Archive for March, 2008

My Writing Process

I often find it liberating to write about writing. Instead of having to come up with original ideas, I can sit back and bask in the glory of the mind.

Today I’ll briefly tackle that cloudiest of subjects: the writing process.

My writing process is quite simple. First I make a nice cup of tea, which I sip with my eyes half closed. This really gets my brain juices flowing. Then I flip through the stacks of magazines and books I never will have time to read. There are lots of ideas in there. People have been paid to write their own ideas and I puchase those ideas. Those ideas then become my property under US Copyright Law.

After a brainstorming session or two, I hang up my pens with a great sense of accomplishment. I heave a sigh of relief and pat my belly contentedly.

Then my good friend Eric Clapton stops by and we wail on our guitars. A good jam session with “the Clap” is always enjoyable after a long day of coming up with funny comics.eric clapton

Best Comics of 2007

Better late than never! These are some of the best comics I read in 2007. Warning: this list is not definitive, nor is it objective. It’s like Fox News that way.

Cul de Sac, by Richard Thompson. One of the best comic strips since Calvin & Hobbes left the scene. This debuted last year, but Thompson has been drawing another strip, Richard’s Poor Almanack, for quite a few years in the Washington Post. The secret to his meteoric rise to the top of the syndicated heap? A unique, sketchy drawing style, likable characters, and witty dialog. The jokes never seem forced; the humor comes from funny conversation. Instead of waiting for the last panel to “bring the funny”, each exchange is loaded with humor. I find myself laughing at the setup just as much as the so-called punchline.

Lio, by Mark Tatulli. Although Lio was syndicated in 2006, the first book collection, Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod, came out last year. Lio is a pantomime strip influenced by Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, and maybe a little Charles Burns. Since I find it difficult to impossible drawing a comic strip without dialog, I admire Lio all the more.

James Kochalka’s diary comic. I’ve followed “American Elf” since his first strips were collected in book form. There is a calming rhythm to this daily strip. You can track where James’ interests change over the years. You can go to his website and read today’s strip for free! Kochalka has a warm, flowing drawing style that is immediately recognizable. I love his use of light and dark space. He is one cartoonist who knows how to use the entire panel as a work of art. Each panel looks good, and each page looks good.

Perry Bible Fellowship, by Nicholas Gurewitch. You just have to read it. He’s been drawing the strip for a while now, but the book just came out last year. I’m sad to hear that he’s decided to retire the PBF, and can only hope he doesn’t pull a Watterson on us and disappear forever.

Incredible Change Bots, by Jeffrey Brown. A parody of the Transformers, everybody’s favorite robots who change into cars. Actually, this is part parody and part homage, because the story is as stand-alone as any episode of the original animated TV show. Better by far than the Michael Bay movie that also came out last year. This was made by a person who loves the Transformers and wants their robotic legacy to live on in our hearts and minds.

The Comic Strip Art of Lyonel Feininger (reprint of earlier work). Lyonel Feininger was only briefly a cartoonist, but the comics he made are like none I had ever seen before. His full-page strips made use of the space by plunging his characters into epic stories that spanned continents.

King Cat (reprint of earlier work), by John Porcellino. King Cat is a self-published zine John has been making for many years. The book reprints quite a bit of King Cat’s run, excepting the parts John deemed too embarrassing for anyone to see ever again. I got into King Cat when I moved to Portland, so it was fascinating to see the huge change in tone and style that King Cat went through. I have to admit, the two reasons I picked up King Cat in the first place were: the title and picture of a cat with a crown and scepter and John’s frequent mentions of the Beatles. I felt like I had found a good friend.

Phase 7, by Alec Longstreth. My friend Alec makes a great comic which he writes, draws, markets, and distributes all by the sweat of his brow. This is the closest a man can come to having a baby.

