Yet These Hands Will Never Hold Anything … Except For Paper and a Pen

I was fully intending to let you all know that I was going to attend–and this time participate in–the 12 Hour Marathon Comic Book Marathon at the Comic Book Lounge and Gallery. However I ended up re-blogging–and blogging–about Pollychromatic’s Be Brave, Be Heard article instead, which was more than worth it seeing as it attempts to create a powerful visual symbol of female identity, voice and survival in the social and cultural climate of this particular era. So at this point, I have already participated in the Marathon and I want to talk about that, and my weekend.

I woke up early Saturday to gather some supplies together and check my email. When I came online, I saw that Julian Darius and Cody Walker published the first part to my article Yet Those Hands Will Never Hold Anything: Emiya Shirou as the Interactive Superhero of Fate/Stay Night on Sequart. You can look up Sequart through the link I just made or on my Blogroll: there are many interesting scholarly articles on themes, character analyses, and the history and influences in and of the comics medium. I have to say that this made my bright hot summer day before trekking out to the TTC and getting to the Lounge.

On the subway ride there, I spent some time writing out some notes as to what kind of story I wanted to sketch out. I am not much of a visual artist, as I’ve probably said before, but I was resolved to make something come from this Marathon. This was not the first time I’d attended, as I recounted in another entry of mine, but I actually made it earlier and prepared to get some work done.

The organizer of this event, Keiren Smith, met me as I came up the stairs and introduced me to the other creators already in attendance and heavily at work. I settled onto the black leather couch next to the washroom, took my shoes off, and took out the lined paper on my clipboard that I was writing stuff on earlier on the subway. I proceeded to make a few notes and create my captions and dialogue before my crude attempts at drawing the images and the panels around them.

Of course, it didn’t work completely as I planned. I was pretty tired from the heat and the fact that I’m not so used to being up and about as early as I had been. I also kept losing my pens. I got to socialize with some people from time to time and met new faces along with a few old ones. I took my entire box of business cards for Mythic Bios with me just in case as well. At first I was torn between socializing and getting this comic done. The comic itself evolved from an idea I came up with in another work not too long ago. Basically, this mo-fo–and I say this fondly–was going to be a first-person comic: where we as readers get to see the protagonist interact with other people and surroundings from his own perspective along with some helpful dialogue and captions along the way.

Yeah. My first comic in ages and I have to be experimental about it: just as the story was intended to be. It is the extension of a world that I began working on four or five years ago and it amazing to realize the point where you centralize a world of your creation so much that it actually extends itself outward: when it becomes the core of a growing reality.

Okay, so after clicking on the Creative Process Category part of this Blog entry just now, I’m going to go into more of what actually happened. Well, it fought me: naturally. I sat there and despite the snippets of quotes and ideas I had on the margins, I was stuck for a little while. I knew I had to make something at least twelve pages and that this would determine what story I would be able to tell. I was also a bit hot and I wanted to talk to people when I wasn’t pleasantly drowsy on the couch.

Finally, an artist I was sitting next to and chatting with, Megan Kearney, suggested the obvious that I was missing: that I should just create thumbnail sketches.

And that was when I began to draw my comic. I thought about my panels and, aside from the occasional rectangular ones, I did mostly three columns of two large square panels. Sometimes they were arranged differently, but most of the time they were just side-by-side patterns. I had to also think of how a first-person perspective would work. I mean, I had seen one before such as in the zombie apocalyptic graphic novel known as Daybreak, but I could only see the complications that my former Master’s thesis supervisor and I once talked about when he was comparing book narratives to comics and film.

But I did show my protagonist in a mirror and came up with a good line there. I also showed his … hands occasionally. Mostly, I was focusing on the narrative in the captions. I already accepted that my drawing would be basic at best, so I focused on the writing and the graphic pauses between visuals and that writing. It’s like what is said about Jeff Smith: in that he wrote and drew Bone as though he were telling a joke.

I also got to watch other artists and some of their creative processes at work. I saw some people with reference books and sketches. Megan herself was doing some water colouring of the project she brought with her. I saw a few people looking at books from the Lounge whom I didn’t get the chance to speak with. And I saw some people doing some very intricate work with paints and small inked cells on paper. Hell, some people were even inking their comics. It was insane and intense: in a lot of good ways.

