Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What to say, what to say…?

It seems summer arrived in New Jersey. Never a good thing. Now it’s nothing but outdoor concerts, dinner on the roof and endless waves of tourists. My reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder should kick in any minute.

All right, for June I have two goals:
Retool my eponymous website.
Release my second Box Book title, a collection of short stories for the YA audience.

You’d think achieving said goals would be easy, but remember, it’s summer and I’m told there are “things to do”. Oh well, whatever.

Let’s talk about the website for a moment. My website has lived several lives. I started with an uptight mess, something I thought would appeal to people looking for more academic information about me, like where I attended university, in the hope they would hire me for their projects. It was so boring, no one liked  it. Then I mixed it up a little bit with the publishing industry in mind. I got all “look how professional and clean-cut I am” in the hope they would shower me with jobs and praise. It was just as boring and useless. Then I went all web comic and clever in the hope of attracting a following of smart, faux disenchanted viewers. The comic version wasn’t as boring but it still had a foot in the professional world as I could not shake the lingering feeling my website might just land me a gig here or their. It was kind of cool but not really.

After nearly a decade of evolution, it’s time for the next incarnation. I’m thinking it’s time to let all professionalism fade away. It makes for a boring site and it’s never paid off. Basically, it’s like holding on to a faded lottery ticket, hoping to win, and knowing it never will. My goal for the new design is something more me. I’m done trying to grab the attention of people who have no interest in what I do. Instead, I’ll put my effort into delighting the people who understand I’m very much into this creative thing for myself and for kids a little bit further from the average. If the site does something for them and maybe you, all the better.

Of course, I hate retooling the website. If I wanted to work online or with web design, I’d do that for a living. I like to get online, do my thing, and go away to do something more productive in the real world. But this is what I feel I should do. It’ll be good for me, it’ll be good for you. The whole project shouldn’t take more than a week.

As for my collection of short stories, it’s really a question of editing and formatting. I decided to dig into my archive and see what I had laying around. There were a handful of stories I’ve always wanted to do something with, I just didn’t know what. Having Box Books as an option made the whole project come into being. In the past, I feared I would be tossing single stories to the wind, hardly a good way to reach my audience of disaffected teens and slightly disaffected adults. But now, it’s really a question of how do I wish to present my stories and finding a way to make it happen.

Honestly, I’m not sure where I stand on the whole short story thing. The lingering stink of O. Henry or Poe still plagues the format. The idiot rumor in the internet writing world is that everyone loves short stories because we’ve created a world where average people are too lazy to commit to a larger form story. I’m pretty sure the lazy average isn’t anymore likely to read a 5 page story than a 500 page novel. Lazy is lazy after all. And I still see novels as the most complex, creative format within the control of a single person, which makes novels pretty damn cool. But there is something nice to the short story in that it doesn’t require massive amounts of time to produce. After years of inking around and putting day after day after day into year and a half long projects, knowing I can produce a complete and complex story in just a handful of hours or days is alluring to say the least.

Somehow, writing short stories makes me want to bust out the camera and start photographing up a storm…  We’ll see what happens with that… I mean, the days are longer, which means more light, which is hella important for photography…

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Back to the Internet Diet!

And running 2.4 miles everyday, but the internet diet is far more important to my health.

I was chatting with a friend about all the intensely creative, intensely crazy things we did when were in our early twenties. I won’t go into any details for fear of inspiring a new generation of fearless, crazy kids stealing all my stuff ‘cause I’m still mining those chaotic years for precious gems for stories. Anyway, we talked for awhile about the painting, the photography, the sleepless weeks and constant motion. I think we both miss those days.

Which prompted me to wonder what’s so different now? I’m still in good shape, I’m still hyper-productive, I’m just as poor as I was fresh out of college… but something is different. Something makes me miserable on a daily basis. Something keeps me indoors when I should be out and about. Something steals my saintly, 24-hour allowance of patience for stupid people.

Being a tad rational and analytical, I produced a quick list of a normal day: output and input. Then I did the same thing for a normal day in say, 2010, 2005, 2000, 1995 because I pretty much remember what I was doing and there are pages of notes and drawings and photographs for those days, all carefully arranged in chronological order, and even annotated, in my archives.

