Working on Ganges #4, taking up all of my time.
Above is a picture of the latest finished "Focus Book."


His Own Comic

Was in Kansas City a couple weeks back and, y'know, I hit all the local bargain bins. Along with the usual First, Continuity, Eclipse, etc. masterpieces I also got some old Comics Journals. I already had this issue (#154, 1993, the legendary Woodring interview!) but I picked it up again because it was cheap and who knows, maybe this particular copy has the answers. I remember reading this issue, sitting in my high school library. O days gone by! 

A belated congratulations, Chris!

Here's a page from the Woodring interview, of a rough layout:


Fig. 46.3



This is a doodle/diagram of the Getting Things Done system. It was very helpful to me to work through, because with no day job and few real deadlines, I can get pretty bogged down, anxious and scatterbrained. The basic form of the system is really just standardized common sense: you gather everything together, then sort through it, organize it, and then focus on specifics. It's very useful to analyze and break down a complicated project into discrete steps, and then be aware of what step you're on, and keep your focus there and not get freaked out by what's down the road. I suppose some people are able to do this easily, but I struggle with it.


Focus Book

For a couple years now, I've been using little mini-comic sized books, made from scrap paper from the copy shop, folded and stapled, to keep focused each day on the day's work.  Or to free-write and warm up. This is the latest one, just finished today. I haven't been numbering them, which is unusual for me!  I also use the same format to write and take notes for the bigger projects. Now you know, right? What's the lesson here? I don't know. For me, they're less intimidating and overwhelming than sk.books or moleskines, and cheaper, and you get to the end faster. Also, they're conveniently proportional to the proportions of the comics pages I draw. Whatever works.


What It Is

In 2007, I put together a zine called New Construction #1 because I was having a hard time getting Ganges #2 done, and I thought throwing together a mini-comic of odds and ends would help me get some enthusiasm and confidence back. There were some rightly deleted scenes from Ganges #1, sketchbook exercises, and miscellaneous experiments, like this comic strip. This last strip especially made me think about continuing New Construction as a series where I’d throw together stuff about making comics from my own perspective: a “reflective practitioner” trying to educate myself and keep myself from blocks and funks.

Issue #2 was about thumbnailing and on display were many grimy USS Catastrophe thumbnails.

My plan for issue #3 is for it to be about “Productivity” a subject I've struggled through these last few years, and I have many doodles and notes to show for it. Since there’s no reason really to keep this stuff to myself, I thought I’d put together this blog, and post New Con #1 and 2, along with first drafts of the material that’ll go into New Con #3. And whatever else.  I have some ideas, and I have a lot to learn. We’ll see how it goes. This exists to help me with my own work, first of all, but maybe the public display of my slow-witted struggles can help you too. If my *real* work is going well, though, it’ll probably be pretty quiet around here...unlike now...

I’ll keep comments closed, but please write me at kevinh at usscatastrophe with corrections and comments.


Work Book 1

Word balloons, square or round...
looking at Herriman...
Roy Crane...

How Things Go


The Comics Table of Space and Time

“Whoso partakes of a thing enjoys his share, and comes into contact with the thing and its other partakers. But he claims no more. His share in no wise negates the thing or their share; nor does it preclude his possession of reserved and private powers with which they have nothing to do, and which are not all absorbed in the mere function of sharing. Why may not the world be a sort of republican banquet of this sort, where all the qualities of being respect one another's personal sacredness, yet sit at the common table of space and time?”

William James,
On Some Hegelisms

What's mistake but a kind of take?

Nancy, Solidarity, Typography

"One tired jab against Ernie Bushmiller was that he didn’t draw his characters but merely rubber-stamped them on the page...
"...if “iconic solidarity” is a formalist property common to comics in general, what Bushmiller is up to is heightening this formal property by making it as blunt and visible as possible. In effect, Bushmiller’s gambit is to make us aware as possible that we’re reading a comic by taking a key formal property and making it part of the narrative itself. Hence all those twins and mirror images. This might explain why so many comics aficionados have a special regard for Nancy, which often seems to be the very beating heart, the very distilled essence, of comics itself (for those who still believe, of course, in essences)." 

