Saturday, April 23, 2011
What Would Pop Do?
My answer to this week’s question about this business of advice takes me back many moons ago, back around the time fire and electricity were invented and I was a youngster growing up in South Central L.A. Oh, and this is a somewhat bifurcated response but you’ll see how they dovetail. Anyway, when I was a kid I read a lot of Marvel comics from the Fantastic Four, Captain America (both these titles plotted and drawn dynamically by Jack “King” Kirby -- seen here with some of his creations), Namor, the Sub-Mariner (who Star Trek’s Mr. Spock resembles) and on and on. In my neck of the woods, in those days, you didn’t read too many goofy DC comics – this before DC’s editor took a page from the Stan Lee-influenced Marvel line, and introduced angst in their characters.
My cousin and I would trace those great sequential panels by Kirby, Gil Kane, Wally Wood and the like, and write our own dialogue in the word balloons. There was nothing more I wanted to do then that write and draw my own comics titles for Marvel. There was a thing then called comics fanzines, memographed and eventually offset printed amateur publications where those of us burning with the fever to talk about and make our own comics could band together with other such geekazoids -- using snail mail I might add – to create our own characters and stories. Our efforts could result in a one issue we might put together or if you had the stuff, your work might see life in the pages of publication such as Alter Ego, Sqa Tront, Ariel, or All Dynamic. These publications would have comics combined with articles about whatever was abuzz in fandom. Various professional got their start in these fanzines.
So I would spend hours and hours at my wooden draft table laying out the panels on my page, doing the finished pencils, inking that work and then sweating out trying to letter my dialogue and captions on those pages. I even took art in high school and college toward this dream but it turned out I suck as an artist. But now we get to the advice. See my dad had only made it to the sixth grade, having to drop out and work during the Depression. He did all kinds of jobs from being a lookout for a bootlegger in his hometown of Seguin, Texas, picked up bodies for the local mortuary in San Antonio, dug ditches for a Works Projects Administration project, hauled large blocks of ice up and down walk-up apartments for ice boxes in Chicago, etc. so to him when you had a job to do, be it menial or high falutin’ you didn’t sluff the work. You mopped that floor the best you could because that was your job and you didn’t half-ass the work.
I had an art teacher who essentially said the same one time in a college class and I guess because I’d heard my dad say it, his words stuck with me. He was talking to us one day and mention almost in a n off-hand way that he always wanted us to do our best, that maybe it wasn’t for a big commission but that didn’t mean you didn’t take the work any less seriously. He warned if you approached some jobs as something that demanded less than your best, your work would be affected when it came time to go all out.
When I feel I’m writing a scene on auto pilot, or I come to that part of the plot where I could just kind of coast and do that thing I’ve done before only a little bit different, try as I might to block the admonishment from echoing in my head, it does. I can ignore the advice but my work pays the price.