Sunday, December 16, 2007

Comic Art, My Kung-Fu

I've had this notion brewing in my head for quite some time now. It's a fairly obvious one as one type of art can very easily have much in common with another. The arts, in general share many traits. It's only Martial Arts that I equate the most with slinging my pencil though. Maybe it's because I practiced Fun Ying Kung-Fu and Ninjitsu in my younger years and later a bit of Aikido. More than the physicality of the art I learned much more from the basic principles.

Kung-Fu in chinese is loosely translated as "work". In this case being a lead slinger is MY work. What has emerged as the biggest parallel to me is the multitude of styles. In martial arts, there are hard styles, like Karate, and soft styles such as Tai Chi Chuan or Aikido. In comics, the styles are so great that there can really be no clear way to name them all. House styles have emerged, like the Top Cow fellows. There are also more general styles like, Manga, Western style manga, realism, cartoony, traditional, and so many more that have no name but you know it when you see it. Many are patterned after their originator, like Jim Lee, Mignola, Joe Mad, Michael Turner, which may be the highest form of flattery or simply a less obvious form of plagiarism.

In some cases, like in house styles for example the originator passes his knowledge down in order to create a homogeneous look in their line of books. Perhaps, this is because they have been successful in their career with this "marketable" method that it stands to reason that books done with the same style will sell just as well. In some cases this is true.

This leads to a certain efficacy in particular styles. As in the birth of particular martial arts styles, they were refined from other styles and labeled as "the" most effective. As an art, all are successful and beauty is a subjective matter. The success I have always believed in art, it is not how it is received but to what extent is pleases the artist in it's expression. The honest expression of art is a way for us to learn about ourselves. The fact that others may gain a sense of pleasure from our expression is a by product. That is, if it's looked at solely as art. The same applies to comic book art.

Now, when we are talking about martial arts, not as art but as a method of self defense and comics not as art but as entertainment, the game changes. The effectiveness is measured in Kung-Fu and other martial arts by whether we are successful in avoiding harm. Whether by planting a well placed kick or simply using it as a deterrent we have achieved that success. In comic art, the success can be measured by sales figures if a particular artist is popular or the story telling has hooked our audience enough to come back for more. It can always be a battle to stay relevant and remain in demand. In fact, it's a fight just to be in demand in the first place. That all depends on our commitment and willingness to grow as an artist. To take the shots and press on. Honing what we do until we get our foot in the door. If we are talking about not just aesthetic evocation but strong story telling, that adds more strengths to your repertoire. In other words, not just pretty pictures but skills that include elements of story telling will increase your chances of succeeding in the arena of comics.

It's no secret that some artists have more inherent talent than others. Just like Bruce Lee seemed to have been born with preternatural speed and skill, some artists appear to have that God given talent that makes the rest of us feel like mere mortals. The fact is, even Bruce Lee and Jim Lee practiced day in and day out to achieve near perfection in their craft. We are no different.

The issue of competitiveness is less an issue in comics than it was in say post Feudal Japan, where dojos had no one to fight except themselves. Our friendly art jams are more an exercise of comradery. There is friendly professional competition amongst publisher's like Marvel and DC comics. To my chagrin, I discovered that in a strange way, that base instinct to battle somehow comes down to territory. In some cases the primitive gravitation toward feudalism can be alive and well when another studio in your small area poses a perceived threat to another. This in relation to comic book studios is comical, but for some reason members of a studio are good natured to everyone else, on the net and beyond but so fragile in the ego and so alive is that instinct of territory that rivalries in home towns do exist.

It's a ridiculous and clearly laughable notion that honor can be compromised and this can occur in the world of comic books but it does. In an industry where firsts are always marked with issue number one's and declared with dramatic word balloons it's no wonder individuals are threatened by new blood as they are frightened of being forgotten before they have achieved anything of significance. Rival studios unfortunately are alive and well among the short sighted community that is already rife with egos too large to ever fit into any door reserved for those more deserving.

Is my Kung-Fu better than yours? If you answered that in your head in any way, rethink that. We draw comics, it's irrelevant,...we only battle ourselves. Fighting to improve, attempting to achieve success, however it is we define that success. As individuals it will be different for each of us, so find harmony in your art if that's what you seek or the opportunity to get paid in order to do what you love. I will attempt both.

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