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Diary of a Journal Comic Creator Wannabe by Damonk

Feb.15/03: The Comixpedia editors get together for an impromptu chat to discuss plans for future issues. Since I had assigned mostly journal comics to my reviewers for the month of April, I suggest that we make Journal Comics the main theme of the issue. The other editors seem to like this idea, and in a fit of zeal, I foolishly offer to write up a feature on the subject. The editors warm up to the pitch, and I find myself committed to the feature – d’oh!

Feb. 16/03: Another bad day of joblessness ensues. To feel better, I take my mind off of things by trying to plan out my feature. I realize that I should actually approach journal comics artists. I write to James Kochalka and ask for advice and suggestions.

Feb. 17/03: Kochalka responds to my letter, and not only gives a bit of decent advice, but seems genuinely happy to hear that a feature will be focusing on his pet comic passion. He starts to send me letters with the URLs of different diary comics he’s found on the web. I skim through a few, and think to myself, "Hey... *I* could do that!"

Feb. 19/03: Still jobless. I talk to my buddy Mike – the best friend who’s let me stay at his place until I can get back on my feet. I tell him how I’m *this* close to breaking down and going to a few kitchens again to get a low-paying, over-worked job. He does his best to dissuade me, saying that if I keep trying to find better work, my efforts will pay off. Somewhere in the conversation, the idea of me drawing a journal comic while researching my feature pops up (who knows how these things happen?). Since I hadn’t been really drawing at all in the last three months, the idea seems appealing.

Feb. 20/03: Mike and I talk more about how I’m desperate enough to go work in the kitchens again – I mean, at least I’d have access to food, right? The phone rings in the middle of this convo, and it’s a call telling me that I have a temp job as a HTML coder if I want it. Feeling incredibly blissful, I ride this sudden rush of energy and decide to start drawing a journal comic, too. All I have is a sketchbook, pencil and an eraser, but no ruler or pens. I don’t really know how to go about it yet, as I’ve only read a few diary comics so far. I decide to draw four separate ideas, which come out a little clumsily. Still, it’s a start.

Feb. 21/03: After having drawn that first comic, and then unintentionally spending the entire night up writing an editorial piece, I wake up at about noonish, and the first thing I do is draw my journal comic for the day. I feel really stoked about this desire to draw, and the day’s strip comes out effortlessly. Journal comics seem like a piece of cake.

Feb. 22/03: The entire day goes by, and I feel like nothing exciting has happened. All I really did today was work on the Comixpedia, and stress about the coming job. I have no idea what to draw about, until around 1am, while watching Saturday Night Live. A commercial comes on the air that made me laugh my head off, but then got me thinking. I decide to draw my response for the journal comic. After the first three panels, I feel the pressure to try to make it end with some sort of punchline. The result? Mildly amusing, but definitely forced. My first comic was weak, and the second one was inspired, and this one seemed a bit stretched. Maybe I was a little too quick in thinking this easy?

Feb. 23/03: Another full day with little happening aside from me working on Comixpedia stuff and looking for other job opportunities. By 8pm, I decide to draw something more based on yesterday’s stressing about the job. I figure that’s okay, since I’m feeling the stress today, too, even if the thoughts themselves really occurred the day before. I only draw the first two panels before going to bed, though.

Feb. 24/03: The day is spent mostly with me worrying about tomorrow’s first day of temp work. I don’t pick up or even THINK about the sketchbook at all until late at night, and by then, I feel way too tired to draw... and I have to get up early in the morning.

Feb. 25/03: Work goes by quickly and effortlessly. At night, I decide to force myself to catch up with the comic again. The Feb.23 strip ends up becoming my first cop-out strip – I couldn’t think of any punchline, so I just ended it with a lame put-off. The Feb. 24 strip is a little better, by comparison, but while the first three panels are pretty “natural”, the last one is a bit forced again, due to my weird compulsion to have a “funny punchline”. I feel guilty about doing that, though, and promise myself to be truer to myself in the future.

Feb. 26/03: My first “true” comic, the Feb.25 strip, drawn a day after the thoughts and feelings themselves. It’s simple, and it’s not trying to be deep or funny or smart. It’s just expressing how I felt that day. Still, I don’t feel I’ve managed to convey the emotion convincingly enough. Am I just not cut out for journal comics? And why the Hell did I draw my wife made out of fruit???

Feb. 27/03: Still trying to be more “real”, I play catch-up by drawing yesterday’s and the first half of today’s strip. I like the Feb. 26 strip, because there is no narration and very few words. I *really* like the first two panels of today’s strip – the art is not bad, for something that is drawn with no first draft or erasing, and it is very accurate to the moment and the feeling of the moment of the day. To draw the hands in the second panel properly, I recruit a half-used roll of TP as model for the sauce cans.

Feb. 28/03: Gah. I find myself not in the mood to draw AT all today. So I don’t. How do some of the established diary strippers manage to update daily?

