Category Archives: The Creative Process

Dysplasian

Some months ago I was entertaining myself during a dull class by attempting to draw East Asian faces. (For the purpose of simplicity here I am treating the different East Asian ethnicities as if they all look the same.) Here are the results of that experiment:

Are these men aZian?

It was pretty hard to do. Granted, I was working without a visual reference, and it’s not like I filled page after page with non-Asian-looking faces and wondered what the heck I was doing wrong. It was just a doodle during class. But it got me thinking about how cultures define “self” and “other” via iconography.

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud theorizes that cartoonishly-drawn characters inherently connect more to readers than realistically-drawn ones, because we tend to see others in detail more often than we see ourselves. He depicts a man and a woman facing each other, having a conversation, and he shows us what’s in their minds. When the woman listens to the man, she has a keen awareness of the details of his face – often enough to pick up on subtle, nonverbal cues. She sees a more complete or “realistic” picture of him.

Meanwhile, though, she maintains an awareness of herself; but because she cannot see herself, she has little more than a vague consciousness that her face is reacting to the conversation. This consciousness isn’t any more detailed than, say, a circle with two dots and a line in it. It’s basically a cartoon. It’s iconic abstraction. We see others as concrete; we see ourselves as abstract. And so you should relate more to Sgt. Snorkel than you do to Sgt. Rock.

It’s a theory.

Well, that may not be what he’s arguing at all, but that’s what I took away from it.

Anyway, I think the same theory can be applied to cultures as well as individuals. White Americans see the iconic representation of a face and see themselves, but it can’t be a Japanese guy because the eyes aren’t slanted enough. Japanese people look at the iconic representation of a face and see themselves, but it can’t be a White American because the mouth is too big. Or too small. Or whatever conception they have of what facially distinguishes White Americans from Japanese.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I could draw a face the way that I usually draw them and see a white guy. A Chinese kid could draw the same face and see a Chinese guy. A Latino kid could draw the same face and see a Latino guy. And so on. Only after we make modifications to our iconography does it begin to represent “the other”. That, and the line between what resembles and what caricatures, is what makes drawing different flavors of people so difficult. For a relative beginner like me, at least. I must overcome my cultural biases if I am to achieve diversity in my art!

Pretty heady stuff from five scribbled faces drawn over maybe ten minutes.

That said, after some more practice, I recently drew a face with a strong East Asian look. Although maybe it just seems that way because of the crude manga-like speed lines I threw into the background:

perhaps a member of the Yakuza

Stake your claim

The year 1996 was one of my most prolific, in terms of both songwriting and general creativity. The band I had co-founded the year before would soon add a drummer and move from a sparsely albeit inventively instrumentalized trio into a full-fledged rock ensemble. Desperate to have more songs on which I would sing, and thus not have to play any instruments, I spent the summer of ’96 in a songwriting tizzy.

My general style at the time was to think of a cool title first, and then come up with lyrics and a melody later. The lyrics would usually be strings of non sequiturs linked together only by an imagined relationship to the title of the song. The melody would often come out naturally as I was writing the words down. I was able to write many songs this way. I only had trouble finishing songs when I tried to make them about an actual subject.

(Nowadays when I write songs, which is rare, I usually think of a melody or riff first, then try to write words around it, and then spend a long time thinking about what it should be called. This is probably a more normal method of songwriting.)

I wrote Mr. Claim-the-Credit that summer. I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of WHIO-TV, where I had an internship. I had just returned from my lunch break, but still had some time left, and I didn’t want to go back inside until I absolutely had to. It was that kind of internship. And as I sat there in my turned-off car in the summer heat, the song appeared fully-formed in my head.

Sometime after that, I recorded this demo. My brother Tim is on bass, trumpet, and baritone; Chuck Hague on guitar; Brian McKinney on drums. The arrangement you hear is their collective interpretation of my melody.

Ultimately, my band decided not to add it to our playlist. I seem to remember an outright rejection of any song whose title started with “Mister”. Unwilling to compromise my title (and thus my artistic principles also), I let it go.

Mr. Claim-the-Credit [MP3, 3.8MB]

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Can’t stop the rock

I’ve just written the most offensive script I have ever written, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I have written this script with the intention of drawing it (it’s about four pages long) and submitting it to an anthology whose works are thematically linked by their questionable tastefulness. I have decided to challenge myself to meet these stringent admissions standards in order to accomplish the goals of

  1. getting my first comics work published, and more importantly
  2. drawing a complete story, which I have never done.

Naturally, it is an intimidating process. But after months of writer’s block I’ve banged out a story. It’s topical, it’s got some satirical zing, and various groups are likely to find it insulting. It may be too complicated for a novice like myself to draw, but I’m not too worried about that. The thing that I keep thinking about, which is keeping me awake, is what would happen if the thing got published. What if I got loads of hate mail from offended groups? Would any parodied celebrities come after me with lawyers? Would the subject matter turn off mainstream companies who might otherwise consider me as a writer? Would having such an object in my past affect relations with some future employer? For god’s sake, what would happen if I ran for President?

