Creator of Worlds

My first and truest love in life is comics. I used to read the comics pages in the newspaper from the time I was able to read; my favorite was Garfield. When I was in the third grade I discovered that there were collections of the comic that you could buy in book form; this changed my whole life. Now I could get them in a chunk instead of one per day. I don’t know if they still do this, but back when I was in school, Scholastic used to send catalogues to schools with books you could buy. My mom has always encouraged me to read, so she would buy me stuff from those catalogues. One of the few truly joyful moments I experienced in school came on the days when those books arrived. I would bring them home and devour them, usually with the TV on in the background, to which I paid only partial attention. I must’ve accumulated at least 20 to 30 of those books, and I would re-read them constantly.

Calvin & Hobbes came shortly after that. Without a doubt one of the most brilliant newspaper strips to ever come out, Calvin & Hobbes not only activated my imagination (I successfully made time machines and fighter jets out of cardboard boxes), but it also expanded my vocabulary. I don’t think I realized at the time that while the comic was mostly accessible to children, it was really written for adults. I loved that strip, and at one point I owned all of the books. I feel genuine pity for the generations of kids who’ve grown up without that comic in their newspapers. Bill Waterson’s retirement was a loss to readers, but it was the mark of a true creator—when he said everything he had to say, he put the comic to rest. Furthermore, he never pimped it out for merchandising purposes. There were only the books. I have the utmost respect for that.

Sometime around the age of seven or eight, I got my first comic books. My mom picked them up for me one day when I was home sick. There was a comic with Green Lantern and Superman that took place in space, and a reprint of an old Spider-Man story. This was around 1987, and you could still buy comic books off the rack at 7-11. An single issue was only 75 cents, tax free; I could buy a comic with change I dug out of the couch. I started reading Spider-Man, who was my favorite character. I started with it just a few issues into Erik Larsen’s run on the series; it was a Spider-Man and Punisher team up. I fell in love. I started buying a couple other titles, including Punisher and Captain America.

Then, I discovered the Comic Book Store.

Comics became My Thing. Every week my mom would drive me to a now long-defunct comic book store out in Pleasant Hill called Land of the Nevawuz. Pretty soon I was buying up to a dozen comics per week. Or we would go to Fantasy Books & Games in Livermore. Around the time I was in middle school, we found Haley’s Comics in Pleasanton, a much shorter drive from our house in Dublin. I went every week. From 1988 through the time I graduated from high school in 1998, I was buying and reading anywhere from 20-30 titles a month, and buying a lot of miscellaneous stuff besides that. All the different Spider-Man titles, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Deathlok, Sleepwalker, Darkhawk, Swamp Thing, Madman, Hellboy, all the Image titles when they first came out. I was a junkie.

I went to my first comic book convention in 1992, Wonder-Con at the Marriot in Downtown Oakland. I went every year until I graduated high school. This was before the convention atmosphere was conquered by television and film tie-ins. It was all about the comics, the artists, the writers, the dealers, and a few bootleg VHS merchants. I would go on quests to get all my stuff autographed, and search out treasures issue by issue. I read Wizard magazine and Toy Fare.

I don’t know exactly when I drew my first comic, but I couldn’t have been more than six or seven. In a box in my attic I still have these crude and magical early attempts at telling a story through words and pictures. I decided when I was nine that I wanted to draw comic books for a living when I grew up. Adults, as they often do, set about crushing my dreams by telling me, essentially, that my goal was stupid and I should find something else. The poison pill was ingested but never fully killed my drive. Through high school I was still drawing short comics, creating super heroes, daydreaming about seeing my stuff in print.

Even in college, I was still working on comics. I drew, inked, and lettered three full issues of Punch-Man, a satirical comic about a suburban superhero who knocks out bullies and really anyone else he doesn’t like, who’s costume is a paper bag on his head. It took me several years of intermittent work, but I finished the pages. Several years ago, in a fit of rage and anguish, I threw all the pages in the trash. It’s one of my few regrets in life. I still have all the outlines, though; maybe someday I’ll re-draw it.

In 2004 I started the 46&2 zine, and did a number of comics for that; in fact, by the fourth (and final) issue, the zine was dominated by comics. Then I got into songwriting and MCing, and making comics fell by the wayside—I became a superhero, and stopped drawing them. Now I’ve been The Concrete Shinobi for over a decade, continue to make music and occasionally perform, but after reading The War of Art, I realize now more than ever where my true passion lies. I love writing prose, especially essays like these, but I have a love-hate relationship with writing prose fiction. All of my favorite stories are comic book stories. Those are the ones I want to tell.

To write and draw a comic is an indescribable experience. Storytelling and pacing in comics is completely unique to the medium; I find it to be agonizingly painful sometimes to do even basic page layouts. It’s isolating, but that’s true of any kind of writing. It always feels impossible when I start—how the hell am I supposed to show what happens? What’s the best angle? How can I best do this with my limited drawing skills? On top of all the psychological anguish, making comics is physically difficult—you spend long hours bent over a table, cramping up your hands. An eight-page comic story that takes someone five minutes to read is the result of at least 50-60 hours of work for me, from concept to art-completion. You can add another 5-10 hours for everything involved in self-publishing the comic; formatting, art corrections, printing.

However, there is a magic that is unique to creating comics. Something happens on that page, once the panel borders are drawn and the characters begin to speak and act. They quickly take on lives of their own. The pages come alive—you’re looking into another universe. Often when I’m done with pages, I will sit and stare at them for long moments; the time I spent looking at, say, the eight pages of the last comic I published, are certainly counted in hours. I lose myself in the images, the world I’ve created—every line, every gesture, every sequence becomes something I’m living inside.

So, now I have a new goal—live my passion. It’s going to hurt my body and spirit, but it will be worth it. I’ve got a lot of stories in my head already, and I’m aching to bring them to life.

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About DZAtal

The true and living
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