Artists draw because they can’t not draw. They draw on napkins, grocery lists, homework sheets, steamy shower doors, everywhere. People talk to me about politics or sports, or my wife says, ‘We need to talk about finances’, or my doctor says, ‘We need to operate because that cancerous forehead tumor is growing,’ but I just find myself thinking about my latest drawing, or studying their facial features (“how does the far eye wrap around in 3/4 view?”, “the corners of the mouth do line up with the inside of the eye”, “impressive brow ridge, I wonder if he’s got Neanderthal DNA …”). And those that are committed choose to study in a field that is as innate to human culture as farming; it involves an understanding of chiaroscuro, atmospheric perspective, the importance of contrapposto and more; and the fellow students and masters along the way include Polykleitos, da Vinci, NC Wyeth, Will Eisner, Al Williamson, David Mack and thousands of others.
Comics are an ancient art form. The use of sequential images to communicate a narrative goes back at least as far as cave drawings. The Egyptians and Greeks both used them to communicate their religion, history and culture. It predates writing by thousands of years and was a precursor to modern writing: ancient alphabets were an amalgamation of representations and abstract symbols, much like the Chinese alphabet is now. It’s also a precursor to modern television, being a combination of sequential images and text/dialogue/narration. For the last century it’s gained popularity as a children’s medium, but it’s also created cultural and politically iconic figures and won prestigious literary awards like the Hugo and Pulitzer.
The beauty is it being both accessible and limitless in nature. Comic books can be anything the creator decides to make. Apart from the brilliant artwork and masterful writing, comics are exceptional in that they are a medium where the final product is as close as possible to the creator’s original intent. There isn’t interference from editors, market researchers, PR-people, bloodsuckers and leeches. Storytellers can take chances in comics because there aren’t millions of dollars at stake. Are you tired of every sitcom being the same, tired of another Law and Order spinoff, another damn Michael Bay movie? Comics can uniquely combine the depth and insight of literature with the visual bad-ass-ness of Hollywood, and, sometimes, depending on the right collaborators, the sweeping beauty of a poem.
Let this then be a challenge to all my fellow creators, as well. This is a unique opportunity we all have; let us do something extraordinary with it. Never before has there been such a potential audience within reach of every day people. If you have a mind-bending story, put it out there. Want to draw a story backwards, with the characters slowly eroding from photo-realism to stick figures to metaphorically communicate whatever, do it. The only limitations are your imagination and skill, and both of those, like any muscle, are both expanded through practice.
Any time I see a Kickstarter project for a comic about someone whose parents were murdered so they don a costume to avenge injustices, I see a missed opportunity. Taking a tired idea and adding a twist isn’t enough; Mark Millar may be making millions off it, but if you’re just starting out, bring something new to the table. If someone is looking to read a story with a familiar backdrop, they’ll do it with the familiar character by the familiar creator’s and the familiar publisher. If you’re just starting out doing webcomics, self-publishing, or independent work, take the chances now.
That said, keep an eye out for my upcoming webcomic. It’s about a group of individuals born differently from everyone else, and they must learn to live in a world that fears and hates them. One faction will want to peacefully co-exist, the other will want to secede and force it’s will upon the others. I think it has potential.
Ryan Cairns is a contributing writer and comic book artist at Champion City Comics.