Make Comics Forever!!

Make Comics Forever is a forum for cartoonists dedicated to improving their productivity. This is not a forum for wimps! This is not a forum for flakes! We are here to share tips and techniques on how to produce more work and better work. Become a comic-making machine! Join the discussion now! To become a member, email a request to robyn @ un-pop.com

Monday, October 31, 2005

What Works

Sorry to make the comparison again, but here goes - Alcoholics Anonymous was started by alcoholics. And that how it is with Make Comics Forever. I started this group because I have problems - with productivity and discipline.
I've been thinking a lot about what I need to do to become a more capable cartoonist. I've learned some activities are helpful and some are detrimental. I'm trying to keep a running tab.

WHAT WORKS (for me)
1. Keep a record, make lists (like this one), WRITE IT DOWN. When I feel discouraged or frustrated, I write in my journal. It helps me MAKE SENSE of things. I want to improve. Writing is a tool I can use to understand my problems and propose solutions. It also acts as a RECORD. I can't keep this all in my head.

2. Act from a place of INSPIRATION, NOT GUILT. Guilt can be a motivator, but not a very constructive one. Guilt feeds guilt, and in the end, it can incapacitate you.

3. WRITE IN ALLCAPS when you need to.

4. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Maybe that's what the Higher Power talk in AA is really all about. I've felt my most productive times to be when I'm working on a project that's important (like CCS.)

5. A little help from my friends. Cartooning is such an isolating activity, I find I need the kinship and support of friends and colleagues. Last week Alec Longstreth and Aaron Renier visited CCS. Drawing with them I felt encouraged and productive.
IT'S EASY TO GIVE UP WHEN NO ONE'S LOOKING. Develop a chain of support. Should we start Make Comics Forever sponsors (like AA?)

6. Work within structure. GIVE YOURSELF DEADLINES. Develop a schedule. You don't have to go hardcore Longstreth style, you're allowed to be flexible. Find out what works for you.

7. Strike while the iron is hot! When you are inspired, when an idea is fresh, work NOW. Write it down in your journal. This is especially important to me. I'm forgetful, I can't trust myself to remember anything. I've made a rule for myself - act when the idea is in your head, or you will forget it.

8. DON'T STOP. I played the flute in 6th grade (I was awful, btw.) I remember when I'd flub up some part of music, I wanted to stop and start over. My music teacher always encouraged me to play through. Then try it again and do it right. This isn't always the right advice, but it can keep you from getting road blocked.

9. When all else fails, STOP. Get out of the house, listen to some music, do the dishes. Take a break. Come back and do more comics.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Music to make comics by

In the Space thread someone mentioned their music being a part of their workspace.

Whenever I make comics music has to be around, and it needs to be in the theme of the project. Most of the time I'll actually arrange an MP3 list or collect together a bunch of CDs, just so I can have that constant flow of music. Having more the one set CD helps when the scene changes, so that I can keep the soundtrack idea going.

Lots of southern rock went in to making "The Passenger". The Toadies, the Burden Brothers, Mike Ness' Solitaire album...

Anyone else? What music do you usually listen to when making comics?

I'm Mal by the way.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Space.

A veritable treasure for most of us. I used to dream (still do) of one day having my own studio workspace that was grand and spacious, able to house easels, desks, drawing tables, computers, etc. Let's face it, a decent space to work in is a luxury for many of us, especially if living in a large expensive urban environment like New York City. After getting married and getting ready for a baby, it became even more difficult for me to make a workspace that was functional, and yet provided a relaxed and inviting environment to work in. Even if all you have is a small corner of a small apartment, its possible to make a workspace that invites you to sit down and be productive. This little setup, although small has provided me with one of the best and most utilized workspaces I've had in a long while. Everything I essentially need is close at hand. Its a meager example compared to many others I have seen, but it works for me. I'm curious about your own workspaces. What sort of environment do you strive to create that promotes productivity?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Cartoonist Groups - Pros and Cons

Hope's "Don't Go It Alone" post got me thinking about cartoonist groups, and the benefits (and detriments) of working within a group. I am a member of Artists With Problems, a Brooklyn based cartoonist group that meets weekly for cartooning parties / drawing sessions. When I lived in New York, my AWP meetings became an important part of my week, and I think the group really helped me grow as a cartoonist.

