Sep 26

John Can’t Draw: Finish Your Work!

In the last article I said there are two general rules involved with writing, one being show up every day, and the other that writing is rewriting.  A more personal rule that I adhere to is that I must always finish my work.  From beginning to end, just finish the story, even if it never makes it passed the rough draft stage, and definitely finish before you get an artist involved.  This can mean different things to different people.  Perhaps you write a gag-a-day comic, finishing your work may mean having enough gags written for a months worth of posting.  If you create a long-form story with no end in sight, finishing your work may simply mean completing story arcs and having fully written scripts for one or two of those while having an outline for the next few ready that cover the next hundred pages.

Me?  I write long-form stories with definite endings that may go for 10 pages to 300 pages (or more), and in producing these stories to completion, I’ve learned that you should always complete your script before actually starting to publish it online.  There are plenty of good reasons for this, but the three that stick out are to finish for yourself, finish for the artist you will eventually hire, and finish for the readers.  I haven’t always lived by this credo, and we’re going to talk about that, but first, the reasons.

 

It ain't over until it's over. Seriously. Finishing your work is a gratifying experience, don't let your work slip from your control.

It ain’t over until it’s over. Seriously. Finishing your work is a gratifying experience, don’t let your work slip from your control.

 

A script is a whole, it is not pieces.  If you are working chapter by chapter and handing off what you feel are complete sections to your artist, you really aren’t.  The beginning of your script isn’t complete until the end is complete, and the first person you’re cheating by publishing an unfinished story online is yourself.  People just will not know how good of a writer you actually are.  And if they don’t know that, it’s because you’ve cheated yourself out of a good script.  You are not putting out your best work, but writing that is half-assed and incomplete, a first act that has no 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th.  You have no idea how this story is going to work and one of the most important aspects of a story is how its later parts interact with its earlier parts.  Maybe you’re a better writer than me and you don’t have to understand what is happening in Act 3 to feel that you have every detail in Act 1.  Somehow I doubt it.

What if you’ve started a storyline that has worked through Act 1 & 2, but by 3 you’ve forgotten about it because it no longer has a place, and by 4 you realize that the character or storyline is unneeded for the greater plot.  But the first two acts have been drawn by an artist and published, now you have to either see that extraneous storyline through, or just drop it altogether, both of which may result in some seriously shitty storytelling.  You may also find yourself in a later chapter and find that the perfect place for some details to make this a much stronger arc could go in chapter 2.  But it’s too late.  Already published.  Think about novels, do people put those out chapter by chapter?  Not generally, although there are cases.  They don’t do this because it would be an awful idea.  If it doesn’t make sense for a writer of novels, it shouldn’t make sense for a writer of graphic novels.

Finish your work because it will make you a better writer.  Don’t cheat yourself from having a great story with great pacing and great characters.  You have to figure out what finishing your work means, as I mentioned already there are many levels to completion, but once you do, stick to it because you don’t want to hand an artist something unfinished that will take hours of their life to complete.  Saying hours is actually far from the truth.  That’s one page.

If you are going to hire an artist to make your ideas into reality, do not waste their time, and do not waste your money.  Respect both.  It is pretty well-known that it is going to take an artist a much longer amount of time to draw a page from your script than it took you to think it and write it.  So why would you give them something that is not part of the complete story?  Why would you give them extraneous pages or panels to work on that may not matter in the larger scheme of things?  If you are starting work on an unfinished script you don’t even know the final length.  Why would an artist sign onto something that could be 50 pages or 300 pages?  If the script ends up as the latter, not everyone can pull that off.

Art takes time.  Like success, it isn’t created over night, in fact it will take you years to see one story to completion when making comics.  From thinking it, writing it, rewriting it, getting it drawn, colored, and lettered, publishing it, all the way to selling it, this is a long and expensive production process you’ve taken on yourself.  So why wouldn’t you take the time to write your script to completion before getting things in motion?  The writing phase is a prime time to start saving money because it is going to cost you.  Don’t worry about hiring somebody, worry about being able to pay them when you do.

So while the most important reasons to have a great script is for yourself and the artist as this is your endeavor and your names are on it, the next good reason is for the reader.  Very simply, we are readers too, and we don’t like wasting our time on bullshit. You know how it feels when you’re reading something that is sloppy.  You know that when you put something down that you did not enjoy that you feel like you’ve wasted a ton of time.  And I’m not saying that just because somebody wrote the hell out of a script and finished it that it must be good, it could turn out terrible or sloppy anyway, but at least you know that when you have a script in your hands that you’re comfortable with, it wasn’t laziness that hurt the story.  You can’t blame a half-assed process for your uneven story, and you’ll have to look elsewhere for reasons.  The readers and critics who are ultimately going to judge your work count in all of this, not because of their opinions necessarily, but because you are putting a piece of art out there for consumption.  Don’t waste anybody’s time.

Lets talk about my failures in this area.  When I started Coffee Time and Across The Way I really didn’t know what I was doing.  Of course I still don’t fully know, but back then it was all learning on the fly.  The style I was writing Coffee Time in was as a series of episodic gag comics that took place in a café.  Both Tobias (the artist) and I decided to start our comics career with something simple and close to home, rather than one of the grander ideas that we had.  We came up with some loose ideas together and I just started writing short scripts that weren’t really connected.  We both started this without any other aim than to make a fun comic.  Over time though, stories and characters started to connect in different ways and some very basic story lines came about and brought us to a clear ending.  It took us about a year to do the first volume and it was some fun learning that brought us to a greater understanding of the process.  Volume 1 of Coffee Time was a bit of a mess, it was a largely improvised story that could have been so much cleaner if I had understood the writing process better.  It still would have been a pretty simple comic based around relationships, but it would have connected in a much stronger way if I had focused on the whole and not the episodes.

For volume 2 I still didn’t understand that I needed a whole finished script before publishing online, but I was getting there.  I at least understood that this time rather than improvising the entire story, I had to have a better understanding of every character and their individual storylines and how they would interact with each other throughout the entirety of the volume.  I had an outline this time and knew the direction that I was heading, but even still I don’t think I actually knew the end game, so the improvements in my comic writing wasn’t fully improved yet.  To further complicate everything, Tobias and I decided to do a second comic at the same time so we can explore something a bit darker.  This was of course Across The Way, and while I had knowledge of where it should go through an outline and a wider grasp of the characters, I still didn’t know where it would end.  I was again improvising ATW’s one story and CT’s multiple stories as I went.  This made things complicated.  I’m not going to lie, I think this was a fantastic way to push myself creatively.  Although I better knew my story, I really had to work hard to keep things on track without going too far out-of-bounds.  Even though ATW  was newer, it was a bit easier to do this because I had one big story, but with CT  I had to work extra hard as it had so many characters and at least 3 main stories going on at one time that would all converge at the end.  I look back and I’m proud of that year in our comic career.  Sure, nobody was paying attention, but Tobias and I really put ourselves in the trenches putting out 4 pages a week of two separate comics and doing a pretty damn good job of it at the end of the day.

Don’t let me pat myself on the back too hard though, because I would never want to do things this way again.  It was still a disservice to the story, and it was a disservice to Tobias because he had no idea how many pages those comics would end up being.  I would say they were both a modest size at the end, and I knew back then that I had to make sure I kept things tight and didn’t let them get out of control.  I didn’t allow myself the time I needed to have at least a finished rough before we started publishing.  This was mostly because I didn’t want too much space between the first volume and the second volume of CT online so we had to get cracking.  But in reality, there wasn’t really any hurry, was there?  We weren’t a popular comic at all.  It’s not like there was a horde of people waiting for volume 2 of CT.  If you aren’t well-known in the webcomics world, you have to remember that the person most anticipating your comics arrival is you.  It’s important to do your work in a timely manner, but just because you need a few more months for a better script doesn’t mean you aren’t sticking to a schedule, you’re making sure your art is the best it will be.  When I write a story to completion and work on it again and again, I get to a point where there is nothing I would go back and change.  When I look at CT & ATW, I would change a lot, but I’m not going to because sometimes you just have to move on and let those early projects be what they are.

One of my big goals in writing future webcomics was to never again publish without a finished script.  This mistake should have never been made again and I was on my way to resolving this issue, but then a new idea intervened.  Tobias and I had taken a long break from creating webcomics.  I was working on a script for something we considered our dream project as well as The Black Wall when Tobias came up with a new idea that would eventually become Tales of Hammerfist.  He felt maybe we should do something else before getting into the big project.  Something a little less serious.  When he presented me with the idea I really got into it.  I had been writing two very serious scripts heavy on the drama and needed a break.  Hammerfist was episodic.  Short exciting reads.  Fun adventures.  Unconnected.  BUT I JUST CAN’T DO THAT!

A few scripts into Hammerfist a thread between the episodes began to form and I just had to go with it.  That’s not the problem.  It’s ok for ideas to change.  The problem is that Tobias already started drawing what I thought would be separate episodes, I was writing other scripts and stories at the same time and not focusing all of my energy towards Hammerfist, and we had already set into motion when it was going to be online.  The momentum was going and I would once again start publishing an unfinished story.  So instead of just going with fate this time and improvising my way through the world of Teufeldorf, I busted my ass and started to outline the story in a more detailed way than I ever have before.  I had to understand this story from beginning to end down to the details and mechanics of how it will all work.  I had a few episodic stories that had to make sense in the bigger world of the story and needed to work with ideas that wouldn’t spring up until later.  After I outlined the story I started writing out the full five acts so that it would be done before we got too far with pages.

