why won't you stop??

(Originally published July 13, 2017)

If 200 CritelliComedyComix led to a piece about creative productivity, 300 Comix was meant to be the finale.

That's what I told people leading up to #300 -- Wednesday -- yet #301 is set for tomorrow and I still don’t plan on stopping.

"Why not?" you ask. "WHY WON'T YOU STOP??"

Well...

 "The Artists' Lie" - 3/10/17

"The Artists' Lie" - 3/10/17

#1 - VOLUME AND MEMORY

Life moves faster the longer you live. Going from 30 to 31 doesn't weigh the same as turning 4 -- to you or to your parents -- and that same principle goes for anything measurable by volume.

Harper Lee published one book, To Kill A Mockingbird, in her lifetime (and Go Set A Watchman posthumously, a never-intended-to-be-published rough draft of... To Kill A Mockingbird). That single, solitary, perfect book and its overwhelming popularity muscled out any other potential creative expression for the rest of Lee's life.

Meanwhile, Stephen King has 56 novels and counting, and unlike most other writers on airport bookshelves, he's not a total hack. But I would guess Stephen King today couldn't remember all the side plots of It or tell you the full names of all the characters in Christine (originally published April 1983)...

 

...even though he spent months writing those details some 35 years ago. A featured Amazon reviewer places it in his Top 10 all time, even though it would be a blur to its prolific author of 55 other novels, not to mention short stories, works of Non-Fiction, etc.

How could it be anything else? When that much volume fills the space between past and present, memories distort accordingly.

 "Power Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry" - 1/25/17

"Power Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry" - 1/25/17

Whenever someone tells me their favorite "Comix" strip I pause, because after 300 of them they're each only vaguely familiar. The more you produce, the less any individual thing matters... to you. Not necessarily to others.

When I was 17, the song that inspired me to learn guitar was "Medellia of the Gray Skies" by the Smashing Pumpkins, a B-side on a rare box set I heard about through Napster. Not only did I learn guitar, I wrote and recorded all my music on the same guitar I used to figure out how to play that specific song. 

A week ago I saw a Spin article called "Every Smashing Pumpkins Song, Ranked." It turns out there were 318 total Smashing Pumpkins songs as of 2015 -- Billy Corgan was Stephen-King-level-prolific -- of which "Medellia of the Gray Skies" was ranked #220. It doesn't even have a write-up next to its name, which is spelled wrong in the article ("Medellia of the Graay Skies"). Someone in the comments section points this error out, but it's not important enough for Spin to fix it. 

That's the song that inspired me to play guitar. It probably is their 220th best song, and I don't know why it had that effect on me personally, but it did.

#2 - TIME

The art you make marks the time in which you make it, and solves for some of those volume-induced memory gaps. The period between #200 and #300 had some huge ups and downs, the high note being my wedding to Jill Mamey…

 "This Past Week" - 3/17/17 (the night of our wedding rehearsal dinner)

"This Past Week" - 3/17/17 (the night of our wedding rehearsal dinner)

…which took place barely a month after the passing of a dear family member and friend, Kevin Speier, who loosely inspired this first comic and directly inspired the second...

 "It Was A Sprained Ankle!!" - 2/13/17

"It Was A Sprained Ankle!!" - 2/13/17

 "One For Kevin" - 2/15/17

"One For Kevin" - 2/15/17

...I crafted that one just hours after I heard the news. In the days and weeks that followed, I heard from many who knew Kevin that they appreciated those words. Without my Comix, I would never have stated them publicly.

For that alone, this is worth doing. That's why art exists.

 "All Nothing" - 5/10/17

"All Nothing" - 5/10/17

(Good art, I mean.)

#3 - BOREDOM

Don't kid yourself: drawing three "Comix" a week, every week, is monotonous. But that's good. Open-ended, infinite-term commitments are useful for impatient types like me. If you force yourself to stick to something, you will get tired of it. Then, unless you're a real masochist, you will make it better. You have to. You can't help but get better, because what's the alternative?

 "The Worst Thing" - 6/5/17

"The Worst Thing" - 6/5/17

With numbing repetition, things change. You get more ambitious because you've already put down the first ideas that came into your head, so new ideas crowd in. Why else would I attempt such two-panels topics as the pitfalls of democracy...

 "Voting!! (It's All We Got)" - 5/17/17

"Voting!! (It's All We Got)" - 5/17/17

…the allure of cults…

 "Simple" - 5/3/17

"Simple" - 5/3/17

…conformity…

 "Snowflakes: Just Like Us" - 12/9/16

"Snowflakes: Just Like Us" - 12/9/16

…depression…

 "Feel Better" - 11/30/16

"Feel Better" - 11/30/16

…men’s haircuts…

 "Guy At A Hair Salon, Part II" - 3/6/17

"Guy At A Hair Salon, Part II" - 3/6/17

…and the MEANING OF LIFE…

 "What Is The Meaning Of This?!" - 6/28/17

"What Is The Meaning Of This?!" - 6/28/17

 "Drake's Clarification" - 6/19/17

"Drake's Clarification" - 6/19/17

 "Why Else Are You Here?" - 4/5/17

"Why Else Are You Here?" - 4/5/17

The “meaning of life” theme became especially prevalent when the finish line (#300) was in sight, but massive topics are my stock in trade. Almost half my Comix are about human stupidity, not the everyday foibles that dominate newspaper strips but the supremely large illusions that, left unchecked, destroy lives:

 "Welcome To The Dream Factory" - 6/21/17

"Welcome To The Dream Factory" - 6/21/17

 "Good Choice, Kid!!" - 6/23/17

"Good Choice, Kid!!" - 6/23/17

#4 - INNOVATION

There are too many comics made for the web -- not including those that start in print and end up on the web -- already.

