Pride in the Blank Page

Writers and artists talk about the fear of "the blank page".It is the anxiety of getting started. That sea of white perfection staring back at you waiting for you to fail. Before it is begun, the project is a perfect concept existing in the brain-o-sphere. And every pixel or drop of brings the concept closer to reality... and potential imperfection. The un-begun page cannot be flawed. Every mark is a potential flaw.

That can be a pretty frightening prospect, especially if you are unsure of your ability to realize this projects potential. The cure is to train yourself to believe that getting it done is better than getting it perfect. And, the more you get it done, the more you will trust your ability to get it right (not perfect, right).

Recently, the confidence I have gained from conquering the fear of the blank page has led me to its opposite, pride in creating the blank page.

Last week, my Rapid City Below Zero artist, Shawn Langley, submitted a completed page on which he had not drawn a single line. He did nothing but fill the entire printable area with blackness. He was happy to get his usual page rate for a page that likely could have been completed with about 4 mouse clicks. And I was happy to pay him to do it. He nailed it. That was exactly how I wrote the page.

Because that is what the story called for right then.

Nothing to see here, folks.

A page of blackness.

A less confident writer might reason that a reader is paying good money for 22 pages of writing, and a blank page is not delivering. A less confident artist might also worry that blank pages are not what readers are paying their money for. What I know is that readers are not paying for every individual panel and word. They aren't even paying for every individual page. Readers are paying for 22 pages worth of story. Handing over that three dollars is a way of saying "I trust you to tell me a story". And showing that blank page... that all black page... is my way of assuring that reader "I've got you. I know what I'm doing. I'm going to tell you a story."

I am not trying to say that my confidence in that moment and that technique is fully earned, I am just saying that I feel it.

And, apparently, Shawn feels it as well. He cares about this project and this story, but when I told him draw a page by literally drawing nothing he happily obliged. And, not just for the easy page rate. He gets the power of the blank page. It is similar, in the world of comedy, to the pause before the punch line. It takes real confidence to own that stage and let that set-up just float out there over everyone's heads. And it is scary. Because if it doesn't work then it's just wasted time, or wasted page space.

Is it? We'll see. But until then I am proud to have written it, proud to have it in my comic, and proud to have paid Shawn for a page on which he didn't draw a damn thing.

"F**K YOU, PAY ME." "No, f**k YOU."

You remember that from that scene in Goodfellas.It is the scene where Ray Liota's mafia guy explains how he and his cronies make their money. In it, he flips the bully/victim relationship on its ear. This speech is villainously empowering. It makes it feel right to do the wrong thing. It makes claiming what's YOURS feel like claiming what's MINE. When applied to non-villain people, it can become a mantra of legitimate empowerment. "Give me what's mine." I saw this great video a while back. It is for and by graphic designers, but a lot of it applies to any creative venture which involves money.

Making comics is a creative venture that involves money. But it isn't exactly a bully/victim relationship; nor is it exactly a client/contractor relationship.

This came up in an online discussion group about collaborations among comics creators. One artist drew the line in the sand "Never work without getting paid". I get where this position comes from . Historically, in big deals and little deals, artists have been taken advantage of. An artist ho enters into any kind of agreement with his defenses down in a fool. Too many artists have been promised to get paid "on the back end" someday only to find that someday never comes. Also, too often the visual arts are taken as fun little hobby that an artist can just whip-up at the whims of other parties. This generates a defensive default in the artist. It is a matter of self-respect. the work you do is worth something. You deserve to get paid for it. All of this is absolutely true.

However, there is one huge factor that has been overlooked. In the above situations, the artist is in a client/contractor relationship. In that relationship, the goal of the artist is to get paid to apply his or her skills at the direction of the client. This is not the goal of the comics artist.

The goal of the comics artist is to make comics. Better, to make good comics. If your goal as a drawer of comics is to use your skill to make money, then you are not a comics artist. You are contracted pencil-mover who has been hired to draw a comic. And that is fine if that is what you choose to be. But if that is you, then this is where you exit this discussion.

The artist who makes good comics has more to consider than whether or not paychecks will bounce. The artist who want to make good comics must consider whether or not a given script is a good vehicle by which to advance their art. This artist must find a good story to draw. That good story... that is part of your payment. And your good pencil work? That is part of your payment to the word-and-story artist who has crafted the piece of script-art from which you are drawing. That rule that artists should always get paid... well it applies to writers as well.

That is the specific point where the comparison to the client/contractor relationship breaks down. It is more like a slightly unbalanced client/client relationship.

As I write this. a more valid relationship comparison comes to mind... and the earlier scripted exchange still fits.

It isn't the aggressive, confrontational, meaning of "F**K YOU!". Rather, it is the more cooperative meaning which is the opening volley of every successful collaboration. It is the slightly more literal meaning which says "Let's get into bed together and see if we can make something great happen."

So, in that sense... Comics artists, F**K YOU! And you if you do a real good job at it... here's some cash to cover your supplies.

Open Studio 3/23/2013 #5 cover

What is the Open Studio?

Kav has posted this sketch for the cover of Rapid City #5

Kav's first sketch for #5's cover

I like it. The line next to kinetic, is that just a guide for you, or are you seeing that on the actual page? If on the page, I don't think we need a divider like that between back and front. Or, if we do, just to divide the fron t from the back, we could wrap a line pretty tightly around Kinetic. The way Walt Simonson would. Also, the fight is looking pretty good, but I think it will be more dramatic if Max has his head rocked back a bit so that we can see the rage on his face... Or, if not rage then just cruelty and malice. -Josh