ymmv .26 – Always Be Learning
It’s closing time. And you don’t have to go home, but you can’t study here.
And I hope you’ve been studying, because even figuring out what not to do, or learning from the past mistakes of others, is great stuff to take into your future.
This column was never about being didactic, or speaking through the Megaphone of Oh Gawd [the Lord of #makecomics], but it was always aimed at making you think about yourself as a creator, and how the craft of comics floats around us daily.
But this is the last instalment. 26 topics, a year’s worth of fortnightly content. For free. I hope you’ve dug it – and maybe some more than others, but, y’know what we say around these parts – ymmv.
So I want to leave you with one thing, a parting lesson I learnt myself during my tenure here on the Good Ship S.S. ymmv.
Always be learning.
You might be churning pages to make your first book. You might have lucked into a few pages for Vertigo or Dark Horse, but you know you still have to hustle. You might be breaking into the Big Two, or becoming a self-pub magnate on Kickstarter. No matter where you are, you shouldn’t ever stop learning about comics, and you shouldn’t even let yourself consider trying it.
You can always be better, you can always find new things, there is no end to how you can use/make comics. Even if it’s just consolidating what you know, or reintroducing yourself to an old topic at the right time to unlock a current page on your desk, or even that one glorious moment that never happens often enough that you discover something new out in the mist. Always be learning.
Through the writing of this column, I had moments of clarity that would only have come while analysing our craft so deeply at that very moment. I got to feed great concepts about business and narrative into my head, and I’ve no doubt they’d fallen out previously as new stuff squeezed in earlier. Even the masters need to refresh their game, so an amateur like me should study twice as hard.
If I have imparted anything onto anyone in my year writing this column, it’s not anything I’ve written about in specificity that I care the most about – what the hell do I know? maybe I’ve been wrong all along, and even if I was right, maybe not for your specific context. I don’t know, but I know this – I hope I’ve made you think about the fact we should always be thinking about this stuff.
If I steered you in the right direction, yay. If I got something wrong, causing you to go on a deepdive to prove me wrong, and you found the right answer, yay.
I want anyone who ever read this column to walk away wanting more. And then you go out and find it.
I never had the answers, never in full, but I want you to realise they are out there, and we should never stop looking. I think I wrote all this so I’d remember the answers are out there, and that I should never stop looking.
Because years ago I read Understanding Comics from Scott McCloud, The Basement Tapes from Joe Casey and Matt Fraction, Eisner/Miller, Poplife from Matt Fraction, Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art, and Where the Hell Am I? By Jason Aaron, and the insane plethora of links on the Comic Writer Services website, and I just always needed more. I wanted more. An afternoon spent reading about writing comics is better than most afternoons, except those spent writing comics.
As a teacher, I know the power in inspiring students to want to learn, and to know the steps to take and the questions to ask [hint, it’s all of them]. That’s what ymmv has been about and I hope it’s been a successful curriculum starter. Be inquisitive, ask questions, poke around the pages you read, start discussions with mates that go in depth, and never stop.
I was reminded of all this very recently in a tale that fittingly closes us out on this good ship.
I was asked to come into a high school senior class about comics and have a chat to them. They had spent the semester studying Batman: Year One and they wanted to know from someone on the inside what the comic making process was like. So I gave them a session, pretended I was awesome, and then we just sat and chatted about the book.
The class had been analysing specific pages, breaking down panel layouts, colour choices for effect, etc. I pulled one large analysed page off the wall and started loosely talking about it. It’s page 94, and it’s great, and as I look at it I make a connection.
Matt Fraction already wrote about this page, on his tumblr [which in itself says it all – the writer of some of the best comics hitting stands in the last few years (Sex Criminals, Satellite Sam, Casanova) still finds time to think about comics, analyse them, and write about them ] and I remembered he kept seeing these triangles in David Mazzucchelli’s art. So I start telling the class about the triangle in the page, and if you look then it’s quite clearly there.
The middle panels are Jim Gordon’s, and Bruce Wayne operates in the periphery, on the panels on the edges of the page. The triangle points down, and the tip is blood red, and what kind of triangle might be stabbing down with a bloody tip? Yes, a knife. And what is this page about? Death, violence. And where does Bruce Wayne operate? Off the knife. Perhaps in safety. Perhaps as a saviour.
I’m unpacking this with the class, and getting right into it, when it hits me – Fraction didn’t write about this page, he wrote about pages in the other Mazzucchelli/Miller masterpiece, Daredevil: Born Again. It strikes me that I’m not pulling Fraction’s work out, I’m connecting to it with my own discovery. I’m taking the seed he planted and applying it further, in a very connected place.
I walked away from that session with new knowledge in my head, I had stumbled across something I’d never noticed or known before, and I liked that feeling. I wanted to have that feeling again. It reminded me to read my comics smart, to always be analysing, always be thinking. Don’t be passive, even in such a fun pastime, because you can always study.
I don’t ever want to get complacent about becoming a better creator. I want to always have that desire to look at things, write about things, and hopefully share a few things.
If not, I am certain a while bunch of you will.
Thank you for learning all this shit with me.
Ryan K. Lindsay is a comics writer who has logged time at Dark Horse, Monkeybrain, Vertigo and other esteemed publishers. He currently writes Negative Space, a comic we here at Loser City love quite a bit. You can (and should) pick Negative Space up from your local comic shop or directly through Dark Horse.