Big Plans, by Aron Nels Steinke. Another Portland-based cartoonist (along with myself). Big Plans is a combination of longer stories and one-page strips. His drawing style is somewhat like James Kochalka in that there is a great use of light/dark space and a thick, brushlike line quality.

Six Degrees of Rejection

Right now I’m in the middle of the semi-annual self-flagellation that I call “sending out comics to syndicates.” That’s right! Every year I try my luck at the pot o’ gold, the summit of four-panel cartooning: syndication. Like your Bar Mitzvah, being syndicated means a lot of things. You get your strip in national newspapers (not the New York Times, though!), you get actual money for your work, and most importantly you get to call yourself a syndicated cartoonist at cocktail parties. I attend a bevy of cocktail parties.

I have been submitting comics since about 2001. I’ve become something of an expert on the syndicates’ rejection process. What follows is a brief outline of what I can expect over the next six months or so.

The first level of rejection is quite painless. Between one week and one month after the time I send out the packet, I’ll receive my comics back in the mail along with a xeroxed, form rejection letter. It is doubtful a human being read my comics, despite the xeroxed letter’s false promises. My guess is a trained monkey takes the comics packets out of their original envelopes, pulls a xeroxed letter from a large pile, then seals both comics and letter into my self-addressed, stamped envelope. He may even spit on my cover letter before crumpling and throwing it towards an overfilled trash can.

If I receive an answer between 1 and 3 months after submission (Level 2), I will still likely receive a form rejection letter. However, the odds are in my favor that a person has at least halfheartedly flipped through my submission. She or he may have even chuckled at one of the jokes before cramming the packet back into my self-addressed, stamped return envelope along with the xeroxed rejection letter. Although still dispiriting, this non-response is better than Level 1.

Level 3 comes 3 to 6 months after I send out my submission. It is by far the best kind of rejection I have received to date. I still get my comics returned to me with a rejection letter, but this time the letter is personalized. It is either a handwritten note on the xeroxed rejection letter or it is an entirely unique, typed response. These letters offer real advice and criticism and prove that, not only did a human being read my comics, she or he thought highly enough of them to respond in kind. These are the rejections every cartoonist – nay, every writer – needs to keep the hope alive that someday their characters will dance and sing in front of millions of bleary-eyed readers.

After syndication, of course, comes instant wealth and fame. Ask any syndicated cartoonist. That is, if you can get past their moat, security guards, and laser-guided stealth missiles.
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Friday Robots

friday robots 3-7-8

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Stephen Malkmus & Cat Power

I’ve been listening to two new albums this weekend as I draw comics. I can’t listen to music with lyrics when I write; that’s when I listen to Classical and Jazz. I always break out the rock when it’s time for drawing. This time it’s Stephen Malkmus & Jicks’ Real Emotional Trash and Cat Powers’ Jukebox. Both are great, destined to be on my Top 10 albums of 2008 (barring an outpouring of new music. But hey, it’s March already. How much more music can possibly be released this year?).

My friend Nate (of McBone fame) reccommended Cat Power to me and I must say the man has taste. The question, as I listen to each beautifully fragile yet well-constructed song, is not so much “is this a good album?” as “would I run away with her if we ever meet?” The answer is a definitive yes. Lest you think simple infatuation is the reason for my review, have a listen. There is something deep & meaningful in these interpretations.

Stephen Malkmus, a fellow Portlander, has made his second great album since the break-up of Pavement. I’m constantly wondering how he constructed such long songs. Is there a structure at all? Each seems to have two or three different elements that he switches between. I’ll have to listen some more to see if I can figure it out. Rest assured you will be the first to know once this nut is cracked.

For the record, I wouldn’t run off with Stephen Malkmus if we ever met. I would, however, play a game of pick-up basketball with him. If I’m going to run off with a guy, I’m holding out for Jimmy Carter. I heard a rumor that he might be our next President.

I’d better get back to drawing comics. This brief post has been a nice diversion from blue pencil maddness here at Falling Rock Headquarters.

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