A LIfe Lived in Comics Day 3: When I Was a Cartoon

by

The advantage of making this a monthlong thing is that I don’t have to figure out know how to write a proper “day in the life” post. I see them when other people do them, and I’m always awed. They seem to be so organized, having a time of day when they do things. I get that it’s just that day and not everyday, but their reporting just always makes so much sense. Noting the exact time of day at which you goof off makes even that look like a productive use of time.

My day to day existence at Dark Horse is pretty different depending on which of the editors I work with is in or out of the office, whether it’s the time of the week when most of the meetings are, the time of the month when solicitation copy needs writing, which projects have deadlines coming up, etc. Today, editor Dave Marshall is out of the office on business, so I’m on call to handle approvals to our various licensors and process artwork that’s come in by ftp (almost none of the books I work on involve actual art boards coming in the mail—I think currently Stan Sakai and Gilbert Hernandez are the only artists I’m working with whose art we have in-house). Normally I’m in between 8:30 and 9, but this morning I get in at 8 to get a jump on the e-mails that came in over the weekend and while I was out Friday. I have about 75, which isn’t terrible.

Some Conan pencils and layouts have come in. The pencils go to the licensor for approval, and I make notes on the layouts to send back to the artist. We’re rushing to finalize the last digital issue of Dragon Age, so I send the lettered and colored pages to the licensor and convey some notes from them to colorist Michael Atiyeh. I also submit some character designs for approval. A few pages of pencils have come in for another video game tie-in (one I can’t remember if we’ve announced, so for our purposes it doesn’t have a name), and I submit those as well. I also voucher for all the pages that have come in. This is the freelancers I work with’s favorite part of my job.

That didn’t really all happen at the same time or before 10, but I wasn’t keeping careful track, and what matters is it got done. At 10, we have our Monday editorial meeting, which today only has one agenda item, Scott Allie and Sierra Hahn reporting on the weekend’s retailer summit and C2E2.

After the meeting, I get into the weeds on one of the two major, related themes of the day. Appropriate for the beginning of the week, I’m at the very beginning of a lot of projects, which is fun for you because it means I can’t really say what any of them are. Taking breaks for things like finalizing an issue of MIND MGMT and approving the printer plotter (quick and dirty proof of the book created by the printer to make sure the files they have are the ones we meant to send them and nothings’s gone wrong between our computers and theirs) for Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years vol. 11, I spend the next few hours negotiating details of projects I’m getting off the ground.

 

One of my most fun responsibilities at Dark Horse is editing the Archie Archives reprint line, which has taught me a lot about the comics of the 1940s, been the occasion for my first published book introduction (in the upcoming vol. 5), and put me in touch with high-placed Archie enthusiasts like Mark Hamill (vol. 6 intro) and Michael Uslan (vol. 8). Anyway, I’m working with Archie to get some additional projects off the ground, and it’s exciting stuff if it works out. In a weird juxtaposition I’m also figuring out how to contract with the parents of a minor so that a cool young artist I met at APE can appear in Dark Horse Presents and am negotiating with the estate of a legendary artist to bring one of his books back into print.

Also getting off the ground is more Tarzan reprint material. Developing this program is the other theme of the day. Dark Horse isn’t the only comics publisher producing Tarzan comics—Dynamite is publishing adaptations of the public domain novels under the Lord of the Jungle banner—but we officially license the Tarzan trademark from the Burroughs estate, which opens up official reprints of previously published material like the Jesse Marsh volumes and, soon, a lot more. Given my marching orders as to what material we will be printing, I’ve been spending my free time over the last week cataloguing what each book will include, brainstorming the appropriate format for each, and tracking down comics, film, stats, and other materials from which to make them. It occurred to me belatedly in the process that I can delegate some of this work and so, having little experience in doing that, I’m also figuring out which tasks are appropriate to pass on and how to explain them.

