As sometimes happens, a couple of things came together to inspire this post. First, one of my nephews interviewed me for a school assignment and asked some good questions about how one gets a book written, edited and published, an ambition we share. Second, I know a couple of cartoonists using Formspring.me, which is a very simple web thingie where anyone who wants can anonymously ask you anything they want, and you answer. Really. That's all it does. But it's interesting.
I don't want to do Formspring. The last thing I need is another Internet time-sucker demanding attention. However, I do like the idea of an "ask me anything" Q&A and thought I might just try it here. Serious, funny, trivial, anonymous or not. Anything. Ask your questions in the comments for this post and I'll reply.
I see two hazards: someone asks something I don't want to answer, or no one asks anything at all. I expect the latter. If the former, I reserve the right to evade or, if the question's completely out of bounds, delete (that's true on Formspring as well, BTW). But I promise I'll make a good-faith effort to answer as honestly as I can.
Keeping in mind that I'm not expecting the Spanish Inquisition--NObody expects the Spanish Inquisition!--let's see how it goes.
What is the most comfortable pair of shoes you own?
What is the least comfortable pair of shoes you own?
When was the last time you wore the least comfortable pair of shoes and why do you keep them if they're so uncomfortable?
I like to draw, and I really admire the work of cartoonists such as yourself. But I suck. I enjoy it. But I suck. So I'm left wondering if I just don't have a talent for it, or if I just need more practice, or if I should take classes, or buy books on drawing, or what.
How did your drawing skills advance to the point where you became a professional? Were you always good at drawing? Did you take art classes? Was it just lots and lots of practice? Did you get advice from other cartoonists? ("Ah, I see what you did there," he said knowingly. :)
Now we're cookin'.
Anon: My most comfortable pair of shoes is a pair of green off-brand sneakers I bought for about $30 a while back. They're starting to wear out. I last wore them yesterday.
My least comfortable shoes are leather Topsiders my Mom gave me a long time ago. They're a bit too small, stiff, and have jabby bits that poke into my feet. I keep them because I keep thinking they'll break in (even though I never wear them) and my Mom gave them to me.
The absolute best shoes I remember owning was a pair of running shoes made by Pony, a short-lived company. I had them when I was a teenager and wore them to threads. They felt like they were molded to my feet.
Do you know the way to San Jose?
(Bonus points: why don't we do it in the road?)
Tim: Thanks, the flattery's recognized but appreciated. This is going to sound snarky but it's sincere: if you're interested in cartooning, drawing skills aren't as important as they used to be. Some very poor artists are making good livings at it. Writing is 90% of the job.
That aside, I was always a good artist for my age, compared to my peers. You get some positive feedback for that and keep going. I took as many art classes in high school and college as I could fit into my schedule. I also got some work published when I was in college and in my early twenties, through my university newspaper and a small daily paper where I worked as a reporter. I learned a lot and gained some confidence from that. I can't think of a day when a switch clicked and I thought, "I am a professional." Maybe it's still ahead of me.
While inate talent probably plays some role in being a good artist, I think practice and education can get you just as far or farther. One thing I think is true is that hard work almost always trumps lazy talent (and hard-working talent beats them both). Books can help but I think classes (like at a junior college level) are better because you'll get feedback. Draw from life a lot. I'm amazed how many people can draw a galaxy-sized machine devouring entire worlds full of fairies and laser-mounted dragons but can't sketch a woman in a business suit holding a telephone. Cartooning is about simplifying reality; draw reality.
I didn't get advice from, or even really meet, any professional cartoonists until very recently. But I did read everything I could find about them, which was helpful. I also learned a ton by studying their original artwork, which I was lucky enough to have available to me. You can glean more looking at original art for an hour than reading books for a year. One small reason I don't care much for digital art is that there won't be any more originals for kids like me to stare at, hypnotized.
Other than that, I'd just say keep drawing and get your work out into public anyway you can. The Internet (e.g., a webcomic or DeviantArt) can be terrific for that. Feedback from people who aren't your friends and family is important, and the best kind of feedback is when someone is willing to pay for your work.
Also, read books or stay engaged with the world in ways that have nothing to do with comics. I've known really good artists who never had careers because, while they could draw pretty pictures, they had nothing to draw about. They had nothing to say about the world and couldn't create stories that weren't copies of those they'd grown up reading. Being a well-rounded, well-informed, thinking person is important, I think.
Sherwood: South on 101, across the Golden Gate Bridge, down 280, past DeAnza College at the junction of 85. Big city, can't miss it.
We don't do it in the road because I'm married to Karen and just wait until I tell Diane, you're going to be in big trouble mister.