First, some tips when starting a cartoonist group.

1. Decide what kind of group you want create, before you start. A casual jam comic group, a goal driven collective, a team distro, etc? AWP is a small, members only, goal driven group of peers and friends who benefit socially and artistically from working together. We are focused on our individual projects and do not do jams. For us, this works.

2. Give your group a name. Give your group the right name! Names are so important.

3. Pick a time to meet and be diligent at keeping these meetings. This biggest challenge AWP had in the early days was getting people to attend regularly. But after being diligent for a few months, our Tuesday meeting became a permanent fixture on our week.

4. Pick an appropriate place to meet. In the begining AWP met at cafes. It was always a challenge to find a space with adequate table and light, and that was open during the hours we wanted to meet. Now we rotate between members' apartments. It's challenging to fit 10 cartoonist in your standard Brooklyn apartment. My suggestion: bring a drawing board!

4. Make sure the members of your group are people you like and respect. The whole point of a cartooning group is destroyed if the scene is made awkward our disruptive by incompatible people.

5. Bring snacks, wine, music, anything to make the experience fun without being distractive. Keeping a balance between being social and being productive is one of the greatest challenges of drawing groups.

The pros and cons of working in a group:

Pro: By making drawing events social events, they become more fun and less of a chore.
Con: Drawing in a group, outside your ordinary working space, can be a challenge. In all honestly, 3 hours of drawing with a group of friends is a lot less productive than 3 hours of drawing at home. But cartoonist groups have a benefit far beyond page count. Cartooning is a lonely art form, and working in a group can provide support and encouragement.

Pro: Drawing with a group of peers whose work you respect will challenge you.
Con: Drawing within a group might also make you feel inferior and discouraged. This is why your members should be friends as well as peers. You should feel comfortable with them, not intimidated.

Pro: Working within a group has many practical benefits. You can share tables and hotel rooms at cons, you can share websites, you the cost of art supplies, etc.

Pro: Cartoonist groups offer a great opportunity to share knowledge and experience. Cartoonists have a lot to teach each other.

Give cartoonist groups a try! And, to once again borrow from the wisdom of AA: "Keep Coming Back! It Works When You Work It!"

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Don't Go It Alone

Drawing comics--especially comics for print, which no one will see for months or years--can be isolating. When I started working on my first longer story, I knew my biggest challenge would be to motivate myself in a vacuum. Here are a few ways I've dealt with the solitude of drawing, and made it a little more social.

1) CONSCRIPT AN AUDIENCE

When I start to draw a book, I recruit several friends (anyone with whom I'm comfortable sharing rough work) and give them access to a special web directory. Every few days I upload new pages into this directory, my audience reads through it, and occasionally I'll get feedback. The important thing is for me to feel like I'm drawing for someone other than myself, like someone is waiting with bated breath for the next chunk of pages. In the absence of an involved comics editor, this system works for me.

2) SHARE YOUR STUDIO

I've shared studio space with my husband since last year, and it's definitely helped increase my productivity. If Mal's cranking out page after page next to me, I'm more likely to get to work, and having someone around to see me slack off helps keep me from donig so. He's also great for feedback if I can't get a panel to work, or if I need someone to photograph me while I pose for reference.

If you don't live with an artist, think about renting studio space and sharing it with another cartoonist, or even an illustrator or fine artist. If you're a full-time cartoonist or freelance this makes sense, because you'll be separating yourself from the distractions of working from home.

3) FIND A COMMUNITY

Without the support of cartoonists I've met on the internet, there is no way I'd be drawing comics today. Get to know the locals! Join Livejournal, an important networking tool, and "friend" everyone you know--plus anyone you admire. This is a great way to get instant feedback on your work, and the site allows you to control who sees what you post, so it's more private than asking for crits on a message board. Join or browse a couple message boards, too; you'll probably run into board members again online, or in person at conventions. Of course, the trick is not to let these sites turn into time-wasters.

If you're more interested in meeting cartoonists in your area, consider joining (or forming) a cartooning group. It may not always be intellectually stimulating, but at least you'll get to meet others who care about the minutiae of pen nibs or the properties of different brands of ink.