This is not the way to write.  There is a lot I would change about the first act if I could, but it’s too late because I didn’t listen to myself.  Not only did I start publishing without a script, but I was giving myself way too many projects to work on at one time.  That’s another rule to finishing your work.  Working one project at a time and getting it done is where your focus should be.  I’m not saying don’t work out ideas for other stories, hell if it is something shorter you can probably write the entire thing between drafts, but just focus on one thing at a time.  As I write this, I’m giving myself a two-week break before finally putting the finishing touches on Hammerfist.  I’ve got all 5 acts in the computer and now I can go over the entire thing and make sure it all works together.  I wrote the rough for Act 5 over a year ago.  Between creating websites, working on Ham-Fisted Tales & The Black Wall, and a few other stories for the printed versions of my current comics, I can finally get around to finishing Hammerfist, something that should have been done long ago, but due to me not following my own rules, isn’t.

Tales of Hammerfist will be my last story told in the episodic fashion it is told in.  I don’t write that way.  I write in chapters.  I also write best with finished scripts, not when improvising along the way and wasting the artists time.  If you aren’t writing complete storylines, I guarantee that you aren’t writing to the best of your abilities.  If you aren’t finishing your novels or scripts from beginning to end, even if you don’t plan to do anything with them, you aren’t learning to write better.  You are only learning to be scatterbrained and lazy.  See your work through.  Get the rough draft done and put it away.  How do you know an idea is worth a damn if you don’t see it through?  How do you expect to be a competent writer if you can’t finish anything?  Most likely if you stop writing something, it’s because you’re at a block or it is too hard to finish.  You’ve got to get passed these things.  I’m sure there are times you simply think an idea is worthless, but the more you write I feel the more you trust in your ideas.  The more you finish, the more you’ll know how to get by these blocks.  See your ideas through.  You have to know your weaknesses as a writer.  You also have to know what you’re capable of.  To be a writer, you must write.  To be a storyteller, you must tell stories and all stories have endings.

To be successful at what you do, you must get to the end.

 

Jun 10

John Can’t Draw: Rewriting Is Writing

Popular phrases stay within the zeitgeist for a reason.  There are simple truths within them, and meanings that one can easily arrive at without much effort. Everyone has heard that “writing is rewriting”, even people who don’t write could probably give you this advice.  It’s a nice little package of knowledge that I believe promotes the greatest rule for your career as a writer.  But what does rewriting your script entail?  What exactly are you looking for in the 3rd draft?  Does writing 5 drafts actually mean starting over from the beginning and writing everything all over again?

What I love about writing is that the process is fully open to interpretation.  There is no one way about it.  It isn’t a math problem on the chalkboard.  There is no concise instruction manual that can tell you one way to set-up your story.  The only constants for me are two easy rules:

1.  Show up every day.

2.  Writing is rewriting.

 

All work and no play means take a break once in a while. Eat some pizza and watch a Gamera movie.

All work and no play means take a break once in a while. Eat some pizza and watch a Gamera movie.

 

And I think that’s it.  I’m sure there are folks out there who set up strict rules for themselves and they have a very sterile process that they follow to the “T” every single time.  To each their own.  For me writing is messy, and while all the steps are there,  I may approach them differently from the last time.  One thing that remains consistent for me is that my stories always start in a notebook.

When I say that, I do mean that I write the entire rough draft there.  Since I write mostly comic scripts and blogs, I think this is a bit easier.  But when I used to write short stories I would do it this way as well.  Now you may ask “Doesn’t this take a lot longer?”  Probably.  I don’t think I would write a novel in this style, maybe not even short stories anymore, but for the projects that I work on it feels like a good fit for me.  Typing is definitely a much faster process.  It lets you get your thoughts out in a more streamlined fashion, and you don’t have to re-type every single word.  Going with the notebook is tedious, and I may only do it because I’m stuck in my ways, but I don’t think that’s just it.  I think I have some good reasons.

The first to me is that you don’t have to focus so much on structure.  Panel descriptions and dialogue come faster to me just writing them in a notebook.  I use screenwriting software to write my scripts in the computer, but that process seems more difficult while typing, making sure that the structure maintains.  I like that a lot better for the rewrite where I focus more on what is happening than in my sloppy rough draft.

The more important reason is that it takes me away from the computer.  Doing webcomics means a lot of time in front of computer screens.  It gets old, and it’s because there are so many other things on top of script-writing that I have to get done while in front of a computer, sometimes I need a break.  I really need a scenery change once in a while, even if it is just staring at a notebook in another room in my apartment.  It helps.

Besides it just being my preferred style, I think that I really enjoy writing my second draft into the computer from the work I’ve done in my notebook.  Yup, this all means that I actually have to write everything over again line by line.  Some may think of that as a wasteful process, but I tend to think of it as a great way to edit my work.  I can immediately write better dialogue, put in greater detail when describing panels or action, take out extraneous writing, and set a better tone for when my writing gets overly dramatic.  I’ve also written so many notes between panels I often know what to do right away when it comes to adding details earlier on in the script, or even for when I have to switch scenes around.  For me, it’s a much easier way to see the whole thing right off.  But is it the best way to do it?  I can only say that for me it is, but then habits are hard to break and this is how I have always done it.  Maybe when I finally sit down to write a novel I’ll better understand the benefits of writing straight into the computer.  For now, I’m notebook guy.

No matter how you do your rough draft, lets talk about what to do when that is complete.  Most likely you aren’t on a deadline, you don’t have to finish by a certain date, so you want to put your work to the side and leave it alone for a bit.  How long?  Maybe a week, maybe two, maybe a month.  You’ve been in this project for some time at this point and I’m guessing that you won’t be able to take much of a critical look at it just yet.  That’s why you should just let it go and instead think about and do other things.  Write a few articles for your blog, get some reading done, brainstorm some new ideas to explore when you finish the current script, or maybe now is a good time to do some maintenance on your website.  Whatever you do, don’t stop working or using your time wisely.  Writing and creating comics is a huge endeavor and you should never step away from your creativity. Every free moment away from your big project is a prime opportunity to start a new big project.  It’s really important to always have something lined up.

For myself, i usually don’t step away for too long, just enough to help unleash my inner critic.  I also like to keep moving because I’m pretty much always burning with ideas and have a project that I can’t wait to get to next.  Now this is obviously coming from the POV of a writer.  If you are the writer and artist on your work, it is obviously going to take longer to get to that end point, even if you are burning with ideas.  I can’t imagine the discipline it takes to tackle a concept on your own.  Speaking from my experience in creating comics, I would say that if you are the artist, it would be a good idea to maybe just pencil your work, or pencil & ink it, and hire other to do colors and lettering.  Plenty of people do it all alone and do a fantastic job, but don’t feel that you have to do it alone.  Don’t be a control freak.  This goes for writers as well, but that is a later article that I will get to.

The next step after stepping away is of course picking it back up and doing a reading.  I highly recommend doing this on a paper copy, not only to step away from the computer, but for making extensive notes.  I say this because you don’t really want to get hung up on the changes just yet.  You want to read from start to finish so that you can see the big picture.  You don’t want to get stuck deleting and rewriting.  The paper copy allows you to sit down with your red pen and find grammatical errors, make notes in the margin, fix small mistakes, and cross out extraneous material.  I’m sure there are plenty of programs that help you do this sort of work on a computer screen, but I’m more comfortable with the physical editing.  I like crossing something out and knowing that it isn’t permanently deleted just yet.  It’s like I have to see what I’m doing before I commit, and since I’m doing this in a notebook first, I actually print out the second draft for my really detailed read-through.  I feel like at that point I’m really beginning to hone in on what I need to do.  I accept that you may think that my process is absurd, but I’m okay with it because I’m sure yours is as well.

For me my first critical look is coming from the first print-out, which if you’re paying attention is my second draft.  I don’t focus too much on the details during the outline or the rough.  I like to get it done and worry about all that later.  As I’m blazing through that first draft all sorts of new possibilities come to me and I usually just go with instinct.  Having the first draft as your real outline for what you want to do seems so helpful to me.  Half the work is complete and I know what path I want to take.  The basic structure for what I will end up with is in place.  My characters aren’t complete, but I have a better understanding of who they are.  I may not know every fissure in my world, but I have a good idea on how to get around.  Story, plot, and themes?  Probably a little flat at this point, but man there are some great ideas ready to break free from under the surface.  All of these are reasons why I love to get the rough out-of-the-way.  The drafts to come are where you get to build the walls and place the roof on this foundation and it is where the real fun in writing is.

My rough drafts are not pretty.  It may especially be so because I write in long-hand.  I’m not sure many people could even decipher what is happening in them because my handwriting is so awful.  During the notebook read-through I’m going to do a bunch of writing in the margins, trying to find some of those holes early on.  I start getting to know my story well and some of  the biggest changes come instinctively as I write.  I also take time to break the scenes down on index cards.  This way I can see in a more concise way what is happening in the story. I like to find the importance of each scene and how they affect what comes next.  If they don’t really do anything to affect what is happening next, I have to question whether it is even needed.  It is crucial to break down each scene and figure out where they fit within the whole.  It is also good to not only break down scenes, but figure out where your acts end and see how they work in the whole as well.  Bringing each scene or act down to a few lines on a card will show you a lot of what you have, and a lot of what is missing.  I definitely recommend doing this before your second draft because breaking these down will also show you where you can move things for better pacing in your story.

The second draft, the one which goes into the computer, is where I do a lot of smoothing out of chunky scenes.  Typing it in helps me edit on the fly, but also makes me pay attention to how I word description in a way that will help the artist have a stronger picture in their head of what is happening.  I get this sense of being more active within the scene now that I have to write it again.  I feel that I’ve gotten more depth when it comes to atmosphere.  My locations are better detailed.  And since I know what my characters are doing at the end, I get a better idea of what they should or shouldn’t be doing in the beginning.

