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?
well, not really…
it may sound redundant, but the last six weeks of my working life have tested the limits, both physical and mental, of what is possible for me… just when i think i can’t do anymore, i do more.
at the beginning of the year, i made the decision to complete a graphic novel in 6 months. that’s not a lot of time…even if the graphic novel is your sole job…a good story, good art, good pacing and compelling characters is a tough nut to crack and make into edible cookies in six months.
the race began in the beginning of february, on my way back to new york from my winter residency. the graphic novel is my studio project for the second semester of my master’s program. the first semester i started out trying to be a painter but ended up doing a 40 odd page comic book…in about 8 weeks give or take.
this time i had to go bigger.
why? who knows.
pride? because someone said i couldn’t? to exorcise some deep-down-in-the-dark demons? because i just wanted to?
it’s all of those and none of those. ultimately, i just wanted to challenge myself.
has it been hard? yes. have i missed out of things because i’ve had to work on some pages? yes. have i been called on my crap because all i want to do is work. you betcha. has my health suffered a little because of this book? unfortunately, yes.
but that’s been the way for me since i picked up my first crow quill and ink bottle. people who don’t live this life cannot truly understand how GOOD it feels, even when you’re stressed, tired, miserable or angry, to sit at that drawing board, hear the scratching of the quill on the bristol board and know that when you cap that ink for the day, you’ve put a part of yourself on that page.
there is nothing like it. nothing.
there have been times where i’ll be at my board, working away… completely oblivious to my immediate surroundings. the hatching will be intense or the line of a shoulder will need thickening, the lettering will be slightly off but i can fix that once i scan the image in…”FRANK?”
and i will jump out of my seat, my fight or flight biological predisposition will kick in, my heart will feel as though beating in my damn throat and i will most likely curse.
someone broke the bubble…
if i don’t get to sit at my board at least an hour a day i get real cranky. it’s almost like i need to justify my existence by drawing something—breathing alone isn’t enough to justify existence. i create, therefore i am…i probably stole that from someone way more famous than myself. 🙂
at this point, i have about 80 pages and the cover left to complete on my book. this past sunday, i took a 12 pack of coke zero and my laptop and locked myself away at 8am for the day to finish my semester’s paper. i had laser focus. no ipod, no itunes, no dvd playing, no email, no anything… just me, soda and my paper. and dammit, i finished that bitch. finished.
which put me three days ahead of the brutal schedule i outlined for june. go frank!
i went to speak to a high school journalism class on wednesday.
while waiting in the main office for the teacher to come and get me, my guidance counselor from 16 years ago recognized me. didn;t hurt that i was wearing a name tag.
we shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and joked briefly.
“so, how did i turn out?” i asked, in my most wiseass-esque voice…
“you’re over 30 right? once you’re over 30 you;re officially not my responsibility.”
“damn, i wish someone would of told me that when i was 27. i was looking for someone to blame…”