Like I said, I’m just as productive as when I was twenty. I’m still just as ambitious and focused. And equally underemployed and underpaid. So, all the factors one would logically think would screw me up are absent. I’m not burned out. I’m not crushed by the commercial world. I’m not frittering away time thinking about hedge funds and screwing the 99%ers out of their hard earned cash. I don’t have kids. I don’t even have a car, so that hour spent dealing with the annual inspection is still mine.

And yet, there’s a black cloud that swirls around, gaining and losing density as nebulous objects are wont to. The only thing that wasn’t on my desk in college or in my backpack during my wandering years or even on my floor during the lean years (I had a phase when I was not into furniture of any kind, it was very Kurosawa) is my laptop and it’s tether to the internet. Even when it should have been part of my life, it was curiously absent. And I’m starting to think that was a very good thing. It wasn’t until roughly 2006 that any computer, and said internet, became part of my daily chores and since then, I fear it’s insidious grip has tightened, what with streaming movies and music and everyone preaching the need to self promote books 24/7.

Yeah, that’s all stupid. Well, the music is good but you still need to have the idiot machine running and that’s an open invitation to lose your soul and time. Nothing like yet another device to make us all a little slower and lazier.

After compiling all the data, crunching the numbers and looking at my average day now versus then, I unplugged the damn thing. Guess what happened? I got more done. A lot more. Needless to say, the internet diet will continue into the foreseeable future.

I will say this, for writing, the internet diet slows me down. Writing by hand is lovely, I use my magic pen and I love the feel of holding a sheet of paper in my hands, but all those ramblings need to be typed and that requires the idiot machine. Thus far, my trick to combat any secondary events while typing is to plug my headphones into our record player and use that to create the sonic environment I need to stay focused. Screw you, iTunes and Spotify, I’m in my own world, you and your marketing algorithms aren’t allowed to come over and play. Such behavior works pretty well.

So it seems the trick is limited time and sensible restrictions… and suddenly, the real world becomes your oyster.

Off to do cool things, none of which involves sitting in front of this GD screen, hour upon hour. I’m giddy just thinking about it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Old News Is Good News.

Or something like that. You haven’t missed much in my life. More writing, more drawing, more layout nonsense, more progress on the Civil War book, more progress on the Rapa Nui story for Box Books. A typical week in the life of my profound genius.

Oh and Go, Orioles! Go, Baltimore!

As difficult as it is to turn ones attention from my brilliance or current events, here’s some stuff worth taking a look at if you are into my work or the silly ideas of the future of publishing that Mr. Odone and I share.

Here is a link to a lovely, radio interview of Jacob Crane about our graphic novel, Lies In the Dust. In the game of grassroots survival artist strategy, things like this matter. So, if you have a few minutes and are interested in the book, give it a listen, you’ll learn tons of fascinating facts about the Salem Witch Trials and perhaps a few gems about yours truly. Come on, give it a listen, I know you want to…

Next up, Box Books has its third title: Poor Joseph by Jamison Odone. 

There are other things in the works for Box Books, exciting and unexpected things, but for now, Poor Joseph is the coolest thing thus far. As always, I encourage you to spread the word about our unique collection of stories. I mean, sure you could read the same old, boring books to your kids that everyone else is reading, but that’s so lame. Why keep up with the Jones and their 50 Shades of Twilight obsession when you can push your literary adventures to great, unexplored territories brought to you by far more fearless authors and illustrators…? Just saying. Of course, I realize I’m preaching to the choir here, but it’s always good to practice so I am well prepared the next time, and there is always a next time, someone asks me “why would you make a picture book for children about the Black Death?”… Duh, because of it was important event and awesome to draw. Every 8 year old knows that. But anyway, Poor Joseph, check it out, you will not be disappointed.

