Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Experimentation -- BAD?

When I published AFTERDEAD 1, I commented that the entire color section in the front -- Pithed -- was the result of experimentation.

What reviewers in our present-day book world -- and especially comics -- don't understand is that experimentation is a desirable quality. They misunderstood, and rather than looking at what I was actually doing, began to make pronouncements about it.

I LIKE what I did in those books. It's what I WANTED to do. I experiment on every single page I write and draw. It's not "wrong" or "doesn't match" or whatever it is they think they're seeing. When I put something out there I MEANT to do it. It's not some clueless accident because I can't copy somebody else. I know, I know: they need to try to get their heads around that.

Admittedly, I don't like my work while I'm doing it. I struggle and cuss and push, and finally release my three-eyed, one-legged babies upon the world, convinced -- as so many artists and authors are -- that They're Going To See Me For The Fraud I Am and Make Me Give It All Back. Then I come back in a year or two and gasp in amazement: "Who did this work -- ELVES?" I always think I was better Back Then and that I'm going downhill now.

This is the final difference between a hack and an author. The hack is trying to emulate what they perceive as a Master -- never realizing that the Master is always tearing apart her or his own work and is never satisfied with it.

I envy the hacks. They know what they're shooting for. Most of the marketing work has done for them. All they have to do is draw and write the pretty pictures that fit a prepared mould, pouring in the contents like any industrial worker and sending it off down the production line. Washington Irving portrays one of them in Buckthorne and His Friends.

The best of them know this, and are happy with it. The saddest are angry because they don't know why an author doesn't recognize them as One Of Us. I've stood in the same room with one of each, the former pumping me for marketing and editorial tips, the latter steaming because he just couldn't understand the difference. He didn't realize that authors like me are the ultimate source of his own rice bowl. He could never have invented Star Trek on his own.

I've done plenty of hack work; it pays well because somebody wants what they want, and they don't want us authors trying to work out anything new, different, disturbing or surprising. They want cottage cheese -- no salt -- not kim chi and chorizo.

I find the hack work I'm asked to do boring and repetitive. It's based in obsessions that have nothing to do what I want to say. But I can turn out a nice little moulded plaster statue, and hide the pouring seams pretty well. My customers are happy, I get to pay some bills or buy something I need. The best of my customers know I'm not going to enjoy what they ask me to do; I might as well be working the line at Boeing. So I ask for at least comparable pay, with benefits. And get some more time to write and draw what I need to.

Working as a reporter on a paper is pretty much the same job; a timid revelation of only part of the facts, told without spirit or insight. No wonder newspapers are dying -- it's not that blogs are faster (which they are) but they're self-correctible, fearless and include film on the spot. Who wants to read the grannie prose when the good stuff is on line? I finally get a job, and it's in a business that might as well be making buggy whips.

It's like a friend of mine said: "Sometimes I wish I were just fat, dumb and happy."

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