Why Do You Draw Comics?

3 Mar

I hinted in my previous entry that I was currently working overseas and I thought I might as well put it out there: I’m in Singapore. It’s not that far away from home but well…distance does make the heart grow fonder. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the topic of this entry: Why do you draw comics?

What Are You Doing? Why Are You Doing It?
So Why Do You Draw Comics? (Image taken from the awesome webcomic Johnny Wander)

I managed to arrange a very last minute meet up with Sarah Joan Mokhtar when she was here to attend a conference entitled ‘Women’s Manga Beyond Japan’ held at the National University of Singapore. We met up pretty late, almost around 10.30pm and what both of us thought would be a short drink and chat session turned out to be a long discussion that lasted until the wee hours of the morning about comics and almost everything related to it, mostly in a Malaysian context. Where do Malaysian comic artists stand? Why are there so few local comic artists drawing autobiographical stuff when one of our national comic icons (RE: Dato Lat) has been doing just that? Most importantly, our chat drifted to the topic of the motivations of comic artists in general, brought on by the discussions during her panel/presentation.

During the course of the conference, Sarah managed to socialize with a Japanese manga university educator that told her that her stance on comic making (where Sarah said that her definition of a ‘successful comic artist’ didn’t hinge on the balance inside their bank accounts) was very interesting. Apparently even in Japan’s manga art education centers, students are ingrained with the ‘sell, sell, sell’ mentality, which honestly came as quite a shock to me. Granted, not everyone’s art is fuelled by passion alone, but when a comic artist draws for the sole purpose of money/commercial success, doesn’t their lack of passion show in their works as well?

So we talked about what yardstick each of us would measure a comic artist’s success with. This was brought on because she had so many people coming up to her with the same question: ‘How do you become a successful comic artist?’ ‘And what is a ‘successful’ comic artist by the way? Is it a person who manages to sustain a living by making comics? Or a person who manages to gain popularity through their comics? To Sarah (and I’m paraphrasing here), she had nothing against people who make fame and money their goal when they make comics, but success by her definition was measured by the artist’s dedication to his or her craft. She cited Craig Thompson as an example (whom she got to meet when she attended the Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency under him): he is a comic artist, and he only produces a comic book once every few years. And he does a whole lot of other side jobs to pay his bills in the lull between books. Would you consider him a success?

Rejected Mockup covers for Craig Thompson’s latest soon-to-be-released tome, Habibi. You can go here to see the finalized cover

My answer to that question would be ‘Yes’. In my honest opinion, I think that a comic artist’s success isn’t measured by his take home salary or relative fame, but by the amount of people who connected with his work. Comics is the perfect medium to convey messages using both words and pictures, which is basically how most human minds operate. If a person is willing to make every effort to make his comic a reality, and uses his tools and wit to craft a comic that manages to convey what he has to say to an appreciative audience, then he is already considered a success to me. An artist may make oodles of money working for somebody else, in service of their ideas, but I’m sure most people can tell if a comic has been drawn by a person that is inspired or not. Fame, on the other hand, is secondary in the sense that if a whole lot of people connect to your work, it should come naturally most of the time. The same goes for money.

I know a few great webcomic artists (and illustrators) who draw comics just because they like the medium so much that even though their day-jobs are not related to art at all they still make it a point to consistently put out new work a few days every week. These are also the people who enrich the comics medium by giving readers a glimpse into subject matters that are usually not broached by mainstream comics. Case in point: I never thought that pursuing a PhD could be made into a comic until I read Jorge Cham’s PhD Comics.

At the end of the day, I guess it all boils down to your motivation for making comics, be it for money, fame, or just to get your work out there. There really is no right answer, but whatever the reason you plop yourself down at a desk and pour your thoughts into panels and speech bubbles, just make sure that you’re satisfied with your own reason for drawing comics because when all else fails, that will be the glowing ember that keeps you going.

2 Responses to “Why Do You Draw Comics?”

  1. Nikki Liaw March 4, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    I’ve read this blog before and always wondered who wrote it… turns out it was you, Max!!

    Hmm imho the comic craft can never be honed well without exposure to the commercial world. Drawing comics for money shouldn’t make the work any less passionate or inspired. If an artist only invests his/her best in their personal work, then they’re doing a disservice to the art. The public’s exposure to comic art is mainly from commercial avenues.. how many would bother to attend comic/indie events?

    Sorry for the rant, but I just can’t stand comic artists who complain the world/industry doesn’t appreciate their talent while thinking they’re ‘too good’ for commercial work, or that it will decrease their value (wtf?).

    Let’s catch up if i’m ever in Sg 😉

    • Max March 5, 2011 at 1:12 am #

      LOL, you should’ve noticed that little box below each post that says ‘Author: Max’ hahaha!

      I think going where the money takes you is fine just as long as you don’t make that your sole purpose for making comics. Even if you have the artistic skills to do so, I’ve seen some local artists stretch themselves really thin just to meet deadlines and it does in some way affect the quality of their work.

      Also, I think that commercial work tends to force artists into certain moulds, which is perfectly fine if that’s what the individual wants to do, that allows for less experimentation and freeplay with the medium. A balance between commercial and independent publishing in the local scene would be nice, but as you’ve said above, these things usually need to be kickstarted through commercial avenues.

      Nah, I wouldn’t consider that a rant, it’s a perfectly good topic for discussion. And discussions are always good just as long as the results don’t remain in the imaginary realm. Do give me a holler in advance if you’re here and want to meet. =)

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