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

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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.

 

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!

Adventures in Publishing

I’ve dusted off this old blog and will try to post something useful here once in a while, probably about projects that I am working on.  If you’re interested in other kinds of content, you can also enjoy my angry retweets on Twitter, reblogs of useful art tips on Tumblr, and a very infrequently updated Facebook page.

Anyway. I’ve posted before, here and there, about how I am a project-oriented artist. So much so that I keep an Access database of things I want to get done, from comics and illustrations to animations and card games. I usually have more than one thing going on at a time, for the sake of variety.

As 2016 came to a close, I realized that it had been around 25 years since I started drawing comics in earnest. Most of them were self-published at copy shops and distributed around wherever I was living at the time, and while I still have decent scans and file copies, most of them fell out of print. Sometimes I would make them available for download online as PDFs.

I thought that it might be nice to mark that 25th anniversary with a collection – something I could publish through a print on demand service, make available to actual bookstores and libraries as well as comic shops. So, I looked around at my options and decided to try Amazon’s print on demand service, CreateSpace.

Then I realized: why not bring back other stuff into print? I have also written plays, novels, tons of film reviews, and webcomics. I decided to try publishing one of my plays, An Otherworld, first. I already had the interior pages saved as a decent PDF, so all I had to do was design a cover. The entire effort took less than a day, and within a week I had copies in my hand. The quality was good, so I did another book of plays and then decided to try a collection of comics, to see how well the artwork would print.

That collection of a webcomic I did last year, The Insult, turned out very well, I think. So, I am currently dividing my time between getting that book into stores and assembling the pages for the next one, the aforementioned retrospective which will be called “Young, Dumb, and Full of Comics.” After that, probably one of the novels, and after that, a collection of film reviews and essays.

If you wind up checking any of them out, I hope you enjoy them. Watch this space for updates on their progress.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

I’ve developed a fairly decent sense of restraint in my old age. Despite my ardent love of comics I will wait until a series is collected in trade paperback, or until I can find it at the library, or obtain it from my galley service. It’s not often that I glance through a book and immediately buy it because I must own it; but this is one of those books.

I had heard good things about it, of course, which is why I picked it up from the shelf in the first place. I knew that it had something to do with Buddhism, and that it had won lots of awards last year; but I hadn’t really properly seen it. And so last night, when I should have been working on my own comics, I devoured this one instead, and am better for it.

The Nao of Brown is the story of a young woman called Nao Brown; she is half-Japanese, half-British, and lives in London with a friend who is a nurse. Nao is a graphic designer in a bit of a downswing, recently dumped by her boyfriend and sacked from the job he had gotten her. She runs into an old friend from school who offers her a job in a geeky toy store that specializes in the kind of Japanese, anime-themed merchandise that Nao loves and knows about.

Nao has a Buddhist meditation practice and other strategies to help her combat her obsessive-compulsive disorder, which causes her to imagine violent things happening to others, especially those who are smaller than her (eg., children). Perhaps that is why she falls in love with Gregory, a burly appliance repairman who knows about Buddhism and Latin; but Gregory has issues of his own.

The Nao of Brown is not a perfect book, but it is so well-realized, from script to art to design. Like Blankets, Essex County, or Fun Home, it is an accomplished auteur piece that I would readily recommend to new readers or veterans alike.

Comics by Sam Alden

Sam Alden is the real deal. I first noticed his work sometime last year, when a link to his comic Eighth Grade made the rounds. Unfortunately I don’t keep up with Tumblr as much as I should, so it was only recently that I caught up on the wealth of material he has online, including standouts like The Farmer’s Dilemma, which made its print debut at this year’s Angouleme festival.

Alden has a good command of brush and ink illustration and a fine colour sense, but what strikes me about his work is how he combines these traditional tools with the fluidity of an infinite canvas. He seems to be fascinated with the forms of the natural world and man’s (or at least his own) relationship with them. I admire his technical skill as well as his willingness to explore his emotions.

For a guy in his early 20s, Alden has built an impressive body of work with the aesthetic and approach of a fine artist who happens to make comics. I hope we get to keep him for a while.