The number twelve was both intimidating and painfully doable to me. Just twelve pages, I kept telling myself. Eventually, my thumb-sketching became my drawing and I just focused on telling a story. My concentration wasn’t all that great the entire time. Sometimes my mind wandered and I got tired. It became painfully apparent to me after a while, even after I ate the food that I brought akin to breakfast, that I needed to get something to eat or the only thing I would be writing would be ellipses. Sometimes I can power through creating something and then dealing with my body afterwards, but on that summer day on Saturday it was a bad idea.

At one point, at about the beginning of page five, I walked out of the Lounge and down Little Italy to find some more food. It was beautiful out. People were dressed in colourful light clothing and talking and holding hands at outdoor cafes. I admit I’d been watching them outside the window above the couch anyway when I needed to get up. I even walked past Euclid Avenue and realized that the Dragon Lady that I visited with some friends a few years ago had been here. By the time I got past Sneaky Dees, I was feeling nostalgic in this familiar summer setting of everything. Then I ate some food as I came back and talked a bit more with people.

Of course, by then it was too late and I began to realize that I had the beginnings of a headache. Luckily, I brought my regular strength Tylenol with me: just to be sure. Of course, now–for me–I was going to be working with a handicap. My mind was really drifting and I vowed to myself that I was going to at least get to page six of my work before doing anything else: to get halfway done. Neil Gaiman did not succeed in finishing his 24-hour comic, but I could succeed in drawing and writing twelve bloody pages!

Then I somehow got to seven and at that point I had gotten fed up, took some more business cards, talked to some people, and gave them out. Then I browsed the comics because, after all, this was a bloody comics store and it was my duty to do so. At this point, my Second Wind kicked in in a terrifying sort of way. So I sat down and after telling someone else I was going to do this, I did.

The thing is: this story had been in my head for a while that day–with other elements of it being in there for much longer–and I wanted it out. I wanted to finish what I started and have, in my hands, something to be proud of. And then seven pages became eight, and nine … by the time I got to the double digits, I knew I was going to do it. I just began drawing as basically as possible, not really caring about too many inaccuracies such as who was on the left or right, but just getting it out.

It was only after a while, after doing this all on my writing paper, instead of the white blank paper I brought for the purposes of drawing on, that I realized I was actually going to go over twelve pages.

And I did.

I finished my comic with about two minutes to spare before the deadline of 11. I felt … a good kind of tired. I did it. I finished the first part of an entire chapter of a fictional book I created in another world and I finished it more or less how I wanted to. So I talked with Keiren and some other people, and then I walked from College and Clinton in the summer night of Toronto back to Bathurst Station where I took a long ride back to Thornhill.

There was no way I was going to write the full story of that comic in just that night and maybe one day I will continue it, but I did what I set out to do: I drew it up to the point where I mentioned the very last sentence that it possessed in another narrative of mine. That night, I basically went to sleep in my clothes and on top of my blankets. I don’t remember even going to sleep, but I actually woke up pretty well rested all things considered.

The Marathon was a good, constructive day and I’m glad I did this. Oh, and for those who might say “Pictures or it didn’t happen,” I don’t have a scanner and just a camera. Also, my pictures are insanely crude and my writing … somewhat legible. Maybe one day I will show it, but right now I will just leave you with the message that I went out, took an idea with me, fleshed it, and finished it strong.

But I lied. There is actually one more thing I want to say. Aside from thanking Keiren Smith and the Comic Book Lounge for organizing and hosting this event respectively, and all my fellow awesome creators for attending it, I want to add a little tidbit about storytelling. A long time ago, a Creative Writing teacher of mine asked me which story-line of a meta-narrative I was making was either true or false. Nowadays, and after working on this comic–with its own meta-narrative sense–I realized something.

Something that parodies another thing, or subverts it and yet has its own intrinsic world-rules–or writing continuity and rhythm–can be more than just one thing: or one thing or the other. The fact is, for me, I like the idea of a multiplicity of different things happening one space and different dimensions. I like that dynamism. The truth is that all of my stories, even the stories within stories, are real. They are real to me.

