How do you create? Why do you create?
So for my month at CCOL, I’m wondering about why we make comics. By that, I mean considering different priorities creators may have: artistry, originality, storytelling, honesty. Each of these could lead someone to very different types of work and career paths.
This seems like an important question, because while there is no one right way to be a creator, there may be a right way for a specific person to do it. If you’re a person who makes comics (or music, or furniture, or film…), the more you know what appeals to you, the more you can decide what is good or bad advice.
Should you make one big story, with lore and merch and complex themes, or should you make ten short projects, all wildly different?
Should you work extra hard at traditional drawing skills, like perspective, anatomy, lighting? Or should you explore intense cartooning and build a very personal art style?
Should you consider trends and make a comic that fits well with a traditional publisher? Should you draw fan art, or work towards drawing for an existing IP? Should you look for a story only you can tell? Would you be happiest in mainstream superhero comics? Graphic novels? Webcomics? Zines? Non-Fiction? Autobio?
Should you try to make comics your living? Or should you let them be a fully personal project, separate from the pressure to monetize or produce?
There are no wrong choices, really. It doesn’t have to be a scary set of questions. But it could really pay off to know what you care about the most.
The books I’ve chosen to highlight from CCOL’s collection (and my own book piles) are ones that led me to these sorts of questions. Some of them are visually unique, wild, and innovative. Asterios Polyp foregoes a unified art style and lets each character be drawn in their own way. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth designs its pages in ways that force your eyes to read backwards, out of order, upside down. Every time I pick up anything by Michael DeForge I end up staring into the middle distance, feeling like he rewired my brain and eyes to see new things.
Some of these are comics about people pursuing a passion. A lot of manga is focused on this theme. Ping Pong follows a handful of young athletes: Some raised to perform, some playing because they love it. Some of them blessed with talent, and others fighting for every success. Descending Stories is about Japanese storytelling, Rakugo. People in it grapple with finding their artistic voice, and building their place within existing tradition.
And some of these comics, like Persepolis, about Marjane Satrapi growing up in Iran and France, or Something New, where Lucy Knisley recounts and reflects on her own wedding, are people telling their own story, and foregoing artifice to share their life with the reader. They’re skilfully made, but their art is there to frame an important idea or emotion, and that’s what truly stays with you. These are the books I cry at and reread.
These are beautiful comics, and I encourage you to try all of them. Read outside your comfort zone, and ask yourself what kind of comics (or music, or design, or…) you love, what kind of comics you’d like to create. I still don’t have my own answer, but it’s a great journey and I’d be so happy to walk it with you.