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Art & Narrative: If at First You Fail, Write a Column About It

If at First You Fail, Write a Column About It

If you're reading closely you will probably have noticed that much of this month's Comixpedia content is related to diary comics. It was an interesting choice, and one that appealed to me right away, being a regular reader of American Elf and The Journal Comic. At the same time, I didn't know what to say about the current trend towards autobiography and introspection in webcomics - so I tried drawing one of my own.

However, my journal comic experiment, "Drawing A Blank", lasted little more than a week and a half. On top of that, when I was recently revising content on my site I (rather conveniently) "lost" the episodes. Fortunately, the actual experience of drawing and posting them is what I want to talk about this month, because it raised some interesting questions.

If you're reading closely you will probably have noticed that much of this month's Comixpedia content is related to diary comics. It was an interesting choice, and one that appealed to me right away, being a regular reader of American Elf and The Journal Comic. At the same time, I didn't know what to say about the current trend towards autobiography and introspection in webcomics - so I tried drawing one of my own.

However, my journal comic experiment, "Drawing A Blank", lasted little more than a week and a half. On top of that, when I was recently revising content on my site I (rather conveniently) "lost" the episodes. Fortunately, the actual experience of drawing and posting them is what I want to talk about this month, because it raised some interesting questions.

To preface my little experiment, I should probably say that I have kept some kind of journal (mainly the written kind) for more than ten years now, so the idea of recording my impressions and experiences for posterity was not a new one.

What made this different, however, was that I was drawing my day, or at least the highlights of the day; more importantly, I was going to share it with anyone and everyone who had access to the Internet. There is an interesting facet of the Internet that I suspect we've all encountered at some point. Despite its ability to bring people closer together, the Internet often allows us to communicate with others nearly anonymously. We chat with and email one another, we post on one another's message boards, but we only know as much of one another as we are willing to share. The internet is a kind of safe haven where we can recreate ourselves as we would like others to perceive us.

There are, of course, those people who take advantage of this fact to misrepresent themselves, but there are also those people who pour vast portions of their private and personal lives into blogs and webcomics to share with others, with surprising honesty. One way or another, the relative anonymity and detachment that the Internet affords us makes it "safe" to pick and choose what we share... at least that's what I told myself when I started out. I made every effort to simply be honest about what was going on in my life, and whatever bits of wisdom I might have gleaned.

I noticed from the beginning, however, that I couldn't really do it. I couldn't stand back and show what happened. Time and time again, over the ten or so days I was drawing the strip, I encountered situations where I felt I might have to bend the truth, or in some cases simply leave out key portions of the day. It wasn't the feelings I wanted to cover up, nor was it my opinions on the day's events or politics.

I simply didn't want to lose my anonymity.

Each and every time a specific reference to my work came up, I found myself drawing and writing my way around it (you probably wouldn't believe what I do if I told you). If something happened during the day that related to my family I often chose to leave it out. I spent a great deal of time rationalizing why I was misrepresenting myself, but ultimately I began to realize that each time I ran into one of those difficult decisions about whether to leave something in or remove it, that I was trying not to compromise my identity.

I began to realize that I have constructed an identity for the purpose of drawing and participating in webcomics communities, and that by bringing elements of my real life into my comics I was placing that identity at risk. So I started leaving things out. I left out people and places, and tried to be as vague as possible about contexts. Soon I discovered something I hadn't expected.

Eventually, all of the elements that make for an interesting and engaging story had been clipped or cut entirely, and what was left was little more than a visual shopping list. There was no narrative. No confession. No personality. It sucked. After the week and a half, I put the experiment to rest, realizing that I would have to write my April column about why it failed instead of why diary comics are great.

And the answer to my question, the reason for my failure?

Startlingly simple: the strip wasn't about me anymore. 

Re: Art & Narrative by Bill Duncan

As "failed" experiments go, this one is quite interesting. The difficulties you had are very revealing, on many levels -- the nature of the art, the nature of the medium, the nature of the individual.

As is often the case, there is probably more to be learned from the failed experiment than there would have been from a successful one.

PictureStoryTheater.com:Fables & Fairy Tales

TwentySevenLetters.com: Experiments

Re: Art & Narrative by Bill Duncan

Score another provocative column by Bill Duncan!