back to work generating more and more material to draw from.

Investing an environment with creative triggers is behind my habitual haunting of several locations - none of which are sitting down at the computer or easel. Those both have their time and place in the process, but there'll usually be a couple of days during the week I find it healthy to take a break from the routine, which in itself becomes routine.

Starting off with a breakfast at a local diner, I like to sit at the counter about ten feet away from the grill, with a stack of three or four local newspapers and the omnipresent sketchbook. Then it's off to the deserted docks: stare out at the ocean, feel the wind, hear the waves, watch the birds. Next stop is the public library: ensconcing myself at the end of a massive, ancient and well-worn wooden table in the reading room, seated in an antique oak and leather throne that is conveniently situated by enormous windows letting in a patch of sunlight. With the contents of the man-purse emptied out - pencil, eraser, favorite pen, iPod and scrap paper - I'll spend the next few hours trolling the stacks and periodical sections. This is analogous to chumming the waters, a period of open-ended free-association... often confused with "farting around."
Rewrites and redraws often yield new material (my new term for idly flipping through the mulch-pile of a sketchbook is administering CPR... "cartoon pun resuscitation") as does staring off into space working on the "Jacob's Ladder" of inspiration.

Lastly it's back to the drawing board... catch anything?

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