And I think that is the thought out of all of this excellence that I am going to leave you all with.

ETA: Towards the end of the night, at the other end of the room people started singing this song parody. And as I worked, I sang along with them.

This is what happens when you put a group of geeky creators together in one space for an extended period of time.

Participant in One Marathon, A Spectator at Another

Originally this weekend I was going to participate in the 12-Hour Comic Book Marathon at the Comics Lounge and Gallery. I didn’t end up writing anything or collaborating with any artists there. If my experience at the Global Game Jam taught me anything it was that most people there probably already knew each other and either way they would have come in some pre-made teams: those that needed them anyway.

As I’ve said before, I am not much of a graphic artist.

Really, I didn’t want to potentially take up someone’s space on the possibility that I couldn’t find a partner and–to be perfectly honest–I didn’t want to be the odd one out: feeling painfully self-conscious.

Later on, I found out that there were still a few writers and artists who cancelled or were actually still looking for a partner, but by then it was too late. However, it was just as well that I decided not to do it because my brain is full with all the work I’ve been doing and I had never actually been to the Lounge before. I would most likely have gotten lost trying to find it.

Essentially: I wanted to get there, get a feel for the space, meet some of the people there, talk a bit with them, maybe make some connections so that I could participate in a later event, or–really–just get to know people who have similar interests to my own.

I still felt bad, though, that I hadn’t participated as I intended and looked forward to doing. Keiran Templeton–who I saw in her tiara as she held court over an assortment of writers and artists–not only organized the entire event, she also had time to go face book and ask if there were any people that wanted to work with others, and she even told me by email that she would keep my name on a list to let me know about next time.

As it was, I made it up to myself by punching some of my procrastination out and starting to really script out my own collaboration with Angela O’Hara: you know, the comic I keep saying that I am working on. In my defence, I have been working on it on and off with little tidbits of notes here and there: much like every other long-standing story I’ve been dealing with. In fact, for The Project I actually made a rough outline of everything that I want to happen in our first issue.

The key of course was actually beginning to flesh it out. I’m beginning to realize that in industry terms, I work entirely too slow on comics scripts. Even from my limited understanding I can see that they take time and a lot of concentration. But the day before the Marathon, I decided to get into the spirit of it and expand on the very first part: to actually take one segment and go wild with some descriptions and leave room to artistic interpretation in others.

And that Friday before the Marathon, I sent something to Angela via inline text and–if it’s not perfect–it is at least something to start from and a good subject for us to discuss. I look forward to talking with her about it when we find the time and see what she will make of it.

So I had this little bit of positive energy to tide me over as I finally did leave to find the Comics Gallery and Lounge I’d been hearing about for so long. The journey was ironic for me. It seems like so long ago that I used to live on the Bloor-Danforth line: specifically close to Woodbine Station. Even before that, when I was at York, I always found that energy to take various transit to get to find my away to College and Clinton: where the Lounge actually is. It’s only now that I’m in Thornhill–in York Region–again that I decided to go somewhere cool that I’d been putting off for so long.

When I found myself outside the shop, I paced around a bit: suddenly really feeling the nervousness. It was strange: being back downtown on the streets again after basically huddling away in Thornhill. And here I was outside a place with people who obviously loved comics and other Geekery and I was hesitating. It would be helpful to mention that I’ve developed some very crippling social anxiety over the years. It probably has roots to older sources, but after so long dealing with Grad School and being by myself a lot I kind of really retreated into myself. It also doesn’t help that I was shy to begin with and … it’s hard for me to put myself out there.

I also was thinking to myself: what if I go in there and no one likes me? I know: it’s a pretty irrational series of thoughts and I have gotten better at dealing with them. I knew that if I needed to, I could leave at any time I wanted and–it being a Lounge–I brought some work to do as well. My plan was to stay there for the party that was going to happen after 11 pm–when the Marathon was officially over–talk with some people and then leave.

So I walked up the stairs and everyone was friendly. I had to get used to, well, being in a new place and around people I didn’t know but I browsed around the shop and entertained myself looking at comics. There was a very comfortable black couch–most of the inner room was set up with benches so people could work–and I sat down to write. I actually started to feel a lot more comfortable writing and having something to do.

