May 15, 2016
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.