Spring in Your Step

I feel like I emerge from every winter like a wild-eyed man who catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror and notices that his face is smeared with dark blood. At first he is startled and concerned, then he notices he is holding a severed and partially devoured human arm, and thinks to himself, ah, right. We do what we must to survive a Canadian winter, literally and figuratively.

Anyway. I have been letting some creative stuff slide – most notably the Sunday Night in Cinema 3 podcast and this blog – partly due to a busy stretch at work, partly due to preparing for conventions. I just spent the weekend in Saint John, New Brunswick, where I lived for nearly 20 years. It’s the kind of place where I saw someone I know immediately upon stepping out of the car. The trip had a dual purpose: a one-week-early birthday party for my son Jack, and attending a relatively new comics convention called Fog City Comic Con at the central library.

Jack and I snuck in a viewing of The Rock’s new film, Rampage, which is more fun than it has any right to be. The next day I gave him his presents (an Xbox game he wanted, a trade paperback of Star Wars comics, and Nick Offerman’s book Paddle Your Own Canoe) and took him and his friends to see Infinity War on Saturday afternoon. It was the second time for me but no less enjoyable. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it reminds me in a weird way of the last episode of The Fugitive – a huge event that had to stick the landing, and I think it did. We ate some pizza and chatted about it and the upcoming Marvel films afterward.

The next day I took my bag of tricks to the library and led a “how to make comics” session in their lovely new maker space. I also agreed to fill in on a panel about adapting other media to comics, moderated by my friend and cousin-by-marriage June. The rest of the time I relaxed at my table and chatted with a bunch of people I haven’t seen in ages, and I got a copy of a new comic book called It Came From The Public Domain that was published by a group that is developing local comics talent. It was an inspiring time and a perfect way to kick off my own convention season. It was also a pretty good dry run for the next show I’m doing, the East Coast Comics Expo in Moncton on the 19th, in terms of how I want to lay out my table. I also sold my last copy of The Insult collection, but with any luck I should have a new shipment in time for ECCE.

New Brunswick gets a lot of stick from the rest of Canada, and the last thing they need is the worst-in-two-generations flooding along the Saint John river that is happening right now.  It is supposed to start receding later this week but in the meantime, people are fighting to prevent their homes from flooding and contending with potential sewage backup and other issues. I have no doubt they’ll get through it, but in the meantime, all respect to the people of NB and the Saint John river valley in particular who are pitching in to help their neighbours.

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Responsible Couch Ownership

Greetings from Halifax, where we are in the part of winter where it snows, then rains, then freezes, then thaws, and this cycle continues. I am seated on a soon-to-be-replaced futon with Black Lightning on TV and a fat cat slumbering against my hip. The weekends are too damned short.

The futon is soon to be replaced because my dear wife and I decided to be practical with our shared Xmas gift this year, deciding at the last minute to buy a new sofa instead of a Nintendo Switch. The sofa was a special order that is due to arrive soon. I’m not sure what will become of the futon yet. In any case we are taking this opportunity to rearrange the apartment a little, get more organized and such.

This gave me a good reason to try to learn Sketchup again, and this time I think it worked. I made a simple 3D map of our living room and the furniture, grouped the planes, moved and rotated them around, learned some of the shortcut keys. I think that’s when you know you are a serious user of any graphics application- when you know the shortcut keys.

LivingRoom

My wife has been sick all week and I felt pretty low-energy myself for a couple of days, but otherwise the end of January passed without complaint. I did manage to get some penciling done one a new short comic that I hope to get done in the next week or two. The resulting mini-comic will be the first exclusive printed thing for my Patreon.

There is a fun-sounding afternoon comic convention called Fog City Comic-con, organized by the public library in my former home city of Saint John, New Brunswick. This will its second year, occurring from 11-4 on Sunday, May 6th. I was just debating with myself earlier this week about applying for a table and making the drive and so on, when someone from the library kindly invited me to attend as a guest, maybe do a panel of some kind, so I took that as a sign and said yes. Assuming all goes as planned, that will be my first con appearance for 2018. I will update the appearances page with details for that and upcoming shows as details become available. And Fog City, thanks very much for the invite!

Speaking of comics, my LCS is the wonderful, Eisner-Award-winning Strange Adventures in Halifax. They were having a prize draw where a ballot would be entered for you if you picked up your pull list promptly, and I won this month! The prize included a copy of the Marvel 75th Anniversary Omnibus, a fancy Batman figurine, and several trade paperbacks. So that was a nice surprise, and let that be a lesson to you all- if you have a pull list at a comic shop, pick your books up promptly!

