It bears mentioning in this space that one of the things that helped me through a difficult period of months in the latter half of last year, here in NYC, was comic books. Not reading them particularly; I wasn’t doing a lot of that, any more than I ever am. But the persistent, never very reasonable late-adolescent idea that, hey, if I wanted to, I could always succeed at drawing superheroes stuck with me when other old mental tricks for keeping up hope were distant.

‘Old mental trick for keeping up hope’ is retrospectively applied. I certainly haven’t always thought of it that way. Possibly I’ve never thought of it just that way until pretty recently. It’s clear enough to me now, though, that the notion that that attainment was within my grasp if I wanted it — a notion I’ve always known better than to take seriously — has had this hope-sustaining function in my life in a recurring way for a long time. I am starting to take that seriously, maybe.

I don’t want to draw superheroes for a living. It’s a powerful boyhood image of success and stature that even in boyhood, I think, I recognized represented no path to happiness for me. Still, it’s a very powerful image of fulfillment, as a lot of people long past childhood will affirm, and I respond strongly to men & women who have a piece of the reality of it, such as that reality is. Does this responsiveness amount to some failure to grow up? I don’t think it does. So it doesn’t embarrass me at all to say that the phenomenon of comics artists drawing for the camera on YouTube has been a great discovery for me in the past year. I’ll tire of them after a few hours, but these popular videos have become one of my favorite things to have playing off to the side while I work at my desk (where these days most of the work I do happens), when what I have to do is un-demanding enough to allow for that. And part of the pleasure in it is the sweet little familiar voice — my own — saying Hey, I could do that.

The fact is that I can do, in a limited way, what they’re doing on camera. It’s not inconceivable, either, that I could — though this is another question altogether — do pretty well in life as a comics artist. (Also not inconceivable that depression and an early end would find me more readily in that success than it’s ever threatened to in all my years of varied failure to ‘make it.’) I’m beginning to realize, moreover, that in some way I experience these videos as if it were I actually drawing & painting there. This is a fascinating thing. It’s not just that a certain mental recall of a like facility for drawing is excited in the viewing. The mind is participating, and neurons presumably firing away, with more engagement than I can be entirely conscious of.

To demonstrate the accumulating awareness of this partially obscure engagement of mind would be difficult. But here’s an anecdote. Last night I was waiting for the computer to accomplish something, and as I’d had some of these videos running for some time yesterday, I grabbed the sketchbook, on impulse, and started doodling a little Spider-Man head. I should have put the sketchbook down a minute later — I didn’t have to wait long for the computer to do its thing — but didn’t. As on the occasion I describe in this post, I went on adding body parts from the neck down. If you look at that post, you’ll see that I complain about being rusty (with anatomy particularly). Well, I’m still rusty. Everything I’ve chanced to draw in the intervening eleven months, two sketches, you can find in the next two posts on this site, one later in June and another in September. Nobody would call that staying in practice. I am not in practice, I’m rusty now as then — but I’m gaining even so. I’ve done a lot of drawing (years ago); I know what improving at it is like. And the evidence in my experience of picking up a pencil right now is that the drawing skills not only aren’t declining straightforwardly without exercise, they’re ever so slightly improving. That’s awfully interesting.

Anyway, here’s last night’s bit of fun, an extended doodle, drawn ‘from my head’ (the mystery & high importance of which, any kid who likes to draw can expand on). Spider-man because it was just for a minute, and I wasn’t going to involve myself in a face — and because it’s spring here in Forest Hills, Peter Parker’s own neighborhood, and I think of him sometimes when I’m out walking to get groceries and so on.


8 Replies to “Staying”

  1. When I was a kid who believed in his skills as a doodler, I considered Romita’s Spider-Man the pinnacle of artistic accomplishment. The web-grid on his costume was terrifically challenging, to me at any rate.

    Musical skills can improve during “rest” periods as well, btw. It’s pretty freaky, and fairly rare, when that happens. I’d guess it’s probably a function of the brain integrating something at a less-conscious level.

  2. Yeah, exactly, this is one of the questions my thoughts went to — what parallel experiences should be for those who play or write, say, in one form or another, and who in various ways neither ever give the thing up entirely nor stay at the practice of it consistently through their lives. Chances are there’s a loose ‘literature’ on this? — or literatures, something on the psychology & learning side and something on the artist-bio side, maybe.

  3. Re. drawing Spidey, I think I’ve heard one or two among the more interview-friendly veteran comics artists doing demos on youtube remark on their distaste for doing the suit-webbing. But it might have more to do with tedium than anything — all those little lines, and keeping it consistent from panel to panel. (You note, no doubt, that I didn’t bother with it above for the most part.)

    Raises the great subject of visual short-hand and stock elements in figural graphics, which I meant to start exploring here a while back. A great deal that could be said.

  4. For real artists, tedium would indeed be the issue. For me, getting it right the first time would be a mighty accomplishment (ditto: Mickey Mouse). I’m a big fan of visual short-hand, needless to say.

  5. Fun coincidence: I have the last Todd Nauck video running here, up on YT just today. He does a somewhat regular live superhero drawing, with running Q & A chatter for his apparently largely young audience. This one happens to be a Spidey, and he gets the question about the webbing not too far into it, here.

  6. Nauck is a charm to have as video company, by the way. He’s right about my age, and is kind of the essential type of the guy opposite whom I put myself in what I say in this post. At some point in these broadcasts he’ll always say that all he ever wanted to do was draw comics, and add something about how lucky and grateful he is to be doing just that. And always a word to one of the kids about necessity of drawing every day. The videos have to be good for maintaining his fan base — evidently something a lot of these guys actively cultivate, in one way or another, to stay in steady work. But he seems to genuinely enjoy connecting with the kids via the live medium. You have to like the guy.

  7. Love this. As always, your “doodling” looks fantastic, Darron. I always thought drawing comic books or having a syndicated comic strip was “the dream job.” I suppose for some it really is. But the fantasy I conjured in my mind as a child is very different from the reality of those who make a living at it. Based on the artist interviews I’ve read, it’s hard work, long hours, and low pay for most. Breaking into the industry takes considerable determination, dedication and sacrifice in the face of very long odds. And as with first-time novelists who secure a book deal with a publisher, “success” isn’t what they thought it would be from the other side. Unfortunately, the entertainment industry is like everything else: money drives the market. The work needs to sell, or the creative pursuit isn’t a valid option for paying the rent. So the business side of things interferes with the pure art side. But passion has a way of sustaining dreamers. I remember Charles Schulz remarking that he didn’t want to do anything but make a comic strip. That was his sole focus, and he was willing to do whatever it took to get there. I’m also encouraged that many artists “have” to create whether they ever get paid to do so or not – it’s just in their DNA. We pretty much spend our time the way we want to, don’t we? I hope you will continue to doodle and share the results and the mental processing along the way.

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