Remember How it Felt
I was thinking about what I could write for this Blog. What I could write on the subject of productivity- give tips and or techniques. I’m sure that for many, if not all of you, comics were, and are, your first inspiration to draw. Instead of a list of items or methods I thought I would write a little something personal about why I do comics and what I love about them. A little insight into my experience (or as the case may be…lack of), may prove educational, and or entertaining. Perhaps neither…
When I was a kid and through my teens I was insanely obsessed with comics. I loved the Sunday comics: Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, FbofW, Garfield (I know—Shut Up!), & Calvin & Hobbes. I loved comic books: DC & Marvel –all the Superheroes, Betty & Veronica digests, etc… And on my monthly excursions to the Public Library I discovered various “Best Of” treasuries of classic comic strips that would have tremendous influence on me later for years to come: EC Segar’s Popeye (I remember reading this just months before Altman’s movie came out), Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, Al Capp’s Li’l Abner , and Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie. Nothing gripped my attention more than good cartooning. I loved it.
I was also insanely consumed with finding as many “How To” Books on cartooning that I could find. In Northern Alberta, where I lived this was a little more difficult to accomplish. One of my favorites that was given to me by a cousin when I was 13, was a book called “The Secrets of Professional Cartooning” by Ken Muse. Ken Muse drew a strip in the 60s called Wayout. I didn’t care for his strip or his drawing at all, but I loved this book! Inside it he had interviewed many, many cartoonists and asked for information on their methods of working and the tools they used. In addition to that he analyzed the work of several classic cartoonists, no longer alive, to see what they might have done and used. From this book I set out to learn how to draw cartoons as best I could. I drew obsessively and constantly, and made several good friends who did the same. I continued to collect cartooning instruction. My friends and I made our own comics, and enjoyed our creative endeavors to the Nth. I loved it and was good (I thought) at it.
As I approached my mid-teens I discovered Love and Rockets. The only reason I picked it up was because Alan ‘Swamp Thing” Moore had quoted it as being a superb comic in a monthly fan magazine interview. It was amazing, and unlike anything I had ever read in the comics. The Undergound comix scene of the 60s had not infiltrated my Conservative Canadian environment. This was all new. When I graduated High School, and was preparing for college the comics world was caught up in whole Dark Knight/Watchmen fascination. I was right in there reading those too.
Then a strange thing happened. I went to Art School and forgot about comics. I moved away from home when I was 18, and started College. It was during this stage that I totally bought into the “You Gotta Be Cool at Art School” theme. I hung out with musicians and painters, and not daring to expose myself as the true “comics geek” I was, I left it behind me, and concentrated on learning how to be an “illustrator”, which for whatever reason was more acceptable to the crowd than a comics artist. Comics were not cool, and I wanted to be cool. I wore a leather jacket, shaved my head, and I got drunk (a lot), and even laid (not so much). I graduated College in 1990.
Over the course of that summer I waited to hear back from the School of Visual Arts in New York. I had applied to attend the MFA Illustration program, following in the steps of my good friend Jeff who had gone down the year before. When I arrived in New York in August I felt all the desires to draw comics/cartoons return quite strongly. After all New York was the home of so many of the cartoonists and comics that I had loved. One of my very first illustration assignments for grad school was executed in a very “comics art” manner. It was greeted with unaminous disapproval. “Your drawing looks like a cartoon!!” they said. “Well, yeah…”. “You really need to draw better!”. I was embarrassed and humiliated. For the remainder of my term I was determined to prove myself as a draftsman and illustrator…. I did much better work (in their opinion) throughout the rest of my study there.
By strange coincidence (or so I thought) two students in the year ahead of me were working cartoonists, although they were polar opposites in terms of their methods and approach. One of them was James Sturm, whom I’m sure you all know now as the author of “The Golem’s Mighty Swing”, and as the founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies. I had heard from other students in that year that he had several run-ins with the thesis head over their disagreements as to James’ pursuing a graphic novel (at the time he was working on The Cereal Killings) as his thesis. In the end the head of the dept. granted James his request, and he continued on with full dedication to his vision. Here was a guy who knew what he loved to do, believed in it, and fought for his right to pursue his vision, despite the tremendous misgivings of the powers that be. Years later I ran into one of those same teachers at Mocca, and I asked him “What are you doing here?”. He knew full well what I meant. “I’m learning Cam. I’m learning.” I’m sure James would feel very pleased to hear that.
In the years that followed I took a job in the NY garment industry (doing Disney licensing!) as a means of obtaining a work visa. As a lark when I was 26 I started training in theater arts at night. I fell in love with the process, and as a quiet shy person, I was very pleased at how I was able to embrace this “social art” to a medium success. I continued to study and perform for the next 10 years. One of my directors (and later very good friend) passed me a note after a show saying I was the “best actor he had ever seen.” Not true, I am sure, but it was a tremendous compliment for me nonetheless. Maybe this was what I was meant to do?
Around this time, one of my painter artist friends introduced me to the Eightball comics of Dan Clowes. Stunned. Look at this! How did I miss this? A few months later I attended a screening of “Crumb”. Good God! How could I be just discovering him now? A little later I read Jimmy Corrigan. Fan! Fan for life! Later in Savannah visiting my old friend Jeff, who was a local teacher there, said to me, “Lets go see James! He’s signing comics at the store down the block.” We did, and in addition to his new work (which was fantastic) James recommended several other cartoonists to look at. It was ALL stunning to me. Comics had changed since I had known them. They were becoming a definitive literary presence. I had missed so much: Spieglman’s RAW, the whole New Wave of cartooning that had come in from the mid 80s onwards. I had a lot of reading to do… and eventually, I explored the notion that I would pick up that pen & brush and start making some comics.
In May of 2001 I wrote, produced and acted in a full length stage play called Daphne at the Abingdon Theater on 42nd and 11th. It was positively received by many, and even intrigued the interest of a few potential investors. I was very happy as I had worked on that play for more than three years. But nothing developed. Then came September 11. I was in the middle of rehearsals for another play, and living with a new girlfriend. Everything seemed to change, and would continue to do so, very rapidly.
I spent a great deal more time at home, so I started drawing. I made a seven page story that took FOREVER to make, but I did enter it into a local show of cartoonists work at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Society, and was pleased to see its acceptance… Inspired by James Kochalka and Joe Matt (another new discovery I made), I started keeping a cartoon diary, which I sent out to several people via e-mail once a week. I kept this up, and continued to work on scripts and plays when I had the time (which wasn’t often). I started going to alt comics shows like Mocca, Ape, & SPX. Through a visit with James at Mocca, I met Bob Sikoryak, and have attended several of his “Carousel”(which I love!) shows, as well as dance performances choreographed by his wife, Kriota. I started thinking about the possibilities about combining theater and comics.
Last year my very dear little sister Jodi, passed away from heart disease, and I was brought down to a gigantic emotional low. I abandoned all of my projects. I stopped the cartoon diary I had been faithfully keeping. I stopped drawing, writing, and acting studies. I couldn’t do anything. My only uplifting source was my family and some very loyal and close friends in the city. In New York, your friends can really be a second family. On my sister’s birthday I commemorated the occasion by getting a tattoo of a rose on my arm with the words “Ma Petite Soeur” inscribed above it. By coincidence my friend Dan’s friend Adam (whom he went to art-school with) ran a tattoo shop in Brooklyn. I also knew that Sophie Crumb was an apprentice there, and I knew that it would mean a great deal to me if she would do the tattoo. Thankfully she agreed and it is a truly beautiful drawing, and something I will be very happy to carry with me as a remembrance of Jodi.
Eventually I was swayed to get back to work, and what was my first choice? Comics! After meeting Robyn & Kelli at SPX last year I was prompted to make a story for True Porn 2, (which just came out-Rock!). I just finished another comics story that I’m shopping around and getting positive reaction. I have sketches and plans to adapt my stage play as a graphic novel (why not? I already have the script!), and I hope to pick up where I left off with a play that combines theater and comics craetively.
I recently got married to a very beautiful and wonderful lady. She’s a talented Opera Singer (Opera—who knew it was so good?!!) who loves to read comics (she’s an old Love & Rockets fan), and we are expecting a baby boy next month. We teased each other about naming our little boy Skeezix, and decided that would be for the dog, (if we ever get one) We’ve been braving some serious health concerns with the baby, and are pleased that it looks like she will be able to have a normal, healthy delivery here in NY.
So now, instead of calling myself an illustrator, writer, actor, or cartoonist, I think I will use the term “storyteller” (at least privately). Isn’t that what we all do? I’m very, very happy that I discovered comics again. For one thing I still get that old jolt of anticipation and delight when I pick up something new… (check out The Night Fisher by R. Kikou Johnson!). I often find myself feeling a little jealous of all the wonderful and talented young people I meet who are out now creating comics, embracing and pursuing the form with fierce dedication and talent. But in the end it fuels me to work harder and appreciate it more.
Of course I wish I had the maturity and strength of vision to have stayed with it all along (who knows what I could have accomplished in that time ?), but then again, my experiences in acting and theater have been way beyond rewarding to me. I would never give that up. Someday I hope I can merge these two passions together. You never know… Maybe I could teach “Acting and Scene Analysis for Cartoonists?” With a baby on the way, there are many new challenges ahead for me. I know that my love for comics and cartooning will always be a source of inspiration and determination. Comics were my first real passion. I’m very happy to feel that way about them again… Remember how you first felt about comics, and don’t let the past get in your way. Its never too late to make something good. That’s the best inspiration I can offer…