4) GO TO CONS

They're expensive, but they're important. In addition to meeting your peers and fans, and getting your work into the hands of publishers, you'll come home inspired, energized and ready to DRAW. Seeing how many other people are toiling away out there, drawing in their bedrooms and on their lunch breaks, scamming copies and screenprinting covers in their basements, makes coming home to another blank page a lot less lonely.

Good luck! :D

Saturday, October 08, 2005

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…

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Fail Better

Hi. For those of you who don't know me, my name is K. Thor Jensen. I've been drawing comics professionally since I was 17. I just finished my first graphic novel, Red Eye, Black Eye, which is currently making the rounds of publishers and should be out early next year.

I want to talk about failures and fuckups here. We all make mistakes - part of being a fallible human being is recognizing and learning from them. I'm not talking about slips of the nib or clunky lines of dialogue later whited-out and replaced, I'm more concerned with greater conceptual failures - those genius ideas that wither on the vine or in the sketchbook to never see completion. Here's a few of mine - giant monster porno comic, chinese detective story, all-ages adventure book. Or the completed things that never find a home due to rejection, the publisher going out of business, or other circumstances beyond your control. Or the stuff that comes out and looks awful for one reason or another. I am almost manaically productive, so I have a lot of this to deal with.

What do you do with these? How can you redeem all this wasted work? First, you need to figure out why the work was wasted in the first place, and then put together a plan for getting something valuable out of it after all.

PROBLEM

1) REJECTED. Sometimes you just don't hit the target, for one reason or another. I got rejected from the SPX anthology this year (I get rejected every year, really). Five pages down the proverbial drain. And with most publishers, you'll never know why.

SOLUTIONS

1) LIBRARY FILE. This has been a godsend for me. Something doesn't find the home you wanted for it? Keep it in the "library file" and use it for something else. Use it for a mini-comic or send it to another anthology that might be a step below its intended home, just get it out there. It's work, you did it, other people should see it. Don't obsess over finding a place for it, but don't be shy to pawn off your rejects on people. They'll never know.

2) GET BETTER. Well, duh. But there's a lot of aspects to this. When the book comes out, look at the contents. See if you can imply an aesthetic to the editor's decisions and then really evaluate if your work fits into that aesthetic. If it doesn't, you have a decision to make: alter your work so that it does or write the editor off. You're not going to make somebody change their mind about your work by giving them the same things over and over. If it's important to you, don't be afraid to throw some curveballs in.

PROBLEM

2) LOST ENTHUSIASM. This happens to every single cartoonist I have ever known in my life. You'll get into a project, roar through the first three or nine or twenty pages, and then it stops being fun for you and everything just looks dead on the page. This can happen in any stage of the work - from plotting to inking.

SOLUTIONS

1) SCHEDULE. This works better in the later stages of a project, but can be helpful any time. In the impossibly low-stakes world of alternative comics, there's really not a lot of pressure to get your work done on time, because only a couple hundred people really give a shit in the first place. So the decision to let something slack off is hard to break. That's where a schedule can help. I'm not suggesting you go full Longstreth on the bitch, but try to make "drawing" a part of your routine like "bathing" and "brushing your teeth." Those are parts of your routine, right?

2) MIX IT UP. Yes, this contradicts #1, but what can you do? If you're not enjoying the work, do it someplace else, or sometime else. I often find that just taking it outside, to a park if it's nice or a coffee shop or bar if it isn't can work wonders. Being in your drawing space can be very claustrophobic and insular. In public, you can watch people, be exposed to other influences, and still get work done. If you do this, decide what kind of work you want to do before you go. I ink in public but I'm insane. I recommend doing drafts, ruling panel and page borders (I do this on the subway), erasing pencils, et cetera. The second part to this is do something else on the side that doesn't share the aspects of the project that is frustrating you. I've been working on a very tight, precise, full-color project for a few weeks now. To blow off steam from that, I draw Northern Robutussin Comics as loosey-goosey as possible, just for my own amusement.

3) PUT IT DOWN. Sometimes you just need to walk away from something. Maybe you're not ready to do it yet - maybe you don't have the skills. I abandoned the chinese detective story because I couldn't draw cars well enough. It's perfectly reasonable to admit that you can't do something right now, and instead of beating your head against it, you can take some time and learn what you need to learn while pursuing other work and come back to it later, whether it be days, months or years.

