Thursday, November 4

3951 words in, with the late October cheating. Approximately. Which leaves me at about half of what I ought to be at.

My fallback position for not knowing how to write about anything is writing about how hard it is to write. It's way too early in the month for that one, I suppose, but then again if I'm going to break it out at all I might as well just get it out of the way now.

Not very long ago, I was an undergraduate in History with a drinking team and a frisbee habit.1 It couldn't exactly have been a very demanding program, given that I got all the requirements in a couple of years and graduated with decent grades. What I recall though is that I used to routinely grind out these little 5 and 10 page papers in a night of furious and sometimes mildly intoxicated typing. They weren't exactly good — you don't have to read very many undergraduate papers to know that the only reason I got respectable grades for this crap is that the vast majority of 18-to-24-year-olds at your average state research institution are one tiny notch above functionally illiterate — but still and all, I'm pretty sure I've lost some kind of edge since then.

Maybe it's just that if I don't manage to meet my arbitrary wordcount goal for the night, nobody at all is going to be looking extremely disappointed while I bullshit excuses and ask for extensions. Maybe I just need more quiet judgment and tacit condemnation in my life.

Apropos of the other night's muddled ranting about Halloween costumes, I got to work this morning and Eric pointed me at a new interview with Berkeley Breathed, the man responsible for Bloom County. Here is the bit about deadlines:

RUSSELL: You've talked at length about your deadline insanity in "Bloom County"'s early days -- epic all-nighters, finishing comics on the plane ride over to the syndicate, etc. Did a passenger sitting next to you on a plane ever freak out to see you speed-drawing in the air?

BREATHED: They were understandably intrigued, and often peppered me with questions while I tried to work. Not so interestingly, it was usually "What's it like to be a cartoonist?" An impossible question to answer -- even while one isn't on deadline trying to ink on a piece of 28-inch-wide paper balanced on a 14-inch-wide airline table while going through thunderstorms over St. Louis. I remember answering it with, "Well, what's it like to be a nose picker?" It made no sense, but that was the point, and they'd usually go quiet until Washington. The good ol' days.

Breathed goes on to say that he got better at this with time ("After 20 years, it simply became too embarrassing to seem that much of a juvenile dolt about deadlines."), but I've got this sense that a general air of temporal madness and sleepless terror must be a huge chunk of the syndicated/daily cartoonist lifestyle for anyone who doesn't approach the thing with machine-like dedication. Then again, maybe everyone who can't ramp up to machine-like dedication washes out of the thing early.2

Comics, mostly in the form of newspaper strips3 and collections of same, are kind of important to me. If I were writing some kind of intellectual autobiography, I might start with Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, or Peanuts.

 

Interlude: I walk to the Southern Sun with Paul for $1 tacos and a couple of beers. This is what passes for a bar special in Boulder. And actually it is one of the better ones. They're pretty good tacos for a buck, though I can't help thinking about those 25 cent tacos at Knickerbockers in Lincoln, the ones where you'd get 7 or 8 with the "hot" sauce and a couple with the "mofo" (from the much smaller jar) to kind of round things out, and you'd drink pitcher after pitcher of Old Style or Pabst while arguing about the geographic location of Wyoming or the merits of the rumored upcoming indoor smoking ban.

 

More about the funnies later.

 

1 Badum-tish.

2 These days, when almost all of the interesting new short-form comics are on the web and the funny pages have pretty well ossified into a collection of insipid postage-stamp ciphers and inertial remnants of all those franchises that didn't have the good fortune to die with their creators, we get exposed to a lot of artists who can't stand up to the kind of time pressure that the papers have always exerted. A lot of them produce really beautiful work. Our lingering collective understanding of cartooning as a deadline-driven business is probably a good part of the reason why a lot of them also produce reams of textual excuses for not working faster. To which I say: People, relax already.

3 And one-panel cartoons like The Far Side. Here I am going to acknowledge that there's supposed to be a distinction between comics (sequential, etc.) and one-panel cartoons. I've read Scott McCloud too. Smart guy. Now that we've got that out of the way, I'm going to ignore it because I don't have any theoretical axes to grind and either way I'm talking about little pictures with words.