My teacher is the one who basically prodded me into picking up a pencil again and trying to draw. She loves my art, regardless of the fact that I was (and, in many ways, still am) her student. And there's been a lot of great feedback from people who have seen the concept drawings for Head Above Water and have read Sound Waves, as well as the concept art for a couple of other series that I will work on anon. However, in the back of my mind has always been the concern that I'm not really that good and that I'm going to make a damn fool of myself, along the lines of Rob Tussen on MXC. This is why I haven't had the guts to try posting my stuff on ConceptArt.org. Being different does not necessarily equate with being good.
I had been talking with Franchesco! about my art and sending him some of my concept pieces here and there, but never anything for a good, long, HARD critique. I asked if I could show him my stuff at the con, and he said, absolutely. Franchesco! is an artist I admire, a good friend, and the guy knows his shit about art history and influence. I was hoping that maybe he could help guide me on the tracks that other pro artists ride.
So, I get to the con. I take with some concept art, the first issue of Head Above Water, and several pages of Sound Waves art. He starts looking it over, and as he goes, his comments become less frequent and less precise. And that was for Head Above Water. When he got to Sound Waves, he was silent, except for one comment -- "Oh, the little mermaid is adorable!"
After he was done, he told me he didn't want to give me any comments. He liked what I was drawing. He liked the direction I was going in. Even though it was nowhere near his level or even the level of the humblest guy in the Artist Alley, he didn't want to do anything that would make my work less individual and more like everyone else's. He cited Rhapsody from Sound Waves in particular. "I can tell you love drawing this character," he said, and it came through in her expressions and body language and the angles and everything, even the way I make her sash and hat tail flap in the breeze. Simply put, my art was telling a story, and he was grooving to it. He gave me a few general pointers on scene composition, especially when dealing with silhouettes (I may need to tweak one of the pages of Head Above Water), a suggestion or two for using a brush, but other than that, zip. He didn't think my stuff would be served by art that looks like everyone else's, it would be served with art as individual as my stories and I are.
Next stop, Paul Sizer, who I always love chatting with. The man is a real survivor in the indie field, finding ways to keep Little White Mouse, Moped Army, and BPM selling well while everyone else is taking it up the ass with Diamond. I only showed him Sound Waves, giving him a first issue and a hard copy of the next. He has a huge manga influence to his stuff. He found Rhapsody and Melody totally charming.
My jaw dropped. I opened up the first issue to the scene where Melody returns the ring. Dude, I don't know if you noticed, but there's a HUGE gulf between my talent and yours.
"I still like it."
Talking with Joe Currie and his friends at Strictly Underground, I decided to show them my stuff. Currie said my art was quirky, but he liked it. So much so, he started showing it to others at the SU display. His resident artist came to look. He started critiquing, then, like Franchesco!, his comments became less frequent and more vague. "You're trying to tell a story here, I can see that. And I'm feeling it. Maybe add some grey tones to break up the negative space and enhance the minimalism."
I told him to stop softpedalling and hit me hard. I usually learn more about art from scathing negative reviews than positive ones.
He said he really had nothing negative, and what's more, "there's no wrong way to do art," which, as I'm sure Mornblade will agree, is a patently ridiculous concept.
A couple of other artists that I'm pals with, same thing. One, before I showed it to him, when I said I want the honest truth and not some deviantART "Rah rah!" bullshit encouragement, said, "Oh, I went to art school. I know how to give a critique." Same damn thing happened. It's almost like, just showing a couple of art pieces, ah, you get comments in relation to established techniques. But when they see it in action, if you will, everything changes. Suddenly, my works starts standing on its own, its own voice coming out of the din.
And people in the know like it.
Thinking it over, I think I now know why I had misgivings. I was compairing my sequential art to other people's pin-up drawings. They each require different techniques. Pin-ups are how well they realize someone's vision. Sequential art serves the story. It has something to communicate, to convey. And the things that make my art so different underscore and boost the message. Basically, I was measuring myself with the wrong yardstick. And because I was too thick to realize it, it was prompting anxiety and fear on my part.
So, my teacher, urging me to think of myself as one of the Ramones of the comic book art world, was absolutely right once again. I have a renewed passion for my work. I want to get a little more ahead on Sound Waves, then plunge right back into finishing Head Above Water. And then, start working on one of the other series I have sitting around, waiting for me to set it on the world.
I don't regard myself as some high water mark. But for the first time, I look at my art, and instead of all the differences that I think make me inferior to other artists, I see the individuality that gives it strength. I'll never be the next Frank Cho, but for my stories, I shouldn't be.