i started working on my graphic novel “better man” in mid-february. i gave myself two weeks or so after my second graduate residency to get my head together and figure out which plate i want to eat off of. the original concept was to be a documentation of my family’s immigrant roots… almost a really short italian version of alex haley’s “roots” — only probably not as good, long and with pictures.
i was calling relatives to set up tentative interviews, mining the family archives (re: closets) for family photo references and even dug out a research paper my aunt did about our family from 30+ years ago. i was gathering and gathering… concentrating solely on the collection— leaving the herculean task of sorting it out for a later time… in other words, put it off for as long as you humanly can.
when i turned around to look at what i had collected, i got scared. there’s no shame in my game… i freaked out. (one of many, many freak outs over the course of the semester). there was no way i was going to do whati wanted to do with what i had in the time i had and actually make it good.
so what does one do? shut down, cry, get into the fetal position, lay on the floor of your pitch black studio and listen to tom waits by the light of your lava lamp and laptop? hell, i do that anyway. doing it because of a specific project would be redundant.
i regrouped. my mentor and now good friend ray billingsley agreed.
i wrote a 7 page, single spaced script… more of a map really. once that was done, i sketched out all the pages— almost completely filling two moleskine sketchbooks: 150+ pages.
this was in april.
i went to visit ray on april 25th to show him the completed book in sketch form. he really dug it. but he has some guarded optimism, not in my drawing or storytelling ability, but of my physical ability to actually complete the finished inked pages in the time i alloted myself. i told him that i would have all the pages done for him to see when i rolled back into town on june 27th.
that’s about 9 weeks, give or take a day. when you see it on a calendar, it LOOKS like a butt-load of time.
it’s not. it’s not even a pimple-load.
it’s not when you have a 7 day a week comic strip, a full-time job, a full-time family and life and smoe other full-time stuff that you never fill a time card out for.
if you’re a cartoonist without a titanium level work ethic you are not a cartoonist… you are a doodler.
so again, you can either shut down or get down.
i got down.
it wasn’t easy. nothing worth doing ever is. i was determined to meet my deadline, just as i have been since i decided to be a cartoonist. which meant that working on this book pissed a lot of people around me off. not in a sense of hate, but a “you need to step out and smell the roses before they die for the season” sense. i was always working –if not on the book, on bob or my research or a freelance gig here and there. it was a long, hard, physically exhausting 9 weeks. i actually had to stop for a couple days… my drawing hand was so swollen and painful it even hurt to hold a fork.
and in the time from april to june, i estimate i drank between 450-500 cans of coke zero. not proud of that… but i had to do something to stay awake… and i hate the taste of red bull so this is what i had to do… ripping the lining of my stomach to shreds in the process.
2 days before i had to see ray again, through 11 broken pen nibs, half a pint of india ink, two liquid correction pens, 12 non-photo blue pencils, two kneaded erasers and 8 pads of bristol… the book was done (except for the cover). i had done it. through everything life threw at me along the way i did it.
and i was all by myself when it happened. just as it was all along the way. the moment i erased the last mark, i was all alone in my house. no marching band played, no fireworks… just me. even the dogs were out in the backyard. just me.
we do the things we do because we’re driven to do them. while on the surface this book looks as if it’s an assignment it is. i did the book for my 2nd semester studio project. but it turned into much more than that. it made me appreciate the process. it made me CRAVE the process. the fact that a book resulted from the process is great… but it’s not everything. i hate to be cliche but it’s true…it’s not where you’re going, it’s how you get there and what you learn along the way.
so now ol’ frank is in his post-project funk… taking a few moments off before planning the next journey… the next process.
now, where did i put those tom waits mp3s?