After it is all in there and I can print it out, I have a new set of details to pay attention to, the first of which is dialogue.  The best way to work with your dialogue is to read the script out loud, another famous suggestion that people tell you to do because it works. I like to do this twice.  The first time I read the entire script, and the second I read only the dialogue.  When reading the entire script out loud it will help you find more awkward wording and mistakes.  It doesn’t help so much with the flow of the work as a script with panel descriptions doesn’t have the same type of flow as an article or story.  The greatest help of reading out loud will come to the dialogue, and that is why I read it again without all the action and description.  Speaking your dialogue and acting it out will help you better understand how it is going to come off in other people’s heads.  The pacing of the conversation will come out strong in the forefront, and you will more clearly see what is not working because it sounds too silly or dramatic.  I love reading the dialogue out loud because when something really clicks, you feel a great sense of accomplishment.  This technique is so helpful to me that I read everything aloud that I write, including these essays.

What you do at this point is really up to you.  I go over my script again and again, really focusing in on what is missing and what I need to edit.  Sometimes it’ll be a character’s motivations for doing something, or it is a plot hole that needs filling.  This is when I really look at the details and figure out whether I need to research a particular aspect of the story because it obviously doesn’t sound like I know what I’m talking about.  This is really what all those drafts are all about, getting to the fine details of the script and making sure that everything is in place.  There are no mistakes anymore.  The dialogue sounds great.  All your description and pacing is smooth.  The more you look over a script, and the less you do, the closer you are to being done.  if you don’t bother putting all this work into your scripts, people will notice.

 

How do you know when you’re done?  It is often said that when you leave it alone, and it leaves you alone.  It really is as simple as that.  How many drafts does that equal?  As many as it needs, but not so many that you fall into an obsessive mode.  If that happens, just like after the first draft, it is time to step away again.  You don’t want to overwrite the thing.  If you step away for another few weeks, maybe even a month, and you come back to it and you just don’t really find anything wrong, I think you’re in a good place.

But then again, with comics the editing process may go on still.  You will always have that last reading of the script pages before you send your finished panels over to the letterer.  Sometimes you’ll look at the artists work and see new places to cut dialogue, or you’ll look at their art and it will inspire you to add a new line.  This is sometimes where I come up with my best stuff because I can now actually see my characters speaking the words.  This is my last chance to clean up the script before it is final.

Out of all the tools you will use to write, I really feel that time is your greatest benefit, especially in webcomics.  I got to a place with The Black Wall in 2013 where I felt I was ready to hire an artist.  Michelle started work on it in 2014.  In the beginning of 2015, I decided to give it another read.  It was around 312 pages at that point.  I hadn’t given it an in-depth read since 2013 so I had a lot of time away from it and was able to look at the story with a keener eye and cut a lot of heft from it.  Knowing how she worked out panels also helped show me how I can combine and excise panels to make a much leaner story.  For the first time I felt like I was a good critic of my work and had achieved a better, leaner script, getting it down to less than 300 actual comic pages.  I plan to read it over again in 2016 to do the same as we will only be through the second chapter at most.  Who knows what I will see then.  Maybe nothing, and I’ll just leave it alone because it’s leaving me alone.

 

May 09

John Can’t Draw: Roughing It

Your rough draft will be a goddamn mess.  There’s no way around it.  You’ve got so many ideas bubbling inside and blowing out of you that they can’t all land elegantly upon the page as a fully realized script.  No, these bubbles will come out of a bottle from the 99 cent store and be blown by a spastic 4-year-old.  They will come streaming out of the bubble wand and before they even get a chance to land, most will pop mid-air and the splatter will come falling to the ground.  Some will hit, but you won’t even notice what was left behind because you’re already trying to blow more.  Your description won’t be that descriptive.  Your dialogue will be about as deep as a love-struck teenager. And your plot will have as many holes as an LA street.

All of that is okay.

Actually, it’s more than ok as that is what a rough draft is all about.  It’s a big, ugly blur of words.  This doesn’t mean that it is incoherent, but more like the dots haven’t been fully connected.  Once in a great while a miracle will happen and your bubbles will land right where they need to land, popping with a perfect spatter of words across the page, but in my experience, that is a rare event.  If you do find this happening a lot, you may have to question your sense of editing, what you think good writing is, or maybe it’s time for some ego-squashing because it just isn’t that easy.  Go find yourself a writer’s group and get some constructive criticism.  Good writing is a hard-won skill that takes time.  One-draft writing is just lazy.

Yes, those are angels playing horns. Yes, your rough draft will be as ugly as this picture.

Yes, those are angels playing horns. Yes, your rough draft will be as ugly as this picture.

How about we take a lot at the “John Can’t Draw” article series as an example.  I don’t blog every day.  I don’t blog every week.  I just don’t have time for it because my main focus in life is writing comics.  If can ever shake that pesky full-time job, I can maybe do this a lot more, but for now I just can’t consider myself a blogger.  These articles you’re reading are written months in advance, usually in blocks of three.  I’m a bit old school as well as they all start in notebooks.  I don’t know if that is the best way to write, but it is the way I have always written.  It forces me to get a really good look at all of my material and write it a second time when it goes into the computer.  At this point I like to read them out loud, and make a bunch of changes as I do, because often you’ll find that sentences and paragraphs just don’t sound right.  I also take notes at this point and try to figure out what is missing.  Then it’s back to the notebook to write another section for a more detailed article.  After I then write those in, go over the WordPress recommendations, and read the article aloud again, I draw my stupid picture and hit publish.

Shit, with a process like that it’s highly likely I’ll never be a blogger.

I don’t want to get too deeply into re-writing here because that is the next article’s focus, but I wanted to show an example of my personal process so that you can see how much work can go into just a few pages.  I want you to understand that the rough draft doesn’t have to be great, it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to get done.  And getting done can mean many things depending on the scope of the project.  That can mean it takes many hours (like this article), or many weeks to months.  Of course if you are creating something gigantic, you could be looking at a lot more time.

I have a huge, unpublished graphic novel that took me years to write to a final draft, but it took so long mainly due to inexperience.  There was a lot of stopping midway to write other stories.  There was a lot of re-writing being done before it was time to re-write.  And maybe I just shouldn’t have tackled something so big before I was ready, though at the same time I learned a lot from doing it.  But what I’m trying to get at it is that a rough draft should not take years to do because to me at least, a rough draft is not where the real writing gets.

I’ve said it before, but I think it is an important point to understand:  we all write differently and we all choose different paths to get to a completed project, so I can only really speak from my experience here.  The way I write a rough draft and get to a finished script is the way I do it.  It is not the end all be all, just a writer sharing his technique.  It is always fun and interesting to learn the way different people do it, but one thing we all do the same is start with an idea.  We then start branching off from that idea and building it with other ideas that become scenes, plots, dialogue, and characters.  You may only have a theme in mind to start with.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that before you start writing the rough, there is some prep work to do and during this prep time you are going to turn one idea into many and get an outline going.

Within the outline you’ll plan out scenes and plot twists and put all those avenues your character is going to take into a tidy 1-2-3  succession of ideas, but my advice for when you actually start writing is to use instinct as a guide.  Once in a while you’re going to have to walk a path through the woods and not the well-worn street.  New ideas will come from nowhere while you are writing and I say go for it.  Your outline will always be there, but this new idea can just disappear and never come back.  Writing a rough draft is an exploration.  There is nothing strict about it, even if you are a tedious planner.  If your character wants to do something different, let her.  If she wants to squat instead of jumping, let her.  If she wants to put mustard on her eggs instead of hot sauce, let her.  Writing in general is “going with it”, you don’t really ever know what is going to end up on paper, so if something really different pops up, continue to go with it.  Get weird.  If it’s already weird, get normal.  The rule for me is that you can always go back to the plan if the new direction doesn’t work, but you can never go back to that impulse.  Once those moments pass, they are usually gone for good.  The act of writing should become routine, but the writing itself shouldn’t.

So what do you have on paper before you start writing the rough draft?  Maybe a character with a name and job title.  Maybe your idea simply consists of him sitting out in his backyard one night drinking a beer and he sees something big moving through the trees.  What is it?  You don’t know yet.  What is he going to do, leave it alone or investigate?  No clue.  You aren’t even sure what kind of person he is.  Maybe he initially leaves the thing in the trees alone because he is scared, but night after night he continues to hear the shape moving through the dead leaves and he’s losing sleep over it, so finally he goes to find out what it is.

Pretty simple example, right?  Pretty meaningless as well.  But there is a ton of room for developing this into something more.  Before actually writing the story, you may want to explore this character more to better inform the steps he will take.  You might even find out that it isn’t even his story.  He may get eaten by whatever it is that is stalking the woods just a few pages in.  Maybe his death is actually the catalyst for the rest of the story.

The methods you can use to build your outlines and concepts are many, but how you choose to do it is up to the individual storyteller.  You can explore your character’s past which can open doors to motivations for decisions he makes throughout the story.  You can explore the environment of the neighborhood or town he lives in.  Often places themselves act as a character within the story, and a historical event can be what brought about the creature stalking the woods.  Or maybe you have some ideas of the events that are to happen and that is where you begin.  You may feel more comfortable getting into the plot before exploring anything else involved.

