Cogno, Redux

Not unrelated to the recent thoughts I’ve had about art school friends and the work we were all producing back then, I’ve been toying with the idea of finally unpacking — literally — the scraps of work I produced during those ancient, halcyon days and putting it some of it up here.

I mean, I’ve been toying with it in a more relaxed, laid back manner for years at this point — I might even have teased doing it once or twice, for that matter — but there’s always been the problem of, to be blunt, my laziness when it comes to actually unpacking the various boxes it still exists in (well, what little of it still exists) and then scanning it all in or photographing it, or whatever would be necessary to making it all happen. It always sounds like a good idea in theory, and then the practical elements come in to spoil the party.

Yet, here I am again, thinking that this might be the year and this might be the time. I blame a couple of influences in this regard: re-reading Eddie Campbell’s Alec: How to Be an Artist, which excels in making self-mythologizing appealing — not to mention, attempting to create a quasi-accurate accounting for your own past in the process — but also re-reading an issue of Kevin Huizenga’s Or Else in which ended the series by advertising a number of future issues that would never happen.

That last one made me imagine writing new installments of the work I wrote and drew for the university newspaper when I was a student, as if I’d continued to do it across the past 27 years or however long it’s actually been since I stopped. (I didn’t want to do it for the final year of my undergraduate program, so… since mid-1996, I guess…?) But in order to do that, I feel like I’d have to share some of the original pieces, so…?

Again, maybe this won’t happen, yet again. Maybe I’ll search all of this stuff out, take a look and then feel so embarrassed it stays locked in my budget version of the Disney Vault. Or, just maybe… maybe this is the year to put all that back out into the world after all. We’ll see.

Only A Fool Would Take The Chance To Stay The Same

I was thinking the other day about the fact that so many of the people I went to art school with 25 years ago are still producing work that is, if not the same as, then at least on a par with, what they were doing in their final degree show. I see friends post their work on social media and I recognize everything about it — not in a bad way, per se, but it’s very much of what they were doing way back when.

At first, when thinking about this, I had a moment of… jealousy, perhaps? A sense of, “Oh, they found their voice early on, and that’s never been true for me.” I think back to the work I was doing in art school, and all I can really remember is how derivative so much of it was; I can think of the bits I was lifting from Dave McKean, the bits I was lifting from Kent Williams, the bits I was lifting from whoever. (Really, I was pulling left, right, and center from the various comics I was reading at the time; I was shameless, but because my teachers weren’t familiar with the source material, they never called me on it, as much as they should have.)

I was swiping so much because I didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted to say; I think that’s why I felt this feeling of envy when looking at friends’ work decades later and seeing the through line from then till now. I have this moment of, I wish I’d had that certainty of who I was way back when, as if that would have changed everything for me in some cosmic, inexplicable manner.

Of course, as I said, that was my reaction when all of this first occurred to me, and I thought to myself, oh, I should write about this on the site. Then, today, I opened up this window and thought about it again, only to switch my opinions on it almost entirely. Imagine not really finding a new aesthetic, a new thing in all that time? I might not have known who I was when I was 23, but that’s probably been all for the good in the years since; if I had, would I have ended up where I am, with the career and friends and relationship I have?

Don’t Bore Us, Get To The

I tweeted a variation on this the other week, but I’ve become increasingly depressed about the lack of comic outlets outside of comics these days.

The thought initially occurred while reading Alec: How to Be an Artist, which makes a point of showing how important a weekly strip in the music papers was to Eddie Campbell and his peers when trying to get started as creators in the UK in the 1980s. The same thing was true of Campbell’s collaborator-to-be, Alan Moore; without his strip in Sounds, the world would likely have never gotten his work in Warrior, which arguably led to everything he did in his career from the mid 1980s forwards.

Unless I’m entirely misremembering, Rian Hughes had a short stint in one of the music papers in the ’80s, too. Certainly, Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy had a weekly strip in a newspaper, as did the Pleece brothers (Warren and Gary, for those who remember the latter). The mere mention of comics in newspapers conjures up thoughts of Will Eisner and The Spirit, 80-odd years ago now when it started, another touchstone in my personal history of comics.

What all of these comics and creators had/have in common is that their work didn’t just reflect or try to fit into an existing idea of success, but instead strove to be both original and, perhaps even more importantly, entertaining to an audience outside of the mainstream. More than any pre-determined notion of craft or formal, practical skills in terms of writing or illustration, I feel that working on a regular basis outside of the comics industry creates an awareness of, and hunger for, what a broad audience is looking for outside of the Direct Market standard, or whatever it being promoted by bookstore buyers that particular season.

It exposed creators to a mass media audience, and asked them to make something that anyone would find enjoyable. In a way, it made comics — the medium, not the business — into pop, which is arguably something that more creators in today’s industry should go through. If only.