Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Trick? Just Do It & You Get Better

As Art & Story gains more and more listeners (for which I'm grateful), a question I get asked more often than any other is a variation on "how do you get better at this comics making thing?" And while Mark and I have tried to address this question on some past episodes, It really boils down to a simple slogan that I hope you'll forgive me for saying: Just Do It.

I'm reminded of something Merlin Mann said during his interview on Webcomics Weekly. He jokingly suggested that asking a creative type "how they did it" might be akin to asking a doctor (or any successful person outside of the creative arts) "How did you get so rich? What's the trick?" I think Mann is, deep down, too sweet a person to honestly suggest something so cynical, and I like to believe that people are, for the most part, better than that. So what is it they really want when people ask that question?

My best guess is that it's more or less a request for a small pep talk, a reminder that anyone can do this thing if they try really hard. Perhaps an anecdote from someone making strides or achieving some success will help give a beginning artist the strength to carry on in their efforts. I know I get a lot out of reading stories like the ones found in Kirby: King of Comics. Seeing an artist's progression and hearing about various "light bulb moments" can not only elaborate on the "Just Do It" platitude, but it can clue beginners in on aspects of their craft that they haven't yet investigated.

It's hard to see your progression as you work day to day, and when you're just starting out it's easy to get discouraged by the work of artists you admire. But the truth is, no matter your age or skill level, if you take a creative endeavor seriously, you just get better. It takes time, but it happens.


When I drew this in 1996, I was in utter despair that I'd ever be able to draw cars.


What a difference a decade makes. By 2005, I was drawing much more convincing cars. Perfect? Not if you ask me. But certainly better than when I started.

You don't notice this progression while you're doing it, though. You have to go back years later to see the difference. Again, just doing it and plowing ahead will make that happen.

And I don't even have the page output of a Marvel or DC cartoonist. I just put any time I have towards my comics work. I just sit down and do it. All the thinking and preparing in the world won't make you any good at this thing unless you just sit down and make some pages.

Back in 1995 I wrote and illustrated four mini-comics called The Black Hole Equation. I've posted them online here. It was meant to be a fun little comic that I could belt out in an afternoon (and in some cases I did). Nothing with super-high production values or a polished story--just something to keep limber and to keep working on comics.


I posted all 4 issues online in an effort to remind beginning artists that you have to start somewhere, that we shouldn't be afraid to stink at this thing when we start out, and that there are no shortcuts or tricks. Like any skill, you just have to put in that time at the desk and crank through hundreds and hundreds of pages. Eventually you'll start to see the improvement, and by then you'll probably be so in love with the process you won't be worried so much about stinking.

It can be so much fun making comics. You can easily spoil that fun by worrying too much at the outset about getting better and finding inroads to "success". Learn to love the process of making comics first, and you're likely to get better at it and be a more successful cartoonist.

If this wasn't enough of a motivational speech for you, check out these podcasts for more:
- Art & Story 80 - The Big Beginner
- Webcomics Weekly 64 - Merlin Mann
- Chris Oatley's Artcast (any episode will do--he's a pretty inspiring guy)