Monday, June 25, 2012

Toys & Corners: Some Thoughts, Part Three...

(This is the third in a series of, let's be honest... increasingly long-winded and rambling posts outlining some thoughts on the comic book industry, my career, and my future plans.  You can read the first part here, and the second part here.)

In the mid-90s, I worked for Disney's video game division.  Not for very long, mind you.  To be honest, I'm not sure Disney ever really knew what to do with me.  Even I -- stock full of the arrogance of youth and utter confidence in my unparalleled genius -- wasn't sure what I was doing there, but I did feel incredibly lucky to have an actual, honest-to-god, real job in the entertainment industry, especially when you consider I'd been kicked out of college and never graduated.

(I was too busy making my own comics in my dorm room to do anything else... like, you know, going to class or doing any homework.  Yeah... not my proudest moment...  Stay in school, kids!)

I left Disney after about a year, just as I was starting to do more work for DC Comics.  It was an amicable split, and I've always been grateful for them giving me a chance to work there.  It's freakin' DISNEY!  Who doesn't want to work there?!  To this day, my mother brags about me having worked at Disney to anyone who will listen.

But in the end, I just didn't fit in there.  The people were great, the company treated me well, and we put out some fun games, but my creative interests and instincts weren't particularly useful for the kind of work we were doing.

The best thing about that job, though, was that there was a little group of aspiring comic book artists working there with me, and we would often hang out together, hatch schemes to dominate the world of comics, and generally be incredibly supportive of each other.

Now, remember... this was the 90s, and most of the artists in comics were following in the footsteps of Jim Lee and George Perez -- slick art with a lot of linework and lots of big, dramatic action poses.  But my Disney Interactive buddies and I were more into guys like Kent Williams and Dave McKean, people whose influences were from the fine art world and who did comic books in an odd, more painterly style.

We came up with a name for that kind of art... we called it, "wonky."

My art at the time was in the same vein -- "wonky" -- just nowhere near as good as Williams and McKean.  To be honest, it's an approach I was attracted to because of my shortcomings as an artist.  In my own deeply naive way, I looked at their loose lines and abstract figure work and said, "Oh, even I can draw like that."

Ah... there's that arrogance of youth again.

Don't forget, I thought of myself as a writer, not an artist.  I used to draw all the time when I was a kid, but I didn't have a whole lot of formal training.  What little I knew about drawing, I'd figured out for myself over years and years, looking at the art in my favorite comic books and copying the things I liked, so that I could draw just well enough to do something with the stories I was dreaming about.

It was all about getting the stories I wanted to tell out there where people could read them, and if that meant I had to figure out how to draw, then I guess I had to figure out how to draw.

Somehow, even with my wonky, untrained art style, I started getting work at DC, and then Marvel.  And I liked working for DC and Marvel, there was only one problem... my wonky, untrained art style.  Not much call for people who draw like that in the mainstream superhero market.

So I started trying to figure out how to draw less wonky.

I'm not sure I've ever quite succeeded at that.  While it's true my art got tighter and I got better at drawing action poses, I can't really say my work ever quite fit in with what was going on in the DC and Marvel books at the time.  Still doesn't.

And just like at Disney, I was a square peg trying to fit himself into a round hole.  There were enough editors and art directors who liked my work and gave me jobs, things where I could get away with being less slick and dynamic than the Jim Lees and George Perezes.  And each job I got, I tried harder and harder to fit in, making adjustments, learning new tricks, trying to play to the tastes of the comic book audience.

There's some of my work from that period that I'm really proud of, and some that I'm not, but there were many, many times I desperately wanted to throw away my pens and my ruler and just let myself be wonky again.  But that would have severely limited my career possibilities.  And comics WAS my career.  If I wanted to pay my bills, I needed to work.  So no pens in the trash, no rulers broken in half, just lots of long, dark days thinking my art was never going to be as good as the guys who got the really great assignments like Batman and Superman.

I spent years bouncing from job to job, never quite fitting in with what was going on around me, never quite satisfied with the work I was doing, never quite happy.

Eventually I ended up being hired on as an artist at Crossgen Comics, and everything fell apart...

NEXT TIME: Everything falls apart...

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