Friday, December 29, 2006

Doctors Without Borders

I love it when I profoundly want to get something very ordinary, and it shows up unexpectedly. It makes me realize God is paying attention to the little things in our hearts.

Starting a few weeks ago, I realized I deeply wanted to get an updated map of the world.

In High School we were never taught any kind of modern world history, which is a disservice to kids and the world alike. Like now I'll read the paper and I realize I really didn't know where a lot of countries in Africa and Asia were, and am disappointed when they don't place a map so we can see. From reading about the plights in many countries around the world, I realized I just wanted to know where they were even if I never visit them. Plus Nashville and our church has a lot of immigrants from places I just don't know. Somehow being able to see them on the map helps me remember them when I read and pray for their situations. I was figuring on getting a map after the new year when I could.

So Chris and I get tons of unsolicited mail from charities all over the place. Frankly I wish we had enough to be able to give, but I'm still only starting the freelancing thing and we're really just a one income family still, so I can only stretch so far. But recently I just got a letter from Doctors Without Borders, an organization that sends medical help to afflicted peoples in very rough and scary conditions (including war zones) around the world, regardless of the risks.

They sent me a world map. !!

I was so happy, I hung it up in the office.

I can't afford to help, but I can shell out the cost of a map. That meant a lot to me.

The Long Chalkboard -and other stories - by Jenny Allen and Jules Feiffer

There's something wonderful and special about a well-illustrated story, be it graphic novel or storybook.

Last night I read The Long Chalkboard - and Other Stories by Jenny Allen, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. I was left with such a happy feeling. The first story -- where the title of the book comes from -- flat out made me cry.

It's the story of a long chalkboard put into a home ... and the people who used it. There was just something so pure and child-hood like in the emotion the story evokes. You'll understand when you read it. (Oh my goodness, just remembering it as I write about it now makes my eyes tear up again!!)

This is must-have.

The Giant Eye of God

You ever get to that point where you feel the Great Eye of God upon you, as He holds you in His hand, and you just know He is waiting on what you are going to do next?

Something deeply shivery and cool about that ...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Notes To Self: What I Learned in 2006 (and I guess this turned out to be a rant after all)

It's been a very surreal end of the year so far.

I never got into the Christmas mood. Simply put, I overextended myself and was TOOOOOOOOO busy far too long and on stuff that, long term, I realize really isn't my personal priority anymore (more on this later).

Because of all that work stuff -- and then the car broke down at the last minute -- I didn't get ANY shopping done at all for anyone I care about (even Chris! Egad!). I have been in a grumpy mood as a result ... I know Christmas is beyond being about the gifts, but I truly feel like I didn't do enough for the folks I love. Bleah.

So I've been thinking about what I would have done differently this year. If only so I can have a happier end-of-the-year in 2007. So in reviewing 2006, I have discovered the following:

1) Comics really thrill and really upset me. I so need to chill.

How can I have such a profound love/hate relationship with this medium? And yet I do. Part of that is probably because I'm Hispanic with mediterranean origins, so I have a naturally dramatic streak. (Too bad I don't act)

I just gotta learn to keep my emotions in check while the crazy comics changes happen (will the new-look Archie comics stink? will DC's new Minx comics line even matter?) and just not let them get me all upset as much like they do.

I gotta shut up and draw. More. Lots more.

2) Painting is not my be-all end-all art passion. Comics are. (Uh oh.)

I'm sure this is not a surprise to anyone who actually knows me. It was, however, something I needed to settle for myself.

So I discovered I love comics. Maybe too much. LOL

This is what I specifically had to resolve: whether or not I had made a bad decision back in the day when I stopped pursuing painting seriously. It's part of the reason why I joined the Nashville Artist Guild.

I thought if I could hang out with some fine artists I could see what I was missing, and whether I should seriously follow that through or not.

See, I started painting when I was like 12 or 13. I even sold some. It felt great. I stopped painting when I hit 16 and discovered Marvel Comics was located a few blocks away from where I lived. (Think about it. Marvel Comics was in my neighborhood!!!!) My boyfriend and two of his good friends got internships there. I went there every day after achool/work for like a year and a half. We hung out with Jo Duffy back in the Epic Comics offices. She shared the office with Archie Goodwin (!). The amazing lineup of Epic artists I was meeting just by being there ... I had no idea then I was essentially in the presence of comics royalty. Wow.

A couple years later I quit college to open and run a comics art studio. I didn't miss school at all. My new group of friends were ready to work in an art studio. I was ready to run an art studio. I didn't know WHAT I was doing. We made no money. I lost lots of money. The comics didn't sell (due to the lack of something called "Marketing"). The studio didn't work out. Much stuff learned.