It was strange at first. I’d seen a lot of the people around me on Facebook or the Internet when I was finding out more about the Lounge, but actually being around them in person was just different and cool. It turns out some people were late for the Marathon anyway and, really, they just seemed to have a whole lot of fun doing what they did, browsing comics, and just socializing. I didn’t talk with as many people as I wanted to, but my cousin Shane Kirshenblatt–who made such awesome comics as Dorothy Gale: Journey to Oz–and his wife Sari came in and we talked for a while about comfortable things like comics and writing and creation and all that fun stuff.

Coincidentally, I wrote my first Conference paper partially on Shane’s Oz comic and he inspired me through a conversation to write my first ever science-fiction story in ages: one that didn’t win the Friends of the Merrill Short Story Contest granted, but I am still proud of it to this day. He actually talked with me about looking at a script of his to see what I could do with it: something that really intrigues me.

I even briefly talked with Keiran as she was managing her Empire of comics creators and there was a dog or two, and some cheering, and various geeky discussions. I ended up having a really good conversation that night with Debra Jane Shelly. I had seen her before, like many of the other denizens of the Lounge, on their Blog and Facebook. She really stuck out at me the first I saw her and I knew before I ever talked with her that she was a hard-core comics geek. But it is one thing to know that intellectually, but experience it first-hand in a conversation was entirely different and enjoyable. I barely got a word in edge-wise, but I enjoyed listening to what she had to say and I learned a few things.

For instance: I never thought about the first-impression that people got of Watchmen when it came out in the 1980s. As Debra pondered this, I remember thinking that it was true: it was during this time period that meta-narrative and pastiching were being implemented into comics narrative along with a certain more blatant kind of adult irony.

When you think about the comics that came before, during the heyday of the Comics Code–of comics industry self-censorship–and then you look at something like Watchmen you can definitely imagine a kind of “culture shock” for some readers. But, as Debra put it, we will never really know that feeling ourselves: you know, aside from reading about it through secondary sources. It’s like those accounts you hear about from famous writers and comics creators about growing up with the old Pre-Code Horror Comics: with EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt, Creepshow, and all of that really fun and twisted stuff. But even though we can read a lot of those twistedly ironic and morbid goodies now, the spirit of Zeitgeist of the times where they were written are not really as accessible to us or perceived the same as someone who was there.

I think it was good to talk with someone who knew as much–if not more–about comics: someone who had read some really good and memorable works. It was sort of humbling, to be honest: to know that wasn’t the only one as insane about this stuff as I sometimes delude myself into thinking. There was a whole room of them. :). I did talk with some more people and then I took my leave as it was about that time. Debra actually made me pose for a picture where I am holding Alan Moore’s Nemo: Heart of Ice: a book I actually got there. As for the reason that she took it, if one is needed, she told me that she likes to take pictures of people having found their favourite books: or something to that effect.

It occurred to me–or I remembered–as I smiled at the camera that I rarely ever smile when I’m in public: especially in Toronto. Sometimes the exhaustion, and anger, and sadness ingrains itself in you so bone-deep that it’s difficult to even smile for real. I thought about just how sad that fact really was.

In any case, I said some goodbyes and then I left to find the streetcar back to Bathurst Station. I missed the car, so I decided: “Screw it! I’m going to walk the fucker!” So I walked by myself all the way from Clinton and College to Bathurst Station. I hadn’t walked that long or been in this area in ages. And as I did so, with my travel bag on my shoulder and my black winter coat covering me I felt more alive than I have in a really long time.

Coincidentally, it took me 16 minutes and there was no other streetcar during that entire time.

I know when I wake up tomorrow, or later, I’m going to be very embarrassed by some of the sentimentality and haphazard writing I’ve left here. It’s no new thing, to be fair. Actually, I’m surprised I wrote so much about–well–doing so little: by my standards anyway. However, I really felt the need to write this out while it is still fresh.

I am definitely going to check out the Lounge again. Here is the Toronto Comics Lounge and Gallery Blog in case you are interested and you didn’t see it on my Blogroll section. Thank you for reading this and, next time, I do plan to make something.

Excelsior, ladies and gentlemen.