Monday, February 21, 2011

Writer's regret



In art, you're meant to be able to rewrite all the mistakes that you made in life. But the more I look back at Scary Go Round from a point of years' remove, the more I see the glaring mistakes that I made. They're not "ran over a granny on a zebra crossing" type mistakes, more the permanently documented evidence of missed opportunities and mis-steps.

There's definitely a point in Scary Go Round where I start writing the comic that I think people want, rather than the one that I wanted to write. Don't worry, I couldn't have written that comic at the time even if I'd wanted to. I didn't have the tools, some might say "chops", to do so.

The biggest hole, for me, was at the heart of Esther and The Boy's relationship. It's expressed in such vague terms. The average story was 45 pages long, which didn't leave a lot of room to get to the root of the matter. It's only since writing the new comic that I've begun to understand some of those older characters properly.



Part of the reason that I wanted Bad Machinery to be about kids, and slower, was that I could look at these things more closely. I love drawing nutty things, but it's the interpersonal stuff that interests me when I write, more now than ever.

I used to try to fit as many firecrackers as I could into a comic's dialogue, now I'm more concerned with what I can leave out while saying as much as possible. Does that make sense?

In art, you can always go back, but it's best to press on. Endless revision is the domain of the insecure. I did do a couple of little drawings while I was thinking about this though. Perhaps you can see them.

19 comments:

Laura said...

I must admit I was always left wanting more when it came to their relationship, esp at the begining when the boy and Erin seemed to be getting close! It left me frustrated as yet again the cool girl came and took the geeky boy and left the geeky girl alone (my own issues coming out lol!)

John A said...

That's the sort of thing I'm talking about - I was juggling so many characters and felt expected to do a certain sort of thing (in my imagination, most likely) that I never really tackled these things properly. But that's what happens when you make it up as you go along!

Edmund Ward said...

The Character relationships in Bad Machinery are a great leap forward from the SGR years - it's a much tighter group of people and you can actually feel the ramifications of events on the whole group.
The best example of this is the Shauna & Jack relationship which, in my view, has progressed at a pitch perfect pace. The fact that you didn't dwell too long on the cheap audience-teasing 'will-they won't-they' phase displays maturity and a strength of purpose in the characters' progression. I'm loving how that relationship opens things up for the other characters, giving them space to breathe. Charlotte minus Shauna is an interesting exploration. As is the new trio Linton, Sonny and Colm. What becomes of Colm on Jack's return?

Aside from character exploration, Bad Machinery is so lovingly paced and drawn that a reduction in the number of 'gags' doesn't hurt it - 'jokes' never were the reason I read SGR - I read it for the art and the characters. So for Bad Machinery you're just playing to your strengths by focussing on these two things.

Red_Dog said...

I think the key point is "writing the comic that I think people want, rather than the one that I wanted to write" - this seems to be the main thing you struggle with in your artistic endeavours, and you really shouldn't. There is absolutely no wisdom in crowds, a situation that t'intrawebnet only exacerbates, and you should have confidence that what you do is good stuff (which it is). Trying to second guess what the amorphous mind fart that is the 'internet' is always going to end in tears...

Samvel said...

SGR was undoubtedly losing a bit of its sheen in its last year or so, but it was a glorious thing in its day. I'm sure Shakespeare in his Jacoban Macbeth-era pomp looked back on Romeo and Juliet with the same sort of regret, but it doesn't stop it from being a great play.

BM is all fresh and exciting, and your enthusiasm for it really shows through in it. Probably in a few years you'll get sick of it and start a new comic, with Mildred on her gap year on a Peruvian alpaca sanctuary, fighting Inca ghosts, as you do.

Karina said...

I personally have very much enjoyed your new and old work, and I have been reading for about six years!

It's natural to change your point of view and direction as time goes on because you grow as a writer/artist. I just want you to know that even though you may doubt it sometimes, your projects have always been amazing in my opinion and I can't wait to see more!

WIlbur said...

I love the place Colm has taken with Linton and Sonny. They so obviously are uncomfortable with how he forced his way in, and the things he's doing now, but they seem to be just as uncomfortable with the idea of being just two friends. Colm set out to fill in for Jack, and he's just barely successful enough that they can't make themselves break away.

Or something like that. It's subtle, but interesting, which is something I absolutely love!

Definitely have the confidence to go after the story you want to write, even if it seems ambitious or like it's not what the audience wants. You've got actual talent to work with, so from that point on the quality of your work is strongly connected to how inspired you feel by your subject!

Take a lesson from Andrew Hussie: his comic has had explosive growth, and a lot of that is thanks to the fact that he's entirely unwilling to listen to the stubborn whims of his fan base, and is also very willing to jump in and experiment with different ideas. Not everything can be as flexible and ill-defined as MSPA, but it's a good lesson to try to avoid feeling boxed in.

Hannah said...

"I'm more concerned with what I can leave out while saying as much as possible"

Achievement unlocked: subtext. *makes victory music sounds*

I trained in playwriting, originally. And that idea of subtext/subtle exposition is what's at the heart of most good writing - 'show don't tell'

There's also something very lucky about the programmed theatre world in that you have these deadlines, which you can never extend. And once people have seen something they'll rarely pay to see it again. And what's left after theatre has finished is in the contents audience's heads, which the law/human decency tends to frown upon the erasing of.

