The More It Works

I work with music playing like everyone else. Sometimes it’s a pleasant diversion, a mood or a serendipitous soundtrack to what I’m drawing and very rarely it’s a voice out of your own past speaking to you. Yeah, okay so it isn’t that exactly, but hearing, Parquet Courts’ The More You Use It today, struck me because I seem to be yelling some variation of its lyrics almost every day. My versions are never nearly as catchy or as hooky as theirs. Here’s a sampling of the lyrics from that song:

Express yourself without the tools that they give you
Want something they didn't tell you to want
Say something without the words that they fed you
Find something they didn't tell you to hunt for

Because the more you use it, the more it works
The more you use it, the more it works
The more you use it, the more it works
The more you use it, the more it works
The more you use it, the more it works
The more you use it, the more it works
The more you use it, the more it works
The more you use it, the more it works

Be yourself and not the figure they mold
Look for something they've been trying to hide
Do something you were never told to
Don't keep it to yourself, don't keep it inside

Later on…

Yeah, listen up, listen up everybody
What could I even mean?
Could it be your teeth? Could it be your eyes?
Could it be your mouth? Could it be your spleen?

It's kind of like all those things
It's kind of wrapped into one
The more you use it, the more it works
The more you use it, the more it works

Yeah, define yourself, not in title
Embrace a concept not taught in school
The more you use it, the more it works
If you waste it, you're a fool

When I lived in Brooklyn, I listened to music on commutes to and from the studio like everyone else. In 2014 or 2015 things were very hard but I still look back a little longingly at those times. The Parquet Courts had released Human Performance, their third LP in a row and its more somber tenor was good but I always preferred their jauntier, angsty punk more. So to hear The More You Use It today was loaded with nostalgia, melancholy and passion. What does it make you fee?

Just food for thought. Use it.

What is Art?

It’s always really impressive when one starts something with a quote from another, probably smarter, person, right? In this case, I’ll start with a quote from Norbert Weiner, who I think is giving us the plain facts about the Meaning of Life. Yeah, he figured it out. He writes in The Human Use of Human Beings:

…to be alive is to participate in a continuous stream of influences from the outer world and acts on 
the outer world, in which we are merely the transitional stage. In the figurative sense, to be alive to what is happening in the world, means to participate in a continual development of knowledge and its unhampered exchange. 

We’re all taking in influences through various sensory experiences and in many ways these change who we are and thereby inform what we put out into the world. Our life is a constant feedback loop of experiences coming in from reality and then our reactions (informed consciously and subconsciously by experience) outward to reality. When they say “Life is Art” (whoever ‘they’ are), they’re right. The making of art is not about the destination but rather this process of taking in new information and manipulating reality back in response. The artist, is the process of evolution and you can do it, too. The artwork itself can be anything really but whatever it is, it should represent who you were at the time of creation.

Whatever influenced the artist, existed before them but what they create should not…or there is no evolution. In other words, as a very simple example, If someone says in your ear, “speak into an ear” and you turn and repeat the message, “speak into an ear” onto the next person, have you contributed anything new to that message? You moved someone else’s message forward but none of it was yours before entering your ear or leaving your lips. Did it need to be you that moved that message along? Probably not, right? So your influence, should you simply repeat what you are told, is not recorded and moved forward. Being beholden to the original erases anything unique to you and nullify’s your existence as if it had nothing to add to the dialog.

What sometimes enrages me and always disappoints and grieves me is the preference of great schools of learning for the derivative as opposed to the original, for the conventional and thin which can be duplicated in many copies rather than the new and powerful, and for arid correctness and limitation of scope and method rather than for universal newness and beauty, wherever it may be seen. Moreover, I protest, not only as I have already done against the cutting off of intellectual originality by the difficulties of the means of communication in the modern world, but even more against the ax which has been put to the root of originality because the people who have elected communication as a career so often have nothing more to communicate. 

This quote is also from Norbert Weiner’s The Human Use of Human Beings and I agree that the reduction of the individual to part of the machinery of reproduction of another message is death. So many of us spend so much of our day moving others’ agenda forward without much in exhcange. And too many prefer the comfort of others’ ideas rather than listening to their own internal voice. It’s as though it’s preferable to creatively huddle around an accepted idea than break out and do something outside the herd. It certainly isn’t life if at the end of it, you’ve left everything completely unchanged.

Before and After   by Andy Warhol. Casein and pencil on canvas.

Before and After by Andy Warhol. Casein and pencil on canvas.

In Andy Warhol’s Before and After, he appears to be commenting on this process of transformation. Taking a small, cheap newspaper ad and creating a large scale painting on canvas seems to be all that Warhol is doing without much change, right? Is there enough transformation of the message in Andy Warhol’s painting? I think so. The painting itself depicts an image demonstrating a before and after profile of a woman after plastic surgery and I think Warhol is commenting on his own process of elevating crass advertising into lofty art without really prettying it up. The painting is having some fun as it rubs our noses in the fact that he’s only really changed the size and medium of the image without any aesthetic improvement…and yet now it is art. Rather than reject this, we should embrace it because what Warhol is effectively saying is that the decision to see something of value in the rejected and discarded is the process of art. Anything can be art with your participation…so do it!