In the middle of that drama I managed to get a painting scholarship to the Art Students League. I didn't go cause of the work obligations of aforementioned studio, which was also connected to a comics shop. I wasn't an artist at the studio, so much as the studio manager for my artist friends (two of whom today now run their own successful art studios, yay!)... but I made the decision to not take the scholarship.

I had wondered if I had made a mistake ever since.

But now, after an intensive 20 months of arranging and hanging art shows with the Guild I really find that by working in comics production I'd learned a lot of useful business practices. I wouldn't have learned them in the Fine Arts circles. Not really.

As frightening as it's been to meet tons of people who want to make and publish comics and are honest-to-goodness clueless and flat out unprepared to do so ... they are still all WAY AHEAD of the Fine Arts circle folks.

At least in comics and in the graphic arts (in all its forms) we have tons of how-to-run-your-studio books and have the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook to refer to as far as contracts and pricing guidelines.

I've met a lot of Fine Artists via art reception openings and such, and I've discovered that a surprising percentage of them are just winging it. Worse, they're doing themselves a disservice by not even educating themselves about the business of selling their art!!

That makes someone like me -- a Production Manager geek -- ab.so.lute.ly NUTS.

How can you do business when you don't have a basic grasp of business protocols?

Painters and the like have the absolutely wonderful How To Survive and Prosper As A Fine Artist: (Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul) by Caroll Michels. But not as many painters even read it as should. Why do so many of them not know this book exists?

I really highly recommend this book if you're getting into Fine Arts as a business. It's a must. All that "romantic Bohemian painter life" crap that the Fine Arts business is to be made up as you go along is a lie. No really. Let's NOT confuse a lifestyle with the actual rudimentary bits of running a business and making it work. We're talking making money. Not sitting around drinking and hoping you'll sell something. (That can happen after you put in a full day of work.)

If we don't try to learn how to manage our art as a business it's far easier to get taken advantage of and make unnecessary mistakes ... all of which are enough of a risk when you wanna run any kind of business in the first place. It's an awful waste of time, reinventing the wheel, when you don't have to. If you don't manage your art, or make enough to pay someone to handle the business aspects then it seems to me you're not respecting your art. Not if you want to really be a professional.

Besides, even if you're just doing it as a hobby, you still gotta keep your paperwork in order.

One of my pet peeves is that "artists are not as intelligent" or are somehow "unable to do math" or "have to starve" BS notion. I've been dealing with that for too long. And it's a lie.

With as much artistry that needs to go into designing a car, a cartoon, an article of clothing or even just a bad comic book, this notion that business tactics don't apply to the Fine Arts circles is a LOAD.

End of rant.

3) Never get so busy you forget the holidays. Passing out from exhaustion is really not as fun as just taking a rest from work.

4) I really love comics. (I didn't say that exactly yet, right?)

5) ComicSpace is COOL!

6) I should make sure to make more comics next year. I am terrified to make more comics. I want to make more comics.

7) I want to make more comics in 2007.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I'll Never Know How Much It Cost

There's this song we'll sometimes sing at church. We sang it last Sunday. I'm actually not sure of the title.

There's a part of the song that goes:

"I'll never know
how much it cost
to see my sins
upon that cross"

The choir will lead the congregation in song. And we'll repeat this particular phrase several times, right near the end.

And Every. Single. Time.

This song will make me weep.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why Did Hacks Always Seem To Get All The Work?

Before I begin, I have to say I no longer collect superhero comics like I used to. I would, if there were something good to read ... but as it stands lately there are only a select few I enjoy anymore, like Steve Rude's The Moth, Dan Slott's She Hulk, and some superhero reprint TPBs of '70s and '80s comics ... like are in Marvel's Essentials and DC's Showcase Presents. So as far as just what proportion of brand new mainstream superhero comics published lately by the big handful, are actually done by what we old school folk call "hacks", is honestly a mystery to me. So this is more of a reminiscence, and then a bit of advice for new folks who want to break into comics.

I want to talk about "hack work", because I've just gone through an interesting circumstance on the "Fine Arts" end of things lately, and it made me think on the subject.

I get into polite disagreements with my new fine artist friends about what makes an artist a professional, or of professional calibre. It's interesting, too, because I approach fine arts with a corporate and company mindset as well as an artistic one because I've worked in comics.