That’s all I can think of to say for this week. I haven’t posted them yet but there will be updates to Faith of the Heart, The Insult, and Sunday Night in Cinema 3 later today. I also started designing a sort of welcome package thing for Patreon a few days ago, and came up with a name for a card game I’m working on. I think I will try to have some prototypes ready to sell for this spring’s shows. More on that as this month goes on. In the meantime, thanks as always for reading.

What Time Is It?

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time, something both so natural and so artificial, that we bend intentionally and that bends us. One of my favourite books is Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman; it is a collection of short vignettes about the early life of Einstein when he was a patent clerk in Vienna, and the dreams that Lightman imagines might have inspired the theory of relativity. Each of the dreams posits a scenario where time works differently than the way we are used to.

Anyway, remember how I was writing about stress last week? I was thinking about it some more and analyzing where stress comes from, for me. It often comes from the fear of being late- I am generally VERY punctual- and that could include deadlines for work or for my own projects.

When you are a self-publisher, I don’t think it makes ANY sense to create deadline related stress for yourself. We already have enough of that in our day to day lives. This is something I was especially thinking about as I fleshed out the timelines for projects I want to get done this year. Some of the tasks were viable, others would be charitably called stretch goals (64 pages of comics from me in a year? Yeah right).

Once all those deadlines and checkpoints were laid out for me, I could feel the stress wanting to rise, but thankfully the Zen side of me put a firm hand on its shoulder and invited it to sit. I decided to try a different approach for a while, one which is sometimes used as a mindfulness exercise for Buddhists. If I started to feel stressed, or paralyzed by too many choices of what I could be doing, I would simply stop, take a breath, and ask myself, what time is it?

We have many times of day, and they don’t all have hard strict limits, but they tend to have fairly regular patterns. I work Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 5 PM, for example. Some days I might not sign in until 9, or I might work a few hours late at the end of the day. But the general “work day” pattern is there. So if it’s 3PM on a Tuesday and I ask myself, what time is it? The answer is: time to work, dummy.

Those answers could come from commitments (like work), habits (running or the gym), biological need (eating, sleeping), psychological need (relaxing, recreation), and more. So there are many possible responses to “what time is it?” at any given time of the day, but I think it’s asking the question that kicks the answer into our heads, because deep down we know what we ought to be doing, if only we did not fear the prospect of doing it.

Anyway. Give it a try, if you think it would be useful for you.

What else to talk about this week? I watched a lot of Bones, which is still possibly the worst thing ever made, and yet I cannot stop. I will ride all fourteen seasons down to hell in the name of distracting my overactive brain in the afternoons at work.

I’ve been reading the latest novel by Tom Perrotta, called Mrs. Fletcher, which alternates between the point of view of an entitled white kid from the Boston suburbs and his mother who has just seen him off to college and who is coming to embrace the idea of being a MILF. Like everything Perrotta does (The Leftovers, Election) it’s a little twisted, but compelling.

I guess I could sum up what I have done this week creatively. I worked on a new print and am just about ready to start the artwork in Clip Studio. I had a cute idea for another print and sketched that out. I published two new installments of The Insult., and two new installments of Faith of the Heart, one of which is exclusively on Patreon. I reviewed some of the manuscript of 4 of a Kind, my soon to be finished novel from last year’s NaNoWriMo. And, I published the latest episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 and have applied to have it listed in the iTunes store… cross your fingers.

Lots to do, as always, but the technique I described above is helping. Hope you have a great week.

-SM

Jack Kirby, Goals, and Fear(lessness)

I had hoped to update this blog weekly for a while but it looks like I let things slide since November. Will things improve in 2018? Let’s find out.

It has been a pretty mild winter overall, apparently the least amount of snow here in Halifax in a long time. Nicole and I made it to Saint John for just under a week’s worth of holidays, with requisite (but too short) visits with friends and family.

I find myself testing the limits of my ability to process new levels of stress lately. Mostly with success. If nothing else, it has given me a chance to dust off my Buddhism, and refresh the principles that I am supposed to be using as a foundation for how I interact with the world. (That sounds grander than it actually is. For me, it’s just the importance of keeping things in perspective, and especially resisting knee-jerk fear reactions to things.)

