I was originally going to have one last view of the circus as our back cover image but when I sat down to draw I drew a blank.  Same way i felt about drawing the circus during the issue.  For whatever reason it just didn’t stimulate the creative juices.  So I went with “Day of the Omnibus”.  I’d thought about using this for a cover image for issue 6 but decided it wasn’t dynamic enough.  The cover is in a similar vein but…well…you’ll see it next week.  Upside to corona virus is there’s really no escape so I’ve been in a good groove…another good week at the drawing board.  I made this back cover and got most of Issue 6 cover done too.  It seems unlikely that my spring labor gig will start up anytime soon, so I should be able to keep on schedule.

I also had a healthy dose of inspiration last week.  I recently participated in a funding campaign for my comic artist friend Hans Rickheit (who very graciously comments on these humble pages every once in a while).  I clicked on his video intro for the project which got Hans’ Youtube page into my feed.  I didn’t realize he had one.  Soon I was watching Hans’ going about his creative process, a very traditional and orderly sketch/light table pencils/inks.  I was enthralled!  Many years ago I practiced making comic pages in the same way.  Long story later I tried again, this time using the computer/tablet/duct tape and booze technique.  My current process is a bit unruly, but I’m able to cobble together some halfway decent pages.

(A brief aside to another recent YouTube post, Comics Kayfabe’s bit about Todd McFarlane’s 1000 Crappy Pages….the idea that a comic artist has to make 1000 crappy pages before he gets good.  By this measure I’m at about 300 pages….)

BUT!  Oft mentioned is a pressing desire to return to the old ways and mastering the the pen and brush techniques once practiced back in the day.  Pondering this, a second wave of inspiration hit.  Having watched Han’s videos, the YouTube algorithm kicked in.  Brought to my attention was a YouTube channel very similar to Hans’, that of Japanese manga artist Akihito Yoshitomi.  A true master of the form….this guy works with incredible precision and with astonishing speed.  It’s something I’d heard about manga artists but to actually watch it is something else altogether.  Awe struck, I was also ashamed.  I realized immediately that I haven’t been working hard enough!  I haven’t been concentrating hard enough!   One thing observed and adjusted for immediately was the effortless way that Akihito shifts from task to task.  At one point he inks all the word balloons on a page is 5 minutes!  Then it’s on to the next part.  I realized how much time I was wasting.

It reminded me of a lesson I learned back in my Boston days.  I had developed an interest in Buddhism and occasionally attended the daily service at the Cambridge Zen Center.  I had been inspired by Buddhist art, especially the intricate and disciplined sand mandalas made by monks.  That and Buddhism’s rationality appealed to me.   So, one day I went to the Zen Center to meditate.   It so happened that at the time I was a little stressed out…I think it was shortly after 911.   I was also sleeping in a crummy mattress on the floor and my back was killing me!  So when it came time to meditate, I got very uncomfortable sitting there on my cushion, facing the blank wall, as was the custom.  My back hurt!  I started squirming.  I sat there suffering, until the man sitting next to me took notice. He was a young monk, probably about 10 years older than I was but not more than 35.  He stood up from his meditation and stood behind me, just off to my left shoulder.  I was in trouble!  Immediately I straightened out.  I sat up straight and got to it.  And my back stopped hurting.   He stood there for the remainder of the session and on my way out I have him an appreciative nod.  No words were exchanged.  The lesson, impressed on me by the looming monk, was stop being a baby and sit up straight and do it, even if it hurts, which of course, it didn’t.  Not really.

I felt the same way after watching Akihito’s example of mastery, something I haven’t achieved but feel capable of attaining.  I felt like I’d been snapped out of the fog of delusion by watching a couple hours of those videos.  I’m glad for it as I look ahead to finishing the Enchanted Dagger in the next couple years (dare I say less?), but also looking forward to my next project.  I’ve been feeling the need to up my game, waiting for a break through, preparing but not sure for what.  Should I go back to making comics with ink and paper?  Witnessing the mastery of Akihito and Hans pulls me to do it!

I prepare accordingly.