Before even writing the rough draft you’ll be doing plenty of brainstorming so that you can get down to the nitty-gritty of your story and get moving on it.  I like to spend a bit of time doing everything.  Some of my time will be spent on the characters and the place they exist in, but usually with a heavier emphasis on where they came from.  My characters are often wanderers who have lost their place in the world, often coming to new junctions that will set the tone for their life.  Sometimes I like to work off of themes, ideas about philosophy or events happening within our own world.  I hardly ever have a real plot down upfront.  That almost always comes from the characters and their decisions, and the themes I’ve chosen to explore.  Not everything is driven by what happens next, but that being said, I do like to have a loose outline written beforehand to help guide me when I’m stuck, but never for keeping me on a predestined track.

You really don’t have to expend much time on outlining and brainstorming before writing the script.  I used to spend a great deal when I was younger, but as I’ve written more and more I like to just get into the story with a few ideas in hand because I know I can stop at any point and realign myself.  If I get to where I don’t know what is happening, I can stop and do more brainstorming and some outlining of the coming scenes.  So when I do my first work on the story before actually writing it, I don’t spend more than two weeks, if a week on it.  Now that is hours and hours of work and you can get plenty of info and exploration out in that amount of time.  Any more than that I feel is overkill, but every writer will have their way.  I’m sure there are others whose work involves deep research, that just isn’t me.  I suppose it all depends on the type of story being told.  Something steeped in real history would call for more attention.

Whatever you feel comfortable with, you should do.  The more you do it, the more refined your process will be.  It doesn’t matter how you do it, just as long as you get it done.

I have put all of this talk about prep work in the same blog entry as the rough draft because to me it is all the same.  The rough is still going to be prep work for the actual story, even when you write that first “The End”.  You are still in the initial stage of creation.  You are only putting your ideas in motion and will find when re-reading your first draft that it is not all there yet.  Not even close.  This is also why I recommend that you go all the way from start to finish when writing it, and never look back.

When I say that, I don’t mean you can’t stop and take a breather.  I do that all the time.  Reassessing what is going on in your story is a great idea, otherwise you may get lost and the rough draft won’t just be sloppy, but it won’t make sense either.  What I mean by don’t stop, is don’t stop and get bogged down in rewrites of previous pages.  Just get the thing out of you.  While you do that there is plenty of time for notes, there is plenty of time for new outlines, there is plenty of time for writing down new character traits or ideas about their past.  Just like you, your story will forever be growing and changing, so of course there are points you will want to stop and think on where else you can possibly go with it.  This is an important part of my process, especially when I get stuck and have to figure out if I went the right way or not.  But unless I’m really stuck, I don’t like to use more than one writing session for this.  As I’ve said, I want to keep moving and burning through the story, never looking back unless I really need to retrieve a piece of information that isn’t fresh in my mind.  And even then I may just make a note that the particular detail needs clarifying so that I can keep moving forward.

Some writers may feel more comfortable having the finer details in place before moving from chapter to chapter.  They may write a scene and want to keep working at it until they feel ready to move to the next, and continue to do this throughout the script.  That doesn’t mean they won’t go back and get a few more drafts done once there is a finished product.  What you don’t want to do is finish a chapter of your graphic novel and think that the story is ready for publishing.  It is not time to hire an artist.  I’ve done this myself when I’ve written more episodic comics.  I’ve vowed to never publish online again without having a finished script first.  It is not the way I do my best writing.  Before I give a script to an artist I want it completed.  Once you have an artist start work on a comic, you can’t go back and change anything.  If you’ve flubbed the beginning of your story, or there are details you need to put in place that weren’t there, it’s going to make for some careless writing later.  Sure, sometimes you may just have to get creative in the way missing details come out, but keen readers will know.  I also don’t like getting an artist involved in a story if they don’t know what they are in for.  If you don’t have a finished script, you don’t have a finished page count.  You can’t have people signing contracts if you don’t know the extent of the contract.  It is unprofessional.

One of the really big reasons for me to burn through the rough draft is that I don’t really know my beginning until I know my ending.  What I mean is that when you keep going with your story, your characters and the scenarios they are in will keep changing and coming alive in different ways.  You are going to get to know them and their stories better.  They are going to do surprising things that may not make sense with actions they do in the beginning.  You may find plot ideas that will set things into place much faster earlier on, so why slave over a chapter when it may drastically change again.  For me, there is just so much more that comes from looking at the whole, and not spending time examining specific parts.

There is a good chance that when you finish your rough draft, you’ll look over your script and realize that you don’t even have close to a finished story.  A lot of people get stuck in a three act model and that makes for some boring storytelling.  If I learned one thing from the book Screenwriting 101 by Film Crit Hulk, it’s that the three act structure is bullshit and it makes for a bad script.  While it may build an exciting start and a rousing climax, why is the entire middle section, which is the longest part,  so boring?  Change is constant in life and so it shall be within your script.  You characters should have many choices to make throughout the story, not just one major change.  When you have your finished draft in front of you, you will be able to better see these opportunities to build and change a stories direction.  You’ll see the opportunities for your characters to make bad decisions.  You’ll see the events that need to happen to propel your story forward in an exciting way.

For me, the rough draft is a blueprint, the real outline to your story.  It may take a lot longer than scribbling some plot points down on paper, but just getting the thing done is a major accomplishment that will have you knowing your story so much better.  The whole ugly thing will be right there before your eyes, naked and loud and screaming for changes.  You could argue that the most important step to writing your story is just sitting down and doing it, but for me it is what comes next: rewriting.  Because it is not only important, but it is also much more fun.

May 06

Time to get back to it…

I’ve really let this blog go.  It’s not even for a lack of content.  I have four articles that have sat in waiting to be edited and posted.  They are part of the writing series that I started last year and I could have easily found the time to get one out per month, but I haven’t.  I’m thinking that “life interruptions” will make a great future blog entry, as some things throw you so far afield, you have to motivate your motivation just to get back to where you were.

All it took was a compliment.  I didn’t think anybody really read any of this, but a kind person told me that they enjoyed my work here.  I guess that was enough for this blog to enter my head space again, get the ol’ brain working accordingly, and get down to business.

It hasn’t been complete laziness that has held me back over the last few months.  It all started when my wife and I moved to Portland.  Just when we were settling down and getting life in order, our apartment flooded.  Then we had to move again.  For a month.  In a miserable little place.  And then we had to move again. And then we had to get the new apartment together.  I also had a fluctuating work schedule that I finally got to something normal, so getting my routine down has been a bit tougher than usual.  In the meantime I wrote the rough draft of a script for a new noir comic, have kept up normal communications with my artists which takes tons of time when discussing projects, I’ve been working on getting Tales of Hammerfist posting again, built a Patreon campaign, have hired on new people to create a comic for the print editions of The Black Wall, been hard at work trying to get the first story of Ham-Fisted Tales finished (while the second is almost in the bag), and blah blah blah.  You get the point.

I’VE BEEN FUCKING BUSY!!!  I’ve also been trying to enjoy the new city I’m living in with my wife.  That downtime with your significant other is important for a healthy relationship.  Never forget that.

But I’m back.  I’m going to get to work on the edits for those blogs, and I will have one posted within the next week.  I would also like to get to work on a webcomic recommendation, but reading time lately has been seriously screwed.  If I can get two good posts on here a month, I’ll be happy.  Maybe I’ll even get a new mixtape up sometime soon.  I’ve got a ton of playlists ready for the next chapter in the exploitation series, so when I have some “fun time”, I’ll get it done.

So for now, there is this blog entry which I hope doesn’t come off sounding like excuses.  I’m back at it.  See you soon with a new blog entry.

Sep 29

It has been a bit crazy…

I haven’t posted anything since August on this blog, but for very good reason:  I’m moving soon and my whole routine has been thrown off.  Between looking for apartments, packing, working on my résumé, having car problems, and receiving visitors from out-of-town, everything has just been crazy and I haven’t been able to focus.  But I’m not here to complain, I’m here to give some updates, so here we go.

A Mugful:   I have a few articles already written that need second drafts, but you probably won’t see this blog getting back into the swing of things until late October/early November.  Hopefully I can at least do a horror comic recommendation in October.  Maybe even a movie or two.  A new John Can’t Draw article will definitely be up by November.

Tales of Hammerfist:  I’m sure most people who read any of my comics don’t think this is coming back at all, but I have good faith that it is.  I’ve been working with a new artists on an extra comic that will appear in the book for the first act.  I like working with him and am hoping he will join on for the regular comic, if so, that should mean there will be new Hammerfist comics in the new year.  I’d have him start on pages sooner, but all of this comes out of my pocket so I have to wait until I have a new job before I can start paying him.  Tobias is still on board, he always has been, it is just that life got in the way.  The way we will most likely do this is switch up every few episodes.  I know that is a bit weird as the art is going to be different, but the feel will be the same.

The Black Wall:  Since I’m moving, this comic will be on hold for two weeks at the most.  A new page will be posted on the 29th of September, and the comic should be back on October 20th.  Beyond that, the comic will keep trucking along at the usual pace.  I hope to start a real Patreon campaign at some point, and if we get enough funding, the comic will go back to two pages a week.  That would be pretty sweet, but like I said, the whole of Coffee Time Comics comes out of my pocket and I can only afford so much.  With the proper funding, I can push things a lot further.

I’m also going to start commissioning art for a story that will appear with each chapter of The Black Wall as they come out in print and as e-books.  It will be within the same universe, but a whole different story with a different feel.  I can’t wait to get this going, and as soon as I do, there should be a Kickstarter so we can get some print books made, but this process is slow so it may take a bit to get to this point.  Once I learn from the first book, subsequent books should take less time.

Ham-Fisted Tales:  Like I mentioned above, this comic will take a brief pause, the next page posting on September 30th and then not again until October 21st.  Also, if we can get a successful Patreon going i would like to post this story twice a week as well.  I already have the inks being done on the second story in the series.  I’m really loving it and can’t wait for you all to see it, but it will have to wait until next year.  As for books, they are a long way off, but with this one as well I would like to have a shorter story accompany it.

