Here’s something special, not because it’s much of a drawing but because it’s a first for me: a sketch from life on the subway in New York. The surreptitious sketch is something I liked to do when living around D.C. years ago, especially when I had to go somewhere by Metro. But though I still always have a little blank-page book in my back pocket, it’s taken two years in NYC to finally break it out and let go on the train here.
Been watching comic art demos on YouTube again lately, and it’s led, as it evidently must, to another late-night superhero drawing. In this instance I wanted to draw a little something without being quite as careless about it as I’ve tended to be with these things, and started leafing through my ancient (though only purchased last year) copy of the famous How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Stopped at this page; I’ve had occasion to re-watch Captain America 1 & 2 recently. Told myself it would just be a head and shoulders, but drew the whole figure. Fit on the page suggests that I knew better where this was headed in the back of my mind than in the fore. At any rate, it seems like Cap came out of it alright, on the whole. If he’s embarrassed to be outfitted satisfactorily neither in the classic nor the contemporary manner, he doesn’t show it. Standing tall — it’s what we require of him, I guess.
I’m no longer working on houses for a living. It was never much of a living, in my case, but for a long time, the greater part of my adult life so far, it was what I did and what I wanted to keep on doing. The trouble, always, or a considerable part of the trouble at least, was that I wanted to do it ‘different’ — and, crucially, didn’t really understand the conditions for doing so. I’ve made some real gains in understanding the conditions, yes, but not in time to sort out along the way how to make effective changes in my approach to the business. And now I’m out of the business. The last slender tie I had to it was a part-time job I held for six months in the kitchen design department at a Home Depot here in Flushing, Queens. I left it in April.
Left it, that is, because it looked like my other work, my self-employed work, was picking up enough steam that I could be done with the second job, and because the sort of employment a Home Depot can offer a person these days — though I’m grateful to have had it when I needed it and grateful for its peculiar part in my getting to know New York — is one a person can only hope to trade up from, one way or another.
It bears mentioning in this space that one of the things that helped me through a difficult period of months in the latter half of last year, here in NYC, was comic books. Not reading them particularly; I wasn’t doing a lot of that, any more than I ever am. But the persistent, never very reasonable late-adolescent idea that, hey, if I wanted to, I could always succeed at drawing superheroes stuck with me when other old mental tricks for keeping up hope were distant.
As an oblique indicator of the character of shift under way in my life in the past year or so, let me describe a weird coincidence in my life with books. My life with books is nothing remarkable overall, it needs to be said. But lately there are a few particulars worth remarking on. A good part of this has to do with moving to New York and the connections that brought me to it — as this post not quite a year old will suffice to suggest — and a good part has to do with the direction my work has gone since the move. Those are related things, or things that make sense taken together anyway, and deserve (and may yet get, who can tell?) more treatment in this space.
I’m lounging alone on the screened-in back porch at S.’s dad’s place a few hours outside New York on a Sunday morning, browsing books, smoking an early pipe and on my third cup of coffee. (No one else is up yet.) The house — a 1950s ranch-style out-of-town place now long his and his wife’s home base, where S. spent a good deal of her teens and twenties — is packed with books. All the rooms — bathrooms, basement rooms, hallways included — have full bookshelves. It’s a writer’s haven. I have a bio of Hannah Arendt pulled from the guest room and a Penguin Graham Greene, from a stack of Penguin Graham Greenes in the basement, in front of me on the coffee table I’m propping my feet on.
Darrell Reimer, my internet friend of a decade or so (and one person of a very, very few whom I can pretty much count on to check in here, so that this infrequent writing sometimes feels sort of like a series of letters), remarks in his last on the evocative power of what in the first Star Wars film was a fleeting scene rich — characteristically, for Lucas — in perfected detail. The image that flashes by on screen is a mounted gun that must have been modeled on the Germans’ extraordinarily versatile, much feared and admired ‘88’. These days, I can’t note such a thing without thoughts turning to the infatuation with military machines that I grew up with — that the guys who created the look of Star Wars undoubtedly grew up with — and from there to the War, our great war, as lens on history and tradition in the ‘worldview’ I inherited. I think about this a lot. It’s behind a good deal of my half-serious ruminating on the American comic-book superhero, certainly.
Over the weekend I took a look at a recent interview with Tonči Zonjić, a youngish artist working on, among other things, one of the Mignola titles these days. This bit toward the end, in a longer reply to a question in which the interviewer (also a working comics artist, I gather) expresses preference for ‘comics that are about something more than just light entertainment,’ caught my attention:
I mentioned that it feels like there’s a gap in the middle of comics — simple, ‘normal’ stories, drawn realistically. Outside of Jaime Hernandez’s Love & Rockets stories, or things like R. Kikuo Johnson’s Night Fisher, there aren’t many of them. Probably because it takes a lot of effort and skill to create somewhat less noticable comics. And they’re not really all that simple in the end. But I often wonder why people don’t aim for that. Whenever anyone does it well, like Glyn Dillon did recently, everybody goes nuts! That would be an interesting field to explore.
It’s been kind of tough for me in New York since coming here in December, a rough introduction (owing in part, but only in part, to unrelenting ‘polar vortex’ winter) to living and working in this city of cities. And I don’t love it here to begin with; didn’t come here in pursuit of any New York dream; have a hard time, really, understanding why so many see this ‘here’ as a destination of choice. My failure to be attracted to the great metropolis is something I guess I’ll have more to say about in time. At the moment, though, I’ve got to share a sort of ‘New York, new normal’ incident that I’d have to be a pretty hard case not to get a kick out of or feel some gratitude for, three months in.
Writing this from the New York subway — leaning against one of those ugly painted steel columns on the boarding platform at the moment. In a few minutes I’ll be getting on the G to return from my new employer’s office in Brooklyn to the room I’m renting in Queens, which takes an hour, give or take, depending on how you do it and whether the trains are on schedule.