Category Archives: The Creative Process

Lehrer and Creativity

Jonah Lehrer recently appeared on The Colbert Report and discussed his new book “Imagine: How Creativity Works”. (I haven’t read the book, nor do I know who Lehrer is: I can only respond to his two-minute interview and then name-drop him to get more search hits on my blog ūüėČ One of his big ideas is that new ideas are always just recombinations of old ideas, and then he sneakily ties this into his position that copyrights are bad. (His argument was basically that Shakespeare stole openly from others, and everybody likes Shakespeare, so stealing others’ ideas without permission is cool.) Whatever, it’s a hip idea and it’s quickly becoming an unquestioned part of our culture. I’d be more surprised if the¬†contra¬†to this position ended up on the New York Times bestseller list.

More interestingly, he suggested that the best way to solve problems that require creativity may involve ignoring them for awhile and goofing off a bit instead. I constantly berate myself for farting around on the internet instead of finishing the next page of The sea is stormy tonight, but if our minds are doing essential problem-solving during the times that we’re not, maybe I should just accept the fact that reading the comments on Yahoo! News is part of my process.

This might be wishful thinking, but I kind of think that it must be true because it matches up with my personal experience of creativity so well. My good ideas come to me in spurts, and sometimes a whole bunch of them will hit me at once without me “doing” anything to initiate it. When they come, I notice that a lot of them have their roots in whatever I’ve been exposing myself to in my downtime: for example, I’m pretty sure that my portrayal of Satan in the¬†Melies comic¬†series¬†was at least partially inspired by David Bowie’s flamboyant and aloof performance in Labyrinth.

If this isn’t true, then I have wasted an inexcusable portion of my very limited lifetime reading dumb internet commenters, so I’m gonna go ahead and believe this one until someone proves that it’s bunk.

(P.S. Please don’t prove that it’s bunk.)

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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in The Creative Process


Explain yourself! Mantle: Daughter of Van Helsing

The idea was to capture that weird feel of fly-by-night Golden Age comics, where not much was explained, the whole thing is kind of creepy and intense even though the art is amateurish, and the character is never seen again after one issue. Like one of the 10,000 Batman ripoffs in the 1940s who killed vampires. Loosely in the style of Fletcher Hanks (

¬†In addition, this comic was my first attempt at doing the little “tricks” I used in The Lost Works of Georges Melies and The sea is stormy tonight. I used recurring text (the origin story at the top of each page) and simple, memorable images (the faceless heroine) to build familiarity with the reader quickly and make them feel “at home” in this creepy world. The sudden use of color would also be used again in The sea is stormy tonight.
I really had a lot of fun writing the overblown prose and cheesy dialogue, but I genuinely did want to create a mood. It’s not a parody, it’s an homage. And if you think all this explanation is too pretentious for five sloppy, penciled pages, then you’ve obviously never been caught in the throes of an idea that you just had to exorcise right then and there.
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Posted by on April 9, 2012 in The Creative Process


Okay, so…

Here’s what’s going on with my cartooning.

a) My idea of posting a single page of “The sea is stormy tonight” every weekday has not worked out as well as I planned. The comic is very slow-moving in some spots (especially at the beginning), and while I was hoping that people would follow it to see where it was going, that seems to have been a flawed model. It’s also probably a tricky time to start a whole new website ( now that I FINALLY have readers on this one. The new website is so much snazzier though! [pushy]YOU SHOULD CHECK IT OUT![/endpushy] I like having the blog here, this is a pretty good place to talk about stuff and I think some people find it interesting. It’s not the best place to post comic book pages though, hence the two sites.

b) I thought “stormy” would be a one-off, twenty page story with a twist ending. Today, my overactive brain informed me that it will be a long-running series where the characters develop over time. These characters have things they want to do that they can’t do in twenty pages. So the series will continue, and I’m looking forward to doing some more character-driven work (I’m really good at creating moods visually, but as my wonderful girlfriend tells me constantly, my characters tend to just be servants to my plots and ideas). So The Lost Works of Georges Melies is like my weird graphic novella, and The sea is stormy tonight is gonna be my longer-term online comic. The new website will also have some short comics that I did a couple of years ago posted pretty soon.

I have some really good commenters on this blog and I’m really grateful for that. It’s nice to have a discussion place while I work on these stories. Thanks for reading!

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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in The Creative Process


Reposting this Gaiman thing about writer’s block

It’s too good not to repost. For the few of you who don’t “subscribe” to him on social media.¬†

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Posted by on March 7, 2012 in The Creative Process


Drawing a daily comic, Doug Tennapel, and how we “get into” the things we like

Since I’ve continually heard (and by that I mean “read online”)¬†that doing something daily is the best way to build an audience for one’s website, I’m going to do a daily comic. Right now I’m building up a backlog of material, so that I can¬†keep like¬†fifty strips in a file folder¬†and post them one at a time. Ironically, while I’m preparing myself¬†to make daily posts, I won’t have much to post in the meantime.

One of my inspirations for this project was Doug Tennapel’s Ratfist ( Tennapel is the creator of Earthworm Jim and he’s a¬†very skilled¬†cartoonist, but much of his work had been relatively obscure (he writes explicitly Christian comics about aliens,¬†and there’s blood and cussing in some of them, which makes for a VERY heady mix: it certainly isn’t for everyone). For years, he had been essentially self-publishing his graphic novels, which are well-loved by many, but hardly Amazon top tens. With¬†Ratfist he tried a different model, posting a page a day, all free,¬†for 150 weekdays. Up until this point, I had never heard of the guy.¬†Then a cartoonist¬†friend of mine “liked” Ratfist on Facebook. I clicked the link because of the ridiculous name, and based on¬†the first¬†page I read, I probably would have written it off as a well-drawn but didactic right-wing webcomic.

