Published: October 6, 2011
I remember quite a few years ago reading an artist's blog about how he was an outsider at school, rejected by society, and because he didn't conform or fit in, that's why he was such a rad artist now. And I remember thinking, you prick. You don't choose to be an outsider, you become one because you're awkward and find society hard, just like the rest of us, only difference is most of us don't grow up to then use this alienation as an anecdote for how cool we are. Even though i read this ages ago, it always really flipping annoyed me. Partly because I've always felt a sense of bewilderment blundering through my career and its left me feeling like a drifter. Not even in a hip, alternative way. Just a bit lost.
Here's why. I find it hard to buddy up with others in my industry, because I rarely know enough about it. Back when I was drawing Bear and suddenly found myself an artist in the alt/goth/horror/whatever comics world, it was rather like kicking a pig onto a motorway. I didn't know anything about the scene, didn't know the artists, didn't know the references. I was being compared to artists I'd never heard of, so I found myself checking them out quickly just so I could keep up the conversation. I didn't know the scenemakers or the heroes. Even wider, in comics generally, I'd never read the classics (the ones any self-respecting comic fan would rightfully stamp your crotch to dust if you hadn't read), or any of the well-known artists. I'd just done my own little silliness for my own amusement and now was trying to hold conversations about things I knew nothing about.
The same happens now I'm producing children's books, I have no idea what the right ones are to have read, or who the artists are to know of. When people talk to me about someone-or-other my face goes pale and i nod in polite agreement, making a note to remember that name but knowing just by thinking i must make a note of it, i've already forgotten it. I've been very lucky in getting to know a good handful of children's book authors who produce some beautiful work, and I'm proud to know them, but outside of that I'm an idiot. Again with children's comics, I've been working in the industry for years but don't know a lot of the classics before me. I read these comics as a child, devoured them, couldn't get enough of them, but I never really paid attention to names or places.
Then I started finding myself working in children's television, and the same happens but on a bigger scale. Suddenly, you're the floppy-haired stubbly artist in a room full of suits, it's like being a child at a dinner party. You feel like your place is under the buffet table, putting scones in your pocket for later. Everyone in that room knows how to socialise, knows how to talk and most importantly, knows their industry. As a creator, you've come from a far more secluded place, and don't know the references. I've held evening-long conversations with people about children's shows i'd never even heard of, just hoping I could keep it up inbetween frantic glugs of wine. Then I get a bit silly and sweary. I should stop doing that.
So although you could tag me an illustrator or any deviation of that, this job involves different types of industries, none of which I seem to know my way around. I'm just bouncing between them. I should work harder at it, should learn more about my peers and contemporaries, but I just don't have the brain to retain this much information. And that sounds like an excuse, but let me put it to you this way - I love films, tv and video games. I watch most films that come out, and TV is just the right mix of concept and stupid that it keeps me switched off. But if you ask me my favourite director, I'd have no idea. If I said to you I was a massive fan of a TV show, and you quoted a line of it to me, I'd have no idea what you were talking about. I can absolutely love something, yet not store it in my head. And I rarely watch things more than once, so it's unlikely to stick. My brain is like a single rollerskate being pushed round a rollercoaster track. I'm very grateful for how it serves me in drawing comics, it's that flippancy that seems to keep me going, but in storing information it's just flapping in the wind. And when you're amongst people referencing their favourite things, that's not incredibly useful. So outside of my industry, I can't even associate with glorious, beautiful geeks.
So in conclusion, DUHHH. I love hearing people enthuse about their favourite things, to hear passion in someone's voice for the artform, but I never find the eloquence myself. I can scream an emphatic YES but beyond punching a thing, don't know what carries on from there. I'm just boing-boinging around between everything you love, enjoying it in silence then promptly being distracted by lollipops.
If you and I have a conversation, please bear this in mind. I fell into a few industries I wasn't prepared for, AND NOW I'M ALL DRUNK ON YOUR WINE.