I’m at a funny point in my career, next in line for promotion to associate editor, but still very conscious of how I balance my time between the projects I assist on and those I edit. I’m also at the point where I’m being urged to utilize newer assistants to help me get books done. So far, everything that credits me as editor I’ve done myself, which has been a pleasant learning experience, but I’ll soon have enough assignments that it won’t be practical to do it that way. Delegating is like everything else in my job so far: you learn it from experience. I’ve always had guidance when I’ve needed it, but the ethos at DH is that you learn by doing, so I’ve picked a few of the books I’m in the process of starting, and they’re going to be the books I use to learn how to let someone help me.

At some point in the day I take out a little time to update on the comics press. I skip all of the C2E2 panel writeups, so I don’t know what was announced there. Seemingly not much that deserved its own story on Comic Book Resources. The Comics Reporter has the latest travesty related to Before Watchmen, but I can’t really dwell on it because the whole situation depresses me. It seems so simple to me: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons had a contract, and DC has followed the letter of it, but in ignoring the fact that the reason the book hasn’t gone out of print has everything to do with the talents of Moore and Gibbons and nothing to do with Watchmen’s corporate owner, they’ve spent decades trampling the spirit of the contract in increasingly repulsive style.

Comics are always with me, reading them if not working on them. On the bus ride back to Portland I finished the first volume of Boom!’s Planet of the Apes, which turns out to be a fun read. The artwork captures the aesthetic of the original film, with a nice design sense and well-distinguished ape characters, even if the linework itself is a bit affectless. The world’s pretty enjoyable, set in the time between the ape revolution and the complete dominance they hold by the time of the first film. The politics are a little simplistic, but there’s a nice sense of melancholy to the whole thing, as we all know that the best intentions of some of the human and ape characters alike will nonetheless lead to the humans in cages scenario of the film.

And that’s pretty much today. I’ve hit the Bridgeport Brewery in the Pearl, where 20-ounce pints are $3 all day on Monday, to write this up. Hopefully I’m laying enough groundwork that future days will be written up more succinctly, because I can’t just go to the bar for a few hours after work every day. Even if my liver could handle it, my paycheck can’t. But hopefully this gives a sense of the kind of things I do, and from now on I can just call out the interesting happenings rather than list everything.

SIX YEARS EARLIER

Before the Wright Opinion, I got curious about blogging and tried it out, writing sophomoric political bullshit in as unpublic a venue as I could find (a blog site I’d never heard of before and never since, but that a few people I knew at USC used—we were all essentially writing for each other). Seemed the thing to do, since Poli-Sci was one of my majors. It’s still there, but fuck me if I’m going to point you at it. After I finished school and moved back to Oregon, I changed focus, using it as a place to put comics I made to teach myself to draw with my Wacom tablet. Giving myself weekly posting assignments was a good way to make sure I actually drew something, and doing an autobio strip meant I didn’t have to think very hard about what to write when working on figuring out the tablet was the real goal. And so was born my first Internet diary, but this one was a drawn one.

In thinking about if I wanted to try keeping a diary again, I looked back over those comics. They’re a weird bunch, a mix of self-deprecating hyperbole, dissatisfaction with my tendency toward inertia, political absurdism, and periodic harassment by anthropomorphic Apple products.

(I’d forgotten how far back my ambivalence toward the company goes. Even then it bothered me that Apple’s greatest contribution to the economy is making materialism cool again. At the time I’d had my first Mac for a few years, as well as an iPod, and was already chafing at the cult of Mac espoused by many other owners of Apple products. I’ve since bought two more Macs, one of which came with an iPod touch, because I was a teacher at the time and it’s part of their academic deal. I also recently bought an iPad, because like all Americans, I enjoy spending money I don’t have. I love reading comics on the damn thing, but I feel guilty whenever I pick it up, at the obvious fact that I did not need it, my distaste for the walled garden approach to computing that Apple embraces, and all of the issues with their manufacturing in China. In the comic, my iMac praises me for being a good consumer, but in the end changes speed and threatens to sue me and read my e-mail, a reference to a news story at the time, the details of which I’ve forgotten and am too lazy to check.)