But the name “Tennapel” rang a bell, and I Googled him, and found out that he had been involved with some video games I liked in the early nineties. So I kept reading Ratfist, not as a “good read”, but as one of those curious internet finds (“Huh! The Earthworm Jim guy is like a weird Christian now? This is kind of funny, in a Stephen Baldwin kind of way”). It took me about ten or twelve pages to realize that it was indeed a “good comic”, and about thirty pages to become invested in the story and start caring about the characters. Tennapel’s views are central to the stories he tells: if you took “the political stuff” out of Ratfist, it would ruin the comic. As a “spiritual but not religious” unmarried liberal in my twenties, I am exactly the kind of reader Tennapel wants to piss off and challenge. He is heavy-handed and cheesy, but he’s also a deeply thoughtful guy with an active moral imagination. And from a storytelling standpoint, he is a near-masterful craftsman whose silly, exaggerated drawing style hides the fact that he really¬†seems to¬†know what he’s doing.

I’m a Tennapel fan now: I’ve purchased three of his books on Amazon, and he’s become one of my favorite cartoonists (when he’s not busy being my least favorite cartoonist). The point is: think about all of the variables that had to fall into place for me to even find out about his comics, let alone start enjoying them!

1. He made some video games that I played.

2. I Googled those games and found out that he made them, then forgot about him for like a year.

3. He made a bunch of comics that I didn’t read or¬†even know about. (This one was important!)

4. He made a daily webcomic.

5. My much more savvy friend “liked” it on Facebook.

6. I followed the link.

If #1-3 hadn’t happened, #4-6 would have been meaningless. I know that I’m just one reader, but I think that in this case I’m a good example of what HAS TO HAPPEN for something to be successful. If Doug hadn’t labored for years in (relative) obscurity, working on other things, I basically wouldn’t have continued reading Ratfist when I found it, and I wouldn’t have become a fan.

These days, almost everybody under the age of 35 has a blog, or a band, or a webcomic or a startup or a something that they’re trying to pimp online. I look at many of these, since I’m always trying to find new cool things to “get into”: then I immediately forget about almost all of them, even if they’re really good. I get the feeling that a lot of people look at my comics, think¬†they’re kind of interesting, and then immediately forget about them. This is totally understandable, since I do the same thing! To get real FANS, who will think about your stuff and reread it and let it simmer in their minds, and then maybe someday like your stuff so much that they’ll pay money for it so you can do it for a living (sorry, I can’t help daydreaming sometimes ;)), you need to stand out from the pack. And in order to do that, I’m starting to think that you need to reach a “critical mass” of content that you’ve been involved in. Doug Tennapel draws stuff that isn’t exactly “mainstream”, but he’s built enough of a niche for himself that he can do it for a living, which is just endlessly inspiring in this day and age.


New Comic Coming Soon!

I’m working to build a backlog, then I’m going to post it as a daily webcomic since everyone everywhere keeps telling me that daily updates are how you build a following. The comic is called “the sea is stormy at night”. Here is a video of me working on it:


Genius, “genius”, and artistic growth

I’ve started reading Berger’s The Success and Failure of Picasso, and it’s inspiring in its willingness to show how Picasso’s strengths were directly related to his weaknesses (it’s also cool for allowing that Picasso HAD weaknesses). People seem to have an inherent need to rank and rate the things they are inspired by, creating little “Facebook like” lists in their minds. But what if someone like Picasso was inspiring and worthwhile for the same reason that he was, in an important way, less interesting than many other artists of his time?

Picasso was certainly a prodigy, possessing great talent without ever having struggled or worked for it in the way that many others have. When he was fourteen, his father allegedly quit painting, telling young Pablo that the latter had surpassed him in skill and that there would be no point in continuing to paint. Berger believes that this event was related to Picasso’s absolute refusal to approach his art in any but an instinctual way:

“Is it likely that a boy will ever believe in progress step by step when at the age of puberty he is suddenly told by his father that he deserves to take his father’s place and that his father is going to step down? Since this is what every boy wants to happen, is he not more likely to believe in magic?”

By all accounts, Picasso did not respect theory, learning or explanations of any kind in regards to art (or life in general, for that matter). His art was a thing more powerful than him that worked THROUGH him, and all schools of art were simply unnecessary for “pure” expression. Because of this, he could only ever be a genius: he could never be humble enough to actually learn anything.

Many, many people have commented on the thin line between genius and madness, to the point where it’s tough to say anything new or interesting about it. Berger does, though: “He is lonely in the same way that the lunatic is lonely: because it seems to the lunatic, since he never meets opposition, that he can do anything.” This is a trait common to celebrities, “gifted” kids, mental patients, Americans, and many of the rest of us in our worst moments. Picasso cannot really be compared to any other artists, since he is not in competition with them. The same is true of a crazy person who thinks he has access to powers others lack. It is a tempting mental state, and probably an unhealthy one.

I want to explore this idea with Melies. He was an incredibly gifted artist, but the stories and movies about him have an unfortunate tendency to turn him into a magical, childlike innocent who died poor because he was just too much of a genius. I’m taking a LOT of creative liberties with my characterization of him. Who knows if any of it is true? But stories about flawed people are more interesting. It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to imply that maybe he wasn’t humble enough to learn much from other filmmakers.

(It’s really tempting to just post huge blocks of text from Berger’s book. It’s a good read, and has some interesting things to say about the artistic process.)