A funny thing happened last week. It’s been quiet here on the blog. I’m slogging my way through drawing The Walk. And I have been slogging my way through a new post about how I’m producing the art for the book (you can read part 1 and part 2 of that particular journey). But I was invited by the cool folks at Within The Fold to produce a t-shirt design. Something unique. Something fun. Not a parody. Which I love. I want more original ideas in the world, especially on t-shirts.
Of course, I waited until the day it was due to work on anything. I sketched out a couple ideas. Things a designer might like on a t-shirt. The ideas sucked. Not horrible, but not fun. My design was limited to black and white. Those are the only colors Within The Fold prints with. I flipped to a blank sheet of paper and the first thing that popped in my head was a ghost farting. So I sketched a couple of versions of that and sent it to some friends over text. “Is this funny?” The answer across the board was “yes.”
I came home, grabbed a sheet of bristol, and sat at my drafting table. It took me 25 minutes to draw and ink my farting ghost. And I had fun. I don’t have fun drawing most of the time. I shared that with my friend Ian (if you love horror comics, check his work out). He said it reminded him of my Dracula comic London Calling. And that got me thinking: am I funny?!
Redefining myself as a (funny) artist
I’ve always thought of myself as a capital S “serious cartoonist.” I’ve created some longer stories that dealt with dramatic themes. Golden Boy, The Crippler’s Son, and The Walk are the three major stories. But looking at my work as a whole, it’s overwhelmingly in the comedy column. Drunk Elephant Comics, Lydia, Signs & Meanings, London Calling, and Democracy Doomsday are all funny. At the Center for Cartoon Studies, on a tight deadline, some of my best successes were funny comics. I’m developing a graphic novel from one of those assignments. It already has some publisher interest. Hell, after I post this, I’m working on more work for SpongeBob Comics. I seem to default to comedy as an artist.
So how odd is it when you realize that you may have been ignoring your best strength for 15 years? I don’t feel like I consume a lot of comedy. Most of the movies and TV shows I own are dramatic works. But then when I think about what I watch on Hulu and Netflix, it’s comedies. It’s like I keep tricking myself into believing that I’m a tiger, when I’m something else. I’m Garfield. And that has been a strange feeling to reconcile with this week.
Most of my favorite cartoonists are humor cartoonists. Ivan Brunetti, Peter Bagge, Jason, Nicholas Mahler, Kate Beaton, Lisa Hanawalt, Daniel Clowes. The list goes on and on.
When I started doing Drunk Elephant Comics, I made it a comedy strip. Those types of webcomics were successful. And I think somewhere along the way I got decent at telling a joke. I read a lot of books about comic timing and craft. But I still considered myself a literary cartoonist. I was just doing this to keep myself in the public eye and earn a few bucks along the way.
And I had fun. Some of my favorite memories in the last 10 years were coming home to work on Drunk Elephant or Lydia. Sometimes both, because they shared a deadline at least once a week. I would always do the strips the night before they were due. Then I would go out and have tacos with my friends. It had been a year or so after my divorce. That feeling of making comics every night, then meeting up with friends as a reward was fantastic.
I liked how drawing a strip was an exercise in minimalism. I like drawing the impression of buildings, of objects. Comedy forces me to draw in a concise visual language.
So now what?
For now, I want to finish The Walk. It’s long overdue. But the next thing I do is going to be funny. I think it’s what’s been missing in my head, in my heart and in my soul as an artist for a long time. I’ve been thinking about Louie, and BoJack Horseman. I’ve been thinking about Master of None. These hilarious shows that subvert the genre. That say something amazing about the human condition, like what most great comedians do. I’m thinking about Hate and Schizo. I’m thinking about Hark! A Vagrant. I’m thinking about Megahex and The Blobby Boys.
And I hope the next story I tell is the best story yet.