Professional calibre goes way beyond what is pretty to the eye or technically well-done and "accomplished". After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You can have the most beautiful artwork under the sun ... but if the artist can't meet a deadline or handle their paperwork then their professional career is kinda doomed.

Now back in the day, (late '80s) I used to hang out with a group of artists. We were all like 18 -19 and SO wanted to break into comics ... We lived in NYC which is home to the Big Two -- Marvel and DC -- so it seemed really doable back then.

We of course hung out in the back of a comics store. I found out about this place via a guy I started to date. We were both artists. We talked, liked eachother, started to hang out and one day we went downtown and he introduced me to the group.

He was part of a core group of three friends, who were learning to draw comics and who Every.Single.Day. showed up to draw in a studio space in the back of the shop. Today, twenty years later, two of them are graphic designers (& do everything from storyboards to toy packaging to even videos last I heard) and the third just released his first graphic novel through Lulu.com.

I would go to the comic shop every day after work, and the lot of us (along with several others who'd show up during the course of the day) would sit around for HOURS drinking too much espresso with milk, eating Chinese or Cuban food, yakking about comics and life until Midnight, 6 or 7 days a week.

(Sounds like your dream come true, eh?)

Anyway, part of our usual routine was to go through our weekly reading pile to drool over our favorite artists' work and tear apart what was wrong with the art in this or that book. We were quite heartless.

What was always a mystery to us was how the "less than great artists"-- in our opinion, of course -- always seemed to get their work printed, when brilliant artists like Michael Golden or Art Adams never seemed to get enough work printed.

Fast forward several years to when I'm working for comics publishers: working on the other side of the books, I finally understand why some artists who produce gorgeous work never seem to get published as often, while artists who make just okay work (again in our artistic opinion) always seemed to be in print.

It wasn't ever about being artistically pretty or being artistically the best. It's really just about getting the job done on time.

It's called a deadline.

You'd think it'd be obvious! But it wasn't to us. Not then. We were just kids. Consumers. Wanna-be artists crabbing about the art. Who knew or cared about deadlines?

But Publishers do have what is called a monthly deadline. They publish monthly comics! That means comics artists need to draw 22 full comic pages in 30 days!

22 comics pages in 30 days? To quote Raymond's Dad: HOLY CRAP.

Have you ever tried to draw or ink 22 pages in 30 days?

And did you know colorists are on average supposed to color 22 pages in 10 days ? (When you were LUCKY you got 15. But that didn't happen much.)

Think about that next time you feel the need to tear someone's comics work up. Sobered me up right quick.

Comics are a business. When we're LUCKY it can be an art, too.

Anyway. 22 pages in 30 days. Who knew that? I mean, it's kinda obvious but wasn't exactly common knowledge that trickled down to the artist. Not until you went to a comics convention and had your portfolio reviewed by a pro. AND that is, if your stuff wasn't torn apart by the reviewer first! (Are pros nowadays are as mean as they used to be? Some sure were back then! I have a friend or two still bitter over mean-spirited portfolio feedback given to them long long ago by artists they used to admire. If you're truly a pro, seems to me there's really no need to be a jerk to a newbie at a portfolio review. But I digress.)

So since meeting the publishing deadline is the priority, then the editor's priority is to get that job DONE within the time frame given. So the writer and then the artist has to MEET the deadlines to keep the job. If you can't keep the deadlines, you get replaced.

A lot of professional artists can do a good job and meet the deadline.

Fewer professional artists can do a great job and meet the deadline. These are the exceptions and why we admire them so much.

Great professional artists KNOW exactly how much time they take and need to get a job done. Know yourself going in.

Don't make the mistake and say you can do the job in 30 days if you actually need 45. The Editor will respect you more if you're just honest.

If you need to pass on the job this time cause you know can't do it, it's okay. If they asked you this time, they will probably ask you again some other time. It may take a little while but they will remember that you were straight up with them and that goes a long way.

Think of it this way: you will not be hired again anytime soon if you do screw the deadline up.

When you take the job:

Don't make the mistake of NOT answering the phone if your editor calls to ask you how you're doing. Nothing gives us staffers more grief than people who do not communicate with us when a deadline is looming. It scares us, it makes us think "oh my gosh, what if he's sick/was in an accident/I have to replace this issue...?" Help us do our job by doing your job. Communication is part of the job of being a freelancer. Your actions (or inaction) affects the rest of the team.

If you have a smart editor and you know how long it takes you to make your part of the comic, and it's longer than 30 days then MAYBE you guys work it out and schedule things far enough in advance to accomodate everyone. In this case everybody wins. (What a rare treat that is!)

I hope my venting helps someone.