Excuse my Muse; she’s a bit mental
On the surface, writing and drawing seems like a gentle, carefree occupation. But when you make it your life, there are things about it that no one outside of it would ever guess. Consider for a moment what must happen to a person that fully immerses itself for spans of hours, days, and years in fictitious, imaginary worlds. And when your living depends on selling the resulting mess you manage to spew out… well, I wouldn’t say it’s exactly carefree. Gentle doesn’t cut it either. Once, at a party, someone said to me, Wow, you do comics? That’s awesome! I agree it’s pretty awesome.
The dictionary gives the definition of the word “awesome” as “impressive… frightening”, and “overwhelming.” As its synonyms it lists the words “Fearsome”, and “humbling.” Although these are words you wouldn’t normally associate with drawing cartoons, and writing gags, and stories, I think they describe some aspects of the creative lifestyle. (By “creative lifestyle” I mean living life with the purpose to create things — this could mean writing, drawing, painting, composing music, or any other type of art, or craft.) So what’s so frightening, overwhelming, and humbling about living creatively?
Cartoonist friends of mine show symptoms of The Sickness. One of them told me that after a day of writing in solitude, he finds it absurdly surreal to pick up the phone and have a normal chat with a friend — a friend who’s out there in the open city, doing a real job, meeting people for lunch, having conference calls, and board meetings — while he, the cartoonist, had spent the last half hour puzzling over whether the word “banana” is more efficient than the word “Kumquat.” (I relate — how can anyone have a normal conversation after musing over bananas and kumquats?) Another writer/cartoonist tells me she can’t write when her husband is puttering around the house… because he’s “just there.” Hmm. Yes, I’ve felt that “just there” feeling. As for myself — on a writing day the red pen must be touching the blue pen when I go to the bathroom because if they sit apart the pens will conspire against me and will get their revenge by not allowing me to write usable material. Go ahead, laugh. That’s what I’m here for! I heard of another cartoonist who writes inside the closet, and I don’t mean he’s secretly gay, I mean he writes crouched down inside a dark, two by three foot room. Yup, that guy definitely has The Sickness.
How Was Work Today?
It’s not surprising that I don’t talk about the nitty gritty side of what I do to people outside of it. The thing is, I can’t separate my neurosis from my ability to write and draw. So when someone asks me how my work is going, it’s like they’re asking me to lie on a couch, and explain my apprehensions, fears, and weirdly biological creative fluctuations. (I could tell them how I spent the afternoon trying to visualize how a person’s facial features would look if you took the flesh around their head and turned it inside out, like a sweater, but that would make them run away.) So Instead, I try to say something about my day that would appear normal. I end up boring people. I end up boring myself. I’d much rather talk about something else. It’s not unusual for me to feel isolated most of the time and the truth is, I’m okay with that. I feel I can only discuss my symptoms with those who are close to me, or with others who suffer the same sickness. Is that sick, or what?
The Sickness can be damaging. It can make you have palpitations over the visual image of your career as a massive, rickety house of cards. It can convince you that you’re shit, and your work is shit. It can make you think that the last good thing you ever wrote is sitting in the drawer, and you’ll never write anything good ever again, and then you’ll die the worst of all deaths – the end of living creatively. And after thinking these things you go back to the drawing board to write something light, and enjoyable. Why? Because you just can’t get enough. Ah, the life of a content provider! The glamour, the romance! I think it’s awesome – in every sense of the word.