Process post: the 'process' of NOT making a comic

[Last winter I was interviewed to be featured in an online magazine. I was asked to write a couple of process posts. I recently found out the feature was cancelled, so I'll share them here. Below is the "process post" I wrote about my Bygone Bureau comic, “Train Trip Meandering and All for A Smooch”.]
The process of drawing this comic was extremely simple. I drew it with a pencil on a piece of printer paper. The process of not drawing this comic, however, was extremely extensive and complicated.

It begins in 2010 when I find a box with my mom's old journals in it. They are a few books she filled in 1976, when she was 17 and traveling across Europe. I sit at our kitchen table and pour over these notebooks, copying sections into my sketchbook. When I discover this hilarious guide to kissing, I am ecstatic and ink illustrations as I write out the text. 

So, the first iteration of this comic (above) is done in 2010, but I don't want to publish it until my drawings can do the writing justice. In February 2013, I feel ready to tackle it. I feel ready. And yet I keep pushing my deadline back. 

"I need more time" I tell my editor, many times. I have no idea why this is so hard for me. I just can't start. 

Maybe it's because a comic (for me) usually involves writing and revising and discovering, right up until the end. This one was already written for me, 37 years ago. And drawn for me, 2 years ago… 

Maybe it's because most of my comics hardly ever gestate for more than a week or two before being realized, and starting a project you've had sitting around for years just FEELS like it should be this big, difficult thing.

As my final deadline approaches, I feel a panic set in. I stop showering. Every night I tell myself I will draw it and then I don't. I stay up until 3 AM working on other projects, and fall asleep before I can begin. 

Finally, the day before my deadline, I drive home to my mountain, to my parents house, to torture myself in relative seclusion. 


7 P.M. Back from dinner, I bake cookies with my mom. In hindsight, this is a terrible idea. I will eat so many of those cookies in the coming hours.

8 P.M. I watch a movie about Sarah Palin with my parents. It is an HBO special that my dad ordered from Netflix? It's not terrible though. We get to pretend it's 2008 and this information is relevant. I get to pretend to forget about my comic.

11P.M. My parents are finally asleep. I have no more excuses. I set up a nest of chairs and tables around the fireplace. I throw notebooks and papers all over the floor so I feel comfortable. I get a huge stack of papers and write out the script of the comic several times, just to see if anything will happen. Nothing does.

12 A.M. I find a pot brownie in our freezer, so I eat that. I feel gross and sweaty from sitting by the fire. I still haven't showered. I'm on strike until I finish this comic, I tell myself. (read: I am disgusting).

1 A.M. I can't get the original illustrations out of my mind. I desperately, stubbornly searched for an alternative concept. At one point I paint my lips with red ink and try to make kiss-prints on the page. Maybe... Somehow... I can draw with my lips?

My chapped lips sting badly from the ink and the ugly marks on the page don’t look anything like kisses. It occurs to me that I am making out with a piece of paper and that's the most action I've gotten in a long time. I scrub the red ink off with my sweater sleeve. 

2 A.M. I have copied the whole comic out once or twice. I need to wake up and/or be more tired. I'm not sure. I dance deliriously around the living room in my baggy pajamas. The brownie is blending nicely with my exhaustion. I'm thoroughly entertained and repulsed by myself.

3 A.M. I'm finally so tired that I just sit back and watch myself draw the final version. All I can really say about the process of drawing is that I am not thinking about it. Most of the action is automatic now. In my head, I am speaking the words, trying to put myself in my mom's place: she's on a train, traveling in Europe. She's probably surrounded by all these judgmental French people. Out the window there's a foreign place. And here she is, 17 and witty as hell, just cracking herself up. She's safe in her journal. I feel safe there, too.

5 A.M. I am finished. I pass out.

7 A.M. I wake up, scan and color the comic. I send it in and it's published a couple hours. I pass out again. I'm such an idiot, I think.


Conclusion: This is a very extreme exaggeration of a 'process' I've experienced a few times. It's obnoxious. Like, it seems like I should have just sat down and drawn the thing an afternoon, matter of-factly. They're just lines on a page. But for whatever reason, this felt extremely impossible and out of the question. Instead it made more sense to hold onto it until right before the deadline, when the comic is faced with a decision: escape or die.

It's stupid and painful and immature and I hope I grow out of it. But I can say conclusively that drawing this comic felt like something more than the small motion of my hand. It felt like my whole body was crushed by a steamroller.

1 comment:

  1. It's your mom. That would make sense that u have such a sort-of existential crisis when u want to expound on her life, via your drawings. Esp when the topic of romance is such a great matter to weigh.

    Maybe u respect her more than u know.. So to approach it with the same attitude that you might have for your other clients would be wrong. And that's ok, I think. The drawing came out really well.. strikes a perfect balance between gravitas and simplicitas.

    Just my thoughts.