Tag Archive: Art Psychology


While debating which of seven different character design variations to choose today, I came to a pretty big realization. It’s actually something so simple and basic that it prompts a “no duh” response.

To work faster, you need to make decisions faster.

It’s as simple as that.

Ask yourself this: what stage of work are you slowest at? I’ll just about guarantee whatever stage you’re slowest at isn’t actually the most labor intensive, but the stage you take the longest to make a decision on. Could be anything– plot, script, character design, location design, page layout, figure drawing, expressions, rendering, inking, lettering, coloring — but on one (or many) of those stages you AGONIZE over what direction to go.

Maybe it’s choosing between three possible panel layouts. Or two different color palettes for the scene. For me, it’s definitely sorting through endless character design possibilities. Should I use this body type on this character or save it for the cool guy in issue two? Who gets this sweet haircut, the girlfriend or the tv show hostess? The amount of decision making that goes into a character design, just bogs me down.

It reminds me of some advice Joe Kubert gave me when I asked him about drawing faster. At first he said the answer to drawing faster was to just force yourself to draw faster. Typical Joe Kubert answer! Thankfully he went on to elaborate a little and basically said that you force yourself to get into the habit of drawing faster. He forced himself to draw faster, setting limits on how long he’d work on something, which in turn forced him to make decisions faster. And the more he pushed himself to make decisions faster, the faster the decision making process became.

It’s much easier said than done, but I’m hoping now that I’m more conscious of it, when I start to get bogged down on a certain stage, I can realize I just need to evaluate things, make a decision and get on with it.

Want to work faster?

Sit your butt in the chair and make some decisions.

 

“The struggle is glorious.  It is long.  And it is punishing.” — Brian Michael Bendis
“There ain’t no way but the hard way.  So get used to it.” — Airbourne

 

I was listening to an episode of the “Bendis Tapes” recently — the long Q&A interviews Brian Michael Bendis does for John Siuntres’ Word Balloon podcast (my highest recommendation) — and Bendis spoke about how tough it is for ANYONE to break into the field they really want to be in (comics or otherwise).  As Bendis was trying to break into comics, his “day job” was doing caricatures (at parties & bar mitzvahs) and a one page comic strip for The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  He kept doing both of those freelance gigs for YEARS even after he’d started getting some mainstream work.

He’d already done Jinx & Torso at Image. He’d done Sam & Twitch and Hellspawn for Todd McFarlane.  He’d done Fortune and Glory at Oni Press and launched Powers at Image.  He’d sold two film options.  And he’d started on Daredevil and Ultimate Spider-Man at Marvel.  In fact, it wasn’t until Ultimate Spider-Man #5 that he finally took the plunge and quit his day job.

No one gets to where they want to be easily.  It’s a relentlessly brutal grind.  You prepare yourself for the possibility that the struggle might take years and years.  But really, it takes years and years LONGER than the years and years you think it’ll take.

And doubt will inevitably start to creep in.  Can I REALLY do this?  Am I deluding myself??  Why will I succeed when so many talented others have failed???  Was it really THIS HARD for everyone else????

It’s difficult to answer those questions.  Well, all of those questions except for the last.  Yes.  Yes, it was THAT difficult for everyone else.  And somehow knowing that your struggle isn’t any more difficult than others who’ve succeeded gives you strength to keep fighting (maybe a little of “if they can do it, so can I”).

Bendis was 33 when he wrote his first comic for Marvel.  Joathan Hickman was 37 when he wrote his first for Marvel.  JJ Abrams was 40 when he directed his first feature film.  Brad Bird was 42 when he directed his.

You have to grind it out.  You pay your dues and prove that you’re an unstoppable force on a quest.  And if you grind it out long enough, you’ll get A shot.  It won’t be THE shot, where they hand you a set of keys to the kingdom and say, “welcome to paradise!”  It’ll most likely be the tiniest sliver of a shot.  But that’s all you need.

It takes a long time to get your shot.  But the Bendises, Hickmans, Abramses and Birds weren’t sitting around WAITING for it to fall in their lap.  They were out there busting their ass, fighting, grinding, working, improving.  They’d battled every day up until their shot, to capitalize on it when it finally presented itself.  And then when they got their shot, they fucking killed it.

You never fail if you never give up.