 

All in all, things are going pretty well.  Creating comics is hard as hell, but the end result is totally worth it.  Right now all I really want is to regain focus.  I have a lot of work to do towards making these comics a success, and I have a ton of ideas brewing for new comics.  That’s where I really want to be, at my computer writing, but time just hasn’t allowed for it lately only because there is so much other stuff on the plate right now.

I hope that some of this news excites you and you anticipate the future of these comics as much as I do.

 

John

Aug 28

Read This Webcomic: False Positive

In space, no one puts baby in the corner.

In space, no one puts baby in a corner.

 

What makes a horror fan?  What exactly is it about me that I connect to horror so easily, and have since I was a young kid?  Some of my earliest memories are of seeing King Kong on TV at my grandmother’s house, and sitting with my dad watching Godzilla movies and Creature From the Black Lagoon while he watched us during the day before work.  Could it possibly be just that my dad was a sci-fi fan growing up and that was passed on to me by way of horror?  Maybe there’s something wrong with me?  Is there a suppressed memory from my youth that has me attracted to the darker side of things?  I can’t tell for sure, but I do know as I grew older giant monsters turned to the gothic horror of Universal, then went to grosser places like Re-Animator and The Evil Dead, while at the same time discovering the books of Clive Barker and Stephen King.  And of course it went everywhere it could whether it be the films of Vincent Price, or my introduction to horror comics through Tales From The Crypt, and of course reading H.P. Lovecraft.

Although the avenue for horror that I enjoyed most growing up was always movies, I find myself at 37 discouraged by the lack of good modern horror films, but I’m pretty okay with it as well because there is a rich history of movies from all over the world and every era that I can still discover.  There’s also plenty of places outside of film for me to look as well.  In fact, right now I’m in the middle of a love affair and exploration of the horror anthology comics the existed during the pre-code fifties.  While I grew up reading EC Comics re-issues, I had no clue on just how many of these things there were.

While devouring and learning from these masters of old, I reminded myself that I shouldn’t stray too far from comics being created now.  I can sometimes do this as I feel so dispirited by modern works it becomes a bias.  It’s a bad attitude to have and I end up missing out on some good stories, so I looked through my “Webcomics To Read” bookmark and remembered that there was an anthology comic I had wanted to dive into for some time and maybe I should jump in.  Of course I’m talking False Positive.

 

In this scenario, "SHLUK" translates to "Shit out of luck."

In this scenario, “SHLUK” translates to “Shit out of luck.”

 

Now, I don’t want to steer you wrong, False Positive is not just horror, but I can guarantee that something horrible is always on the cusp of happening.  The stories also delve into the genres of sic-fi and fantasy, with inspiration coming from noir, heist movies, action, body horror and basically any style it feels.  The comic not only jumps around from era to era, but also worlds.  As each story starts, you really don’t know what you’re getting, even when you think you do.  A huge difference within this anthology from the anthologies of old is that there are reoccurring characters as well as open-endings.  When you read the anthologies of old, the endings are pretty straight-forward: revenge is fulfilled, or the bad guy dies.  False Positive almost always ends right were most writers would continue, often a thought-provoking moment that helps you realize that there was a place before this story happened, and there will be a place after.  As you get deeper into the archive, you realize that some of these characters will come back, so when you hit those open endings you wonder what that moment will lead to in future comics, or if there will be some greater meaning to all of this later on if and when the comic series ends.  But it also may simply be part of the  nature of False Positive, where everything is just connected thematically and philosophically.

All of the interconnectedness, recurring characters, and thematic similarities flow so seamlessly from story to story because False Positive comes from the mind of one creator named Mike Walton.

Mike has a specific style (At least in False Postive.  I haven’t read Dual.) to what he does and it is easily recognizable in both art and writing.  While the structure of the art goes for a very natural, realistic look, it is between the lines where a more surreal, almost psychedelic quality exists, and when the horrifying things happen, when shit gets wild, the art keeps us within this world believing that it is all going down.  The writing helps as well, going for straight-forward dialogue that keeps us in the real-world, and then always picking the right panel or succession of panels to bring on the weird.  We are always wanting to click to the next page because the suspense of the stories is so successful.

 

"Mommy, don't be mad. I didn't mean to rummage through your dead smurf drawer." (Worst caption ever?)

“Mommy, don’t be mad. I didn’t mean to rummage through your dead smurf drawer.”

 

Not only does the comic keep you tuned in because with each successive page you have no clue what is coming, but with each story as well.  The current story (As I write this of course) seems unlike any of the previous, with a serious meditation on nature and the choices we make, which is happening not only within the writing, but in the art as well.  When it comes to talking about the individual stories, it’s easy for me to pick my favorite ones, but it’s hard to talk about them, mainly because I don’t want to spoil anything.  Half the fun in reading Mike Walton’s comic is the discovery.  You want to experience the twists, turns, and surprises, though that isn’t all it has to offer.  The first story posted, Concoction, is one of the shorter comics of the bunch, but it easily tells you everything that is coming if you choose to continue on with this anthology series.  I feel like if you get to the end of this one, you’ll have a good idea of whether this comic is for you or not.  Of course I think everyone should keep going, but if you can’t take the imagery on the last page of this story, there is only more of that to come.  I actually felt that this was an excellent story to start with because it has all the elements of False Positive, whether it be sci-fi, horror, or fantasy rolled into one, well, concoction.

Other stories that stood out to me were Achewhich was fun, weird , and gross; Constrictionwhich is body horror on a level I’ve never seen; Seanceprobably the spookiest of the bunch; Stink Eye is a bleak look at mother nature (not necessarily our mother nature) and her creepier inhabitants.  I say bleak for that last story, but actually, most of the stories here are pretty damn bleak.  Don’t let that scare you away though, because the bleaker aspects are handled with a great understanding of dark humor.  One of my favorites was the ending of Specimen (The link doesn’t take you to the ending), a horror/sci-fi hybrid reminiscent of The Thing (Or maybe The Thing From Another World.  Your choice geeks.with an ending that could leave you cold, but more than likely will have you smiling at the very human reaction to everything that happened.

As a sucker for dystopian future stories, Fail is my favorite of the bunch.  It’s a story with a future that doesn’t seem impossible, if only because we have history steeped in the kind of miserable control exhibited, but it isn’t just the dystopian aspects that I enjoy.  If the corruption that is occurring isn’t enough, the plot turn that happens expresses the ugliest aspects of the human psyche when there is a bureaucrat involved in even the most personal decisions.  The turn shows us how easily the authoritarian nature of the state passes on to the citizen when otherwise the normal progression of life and its struggles would be the only thing dealt with between the parties involved.

I wish I could say more on these stories, but this is really the best I can do without indulging in the details.  You need to experience this comic for yourselves.

 

That time you didn't have dental insurance. OR False Positive is a comic with teeth.

That time you didn’t have dental insurance. OR False Positive is a comic with teeth.

 

Anybody who reads these reviews knows that what I do is not critiques (yet), but recommendations.  That being said, I like to talk about things that I would like to see improved, and for me it is usually something about the website.  I usually associate my computer with work these days.  It’s where I create comics myself and I already spend so much time on it that I prefer to do my reading of blogs, comics, and whatever else on my Kindle.  While reading False Positive, I was having a hard time getting pages to load.  The tab would actually time-out at times because it was taking a page so long to load.  I haven’t had this problem with any other comics that I’ve read, or anything really.  I don’t know what on the page is causing this because when I click-through from page to page on my computer, it isn’t so slow.  I found this frustrating because I enjoy reading through a comic on my lunch break at work, but I usually couldn’t get through a full story.  I actually did something I rarely do to get this review going, I sat at my computer and read the comic.  For me, that is a testament to how good the comic is.

One other small problem I had was that there were no direct links to individual pages in an archive.  This might be something that the author did on purpose.  Maybe he wants people to experience the stories as a whole, and I get that, but as a reader, I sometimes like to easily jump from page to page for reference reasons.

Putting the small problems aside, I highly recommend this comic, and you can tell from the thriving community in the comments section that many people feel the same way.  You can actually fix the Kindle problem by purchasing the comic at Comixology, where he also has another comic that I series already mentioned titled Dual for sale.  As do most comics online, Mike has a Patreon as well where you can help support future work.  Beyond all that, you can follow him on various social media outlets, and I just found a print archive where he releases a new sketch for every day of the month of October.  With all that, Read this comic guys, it’s really fun, sometimes gross, and always engaging.

I now leave you with this badass image of Boris Karloff as The Mummy!

When there is no image of Vincent Price, you go for the next best thing.

When there is no image of Vincent Price, you go for the next best thing.

 

Aug 19

Just Your Average Rant On How New Movies Suck

There is a really good chance that I’m becoming a curmudgeonly old fuck and I’m not even that old.  I’m of the opinion that the film industry really is becoming goddamn hopeless when it comes to quality filmmaking.  It seems there was a time in my life where I was going out to the movies just about every weekend, and throughout the entire year I would see maybe three films that were truly bad.  Over the last few years I’ve gone less and less, this year having only gone to see six movies from the year 2015, and only coming away liking one.  Of course tastes change, and maybe if I was going now to see the films I was watching then, I would come away feeling how I feel now, but I really do think that the quality has gone down big time, and it is mostly in the writing.

Now take it, the first film my wife and I saw this year was a mistake going in, but we were coming from a beer festival called Freeze Your Pints Off and needed a place to sober up a bit.  The thinking was that if we will be out of sorts we should watch something dumb that we could laugh at.  Good idea, right?  Well that movie was Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and while it sure was dumb, we didn’t laugh.  Besides a few actors who were trying their best, this one was bad all around.  You know it is.  I know it is.  We don’t have to get into it.