I guess the only hiccup in my professional life I need to discuss deals with illustration and how I am going to go about it in the future. ‘Member when I was all excited because I found the paint and paper I needed to do my new thing? You should, that was like two weeks ago, maybe three. Turns out my excitement was premature. Like every one of my painting experiments, what looks good on the canvas looks like crapsandwich on the printed page. And don’t get me started with digital books because that’s a whole other bag of headaches. So, it is with a heavy heart and a bit of hysterical laughter that I find myself stumbling back to the pen, the ink and the brush. Nothing else works like it and I’ve tried everything available from Dick Blick. Well, I could get a printing press and do my own etchings, that would look better than drawing with ink, but it’s also a billion times more expensive and time consuming.

Anyway, as Wynton Marsalis says in Ken Burn’s Jazz, and I’m paraphrasing here, it’s what you don’t want to do that you need to do. I can rage about ink all I want, I can dream about the person I could have been had I gone down the road more traveled, but none of that matters. My entire professional career is built on my inky talent and I guess I just have to suck it up and get back to work.

On the bright side, everything I need to make a book conveniently  fits in my backpack. I’m back to being extremely mobile and productive. Though, I will say, the goal is to limit my inking time. The days of 15 hour binges are over. It’s all about working smarter, not longer. My new limit is 3 hours, tops. I have no idea what I’ll do with all my free time.

So many options… is crochet uncool again yet?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I’ve Got Nothing.

Spent the most of last week spring cleaning. Then I helped Mandy throw a birthday party for her 80 year old grandmother. It was not a very Tim-oriented week. However, the apartment is clean and the party was a wonderful success.

Of course, I spent a lot of time thinking. I’m never sure whether that’s a good or bad thing. Most of the time, it’s just a silly thing. Most of my thoughts were concerned with the battle of Speed v. Things That Take Too Damn Long To Do. Can you tell I’m annoyed by my slight backsliding into my detail-obsessed style that got me through the last decade? My paintings keep taking a bit longer and a bit longer than they should…

As much as I can whip out a dazzling image, if you call four days of intense effort “whipping out” anything, I really need to avoid my default setting of massively time consuming creativity. The only way to change such behavior is to replace it with a different behavior, which will require time and focus. These days, the focus is there… the trick seems to be compressing my time so that I simply don’t have heaps of hours sitting around for me to fill with never ending toil. It’s harder than you might imagine.

In order to combat my urge to spend 18 hours picking at a particular illustration, I took to wandering about taking photos. Since I’m using a digital camera, we’re not talking about expending tons of time to make an exposure. Maybe a hundredth of a second at best. And then I have a photo.

Now, unfortunately, I’m out of practice when it comes to photography. What that means is that I’m not in the mindset to chase after the photos I really want, mostly because I don’t know what they are. Such knowledge only comes in time and for me usually requires the photographing of important/beautiful people in my life. These days, there aren’t many people bumming around, waiting for me to take their photo. So, instead I go out and find the best light and whatever said light decides to bathe at that moment.

I have no idea what to do with this stuff, but that hardly matters. I’m making things and making them quickly. The more of this I do, the sooner I will arrive at an answer as to why I’m doing it. Or figure out how to translate this kind of working method to things where my “natural” inclination is to tighten up and patiently dig for an image like a paleontologist excavating a 65 million year old, dinosaur bone. That sort of behavior is great for a paleontologist but it sucks for me.

The only new wrinkle with these photos is that I’m actually embracing the weird. In the past, because of my dark room training for film photography, I was all about making the cleanest, clearest, best print imaginable. That was kind of the point of photography for about a hundred years or so. But over the last few years, during those times I’ve been able to print in my father’s dark room, I’ve gotten into letting some of that dusk and messiness of printing remain in the finished product. I figure, it’s like a human finger print on the image, proof that a person made that print, especially when you think about how easy it is to clean up a photograph using software. So, the old notion of a clean and perfect print displaying the talent of the artist is reversed; the imperfect print is the evidence of the artist. Anyway, I figure if I’m shooting digital photos, I should see what I can do with them in terms of manipulation. As there is almost no point in making digital photos look like film photos, since I could just use a film camera to do that, why not muck about and make images I simply couldn’t in a dark room.

Not sure where this will take me either, but again, it keeps me moving forward and moving at a good pace. I’m always in better shape when I’m moving forward, even if it ends up being the wrong direction. Sitting still sucks.

And that’s about it.