When I tell people I work in comics, the first question they ask if I’m an illustrator. In all the years since I have started, I concocted a stock answer to this question, which I have used hundreds of times ever since.
“I just write them. I can’t draw to save my life.”
This is a semi-untruth. If someone were to come and put a gun to my head and say “Draw me a sad clown eating a bowl of cereal with the milk of his own tears or I’ll pull the trigger”, I’d put a pencil to paper and draw the least anatomically correct, flat looking, and undetailed clown possible, but I’d at least try and make it funny looking enough to keep my gray matter off of the downwind wall. I would think it would be enough to save my life because if a gunman had sense of humor enough to tell me to draw a clown eating cereal lubed with its own tears, their sense of humor was in my wheelhouse. Clearly, if I thought I absolutely couldn’t draw, I wouldn’t be centering this blog around some of the goofy crap my brain cooks up and scrawls out regularly. I may never be good enough or have the patience enough to figure out how to professionally draw a comic on my own, but maybe I’ll take that plunge some day. I’ve learned not to say “no” to almost any possibility, and in the last year, I’ve begun to take that notion to further and further extremes. My confidence in my artwork has never been huge, and even these days, it’s only slightly bigger than “never been huge”.
As a kid, drawing was something I really loved to do. My time spent in and out of hospitals made me an avid comic book reader, and I always envied the guys who got to draw them. The iconic characters, the vivid settings, the outlandish storytelling, the crazy action that the special effects of even the best of the 1980’s flicks just weren’t able to touch. All of it! That crap was better than candy to me, and I wished I could do it as well as the guys who were paid what I thought were “the big bucks” for bringing these epic stories to life. I wanted to be one of them, really badly.
My wonderful mother was nice enough to encourage, or perhaps just humor me in this endeavor. She was there stocking me to the gills with art supplies, a few cartooning lessons, and an unwavering level of support which has run strong through every other “pie in the sky” dream I’ve had ever since. Slowly, I began to hone my skills as an artist in ways that only a boy with hands so rickety that they could screw up a straight line even with the assistance of a ruler could do. I went on for a couple of years drawing crude story books and comics until I found myself under the tutelage of a rather draconian at art teacher when I reached middle school. A typical day in class would sound something like this.
“What are you drawing, Ward?”
“A picture of my dog, Michelangelo playing laser tag!”
“Your form is all wrong!”
“No! It must be done like this!”
Obviously, I’m dramatizing a bit, but you get the picture. When you’re young and you are told you’re doing it wrong pretty much every time, you can become easily discouraged. I put away my pencils and shoved that dream into a drawer next to my dream of being made an honorary Ninja Turtle and moved on to wanting to be a baseball player despite being too terrified to swing at a damn ball.
In the years that followed, I would make sporadic attempts at picking up the pencil again. In an ill-advised move, I very nearly considered drawing the entirety of my first published graphic novel , Love Buzz, all by myself. Thankfully, I realized what a horrendous idea that would’ve been and I went about seeking out artists who could do the job properly. That’s how I ended up finding Michelle and Dave for the task.
Simply put, I stopped caring. I embraced the fact that my art is nowhere near professional, but that my hands and my warped brain can sometimes communicate to come up with something so silly that people can’t help but laugh, no matter how bad it looks. I even got the wild urge to try and include a personally drawn sketch with our Zipper Club crowd funding campaign and it turned out to be one of the most popular items we sold. What’s more, it now technically makes me a “professional artist”. I chuckle to myself every time I hear the words leaving my mouth, but it’s true. I’m even thinking of including hand-drawn sketches in The Long Odds store as well as offering t-shirts of some of my more far-out drawings.
Sure, the anatomy is wonked all to hell, the coloring style is pretty strictly flat, and I still can’t draw a straight line if you had a gun to my head, but something about what I’m doing amuses people, and I’m done ignoring that. I’ve learned that if you embrace your weak points just like you would your strong ones, you’ll live a lot less stressful a life. It becomes one less thing that someone else can use as ammunition against you to make you feel small.
I had written myself off as an “artist” due to all of those experiences over the years. Fortunately, I discovered my knack for writing and telling stories as a teenager and began pursuing it with the same stubborn sense of tenacity that kept me from going crazy as a sick kid and angsty teenager. That became my creative outlet, while the art became something I had written off for a long time. Fortunately, I’m thankful for the half-joking idea I had that made me offer my own sketches through our Zipper Club IGG campaign, and even more thankful for the number of people who were awesome enough to plunk down money to actually buy some. I can’t promise the work you’ll buy will be Norman Rockwell, or even Rob Liefield, but I can promise it’ll at least elicit a light chuckle. If you’re going to do something badly, at very least, do it with style. You might have some fun in the process.