My Comic Life Column 014: A Very Personal Message Part 2
I duly warned everyone – this time was also going to be more on the personal side – but squarely aimed at all my fellow creators, no matter what medium, or level of work you do.
We as creators often face a lot of challenges with our work – how to improve our craft, how to find time, how to earn sufficient income, how to get our work in front of the right people either for publication or to build a fanbase, etc. Most of these are very practical challenges, very logistical.
What often gets glossed over is the internal struggle of the artist vs. the art. Even more so when it gets overshadowed by all those other concerns which often have far more pressing needs for solutions.
But here’s the thing every creator knows down deep, even if we sometimes forget it – the best art we will ever create will ALWAYS come from somewhere down deep in our heart and soul. Our best art will NEVER come simply out of commercial or contract work. We may get paid for it, but our best work will never simply come because we ARE getting paid.
Our best work – whether it be music, writing, art, dance, whatever – will always be a deep reflection of who we are – our priorities, our struggles, our losses, our deepest loves, our biggest questions, our greatest fears and our highest hopes. Why? Well, that one is simple, it goes to the core of what art is really all about. But, it may not seem as simple given today’s norms and perceptions.
We as a culture, as people in general around the world, have become obsessed with entertainment. The Entertainment industry is a multi-billion dollar industry just in the United States. Popular artists, especially actors and musicians, are like royalty, often earning more than just about anyone, with thousands interested in their every outing, thought and personal development in their lives.
Yet, at the same time we’ve become obsessed, many are determined to devalue the art involved and reduce ‘entertainment’ to its most superficial and commercial elements. It’s fun, not meant to be taken seriously, it’s a distraction from our daily lives, it bears no connection or direct impact on the real world. Those self-same artists whom many are obsessed with are likewise often reduced to caricatures of human beings. It’s okay for fans to go on and on about who someone is dating, changes in hairstyle, favorite foods, weight gain, or pregnancy but let any of those artists step up for a cause, make a statement on their values or challenge anything about our society and they are dismissed as ‘simply’ artists. But that’s not art.
Art, since those first scrawlings on cave walls, since those first stories told around campfires, those first songs sung, has always been so very much more.
Art is About Teaching. It has been used to teach tradition, faith, culture, principles of belief and practice. Art has helped to bring to life history and illustrate the power of science. Art has even taught us about ourselves, our fellow human beings, and much about the world in which we live. Unlike many other forms of teaching that simply present dry facts, art teaches by engaging, by connecting with the learner. This means that learning often happens at a deeper, more fundamental level. It also means art can teach things very hard to teach otherwise, including teaching us about our own innermost thoughts and feelings.
Art is About Inspiring. It may be as grand as a painting that inspires an appreciation for the beauty of the world around us, or a song that inspires us to go after a dream, or a poem that inspires us to reach out to one we love. It can be as profound as a super-hero that inspires us to know with great power comes great responsibility, or that with determination we can even overcome the greatest of losses. It can also be as simple as a comic strip that inspires laughter and brightens our day.
Art is About Challenging. Art is not just about the status quo – if it were it would not serve as escapism and would be redundant if you think about it; because of this true art always contains an element of challenge. It may be a challenge to see or think about something different, a challenge to believe in something we felt impossible or to recognize the fragility of something we take for granted. It may challenge something about the world around us or challenge something deep within. But true art should always leave us wrestling with something once we walk away.
For us as fans – readers, watchers, listeners – I guarantee you can take every single piece of ‘entertainment’ you’ve ever really, truly enjoyed, the ones that stayed with you and find something of each of these principles in it. Some may be obvious, others you may need to unpack and think about, but when you do those elements will be there, even if you never fully realized it before.
But what then about us as Creators?
We create any given work of art for many reasons, but we create art in general because we feel driven to – sometimes a deep, abiding drive we can’t turn off, much less turn away from. At the heart of that drive is the heart of a student, a heart that is inspired, and a heart that faces its own challenges it so desperately wants to overcome. Now, in other folks, those things may exist as well, but it is for us the foundation of our art – at least when we let it be.
I see this in aspiring artists and even from some established professionals – art with no soul, no deeper connection to who and what the artist behind it is. For aspiring creators, they may be trying too hard to mimic what is already on the market to prove they can cut it as a professional. For professional creators, it may be work they don’t enjoy, that is simply paying the bills, or over time their work may have been reduced to a mere discipline, or distraction. In either case, that art is probably doing little for the fulfillment of the artist.
As a creator, as an artist of any kind – to truly create – dig deep. Face your demons, wrestle with your doubts, push against the rough edges of your life and the world around you and see which ones rub you raw. Figure out what inspires you, what makes your heart sing, what makes you laugh from the deepest part of your gut, or cry tears of joy. Do it for that creator-owned thing you so desperately want to make and find ways to do it for every single paid job you take.
As artists, true artists, we have a calling. It is an awesome responsibility and an incredible honor. We are called to be the touchstones of humanity, to plumb our depths, soar in our heights, and to then transform that into raw fodder and put it out into the world around us so that others might find that work of art that helps them do the same. Your struggles, the ones that keep you up at night, are the same struggles so many others face – the strength you muster to face them and put them out there in the world might inspire another to face their own. A dream that inspires you, might just be a dream that, captured in art, could inspire a generation. Even if it’s not a specific issue, at the core, every hero’s story is a story of overcoming all odds isn’t it?
Last year I swore 2016 was going be the year I got more focused on my own creative work but other than the ongoing My Comic Life strip and a few other things, I’ve found myself struggling. I’ve found myself having a harder time writing and doing full art than I’ve had in a long time. As I shared last column, there’s certainly been a lot going on this year, including a lot of stressful and life-changing things that certainly could disrupt the process, but I had difficulty putting my finger on the exact cause, until recently.
I realized I had been so focused on improving my own writing and art, so focused on managing and overseeing other’s writing and art, thus focused on the form and not the underlying function, that I’d lost touch with some of that deeper passion, that core from which true art arises. Oh, now most of the stories I want to tell come from that deeper core, because I was very much in touch with that when I first formed the seeds for each of those – but now, I think I was trying to start them without tapping the primal energy that originally inspired them in me in the first place.
End result? I realized I first had to do a bit of reconnecting with that fire, that core, that passion. I had to once again truly create in order to create true art, and not just go through the mechanics and motions. That has ended up not only reawakening that art, that creative fire, but it’s also reawakened some other arenas of my life, ones that inspired the column and invitation last week, ones that inspired this column, and ones I will talk more about on my personal sites later on New Year’s Day.
For 2017 and beyond, my resolution is to do the kind of art, to be the kind of creator, whose every piece digs deep, goes to the core, makes my heart sing, and I’m pretty excited about the work so far. Here’s hoping for a very creative year.
If you want to follow more personal stuff I post regularly on my personal Facebook page which will include a major post later today (New Year’s Day) and will be relaunching my blog first of the year.
To get first looks at all my creative work, you can check out my Patreon, which will be building up after the new year. Right now, I’m doing a Classic-Print-A-Day for the Holidays, sending out hi-res file versions of my entire classic print library to all my patrons. New stuff will be appearing soon.
Next week in this space, we get back to the creative process and start our Penciling 101 series! Don’t miss it!
What’s your story? Share if you like, post here or email me anytime at [email protected].
About C. Edward Sellner
A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Creative Services, one of the best-known production studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycreativeservices.com!