Originality, the dreaded magnum opus and you

Rereading my pile of notes for past and upcoming blog entries – harshly disagreeing with you from weeks ago is a hilarious thing and it is a thing indeed! What has happened? As mentioned in the last blogpost, the lasting pressure to succeed is gone like a migraine. There is no need to beat myself up over things, insecurities are at bay. There is no need to become so dense about achieving that you start making stupid mistakes because you can’t even see what’s right before you anymore.

What happened? Amongst other things, I made an important discovery. I learned that everything I could hope to do in and with my creations has been done in one form or the other already. After all, works and ideas that inspire me, already exist and will also inspire others! And more works will be created with the potential to inspire future creators. Of course, there aren’t ever 1:1 matches that would make you creating your own version obsolete. There is always room for your version in your voice. But if I die tomorrow, nothing is truly lost. In the most optimistic case, one or two good original ideas I could have in my lifetime would die with me, and a creator voice vanishes in the big choir that doesn’t even sing together. But mostly, it would not affect culture in any way. I’d still feel sorry for my characters who can’t write their stories themselves, but the ideas underlying the characters do not die. They can return in other forms.

This is not self-defeating, on the contrary. Imagine the pressure you are under if you believe you are the chosen one and your future creations are so important that your premature death means the death of something new, that never was before and never will be if you – and only you – aren’t there to create it. In a way, there is some truth in that. You cannot be replicated. But creating something on a cosmic level of originality… these are expectations you cannot possibly fulfill, even if you are objectively good at your craft. At least you can’t force it.

I felt huge relief when I saw everything is safe. I still intend of having a lifetime full of creative endeavors, telling my stories and living life. Even if I fail, I cannot fail so hard an idea or a whole culture dies. I’m free. I am free to create whatever pleases me and I’m free to enjoy it no matter what I believe it’s value is. I had the looming shadow of an anticipated magnum opus over me that kept me from fully enjoying doing the smaller things. A magnum opus is a defining creative work a successful creator is mostly known for. Of course, if you yourself would know what that work is, why would you want to work on anything else? Most decide to wait to work on it for a couple of years, get good first or worse, wait until they feel ready which will never happen. The thing is, you as the creator do not get to decide what work of yours is the most popular one. Your audience and your audience alone makes that decision. So don’t worry about it and create your things, treating them equal and allowing yourself to enjoy them equally. What the dream of a magnum opus is good for on the other hand is bringing you through the difficult years in the beginning where you have to build up your skills from zero. Having a big dream definitely helps to deal with the frustrations of skill and ambitions never matching. You just have to be ready to let go off of the dream later when it doesn’t serve you anymore. And I’m not talking about giving it up. Imagine a situation where you as a child decide what you want to make and how you want to make it and how it is supposed to be. Later, as an adult, you have learned that things actually don’t work this way in reality, you know your craft and your personal limitations and your flawless work from back then actually has some brutal flaws that would keep it from becoming an enjoyable experience for people that aren’t you. Wouldn’t you want to adapt it? Wouldn’t it be an act of love to undo the magnum opus status of your own creation so that you can properly challenge and improve all aspects of it? And what if you have created things that are clearly better in the meantime? How would you deal with that emotionally?

I am lucky Street Prey(SPREY) was never meant as my magnum opus. Actually, it was a quick idea from a subway ride somewhere in 2011. SPREY just ended up as the thing that made it through and that I’m making right now. And I can take the unhealthy pressure out of that, too. There is no need to rush anymore. I have been and I am deeply in love with SPREY, every day, every working session I spend with it. I guess I will look back on this time and say SPREY was the project I figured a lot of things out with. SPREY that killed my future and gave me one.

Sketching Comics – My lessons

Currently, more things are happening at a faster pace than I can document them.

I’m in the second week of working on chapter 3 of my Street Prey (SPREY) comic – so how did it go?

I am grateful every moment that it worked. It is as if I never had left, my brain and body have accepted the daily comic panel back without much resistance. Some of the pages do put a good fight up, but I have worked my way through all of them so far, no matter what storytelling or art problems to solve they have thrown at me. A lot of woes I had in the previous chapter did not cross over to this one. I know at least a bit what I’m doing when it comes to backgrounds and environments now, a multi panel layout doesn’t overwhelm me anymore and my linework is worlds better (but still there’s room upwards).

The retro frame was a victim of circumstances. It had to go to make experimenting with several panels on a daily square possible. Also, to Styx from now the frames around the panels might have been a bit garish and distracting from the comic itself. JUST A BIT. But I’m sure the wildness isn’t gone, it’s now in the story itself and will resurface in time.

And now for the main lessons of the chapter so far.

My work on a page starts with loose sketches.

  1. I do not have to invent pages from nothing. My story dictates what must happen next.
  2. A great question to determine whether a panel is any good: Does it advance the story? If not, does it at least tell me something about the characters or their relationship? When in doubt, go for the thing that drives the story forward.

    And specific questions for my way of doing things with a daily deadline: Have I given my reader something worth coming back for today? A new development, an interesting detail, a sort of mini cliffhanger where it is uncertain what direction the situation will take from here, and I’m not done exploring all possibilities yet.
  3. Feeling confident when making page layouts comes from practical experience, it builds by sketching and drawing pages. Learn making comics by making comics.
  4. Always sketch and write your ideas down, don’t just think them.
  • Reason 1: Otherwise you will not know whether the idea actually holds up. Sometimes a page layout that looked brilliant in my head just doesn’t look any good on my actual canvas. Sometimes things just do not translate well out of your head. You either let go or find ways to adapt the idea and make it work.
  • Reason 2: Fail and succeed faster. If it doesn’t hold up as a sketch already, guess what, putting hours in to render it out will not make it better. So solve the biggest problems a panel, piece of artwork or anything you can pack into thumbnail has in small, simple and easy to iterate on sketch drawings. Go through everything that doesn’t work and you’re arriving at something that does work faster.
  • Reason 3: Helps you to actually create. Now hear me out. In our head things often appear flawless, beautiful, unachievable, but oftentimes quite vague at the same time.

