This year I had two new year's resolutions: 1) to go running more and 2) to play my trumpet more. And by "more" I pretty much mean "at all" because I don't think I got any exercise at all last year (other than walking to my P.O. box or running errands around Alameda on my bike) and I definitely didn't play my trumpet even once.
I have tried resolutions like these in the past, and, like most people, I usually keep it up for a week or two, before giving up on them. I'm happy to report that I've been having better luck so far this year, by using a new system of alternating.
Just before the new year I had a visit from my old pal Andy (of Songs From the Basewood fame!) who mentioned that he had been using his lunch breaks at work to go for short, thirty-minute runs. This seemed like an amount of time that I could commit to running, without it messing up the rest of my day too much, so I decided to give it a try.
On January 1st, I put all the Weezer albums on my iPod Nano and instituted a new rule: no Weezer, except when running! Now, usually I listen to at least one Weezer album every day (if not more) so this definitely provided an additional boost of inspiration to get me out there. Most of their albums are in the thirty-minute neighborhood, give or take a track, so I usually run out during the A side and then run back home during the B side. Surprisingly, my favorite album to run to so far is Pinkerton.
On January 2nd I was sore from running, and so I decided to play my trumpet instead. I consider it a great gift that I was taught how to play the trumpet. There have been times when playing my trumpet was the most important thing in my life, and it often bums me out that I don't play it much any more. When I do play it, I find that it greatly improves my mood and helps me to appreciate music (especially jazz) much more when I listen to it.
A few years back I bought a Bb "real book" which has about 400 pages full of jazz standards. I then got this amazing program iReal Pro which basically sets up a virtual rhythm section on my iPad. I can then run that through the little mixing board that came with the Silent Brass mute that I've had since high school, and I can play along with the tunes. It's the most fun I've had playing my trumpet in a long time.
Collectively I have been calling this my "mental health hour." It usually occurs around 3pm (typically my lowest point of productivity/energy during the day) and I have been alternating activities every other day. I go for a run, then the next day I play my trumpet, then I go running on the next day, and then it's back to the trumpet, etc. etc. etc. It's amazing how this simple alternation has kept both activities lively and fun for me. The minute I'm done running I think "Ooh! I get to play my trumpet tomorrow!" and vice versa, instead of getting burned out trying to do one activity every day. Anyway, I've kept it up for the last 21 days, and I hope it'll continue for a long time yet!
I've also taken this idea and applied it to some of the many projects I'm trying to complete this year. I've kind of "paired off" similar projects into little groups and then I alternate working on each side back and forth. I'm getting a lot of work done!
I have another productivity idea I've been experimenting with this year, but I guess I'll save that for another blog post, as this one is getting a bit long! Maybe this idea will be helpful to someone out there.
If anyone would like to check out a preview of Phase 7 #021, I've posted the first eight pages over in the comics section of this site.
This is the "beard issue" which examines the thought process behind The Basewood Beard, during which I did not cut my hair or beard for three and a half years. It also goes into great depth about how society treated me very differently when I had long hair and a massive beard.
I'm trying something new with this issue... I've cut penciling out of my cartooning process entirely! I now jump straight from my rough script to inks. It is a little nerve-wracking, but I'm having fun with it and I hope that the results look a bit more loose and energetic instead of my usual stiff, overworked drawing style. I'll do a proper write-up about my new process at a later date, but for now you can check out the results and see how they compare to previous issues of Phase 7.
Obviously the biggest advantage of this new process is increased speed! You can keep an eye on my progress for this issue on my homepage. I'm hoping I'll have this issue sent out to the Phase Seven Subscribers this summer!
Yesterday I drew my fourteenth 24-Hour Comic. I bent the rules a bit this year, drawing an 8-page minicomic called, "Hey, Where's Alec?" and a 16-page "Isle of Elsi Activity Book." If anyone would like to disqualify these efforts as a 24-Hour Comic, I'm okay with that. After drawing one 24-Hour Comic a year since 2001, I don't feel like I have anything left to prove for this challenge. I have 24 pieces of paper with comics, drawings and writing all over them; I'm going to call it a 24-Hour Comic. It took me from 8:30am on December 30th 'till 1:17am on December 31st to draw everything.
