Monday, June 05, 2006

What the Cat Dragged In

Hey, wait, we don't have any cats any more...

Anyhoot, this post is what the cat dragged in, my inauspicious return to the blog after over a week of hyper-activity directed elsewhere.

As touched upon a couple of weeks ago, the 'upgrading' of Yahoo and all other email servers in the same week disrupted what had been a pretty cozy morning routine of writing exercises and work; now that my primary ancient writing computer's operating systems cease to interface with existing email (I've tried four other systems in the past two weeks, all resulting in similar agonies), and this old iMac is too ancient to accomodate an upgrade in operating systems to the needed 2006 levels, I'm in the too-familiar turf of being forced to blow money I don't want to on this fucking technology. The pisser, too, is doing so has compromised (at best) goalposts: we still have only dial-up access, so it'll be a few grand spent to still suffer the daily slow-mo email ritual.

Thus, I've pared down my email time by rearranging life accordingly, and the blog has necessarily fallen by the wayside. Less internet-related computer time has accomodated more writing (away from internet access) and drawing time, and as Marge has said more than once this past week, she's seen me drawing (and enjoying it!) more this past month than the entire eleven-plus years we've been together.

So, to bring this vapid little re-entry intro to a close:

Apologies to those few who frequent this rant soapbox; the hard reality of my archaic computer interfacing and interactions hit the brick wall, and I'm adjusting as best I can. This means the dependably daily blog postings I'd maintained pretty well since launching this in September are at an end -- though this blog isn't, by a long shot.

Among other momentous events of the past two weeks I won't go into here (all good, in the end), the big news from here is the energetic teamwork with a group of Center for Cartoon Studies students, two writers (who happen to be CCS co-instructors), and yours truly on a cool little comicbook project I'll tell you about later this week.

We've been cooking on this project throughout May, and it all comes to a head today with the do-or-die wrap-up and delivery to the publishers (actually, DVD label Heretic) of the completed comic in digital form.

I'm off for CCS in about two hours to jump into whatever the day brings in terms of the team seeing this through to the end. I've been awake since about 3:30 AM, unable to get back to sleep -- I haven't felt this buzz in nine years (when the last, unpublished SpiderBaby Comix issue was completed for printing -- which, as inferred, never happened): the rush of a comic project coming to its conclusion. At the end of today, those of us who've been working on this little gem will be able to hold mock-up copies in our hot mitts and read/dig it!

We've been chipping away at the art for a little over three weeks now, completing panels as the script came together. The final draft of the script was completed for lettering this past week (with minor revision work finished on Saturday), and the bulk of the art was delivered for scanning by Saturday midnight. Everyone's done a terrific job thus far, and we've had some fun with it. Marge and I took a drive up to White River Junction late that afternoon to deliver all but my last panel (which I'm bringing in this morning) to the team, treating ourselves to dessert at the Tip Top restaurant en route. It was a sweet afternoon all the way around, and I relaxed for the first time in weeks yesterday while still puttering on various unrelated projects off and on -- still, nothing prepared me for the once-familiar charge that snapped my eyes opens way too early this morning.

I lay there dazed in the pre-dawn stillness for a bit, trying to force myself back to sleep while wrestling with "what is this?" confusion. It sank in after about an hour, as the morning bird songs stirred the air: this is how I used to feel the day every issue of Swamp Thing or Tyrant finally reached its conclusion. "It's almost done -- it'll be done today!"

Wow -- never thought I'd be tasting this again.

Lest this rouse undue enthusiasm for some of you, note that this elation was arrived at via a venture that (thankfully) does not involve the comics industry.

My retirement from that cesspool stands, though it's becoming more and more apparent that venues are presenting themselves from outside the industry to work anew in the medium I so love. As I said when I retired (to deafening silence), it's the industry I happily left behind, not the medium, the artform.

Many folks have emailed me over the past six to seven years, wondering when I'm "coming back" to comics -- meaning, nine times out of ten, comics as they're commonly defined in our culture: the comics industry (DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, etc. -- urgh -- all that). My retirement from the industry in '99 put paid to my years in that piranha pit, and nothing but nothing since has tempted me back. As noted on the old Swamp board at the now-defunct Kingdom and here, the few teasing temptations even peripherally linked to the industry I once worked in always ended up simply wasting my time and energy, coming to nothing (and still over the same old shit: little or no money seeking complete ownership of whatever was involved; "negotiations" that ended up meaning, in all cases, their way or the highway -- easy to walk away from when my own highway has been so much more rewarding since '99).