    Think of one of the great ideas for an art piece that has been haunting you for a while and still rests in your head. Would you know what you want to draw in every detail, how it should look and feel like and how to draw it from start to finish? And if so, why haven’t you drawn it yet? Usually, you will not have all the answers already when you sit down to work on a piece.

It is okay when you cannot envision something 100% before you draw or write or say it.

You do not have to. Most often getting active and at least thumbnailing will help you understand more about what an idea you have and how it looks in detail. And what doesn’t work about it and what to change. Creating an art piece IS figuring it out. You are luring a nebulous vision out of your head and making it concrete. Remember my “perfect” page layout that I can only test if I actually sketch it down and see how it would look in reality. Drawing it, giving it a form, will entail loss, as when you draw something a certain way, you decide against many other options you would have had of drawing it. But what is your idea worth when it lingers in your head as that great, flawless something that is awesome to dream about, all it’s potential untouched and available… but it has no visible form at all that you could enjoy yourself or show anybody? How do you know it’s good when it isn’t there and you never actually made it?

So: make your sketches.

I hope this helps!
See you next blog entry!

100 Days of SPREY – 61

There must be a reason why I’m uploading a winter holiday piece in February. I better have a pretty good reason!

I started this piece in December. It looked like this and then I didn’t touch it again:

I was in severe creative crisis mode. I hated everything I did, I was very insecure, especially about how I drew my characters, I hated my inability to create any sensible environment, yet I somehow pushed through the rest of this stretch of chapter 2 of the comic in January and then just collapsed. Not literally, but in my head a door closed, daily comic work was suddenly out of the question. Maybe a reaction like not putting weight on an injured leg.

My will to brush it off and continue was there, a nagging voice in the back of my head to not risk any hiatus, but everything else just intuitively went out into the world to see and try new things and let the overstrained comic muscles heal. Time heals that. And now the period of healing is coming to an end as I finally could finish the christmas piece today in one go. It did not hurt. The enthusiasm for SPREY was back and then some.

In hindsight and only in hindsight this break was the absolute right call. I experienced and learned so so much. I just wish it was somehow less chaotic and didn’t let the readers hang in the air. But I must have been in such a bad shape in January that I wasn’t really capable of doing anything elegant about that. I want to go back into SPREY and finish it with passion. The smallest scope is big enough if burning love can flow into it!

But of course, I can’t have that without obstacles. The decisions of old me led to a situation where I have to finish other tasks first before I can jump back into SPREY with full force. This doesn’t mean that I can’t do anything, it is just an interesting dance to get anything meaningful done. I would love to say I can allocate a reliable time and workload to SPREY within two weeks. I don’t want to go back to the daily upload schedule. Not because I can’t pull it off, but because I think I will not deliver my best work this way. The daily upload scheme leaves little room for editing. My friend Shellpresto (I’m so grateful, thank you so much!) suggested a weekly upload of about 7 panels and I’m starting to like the idea. A lot. Maybe it’s even time to go for comic…pages as I know a lot more about layout and design than even a couple of weeks ago now. Just an idea.

I’ll start by reviewing the new script tomorrow. I feel like my first draft will break under the first stress test like a dry tree twig. The true massacre will not happen in the comic itself but when I try to cut the script down. I tend to want too much, more than the essence of the story would require.

See you next blogpost!

100 Days of SPREY – 57, 58

This week turned out to be both amazing and absolutely terrifying, pushing me outside of my personal comfort zone in so many ways. My original plan was to dedicate the week to doing concept work for my own comic and start uploading a daily panel beginning next week as we are used to by now. But now I am confronted with a uniquely new situation. I made the jump and signed my first freelance contract as a 2D concept artist.

The first client is the hardest to get, the second client the second hardest one, and so on, so that step is huge no matter what scope the actual project has.

Now at least for the time of the gig I have new responsibilities that clash with the wish to keep working on my comic and general drawing exercises in the same way I was working before. What is more, while going into overdrive with research and focussed work to do my best for the gig I‘m realizing how inefficient my ways were. And I‘m shocked how bad my past art actually is. On the one hand, I was incredibly delusional. On the other hand, the delusion kept me believing I could become a professional artist one day and made me work hard to get there. I just failed to understand why the world didn‘t see my greatness. Now I understand. And it‘s okay. That all is a thing of the past now.

I have finally reached a level where I‘m employable. And now that there is no delusion clouding my perception anymore, I have the chance to actually see my strengths and weaknesses in a balanced way and get really good. I even discovered a direction that I can go with achievable goals on the way there. I will go videogame prop design. I still believe in myself as a great storyteller and I believe in Street Prey, but I also need an income. Street Prey as it is right now cannot provide that and will need much more work until it has reached a level of quality that attracts an audience. I will of course do the work, but I need to adjust my efforts in a way that I don‘t starve on the road. That too is a prerequisite to do your personal work well. I know I can learn a lot working in the art industry. A lot that will help Street Prey and any other personal work in the future.

I need some time to sort my things now and I can‘t make a prediction how long it will take. Not because I do not want to commit, but because that is the first time I am in a situation like this. So thank you for your patience and see you next blog entry!