The Real Thing.
I recently sold a Kerry and the Knight of the Forest page and I’m reminded of the bittersweet feeling of parting with pieces of art. One the upside, yay, I can pay (or contribute towards) bills this month. On the other I feel a little bit sentimental about letting go of a tiny piece of my life.
Some pages are drawn on an uneventful day. I’m happy to have completed the required amount of work and taken the evening off. Some days are a breeze, my hand draws the right lines in exactly the right places first time. Others are deeply frustrating, I can’t draw a face I’ve drawn a hundred times before. Mostly it’s a combination of the two.
There are some pages that have vivid memories attached to them. Regular madeleines that transport me back to a place and time.
Flashback to 23rd February 2019. This is the page I sold. It’s around page number 220, so later in the Kerry story and I was relieved to be getting closer to the end. I also enjoyed the opportunity to draw a splash page, something I don’t do often enough. Looking back I see that several weeks earlier, on New Years day, I was drawing pages 55 and 56! By the end of the first week of March 2019 I’d finished drawing the book and was busy panicing over the colour. Add in a trip to Angoûleme to launch The Book Tour in between (I worked on Kerry pages between signings) and I see I was working like a maniac to maintain my schedule the first few months of last year.
Cue wibbly flashback sequence even further back in time to Norfolk, late July, 2007. I was working on Glister for Image and the interior here is the interior of the holiday cottage we were staying in at the time. The cupboard in the corner there held the usual collection of jigsaws with missing pieces, leaflets to local attractions, tattered Danielle Steele paperbacks and boardgames with mismatched dice. Later that day we went to visit family friend Steph.
We were on holiday and I was waking up at silly-o-clock to try and get a page done before Phil and Clara were up so that I could enjoy a single guilt free day of my vacation.
The Glister pages mark another of my efforts to balance my precarious dad/cartoonist tightrope walk. I switched to drawing in hardback sketchbooks (hence the serated left-hand edge of the paper) and used pens rather than brush and ink in an effort to be more portable. I could draw on the move and put five minutes of work into a piece of background business in a panel if I arrived early for school pick up.
I remember sitting poolside drawing this page while Phil and Clara swam in the pool towards the end of the break. I felt guilty that I wasn’t enjoying the holiday with my loved ones and I felt guilty that I hadn’t worked hard enough to have earned time in the pool. I’d handed myself a no-win situation and was frustrated that I couldn’t win.
It finally began to dawn on me that maybe, just maybe, I was doing this wrong.
For all I love making comics it’s greedy of your time, your attention and your labour. It wants more pages, more books, more more more if you let it.
Where do you draw the line between hard work and hypergraphia?
Despite my repeated efforts to reform I’ve accepted demanding time frames since those Glister days (see above). There’s a part of me that loves the challenge of a hair-raising deadline, some half-buried macho streak that wants to be tested and to prevail. There’s also the not-at-all-buried part of me that gets stressed AF about events outside of my control. It’s a tangled mess of competing interests inside this head of mine.
Perhaps I’ve learned nothing but I try and build slack into any deadline and if life throws me a curveball then I will be honest with my editors. They are probably more forgiving of me than I am of myself.
Whenever I look at a page of original art isolated from the wider context of the story I admire the craft and the technique, marvel at the inking or composition. But I also wonder what else was going on in the artist’s life at that time. Had their car broken down, or their cat needed an unexpected trip to the vet or was it the happiest time of their life, personally and creatively?
I really like those Glister pages, not just beacuse I was clearly relishing telling those stories, but because they remind me other fun times. The holiday in Norfolk was great. The interior of the cottage with the exposed beams was a pleasure to draw. We enjoyed ourselves. I went swimming countless times after, but I still regret not putting the work aside and jumping into the pool. After I’d changed into my swimming costume, of course. You can take this spontaneity thing too far.
The lesson is: sacrifice your personal life to meet arbitrary deadlines.
No, the lesson is: jump in the pool when you have the opportunity. Unless you can’t swim, in which case wear water wings. The obvious lesson is to take lessons first. Or stick to the shallow end.
I dunno. Don’t take advice from cartoonists, they don’t know anything.
P.S. I later re-lettered all those early Glister pages, over 150 of them. I’ve learned nothing.
It truly is a beautiful piece of art!