Tim: I just thought to add: drawing and cartooning can be very interesting, enriching parts of your life even if you don't do it professionally. No reason you have to or should want to. Lots of people enjoy playing music, writing, cooking, sculpting, etc. with no desire or expectation to turn pro, and cartooning is the same. If you just like doing it, maybe that's enough.
Thanks again for the question.
You're right, Brian; I'm in big trouble now. She's gonna put the ram in my ramma-lamma-ding-dong for sure.
Brian, in the "lifetime things you haven't done yet" list, what's the next item that you're planning on doing, and when?
Jim: tough question. My bucket list is pretty short. I'm really reasonably content these days, which is a strange but comfy state for me to be in.
I'm going to London in June (details to come), which will be a first I'm really looking forward to.
Someday I'll clean up and refurbish my office.
I'd like to write a book that does well enough I could afford to quit my day job and do it full time. Maybe the next one.
Longer term, I'm looking forward to meeting up with you on the International Space Station after NASA sells it to the Chinese.
Who's the most famous person you know?
What is your favorite vegetable?
Brian, do you play any musical instruments? If so, what's the most difficult piece you've conquered on a particular instrument?
Anon @ 8:59: That kinda depends on how you define "famous" and "know." I've met a few pretty impressive folks. But in terms of people I've really spent some personal time with, I'd say either Jeff Kinney ("Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and one of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World") or Stephan Pastis (award-winning "Pearls Before Swine" cartoonist). I'll let you decide which of them is more famous. But I don't really think of either of them that way.
Anon @ 9:05: For its versatility, the tomato (I'll hear none of that "it's actually a fruit" nonsense). For sheer culinary delight, steamed artichoke with a side of melted butter.
Jim: Sadly, no. I took violin lessons in elementary school and guitar (acoustic) as a teen, but never practiced or got good at either. As an adult I regret my pathetic musical abilities, and would probably add "learn to play an instrument" to that bucket list we discussed earlier.
I like many kinds of music, love classical, studied a little music history and theory in college, but suspect I lack the ability to ever be more than mechanically proficient. I'm just not wired that way--I know I don't hear the same things a musical artist hears. I really envy composers, that's like magic to me (how did you know you needed an oboe right there, and how'd you pick those notes for it?). But then sometimes people look at drawing as a magic trick, too, so I've got that.
I'm waiting for someone to ask, "Whatever happened to the world of tomorrow?"
I know. Somebody oughtta write a book.
Brian, what's the advantage of Formspring over what you're doing here? Anonymous people ask questions, you answer them, and ... there's an app for that, yes. Why?
Second question: Why do I always feel so much like Arlo at these moments? (Jimmy Johnson's, not Woody Guthrie's)
Y'know, I don't quite get Formspring either. It might make sense for someone who doesn't have a blog or Facebook page (where you could do the same thing). One guy I know just sees it as one more way potential customers might stumble across his work. The only advantage to Formspring I see is that soon this post will slip down the page and people will stop looking at it, so we'll lose that live give and take. But then I could just start a new "Ask Me Anything" post whenever I want.
You mean Arlo the cartoon character who regularly manages to slip naughty sexual innuendo past his editors and half his readers? I don't know, Mike; why do YOU think you feel that way? Tsk.
could you please explain the Ashley Judd/nice shoes anecdote?
This post is 3-1/2 years old! But I saw your question. Not much to explain: There's a passage in "Mom's Cancer" about my Mom working as an extra in a movie with Ashley Judd. Ms. Judd was naked in one scene, and though extras aren't supposed to bother lead actors, my Mom looked naked Ashley Judd up and down, leaned in close, and whispered, "Nice shoes." I just thought it was a fun story that captured my mother's personality, so I put it in the book.
Brian, you there? I’m reading Last Mechanical Monster over for the 3rd or 4th time now, I really love it. I asked once before if you had any plans for releasing it as a real book, your response was basically, Not really, not yet.
A few weeks ago, one of the other current readers and commenters remarked that he HAD an actual copy, and that it was available on Amazon, as are your others. I was just checking now and I do NOT find it there.
IS it available as a real book, or was my correspondent mistaken? And if available, where? Thanks much for your time, all the best!
I am here! Hope you can check back here for my answer, which probably nobody but you and I will ever see because it's on a 10-year-old post.
It is not a real book and there are no physical copies of Last Mechanical Monster anywhere (except one I made for my wife Karen). Until recently, I would have said there were no plans to publish a print version. I am not at liberty to reveal much more right now, except to say that things have changed. If you catch my drift. Hint hint.
And thanks so much for reading and loving the Last Mechanical Monster!
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