PROBLEM

3) POST-PUBLISH DEPRESSION. So something you drew came out and it looks like shit. You're hyper-aware of all the fuckups and ink flubs and poor choices and it's all you can see. The work is ruined for you. You want to go beat your head on the railroad tracks until it goes away. Don't front like you don't feel this way, douche. I know you do.

SOLUTIONS

1) PUT IT DOWN. Seriously, don't look at anything you have put out too much, because the longer you do the more you're going to freak out over. Put it on the shelf for a few months and come back to it with a clear eye. Realize what point you were at in your development and what the work says about you at that point.

2) LEARN YOUR LESSON. What didn't work? Why were mistakes made? What can be attributed to stylistic choices and what was other factors (time, impatience, environment, intoxication). How important was this work to you? Does that reflect in the quality of the work? What from this are you going to bring to your next project and what are you going to leave behind? Ask questions of yourself and your work - all aspects of it. Break it down into individual components - is this story well-written? Well paced? Well laid out? Well designed? Well penciled? Well inked? Find where things broke down to make you dissatisfied with the work as a whole and you'll know what to put more time into next round.

3) TEAR THE PAGES OUT OF THE BOOK AND BURN THEM. For advanced cartoonists only.

A failure can be just as valuable to an artist as a success, if you have the right perspective on it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

"THE SCHEDULE"

Alec Longstreth here. All of the following will eventually be compiled into a mini-comic I'm planning called "GET TO WORK / TAKE A BREAK!" and includes some of my theories about drawing Comics. I apologize for the horrendous length of this post, but there is some valuable information burried in here!

I draw comics REALLY SLOWLY. Most of my pages usually consume an average of about 40-80 hours of work. For a long time I just "worked as hard as I could" which, when I drew all day, usually ended up something like this:
--Wake up whenever I wake up (10am?) and start drawing
--Keep drawing until I got REALLY tired/hungry (2pm?)
--Eat lunch, get distracted by something else (movies, email, friends, etc.) and then start feeling really guilty that I wasn't working on my comic
--Force myself to sit back down and draw, pushing myself even though I wasn't really into it (IE, NOT doing good focused work!) My mind wandering somewhere else
--And then REPEAT. Get distracted, feel guilty, force myself to sit down, not into it until I I would finally just GIVE UP for the night

I suspect the maximum output I could draw in this way is MAYBE 6 hours a day. And there's no way I could sustain it for more than a few days (if I could GET a few days to draw).

The past 5 summers though I have worked in the University of Washington scene shop as a scenic carpenter/welder. And they work 10 hour days. Over the past 20 years, the boss, Alan Weldin, has continuously refined the work schedule, until at this point it is almost FLAWLESS. The concept is simple: Start with the largest block of WORK. Then have the shortest BREAK. Then, as the day progresses, DECREASE the size of the WORK blocks and INCREASE the size of the BREAKS. It sounds simple, but it really is an amazing concept, when applied to Comics.

When I moved to Portland, I had some savings, plus I was totally unemployed. It took me FOUR MONTHS until I found steady employment so for that entire four months, seven days a week I drew TEN HOURS A DAY using "THE SCHEDULE" totally completing PHASE 7 #004 ( @ 40 hours per page). It breaks down like this:
THE SCHEDULE

8am-Noon DRAW
Noon-1pm BREAK (lunch)
1pm-3pm DRAW
3pm-5pm BREAK
5pm-7pm DRAW
7pm-10pm DRAW (dinner + movie / friends)
10pm-midnight DRAW

Just giving myself the STRUCTURE of a schedule totally revolutionized my work habits. Now, in the morning, in that first killer 4-hour stretch, when I would start getting burned out I would be able to think "Yes, I'm tired, but in another half hour I can take a BREAK! Hmmm... what am I going to have for lunch?" THE KEY with "The Schedule" is that when you are on break, you are NOT ALLOWED TO WORK!!! If you work on your Comics during your break you will be totally burned out when you sit back down to work! DO NOT WORK ON YOUR BREAKS!!! It is your chance to read or see your friends or talk on the phone or eat or whatever! But keep an eye on the clock! When it's time to draw--GO DRAW!!!

