What makes good art? What makes my art worthwhile? This is what I've been mulling over the past week. I find it important to keep making comics, but can I create something worthwhile to my audience? Can I create something that contributes to my culture's voice?
I often joke about my most popular work being comprised of stick figures. What makes Public Education a worthwhile endeavor when everyone (theoretically) can draw stick figure children talking.
I think it boils down to authenticity and story telling. Humans, even those not trained in art critique, have a keen eye and hypersensitivity toward bullcrap. We are acutely aware when something is generated for commercial value, and when it is created from the heart. It shines through in subject matter, linework, and voice of the characters. If any aspect of the work rings false, our alarms sound off and flags are raised. I've always tried to create the comics I care about and I think that is paramount. Even when working on a project like 'skeletons' that may not appeal to anyone outside my own personal sphere of influence, I have to always create something that means something to me. Every work has to be important to me. If I don't care about a project, I can never expect my audience to care about what I'm doing.
Storytelling is paramount in comics. Something can be drawn crudely or ornately, but if the reader doesn't understand what is going on in the pictures I've failed spectacularly. I think this skill comes from years of honing ones craft, regardless of rendering style. To make a successful comic, one has to understand the pacing involved in panel layouts. One has to understand the job of gutters, and the danger of tangents, and how to pull a reader's focus across the page in the direction you intend it to be read. While I became aware of these pitfalls through reading portfolio critiques by Wally Wood, or dissertations by Scott McCloud, I couldn't get better at working through these problems without drawing my own comics. Not just drawing comics, but drawing hundreds and hundreds of pages of comics. Study makes me aware of the problems and fixing those mistakes in my own work helps me learn how to correct these areas. It's a process, as is everything in life.
My hope is that by remaining aware and current on what professionals have learned in the medium, and by staying vigilant in my own work, that I can somehow transcend my own limitations in drawing and create comics that are genuine and worthwhile. I may never ink a line as precisely as Jeff Smith, I may never touch on themes as transcendent as Larry Marder, but I can be me-better than anyone else. As long as I know I have something to say, there will be someone out there that wants to hear it. That is, in my opinion, the true beauty of art.