Brian Michael Bendis
– born August 18, 1967
– 26 when did Fire
– 27 when did Goldfish
– 29 when did Jinx
– 31 when did Torso
– 32 when did Sam & Twitch
– 33 when did Powers (April 2000)
– 33 when did Hellspawn (August 2000)
– 33 when did Ultimate Spider-Man (October 2000)
– 34 when did Daredevil
– finally became full-time comic creator!
– 38 when did New Avengers
– 38 when did House of M
– 41 when did Secret Invasion
– 43 when did The Siege

Jonathan Hickman
– born September 3, 1972
– 34 when wrote/drew did Nightly News
– 36 when wrote/drew Pax Romana
– 36 when wrote Transhuman
– 36 when wrote Red Mass for Mars
– 37 when wrote Secret Warriors
– 37 when wrote Fantastic Four
– 38 when wrote S.H.I.E.L.D.
– 39 when wrote FF (Future Foundation)

JJ Abrams
– born June 27, 1966
– 25 when wrote Regarding Henry
– 32 when wrote Armageddon
– 32 when created Felicity
– 35 when created Alias
– 38 when co-created Lost
– 40 when directed/c0-wrote Mission Impossible III
– 43 when directed Star Trek
– 45 when directed/wrote Super 8

Brad Bird
– born September 15, 1957
– 24 when worked as animator on The Fox and the Hound
– 30 when created/wrote/directed Family Dog
– 33 when directed episodes of The Simpsons
– 40 when consultant/advisor on King of the Hill
– 42 when directed/wrote The Iron Giant
– 47 when directed/wrote The Incredibles
– 50 when directed/wrote Ratatouille
– 53 when directed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Actually, as I publish this, it’s the 50th anniversary of Fantastic Four #1 being published by Marvel Comics.  That was the first of the silver-age superhero comics Marvel published, with X-Men, Spider-Man, Hulk etc. to follow.  When they co-created the Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby was 44 and Stan Lee was 38.  That was Stan’s first big hit, though Jack already had one under his belt as he’d co-created Captain America when he was 24.

Picking up where we left off last time then, my goals when planning out The Happy Samurais #1 were to try and do what the first issue of a good manga does:  introduce the world and characters, setup the status quo, introduce some story problems/conflitcts AND get across the series premise/hook.  On an even higher level, I wanted to craft a story so strong, that if someone picks up this new series from an unknown creator, they’d not only enjoy the first issue, but be compelled into picking up the ENTIRE series.

Now, that’s a damn tall order in your typical 22 page comic.

That’s why my plan was to do what I mentioned previously and go with a double-sized first issue.  Somewhere during the writing process though, that double-sized issue became a triple-sized issue and the final page count is pushing 60 pages. (Now whether a 60 page first issue is an idiotic idea or not is a discussion for another day, but I will say the whole point of making this comic is to make it exactly the way I want and fuck everything else.)

So The Happy Samurais #1 has ended up feeling somewhere in between a single issue and a trade paperback (most TPBs collect 5-6 issues, which would be 120-130 pages).  I’m used to working on 22 comics.  It’s familiar.  The finish line is always in sight and that’s a VERY comforting thing.

Doing a long form comic though presents it’s own unique set of challenges.  And I will admit that 60 pages BARELY qualify as long form –especially if compared to say, Craig Thompson’s 600+ page Habibi (which I had the privilege to read last fall).  But 60 pages is still half of a standard trade paperback and it feels radically different from a 22-pager to me.

And that brings me to the point of this post.

As I draw The Happy Samurais #1, I kinda feel like I’m only making progress on the project when I see the finished page count tally rise.  For whatever reason THAT and ONLY THAT seems to be how progress is measured (maybe because it’s the simplest quantifiable way?).  I might do six character designs, three location designs and five pages of layouts over a couple weeks, but because I didn’t add any pages to the tally, I feel like I didn’t accomplish a damn thing.

And feeling like you’re spinning you’re wheels (even though you know that’s not true) can depress the hell out of you.

One of the biggest factors in seeing things through to completion is handling the inevitable ups and downs that accompany a project that requires such a long period of work.  Day to day and hour to hour, you’ll go from believing you can slay dragons, to convinced you’re so awful that you need to find a new line of work.  For me, the surest way to feel good about myself again is to draw pages and add to that tally.

But making comics isn’t JUST drawing pages.  Well, at least for ME it’s not.  Even though finishing pages is the only way you feel like you’re getting closer to your goal, you can’t jump the gun and rush to start them.

You have to have something to say in your pages.

You have to build the pages on the foundation of your world and the story you want to tell in that world.

If you’re in too big a rush to draw the pages without laying the proper groundwork, they’ll ring empty and hollow.  You can’t just toss stuff out there.  If you want people to notice, if you want to them to give a shit, you have to world build.  And that means thinking how one character, one object, one prop, one location etc. is going to affect EVERY other thing in that world.

And to do that right takes time.

Don’t get distracted by things you WANT to draw (design that one character, setting or maybe that promo image that you’ve been dreaming about for years) and make sure they’re things you actually HAVE to draw in order to get the next page done.  That’s always a good test for me.  Do I HAVE to draw this model sheet super-tight to make the next page work?  Or can I just do it medium-tight and still have it work?  What’s the “endgame” for this piece?