I don’t think “iconic solidarity” means the same thing as the rubber stamp.  I think it has less to do with regimentation and uniformity, and more to do with interdependence.   (The political language is maybe interesting?)  But I’m not sure about that.  I gave up on trying to figure out Groensteen for now.

The twinning is a great catch, though.  Drawing Nancy and Sluggo almost exactly the same each time, it’s like he’s making them into a font, like he’s writing “Nancy” in Helvetica.  All the drawings of Nancy are transparently Nancy the way a commonly used font will make a word "transparent."  But I think saying that Bushmiller represents the “distilled essence” of comics is like saying Helvetica is the essence of the written alphabet.  (What about Giddyup?)  It’s no knock on Bushmiller or Helvetica, but it helps to relativize the situation, to talk in terms of use, function, and keep from away from essence-talk.  If cartooning is a kind of handwriting, I'd rather say something like Bushmiller had handwriting that was  beautiful, super-consistent and easy-to-read.

Nancy gets meta, like "Helvetica" written in Helvetica.

Getting a variety of letters and pictures and marks to work together, in solidarity, that's the trick.  It doesn't have to be clean and easy.  Everyone doesn't have to wear uniforms and stand in line.  It makes it easier to do a daily strip.  It's easier to read.  The “rubber stamp” school of cartooning—where images and pages are handled like typography—is something I have an affinity for, but I’m suspicious of claiming too much for it. 

I don't know why my brain gets so hung up on this.  I'm still thinking it through.  I hope I'm not being pedantic.  Maybe it's as simple as wanting to keep clear the distinction between description and prescription.

More reading:
Here's Derik Badman and Neil Cohn working through Thierry Groensteen's System.



Tom Spurgeon wrote here about arguments about comics he's no longer interested in having, and suggests 3 arguments comics critics could be having.  Here's one argument I'd be happy to never see again. It's not really an argument as much as it is a bad faith assumption. Here are two examples of it in action:

"Alt comics creators may be turning for cred to more respected mediums like literature and memoir..." - from Noah Berlatsky's review of Tales to Thrizzle.

"While the other pieces in MOME vol. 4 are angling for the kind of bourgeois literary respectability..." - from Marc Singer's blog.


J. Brodsky: "Flashes of Panic"

I have always envied those nineteenth-century characters who were able to look back and distinguish the landmarks of their lives, of their development.  Some event would mark a point of transition, a different stage.  I am talking about writers; but what I really have in mind is the capacity of certain types of people to rationalize their lives, to see things separately, if not clearly.  And I understand that this phenomenon should not be limited to the nineteenth century.  Yet in my life it has been represented mostly by literature.  Either because of some basic flow of my mind or because of the fluid, amorphous nature of life itself, I have never been capable for distinguishing any landmark, let alone a buoy.  If there is anything like a landmark, it is that I won’t be able to acknowledge myself – i.e., death.
Certain this is partly an outgrowth of your profession.  If you are in banking or if you fly an aircraft, you know that after you gain a substantial amount of expertise you are more or less guaranteed a profit or a safe landing.  Whereas in the business of writing what one accumulates is not expertise but uncertainties.  Which is but another name for craft.  In this field, where expertise invites doom, the notions of adolescence and maturity get mixed up, and panic is the most frequent state of mind.  So I would be lying if I resorted to chronology or to anything that suggests a linear process.  A school is a factory is a poem is a prison is academia is boredom, with flashes of panic.


Souther on Procrastination

Souther on procrastination. 
"...after years of having a love/hate relationship with deadlines and structure, reading books on procrastination and productivity, and coming up with new gimmicks and tricks to get myself organized and on a schedule, I’ve learned there are some things you can change about yourself and some things you can’t.  for the ones you can’t, you just have to learn to work around them or else embrace them and make them work for you."
GTD was very important for me, but I've come to see it isn't exactly designed for creative work.  Here are some useful correctives.