My debut short story collection, Biteguard Fever Dreams, has been out in the wild a month now, with dozens of copies flying around the world. I have received some lovely thoughtful emails from readers who’ve shared their reactions to the stories.
Brendan said The Fall “felt very cinematic…as in it felt like I was in a movie…infinite snow globes”. Rachel described the same story as “an omnipotent explosion of content of mind thought, an unknown balance between lockdown threat and freedom” and described Circ-Tangle as “…all about conflict resolution… Irony displayed in black and white illustration work.”
I love these descriptions! None of them were my conscious intention as the artist creating those stories, but that’s how the audience completes the circuit: bringing their own life experiences and perspectives into the mix. The stories are alive in Rachel and Brendan.
If you feel so inclined, please let me know what you think of my stories (you can just reply to this email).
There are still copies available: click here to get one sent direct to your home.
Now, let’s roll back some years…
…to the summer of 2017, when I felt an inescapable urge to draw.
The idea of telling the kinds of stories I wanted to — fiction stories — just how I wanted to, without the practical and financial limitations of video was really exciting.
“But”, I told myself, “I can’t draw” — a belief seemingly confirmed by the flat and lifeless pictures I tried scribbling that summer.
If I couldn’t draw a person, how could I possibly figure out how to draw a complex building or a vehicle or something in perspective?
More than that, I had never been to art school, only recently started reading graphic novels: what right did I have to stray into the territory of qualified artists?
But that urge didn’t go away.
It became stronger and stronger until two years later I finally opened a sketchbook.
Fast-forward to 2022 and I find my artwork becoming more complex: I’m putting characters in more challenging poses with more difficult perspective, and relishing the challenge!
Drawing isn’t a talent…
…it’s a plain ol' skill, like learning to use some software or a new language. Here are some useful truths I learned while drawing Bite Guard Fever Dreams:
References are legal: there’s an idea that drawing from references (for example photographs) is somehow cheating. It’s not! It’s how most artists (perhaps with the exception of the late Kim Jung Gi) draw. Alison Bechdel famously photographs every pose she draws; Scott McCloud used a friend as a model for the main character in The Sculptor. I used this free 3D modelling software to help me figure out difficult poses from complex angles.
Everything is a cube or a tube: If you can train yourself to see everything around you as a collection of simple 3D shapes, then even the most complex objects become accessible. A car is a couple of cubes with four cylinders on the side. If you can draw a sphere, a cube and a cylinder, you can draw anything! Readers who were with me in 2020 will remember me filling pages of my sketchbooks with 3D shapes (#076).
Everything looks better in perspective: One of the most effective ways to make something look realistic is to put it into perspective. Don’t draw people standing vertically, facing the reader. Twist and angle them and stand their feet apart, one slightly behind the other. These small cues suggest depth and quickly make an image seem more sophisticated and life-like.
The only thing that matters is clarity: Some artists take the accuracy and realism of their drawings seriously, and good for them. But the most important thing is clarity: as long as the image is readable — if the reader knows where to look and what they’re seeing — then that is all that matters. Comics is a wonderful medium for how broad a church it is, there really are no requirements for entry, which is why it is so vibrant.
If you still don’t feel like you can draw, remember this: Comics is a sequential art. The meaning is detonated not by the images themselves but by how they juxtapose with those around them. Woman World and From Lone Mountain are two awesome comics, packed with feeling even though the images themselves are really simple.
This letter is for the people who feel like they’ve missed their chance to be creative or pick up a new skill. Nine years after I first brought it up, society still celebrates the wunderkind (or even worse, the Nepo Baby!) - creating the false impression that creative success belongs only to the people who start young.
Every one of us who picks up a pencil or a new instrument when that window has seemingly closed are part of a quiet, powerful, revolution.
Until another Sunday soon,