The picture below is an original page from a 2000 AD comic, and it hangs in the hallway behind my front door. It’s the last thing I see before I leave the house, and it’s a reminder that things don’t always have to be perfect. There isn’t a single panel on the page that doesn’t have white-out on it somewhere, correcting a line or covering something that shouldn’t be there.
That professional artists dealt with mistakes by sticking ‘patches’ over things or using white-out, was a lesson I learned far too late in life. It took a visit to the Cartoon Museum in London in my mid-twenties to make me realise that what may seem perfect in print, may be anything but in real life.
My Life As A Comic-Strip Artist
After dropping out of university aged eighteen, I decided I wanted to become a comic-strip artist (as opposed to a comic strip-artist, which is something very different). Comic-strips – and by comic-strips I mean like Andy Capp or Garfield – appealed to me because I would only ever have to draw three or four characters, I didn’t need to draw much in the way of backgrounds, and I would get to make people laugh.
I spent a good year in between dole appointments drawing every single day, to the point where, I kid you not, I could actually draw hands.
Here are three examples of my comic-strip art (the caption, in case you’re wondering, was ‘Now What? In the final frame):
Positives and Negatives
Let’s focus on the positives to start with. The first image was done with Indian ink and a brush – I dread to think what kind of a mess I would make if I tried that today. I remember the concentration required being something fierce! The second and third images were done using Berol Italic pens of varying thicknesses. Angling the pen in different ways like I was doing calligraphy allowed me to get the different stroke thicknesses. Overall, they all look pretty ‘comic-y’, if a little unfinished.
Now to the negatives; it’s the same freaking joke (and not a great one at that)! I didn’t just redraw THIS strip three times, I drew an entire books worth of comic-strips only to decide they weren’t ‘perfect’ and I needed to do them ALL again. And then I did the same thing AGAIN. And you know what, they STILL weren’t perfect.
Side Note: I did eventually send sample packs off to publishers and agents, built an early website, and even got a teeny mention in a regional magazine, but I was characteristically bored by then! This was in the early days of the internet, so webcomics weren’t a big thing, and outlets were limited.
Was It Worth Doing?
If I look at it from the ‘did I enjoy doing it?’ angle, then it’s a non-issue. I taught myself how to draw, learned about layouts and character development, and I really did enjoy doing it. If I look at it from the ‘was it worth the time I spent on it?’ angle, that’s when it becomes a much harder question.
I was never going to set the world on fire as a comic-strip artist, but that doesn’t mean it was a worthless endeavour. What I should have done, however, is take the skills I had developed, started something new, finished it, then repeated the process. That way the ideas would have been fresh, I would have a greater body of completed work, and who knows, I might just have ‘made’ it.
As it was, I strived for something that was impossible – perfection. I would sometimes abandon a strip because I made a mistake in the final panel, or a finger wasn’t right. Call it ignorance or ego, but the thought of sticking a patch over my MISTAKE never really entered my head. I could have used that time to learn shading techniques, painting, any number of other additional skills to improve my craft, but no, I was the ‘do-over’ king.
Taking a Step Back
Before you become overwhelmed with frustration next time one of your projects doesn’t seem to be going perfectly, just take a step back and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you enjoying what you’re doing?
- Are you learning from it?
- Is this version better than the last?
I should note that striving for perfection is absolutely fine. Dwelling on IMperfection, however, will leave you stuck in a loop of drawing the same thing over and over again. You will never grow, you will never develop, and perfection will always be just slightly out of reach.
Finished is better than perfect, trust me.