Wednesday, July 13, 2005

For All The Right Reasons

For All The Right Reasons

I get some pretty interesting emails from time to time. A lot of the emails I get are from aspiring artists looking for advice and/or critique, or they just wanted to write me after realizing, with much surprise, that I actually exist as a real live human being. I try my very best to reply, and although at times I have promised to critique their art, sometimes work and other committments cause me to simply forget, or lose time to take care of it. I'm a forgetful person, and many times I'm concerend that I offend those people whom I have previously met and I've forgotten their names.

Emails I try my best to answer, and for the most part, I get to respond to most of them. Sometimes I don't get to reply at all. The reasons are many. Some emails I set aside, planning on replying later as they require a lot of thought and time to compose a response to, but sometimes I just forget once I get caught up in other things.

Other emails I find just too pushy. If they don't get a reply within 12 hours they start to jump on you, and send identical emails one after the other, thinking that perhaps I didn't get it the first time around. That makes me less and less inclined to reply.

Some emails demand rather than request for help in their thesis research or other school work. These emails lack courtesy or consideration and they are written with a haughtiness that believes the world owes them something. Most of the time I do reply, but I'm not helpful at all.

When people meet me sometimes I'm asked to sketch. Actually, I love to sketch for anyone who asks for it, but it's embarassing, because I'm not someone like Arnold Arre who can whip up an awesome looking drawing in a few seconds. I tend to take my time... and it takes a long time to do a drawing I'm happy with. Some people have the impression that we can draw everything from memory.

At the Neil Gaiman autograph signing at Greenhills, someone asked me to draw Rogue from the Paul Smith era. I welcomed the request, but to be honest, the request frightened me. One, I have a hard time drawing girls quickly. Two, I have a hard time drawing in public, and three, I can't recall from memory what Rogue's costume was like during Paul Smith's tenure on the X-men. The guy told the story of how he approached Leinil one time and asked him to draw Wonder Woman and Leinil couldn't because he can't recall what Wonder Woman looks like.

It may seem surprising, but comics artist generally can't draw every character from memory. Even for seasoned professionals, research is very important, and you can bet that nearly all artists do a certain amount of research before he starts drawing. Unless an artist has worked specifically on a title for several months, he won't be able to recall with any accuracy what any given character on that book looks like, except for maybe someone like George Perez, who has practically drawn EVERYONE at some point or the other.

But anyway, I ended up drawing Wolverine, but I'm afraid I didn't do a good job of it. My pen ran out of ink and well, it was a mess. I apologized to the guy and I said I'd just do a Rogue for him which I will do here at home. I think I have promised drawings to a couple of other people, and I'm thinking I really should start writing these down so I won't forget.

Back to the emails.... many of those I do get from aspiring artists are just amazing. They share their art with me and sometimes I just go wow! If an artist approaches me with art that I feel has that potential to make it, I try to recommend them to people who could give them jobs. And I'm glad to say that some of these artists are actually working in comics now. I guess it all comes down to attitude. These artists have a healthy attitude towards creativity, they're willing to learn and improve, and they have a distinct love for art and comics.

Sometimes, other aspring artists approach with me on the pretext of asking for advice, but in their hearts, what they really want is praise. But don't we all? Praise for a job well done is much deserved, but to ask me for advice and critique, don't expect me to give you anything else other than advice and critique. I'll give you praise if I think your work warrants it.

I'm terribly frank and straightforward about my advice, and when the mood strikes I can get pretty detailed and verbose. Somtimes it takes more 2 hours just to write up a long critique of several pages of art. But this is done with no other intent but to point out to the aspiring artist just what he needs to work on. And if I get longwinded it only means I care that this artist does a better job and I know, from looking at his work, that he can do better.

I'm never counterproductive nor am I dismissive. I try to be as helpful as I can, but in the process, I can be brutally honest. Such honesty I think, is something that is probably not expected or even wanted, and more often than not, I don't hear from them again.

Out of 5 people who approach me to critique their work, only 1 out of 5 ever respond, even if it is to just say thanks. The other four, possibly frustrated that they didn't get praise from me, probably went somewhere else looking for it. Well, good luck. But I have to say you won't get better once you feel that you can't do better.