This also really helped my non-Comics friends understand the time commitments involved with Comics. Whereas before they would bug me to go do something and I would say, "I need to draw" and they would say "but you're ALWAYS drawing!" I could now say, "I can hang out at 7pm on my dinner break" and we would go eat or see a movie and then I'd just have to be home by 10pm to get in my last two hours. Also the afternoon break was good for running errands (laundry, groceries, post office, etc.)

"THE SCHEDULE" in its original iteration has a 10:6 work-to-break ratio. That is A LOT of drawing. As I gained more commitments and started working again, etc. etc. 6 hours was often not enough time to do everything I needed to do (especially if I stuck to The Schedule on weekends). So I developed a few 8:8 work-to-break ratio schedules, because really, getting EIGHT HOURS of drawing in is still pretty good! These really provided a lot of flexibility for various situations (needing to sleep in, needing to get all the drawing done early on in the day, or all at night, etc). So I could just wake up and decide which schedule I was going to use. Here they are with the names I gave them and some of my notes:

SCHEDLUE #1 - "Book-End": Crams drawing into the MORNING and NIGHT, leaving a gigantic 7-hour chunk of time in the middle of the day.

8-noon DRAW
noon-7 BREAAAAAAAK (!!?!)
7-9 DRAW
9-10 BREAK
10-mid DRAW
SCHEDULE #2 - "Sleep-In": As the title suggests, gives you more time in the morning to sleep in. Good to use after a schedule that ends at midnight ("I'm going to bed late tonight, I'll implement a schedule tomorrow that lets me sleep in")

8-10 SLEEP
10-noon DRAW
noon-1 LUNCH
1-3 DRAW
3-7 BREAK (!!!)
7-9 DRAW
9-10 BREAK
10-mid DRAW
SCHEDULE #3 - "Night-Off": A rigourous morning schedule that allows the artist to completely stop working by 6pm.

8-noon DRAW
noon-1 LUNCH
1-3 DRAW
3-4 BREAK
4-6 DRAW
6-mid FREEEEEEE!!!
SCHEDULE #4 - "MORNING-OFF": An expiremental schedule (a reversed "Night-Off") which might be useful for morning tasks, etc. Allows the artist freedom until 2pm but then occupies the rest of the day with a pretty heavy drawing schedule.

8-2 FREEEEEEE!!!
2-6 DRAW (is this actually possible?--WORST time of day!)
6-7 DINNER
7-9 DRAW
9-10 BREAK
10-mid DRAW
SCHEDULE #5 - "EVEN-STEVEN": A mathmatically-based schedule with two-hour shifts oscillating between drawing and breaks. Good for days around the house, running errands, doing laundry, working on other projects. Allows the artist to go to sleep early. (Can easily be switched to the "reverse Even Steven" by starting with sleeping in from 8-10 and oscillating in the opposite direction!)

8-10 DRAW
10-noon BRUNCH
noon-2 DRAW
2-4 BREAK
4-6 DRAW
6-8 DINNER
8-10 DRAW
10-mid sleep!
SCHEDULE #6 - "Business-Hours": Perhaps the most balanced schedule, allowing an extra hour of sleep in the morning and a good-sized 5-hour break in the afternoon to allow the artist to visit businesses during their 9-5 hours.

9-noon DRAW
noon-1 LUNCH
1-2 DRAW
2-7 BREAK (includes dinner)
7-9 DRAW
9-10 BREAK
10-mid DRAW

I also developed one 11:5 hour work-to-break ratio schedule for a particularly hard crunch I had before moving to New York to finish off PHASE 7 #005 and get it to the printer. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS SCHEDULE EXCEPT FOR EXTREME EMERGENCIES!!! I only maintained it for three days, and most of my breaks consisted of exhausted sleep or staring at the wall, trying not to CRY. But for all the masochists out there:

SCHEDULE #7- "Hardcore": The utterly ridiculous 11-hour work day. EXTREMELY RIGOUROUS.