I’m jumping the gun here, thinking about this. For one, I still need to submit my script and have it be accepted. I need to successfully draw the thing by deadline, which would be a fancy trick considering school starts up in a day or two. And if my work is found publishable, I am free to use a pseudonym. And even if I don’t, hey, maybe people aren’t as easily offended as I think they are. It’s possible I’m vastly overestimating my capacity for tastelessness.

Nevertheless, all this keeps running through my head. Does this happen every time or just during the first one?

FIFTY THOUSAND PLUS

As of approximately 11:30 this evening, I have unequivocally crossed the 50,000-word mark on the novel I have been writing this month for NaNoWriMo and so it is my pleasure to announce that, according to their rules, I have successfully completed the challenge: a 50,000-word novel written between midnight on November 1 and midnight on December 1 in the year 2001. I technically have a chapter left to write, and I am certain that what I have already written will undergo substantial rewrites, as my brilliant erotic farce about the decadent lives of bored white suburban upper-middle class married people and their mentally ill children with serious skin conditions has, within the last ten thousand words I have written, devolved into sentimental pap. (As such, the new working title for the book is Sentimental Pap.) However, the NaNoWriMo challenge allows for rewrites and chapter additions later on. I am now free to finish this genius work at my leisure, have it printed up at some vanity press or other, and have it distributed to libraries and adult book stores everywhere.

    Factoids:

  • 51,049 words, including chapter titles and one character named “Mary Beth” whose name is said often
  • 94 pages at 12 point single-spaced Times New Roman – the single longest thing I’ve ever written
  • The word “fuck” appears in its various forms a total of eighty-seven times
  • Thirty-one significant characters, eleven of whom play significant roles in multiple chapters, seven of whom could be defined as “protagonists”
  • Page after page of horrible, horrible prose
    Things I will do now that I have fifty thousand words:

  • Bathe
  • Eat
  • Clean my apartment
  • Change the kitty litter
  • Catch up on world events
  • Step outside, shielding my eyes from the blinding sun
  • Drink myself into a stupor
  • Have a pee
  • Sleep

Meanwhile, rest well in the knowledge that I Have Written a Novel and You (Possibly) Have Not.

Putting in an appearance

Hello, my darlings. I have not written in a few days. I would like to say that the reason I have been away for such a long time is that I have been hard at work on my novel. You remember, the one that I’m writing for NaNoWriMo? Unfortunately, my bastard schedule continues to consume much of my time, and I am now hovering at about twenty thousand words, or about forty percent completion. It’s going to be pretty entertaining to see how screwed up I’m going to be by the end of the month, as I am already unravelling at the seams. Why, right now I have a painful ingrown hair on my inner thigh, and I just used a scissor to open up a liquidy blister on my right heel. My apartment is an absolute sty and I have no interest in reversing its deterioration. I continue to lose larger and larger amounts of hair every time I shower. My poor neglected cat has been biting me at least twice as often as usual.

And that’s a whole paragraph I could have devoted towards the novel. I hope you’re happy.

24,000 words, and I am psychopathic. But I have finally given myself a reason to use the working title Tracy Naked. ¡Pon eso en tu pipa y fúmalo!

The brain is in pain

I am at 14,000 words. Ow, my head!

uggg

All right. Still working on novel. At 11,400 words. Goal for tomorrow: 15,000. Can I do it? Don’t know. Want badly to sleep. So tired. So. Tired.

8,225 words. Goal for tomorrow: 11,000.

5000 words and on the rise

Hi. I have now written approximately 10% of my NaNoWriMo novel. Only nine more bits of text that length to go! And I’ve only got twenty-one days to finish! Let’s see. 45,000 words dived by twenty-one days equals ~2,143 words per day. Can I do it? Um, maybe.

I find that the most difficult thing about doing this is just the scope of it all. I want to get to the story already, but as length is the goal, I must write with length in mind. It does not help matters that my chapters usually find natural endings after three pages or so. There is also the not-trivial-issue of characters forgetting their motivations in the course of a few paragraphs. I should really start keeping a chart. Screw that for now, though. There’ll be time for that in December!

3000 words and counting

Let’s hear it for 4%!

At this writing, my novel approaches two thousand words, which encompasses the whole of one chapter and a sentence of the next. I have a new working title, too: Oi Godoi, or possibly Oy Gadoy, pronounced like it’s spelled. And this title, nonsensical as it may sound, will actually be in some way connected to the plot, assuming I get to that chapter. Write on!

NaNoWriMo

The website nanowrimo.com is devoted to National Novel Writing Month. They are having a contest in which entrants must write a complete 50,000 word (or 200 page) novel in the month of November. Because I am insane, I have signed up for it. I have no idea what I will write, but I am sure it will suck. And it will probably reduce the amount of time I spend posting here. Not that I ever spent that much time posting here to begin with.