Creating, Making, Giving

Some thoughts on making things exist. The joy and fear of it all. A sequel to this post on Passion and Work and Adulthood.

1.

Lately I’ve been thinking of a few things.

  • The corporatisation of webcomics. How creators now rely on platforms. How goals are influenced by corporate interests: a million views, a contract with a telecom company asking you to produce a mind-boggling 70 panels per week, an adaptation to TV or film or some other Hollywood thing.
    (side note: I don’t think those are bad goals by themselves. Just that it is very sus when those become the default ideal, obscuring all alternatives. What I really don’t like, though, is the corporate-created idea that 50 to 70 panels (10-12 pages!) a week is the standard for webcomics. It creates an unhealthy expectation for creators and readers alike.)
  • Someone in my vicinity mentioned their surprise that webcomics can simply be passion projects that don’t lead to anything major. This comment struck me funny because it revealed that this generation of creatives live in an online world completely different than my generation. Back in my day (imagine this in a rusty voice), we put our nonsense up and the most we expect is enough supporters to fund a Kickstarter. That is — if we managed to accomplish that rare goal of producing enough pages to justify crowdfunding. Of course, some folks, especially those working in the humour strip format, made things for the purpose of chasing the same clout as Penny Arcade or Cyanide & Happiness or whatever. Still, in 2007 – 2013, I rarely heard the idea that webcomics were done for a career or professional purpose.
    Times have changed.
  • Closer to home: now that I’m officially part of the latest cohort of Webcomic Artists Who Went On To Make Published Graphic Novels, you’d think, hmm. Maybe I’ll just keep making published books. Afterall, that was the trajectory of the artists from the previous cohorts. You know, Raina. Gene. Vera. Faith. Noelle. They started their career making webcomics, got a book deal, and kept getting more deals after that. They don’t fully return to the webcomics world. (And I can see why. It pays. I too, like money and a publisher to handle the distribution/marketing etc.)
    For me though, I still want to make webcomics. There are some things that webcomics can do that the current publishing landscape is not ready to nurture. Passion projects. Extremely ambitious and weird stories. For older audiences. In odd genres. I still see a place here for me. I am not sure if I can leave it fully.
  • It’s strange comparing the way I approach my first webcomic (TWIDI) vs my second webcomic (Alexander). In some ways, the approach is still the same. In others, the second webcomic is much wiser. And more interested in getting some form of support or compensation lol; yes, I’ve been spoiled by publishing. Whatever, anyway, there’s now a professionalism attached to Alexander that was only in development with TWIDI.
  • But like, even with the professionalism, Alexander is at its core a passion project. The reasons why I pursued it were out of a mysterious blend of calling and love (will elaborate later). Yet some say that professionalism and passion don’t mix. That they are antithetical. But really? Is that true?
  • I absolutely think it’s possible to be passionate about something while being professional (and getting compensated). I mean, that’s normal for craftspeople and people who work in trades. People who build furniture and handmake clothes and stuff. People who write. Why is the visual arts, especially in comics, any different?
  • Of course when you make things out of passion, your main concern is to bring the work to existence, for your fulfilment. Anything else is a bonus. The goal to make it palatable for corporate or Hollywood interest or an outside party from the jump doesn’t factor into that concern. Not in the beginning, at least.
  • A tweet from a colleague: (paraphased) Some indie projects have this vibe of being made as if there’s a Netflix executive hanging over their shoulder. Why live like this?

2.

It’s so strange being here with (comparatively) better drawing/writing skills and a stronger ingrained sense of professionalism… and yet nowadays I seek to embrace the chaos, joy and carefreeness of my youth. I really did have some things figured out back then, and I want to reintegrate those things back into my current practice.

It took me 8 years to train myself out of thinking like an illustrator when I am drawing comics. While I don’t think the illustrator-side of me has ever left, especially when I compose my double page layouts — I just think it’d be nice now to intentionally make lush, stunning artwork using both my ability to illustrate and make comics (they are two different skillsets!).

Slowly I’m embracing the strengths of both my old and current art: shape design, silhouette, linework, whimsical elegance. I’m specifically looking at my 15-17 Years Old era of art. It was very experimental! Very fun. And I want that energy back.

3.

In regards to Making Things Exist (and finishing them), I feel like I’ve been round the block now.

Every book is new and brings its own unique challenges, so there’s always something new to learn. Still, I am old. A veteran. A wizard wise in the ways of conjuring worlds into reality.

So I see people who are maybe writing stories for the first time and stumbling on certain blocks, some important, some not-so. I usually leave them be, because (Antoni Queer Eye voice) bringing things to life can be so personal. They will figure it out soon.

But then there’s the risk of them freezing into inaction. Out of anxiety. Inexperience. Fear. What if I mess up? What if I am not good enough? What if no one else cares and I am wasting my time?

4.

Starting something is the hardest thing. The second hardest thing is finishing it.

5.

When I make something, on the first few drafts, I don’t really care about the prettiness of the outline. I mean, yes I do at a base level, but I try to not let it control me. If I get stuck on something or if I can’t find the words, I skip over it, I make notes to myself (ermm have X character talk about the making of bread, the weaving of rugs, the gestation of a child, something to do with things blossoming in their time???), I vomit out some gibberish. Go go go.

A twitter thread of this exact chaotic process.

The whole point is to make the work exist as soon as possible. It will come out kinda ugly, sure. Luckily, editing is easier afterwards.

Also nothing wrong with some wabi-sabi.

6.

It’s frightening to devote pieces of yourself to your book. To consent to the book’s desire to challenge you, transform you, unmake and remake you. But like a lot of things that are worth it in life, it’s a devotion worth embracing.

7.

In the end I think what’s most important is making the thing because you want it. Not solely because it’ll be your ticket to fame, love and prizes (in the form of money or petty validation).

There’s joy in crafting a thing from within you.

Hello, hello

    • Fae
    • December 27, 2020
    Reply

    Love this! Thank you so much for your reflections. I’m a writer, and I’ve also been thinking a lot about the passion that led my work when I was younger. Even though it was often clumsy and undirected, a passion that didn’t know itself, it was a passion nonetheless– and I think in learning more and becoming a better technical writer, I’ve sometimes lost the free-falling, intense joy that comes with just having an idea and wanting to make it come alive. I’m trying to get that back and put aside the logical brain, though professionalism and productivity and “is it good enough?” doubts always threaten to pester more than ever before.

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She creates the webcomics The World in Deeper Inspection, and The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya; the latter of which is the first Malaysian graphic novel to be Eisner-nominated.

Currently writing and drawing a whole bunch of stuff. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

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