The Case for Storytelling


Virtually all of us have a natural instinct for telling stories, and it comes out in day-to-day conversation. When your car breaks down and you’re telling your friends about it, you don’t simply say, “I ran out of gas this morning. But my mom picked me up, and nothing else really happened, so I’m fine.” How does that story go?

You talk about your panic when the car lurches and suddenly halts. You talk about frustration when you finally notice the gas gauge. You describe the tone of your voice when you desperately call your mom, and you imitate her voice when you talk about her response. You describe the agony of waaaaaiiiitttting for her to show up, then the mini-lecture you get when she arrives, and then you might laugh dryly at how horrible your morning was. Possibly, you throw in a “And then…” and move on to parking issues, clocking in late, forgetting breakfast, etc. Your audience nods, sighs, groans, and laughs with empathy, and they ask “What did you do?” “What did she say?” “How did you get here?”

This is storytelling at its absolute finest. An animated narrator, and an enthralled audience.

But I think storytelling as an art is severely underrated. We all use it everyday, but when we think about pursuing it professionally (as a writer, artist, musician, singer, whatever), we tend to shy away from it, thinking either 1) we aren’t worthy or 2) it’s not worth it. I saw “we” because this is still my Achilles’ Heel. Calling myself a storyteller still takes quite a bit of a conscious effort, but actually trying to BE  a storyteller… how do you even do that? How do you go about this mysterious art that we all do so effortlessly in our routine dialogue?

I usually call myself an artist/writer or writer/illustrator, trying to get all of my media into some kind of  “slashed” or hyphenated title, when “storyteller” would basically cover everything I do, and everything I’ll ever want to do. Comics. Prose. Music. It all comes from storytelling. But I personally have a really hard time treating it that way. It feels like I’m trivializing what I do by simplifying the title. But in reality, I thinking calling it “storytelling” is really opening up a much bigger and (potentially) more complex field of study. It isn’t just drawing… it’s drawing a story. It’s not just writing… it’s writing a story.

So basically I’ve figured out what I’m doing, and it’s way more complicated, but I also kind of get it now.

Incidentally, here’s a GREAT blog/journal entry about how story can improve a portfolio: PascalCampion’s DeviantART Journal

How does storytelling influence your art and work?

Inspiring Inspiration Manually

yayInspiration: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something creative.

Here’s my theory: Inspiration is the state of being when the desire to create something specific is greater than any apprehension of possible failure. Just wanting to create isn’t enough, because you can still be paralyzed by the blank canvas/page.

Inspiration is just not caring about messing up, because you really want to make that thing. So how do you harness that? How do you make inspiration appear?

For me lately, I treat inspiration as pure happenstance. Something that is great when it happens, but non-essential when it doesn’t. I treat inspiration as a luxury.

And weirdly enough, this seems to make inspiration appear. Not caring about inspiration makes it happen.

Inspiration is when you just make and not care, which means if you just don’t care, it’ll come. What.

I’ve spent a lot of time on my comic, René, trying to come to grips with it/her, and to figure out why I’m even making that world. Why bother? Why do I bother coming back to it? And no, “Because Amadeo” is not a good reason. It’s a reason. But not a good one.

Then I started asking different questions: What else would I do? What other story would I draw? Would it be any better? Would it go more smoothly?

The fact of the matter is that I tend to treat all projects the same. If I’m not super hyped to work on it, I just don’t and I’ve gotten burned so many times by that attitude. My worst fault in art is that I really want to make it, but the work/effort of making it even when I don’t feel like it… that’s what puts me off.

So I’ve been stepping back from René, and my other self-published works-in-progress. It doesn’t just take time and effort. It takes self-made inspiration, and that inspiration only comes when you work without inspiration. Is René worth that massive amount of “trying”? I think so. At least… she will be worth it when I get ‘er done.


Dear Future Me

I was recently re-reading Jason Dorsey’s My Reality Check Bounced! and thinking about what I wanted my future to look like. I started thinking of questions I had for my future self, and being the time-travelling junkie that I am, I really liked the idea of writing a letter to my future self. Enjoy!

self-01Dear Mary Claire In Five Years,

You’re 29 now, in your last year before the big THREE-OH. That’s so crazy!

Are you in your own place now, or are you sharing a house with Regina? I hope you got a snazzy studio space for all of your craziness. How’s René? I hope she kept going strong! Remember, her story is your story. If it seems boring, unpopular, hard, or confusing, that’s because it’s got a lot of reality in it. Keep her alive!

