After reading the short essay by the cartoonist known as Seth, I was lucky enough to enjoy a brief moment of knowing that someone understands what it’s like to be a cartoonist and comic artist.
A cartoonist isn’t like a writer. Writing requires a special kind of focus. Your mind must be utterly devoted to the task at hand. When I’m breaking down a strip or hammering out dialogue, I’m using that writer’s focus. But drawing and inking are different. They use different parts of the brain. I often find that when I’m drawing, only half my mind is on the work — watching proportions, balancing compositions, eliminating unnecessary details.
The other half is free to wander. Usually, it’s off in a reverie, visiting the past, picking over old hurts, or recalling that sense of being somewhere specific — at a lake during childhood, or in a nightclub years ago. These reveries are extremely important to the work, and they often find their way into whatever strip I’m working on at the time. Sometimes I wander off so far I surprise myself and laugh out loud. Once or twice, I’ve become so sad that I actually broke down and cried right there at the drawing table. So I tell those young artists that if they want to be cartoonists, the most important relationship they are going to have in their lives is with themselves.
His description of that lonely, half-consciousness that one experiences when drawing and inking a comic page is spot on. The feeling of being the only person in the world can sometimes get to be nearly unbearable.
I recently read an interview with Todd McFarlane in Wizard. McFarlane became a superstar because of his run on Spider-Man in the late 80’s, reinventing the Marvel icon by drawing the wall-crawler with giant eyes, a crazy rubber-band anatomy, and (most famously) the spaghetti webbing. He told the interviewer that the webbing was so detailed that each issue, he often had to dedicate 2 days, like 12 or 14 hour days, to drawing the squiggles and swirls that made up his signature webbing style. And in order to maintain his sanity during these stretches he just picked up the phone, dialed someone, and started talking to them.
Being a little less inclined to natter on the phone, I’ve made it a habit to listen to audiobooks while doodling away. I’ve put away many volumes over the last couple of years. Most recently, revisiting “On a Pale Horse” by Pierce Anthony and Count Zero by William Gibson.
If you liked Seth’s cartoon, he’s been subjected to a full Q&A session by The Walrus blogger, Sean Rogers recently.