8-11 DRAW
11-noon LUNCH
noon-2 DRAW
2-3 BREAK
3-5 DRAW
5-7 DINNER
7-9 DRAW
9-10 BREAK
10-mid DRAW


So that's that. I've only tested these theories on MYSELF (which worked great!) and with Aaron Renier (which ALSO worked great--probably DOUBLING his productivity through the last 50 pages of Spiral-Bound). The main thing to keep in mind is that when you are in a block of WORK time, you need to be sitting drawing, NO MATTER WHAT! If you get distracted by something, block it out and remind yourself "I can do that distracting thing ON MY NEXT BREAK which is __ minutes away!" AND EQUALLY IMPORTANT when you are on your break DO NOT work on your Comics! This is NOT "being productive" or "getting more done" all it will do is suck out your energy and BURN YOU OUT for the next block of work. If you REALLY take a break on your breaks, you will sit down refreshed and energized for your next block of drawing. Remember! Drawing Comics is not a sprint--it's a MARATHON!!!

Also, I should say, that for the last year I have been living in New York, working full time as an office temp. So I have not had much of a chance to draw 10 or even 8 hours a day. But the BEDROCK PRINCIPAL of "The Schedule" still holds fast! If you come home from work and you have 5 hours until you have to go to sleep then break it down! An hour to eat, two hours to draw, an hour off and then one more hour of drawing before you go to sleep. It helps SO MUCH!!!

One last thing I should mention is MATH. YOU CANNOT BEAT THE MATH. I really think it is CRUCIAL that you chart your progress, or at the LEAST, write down on a calander each day that you complete a page. It is the only way you will be able to tell how fast you are drawing and whether or not you are improving. The more you keep track of your page rate, the more accurately you will be able to determine the completion dates of your projects and your ability to meet deadlines! If you chart your progress for a few months and you are getting 2 pages done a week CONSISTANTLY, then you will be able to very accurately project when the story will be done (assuming you know the number of pages). The Schedule and Math go hand in hand!

There are other things, but I need to save them for another post. I gotta get to bed, I've got the day off tomorrow and I want to get my 8 hours of drawing in!!!

Setting Goals and Priorities, Even When it Really Hurts

(For those of you who don't know me, my name's Mikhaela Reid and I draw a weekly political strip, Boiling Point.)

So my first question to you other cartoonists is: what are your goals and priorities, and what do you do when they conflict with each other?

If you're anything like me, you have a full-time (non-cartooning) job. Not to mention friends, family, pets and other interests competing for your precious, precious time. And there are so many comics you want to draw, sketchbooks you want to fill, and drawing and lettering and coloring techniques you want to study. You want to learn silkscreening and bookbinding skills to make pretty covers for your mini-comics, but it's hard enough to make time to draw the comics to go between those covers in the first place. So you you grit your teeth and make some painful decisions.

I used to be an even worse procrastinator than I am now, drawing a cartoon once every few months or years. But once newspapers starting paying for my weekly strip, I was forced to get my act in gear. There's a lot of room for improvement, but I'm getting there. and it always hurts to realize I can't do everything I want right this minute, but whenever I start to feel crazy and overwhelmed, I try to focus on...

    My long-term goals:
  • ARTISTIC: Draw the best weekly political comic strip I can--push the envelope, make people think, change the world, avoid doing hack work. Although someday I would like to do short stories and even a graphic novel, I don't really have time for much of that right now. (ouch! pain! hurts!)
  • BUSINESS: Make a full-time living off of cartooning/illustration. I suspect that may take up to 10 years if it ever happens at all. Patience!
  • SOCIAL: Stay sane and happy, spend time with friends/family and make time for doing the non-cartooning things I love (cooking, sewing, etc.) Unfortunately this often comes into conflict with my first two goals, but I'll save that for another post.


I assign every cartoon-related thing a priority based on balancing those goals, and I try to be as ruthless as possible and not just agree to do everything. It's not the most scientific system, but, as Robyn said, "whatever works!":

    1. THINGS I MUST DO CONSTANTLY OR FACE DIRE CONSEQUENCES
  • Draw my weekly political cartoon and email it to all my newspaper and web clients ON TIME. If this means not sleeping, not eating, drawing while near-unto-death with the flu or turning in a single-panel cartoon that I drew on typing paper during my lunch break, then so be it. If I miss a deadline, I'm toast.
  • Send out invoices, pay bills, etc. I hate doing this crap but it's key.


