Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Qomics Quandary

(Thumbnail! Clicky.)

It's been a couple of months since I've done any comics, and I've got a bunch of scripts backlogged. Last night I sat down and started on a new strip.

I'm not sure I'm going to finish it. Looks like we've finally arrived at the crossroads.

Question: should I keep making comics?

I mean, I could be writing instead (blog posts, short fiction, long fiction, etc.) and at the moment it's not like I'm suffering from any shortage of ideas. If I work on comic strips for two or three hours a night, that's two or three hours that I'm not writing.

This wouldn't be a concern if: 

1.) It didn't take me such a bloody long time to make a comic strip. I've never timed myself because I truly don't want to know.

2.) For all the time it takes, my comic strips still look. . .unimpressive. I won't deny there's a charm to them, but something so visually underwhelming shouldn't take so fucking long to make. There are too many other people who can produce better-looking work at a much faster rate than me. It is disheartening.

3.) Drawing will probably never be something at which I excel, but I know I can write better than most people, and my development as an author still hasn't peaked. If I'm going to invest time and energy into cultivating a talent, shouldn't I choose the one with the most potential for growth?

4.) I might be mistaken, but I would like to think that my prose has a greater likelihood of getting under readers' skins and into their heads than my comic strips. We return to the time factor. I could spend twenty hours writing and drawing a comic strip that somebody reads in twenty seconds and chuckles at mildly. Or I could spend thirty hours writing and polishing a fiction piece that takes somebody five to fifteen minutes to read and rattles them and makes them think. (Again, I've never timed myself. Just throwing numbers out there.)

A thought that gives me pause: a comic strip might elicit (say) fifty chuckles, while a prose piece would only get the wheels turning in only three or four different heads. Comics are more widely read and circulated; they're easier to read, process, and appreciate.

But then again:

X.) It's been years since 8 Easy Bits. How many people are still with me, anyway?

Y.) The webcomics game is about frequency. If I can't update once a week, I probably can't expect to draw in readers who will come back. Maintaining a regular update schedule for the amount of time necessary to get into readers' RSS feeds is a commitment I'm not sure I'm willing to make, because:

Z.) Lately I've been having more fun writing than drawing. Maybe that's because I don't know how to use Illustrator and I'm so maladroit with a tablet. For all my griping about writing and editing, I almost always have a worse time drawing and shopping.

Or should I just shut up and finish that comic strip I already got started on?

Requesting guidance, please.


  1. The time spent/time it takes to consume ratio is definitely built into the media themselves. The important tradeoff between the two of them is accessibility, though. People are much more likely to look at a comic than read plain words.

    If you want a small exercise, you could take the worst pen(cil) you can find and then see how fast you can make your drawings with them still recognizable. Sure, they'll look sketchy, but in a way that's sort of the point.

    Of course, if you're not set on comics at all, this comment isn't necessary.

  2. This is something i've also been pondering for awhile, and interestingly it was thrown into sharp relief when I went to a Man Ray photography exhibition at the national portrait gallery (London) last week.

    The thing with committing yourself to numerous disciplines is that you start to worry you're becoming a 'jack of all trades, master of none' - in Man Ray's case, his photographs were 'alright' and his painting and lithographs are 'alright' - but against, for example, Lee Miller and Dali who committed themselves pretty much entirely to those respective disciplines, he's nothing to write home about.

    That's entirely my opinion of course, and in this particular case i'm inclined to say you should continue with your comics - not least because i've read them all and they absolutely crease me.
    Additionally, comics are essentially narrative, so it's not like you're deviating so completely from your primary interest and you could consider them more like 'practice' or little doodle accompanied vignettes. They may also give you an outlet around your writing and allow you to express moments out of the everyday that wouldn't normally find their way into your prose - for example the high school reunion strips. But what the hell do i know?! If you feel happy writing right now, then write. If you get uninspired, draw. If you try and push yourself against your inclinations into one or the other you may just end up pissed off, and worst of all, not being productive with either!

  3. I'm reminded of the demotivator poster, "If you can't learn to do something well, learn to enjoy doing it poorly.". In this case, if you feel like your comics aren't up to snuff, then the question is do you still like to do them or is there something else you'd rather do? It sounds like the answer is yes, you'd rather be writing. Maybe you'll lose some of your readers, but think about it this way, if you continue with the comics you'll draw more eyes but they're eyes that may have no interest in your writings. So would you rather draw more readers but do something you're not fully engaged in or have a smaller audience but feel like you're doing what you really love? Good news is whatever way you choose to go, you can always change gears if you don't feel as fulfilled as you were hoping.

