Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I saw surprisingly little mention in the press commemorating the anniversary of that terrible day, 12 years ago yesterday, when a nuclear waste dump exploded on the Moon and propelled it deep into interstellar space. How quickly we forget. I still miss the tides.

No word from my publisher on my Mystery Project X book proposal but that's all right; I'm knee-deep (that's more than ankle-deep and less than hip-deep) in Mystery Project Y, which I'm also very excited about. They're very different in both form and content, which lets me flex different writing and drawing muscles. I also think I could get Y done much faster than X, so it may zoom ahead in my queue. That's assuming either of them actually flies, which is quite in doubt. If Editor Charlie can't do X, others have expressed interest in publishing it. If not them, maybe I need to revisit webcomics. It worked out all right before. On the other hand, it's a lot of work.

Backing me up on that last thought is this blog post by comic book artist Stephen Bissette explaining why he will not draw your graphic novel for you (hat tip to my pal Mike Lynch for the link). A lot of people contact Bissette absolutely positive that they've got a great idea for a best-selling book if only he would do them the favor of providing the art--often for free, although he'll obviously be richly rewarded when the money truck backs up to the author's door. Bissette's answer is kind but blunt:

* Drawing a graphic novel takes a long time--much longer than scripting one. How will he buy food and pay rent during those months or years?

* You are probably not interested in giving him the share of ownership, rights and control over the project that he'd want to make it worth his while. Even in the best professional arrangements, collaborating is creatively, ethically and legally difficult.

* If he had the time to draw your graphic novel, he'd much rather spend it working on one of his own ideas that he hasn't had time to pursue.

I receive a few e-mails like this. However, I think mine have a different cast to them because they're often from people who've read Mom's Cancer, gone through something similar in their own families, and with the very best intentions want to tell their story in the same way. They mean well, they don't know cartooning or publishing, but they're just aching to get it out somehow. I understand that.

My answer has the virtue of being both sincere and true: I can't tell your story. I don't know you. I wasn't there. Anything I'd draw would be second-hand reporting at best, lies at worst. The only person who can tell your story is you, and if you can't draw then you should find some other way. Writing, photography, video, HTML, collage, macaroni sculpture. If the message is important and true, the medium is nearly irrelevant.

Beyond that, my unspoken answer is the same as Bissette's: I don't have the time. If I did have the time, I'd rather spend it on my own projects (X, Y and beyond) that aren't repeats of things I've already done. There's probably no money in it for me; if there is, it isn't enough to pay me even near minimum wage for the hours I'd spend. I'm sympathetic and charitable, but not a solid one or two years' of hard work worth.

I think the disconnect here is that a lot of people don't realize how difficult it is and how long it takes. "They're simple cartoon drawings! You can bang them out in a few hours!" I take it as a compliment that I maybe make it look easy, but it's not. Mom's Cancer was the toughest thing I've ever done creatively, for obvious reasons. But even on Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, which didn't impose the same emotional toll, I did thousands of hours of work and gathered thousands of pages of research (literally--I have three 500-page binders stuffed with material). Both projects demanded long months of total immersion. You're asking a lot.

I'm not whining--no one's ever held a gun to my head, and it beats coal mining. Just explaining why I Will Not Draw Your Graphic Novel Either.

* * *

Please allow me to draw your attention to two new Web thingies. First, a new blog by Friend O' The Blog Jim O'Kane, whose topics have already included fiddling, trains and 19th Century rocketry, so you know he's my kind of guy.

Second, the new home of the Toon Talk forum, recently relocated to a Facebook Group. Toon Talk was begun 10 years ago by cartoonist Darrin Bell ("Rudy Park," "Candorville") and for a long time was a nice place for pros and fans to meet and talk all types of comics. As sometimes happens, people gradually fell away and the forum became a ghost town. Honestly, I stopped visiting myself. When Darrin's web host wanted $250 he didn't have, Darrin moved the whole kit 'n kaboodle to free Facebook, where it's gotten more traffic in three days than it did in the past 30 months. I know not everyone does Facebook but I think it's a big improvement. Nice people, check it out.

* * *

I'll be visiting the USS Hornet again this weekend. Anybody want me to pick them up anything?


Jim O'Kane said...

Brian, thanks for the plug! Now I feel like I have to write better if more people will be visiting. Oh, the pressure!

And I can relate to the "I've got a great idea how you should spend your time" crew. The TVDads site seems to inspire at least one email a month from folks who want to "help" me find entire topics to build websites around, such as sitcom pets, sitcom cars, sitcom jobs... you get the picture. As you say, it's nice for people to think I'm capable of tackling another entire website, but for no cash? I don't have enough hours in a day. And it's unfathomable to me why -- if they came up with an idea for a website -- can't they just build it themselves?

All that being said, I may try to commission you for a dust jacket on my Sekrit Everything You Know is Wrong About Space History book. Of course, first I have to finish the darn thing...

Brian Fies said...

But Jim, you're obviously getting rich running one website, why wouldn't you want to get twice a rich doing another? TV Moms! It's a goldmine!

You can have that idea for half the profits.

I will only help with your book if you promise to use the word "Sekrit" in the title.

Jim O'Kane said...

(psst - is NSFW and it's NOT mine.)

And yes, I'll work "Sekrit" into the title somehow. I'm still hoping that the eventually-revealed title of your Project Y is "Crisis of Infinite Fies."

Namowal said...

You know you've made it as a popular artist (writer, musician etc..) if people approach you with "I got this idea for your next project." I'm picturing Salvidor Dali cornered at a gathering with someone saying "You should paint melting cuckoo clocks for your next piece. Get it? 'cause your paintings are cuckoo!"

Mike said...

The most persuasive part of that essay is, indeed, "if I had that kind of time, I'd put it into someone of my own." And consider the inverse: Why work with someone who can't figure out their own stuff?

sligo said...

because this is a 'family' blog, i'll hold off on writing the full title here, but a few years ago i sent this around to more than a few people, not to chide them in any way, but because i had experienced the situation so many times; its (censored) title is "I will not read your f****** script." i highly recommend this to anyone who does anything creative for a living:

Brian Fies said...

Namowal, I really appreciate the thought but don't much feel like I've "made it" in any sense. I don't know how or when I would. Still working on it, though.

Mike: Right. I can have 100% ownership and control of a project I thought of myself and really like, or at best 50% ownership and control of a project you thought of that I'm a lot less excited about. Choose.

Sligo, I remember that piece. I appreciated its message more than the tone, which as I recall a lot of commenters objected to as well. People mean well, you don't have to be a jerk about it; they just don't know what they're asking. Still, that essay definitely taps the reptilian recesses of my brain. BTW, your link gets cut off, at least on my computer. Here's a shorter link to it:

Though not entirely on point, Harlan Ellison's "Pay the Writer" rant is another favorite: