Thursday, June 29, 2006

Everything I Need to Know I've learned in...

School. That's right, I actually learned something in school, regardless of the fact that I spent much of my time doodling in the margins of my notebook. And what's more, my approach to life comes from that childhood nemesis; Word Problems!

Now that one paragraph seems to blow out of the water several of life's "givens", doesn't it. To be honest, and frank, though, the misconception of "why do we need to learn this stuff for, it won't do us no good in real life" basically lies with the speaker. Like everything else in life, you get out of an education what you put into it. Any adult that goes back to school can tell you this.

But let's not digress, and please don't get me started on the abundance of ignorance I see each day I walk out my door. My topic today is Word Problems, Shrubbery, and Cartooning.

A week or so ago, the outside temperature was around 90 degrees, so of course I took it upon myself to begin a major landscaping project; the removal of ancient shrubbery. Like most folk, I just took some gardening implements of destruction, and started hacking away, removing branches willy nilly, and making a general mess of things. Please note: this is back breaking and exhausting.

So, although I am an artist, I have been trained in the scientific method. What's that, you ask? Simple. The scientific method is basically a solid philosophy for approaching life's difficulties with your brain first, so as to make life that much easier... and is the method we were all taught to use to solve those pesky word problems.

Yes, that's right... for all of you who have ever wondered why "Joe leaves his house at 7 Am, and drives east at 40 mph" is important to life, and concurrently wonder why life is such a mess, the answer is... Oh, you really should have paid attention in school!

Lots of people have told me that I should have been a teacher, to which my response is, "what did I ever do to you?" Just kidding... teaching is a noble profession, and I do like kids, but I realize that I just don't have the patience and inner serenity to deal with 20 small kids with the combined energy of a nuclear reaction, or worse, 20 teenagers with the combined arrogance of a Hollywood charity fundraiser.

That aside, I will attempt to teach you the philosophy that has made me the success that I am today, all from the safety of my home.

The next time you face a word problem, a tough sudoku puzzle, the challenge of writing or illustrating a graphic novel, or the might of a 40 year old evergreen, do the following.

Stop. Take a deep breath. Look at your givens.

Your givens are the things that you know, such as 7 am, and 40 mph. Or, yard waste must be collected in bundles of 3 feet long or less, or the dimensions of a comic book are 6.625" x 10.25" with a .25" bleed on all sides.

Adding up all your givens should put the problem in focus, and more importantly, it gets you started! Nothing is worse than standing around scratching your head, and few things waste more time. Getting started is the key to everything. Writer's block means that you aren't writing! Grab a pencil and write a letter to a friend, real or imaginary, and writer's block dissappears.

Also, once you lay out your givens, you are now faced with what you don't have. This puts the solution in focus by defining it. We usually call this "X". By defining the problem, we open our minds to the solution.

Now, depending on the size and nature of the problem, the next approach is taking the big stuff and breaking it down into smaller, easy to manage chunks. For shrubbery, you take the small branches off in 3 foot lengths, then remove the bigger branches and trunks again in 3 foot lengths, and then tackle the stump and roots. Ta-dah! You're done, and you bundle everything up in twine, and bring to the curb.

Take things one at a time, step by step, starting with the easiest stuff and keep going until you are done. Ta-dah!

Yes, it really is that easy.

Oh sure, hard work and perseverance are still needed, but a little brainwork can make things so much easier.

And that goes for creating a comic strip, the great American novel, and even landscaping.

Thank Goodness for word problems :0)

PS Now if this darn would only work consistently!

I've lost this post twiceFOUR TIMES now (!!!!), and luckily had saved some of it. I've heard from some of you who have had similar problems, where you type up a brilliant reply, only to have it disappear into the e-void.

Please don't let that stop you. Keep saving your work until blogger finally lets your reply through.

I know people are reading this, but I'm not going to blog more often until I start getting more replies at the blog.

I need to know; am I a rambling nutter or a focused philosopher when it comes to blogging? :0)

YOUR opinions, please :0)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Influences, Part II

Well, my train of thought kind of derailed on that last blog, so I figured I would try again to organize my thoughts.

Influences... How much are we shaped by our early environments, and how much is us to begin with, and how does this apply to our creative lives?

Lots of times we see the same ideas expressed over and over again, and sometimes it seems like obvious plagiarism or outright theft. I'm thinking of comic strips, and sitcoms, and other creative outlets. (As for sitcoms, we're stretching the 'creative' definition, a bit, and giving the writers the benefit of the doubt)

Anyway, read the funnies long enough, and you will see the same ideas crop up again and again, and sometimes nearly word for word. Now, sometimes this is outright theft. I don't post everything I do on the web because there are some people out there who see nothing wrong with stealing ideas, as long as they can benefit from it. Other times, though, it may be coincidence, tribute, or influence. Maybe that Cartoonist read a strip, thought it was funny, and it was filed into his subconscious. Later, the idea pops up again, and seems original to the Cartoonist.

Not outright theft, but definitely an 'influence'. At other times, we may come up with the same ideas completely independent of others. Sheer coincidence, and bound to happen. After all, if 5 people are creating family strips, they will invariably cover the same topics, and revisit those topics. In a comic strip of 4 small panels, with only a certain amount of space for the writing, and with good jokes sharing a similar sense of timing, it is no surprise that the same ideas can arise independently.

Now let's explore this topic deeper. As a child, I read the Hardy Boys, but really enjoyed The Three Investigators. They were three kids who liked to solve mysteries, and had a cool secret headquarters hidden in a junkyard. Today, I have a comic strip called The Inquiring Minds, about three kids looking for adventure.

Coincidence? Was I influenced by those early stories? Probably. So if I never read the Three Investigators, would I not be now creating The Inquiring Minds?

Hard to say, but I doubt it. I have a lot more influences than just The Three Investigators. Besides, in a comic strip, a certain dynamic can be created by having three characters. Two characters can team up against the third, or all three can head off into different directions. And all three can have different strengths and weaknesses that play off of each other. Chances are the Three Investigators were created for the same reasons that The Inquiring Minds were, just for that special dynamic of three characters playing off of each other.

My characters love the outdoors, and are interested in sci-fi. My favorite all time author is Clifford D. Simak, whose stories all took place in nature, and of course were all sci-fi stories. His novel Shakespeare's Planet was about a group of Space Explorers stranded on a planet that has a 'gateway' that connects different worlds together. My very first comic strip was about a group of space explorers who find a 'gateway to the stars' on a planet, and get lost inthis network of star 'gates'. And now one of my favorite shows ( and movie) is Stargate Sg-1. Was I originally influenced by Shakespeare's Planet in creating my first comic strip?


And perhaps Stargate was also influenced by that story, directly or indirectly.

And now, my interest is further reinforced by Stargate SG-1, so that my original influence is reinforced by a current influence that may have been influenced by my initial influences!

An endless cycle of reinforced influences!

Have a nice day :0)

Influences; Who, What, and Why

Invariably, creative people are asked about their influences. Up until a few years ago, most Cartoonists would immediately mention Charles Schulz, especially if their interests run to comic strips. In interviews, this could get dull, but of course a Cartoonist is going to talk about Cartoonists, just as a Violinist would talk about Violinists, right?

Influences actually run deeper than that, and outside of our areas of expertise. For example, our parents, of course, and our early environments. As a kid, I was always playing outdoors. I spent hours just sitting in the grass watching bugs go by, and collecting rocks, or climbing trees, all the while letting my subconscious run things. Surely those hours of pure imagination and daydreaming led to my being a creative person.

Or did it?

Perhaps I spent hours daydreaming in the back yard because I was born a creative person?

I was also an avid reader as a child. Mom always took us to the library, and I always seemed to have books around, so again, perhaps that influenced me into becoming a writer?

Then again, perhaps I devoured books because I already had a penchant for reading?

My point, I guess, is that nature and nurture both shape our being. Perhaps we are inclined to do certain things because of our particular make up, but then, in pursuing those things, reinforce that basic inclination further. So perhaps the word influence should be retermed reinforcement?

I dunno... perhaps I'm getting lost in semantics here, but I'm trying to understand who I am, and why. How much of ME is me, and how much of me was shaped by my environment? And why should it matter so much? Is it curiosity, or an argument for free will?

We all want to be special. It beats the alternative, that's for sure.

But if we are responsible for our own lives, then, along with taking credit for our successes, we have to fess up for our failings and shortcomings. Some people aren't willing to do that, and are more than happy to blame others for their problems.

That's the easy way out, though, which is rarely the best way. By knowing who we are, and facing that, we can make decisions to grow, and change, for the better.

They say to write what you know, which is easily the most misunderstood advice ever given. That doesn't mean to write a novel about a guy who looks like you, eats the same breakfast you do, and goes to a similar job. Borrrrrring!

You need to tap your inner strengths and interests. Dig deep, and release those things that you are most passionate about. Write what you care about most, and let your own passion attract your audience.

Cheers, JOHN :0)