Anyway. Stress. I feel like I am doing a decent job of going with the flow, which is a goal for me, and not getting anxious about deadlines, especially self-imposed ones. That said, I have also attempted to organize my many projects for this year so that I can jump from one to another, from relatively simple things that I can crank out frequently to more complicated things that will be one-offs. (I apologize for saying “crank out frequently,” it won’t happen again.)

Over the holidays I randomly caught an episode of the series Electric Dreams, based on Philip K. Dick’s short stories, and it made me think about his pink beam of alien(?) light, and how the world since he died feels increasingly like something he might have dreamed up. Sometimes I feel like I should go back and reread Phil’s books, and maybe one day I will. At this point I would rather catch up on the many unread books I have accumulated, plus my ever-growing list of library holds.

Speaking of books, I bought myself a bit of a present after Christmas – the omnibus edition of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, which reprints all of his series of The New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. I used to have all of the original issues of them except for Olsen but I sold them at one point years ago when I needed money. The new volume is pricey, but not compared to trying to collect the originals again, or even compared to buying trade collections. It is quite a trip to go through those stories again in linear order.

Part of the reason for that is the way that those old stories- clunky as they often are in their vernacular- are like a pair of heart paddles for someone at my age, who loves both Kirby and comics. Their energy, their imagination, and the way that they distill the man’s feelings about the art form, about young people, about war, and hope. The Anti-Life Equation that Darkeid sought could have been many things, but I always think of it in relation to fear. Kirby was fearless, and driven to keep making art that both brought him commercial success so he could take care of his family, but also pushed the boundaries of the art form where he had already tirelessly innovated by 1970.

Fear has been on my mind a lot lately. Fear of failure, fear of change, even fear of success. You would think that an old Buddhist would recognize the dangers of it more readily, but I still have to remind myself, and I still have to push myself to do some things that other people don’t even have to think about, like interacting with strangers. So, apart from the creative goals I have this year, my main personal goal is to stop allowing fear from playing a role in my day to day life. Easier said than done, of course, but I think it is achievable eventually.

 

Finding the People

Last year around this time, maybe a little later, I was thinking about how I could “level up” my creative work and complete a worthwhile challenge or two. I’m generally happy with my progress and my output in a lot of respects, but I don’t always feel like I’m good at getting things in front of the audience that would appreciate it.

So, I thought a good way to start would be to level up my publishing. I explored my options for print on demand and wound up trying CreateSpace, Amazon’s in-house solution. I was pleased with it, so I published more books, and now I have several that I can bring with me to shows or just sell online.

Now that I am planning for next year, I am excited about a few potential projects but I also want to continue trying to extend how I reach the audience. It’s been obvious to me for some time that I probably won’t ever create something that has mass appeal, like Spider-Man; but there is definitely a group of people out there who seem to like my work, and I want them to be able to access it easily. And I’d like to be able to access them easily too, to let them know first if I’m doing something I think they’ll like.

So, I think I will start a Patreon. In fact, I already have, but I haven’t activated yet while I’m still figuring out how it will work. I plan on keeping it as simple as possible, basically with a level where subscribers can access a bunch of digital exclusive stuff and another where they can access both digital stuff and periodic physical shipments of comics, little bits of art, and so on.

It’s intimidating, but I think I need to get out of the habit of assuming that people would not subscribe to such a thing. I didn’t expect them to buy as many copies of my books as they did this year either! So why not try?

Not that it’s about making money. I don’t expect to profit from a Patreon- at best it will pay for the time it takes me to make and ship patron-exclusive stuff- but having the additional “channel” of Patreon to point people to could be very useful for building and maintaining an audience and giving them a sort of virtual convention table to go to for the 48ish weeks a year that I’m not doing shows.

So, that is kind of the big effort for next year. I already have a long list of ideas for Patron-exclusive stuff to do in addition to everything else I want to do- more details as they come, including the Patreon link after it launches.

What else to talk about this week? We started a new month, so my participation in Inktober ended and my participation in National Novel Writing Month began, as it has for the last few years. I was overall quite pleased with the stuff I did for Inktober this year – some of the illustrations will definitely be included in an upcoming art book of some sort and one or two favourites might also get used as cards or prints. Again, I’ll keep you posted.

The novel this year is a comedy and a Western, something which we don’t see as much as we used to – I grew up with the “They Call Me Trinity” movies, Blazing Saddles, and so on. Not that I expect the novel to turn out to be a classic like the latter of course, but I am enjoying where it’s going so far.