Movie number two happens to be a similar situation.  A few months later my wife and I went to another beer festival called the Strange Brew Festival.  Again, we wanted to hit up a movie we thought would be fun to go to and sober up while we were tipsy  (drunk).  This time we went to see The Fast and the Furious 7, which may have actually been called Fast 7 or Furious 7, I forget.  Nonetheless, during 2013 when the sixth film came out we decided to rally ourselves and catch up on the series since neither of us had seen any since the second film and we wanted to see what the fuss was all about.  While they all have their fun moments, the plots are sillier than the silliest B-movies, which I really don’t mind at all, but the last one was so silly I didn’t even understand what was happening.  The CGI “stunts” were so stupid that I didn’t even care.  I mean, not much can top the sixth films finale where they chase a plane down a tarmac that is at least eighty miles long, but it all gets to a point where shit is so over-the-top and stylistically cheap that the “stunts” are just boring.

Okay, the next movie we saw you’re going to hate on me for not loving as well, but The Avengers: Age of Ultron, while not a bad movie, was not so great either.  Don’t get me wrong, I had fun watching it, but it had some problems that I didn’t understand, one of them carrying over from the first film.  The fight scenes cause massive civilian death that we never see or feel.  In the first movie we saw these boring, generic alien creatures taking over a city and destroying it, but I never once felt the impact of it.  A similar scene in the sequel was the Hulk versus Iron Man scene.  That scene must have destroyed everybody.  If buildings were getting that demolished, then these two heroes must have murdered at least a hundred people or so.  I have a problem with that.  I also have a problem with some of their fight scenes against the enemy feeling so flawless.  There is nothing worse than flawless, ultra-coreographed fight scenes.  I’ve never felt that The Avengers were really in trouble.  The biggest flaw of the movie was the super-villain Ultron.  Maybe I just didn’t get it, but is A.I. really going to have a plan to destroy the world using Dr. Evil techniques?  Is A.I. really going to create a bomb out of a city that has to fly in the air and come crashing back down to the Earth so it can blow the thing up?  You’d think that an artificial intelligence super-villain would at least start by shutting down all of Earth’s communications.  It seemed way more interested in cracking jokes and being witty.

After that came Mad Max: Fury Road.  Thank you!  Thank you George Miller for saving my movie year!  At least until the new Tarantino film comes out…

Finally, a few weeks ago we took our nephew to a double-feature at the drive-in that consisted of Pixels and Jurassic World.  While I never had any intention of seeing Pixels, I enjoyed it more than the dinosaur movie that I had every intention of seeing.  Yes, Pixels was a bad movie, I’m not denying that, but it at least made me laugh a few times.  Jurassic World just had me rolling my eyes.  While built on a bunch of contrived coincidences, Pixels at least had an inkling of plot.  I couldn’t tell you what Jurassic World was about.  I would even go as far to say that Pixels had more character development.  In the dinosaur film, everybody was about as flat as they can be.  The pixellated movie I expected to be dumb, but it was never as dumb as a man communicating with velociraptors as though they were dogs, and then later rode motorcycles with them.  There was also a woman who could not only run through the jungle in high heels, but also outrun a T-Rex!  And lastly, there was a scene where the T-Rex teams up with a velociraptor to fight a genetically engineered monster.  I had no idea they were going for high camp with this movie.

So where does that leave me.  First I have to look at myself.  Why did I make so many bad decisions?  Were these movies really that bad or am I just miserable?  Obviously good movies were released this year, so why didn’t I go see them?  Maybe they didn’t play locally or maybe I just didn’t know.  Nonetheless, these films and worse ones are a big part of what Hollywood has offered us as of late.  They couldn’t even get my ass in a theater seat once a month this year and I can’t think of any I missed that I was truly disappointed that I missed.  I’m positive there is a movie that just didn’t play Reno because it wasn’t wide-released that I would have loved, but for now, this is where I am with my viewing and I have a feeling I’ll be seeing even less next year.

My distaste for wanting to watch new movies has even crossed over into the home.  I have a hard time trusting new movies to the point I don’t even bother throwing them on.  I’ve wanted to see Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem for a while now and I saw that it was finally available to rent on Amazon Prime.  But when it came down to paying the $2.99, I couldn’t do it.  I already have a love/hate relationship with Zombie’s movies, and this time it came down to not wanting to waste my time.  Instead I went with a classic that was available for free.  I watched Rosemary’s Baby, which unbelievably I had never seen before, and loved every second of it.

There was a chance I would not have liked Rosemary’s baby, but I have so much more trust in older filmmakers, not only the directors, but everyone involved.  I don’t believe this trust comes down to a matter of taste either, rather it is a matter of quality that does not exist in most films anymore.  I feel like you could throw most B-movies on from older eras and find more of that quality than you will in newer films.  I admit that in some cases that this may come down to me wearing rose-colored glasses.

But if the quality really has gone down there is plenty of blame to go around.  What I’m not going to do for once is blame Hollywood.  That is way too easy.  The problems of marketing and branding are well-known and talked about plenty.  The money men get blamed for everything in every sector, but what people don’t seem to understand is that they are answering to a market, and that market is you and I.

You’re most likely saying, “John, you’re an asshole.  I didn’t go see any of those terrible films.”  Well good for you.  Guess what, even if I didn’t go see them, millions of other people did.  They will keep going again and again, no matter how bad the movies get.  Movies aren’t dumb because untalented people are making them, movies are dumb because it is what people want.

I’m not denying there are hack filmmakers out there, there’s no doubt about it, but the audience isn’t distinguishing who these hacks are and letting them fail.  Letting people fail is a wider societal problem these days, but I’m going to keep this to Hollywood.  Somehow there are four Transformers movies.  I went to see the first one and realized that there was no going up from that piece of shit.  Franchises are rebooted, remade, and rehashed as if they didn’t just exist.  I’m not opposed to that, but let them rest fora bit until you can come up with a fresh concept for a new era.  I’m not even mad that we are swamped with superhero movies, every period of film is bombarded with movies of a certain genre whether it be westerns or noir, and it is pretty obvious that people want superhero movies right now.  The problem with superheroes is that even movies not based on comic books have them.  Sure, action film stars have always been able to dodge bullets, but now they can leap tall buildings unscathed on top of a whole litany of other ridiculous stunts.  If they remade the original Die Hard, John McClane would come out of it unscathed rather than a beat up, bloody mess.

The audience wants bigger and dumber and less reality than ever.  It seems that every movie that comes out is a fantasy film of some sort.  Fantasy is a type of film that has crossed over into every genre across the board.  Action movies weren’t always fantasy films, but in 2015 when you have cars leaping from building to building, they are.  I’m not saying fantasy is dumb, it’s just when you bring all films into the realm of fantasy, they become dumb.  We don’t need spectacle dancing in front of our eyes with every single film made.  I just want a good story.  I don’t want explosions in every movie, not unless they are there to move the story and characters forward to the next act.  The problem is, other people seem to want this.

Maybe it has just been a terrible year for movies, but if people keep going to see this shit, it will only get worse.  Personally, I think I’ve learned my lesson.  If you don’t know, don’t go, and stop giving your money to garbage.  Luckily, I’m moving to Portland, Oregon soon where they have a thriving revival theater community.  If the new flicks are bad, I should have plenty of options available to me with old flicks and I’ll be able to enjoy my time in the theater again.

This week my wife and I plan to go see Trainwreck.  Please, please, restore some faith and don’t live up to your title.

 

Sidenote:  Trainwreck was really funny.  I laughed for the entire movie.  Definitely worth your time if you enjoy a good comedy.  Judd Apatow isn’t my favorite filmmaker, but I really like Knocked Up as well.  They would make a good double-feature.

Aug 14

Scorpion Necklace Around A Golden Neck – Exploitation Mix 4

This new mix fits in with the exploitation series mostly by way of era and the shock value that the film genre of Giallo provided.  If you aren’t familiar with Giallo films, they were Italian thrillers (though they could be a movie from any country as long as theory fit the mold.  The word “giallo” actually means “yellow” and stems from pulp paperbacks with yellow covers that I’m supposing a lot of these films derived from.

As usual this mix doesn’t necessarily have all music from Giallo films, but all of the music fits with the theme.  Interesting thing, as I was coming up with a description on the Mixcloud page, it actually inspired an idea for a story.  Will it ever come to light?  Who knows.  It could fit under my Ham-Fisted Tales comic series if I take that away from gothic horror, or who knows, maybe at some point I will story a noir  comic series at some point with shorter stories and i could have a Giallo-style comic as my first book.

We shall see…

 

Jul 14

John Can’t Draw: What’s The Big Idea?

We all write differently.  Whether it is the technique and style we use, or the time of day and medium we work in.  There are a million different ways that a million different people have in all their different combinations, but I’m pretty sure the one thing we have in common is the way we gather ideas, because mostly they just come out of fucking nowhere.  Yes, you can sit down with a pencil and paper and sketch out new ideas in real-time (which I definitely do), but mostly they come to us while driving, or sleeping, or in the shower.  The tools of the writer are simple and cheap, so invest in a notebook and a pencil (or just use your smartphone) and always have them with you because you need to record those ideas that suddenly come before they are gone,  especially if you’re like me and have problems with memory and focus.  There have been many occasions where I’ve driven and had to repeat a new idea over and over in my head until I’ve reached my destination and could record it without crashing my car.