Of those I follow personally, @nathanwpyle is charming...

 @nathanwpyle

@nathanwpyle

...@safelyendangered is hilarious...

 @safelyendangered

@safelyendangered

...@theawkwardyeti is a brilliant concept executed without profanity...

 @theawkwardyeti

@theawkwardyeti

...@fowllanguagecomics is a brilliant concept about parenting with lots of profanity...

 @fowllanguagecomics

@fowllanguagecomics

...@catanacomics documents a young couple unironically in love...

 @catanacomics

@catanacomics

...and @adamtots has a style that seems to be everywhere, all the time.

 @adamtots

@adamtots

My Comix "artwork" is less pretty than those I admire, and also 80% of comics produced anywhere. On the far opposite end, there are comics designed to be aggressively horrible to look at, as is their aim, and they achieve those goals with efficiency, leaving me somewhere in the middle-bottom as first impressions go.

If you start from nothing as I did -- no experience of any kind -- you must reckon with the fact that you're competing with a mass of people who have more experience, and will always have more experience, unless they retire. 

So don't play that game. Don't compete on those terms. Do something else.

For example, I find the prevailing attitudes of the day, the ones that reliably get clicks and LIKES, shallow and blatantly contradictory. A good source of inspiration is to see whose opinions are well-entrenched and try to piss those people off:

 "Let's Come Up With New Words" - 1/4/17

"Let's Come Up With New Words" - 1/4/17

 "Silly Willy In... 'He Doth Protest Too Much'" - 4/24/17

"Silly Willy In... 'He Doth Protest Too Much'" - 4/24/17

Months before the 2016 Election, which Hillary Clinton was supposed to win in a landslide, I made this:

 "Unfortunately, There's This" - 7/27/16

"Unfortunately, There's This" - 7/27/16

And 'lest you think I'm a Trump fan, I also made this:

 "The Pettiest Man" - 7/5/17

"The Pettiest Man" - 7/5/17

Any inspiration that produces more Comix gives me a leg up thanks to the concept of "The Adjacent Possible." From Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson, innovation can't make great leaps out of nowhere but from a given realm of nearby possibilities. Therefore further you go, the more you see. Two easy examples…

EXHIBIT A: My other Instagram obsession is photographing our dog Daisy. People tell me I should do more strips focused on Daisy, a la Peanuts, and I have made occasional attempts:

 "His Better Half" - 1/13/17

"His Better Half" - 1/13/17

But I needed something more. Then on our Honeymoon, I found a pocket children's book about a dog named Finse...

...which I bought to learn how to draw dogs from every angle...

 "Speak, Roll Over" - 6/26/17

"Speak, Roll Over" - 6/26/17

...by ripping off that book's illustrations shot for shot:

EXHIBIT B: While visiting my parents in mid-June, I performed standup comedy one night in New York after many years off. During my days, I browsed my childhood bedroom bookshelf and reread Shel Silverstein’s ABZ Book, a twisted early "not for children children's book" from the acclaimed artist and poet behind The Giving Tree and Where The Sidewalk Ends

A thought arose. What if I wrote out my standup like free-verse poetry, illustrating and formatting it like my Comix? That combination (standup comedy; illustration; poetry) would be truly unique, and set me apart from an impossibly competitive field that just does just one or two of those things very, very well.

On a Sunday less than two weeks later, I banged out two prototypes…

 

The response? Good enough!

More “Sunday Stripz” to come!! And, finally...

#5 - MOMENTUM

 "Starving Artists Of The Renaissance" - 1/9/17

"Starving Artists Of The Renaissance" - 1/9/17

We aren't meant to do everything at once. Our brains are designed to keep fresh only that which is useful in the present. When you stop doing things for too long, they tend to end permanently whether you like it or not. Who you are becomes who you were.

 "There You Are" - 5/22/17

"There You Are" - 5/22/17

I wrote almost all my old stories in the two years before I turned 25. Beings Worthy of Respect was a massive weekly writing/directing/editing commitment that lasted half a year and then never again. Micklem’s Hardware was a music/video project that began as full album and four episodes filmed in a one day marathon, with future installments that never came to be. My music poured out of me when I practiced guitar and piano daily. Now I don't, and it doesn't.

So I could stop drawing Comix, but why? The ideas keep coming, just as they have from the start. Each takes two hours at most to draw or edit, as little as 30 minutes if I’m in a pinch. If nothing's stopping me except the number 300, well, why stop now??

 "Old Cherokee Proverb" - 3/27/17

"Old Cherokee Proverb" - 3/27/17

(Plus, wait'll you see the pretentious essay I cook up when #400 rolls around. You're gonna love it.)