A couple months ago, I was invited by my junior high school art teacher to speak to a bunch of her students interested in comic books. Inevitably I was asked what sort of training does one need to become a comic book artist. The answer, of course, is that there is not just one kind of training that is best to get and which is available to students anywhere. (I know of precious few institutions that actually teach how to draw comic art, and the places I do know of are all in the New York area.) As I gave my customary long-winded answer, I could see a half-expectant, half-worred expression on my former art teacher's face. She was thinking how many times in her art classes I would take whatever art project was at hand and turn it into something comic book related. No matter how she tried to broaden my interests, all I wanted to do was draw super heroes. And now that I actually am making a living out of this preoccupation with guys in capes and masks, was I now going to tell all the aspiring young Me's to not listen to their teacher and draw comics all the time no matter what she says?
No, I didn't. Because she was right. I shouldn't have been drawing super heroes and comic books to the exclusion of all else. Why? Because by learning to draw solely by looking at comic books, I was limiting myself to a second-hand view of reality. By studying the masters and not-so-masters of comic art and disregarding other influences, I was guaranteeing that I would never be anything more than watered-down versions of the artists I admired. What I should have done was to draw other things than super heroes more. I should have drawn from life, made my own observations about how to translate the world into scribbles on paper, rather than aping someone else's observations.
This is what I told the junior high students: don't just draw comics, draw from life, like my teacher told me. While you can learn something from looking at comics, mostly in terms of tellling a story through a sequence of images, the actual drawing of these images is best learned elsewhere. So did not following my teacher's advice prove harmful to me? Well, you'll notice that I'm a comic book writer and editor, not an artist. Why is that? Because I didn't learn to write and edit solely from reading comics. (But my advice to aspiring writers is a whole 'nother topic, and one for another time.)
I think it's remarkable (ahem) how I've managed to keep my Mark's Remarks columns virtually free of hype. (Hype comes from the word "hyperbole", meaning exaggeration for effect, not from "Hyperion", the titan of Greco-Roman mythology who provided one of the Squadron Supreme with his nom-de-guerre. Since we are not at this time publishing a Squadron Supreme book, this parenthetical aside cannot be construed as hype.) Instead, I've tried to use this box of banter to expound on general topics of interest to my comics-reading public. So am I about to ruin my credibility by turning this commericial-free forum into a shameless pitch for your hard-earned shekels ("shekels" being the principal metal currency of the Hebrews)? No, not me. So, until next time, this is Mark's Remarks signing off.
A conflict of interests is where the private concerns and public responsibilities of a person in a position of trust are at odds. An interesting conflict is where a person's system of values are put to the ultimate test.
I have a conflict of interests. Captain America has an interesting conflict. My conflict of interest stems from the fact that I am both the AVENGERS editor and CAPTAIN AMERICA writer. To use the letters page to plug a book I have a proprietary interest in I feel is a breach of conduct. Captain America's interesting conflict is that the very government whose ideals he has represented for decades has put him in a position of being the Captain America they want him to be, or not being Captain America at all. Since Cap feels that to work for the government would make him a symbol of American political reality rather than the American Dream, he decided to resign. This month the government has to find someone else to become Captain America.
Now, I happen to think that this storyline in CAPTAIN AMERICA is the biggest thing to happen to the Star-Spangled Avenger in over a decade. But of course I'm biased. However, since I am also AVENGERS editor, and Cap is a member of the Avengers, I feel it behooves me to inform the AVENGERS readership what's happening to Cap elsewhere, since after the current AVENGERS storyline runs its course in issue #285, Cap's role in this book will be affected by what happens in his own book.
So, it seems I'm in a no-win situation even as Captain America is. The only thing left for me to do is what Cap did, make a firm decision and stick by it. So I will! AVENGERS readers who don't currently read CAPTAIN AMERICA (you know who you are): Please pick up the current issue for a look at a Captain America you've never seen before. I think you might like it.
A Note From the Editor in Chief:
Please ignore Mark's "conflict of interests" and just go buy an issue of CAP. It does have an "interesting conflict" to say the least. And I certainly don't mind saying it.
In one of the other Mark's Remarks I did this month, I offered some free advice to aspiring comic artists. This time I'm going to do the same for aspiring comics writers. (You aspiring comics letterers and colorists will have to wait your turn.)
If you want to be a comic book writer, here's what you should do. Become a writer first. Yes, writing for comics is its own special discipline, just as writing sonnets, reviews, essays or screenplays are their own special discipline. But before you need to learn anything about the special discipline, you need to know about the general discipline, and that is writing itself. So learn to write by writing, by learning to express ideas with the written word. Write every day just to exercise the old writing muscles in the brain. If you don't like sitting and studying and doing your homework, don't become a writer. Being a writer is like haivn homework to do every day of your life (and you can quote me). It's a lonely experience being a writer. It's something you've got to do all by yourself, usually sequestered away from other human beings. (Although as I write this, my assistant editor Gregory Wright is yammering on the phone three feet away from me. It helps to develop one's powers of concentration so you can tune out the distraction when you have to.)
You can learn about writing by having people read what you wrote and quizzing them to see if they understood what it was they're reading. You can also learn about writing by reading. I would not recommend reading nothing but comic books if you want to master the general (writing) before you master the specific (comics writing). Read fiction-- the classics as well as the contemporary stuff. As you read, analyze what you're reading. How were certain effects achieved with words? What was the author's point in writing the story?
My final piece of advice to writers is to lead a good, interesting life. The richer one's experiences are, the more you'll have to draw from in your writing. All writing is autobiographical to some extent: what you write about is determined totally by what's inside of you. You cannot write someone else's story unless you first make it your own. Look at the world around you, form impressions about it, form a point of view. Live in the world around you, talk to people and try to figure out what makes them tick, hold as many different strange jobs and you can and figure out what you have in common with the people you work with. I see too many writers come into the comics field with a fair knowledge of their craft (which you can get from studying the comics) but with absolutely nothing to say, no point of view, no point to their work. But while craft can be taught, you cannot teach anyone what to say. That's got to come from within-- as a part of the processing of experience from the world without.