Yesterday I posted my homework assignment from the comics class I’m taking. I mentioned that a) I haven’t drawn any comics in over a year and b) that I want to use Adobe Illustrator for my comics because it can make them look about 450,000 times better. Here’s a comic I drew with Illustrator:
I drew this to include in a presentation I gave for work. (What, you didn’t know I was sufficiently vain to draw pictures of myself and include them in a presentation? Oh. Well, yeah, I am definitely that vain.) I love how not hand-drawn that image is, even though it’s created from a drawing. Once I started playing with Illustrator, I realized that I could make my comics look “real.”
Yeah, what’s that when it’s home?
I surprised myself yesterday when I wrote that I hadn’t been drawing anything in over a year. Before saying it in my post, I had somehow not noticed that I’d stopped drawing. And at first I thought the setting aside of my pencil coincided exactly with the start of my discovery of Illustrator.
What Illustrator can do is great. I love the polish of that image. Clearly drawn by a human, not a robot, but it’s … well … real. I guess what I mean when I say “real” is more like “professional.”
Hmm … Okay. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
My discovery of Illustrator will give my comics a much broader range. One of the new scripts I’ve written is about the song “Dixie.” My ideas for the images in that story are, in many places, well beyond my capacity as an artist. If I didn’t know anything about Illustrator, I never would have imagined those panels. But because I’ve had a taste of what that tool can do, I can dream up things I couldn’t in the past.
And that can only be a good thing. That can only be a thing that will make my comics better, help me express all the things I’m trying to put out in the world.
And let’s be clear: using Illustrator doesn’t mean I don’t need to draw. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who can draw freehand in Illustrator. Not me. Not even close. I will still need to draw my panels and then trace, enhance, and polish them with Illustrator.
Let’s go back to that “professional” comment. When I saw what I could do with the help of Adobe I saw my drawings as less, as not good enough. That “professional” image made me see all the flaws in my line drawings, as did creating that image from my drawing. Seeing my skills as so lacking could definitely have shut me down, at least for a bit.
But then I would have had to remember that I need my drawings as the first step to get to the polished piece. So I should have gotten out of my way and started drawing again. Should, in fact, be drawing like crazy, given the size and scope of the scripts I’m writing now. So clearly learning Illustrator isn’t really the reason I stopped drawing.
No. And, when I started to think about it, I realized that I stopped drawing more like two years ago. How did that happen?
There’s the aforementioned size and scope of these new scripts. When I went to VONA in 2014, I arrived thinking I was working on a graphic memoir, a collection of anecdotes about ways racism has reared its head in my life. Yes, there were a lot of anecdotes — in my first outline of the project, I think there were a couple dozen — but all were relatively brief in the telling (shocking for me, I know). The longest one was six pages.
Then I got to Berkeley, walked into Mat’s workshop and had my mind blown.
The brevity of my comics? Due in large part to my insistence on cramming several panels worth of story into one panel. I was going to need to expand. Dramatically.
And then the casual-sounding pronouncement from Mat that my comic wasn’t a memoir at all, but a set of graphic essays about race.
Well that certainly explained my growing frustration with the constraints of my anecdotes. There were so many places where I wanted to step out of the anecdote and talk about a larger question raised or answered by the story, but there didn’t seem to be a way to do that and still be writing memoir.
I came home from VONA and took the usual few months to process the enormity of the experience … and then a few more months … and then a few more. Yes, wrapped up in there was looking for work, getting a new job, and finding my way in it, but there was mostly the yawning maw of uncertainty: how, exactly, did one write a graphic essay? How, exactly, was I supposed to do it?
And then I finally started to figure it out, started writing scripts, started thinking I had a handle on how I could make the form work with me. That felt great … and that was the moment when I learned Illustrator and turned away from my pencil for another year.
How annoying I am. I discover this thing that I am able to do, that I really like doing … and then I poke and prod myself into believing that I can’t do it, that what I can do just doesn’t measure up.
Enough! So grateful that this class has poked and prodded me back in the other direction, has forced me to take out my pencil and get back to work. The class runs as long as the slicing challenge, so don’t be surprised if a bunch of my slices have to do with that work.
Do you throw up obstacles between yourself and things you want to be doing, things you enjoy doing? What helps you see that you’re the one blocking your path, and how do you get past those barriers?
It’s Slice of Life time! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!