  4. Why is there this notion that specialization is required in order to make good art? All art forms come from the same root, they're all methods of human expression. Maybe they're similar to languages: after one learns a second language, learning a third or fourth isn't nearly as hard. And just as learning a new language provides knowledge of the inner workings of one's first tongue not able to be found elsewhere, diving into a new art form illuminates the capabilities and limitations of one's primary form of artistic expression. Stated briefly, the better at drawing you become, the better a writer you'll be.

    1. I think there's SOME value to doing a comic in terms of being a better writer, but the question is how many hours of comicry translate into an hour of becoming a better writer, if that's the real goal. If it's a 2:1 ratio, maybe that's not too bad, but if it's 10:1, well then is that an efficient use of time? The prevailing theory is it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, so if Pat's goal is too be a master writer, then it would stand to reason the best use of his energy would be to get those 10,000 hours in as quickly as possible.

    2. I wasn't clear before. I'm not saying he should improve his writing through drawing. However, I don't think it's right to look at drawing comics as bringing in new readers and nothing else. Any discipline is useful in itself, and most have functionality elsewhere. Still, Pat should do as he pleases. I'm not really giving advice as much as pointing out something that's been overlooked.

  5. I think you should do what you enjoy doing. I enjoy reading your comics, so I do, but if you don't enjoy making them, then you probably shouldn't. I'd say the same thing to the Penny Arcade guys if they didn't enjoy making comics, and I'd say the same thing to you if you didn't enjoy writing. The thing is, it's not like you're choosing whether or not you should give up on comics for the rest of your life; if the mood strikes you, you can always pick up the pen again (your drawing pen, not your writing pen. Or maybe they're the same pen. I don't really know) It seems pretty clear that, at least for right now, making comics is not something you enjoy, so you should probably just take a break.

  6. If you get more satisfaction from writing than drawing, then the answer is obvious.

  7. I would ditch the comics altogether. Leave it to the younger generations to make stick figure web comics. That market is saturated, and even the very best content being produced isn't very interesting to anyone over 25.

    Keep up the writing, I think you have a lot of interesting insights. The Zeroes was a memorable read, I am looking forward to the next.

  8. "If you get more satisfaction from writing than drawing, then the answer is obvious."

    Pretty much that. I love your comics, but your stories are what really get under my skin.

  9. Do what you feel. I'll probably like it regardless of what it is.

    Your latest short story creeped me right the fuck out in the absolute best way, but your comics strike me in that 20-something "what the hell am I doing, this world is absurd" place in my brain that's not touched by much else in the same way. (Does that even make sense?)

  10. I wish I've seen and answered this before. I'm part of the crowd that got to meet you because Easy 8-bits. I still believe some of your best material is there, but hear me out before scoffing and walking away: I'm not talking about the comic as a serialised, plot-driven story. That was entertaining but it was visible that you struggled at parts and eventually just lost interest.

    No, I'm talking of the intermissions, those wonderful pieces of social commentary by this amazing jerk with a greatly defined voice and personality that was the "author". It was incredibly funny and thought-provoking. I keep going back to the "dumpster diving" strip, or the one were 'friend' read 'War and Peace' and the author dismisses long-form narrative for the digitalised snippets of our contemporary society. Not to mention the mini-arc of the "outdoors epiphany". One of the reasons I keep hanging around is the faint hope that I'll ever see some more of those.

  11. I'm still with you since 8EB, and I enjoy your works regardless of medium. Whenever there's an update to Comics Over Easy it's a pleasant surprise, but if you feel that your time would be better spent writing pure text, go with that. I admit I'm often guilty of looking at the feed of this blog and thinking "I'll read that later" and put it off pretty much indefinitely, while comics are easily digested and I tend to just read them as soon as they turn up.

    Another option would of course be to let someone else do the drawing while you do the writing. Hell, if you've no demand for quality art I'll offer to do it, or at least try (but note that I'm really not good at drawing). I'd expect nothing in return, I just like the idea of contributing to things I value.