Tuesday, June 07, 2011

This self deprecation has to stop

On more occasions than I care to count, someone has come up to me at a comic show, pressed their little photocopied effort into my hand, and said "it's not very good". And 49 times out of 50, I manage to stop myself saying "then why on earth should I read it".

If you've taken the time to draw something, and photocopy it or have it printed, and travel to a destination, and give your work unsolicited to a complete stranger, try not to make this oft-repeated faux pas at the final moment. Your work may not be of a professional standard, it may be loose, "sophomoric", poorly lettered, imperfect - it may be flat out rotten - but you finished something, and if you finished one thing, you can finish another, and you will improve.

Here is the rub. There are people at every comic show I attend producing work that I can only describe as execrable, who stand with consummate pride next to their rotten pamphlet and sell it to all-comers - with an astonishing degree of success. Now, I know that it comes down to character. Those people are probably psychopaths.

Self-criticism is a valid exercise and a vital component of improvement. But it is not an attractive attribute to strangers. Wrestle your terrors alone in a windowless room under an unshaded bulb, with a loaded pistol and a jam jar of potent "prison screech" on the table.

Out and about, on the scene, I want to see you beaming with pride that you made it out of that room with all your teeth and most of your sensibilities intact.

ADDENDUM: If you approach me with a comic called "Sh1tty Comics", "My Crap Comics", "Cavalcade Of Rubbish", "The Underperformance Chronicles", "Awful Tales" &c, I will tear it up in front of you or shred it upon my return home.


theUncommon said...

Damn, down goes my plan to make a comic about a self depreciating artist called "No Art Talent"

Liam said...

"Awful Tales" sounds like a Mike Mignola comic

BJK White said...

That darn Dunning-Kruger effect has a lot to answer for.

Neil Willcox said...

"Terrible Artwork" - each week our intrepid team of Fine Art Exorcists attempt to undo the damage caused by artists with unholy talent. Issue One - Why does the Mona Lisa smile? Because she has EATEN YOUR SOUL. Issue Two - Trapped in Guernica. Issue Three - Why does time seem to stand still near The Persistance of Memory? Issue Four - Michaelangelo's David - or DEATH-VID?

Anonymous said...

Hell yes.

I don't want to be told what to think about comics before I've read them. I have my own skewed tastes, thank you very much.

This goes for "Tales of the Awesome" as well.

Kludge said...

@Chris: Then I suggest "Stories of the Quietly Competent", "My Journeyman Webcomic", and "Mediocre Images To Delight Children (To Some Extent)"

Fake Scott McCloud said...

Well said.

"It's not very good" should be replaced with "I like it, I hope you do too!"

John A said...

You're right, fake Scott McCloud.

Mark Clapham said...

Evan Dorkin can get away with that 'no talent' comedy schtick, no-one else can.

Kat R said...

It can be pretty hard not to make excuses for your work, haha. Seriously though, people have to stop bashing themselves because all they really end up doing is go stagnant with their art (oh and make people avoid them too).

Bloggy said...

Well, "stranger" is relative. I like to think that I know you, Mr. Allison, a bit better than I know, say, Warren Buffet...

Noc said...

"Cavalcade of Rubbish" actually sounds like something I would read.

It would be about a pair of children who live in a junkyard and dream of founding a traveling circus.

Extra Bastard Formula said...

but I spent hours drawing that dominatrix sneering "You Know It's What You Deserve" for the cover of my Terrible Comics for Terrible People

Simon said...
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agent_x said...

@Joe Sparrow I disagree that this post reinforces "the notion that well-known webcomic artists are dicks"
Yes, when these other artists approach a more-well known one, they may be self-depreciating.
But it can be a vicious cycle.

Everyone can improve their art, but telling yourself. even in jest, that it is bad art, will undermine your confidence and enjoyment of what you are doing.

You can never stop others criticising your work, but even if they do, stand up and be proud of what you have produced.
That art is a little bit of your soul and a display of your courage, for all the world to see.
So many people DON'T make art because they are scared.

Kate Beaton said...

Joe, I disagree with you. Is it really bad advice to say you should present your comic as something the person you're giving it to would want to read? We are all shy of our work in the beginning, we know it's not the best we can do, only the best we can do for now. It's understandable. But I say it as well to people that hand me their comics and say 'it's really bad' - don't tell me it's bad! Tell me what you tried to do with it, tell me what you were going for, tell me you're new at this, what am I supposed to think when you say 'it's really bad'? Politeness means I say in return "I'm sure it's not!" and that's fine, but pluck up a little! Make me excited to read the comic that you worked on. If, at a comic show, a dozen people give me a comic and say 'it's no good' and one person gives me a comic and tells me a bit about it, of course I will remember that one person more, and that's why people give you them in the first place, isn't it?

Just one more thing, if there's a "notion that well-known webcomic artists are dicks" I'll thank you to leave my friend out of it. When no one at all knew who I was, and I had no clue about comics, it was John's advice that gave me a leg up more than anyone else's.

Tank said...

That's good advice, but it can be hard to remember when the moment comes. Whether it's drawing or writing it's a piece of yourself on that paper, and giving it to someone you respect is scarier than just about anything.

I see what you're getting at, that you're better off talking yourself up to be proud of it long enough before the fact that when the time comes to smile and pretend you think it's wonderful it's second nature, but still... for someone who's even a little shy the first few times of handing off your work to someone else is dead terrifying.