Anyway I think this is lucky because it pushes artists to keep moving their practice forwards, rather than revising. I like that word for an artists' work; practice. Because if you're a good artist, you're always learning.

Lance McCord said...

You are, no doubt, familiar with the Star Wars phenomenon wherein the quality of a given Star Wars movie is closely and negatively correlated with the percentage of Total Project Creative Freedom retained by George Lucas. This probably says more about Lucas than about anything else, but it would be foolhardy to let the example pass without examination.

None of this is to take anything away from your work (which to my mind has always been more good than bad) or to disagree with your assessment of it (in general I am an uncritical reader (a fact which I hope will not detract from the compliment offered earlier in this sentence)). Just, you know, look out for that.

Naelok said...

Hm yeah I agree.

The problem with Esther and the Boy from my perspective was that the relationship was a bit too smooth. I mean, you've got two very different characters there and yet the only real instance of friction was when Esther was hypnotized. I'm not saying they should have been fighting constantly or anything like that, but I never got a real sense of how those clicked together so well.

I think you've done a better job with Bad Machinery so far. Not giving Justin and Shauna any real screen time really has established the tenor of their relationship quite well (i.e. it's childish, irritating to those around them and, most likely, destined for a most delicious failure). I'm really excited about the comic's future romantic prospects, especially for poor old Linton.

And it's still quite funny, so it's not like you're losing touch with your roots either. Keep it up!

Joy! said...

Ah yes, the gaping regrets/holes. And once the art has been "released," that moment has passed, and it's on to the next creative moment. Or as one art prof used to say- Don't get stuck in your head - get your ideas down on paper and move on! Small comfort when we've flubbed an opportunity, but oh, well.

Re. Esther, yes, I would have liked to have seen more of her and The Boy. I did enjoy how you had her develop more nuances after a relatively flat character beginning. You showed her off playing off of different personalities in GD. Esther is her own person. One of my inspirations, really. And here come the next generation of characters...

I was sad when SGR stopped, but I'm now thoroughly engrossed in this "new" strip. I also really like: "I'm more concerned with what I can leave out while saying as much as possible." As always, waiting for the next update with anticipation.

Kevin said...

It would be so fantastic if you could tell us more about what you saw their relationship as at the time and what you think of it right now: how it should have been developed, where it should have gone, etc. For new readers of Bad Machinery and SGR who have just recently gone an an archive trawl, (me, for instance), they're some of the most memorable characters.

Neil W said...

I kind of felt that I was seeing the relationship of Esther and The Boy from the outside. Either there was more going on we didn't see, or maybe they just, you know, hung out, did things and got on well in a slightly dull but happy way.

The balance between weird (Supernatural/Science Fiction), zany (crazy characters) and mundane is probably better in Bad Machinery. When you actually have a fishman as a housemate, you have to work pretty hard to actually be crazy. Non sequiturs and long rambling theories based on fantasies and misunderstandings no longer cut it. The weirdness in Bad Machinery seems to creep in from outside rather than pervading everywhere. Not every situation is insane, so insane plans are not appropriate for all situations.

The kids, of course, don't have firm grasp on the possible and the impossible and the supernatural is not helping them figure this out.

Mike said...

Count me among the curious as to what you would have done differently (or additionally) regarding Esther and The Boy. But you've hit the nail on the head, that relationships between the characters is what makes a story work, not this over-rated "plot" concept.

On an unrelated note, I love that the modest mermaid is cheerful, and the one showing her boobs has this "oh, all right, fine," expression.

Scott said...

I would also love to hear more about the missing meat of The Boy & Esther's relationship, Mr. John A!

Matt H said...

I think the thing to remember is that broadly drawn areas like Esther and The Boy's relationship give the audience a chance to fill in the details for themselves, and that can serve to bring the characters more to life because they live in our heads too. Of course the details I invent will be different from the next reader and different again from what you may have wanted, but being comfortable with that variation is a part of artistic maturity.
Having said that, if you feel you have more to say about Esther and The Boy I think everyone would welcome it, whether its though additional Giant Days strips or something else. Its your party and you can hop around in whatever sort of non-linear fashion you want!

Laura said...

Haha Mike I also noticed that about the modest vs 'floozy' mermaid! Made me smile!

Peter said...

Long time reader, first time poster. Far be it from me to question your artistic compunction but I must disagree with your assessment. I think leaving out the "hows" and the "whys" of their relationship is much preferable to hitting us over the head with it. All kinds of teenage relationships happen for no good reason, or at least no reason that anyone outside them will ever understand. Keeping this private is better in my opinion. I agree with Matt H in that the reader is allowed to imagine what isn't put there explicitly. It's like reading a great book and then going to see the movie. If the characters don't look and act exactly as you imagined ( which of course they will not) you end up feeling that it's somewhat wrong. You said it yourself: leaving important aspects out can be as powerful as putting them in. I for one don't want an explanation!

K said...

Interesting reading what other people have said. When I was reading the comic, I was rather expecting Esther and the Boy to break up acrimoniously before SGR ended, especially during the storyline in which the Boy got irrationally jealous of Ryan and seemed to be developing controlling tendencies. I began to think that the Boy was maybe not good enough for Esther... but then nothing happened.

The bits in which they just seemed to rub along harmoniously didn't feel wrong to me, but then, my husband and I got together as teenagers, so maybe I have a strange perspective on these things...