    2. THINGS I DO REGULARLY
  • Consume newspapers, blogs, and radio like the crazed news junkie I am.
  • Update my website with my latest cartoons. When I'm busy I sometimes don't get around to it, but no big deal.
  • Keep a running "whip" list of ideas broken into categories (political, non-political, autobiographical, etc.) in my email. So even when I'm not actually drawing all those ideas, I'm letting them percolate. SOOOO helpful.
  • Take paid illustration gigs. I don't go looking for them but I never turn them down, stress and sleeplessness or no.
  • Attend cartooning, political, and newspaper conventions. It takes lots of time/money, but this is the main way I've picked up paying clients and made good connections, and it combines socializing with cartooning, yee-ha!
  • Read other people's cartoons and comics.


    3. THINGS I DO WHENEVER I HAVE THE TIME
  • Blogging. This may sound like procrastination, but it actually helps me get cartoon ideas. When I'm crazy busy, the blog goes silent.
  • Draw in my sketchbook. In high school I'd fill 1-10 pages a day with colorful doodles and sketches from life of friends done while socializing. But I've had to scale back to keeping a bite-sized sketchbook mainly just for ideas--though I still draw from life when I remember to (which is NEVER enough).
  • Put together and sell mini-comic collections of my cartoons, usually for conventions.


    4. THINGS I REALLY REALLY WANT TO DO BUT NEVER GET AROUND TO EVER
  • Non-political comics projects--cartoons that (a) are more than 6 panels (b) actually tell a story and (c) involve characters other than Bush/Cheney. I haven't done an actual story-telling comic since I was 15. That SUCKS. Maybe being a part of "Make Comics Forever!!" can help me change this.
  • Redesign my website. Set up a much more user-friendly store to get people to buy more stuff.
  • Make T-shirts and buttons. I've been approached a number of times about making T-shirts based on my cartoons, and another political cartoonist told me he made $15,000 from T-shirt sales alone in a year, but it's just not as important as drawing comics.
  • Try to acquire more clients (sending out emails and packets). I really gotta get on that if I'm ever going to make a living off this.


    5. THINGS I USED TO AGREE TO DO BUT HAVE LEARNED NOT TO
  • Draw cartoons for worthy causes for free, even if it seems like it'll be quick. I've got a full-time dayjob, friends, family and a cat, after all--not to mention all of my own projects that I don't have time for. I do still sometimes let cool organizations use work I've already done for cheap/free, but I've stopped doing random pro-bono stuff, because I never actually get around to it, and then EVERYONE loses.


I could go on forever, but I've got a cartoon due at 8 a.m. tomorrow that I haven't started AT ALL.

So that's how I keep from overwhelming myself, usually. How about the rest of you?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"My name is Robyn, and I'm a procrastinator."

I see Make Comics Forever! as a 12 step program for the procrastinator and the productively challenged. I didn't know what the real 12 steps of AA were, so I looked 'em up:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Hmm... Maybe these steps won't work for me. I’m not big on tricking myself into believing in god, even if has results (no offence, I'm just not a believer.) But I'm interested in prayer and meditation, as long as there's no deity attached. Something to explore. Anybody who has experienced improved productivity due to faith or prayer, please add your thoughts.

Ok here's my 10 step program. What’s yours?

1. Admit you have a problem. Address the fact that you are not living up to your potential as a cartoonist.

2. Admit that you do have potential. With a little confidence and a lot of labor, you are capable of making great comics. Believe this, and be excited by it.

3. Dedicate yourself becoming more productive. Understand this means changing your behavior and initiating new work habits. Understand that this is very hard.

4. Create a master plan to improve your productivity.

5. Commit this plan to paper.

6. Share this plan with your friends and colleagues. Create an open dialogue with your colleagues about productivity and work habits. Our shared wisdom is one of our most useful tools.

7. Integrate your plan into your daily schedule.

8. Keep a regular record of how you implement your plan. Chart your productivity.

9. Assess these records and find out if your plan is working. If it is not working, create a new master plan.

10. Share your failures and successes with your colleagues.

Maybe it's a little dorky to make plans like these, but I'll do what it takes to get better!