Mar. 1/03: Today is super catch-up day. I finish up the supermarket comic, and then struggle with trying to come up for ideas for the remaining two. What have I been doing but work lately, anyhow? The Feb.28 and March 1 comics come to me after having worked on the ‘Pedia all afternoon. I realize that I hadn’t *drawn* any actual work strips since I'd started this experiment, and both comics seemed a perfect way to convey EXACTLY what I’d been doing all week and on my day off. I feel a little uncomfortable drawing these, as I am essentially confessing to the world that right now, separated from my wife and stranded in Ottawa in temp job Hell, I am living a very unexciting life. Plus, I'm not even trying to be funny anymore, and that makes me feel a little weird.

Mar. 2/03: I feel really writer’s blocked today. Nothing seems to be coming to me as inspiration – even my Comixpedia work is lagging behind. Then, “it” hits me. So I draw about “it”.

Mar. 3/03: I get a call from my mom, telling me that my great aunt Barney has died. I start to draw this, planning out a week's worth of Barney stories. I go into great detail in my head, with drafts and revisions flying about. Then I realize what I am doing, and stop myself: I’m trying to forget the impact and the pain through losing myself in drawing. So instead, I leave the last two panels empty, to better emote the truth of how I’m feeling. It’s not interesting as the stories I could have spun, but it’s how I feel. It looks like another cop-out strip, but I don’t care. To me, at least, it feels real.

Mar. 4/03: I don’t even TRY to think about drawing, and instead just work and come home and sleep.

Mar. 5/03: I don’t feel inspired or particularly interested, but I decide that I have to force myself to keep drawing. I convince myself that the drawing journal comics is meant to be some sort of catharsis, some sort of release or relief. I decide to not try and make something up for yesterday, which results in the first actual skipped day. The March 5 comic, though, is my first time just being honest about having a crappy day, as dictated by my surroundings. The evil animorphic vacuum is just a bonus.

Mar.6/03: Skipped again, though I know what I want to draw – something cool/weird I saw today while coming back home from work.

Mar. 7/03: Whoa. I had a really freaky dream, and figured that it was easily the most potent part of the day, so I draw the March 6 and the March 7 comics quickly, and am kinda satisfied with the results. Nothing special, but still interesting moments depicted. At first, I feel like I'm cheating my readers by drawing two straight days of single-panel comics. Then I remind myself that I shouldn't be thinking about them, since this is supposed to be about ME. Besides, who said that life or panel counts need be consistent or uniform?

Mar. 8/03: Once again, the day passes by comicless, with me procrastinating until too late, and by the time I'm ‘inspired’ I am a little too “out of it” to draw.

Mar. 9/03: I wake up fairly early, and draw out the March 8 comic, which should offer a few hints as to my “out-of-it-ed-ness” of the time. The comic comes out nicely, this time with a bit of narrative, but with some nice images to compliment the words. I particularly like the final panel, with the jagged split between the two halves. I feel really guilty at not being able to draw my wife exactly as she looks like, though, and vow to draw her at every opportunity when I see her again.

In the afternoon, I draw what I feel is my best journal comic to date, and what I know is certainly my favorite. The March 9 comic is a perfect rendition of a sudden weird little moment, something I’m sure that many people out there can understand, if not completely identify with. I mean, who *hasn’t* felt like that at least once in their lives?

Mar. 10/03: I miss the day again, though I get my idea for a comic.

Mar. 11/03: With only a few days left before my current temp job ends, I realize that it’s time to start stepping up the search for more work, and thus I decide to draw one last journal comic. This time, I let it reflect the March 10 moment because I feel that it REALLY seems a part of me, even if it’s incredibly cheesy.

After finishing the final comic, I reread the entire three weeks’ worth of material, and come to the following conclusions:

  • If I can draw a journal comic, then obviously anyone can.
     
  • Drawing a journal comic really makes you feel self-conscious, no matter how hard you try to not want to think, "how will people react when they see what I just did?", or "Am I going to freak people out here?"
     
  • Even though having the raw inspiration at your fingertips (i.e., your LIFE) makes it a tad easier to find material for your comics, drawing these things each day requires discipline. It's easy to miss a day or two, especially if one of these days seems to pass by 'uneventfully'. I had to keep reminding myself that I'm not trying to impress others with depictions of an interesting life, but rather trying to accurately depict/emote days as they come by, Wild and Exciting(tm) or no.
     
  • Very rarely was I satisfied with what I drew, either in terms of art or in terms of content. But now that I read them all after the fact, I am glad that I never redrew any of them – they may not be gems, but they don’t feel fake. They’re definitely a good reflection of three weeks of my life.
     
  • There are many approaches to drawing a journal comic, each with their strengths and weaknesses. I tried everything from loads of narration to silent panels, from having four one-panel summaries per strip to having a single moment be expressed in four panels. In the end, it seemed that it always came down to the specific moment practically dictating how the comic should be rendered. In that sense, I feel that journal comics are really flexible and elastic, able to adapt art- and writing-wise to any life moment – kinda like silly putty of the imagination.
     
  • It was LOADS of fun, and I’ll probably do it again.