Like my wife says, "fried chicken". A little ego is good and even needed, but too much of it is counterproductive.

Once in a while I come across people who try and enter comics for all the wrong reasons. One guy emailed me telling me that he's envious that a lot of people were approaching us to have our autographs on their comics, and that people were mobbing us during these signings. Others email me wanting to be artists in comics because they know they'll be earning lots of money and get to hang out with girls. Which is wow... it's hard to find the right words to say just how wrong that is.

In many cases, when people enter comics with these objectives in mind, they really don't get to last long because they realize sooner or later just how hard the job is. And yes, it is a hard job. It's a time consuming job, requiring a lot of sacrifice and commitment. Believe it or not, when people see me outside for signings or when I'm walking around in malls, those are probably just a few of the times when I'm not at home chained to my desk and working.

You have to love the art. You have to love doing comics and continuously find ways to improve yourself. Being a pro doesn't exempt you from criticism. Your education as an artist doesn't stop. I got critiques forWasted, for Crest Hut, for Birthright, for Lastikman, for Humanis Rex. I accept them all because I know accepting it can result in nothing else but better work in the future.

This is why I'm always saddened and disappointed when I meet fellow professionals who came into the job for all the wrong reasons. I've met artists who openly admit they do it for the money. Their art is good, but you can see how they can still improve. I guess I can't blame anyone who only wants to make a living for themselves. And doing comics is an honest living. Nothing can be really wrong with that.

But once in a while I come across people who are so arrogant in their mediocrity that I just shake my head and wonder how they were able to get that job and have a following. Take this guy for instance, who has been working for some time. To be honest, he isn't a very good artist. His writing has its moments once in a while, but he hasn't shown he can improve as an artist in the many years he has been working. Under ordinary circumstances, this is an opinion that I'd rather keep to myself, but in order to demonstrate what I want to say in this post, a real and true example needs to be shown. I don't need to say who he is, for it is simply proof that such persons do exist that I wish to demonstrate.

I have been seeing his work for a couple of years and although I don't enjoy his work and I think his art is seriously flawed, I'm content to just appreciate other things more worthy of attention. But in an Internet mailing list few years ago, he announced that he will be part of a seminar that proposes to teach how comics are drawn. And my stomach turned.

How can he even think of teaching young artists to draw, when he is the one in serious need of an art education himself? Again, it's an opinion I wanted to keep to myself, but much to my surprise, someone actually replied with another message expressing in words what I had been thinking. I quote the message, with the name of the artist edited out.

Is xxxxxx the guy who draws xxxxxxxx? I applaud his efforts .... but his artwork is very amateurish....... I don't think xxxxxxx is in a position to teach me or anyone on how to draw comic art. He needs an art workshop as much as I do.

And the artist freaked out. Thankfully enough, I saved the message and I'm posting it below unedited, except for his name.

Let's put it this way: if an amateur like me can release 3 successful
books, go national, get visited by Atenean chicks for interviews,
receive free unlimited internet time just for doing what I do, and
hordes of readers pestering me for a fourth book,

why can't you?

There are better comic artists out there who can't profit from their
work and gain recognition. Therefore, there's more to comic creation
than the art. Now isn't that something worth learning about?

There's more to comics creation than art? What? Atenean chicks? Free Internet? Fan adulation? I can't say anything much more because he pretty much hangs himself by what he has said.

But I do concede that there are many artists out there who are good, but can't get the same attention. That much is true. But to promote mediocrity because for some strange damned reason it sells, and propose to perpetuate such mediocrity and the philosophy behind it by *teaching* it, is something I cannot let pass. It is why I'm posting this here.

I certainly hope no young artist learns from his example, but there is a deep sinking fear that some may well do. I just hope that there would be more young artists out there who care wholeheartedly about the craft, artists who believe that uplifting the medium is much more important than the money and the adulation, artists who are willing to push the creative envelope and explore avenues in art other artists haven't gone before.

And if I can offer an advice to anyone willing to listen, just do your best. Just do your best. Draw the hell out of that page, and draw it like it's the last page you will ever draw, knowing that it may well be your last chance to show just what you can do. Just do your best. Listen to criticism. Take it. Accept it. LOVE what you do. And if your work is good, you know, money and all that shit will follow whether you realize it or not.