Of course not all the ideas that spring forth from the folds and curves of your grey matter are gold.  Some are worthless jumbles that meant something for a brief moment, and if you can’t interpret them, they will not be of much use.  But write everything down because that one you forget may be the one that leads you to writing that much bigger story, though some of these ideas won’t be for that bigger story.  Some that come to mind will help you smooth out an existing plot or create a much deeper character.  Ideas are sometimes dialogue that can kill some boring exposition and create greater meaning for the story in a stronger way.  These are some of the type of ideas that I most enjoy.  It’s so strange to me that somewhere in your subconscious you’ve worked at a stubborn plot point that you could not figure out, and at some point the solution finally comes shooting out of your mind like a torpedo and slams through the wall that previously existed and helps free your story.

 

If it is an idea that will melt faces, it is an idea to embrace.

If it is an idea that will melt faces, it is an idea to embrace.

 

These are really the moments of inspiration that I referred to in previous articles.  This is the reason I feel inspiration is fleeting as a motivator.  For me it is these moments where everything works inside of your mind and comes blurting out onto the paper.  There is a lasting effect to it when you sit down and get to work this new idea out.  Some of the juices are left from the initial burst and can help carry you for a bit, but as always, it’s the hard detective work that will get you furthest when trying to find where the pieces fit.

My very favorite concept bursts are of course the new ones.  Sure, it’s great being carried from point A to B in your story, especially when it’s in a trouble area, but the brand new stuff, the seeds for your next story, that’s the really fun material to work with.  It’s often such a tiny nugget of information, it truly is amazing that you can develop a full 300 page graphic novel out of one sentence.  That is the case with one of my current comics The Black Wall.  The particular sentence that brought that comic about was a piece of dialogue that still holds true to the intent and themes of the story.  Not only does it still hold true, but it is still in the story, only in a slightly different form.

“Somehow I always end up back in the valley.”

And that’s it.  How did that bring about the graphic novel that I’m self-publishing now?  When I think back to when I originally wrote that idea down, I can only guess, but it must take me back to 2008 when two of my old comics were finishing up, and before I moved to Reno from Los Angeles.  At the time I was looking for a new comic to write.  Along with my artistic partner in crime Tobias Gebhardt (also great friend and best man), I had created a comic book world with the comics Coffee Time Across the Way.  They took place across the street from each other and in the same story universe, albeit in very different worlds tonally.  While one was more comedy-based, the other was a darker noir story, and I wanted to create something new in the latter.

The Black Wall (originally titled A Real Asshole) is that comic, but of course throughout the process of building the idea, a lot changed.  A shit ton to be exact.  Plenty that I can’t go into because at the time of this writing, there is only one chapter online, but enough that I can get my ideas on ideas across fully.

The first thing that changed was location.  When I finally started working on The Black Wall (after writing a massive script for another project that still hasn’t seen the light of day) it was a few years after writing that line and sketching out the embryonic thoughts.  This is just a guess, but it was probably now 2010 when I started to really work on it (I need to get into the habit of putting dates on my writing).  By then I had lived in Reno for some time and realized what a unique and underused place it was.  I was sort of sick of everything taking place in bigger cities, and while the Coffee Time universe wasn’t exactly LA, it was.  So now that line that appears within the first few pages was “Somehow I always end up back in Reno.”  Since there was no concrete story yet, this felt like a minor change, but this graphic novel’s personality largely comes from its environment, so it was more significant than I thought.  The story is also much about the surveillance state and how widespread it has become, where you wouldn’t just see this happening in a big city.  There’s so many small things about changing the place that it builds up to a really major change.

In the original write-up, the main character Hank (who I only called MAN) was a washed-up salesman in his 40’s who kept losing at life.  He was a man we related to for our own failings, but one we also feared because he never recovered from them.  The dialogue that I wrote told me that this is who Hank is, a man who always returned to the same place because he could not get along anywhere else.  And this is where I usually start, with a character.  This piece of dialogue may have seemed simple, but it is what helped me build Hank, and helped me build the full story.

As I worked more and more on the character, I understood that it would not take place within the same world as Across the Way, but it’s connection would be the main character himself.  His type to be more exact.  Instead of a salesman, I turned Hank into a veteran of the modern American wars much like Erik was.  I’ve always felt like ex-soldiers are good noir characters because they’ve already been to the dark side.  They’ve seen things and been in situations I couldn’t imagine.  When you watch noir films from the 40’s and 50’s most of the characters had been in WWII and I feel that it’s almost a traditional thing that I want to carry on. Most characters that are veterans are action heroes these days.  They are no longer complex, but simply super men.  Changing times I guess.  Initially, Hank was also supposed to work as a used car salesman at a trashy car lot.  At some point before, he was a well-to-do insurance salesman but had lost it all.  Thematically, this idea is still in the story, only Hank went from being a military man to being a security guard in an empty warehouse.  He was still switching roles from something of high regard in society, to something seen as lesser.  Now I don’t see a security guard as lesser, but one who guards an empty warehouse might not feel much position in life.  He also went from having an ex-wife and son, to having a daughter, which in the larger context of the story makes more sense.  Of course I can’t divulge because the story isn’t there yet, but within the themes of this story, it makes for a stronger point.

With these small character changes, the original plot started to change as well.  It was once a more basic vigilante tale, one about a loser who had never physically dominated anyone in his life, only financially.  Not getting what he needs after going bankrupt, he finds a self-esteem boost after helping a girl fend off some thugs who were meaning to rape her.  This makes him feel powerful, so he does it agin and again, needing it like a drug in his system.  There are elements I don’t want to mention because they do remain in some form, but Hank does not stay as this type of character.  The story changed  as I better understood who he was.  Even the title changed from A Real Asshole to The Crown to Made in America and finally The Black Wall.  

But one thing remained, and that was the original idea: “Somehow I always end up back in Reno.”

It was still a story about a man disappointed in life and the choices he made.  It was still the story of a man returning home, but not because he wanted to.  It was still a story of man who didn’t understand how he had gotten to where he was.  While there are many themes to the story, those remain as some of the more central themes to Hank.  While it is no longer a simple vigilante tale, those renegade aspects of Hank’s character still drive him in the story.

I find that this often happens with ideas.  No matter where the story goes, that original thought usually remains in some form.  Looking to one of my other comics, Tales of Hammerfist, the same can be said.  When I work with Tobias, ideas come about differently.  With everything we’ve worked on, Tobias has presented me with a series of characters which I’ll look at and think about and start sketching out details of their lives.  Usually I know some aspects of what kind of story we have on our hands right away.  With Coffee Time, I knew it was something more fun, and would have a looser world with a variety of wild characters.  With Across the Way, I knew we had something more serious on our hands.  The characters were in the Coffee Time style, but had a tougher look to them, like maybe they’ve done some not so good things.  I knew early on this would give me a chance to explore a more criminal/noir based world.

With Tales of Hammerfist I received three different drawings.  One was a sketch of Berend, a very large man, obscenely large.  Another was of a bunch of rowdy men drinking beer in a pub during Oktoberfest.  And the last was the Berend character (originally titled The Bavarian Hammer by Tobias) holding a huge hammer, carrying a log over his shoulder, a beautiful woman holding a large beer by his side, and a bunch of gremlin creatures and a tree hag attacking from behind.  Needless to say, I loved the look.  I had written some pretty serious stuff over the last few years and just looking at the art for this idea was a breath of fresh air.  It was fantasy, the characters were more exaggerated than anything we’ve worked on together, and the emphasis of the drawing was on fun.  It seemed that Tobias wanted to create a world where we can do anything we wanted.  I was totally game for this.  The original intent of those drawings still remain, even with the more serious philosophical story elements that tie the thing together.

Interestingly enough, I was about to discuss the original concept for my comic Ham-Fisted Tales, and how sometimes we have to know when to let an idea go when a new one popped into my head.  The concept I was sketching out for it was going for a more old school anthology feel, where there would be a character who told the tales to us.  This character had a loose story that would be a fun framing device, but really nothing more.  I never followed this idea because the first tale I wrote ended up being a lot longer than it should for this type of horror comic.  I admit that I am a verbose writer at times and maybe need to reign myself in with some editing skills (which I am getting better at), but these long tales I was writing were wild and fun, and I felt they deserved their length.  So Ham-Fisted Tales became single horror stories that stood on their own.  But now thinking back on that old idea, a new layer suddenly came to mind, one that I suppose was always there.  It is a way for me to tell the short anthology style horror stories as well as a greater, more in-depth story that is very much to my taste these days.  Will I ever use this new idea?  It’s hard to say.  I have a lot on my list of things to get to over the next two years, but it’s definitely one to keep on the back burner and come back to now and again to see how it has grown wherever it sleeps in the corner of my mind.

This small event goes to show exactly what I’ve tried to get across.  Sometimes there is an idea in the waiting, as if your mind is working on a sub-conscious level making connections you couldn’t figure out the first time around.  Funny thing is, had I not written this article on ideas, this new hit of inspiration may have laid dormant, but this is how it happens.  This is how we develop ideas.  Sometimes we move on from one because we don’t know what to do with it, or we think it’s not that good.  Or sometimes our enthusiasm for a different project is greater.  But then this happens, we look at an old idea that probably would have gone unused and forgotten about, this new layer comes about that helps you transform a simple horror anthology into a historical drama as well, and then your gears are working again and you know that this is something that greatly interests you because it brings together two worlds that put you in your happy place.

I know I have something when I write run-on sentences.

So let this be a lesson in collecting your old ideas someplace and reviewing them.  You might find something for one story that sprouts into a whole new story.  You just never know what path you’ll walk down at the inception of an idea.

