Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Seeking Inspiration, Finding the Day Has Passed

Before I launch into another blog post about the travails and triumphs of being an artist/writer/performer some of you might be asking, “Who the hell is this guy and why on earth should I give a damn what he has to say about making art?” To which I can only reply, “Who am I? Who am I?! I just happen to be the Vanderbilt Elementary School Fire Safety Poster Award-Winner for both 1976 and 1977, so step the fuck off!”

Okay, now that we got that unpleasantness out of the way, let's begin...

Step One: It’s 4 P.M. Get Out of Bed.
While I cannot speak for all artists, I can saw with complete certainty that being a cartoonist can be a lonely, dispiriting, depressing enterprise teaming with self-doubt, self-loathing and self-employment. To combat such demons some of us turn to God. Others turn to drink. Absolutely none of us, however, turn to sex, given that the average cartoonist makes a Dick Tracy villain look like Clive Owens by comparison. And such a self-realization can be far to harsh for one soul to take. You see, we cartoonists are not a handsome lot. And lord knows few of us can earn a living wage practicing our art. Now true, we do possess hours upon hours of free time within which to masturbate recall or create mental images in the privacy of our bathrooms, but that hardly makes up for not meeting new people or being unable to afford ADA-approved toothpaste. But why is the actual act of writing a comic strip so depressing? Because when you get right down to it it’s just you and your thoughts, and there’s nothing like being left alone with your thoughts to realize that the last creative idea you had was way back in 1978 when at age 11 you decided to make an independent film that you conservatively budgeted at $123,000.

Step Two: It’s 5 P.M. Get Out of Bed.
By now you’ve spent over an hour staring at the ceiling of your apartment (or, if you’re the typical cartoonist, staring at the encrusted flypaper hanging over your pestilential cot at the YMCA) with nary a comic strip idea coming to mind. But just because you can’t think of a single idea doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. You just have to look outside of yourself for inspiration, mostly to your laptop. After a few minutes of net surfing you’ll soon come across something like this, an actual Austrian McDonalds’s ad circa 2002:

Soon the mind starts reeling with potential knee-slapping yet though-provoking concepts. “I know! I’ll do a satire of McDonald’s marketing strategies!” you exclaim to your cat, marveling at your ability to connect the idea of “advertising” to an ad you just saw. But then you recall that most major corporations are not known for their sense of humor or litigious restraint. So you say, “I know! I’ll do a comic strip laying bare how a culture of fast food has hastened heart disease, childhood obesity and startlingly poor labor practices!” But then you realize that’s the sort of idea that requires additional research. And that few hilarious jokes can be credited to the spirit of Upton Sinclair. And that writing such a gag will only make you regret having your fourth Enormous Omelet Sandwich in as many hours. So you say, “I know! I’ll do a joke about sesame-seeded breasts!” But by then you realize your cat is shaking his head in disgust.

Step Three: Seriously, You’re Going to Get Bed Sores.

After spending the last four hours in bed trying to work all the humor angles of a picture that you’ve come to realize isn’t so much “funny” as “creepy,” it’s no surprise that you would start having doubts about your aptitude for humor writing. Or your willingness to move, bathe or interact with society ever again. It’s a dark, enervating period that can perhaps best be summed up by the following little-known poem from the great Emily Dickinson:

Oh Christ, It’s Already Midnight
Oh Christ, it’s already midnight

And I mourn the cessation

Of another day of watching

“Degrassi: The Next Generation”

But just as you’re about to shut your eyes, just as you’re about to forfeit all hope, just as you’re about to decide to give up the comic strip game once and for all and take that job selling Christmas ornaments year-round at “Santa Village and Above-Ground Pool Store,” an idea slowly forms in your mind. An idea so uproarious, an idea so unprecedented, an idea so remarkably insightful that in a drowsy daze you quickly commit it to paper before you pass into sweet, sweet slumber. An idea that, in the light of morning, reads “Make sure to write down an idea.”

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