As for the week coming up, it’s Remembrance Day next weekend here in Canada, which is a big deal to me and many others. Thanks to those who have served to defend their country and others from tyranny. May you never be called to action by poor commanders.

One Last Push…

2017

Hard to believe it’s almost Halloween. Last weekend was my last show of the year, the Halifax Pop Explosion Zine Fest, and I had a good time.

If you’re interested, I did manage to put together a new illustrated zine for it, an adaptation of Carmaig DeForest’s song “Hey Judas”, which was originally written as a takedown of then-President Reagan. I updated it for the current occupant of the Really White House and created some illustrations that depict what Hell would be like for Donald Trump. I decided to make it an extra challenge for myself by making the zine through 100% analog tools; it was all hand-drawn, painted and lettered. Fun, right? Anyway, there are a limited number of printed copies of the zine left – I will list it in my comics/zine store for those who want it.

As you can see in the picture for this post, there is also a new print called “Donair Trail” that borrows the design of some Nova Scotia provincial highway signs. I’m going to look into local distribution but if you are out of the HRM and would like one, you can order through InPrnt.

One of my goals for 2017, after a 2016 where I did some shows but was a bit disappointed with the results, was that I was going to upgrade the things I had to offer; I wanted to collect and publish some of my favourite older material, create and publish some new books, and work harder in general on the quality of my illustrations and prints. Overall, I feel like I have achieved those goals, so that feels good. Having the books available for sale, especially The Insult and Young & Dumb, had a positive impact on sales and generated some very welcome feedback. It was interesting and invigorating to “level up” my publishing efforts from trying to do everything myself to working with print on demand. I feel like it helped me turn a page, if you’ll pardon the pun.

There is still some older material I want to publish, most notably my old MA thesis as a monograph and my first three NaNoWriMo novels, but they all need significant editing, so if I can get those done by this time next year, that would be great. Of course I also want to get some new comics done, and illustrations, and perhaps look into listing my stuff on digital services like Comixology. I have also been thinking about a new project that would consume a good chunk of time, but I think it would be a fun challenge, so… we’ll see.

If it sounds like I am talking as if it’s the end of the year, it’s because it kind of is for me. The last few years I have been loosely planning my projects month by month, with a general plan for the entire year done in advance so that I can try to have something new to launch at the shows that I do.

But the end of the year has pretty much been the same since 2014: in October I do Inktober, a daily challenge for artists to draw something in ink every day. I’ve been doing it this year too- you can see it on my Instagram– and I think this year has been my best overall.

In November I’ve been doing National Novel Writing Month, a great way for experienced and amateur writers  to quickly knock out the first draft of a novel and raise money for school writing programs. I was able to complete the challenge on my first two tries but came up short last year due to some personal issues. I’m about to do it again for this year, so wish me luck.

December is not exactly a month off – I usually wind up doing an illustration or two for xmas presents, plus I draw custom gift tags and plan projects for the next year. Mostly I try to relax and enjoy time with family and recharge.

So, yeah; one last push for this year- NaNoWriMo- and then the holidays and snow and all that will be upon us. I’ll try to post here a little more often, especially about the new stuff as it becomes available. If you’ve made it this far, thanks as always for your support. I hope you have a great remainder of  the year. I hope we all do.

 

A Book! A Book Comes!

young_dumb_coverIt’s true! This past weekend I had the pleasure of launching a new book at the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival, a retrospective of my 25+ years making comics called Young, Dumb, and Full of Comics. It contains material dating back to 1991, including many out of print stories and mini-comics.

If you are in the Halifax area, you can get a signed copy at Strange Adventures or watch for it to roll out to some other local spots (including other Maritime cities) over the next few weeks. If not, you can order online through Amazon – see the Books page for links for the US, UK, and Canada.

Special thanks as well to my old friend Jason, who wrote the introduction, and to my wife Nicole and son Jack for their love and support. My old pals Mark Dykeman and Kari Smith are represented in the book as well. I’m really happy with how it turned out and how it makes a nice sort of time capsule of my developing years as a cartoonist. I think another reason why I’m happy about it is because it feels like a good place to close the door on the kind of comics I’ve been making and move on to some that would be more challenging to make. Maybe even some in colour (gasp!)

If you buy the book, thanks. If you can’t for whatever reason, that’s OK! Request that your library order a copy, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, tweet about it – it all helps!