The original idea is a strong one.  It is lasting.  It may go through a long, hard journey, but usually comes out unscathed and still standing.  Your story is going to move in one hundred different directions, but no matter how foreign the story seems to your original sketch, the spark that began it all has grown into an unstoppable fire, still made from the same substance it started with.   Tracing The Black Wall back to a small moment of time in 2008 when I wrote down a simple line of dialogue leaves me in awe of the mysteries of the mind and writing in general.  That comic will be complete by 2018, a ten-year journey because of a few good words.

Patience is another virtue comic creators must have and I will get into that in another article.

So while ideas come and go, you’ll go through hundreds and thousands during your writing career, sometimes you’ll have one that is strong enough to develop and nurture.  Always write your ideas down.  Always reassess them.  Outside of the motivation it takes to see a comic all the way through to completion, ideas are absolutely your greatest tool.  They are the inspiration of your stories.  They are the satisfaction to your hunger for creation.  For a few of you out there, a good idea will bring you a career, maybe even a living.

Jun 26

John Can’t Draw Supplemental: Stress

I’m fortunate that my biggest distraction is one that I have pretty good control over most of the time.  It’s unfortunate that it isn’t something that I enjoy and can easily regulate like reading, or watching movies, but actually something that I rather hate: Stress.

I have pretty good control over my life.  Although my younger self would probably punch me in the face for having such a routine existence, my current self doesn’t mind so much.  Although I love getting the chance to take off and get out of my comfort zone, most of my days see me waking up early to get work done at home before going to work-work.  You know, the place that pays the bills.  My days off are pretty similar, only after getting some work done, I enjoy time with my wife.  I don’t like drama, and I don’t have any health problems.  Money is okay, though tight, and that’s about it really.

We have a cat.  Sometimes she is stalking me to get brushed or fed.  I can handle that.

eyestab

Sometimes the feels are just too much.

Most times when problems arise, I am able to get through them one at a time and I can move on.  I’m also usually busy enough where work will keep my mind from getting sucked into the black hole of obsession where you let bullshit just gnaw at you all day.  I know that most issues are passing and will only be around for a few weeks.  Maybe I’m just lucky that I don’t have pressure mounting on me all the time because of dumb choices.  I may even be too safe sometimes, and that can ultimately be a bad choice because there is absolutely nothing wrong with risk or pressure.  I’m just saying I don’t get myself into bad situations often.  But who knows, I can’t fully diagnose myself, but what I can say is that there are times like now when the stress starts to build from many areas and my mind just cannot focus.

It seems that I’m being attacked from all sides.  I’m moving to a new city, which also means finding a new job as good as the one I have now, and getting to know the ins and outs of a new place.  I’m trying to sell my car privately, which I’ve never done before, so there is a lot of new learning with that.  Not all of my comics aren’t exactly where I hoped they would be.  A lot of times these things map out differently in your head, but the reality is that you are dealing with many people when producing three different comics and as an independent producer who is self-funding, you just aren’t going to have the kind of control you want.  There is also health-related stress coming from different relations in my life whether family or friends.  This is always some of the most stabbing stress for me because the problems are usually geographically far away with the plus that I can’t control nature.  Those are the big problems, but of course there are all those little problems that happen every day which enhance everything else greatly.  And problems listed may not even seem all that big to you, I myself am in disbelief at the stress I’m feeling as I’ve handled all these things much better in the past.  But right now, there is just some perfect alignment going on inside my head and body that have me feeling it a little more than usual.

When you have a lot going on in life and your ass is getting kicked, it can make it harder to get the things done that need to get done.  Even though my writing and comic work is often an escape from all this, when the focus isn’t there, it is just another burden on your mind.  At this point you really have to understand that for a few weeks you may have to take a new approach.

I’m no stress guru and I’m sure there is a lot of different sources out there that have great advice if you’re undergoing stressful times, but I’m coming at this from the perspective of a writer who gets blocked by this stuff once in a while and needs to take a step back and understand what is happening.  Human beings are a pretty strong bunch, but we can really only handle so much at a time, and there are practical steps that you can take to give yourself a bit of relief.  Like I said, I’m a writer, so yeah, my advice for you is to write things down.

People like making lists right?  Well why not list out everything that is on your mind, starting with those things that have been holding you down for some time.  Lists are great, but you have to use them correctly.  There’s an obvious reason people make lists, because they have stuff on their mind.  Most likely if you’re listing out your favorite films, there’s nothing practical you can really do with that beyond sharing it with friends and starting a fun discussion.  But if you’re listing out your stresses, just finishing the list isn’t the end.  Once you have a bunch of your daily pressures listed out, I would start looking for solutions and timetables.  When you have them on paper they will at least be someplace that you can visually see them and break them down.  Some on the spot analysis might even relieve you and show you why it isn’t actually that big of a deal.  Lets take the example of selling your car.  Some of the questions you need to ask will revolve around whether you need to perform any maintenance, how you are selling it, can you wash it yourself or does it need a major detailing, and where it falls in current price ranges.  A timetable on something like this is a bit abstract, as selling a car can take a week, or it can take months, but if you at least know what you need to do before putting it up for sale, you have a timeline to the day you post it online or put it in a lot.  Depending on how fast you want to sell it, your step may even be as simple as taking it around to a few dealers just to get it off your hands.  After breaking down this list item, you may just realize that it isn’t such a big deal after all and this task could be off your hands in just a few days.

Say one of the blocks in your life is the health of a family member, or maybe even yourself.  This will be a bit of a different situation because there isn’t always a timetable.  You may have a parent getting a hip replaced, which is generally a safe procedure, but you need to realize that there will be some pain involved with the person you love.  It’s a passing pain though,  and they are going to come out healthier on the other end.  These situations are always wait-and-see as you can’t control the outcomes of nature.  The best you can do here is write down ways you can help the situation.  Sometimes the best you can do is make those phone calls and give support.  People are resilient, and having positive friends and family around is a huge help.  Of course the health problem isn’t always a hip replacement, sometimes it’s going to be cancer.  Listing this out definitely won’t feel like it is helping.  If you have stress in your life because somebody you love has a debilitating disease, you know exactly why that stress is there, and how do you break something like that down?  But you can try.  Where would you start?  How about with things you can do to help that person make their life easier.  Are you far away?  Make a trip.  Are you really not handling it well?  Maybe find a group online or one that meets in real life where you can talk to people in similar situations.  When it comes to the subject of mortality I think the best medicine for your mind is facing it.  Write about your own life, or what that person means to your life.  Face it, understand it, and think about your own mortality and what death is.

I find writing to be such a great way of facing my fears.  I don’t always journal, but when I do it really helps me come to a better understanding of what is going on deep within me.  It’s a great way to answer questions you have or explore ideas and ideology that form your outlook on life.  I truly believe it is the best way to make sense of the world.  It’d be nice to have a long conversation with somebody about your ideas, but that conversation isn’t always there.  This is one of the huge benefits of writing comics for me.  It is a challenge to myself and an exploration.  It is a way for me to take on life.

And that’s the thing about getting rid of a block like stress.  We must take life on.  That’s how we grow, that’s how we move on, that’s how we get things done.  You cannot hide from it and you cannot run away.  This is why a simple list is a powerful tool as long as you break each item down to what you need to do to get it done.  Like I said, some items are more abstract than others, but in all you should have a better understanding of what needs to happen to see each item through.  While some of the items are more prolonged than others, getting smaller things like selling a car out-of-the-way, will help you face the deeper issues with a more clear mind.

So now that you have your list of items that are screwing up your life, how about you take a look at what is going to make it better, be it your comic, novel, business, or relationships.

What are the big projects that you need to get done?  Is your lack of focus getting in the way of completing as much work as you usually do?  I think this is a good time to focus on which of these are most important, and get a basic order to things that you would like to finish during these distracting moments of stress.  Don’t get crazy, just look out to a distance of two weeks.  List out each big project that you have to get done in order of immediacy.  Is there a nearing deadline involved in one of these?  That is the first item you tackle.  Lets say you made a deal with an artist and you have some pages of a script to finish up so they can start working on them.  You also have some blog posts to write on a blog that nobody reads, but if you don’t get them done, you won’t meet your monthly quota of what you want posted.  It is pretty obvious which of those is most important and you may not have a post on your blog this month.  It’s fine.  It will be a personal disappointment, but one you can deal with.  Get those pages to the person who is relying on you, and then work on the blog.

Some projects are going to seem much more overwhelming than the simple two that I’ve mentioned.  Bigger projects take more steps.  Break those steps down so you’ll better understand when you can actually get them finished and crossed off your list.  Sooner or later you’re going to notice that the list is getting smaller and smaller and eventually life will be manageable again and you work schedule will be back on track with your regular focus.  I say keep these lists someplace in reach so that you can see your progress.  It feels good to watch things disappear from your life and get back to a routine that fits your lifestyle.

What if items aren’t getting crossed off?  That can be distressing.  I would say that this is a good sign to take a break from all your artistic aspirations for a week or two to make time for some stress relief.  Get the big blockage items done and take some time to relax.  I rarely tell people to take downtime because I feel there are some who abuse it and have problems managing time between important things and slacking off.  But when life is piled high on top of you, doing activities that are distracting in a fun way to relax your mind for a bit are fine.  Read some comics.  Play a game.  Go for a walk.  Watch a movie.  Get an extra hour of sleep.  Just don’t get carried away.  There are times when life is harder than others, sometimes for long periods.  Relax, get the stresses out-of-the-way, get to personal projects when the time is right, and have some fun downtime in between.  Before you know it, some of these pressures will be relieved and your day-to-day work will be that much more manageable.  You’ll be back to your highly productive self in no time, creating awesome art and finishing projects at a pace that produces satisfaction, the very best form of stress relief.

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