Keeping perspective has been easy, though; mind you, I take none of this personally, however passionately I may weigh in on the issues involved. When Warren Ellis noted during his entertaining panel at the Copenhagen weekend that work-for-hire is the status quo on all but the comics projects he does for little or no advance (e.g., Image), and that even he can't get a proposal through DC in less than 12 to 15 months (as opposed to mere weeks at Marvel), it was oddly comforting: the old bureaucracy is alive and well in the plantation fields I once worked.

It's been interesting how many old friends and peers from my years in comics have popped up of late, having arrived at the same decision I did and expressing their own contentment at leaving it all behind. We're all much happier away from the exploitative, abusive environment of the industry, and each have found their own inroads toward new paths allowing us to cultivate our creativity in fresh directions. We've managed to do so without the daily dose of shit-eating the industry seems intent on force-feeding freelance creators of my generation (I can't speak for the next, those who followed in our footsteps, and one must note that the prior generations had been habitually force-fed dumptruck loads of dung).

As I've stated here, thanks to the one-two push provided by my son Dan (who's not drawing comics, mind you, but simply asked me to draw one for him earlier this year) and all the great folks at CCS, I've found my way back to enjoying drawing again. The completion of today's project marks another signpost: the viability of collaboratively doing comics again without working in the industry.

I'm in an odd position, generationally: I mean, everyone I teach with or have in some capacity shared classroom space with at CCS -- co-founder James Sturm, co-instructors James Kochalka, Tom Devlin, etc., guest lecturers and/or visitors Alison Bechdel, Seth, Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti, Jason Little, and many more -- are of the generation after mine. Their creative and professional paths have involved not at all the struggles, ordeals, grudges and putdowns tied up with working in the comics industry such as it was in the '80s; they work in a world apart from that I labored in, and though I'm not saying the grass is necessarily greener on those paths (we all have our respective speed bumps and ruts along the way), it is different in many significant ways from the paths my generation forged.

When I pop into a local bookstore and unexpectedly greet, say, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home leaping off the shelves, hot off the presses, I'm overjoyed for Alison while wondering how it is such projects come together in this rarified atmosphere (intellectually I know how it works for the new generation, but it's an experience I've never had). It's a new world, the world Alison and James and the rest live and breathe in. My "comics experience" has nothing to do with what now is possible. Years of struggling to barely pencil issues of Swamp Thing in five weeks up against insurmountable monthly publishing schedules, signing away one's rights in exchange for a meager check, wrestling with collaborative ventures with multiple creators, grinding through distribution channels to keep my head above water -- all that and more has nothing to do with where my CCS compatriots live, work and breathe: I'm like some amphibian gasping on land after shedding my tadpole gills, looking up at the birds, soaring overhead.

I may never have those opportunities, given my age and orientation to the medium, but that's OK. It's how this works for some. I'm as "old school" in this context as many of our first-year instructors at the Joe Kubert School -- Joe himself, Ric Estrada, Dick Giordano, Lee Elias, Hy Eisman, etc. -- seemed to us in '76, weaned as some of us were on the underground comix, National Lampoon and Metal Hurlant. But like those great instructors (and cartoonists!), I've much to offer yet -- as a teacher, as a creator -- and lucky me, I'm doing so. I'm in it. It's reinvigorating, awakening, wonderful.

What's also interesting this spring is how many out-of-left-field opportunities are manifesting -- I'm wrapping up work on a DVD cover painting this week. Last week, contractual negotiations were completed on a licensing venture involving two characters I own, with another licensing option on the table for this week's consideration -- this one involving a comic or two, as well. Neat.

And not a one of 'em involves "the comics industry" as I knew it all too well.

Glad I'm still here to enjoy it.

More on the above-referenced comic project later this week, naming names and sharing peeks at the work. I'll just get to the other end of today, and we'll (the team) get it outta here!

Then I'll talk about it.

Still -- kudos and cheers for the CCS Year One students teamwork that made this all happen!

One of the side effects of having to now work with the email via Safari on Marge's laptop is the possibility of posting graphics on this blog at last.

Haven't experimented with it yet, but it looks like the Safari on the iBook provides that option on this "Create Post" menu (which my old iMac never did), so may even be able to post a panel or two of art.

And, at last, photos...

Hope you all have a great week.

Sorry I was "away," so to speak.

But I've been here all along -- and it's all good.