The Third Something

004 / It's Telling You What It Wants To Be

Thoughts on the creative process and letting the work tell you what it wants to be.

Wow, you did not hold back on talking to me about graphic novels! I received a bunch of replies with some exciting recommendations, which I have put at the end of the letter. But first…

…the letter! I will admit right at the top I am not sure what to write about today. But I will begin nonetheless.

This is the fourth instalment of The Third Something (I can now imagine my whole year being tracked in letter instalments); we’re a month in and it feels like this letter is slowly figuring out what it wants to be about.

Figuring out what it wants to be about.

That phrase just came to me as I typed it - and I like it. Let’s explore.

So I had no design for this project when I started it. That makes it a tough sell to you, I know, but at the same time I think this might be where the fire is.

Hm. What am I trying to get at?

Younger Adam thought creativity went like this: 1) have a crystal clear vision of what you want to create 2) make it.

Younger Adam spent a lot of time pacing around feeling frustrated that this amazing, crystal clear vision was not materialising. ‘How can I be creative when I have nothing to be creative about?!’ he railed, fists towards the sky.

Older Adam is a little bit wiser. He sees that discovering what you want to make is the process; you discover it in the making of it. Older Adam wonders if maybe creativity goes like this: 1) make something 2) discover what it is you have made.

Figuring out what it wants to be about.

The other thing I love about this phrase is the anthropomorphism of it. It gives the piece of work a personality, a mind of its own. It suggests that the art has a desire to be made, and it is trying to tell you what it wants to be.

“The work wants to be made” Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book Big Magic, “and it wants to be made through you.”

I remember this quote being very comforting when I was up to my neck making Parallax and people were not loving the show as I had hoped. It reminded me that the Parallax idea had stuck with me for years, patiently waiting to be made manifest. It had put its faith in me as the person to make it.

Even when it seemed like there was no point in finishing, I kept going because I saw my job as simply honouring that faith. And only once it was finished I saw, with crystal clear clarity, what it was I had made.

So yes, that’s what I want to say today. If you don’t know what you want to make next, begin, listen, and let the work tell you what it wants to be.

I can’t believe I forgot mention Unflattening by Nick Sousanis in my list of great graphic novels last week. It takes multiple reads but it is packed with ideas expressed with clever visual metaphors. I found the name and theme for Parallax while reading it.

Here are a ton of great recommendations from readers of The Third Something: Daniel Jude, Rishi Kaneria, Luke Richert, David Robinson, Stephanie Liu, Sondre Topland, Jessica Strohl, Hugo Seriese, Jason Jaacks and Natalie Shell! Thank you all for reaching out.

This list will keep me busy for a while…1

  • Sabrina by Nick Drnaso (recommended multiple times) ✅

  • 120 Rue de la Gare by Jacques Tardi

  • Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt

  • Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine ✅

  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki ✅

  • Beverly by Nick Drnaso

  • Patience by Daniel Clowes

  • The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

  • Sleepwalk by Adrian Tomine ✅

  • Blankets by Craig Thompson ✅

  • Habibi by Craig Thompson

  • Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

  • Siegfried by Alex Alice

  • Asterios Polyp by David Machuzzelli ✅

  • Bloodsong by Eric Drooker

  • Flood by Eric Drooker ✅

  • Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan

  • Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

Happy reading!

  1. UPDATE: A green tick indicates I’ve now read the book! ↩︎

Until another Sunday soon,

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