Chronicling the creative process for Pop Zeus, the forthcoming Guided By Voices/Bob Pollard tribute comic- including sketches, concepts, finished art and whatever else is in my brain at the moment.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Comic Books 101, Part Two: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Another quiet and lonely Saturday night here at the homestead. We have had our fair share of rain the last month or so here in San Francisco after a unusually rain free winter. And it's gotten frightfully cold on top of it over the last few nights, to the point where it's been snowing at higher elevations in the city. I saw some hail myself early tonight. Needless to say, it's pretty nasty out there so I could do worse than relaxing at home tonight.

Spent a few hours earlier this evening at my favorite squat and gobble working out some more of the "My GBV Experience" part of Pop Zeus (see the Adding It Up post below). Moved on to part two, the "My Holy Grail" story and the writing is flowing smooth and strong. The only issue will be deciding what parts of the stories to cut. Better to have too much material than too little, I suppose.

Speaking of writing, a question that I've heard many times is "where do you get your ideas from?". And as a storyteller of any stripe, if you got no ideas, you got nothing. The honest answer is that my ideas come from everywhere and nowhere! But I should explain...

As a kid, I was a highly imaginative and a natural storyteller. I easily constructed vast epic narratives with my toys and creating original characters with their own detailed backstories, etc- especially in the world of Star Wars which I was programmed to love as a child of the late 70's- early 80's. I was also totally obsessed with the Muppets, so I would put on fairly well puppeteered and intricate shows. To this day if you put a puppet on my hand, it will come alive. Also spend many hours running around outside totally wrapped up in an imaginative game, pretending to be Indiana Jones, James Bond, Voltron, a ninja, whatever I was into. So, I think I was predisposed to dream and daydream from day one.

But as an adult, with all the hastles and bullshit that one has to deal with on a daily basis, it's easy to lose that childlike spontaneously creative mindset. And there have been times where stress, exhaustion or depression have made the artistic process almost impossible. It's like a muscle that can atrophy after years of neglect or misuse. But it doesn't have to. Here are some ways I've come up with to stir the creative juices that I believe are within all of us, however dormant...

1. Read, a lot: I read about a book a week- just finished A Loyal Character Dancer, the second book in a really interesting and skillful Chinese mystery series. I also read The New Yorker cover to cover every week, The New Scientist, National Geographic, pretty much any magazine that piques my interest (not that I don't indulge in fun frothy crap like Playstation Magazine, Asian Cult Cinema and Entertainment Weekly). Ironically, I don't really read comics much anymore- I think I'm afraid of their influence on my work. My parents have always been and still are big readers, and I know I was read to as a child all the time. So, reading has always been important to me. And I really believe that what you put in your mind has a direct correlation with what you get out out of it. In other words, you are what you eat, in more ways than one. Good reading equals good writing and good thinking. Plus I've gotten so many great ideas and launching off points for stories from books and magazines. It pays to read.

2. Give yourself time to dream: The most valuable thing- free time. Real free time where I can just let my thoughts drift. I have found that ideas often come from nowhere, unsummoned when you are just sitting there like a big blank dumbass. I also get a lot of great ideas in the shower- I think its the combination of sensory deprivation (without my glasses, I'm blind as a bat), white noise and the heat and relaxation of the water. The only problem is that I'm nowhere near a journal! Similarly get a lot of ideas before I fall asleep at night- same sensory deprivation, comfort and relaxation that is needed for ideas to appear from the netherworld. And whatever you do, don't put any pressure on yourself to come up with ideas! Its like when you are trying to remember some obscure fact- if you try really hard, it wont happen. Only when you are relaxed and not directly focused on the task will it come. I believe a lot of writers block comes from this terrible obsessive loop- the pressure to come up with something is the very block which prevents it from happening. And that's just what it does, it happens by itself- its all about flow. When it flows, it flows and the more relaxed and at peace you are, the more it flows. Which brings me to my next big point...

3. Carry a journal (and a pen!) with you everywhere: I currently have 2 big Chronicle journals running at the same time, always in my old backpack which I carry with me everywhere. One journal is for story ideas, thoughts, working out things that are stressing me out- just an all purpose repository for emptying my brain. The other one is my Pop Zeus Grail Diary, where I am compiling and organizing only Pop Zeus stuff. Plus it has unlined pages for thumbnail panel sketches. I also have these really thin cool Moleskine journals in the pockets of every jacket I own, just in case. It is essential for me to write down every good (or even not so good) idea I have as soon as I can. There is nothing worse than forgetting a brilliant thought because you didn't write it down. This is a habit it took me years to develop, and I can't stress enough how important it is!

4. Surround yourself with the things that inspire you: Even though my room looks fairly ridiculous, it's decidedly me. As I type this, to my left is my Choy Lay Fut kung fu poster, my Robert Pollard signed photo, a wall shelf at arms reach of my desk full of books, sketch books and photo sleeves, my black and white steam train photography calendar. In front of me is the GBV Final Show poster, my fake P.H.D. (Pilkey Honorary Diploma), my picture of Bob Marley with Yoda riding in his backpack, my Marilyn Monroe photo, and a Darth Vader action figure. To my right, beyond my bed, is my family photo atop my big bookshelf full of DVDs, books and graphic novels, my framed original 36th Chamber of Shaolin poster, and my plastic Doraemon alarm clock. And behind me is my Playstation 2, my TV and DVD player, my big stack of cd's and my boombox, my acoustic guitar, my Guitar Hero fake guitar and some framed album covers on the wall (Circus Devils' Pinball Mars and Bob's Fiction Man). I have always surrounded myself with my stuff not only to have it at hand if needed, but to inspire me. Of course, this includes music- in the car, walking around and at home. I am like a sponge, always craving new stuff to feed my soul with. And if you feed your soul with crap, how can you expect it to give you anything good back?

5. Be interested in everything and never stop learning!: This one is much more inherent and hard to fake. Either you are interested in life, engaged in the people and things around you, curious about things, always learning, craving stimulation or you are not. It's about passion. When I am into something, I tend to really whipped up and involved, learning as much as I can. And I am always questioning everything, always curious about what's going on and how things work. If you are blah about life and everything in this world, I can't imagine you will have much to say about it. I think it's something fairly hard-wired in me, but certainly cultivating a creatively stimulating life could stoke this fire.

I've been extremely fortunate to never have experienced writer's block, to have had ready access to what I call "the void"- the dark fountain of ideas that I believe we all share. But, it has not been without many years of figuring all this stuff out, getting a real understanding of what works for me. And it's always a struggle to create a balance in my life between the stuff I have to do, the stuff and want to do and the free time to dream and imagine. And I humbly hope some of these thoughts can help you too!


Blogger Scottish Toodler said...

Nice post. That baby picture made my uterus explode. I would love to know why you said you were "programmed to love" Star Wars movies? Just curious.

10:53 PM

Blogger Phil said...

Hey again, st! Obviously was having trouble finding appropriate pictures for the post. Good post writing-wise, bad post visually!

As for the ubiquitous Star Wars, seemed like every single child my age loved those movies back in the day. George Lucas tapped into something deep with an entire generation, no small feat. As much as I love it, the whole phenomenon creepily feels like it wasn't entirely in our or our parents control, no?

Off to bed. Thanks for reading and commenting!

11:27 PM


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