Right now, I feel like I’m on the beginning of a very good time in my life. I hope you remember 2014 with mostly fondness. I want you to be super happy, so I’m going to work hard for ya. You better appreciate it! I’ve got a lot of opportunities coming up, and I want you to remember taking those opportunities bravely and successfully.

When I’m you, I want to enjoy looking on the work of my hands, and I want the pleasure of knowing that my work helps me live. Maybe financially, maybe not. But I’m starting to realize just how much energy, joy, and satisfaction I get from knowing that I put something in this world that wasn’t there before. I want to remember that each day, and I hope in 2019, you still remember it.

I hope that Captain America, Daredevil, Aquaman, Samus, and Gordon Freeman are still around, and maybe joined by Link.

Do you feel like a Boss yet? Like you have the world in your hands? I’m starting to feel like that now… but I think it’s just the weight of the world starting to lift from my shoulders. I hope it doesn’t come crashing back down on me.

Be confident. It may seem harder, but it takes a lot less energy than being doubtful. And you’ll be happier.

Maybe this is secretly a letter from my future self. Who knows.

*Doctor Who theme song*


You, Five Years Ago

PS: You can’t change everything, and you can’t control everything.

24 Hours Without Facebook

sketches1My Facebook has apparently broken, everyone. I can’t even get to the home page. My Windows 8 Facebook app won’t even load. This has been going on since yesterday.

What has the last 24 hours been like? Well… I want to document it very clearly because if/when Facebook starts working again, I want to remember my surprise Facebook-Free Day.

I laid down the flats for 4 comics pages. I cleaned up and started inking another comic page. I read the first 3 chapters of Liar’s Club. I did character and figure studies. I outlined all of my major tasks, and started plugging them into Google Calendar. I went to class. I answered emails. I ate spaghetti and realized how brilliant pasta bowls are, and how stupid plastic containers are.

I don’t really miss Facebook at all. I like being productive, actually. I really like being busy, and knowing that my busyness is paying off.

I know Facebook is useful for promoting my work/comics, and I like seeing what my family is up to. I wouldn’t totally swear off Facebook. But in the last 24 hours, I’ve been a better artist than I have been in a week.

Heck, I even wrote a blog post.

Your Comfort Zone and You


ss1Something I used to hear a lot when I first started as an art student was “Get out of your comfort zone!” We were always told to try something new, experiment, go crazy, etc, etc. I always associated this mindset with being adventurous. If you’re exploring new territory… you’re on an adventure, right?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that these phrases and taglines can totally mess up your attitude, and I don’t think the comfort zone escapism is any different. Don’t leave comfort and familiarity behind… Expand your comfort zone.

Here’s what I used to trace draw: guys with longish hair and beards, and immeasurably dark pasts. Then I shifted to this whole weird elvish phase, then it was manga, then Western super hero comics, then some really weird American/Japanese comic hybrid monster thing, and now… Well it suddenly dawned on me that I can still draw bears, elves, manga, AND super heroes. I haven’t forgotten any of that. Especially not the beards. So my comfort zone, which was once limited to tracing off of drawing books, has now expanded to include a wide variety of styles, techniques, and subject manner.

Some people might say that their comfort zone is vampires, while others say that their comfort zone is spaceships. (“All we know is he’s called the Stig!” –Sorry for the TV quote.) But while I was thinking about how much bigger my comfort zone is now, I wondered how I would answer that question. What’s my comfort zone?

What if I convinced myself that it was something like… Stories? I’m comfortable when I’m telling a story. What. Mind blown. I can’t even imagine how BIG that comfort zone is.

And here’s the really crazy part: it doesn’t just apply to drawing, or writing. It applies to behavior. I’m a die-hard introvert. Most of my closest friends are imaginary, and my favorite past times involve socializing with fiction. And for many years, that was the limit of my comfort zone: family and imaginary friends. Anything else was a bit of a strain on my mental well-being. But over the last few years, that comfort zone has expanded: I like talking about writing, and I’m comfortable discussing it (at length) with people. Same with drawing. I’m starting to get over my deep-seated aversion to small chat with strangers, and if I’ve had coffee, I even look forward to meeting new people. I’m comfortable with a pretty decent degree of outwardness.

But I never forget the heart of my comfort zone: quiet time with fictional bearded characters.