You can’t say that you don’t have the time or ideas to make art because what’s being said with Before and After is that the art ante is low but the change it sparks can be widely felt. Warhol happened to make visual art in many forms but the broad definition of art/life that he used applies to anything. Whatever it is that brings you joy and sparks your creativity, qualifies as your art. Even your relationships with friends is a collaborative art that you create together. Just put some of yourself into it and help it grow. Growth and having something larger to work towards are keys to a meaningful and happy life so I encourage all of you to do what you need to, to elevate yourself and the ones you love. Art is simply a distillation of the process of living in the world and contributing to its growth. You might be surprised how far the effects of even the smallest work of art go to improving reality. We don’t have to go so far as a nose job to improve people’s lives…sometimes a smile is all it takes.

Go make some beautiful art! Be your fullest self! Go change the world!

Juan DonJuan's Mind Control Menagerie

Over the long period of blogging silence, I’ve undergone a bit of a transformation. The long and the short of it is that my ideas and goals for my comics are likely to be very different from the aims of any professional writers and so I will no longer be collaborating on comics. The way the comics industry is structured, it tends to give importance to the writer as they are the only one that will carry any project to the television or film development stage. There are many other factors but I suspect a big one is that many independent comics publishers rely on intellectual property rights to stay afloat. It’s just too bad that in this system, the individual spent doing all of the character design, acting, set design, action choreography, cinematography etc. is almost an afterthought as a project moves to another visual medium.

Keep your eyes on the Television game show prize.

As an artist working in comics, I’ve focused on only creator-owned projects because I felt that this was the sandbox where we could explore more idiosyncratic and unique ideas. It’s supposed to be an arrangement where the creators are just that…investing their creativity to a project. That’s my favorite place to be and for much of the time I worked with Joshua Hale Fialkov on the BUNKER, it felt like that. I don’t think I knew just how rare it is for an artist to have some input on the story. Too often we’re sequestered away to an inbox in which scripts are dropped into and send back various stages of realization/embellishment. That doesn’t feel as much like a creative situation when you have no say in what you’re drawing panel after panel, issue after issue.

Now I write comics and I illustrate my own writing. I’m not going to be writing for television. In my experience that places too much emphasis on the dialog (on the phone, in cars and in bars) to move the story forward rather than in the many inventive ways real comics affords. A drawing is not limited like a photograph and yet, that’s what many are doing to better help visualize their comics for tv. This thinking is a disease. In other words, it tends to limit the art to static stills similar to storyboards. I will not treat comics like a marginal medium to be used for some other medium’s goals. Instead I’m going to explore what comics can do better than anything else and follow where my imagination takes me.

Because I won’t be limiting myself to what can be expected to sell as a television show, I can grant myself the license to say what I want. I no longer have to appeal to the broadest consensus which I’ve found usually results in various forms of pandering (appealing to the most usually means going the lowest). Ultimately my goal is to raise people up with the stories I tell rather than trying to satisfy genre expectations, gratify misdirected ids and violent power fantasies. The goal is to bring people together by acknowledging that we all have more in common than we think and together we have very real power. That’s going to mean exploring a lot of the stresses we all share but don’t talk about; like economics, the validity of the myths we hold dear, our ideas of what it is to be a hero and more.

Fresh start! Let’s call it…Future Proof! SMH.

Earlier this year I turned around a ten page short story in quick time to fill a last minute opening in an anthology. That story was based on an idea I had simmering for some time and eventually became, Future Proof. I’m quite happy with it and I think it’s artists responsibility to NOT rubber stamp reality but to comment on it and stake a claim for a better one. Not in the most broad and generalized uplifting platitude filled morality yarn but in stories that are critical of the ways we fall short in focused and specific ways. You can’t be so in love with the status quo and be a true artist.

Ron DonJuan and Juan DonJuan break down the ‘news’.

That brings me to my most recent short, Juan DonJuan’s Mind Control Menagerie. It’s a caustic satire of the morality at play in our leadership class as surveillance freelancers chop it up over all the ways they keep the rest of us confused, disenfranchised and distracted by juvenile and puerile movies, television, news and more (some preview panels to the right).

In writing it’s very difficult to see your own story with the same eyes as your reader. It’s what makes editors so essential to the process. This morning after completing Juan DonJuan, I read it. I can never see it completely fresh but I think it’s good because it’s challenging and emotional, funny and acidic at various turns and sometimes all at once. It made me feel something no other story did and I hope you’ll feel the same.

Juan DonJuan’s Mind Control Menagerie will be available in print later this year in RAID.3!