The pages will come.

You’ll add to your tally.

Just keep plugging away.

Complete each step.  Move on to the next and stop worrying about how close you are to the finish line.

As discussed a few weeks ago, you’ve got to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

 

Note: click here to read a couple of Craig Thompson’s thoughts on long form comics from my time at ACA with him.

When you’re working on a particularly long project (like a 60+ page comic you’re writing, drawing and coloring), one thing that’s ALWAYS on your mind is the finish line.  You can’t wait to get all the artwork finished.  To tell the story you wanted to tell.  Then to share that story with the world.  You want to complete it so much, the finish line is all you can think about.  And that’s not a bad thing in a way — it keeps you motivated and constantly propels you forward.  The culmination of that entire journey is holding a copy of the finished comic in your hands.  That physical object becomes an avatar for the entire experience of making the project.  And you find yourself fantasizing how it feel to hold the finished product in your hands.

You can see every detail in your mind.

You’re strutting down the sidewalk to your local comic shop with “Stayin’ Alive” playing in the background.  You bust open the front door with a devastating axe-kick.  A heavenly beam of light slices through the dust and debris — bypassing the comics of Mignola, Kirkman, Risso, Moore, Millar, and Pope — and singularly illuminates YOUR comic.  As you approach it, a chorus of angelic voices begin singing and Jimi Hendrix descends from Heaven playing “Axis: Bold as Love (part 2)” — a song he wrote specifically for the release of your comic.  You grab your book off the stands and feel it crackling with energy, the sheer awesomeness coursing through your veins.  Two scantily clad maidens emerge from somewhere (I’m guessing the back-issue bins) and fall to the ground, clinging at your feet.  You raise the book to the heavens as a colossal lighting bolt strikes down on you and your comic.  You feel like a god.  You ARE a god.  And the moment of you holding YOUR comic in your hands is so monumental, so EPIC, that the ghost of Frank Frazetta appears, riding on a crimson panther. He sets up his easels to immortalize the occasion in a painting, as he does whenever an event of this magnitude unfolds in the universe.

That’s EXACTLY what I always imagine holding one of MY comics in my hands will feel like.  The reality is, I’ve never ran into a comic shop to grab my book.  Hell, I don’t think MY comic has ever even been the first comic I grabbed in the store.  I pick it up when I stumble across it in on the rack.  I might flip through a few pages of it — usually saying something like, “ehhhhhhh”.  But that’s about it.  Sure, when I get home, I’ll go over it a little closer — check the color shift, look at how it printed, see how it reads, etc.  It’s not that I don’t care or am uninterested in it.  But you think it’s going to feel AMAZING when you buy it in the shop.

And it doesn’t.

It feels exactly like buying any other comic you’re ever bought in your life

I guess I always assumed there would be this moment of victory.  A feeling of pure joy where I stood triumphant over the project.  And that moment would be when I held the printed comic in my hand.  But I was getting too caught up in the achievement of the finished product.

The printed comic.

The destination.

Then a couple years ago, I was reading The Art of UP (art book for the Pixar film) when I stumbled across this line by production designer, Ricky Nierva: “… I learned to enjoy the process of making a film as it goes.”

And suddenly it all made sense.

You have to enjoy the everyday process of making your comic.

You can’t just live for the finish line.

You have to enjoy the day-to-day process of making your comic.  The ups and downs.  The days you’re having so much fun creating that you literally get up and dance around your studio with a big grin on your face.  The days you’re drawing like a god (or John Buscema, take your pick).  The days when you hide away in your studio for 17 hours, just creating and don’t have to deal with another living soul.  The days when brilliant ideas cause you to leap right out of the chair at your drawing table with excitement.  The days when you wouldn’t change places with anyone in the world.

And the days you can’t draw worth a fuck.  The days you’re in agony over the best direction to take a page.  The days where people won’t leave you along for five fucking minutes so you can get something done.  The days you’re convinced you’re the worst artist in the history of mankind and wonder if it’s too late to just go become a short order cook.

You’ve got to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

And who knows, maybe I WILL feel something special when I hold the final printed version of The Happy Samurais #1 in my hands.  It will be the first comic I’ve ever made that’s really ME.  But I’m not gonna count on that feeling.  I’m gonna continue to enjoy the process of making the comic. Day in, day out.  And at the end, when I hold the printed comic in my hand, if I DO feel electrified, well then, that’s just a bonus.

AND, if I do feel electrified, there’s a pretty good chance I’m about to become BFFs with Hendrix and the Ghost of Frazetta, so there’s that to look forward to.


© Copyright 2002-2016 Gabe Bridwell. All rights reserved.