Kate Beaton said...

Tank - I totally understand! Every time someone hands me their work and says it's awful I know exactly where they are coming from, and I thank them and tell them I'm certain it's not. People are nervous! We all know that. But still, some people may read this and find that they'd like to hand their comics to people on a positive note, and I think that would be great! I had to learn to talk about my comics in a positive way just like everyone, and it's a really good thing to learn.

smbhax said...
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smbhax said...

More things *should* have "chronicle" in the title, though.

(And if my user icon doesn't show up again this time, well, nuts.)

John A said...

Joe Sparrow,

I may have told a very occasional person to stand up for their work, and this post is meant to do the same, but I've never criticized anyone's work unless they specifically asked for criticism and I am always constructive.

I want people to break a terrible habit. Even I used to do it. But someone at school called me out on it when I was 9 years old, so I stopped.

If I am a "dick", as you so colourfully put it, I am one who never discourages people's creativity. I read every minicomic and pamphlet I'm given.

Kris Straub said...

Joe Sparrow:

It's not about being shy or lacking confidence in your work. It's about the device of going all the way in the other direction in order to blunt potential criticism or negativity. It is really hard to beat your own drum, but if you don't at least try to, no one else will.

I think as a culture of artists we need to be beyond certain frameworks or devices of presentation. "Check out more waste like this (or don't) at mystupidcrap.com" has outlived its usefulness as a tongue-in-cheek system, be it a meta call-to-attention that it actually is garbage, or a meta call-to-attention that it is supposedly not garbage. The whole enterprise needs to be unmoored from that hangdog axis.

No one wants to read crap! Please don't tell people your work is crap, because even if it's not, they will believe you over your work any day. Let your work tell them your work crap, if that is the objective.

Luke Surl said...

This was all written on a phone so please excuse any spelling/grammar/autocorrect errors!

I'm trying to remember how I acted when I gave you my first printed collection of cartoons from my webcomic back in early 2010. As far as I can recall I wasn't self-depricating, but neither was I particularly self-aggrandising either. I think I probably surprised you when I appeared to be offering it as part exchange for The Retribution Index. After paying (full amount!) I said a couple of sentences of explanation and then skitted back to my table.

What I do recall clearly was that I was incredibly nervous. Your opinion counts for a lot, both in terms of pride [we all want the recognition of our peers, and you sit pretty much at the top of the UK webcomics tree] and in a more practical sense, as Kate alluded to above, the support/advice/patronage of a person such as yourself can be invaluable as we try and make a name for ourselves.

I think the self-deprication is one coping tactic for this aniexty.

I'll try and do a bit of unqualified social psychology on this situation. In the eye of the person giving out the comic in this situation, they are a low/mid-status individual, whereas the receiver is one of high status. However, they are the one making a request 'Read this please, tell me what you think.' - which does not feel 'natural'. So, in order not to look like they are trying to assert a higher status, they immediately assert their low status. Or something like that. This is all based on stuff I was taught in improvised drama classes.

Anyhow, I'm a little older, a little wiser, hopefully a little better at comics, and somewhat more familiar with the UK small press comics scene now. But I'm still just that wee bit nervous when I come face-to-face with those who inspired me to join this strange little world.

Bloggy said...

Tank's comment, and really the whole subject, reminds me of the Chris Farley Interviews Paul MacCartney sketch, where Chris rips his hair out and hits himself, telling himself how stupid he is! :)

What made that comic funny is because we all feel like that from time to time when we come face to face with someone we look up to.

I think that John's post is positive, and it's good advice, and that's that. Will it stop the practice of self deprecation altogether? No, it's just food for thought.

As a musician, I do this a lot, but it takes a different form: "oh, I'm not finished with that bass line, it sucks"... "Uh, forget the lyrics, I was just rambling until I write some..." So I, for one, am taking John's advice and all of us creative folk would do well to do so.

Kate Beaton said...

There are two different events here, one where a person hands you their comic and describes it as bad, and one where someone makes a comic and calls it an unflattering name.

haha jeez, for heaven's sake, don't name your comic 'Shitty Comics' 'Crap Comics,' 'I Can't Draw But I Made This' or whatever, there are a thousand of those!

Either someone will comment 'it's good' and the writer (hoping they would say that) can say 'ha! yes I was just being funny/modest,' or someone will say 'it's bad' and the writer can say 'WELL that's why it's called Shitty Comics! What did you expect, I did these during lunch and they are supposed to be bad and I can draw much better than this actually but this is supposed to be bad so don't tell me what you think.'

Even if that's not your intent with that kind of naming system, it's what a lot of people see as soon as a name like that comes up! Again, it's just something to think about, and it is only my opinion, but I hate seeing real talent hide under something with a self deprecating name. And I self deprecate with the best of them.

Kris Straub said...

But Kate, your own comic loudly cautions us that a filthy derelict approaches. Your work isn't vagrancy!

Matt said...

Late to the party as ever.

What a great post!

Made me laugh and think (a good combo).

Cheers, John

Matt Badham

John A said...

Glad you enjoyed that, Matt.

Anonymous said...

That line about "wrestle your terrors alone..." is now above my writing desk on an index card, next to Ford Prefect saying "It will be very, very unpleasant for you, and that's just too bad. Do you understand me?" It really evokes something about the emotional tenor of the writing process for me.