Recently, my work was included in issue 58 of Stripburger, a Slovenian comics anthology. I’ve been hoping to get into Stripburger for some time, so I was thrilled that the editors wanted to run “The Best Donald“, a story I originally did for the Lies Grown-Ups Told Me anthology.
They also asked me to write a little essay for the issue. Ostensibly, this was to explain the word game featured in my comic, but the editors encouraged me to write about my larger relationship with cartooning. They even translated the piece into Slovenian!
You can read the English version of the essay below. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Stripburger online or at fine comic shops near you– there is tons of great stuff in this magazine!
This weekend, I drew my thousandth Daily comic.
Well, that’s not totally true. I’ve mentioned before that I tried doing a daily strip back in 2007, but I only kept it up for a couple of months.
And when I was in high school, I would do a haiku with a drawing before bed every night (usually they were about dreams I had, or how no one understands).
Regardless, as the number of Dailies crawled closer to the one thousand mark, I’ve been reflecting on the exercise– not only how it has affected my comics, but how it’s impacted my approach to work. This seems like as appropriate a time as any to write down some of those thoughts.
I’ve always romanticized the idea of doing something every day. Somewhere in my parents’ house I know there’s a box filled with diaries containing fewer than three entries in each one. (Note to my parents, if you’re reading this: stay out of any boxes you find containing diaries).
The thing is: I’ve always been lousy at keeping up these self-imposed exercises. I can do something if someone tells me to, but when I try to enforce my own deadlines and goals it used to be much more of a struggle. When I go back and read those strips from 2007, the primary theme seems to be one of frustration. There’s a lot of false-starts and self-chastising for forgetting to do strips, or for simply not being good enough. Like many young artists, my ambitions were much higher than my skill level.
When I started drawing daily strips again in 2010, it was more of an act of desperation. I was working a full-time office job to save money for school, and that left very little time to make comics. I was terrified that my development would come to a halt. With my only goal being to put pen to paper once a day, rather than to get published by D&Q immediately, the exercise seemed a little more manageable.
Almost three years later, The Dailies have become increasingly rewarding. It used to feel like an obligation, but it’s become something I get excited about almost every day. Almost.
Anyway, I’d like to share some of my thoughts on the act of keeping a daily strip, so here we go:
- Quantity is important. Maybe more important than quality because quality will naturally develop with quantity. I started doing The Dailies straight to ink without pencilling, but I gradually raised my expectations as I became more comfortable with the routine.
- Doing a lot of short things will make your ideas seem less precious, so it becomes easier to try new things and take risks. Oh, an idea didn’t work out the way you wanted? Who cares? You can do a new thing tomorrow.
- You will inevitably repeat yourself, and that’s good. It helps you figure out what you’re interested in. Sometimes what you’re interested in will surprise you. Sometimes it will just let you get a mediocre idea out of your system.
- It will help keep you sane. If you’re having one of those shitty, unproductive days where you feel like you didn’t get anything done, at least you drew four panels of a duck doing something. At least you held a pen and made a few lines.
- You are more likely to accidentally discover bigger ideas. With a high volume of small ideas, you can take your favourite ones and expand them into bigger things.
- You will learn about yourself and your audience. If you post your daily exercises online, you will frequently find that the comics you like the least are the ones that everyone seems to love, and vice versa. Art that has been seen by an audience is different than art that hides in the safety of your sketchbook.
- You’ll make things you would never normally make. Every once in a while, when you’re tired and just want to go to bed, you’ll make something you wouldn’t make. It could be an idea full of possibility, or it could just be an oddity that doesn’t make sense.
- Making sense is overrated. Talking Heads were right. Stop making sense. You don’t have to make sense every day. That would be boring. Don’t hide behind ambiguity, but learn to embrace wonderful nonsense.
- When things are stagnating, you can always put a restriction on yourself. Doing too much of the same thing over and over? Try a different style. Try a different colour palette. Try continuing an idea all week.
- Sometimes, almost always, you don’t know what you’re trying to say. It’s better to make quick work impulsively and figure out what it means later, than to stagnate in an idea because you’re not sure what it means.
- There is always another idea. Always. Big or small. Funny or sad. Tomorrow you will make something that didn’t exist today.
Ostensibly, I started this exercise for myself, hoping to become a better cartoonist. But I wouldn’t post them every week if I didn’t want people to see them. I can’t fully describe how much it means to me that people take the time to read my strips. Whether you read them every week, or have just read a strip or two here and there, I truly appreciate it.
See you next week.