In order to make stories about ourselves, we turn ourselves into characters, and the character I created is an insecure asshole. Apple crap aside, it’s a pretty negative self-portrait, and I don’t just mean in retrospect. I was clearly, at the time, depicting myself alternately as fat, pompous, sweaty, overbearing, ignorant, drunk, and sad. In one cartoon I depict myself becoming incensed when my girlfriend tells me a friend of hers has been accepted into the CIA, ranting about “the man” until she begs me to shut up so she can sleep. In another my boss at the coffee shop I worked at instructs me not to ask customers what size drink they want but instead ask, “Do you want a large?” leading me to think, “I hate my life.” Some depict me sweating while sitting still, drooling as I play video games, or “awake and mostly naked at 2AM after another [professional] rejection.” I receive emails telling me I’m a creep and IMs telling me I’m boring. I’m amused by some, including a street interaction that I later realized was probably someone trying to mug me and a cover panel of a scene from All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder in which I berate my girlfriend while driving (the woman depicted in these cartoons unsurprisingly does not talk to me anymore).

But all I can really see in them now is the narcissism of self-loathing. I can’t speak for other people who do autobio comics, but when I look at a drawing of me much fatter than I really was at the time (though I’ve done a pretty good job of catching up) or a “much later” caption lengthening an obnoxious tirade from the minutes it really lasted to the hours I want to imply, all I can really see is, “Ha ha! Aren’t I awful? Don’t you love me for it? I’m a hilarious antihero.” Because I knew those things weren’t true, and in retrospect I think I flattered myself that the few people who read them knew they weren’t true either and imagined they gave me props for being so unflattering.

Because drawing yourself that way is so much easier to blow off, so much—for lack of a better term—funnier. If I write, “I am a terrible person who treats the people around me badly and takes horrible care of myself,” that sounds pretty bad. But if I draw me being an overweight shithead and then add a caption saying “much later” while my long-suffering girlfriend merely rolls her eyes at my idiocy, then I’m a hero!

Again, I would definitely not lump in anyone else who makes autobio comics, because I don’t know what they’re thinking in the same way that I can pretty accurately guess what I was thinking a few years ago, but it does open my eyes to how easy and how tempting it is to exaggerate your weaknesses in pictures to make them seem not real anymore. How easy it is to fool yourself that you’re showing yourself, warts and all, while really flattering your own ego that you are a fascinating malcontent whose exaggerated misbehavior is more funny than hurtful.

This wasn’t every single strip. The one about watching Alien 3 probably makes sense to no one but me, but it depicts a real and weird moment that I had, having nightmares not about the movie but the production diary, and I wish I had the conviction about Apple that my comics of six entire years ago show, long before they were as creepy as they are now. I didn’t really drink after every customer interaction at Office Depot, but most of them sure made me want to. I was so far from knowing what I wanted my life to be when I made these that I’m glad I have them as a reminder today. I have doubts about what I do for a living, and deep, deep reservations about the rest of my life, but at least shit makes more sense than it did then, and I might not remember that if I hadn’t drawn it all in two shades of gray with an inexplicable use of computer drybrush.

Tomorrow: I don’t know. I guess if nothing exciting happens, I’ll talk about how I got into comics.

Why’m I doing this, again?


Images of Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years © Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Images of Archie Archives © Archie Comic Publications. Images of Planet of the Apes © 20th Century Fox. Images of comics from my life © me, but I wish they weren’t.

Note: the comics of mine reposted here are completely out of chronological order. If you desire to see my progress learning to draw with the Wacom, the filenames are the dates I drew them.

Screw it, I’m gonna go watch House.

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One Response to “A LIfe Lived in Comics Day 3: When I Was a Cartoon”

  1. Sara Davidson (@sara_davidson) Says:

    Brendan, you seem so different.

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