Comic Non-Sans: Evolution of an Artist

Embarrassing myself for the betterment of the blog.

Toward the end (at least, currently the end ’til they get more money) of the anime series “Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei,” the idea of change was addressed — that is, people’s instinctive dislike of change in general.  To drive their point home, the last part of the episode was not drawn in manga-ka and “SZS” creator Koji Kumeta’s current style, but in his older style.  A huge difference, for better or for worse depending on one’s taste, but one that genuinely reflects what can happen to an artist over the course of ten or fifteen years.

It’s expected, of course; as you work, you either improve (if you weren’t so hot before) or you streamline (if you were).  Or both, ideally.  Difference being, if you’re going pro, you’re not going to get hired or published if you can’t bring your best game.  With webcomics, you can get out there with just about anything — see my own example upstairs.  Now, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a decent readership, obviously.  But it does give time for — and an increased sense of — improvement.

Look at how the majority of your artists work.  Rather than collecting a book all at once, you’re going day to day, or three times a week, or however you care to set it up.  In essence, you’ve set up a practice schedule, as with an instrument or a sport.  Work at practicing the piano long and conscientiously enough, and yes, eventually you’re gonna be able to play those Gershwin preludes.  Theoretically, unless you’re me, if you train enough you’ll hit a baseball using proper skill rather than luck.

There is, however, the unfortunate side effect of embarrassment.  Again, look upstairs.  That’s evolution over nine years: from the very beginning to the very end.  Everyone’s embarrassment threshold is going to be different, and I’ve yet to meet a genuinely good artist who’s ever satisfied with their work, past or present.  With webcomics, the solution to embarrassing stuff in your archives seems simple: delete it. But if you’re one of those people we talked about last week who has a running story … you really can’t.

And, much to my own surprise, some readers don’t want you to.

I once asked my readers in general, when they were in a responsive mood, if they’d like me to redraw my early pages for print copies, or if they’d just rather those be left out entirely.  The answer to both was “no,” and I was a little shocked.  Why?  “We like seeing the evolution of your art.”

To be fair, I also like seeing other artists’ work change over the years.  And I never see an artist’s early work as “bad.”  Just “early.”  But ’til then, I’d always figured it was an artist-only mindset.  I’m seeing more and more that there are readers out there who value the progress of artists they like, rather than just wanting something pretty to look at.  It makes me (and likely other artists) a bit squirmy to think we’re putting something less than our best out there deliberately and at the request of our fans … but I think we’re also very fortunate to at least have some percentage of readers out there who understand what it’s like to improve over time and enjoy said progress as much as we do.

A good mindset, then. As I keep scrolling back up to that thing I put up top, I’m trying to stop the first thought in my head being “Oh God, I was bad” and making it “Oh wow, I got better.”  If the fans enjoy it — and fans can be rather unforgiving at times — why shouldn’t we?  Well, besides the fact that we’re artists and tend to hate the hell out of ourselves.

Posted on October 19, 2010 at 01:09 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Webcomics · Tagged with: , ,

One Response

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  1. Written by Arkonbey
    on 2010-10-20 at 01:27

    I like finding old crappy stuff just to remind myself that I AM improving and I should never stop trying to improve. The only time I’ll cry out to the world that a certain person should never put pencil to paper again is if they don’t improve. You can see it on DA quite a bit. The people who’ve been posting for four years and the latest stuff looks as awful as the first.

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