DISCLAIMER: The following comics, though originally intended for entertainment purposes, are presented here for historical value only. No entertainment derived from reading the comics contained within this post will be non-ironic in nature.
Now that I table at comic conventions, I get to talk to comics readers. I cannot express the gratitude I feel when someone takes the time to read my work. Even if they don’t buy it, the fact that they form an opinion about something I’ve written makes all the work worth it.
One interesting statement I hear a lot from comics readers is something to the effect of, “I wish I had the talent to draw comics.” This always makes me laugh. (No, I don’t laugh at them.) If only talented people drew comics, there might be three cartoonists in the entire world. The rest of us have had to work at it for many, many years. I’ve been drawing comics since I was ten and still haven’t mastered the craft. Talent has very little to do with comics. It’s more about willpower and a dash of obliviousness.
To prove my point, I present to you, dear readers, three comic strips I drew when I was 13 years old – in 7th grade. In 7th grade I already knew I wanted to be a cartoonist. I had, by that point, changed my style. It was a big decision. When I was in elementary school I drew people with huge eyes and no head. The hair grew from their eyes, the ears grew from their eyes. The nose and mouth hung somewhere below the eyes, and the body hung below that.
My new way of drawing was inspired by Bill Watterson. After copying Calvin and Hobbes, I saw the potential for a full face, and for connecting the head to the body. I was basically learning how comic characters worked.
Eager to inflict this new style on an unsuspecting populace, I joined the school paper with my friend Andy. Andy, it should be noted, is not a cartoonist, yet the examples below prove that he was by far the better artist. Had I not been so stubborn and kept at it, I would still be drawing like a cloven-hoofed farm animal. Talent has nothing to do with my improvement. It’s all practice.
The following is my first published comic strip. It appeared in the first semester of my 7th grade year.
Nobody knew what it meant. I had to explain this comic to people for weeks after the newspaper came out. It was so poorly executed I will probably blow up the internet by republishing it here.
Undeterred, I kept submitting comics for publication. The next few I drew were wisely rejected by our newspaper coordinator (a brave woman who was also my English teacher). Finally, in the spring semester, I came up with these two winners:
The origins of the jokes are hazy to me. The first reads a lot like something from Calvin & Hobbes. Note the headline on the dad’s newspaper. Bill Amend used that joke all the time in FoxTrot, and I always liked it. I hadn’t yet learned to size the lettering, so the joke is not as subtle as intended.
The latter strip was taken from a conversation with a friend. Of course, nobody was actually strangled – even then I preferred making stuff up. But the basic germ of the idea was ripped from the headlines of my life.
Again, I got nothing but grief from my classmates. I hear stories from other cartoonists about how they liked to draw comics and their peers encouraged them to draw more. That didn’t happen to me. I drew comics with no encouragement (outside my family and close friends) and, sometimes, outright disdain.
It is a testament to my boundless optimism that I continued at all. Looking at these now – heck, even back then – it’s clear there is absolutely no talent on display. Based on the meager panels above, Andy should have been the cartoonist.
There is a silver lining to drawing bad comics when you’re 13. Other 13-year-olds are not afraid to tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong. More ruthless than a 15-year-old, a 13-year-old may be the most cynical, meanest person on the planet. By the time I began high school, I knew what not to do. And I got better.
Middle school was, without question, the lowest point of my life. For some reason, though, I stuck with cartooning. Not because I had talent – you now know I didn’t – but because I could see myself in the future, drawing good comics. I propelled myself into that future. And here I am now, living in the future exactly as I imagined it: riding in my hover car and married to Elisabeth Shue.
There’s a lot to be said for wishful thinking.