I'm not going to post these pages online because I plan on printing up both of these projects as minicomics next year. Hey, Where's Alec? will be mailed out to all the Phase Seven Subscribers and I'm hoping Greg will be willing to carry some at the Tugboat Press table at various conventions next year. The comic explains why I am not attending any comic conventions in 2015.
My big goal for 2015 is to get Isle of Elsi ready to launch. The real website is slowly coming together, I've started drawing and coloring buffer pages, and I have over 200 pages of stories scripted and ready to draw. The Isle of Elsi Activity Book will be a free giveaway at conventions in 2016 to let kids know about the webcomic. It is very similar in scope to the Dragons! book that Tugboat Press published for Free Comic Book Day back in 2011. It's got comics, games, puzzles, activities, etc. For the final version of the book, I will actually redraw everything from this 24-Hour Comic version, but it was still time well spent. In one creative burst I was able to immerse myself in this project. I'm very happy with the results.
I was occasionally checking my Twitter as I worked on this year's 24-Hour Comic, and I fielded a request for any "protips" from one of my current CCS students, Reilly Hadden. I thought I'd repost and expand upon some of that advice here, for anyone thinking about drawing a 24-Hour Comic of their own...
For my first two 24-Hour Comics I tried to use the same bristol board and dip-ink nibs that I use for my "regular" comics. This really made the challenge extremely difficult. Because of the large page size (11" x 14") I used a 2x3 grid of panels, which, at an hour a page, means you only have 10 minutes for each panel, which is just brutal. It also doesn't allow for any breaks, ever! I'm glad I got this out of my system in my early twenties. I honestly don't think I could draw a 24-Hour Comic like this again.
One breakthrough I had on my fourth 24-Hour Comic, Scars, was to just use a ballpoint pen on copy paper. Not only was it faster, it removed any desire to pencil, and somehow tapped into that feeling of "kid" drawing. And by that, I mean the feeling of just drawing one panel after another, and having fun with it. Leaving mistakes as they are and moving on, which is exactly the kind of spirit you need in a 24-Hour Comic. Of course, I decided to draw those pages with four tiers, so it still almost killed me.
The next big breakthrough was on my eighth 24-Hour Comic, The 2008 Phase Seven Summer Supplement, when I shrunk the page-size way down (8.5" x 11" with some hefty margins) and dropped the panel layout to two tiers. There is still some part of my brain that feels like this is cheating, but nowhere in the official rules does it say how many panels you need to have on each page. In fact, for The Online Variation, which may not have "pages" per se, Scott McCloud suggests drawing 100 panels in 24 hours, which would break down to about four panels per page. The combination of drawing small and with fewer panels per page really made this process much more enjoyable for me. Instead of staying awake for the entire 24 hours and being stressed out the whole time, it brought it down to about 16 hours. That is still a lot of drawing, but it mellows it out to the point where I can now draw a 24-Hour Comic without bursting into tears and having a nervous breakdown at the 18-hour mark. I did not have the maturity or confidence to scale down this project in my early twenties, when I felt like I was trying to prove something with each comic that I drew. I'm glad I'm out of that headspace now.
Lastly, I think there are a variety of ways to approach the content of a 24-Hour Comic. Some of my favorites have been experimenting with a new art technique as I did in Colors, which used a variety of mixed media or Super Dream which let me play around with an ink spattering technique. 24-Hour Comics can also be an amazing opportunity to collaborate with another cartoonist or artist. I had an absolute blast, and learned so much by drawing on the same pages with Aaron Renier, Max de Radiguès and Claire Sanders. 24-Hour Comics are also a great way to meditate on some aspect of your life for 24 consecutive hours. Drawing comics is cheap therapy, and I have used 24-Hour Comics to work through breakups (in Daydream #0007, which is not online), changing relationships and my wife's cancer treatment. Or, as I did this year, you can just use a 24-Hour Comic to kill off a project from your to-do list.
Each year I seem to forget how hard it is to draw a 24-Hour Comic. Especially the last few years... I think, "At this point I've done it so many times, it must not be that bad!" But make no mistake, it is a punishing process. Even getting it down to 16 hours or so, that's still more drawing than I am used to doing in one stretch! Luckily, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives and each year I am excited to try it again. I still want to do an Online Variation someday, and I'm itching to draw something weird and abstract that will never be printed anywhere and is just for me - something I create just for the pleasure of creating it. I can't afford to spend my time doing that kind of stuff on a day-to-day basis, but at least I set aside one day a year to try something new!