So I had been planning to open this by writing in some depth about my thoughts on day jobs, on time management, and on what it means to make creative work your profession. In some ways it’s a tired subject, though it’s also something that interests me quite a bit. But, of course, an especially busy week at my job leaves me with barely enough time to post this! So I’ll have to save that for another time, and I’ll just say that as someone who thinks about these sorts of things a lot, hearing people’s thoughts on them can be a real comfort and inspiration.
Cartoonist Mike Dawson is one person who has been an inspiration in this sense, particularly in his Pro TIPS and TCJ Talkies podcasting, where he talked quite a bit about process and about making time for comics. He has recently finished a new book, Angie Bongiolatti, to be published by Secret Acres. I thought it might be interesting to check in and see how his thoughts on these issues might have changed while working on this latest project.
So first I’d like to get a general sense of how your schedule has evolved while working on Angie Bongiolatti. For a while you were doing most of your comics work on Fridays after working full-time on other weekdays. Then you took some time off work after your son was born, I believe, and it sounds like you’re now working again. How did you find those changes in schedule? In an ideal world, but one where you still have to spend time with your family and work a job for at least part of the week, how would your day be structured?
Yes, I was very fortunate for a number of years in that pretty much the entire time I was working on Troop 142 and on into a lot of Angie Bongiolatti, I had a situation where I worked a four-day schedule, with Fridays off every week. That setup was amazing for my productivity, because 1) I had a day I could dedicate to comics, and 2) I always knew how lucky I was to have an arrangement like that, so I always took full advantage of the time, knowing it couldn’t last forever. I made sure to never waste one of those Fridays, barely taking time to get lunch. My aim was always to get two pages written and mostly drawn in that one day.
When my son was born, I left that job to become a stay-at-home parent. I was able to work on comics during that period, because my daughter was in school, and babies… well, in my experience, they actually sleep quite a bit. So, I was able to keep working, even with the infant.
Things changed around the time he was 4 or 5 months old, and I began taking on regular freelance work. My current work/life situation is more challenging than it’s been in the past. I can make time to draw comics, but it’s less structured than before. I don’t have one specific day set aside that I know I can use for drawing. I am forced to squeeze it in here and there, where I can find time.
Ideally, the best thing would be for me to figure out a time again which I know I can use to draw comics. Even if it’s just for a few hours one day a week, if I have it on the calendar, I know I’ll make use of it.
You talked in several interviews about how time constraints forced you to simplify your style for Troop 142, and while that style certainly carries over to the new book from what I’ve seen, you’ve indulged in a bit more time-intensive crosshatching as well! What were the reasons for that shift?
Yes, I was working in a pared down Troop 142 style on my new comics for a while, but that became less satisfying. I stopped what I was doing, and restarted the project, aiming for a “visual density” that I didn’t have in Troop 142. I wanted to make the drawings more rich, with more heavy blacks, and busier lived-in backgrounds.
I think it’s perfectly legitimate to try to pare down some of the labor involved in making certain kinds of comics, especially when you’re like me and you have a lot of external pressures interfering with your ability to spend time at the drawing table. But, I have also found that I’ve got to balance that need to pare things down, with the competing need to make drawings that give me the right feeling of having achieved something.
Very, very early drafts of Angie Bongiolatti were drawn in an extremely simple style, and then colored in Photoshop. I was spending minimal time making the drawings, then putting in more effort with the coloring. After a while, I started to feel like I was accomplishing nothing with the drawings, and hiding all my shortcuts with Photoshop brushes. The pages came out looking alright, but I just felt like I wasn’t really drawing. And for me, it’s important to feel like I’m achieving a certain thing visually.
You consciously took a step away from the ‘comics internet’ sometime early in the process for this book. But now you’re back on Twitter and you’re forced to become a bit more plugged in for the sake of promoting your book – or maybe you’re happy to have an excuse to get back into things. Do you think you would try to remove yourself in the same way when you get into your next project?
Well… I don’t want to say “yes”, because I don’t want to jeopardize the already very anemic social networking setup I’ve got going on by making it sound like I’m not into being there. I think my thing is (and I’m probably not alone), I *like* social networking, but I worry a lot that I like it *too much*. I could and can easily spend hours lazily browsing twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, endlessly.
It was definitely helpful to me, when I was in the middle of Angie Bongiolatti, and all this stuff was going on with having two kids, and still working some kind of day job, to consciously try and unplug. I do my best to keep computers away from my drawing table. In my house, the computer is in an upstairs office, and my drawing table is in the basement, next to the boiler. It’s actually kind of bleak down there, but it’s been effective, when I do manage to get down there, I am not really distracted by much. I can look at twitter/Facebook on my phone, but it really isn’t the same kind of time-suck that way.
I wanted to talk to you about this topic because it was a focus of your Pro TIPS and TCJ Talkies podcasts. Is this sort of thing still as interesting to you as it was then? Is it something that you consciously think about, or is your comics headspace more focused on the work you’re making?
I recently was a guest at a “12 hour Comicthon” (like, half a 24 hour comic) at a university, and was talking to a lot of high school kids and art students. The question of “how do you make money at this?” and “since you don’t, how do you balance working a job while still making art?” came up a lot. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it’s clearly the thing that everyone has to figure out, especially if you’re an art student, it’s something everyone is concerned about. On the other hand, you kind of wish it wasn’t the only thing people wanted to know about. But, having managed to figure out a way to sort-of balance work/life/comics, I’ve got the luxury of being able to say things like “why are people so concerned about this?”
I’m in a weird place at the moment: for me, finishing a book can be a very disorienting emotional period. I’ve found I’m able to balance the comics and everything else when I’m in the groove, but when I get to this moment in-between stories, it all feels more uncertain. I like to hope I’m going to be able to make it work again, since historically I’ve figured out a way, but there’s also part of me that worries, maybe I’m not going to have the energy to keep going like this indefinitely.
I think I’m lucky in that my natural contented state seems to be when I’m in the thick of writing a long story that I can nest down in for at least a year or two, or more. When I’m not in that state, like at the moment, I feel adrift, but also anxious to get back to that nest, so that anxiety is the thing that gives me comfort that I’ll eventually find my way back there soon enough.
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