First, let me thank Simon Reinhardt for tagging me in his own articulation of this chain letter. Now, let me respond to these four queries.
1. What am I working on?
Nothing really. Sometimes I feel lazy, but that is a societally induced anxiety. Some artists, by virtue of personality, are compelled to produce constantly. Others, like De Kooning, stare into space for years at a time only to pick up the brush in vital spurts. This question, like the technocratic contemporary culture it arises from, insists that we must always be working. But I disagree.
Statistically speaking, the artist in our times can only hope to scrape by while the publishers, industrialists, media moguls, and financiers reap the true profits from their art. I cannot subscribe to the idea that, arbeit macht frei. It is the ideology of type-A business goons who would replace culture with an algorithm, and the republic with a corporation. A contemporarily dominant ideology, which at once validates their position, and keeps those they are complicit in exploiting (artists included) tethered to crippling anxieties of age, sexuality, class, and so on.
There are projects on the horizon, so I’ll enjoy the down time while I can. Like Wilde, I believe that art requires idleness.
2. How does my writing process work?
My creative process is somewhat akin to the old anecdote of Michelangelo locating the sculpture already present within the unhewn block of stone. I have never made anything particularly “new”. Rather, the work I produce is already present within culture at large. I simply take it apart, reorganize it, and reconstruct it in my own way.
Like prose, or cinema, comics has it’s own unit of measure, which I identify with the page (rather than the panel). Simply put, I list the important points which will occur on a given page, and let the art take the course it will. Comics can be adequately defined without ever involving words in the process. And personally, I cannot constrict myself too much ahead of time with particular dialogue or set directions. Writing for comics is not writing for film; something I have only recently learned. Discursive language (i.e. words and text) are our most efficient and effective means of communicating, with others and with ourselves; and so, is fairly necessary for planning anything, comics included. However, the end result of comics production does not hinge on the discursive.
I am well versed in discursive rhetoric, and a very capable writer, but the image, or rather “solidarity of images” (to borrow from Groensteen), hold primacy for me. Before I embarked on comics as a formal practice, I made a lot of art which was text based. While attention to the semiotic workings of the text as discursive could not be neglected, drawing was always the primary activity.
3. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Sussing out what’s wrong with this question could be an essay in and of itself. Initially, I thought this may have been reactionary on my part. But, upon examining other entries in this chain letter, I found everyone had either failed to answer it, or recognized that they could not. To wit, the real problem lies in the unconsidered use of the term “genre”.
Genre studies are as old as recorded culture, and more varied today than ever. What are we talking about when we talk about genre? Are we discussing something as petty as overdetermined market demographics (Sci-Fi, Romance, Comedy). Or are we talking about something more akin to what Plato had in mind (formal taxonomies of language like epic prose, dramatic dialogue, etc). Indeed, even for the ancient greeks, genre was considered an “intangible taxonomy”. But it does not seem to me that the author of these questions considered the indeterminacy or problematics of the term, leaving all participants to mill and mull and wonder what they should say.
I take a rather “high modernist” view of literature, and I do consider comic books to fall within the rubric of “literature”. The finest works of literature, whether pulp sci-fi or literary realism, are those works which transcend their genre conventions, attaining something "totalizing", to resurrect a term from the rubble of the Sartre/Lukács debate.
For me, “genre” is a short hand way of saying “an open set of rhetorical tools for conveying meaning to a certain audience”. I have come to call this activity “Ceremonial Fiction”. And in this way, genre conventions offer us convenient rhetorical frameworks within which to play as artists. But, it is in the ways that we transcend, or more accurately, revitalize those rhetorical structures for a particular audience (one that is historical and contingent) that we succeed at creating literature. Much in the way ritual becomes magic. That is, literature is cultural production which is totalizing, offering us, as a group, tools for understanding, and living, in this world. (See also Kenneth Burke’s concept of Dramatism)
So the answer to this question is something along the lines of, “In every way, and in no way at all”.
4. Why do I write what I do?
It seems, at first blush, that we write what we want to read. And there is certainly some truth in this. No artist labors to make work he doesn’t like. But there is something much deeper to this definition than appears on the surface. My suspicion revolves around the necessary mimetic process of art.
One of the most common mistakes of audience is to confuse the arbitrary with the creative. Much in the same way irony is confused with intellect. Simple solutions for simple people, as it were. Arbitrary connections appear at first glance to be creative, because their meaning is obscure, or in reality, non-existent. But creativity is not simple nonsense. Rather, it is an informed ability to leverage, define and redefine the material at hand, in this case, the field of comics, and attendant literary forms.
Consider here, the capital “S” Surrealists of the 1920s. Pedestrian audiences often conceive of Surrealism as being simply weird looking stuff. But artists like Breton and Aragon (et al.) were methodical, going to great lengths to produce very specific results. That is, productions which resembled customary cultural tropes as little as was possible. Not simply throwing proverbial shit at the wall, they engaged in considerable edition and revision. They may have been reactionary, but in being so validated participation with the cultural field in which they worked.
Another relevant example may be the expressionists; who, while seemingly detached from modern culture, were in fact engaged in an informed material dialogue with the historical practice of painting itself. They “wanted” to be primitivists, but they weren’t, because they could not be.
"What’s my point?" you ask. The point is that we do not write simply "what we want to read". Rather, we write what we can. Our tastes shape this process, but are only the beginning, the surface. The goal of producing good art necessitates an informed position, coupled with editorial consideration, which adds considerable depth to “what I want to read”, as method. My Marxist forefathers called this “praxis”.
All that said, I’ll venture a guess at why I do what I do. I deal primarily in non-realist fiction. I believe that I do so because the “reality principle”, which underpinned world-view and identity during the enlightenment, has been obliterated by contemporary economy and social organization. In short, “Realism” is dishonest, a kind of comforting nostalgia. Truth and justice (indeed even reality) are relics of the age of ideology, perished with the grand illusion that was the USSR. There is only rhetoric here, and so for me the only point in making literature in our time is the examination of literary rhetoric itself. Call it post-modern formalism maybe. I am a but a thief plundering the grave of meaning.
Finally, I have always been skeptical of our ability to view a context from within. And this fourth question, with its obvious appeal to cheap psychoanalysis, can only truly be approached by biographers and historians. I’m reminded of a scene from the movie Basquiat wherein Jeffrey Wright responds to a similarly stupid question by Christopher Walken by saying “Would you ask Miles Davis why he played that note?”
Why do we keep our lanterns lit in the daytime? It’s not nothing new, the joke’s on you.
US CONG, 2014.
I have tagged Will Payne, Center for Cartoon Studies Class of 14.