How does make comics when depressed?

depressionI’ve not done much personal blogging for a while. I’ve also not talked much publicly about my depression and anxiety. Those things are linked, for sure, but I’m not exactly sure how. A while back, welljesuschrist, September 2013 in fact, I published the last of my quick and scuzzy webcomic, Suddenly Something Really Interesting, where I’d gotten to the end of therapy for my anxiety, and the utterly non-climatic or euphoric or epiphanic realisation that underlying all my anxiety was a deep depressive state I’d had since I was a kid.

Even my counsellor seemed disheartened that it ended that way – she didn’t get that sense of satisfaction that we’d “broken through” together. Just a kind of sullen resignation between the two of us that, you know, we’d tackled some stuff, and that, well, this realisation was at least that.

A realisation. Something tangible to potentially work on.

It didn’t really work out that way

Well of course it didn’t. Depression doesn’t work like that. You don’t go, okay, now I realise that depression is the underlying problem, I can solve it. You go, shit. Fuck. Depression, that’s a problem. Then you get depressed, and there’s no way you can summon up the energy needed to work on it.

Or anything else.

Since then, I’ve worked on a number of comic projects, and a couple of other bits and pieces. Thing is though, I don’t think I can comic well when I’m depressed. I mean, sure, I can summon up the energy to draw, because I love it. Occasionally I get fortnight-long periods where I’m writing constantly. Rarely, I’ll feel like I’m ready and willing to take on the world and somehow emerge as an actual professional.

But then the shit-storm hits.

Then the black dog wraps its tail around your neck, swivels its dull eyes at you and rudely salivates drool on your shoulder from its gaping maw, and you can’t even find the energy to turn around and look at it. You know it’s there, but you’re too paralysed to acknowledge it properly, let alone tell it to leave.

When that hits, you’re fucked. I’ve missed the chance to work with at least two writers who’ve since hit big in comics because I was in the middle of a long, slow breakdown. I’ve stretched the length of time a project that should have taken from, say, three months, to over a year because I blinked, freaked, gave up, and went back to full time office work because I couldn’t realistically see how I could make it as a freelancer any more.

I’ve gone to cons, at the very nadir of the depression, and left thinking that I never wanted to make a comic again because it was pointless and no one even wanted to look at my work let alone buy it and what was wrong with me that I made such weird comics anyway instead of stuff that people would actually buy and anyway why do I even want to be involved in this world of comics when it’s all a big sham and a fraud even though I feel like the fraud and the interloper who’s been working for seven years to try and convince people that I’m a comic creator when I’m actually just shit and everyone knows it…

Because depression and anxiety are intrinsically linked for me, and many others.

And then the utter, soul-crushing energy-sapping breakdown that comes afterwards, where you have to try and pick up the pieces and change your life while feeling completely embarrassed with yourself and disconnected from the world. And then the anxiety that comes from the realisation of that. And then, and then, and then. An endless cycle of dragging yourself from a low energy state to be catapulted into a high energy state only to crash back into a low energy state, and so on.

Call to Action

Here’s the bit in a blog post where you should put some kind of call to action, if you’re trying to sell a product or service. Here’s the bit in this blog post where I tell you that there is no getting out of this cycle, and all you can do is use what little energy you have when it arrives.

What I’ve done is recognise that, in many ways, I have to start from scratch. There’s a couple of projects I need to finish freelance-wise, and then I have to concentrate on my own stuff. For me to feel any kind of sense of completion or satisfaction in creativity, I have to finish something that’s solely mine.

I embarked on Gonzo Cosmic a while back, and though I’m still in love with the idea behind it, it’s a long, arduous project with no sense of finality and a lot of hubris to overcome. So while it’s still on the go, I need something more satisfying.

That’s why most of my attention is focused on the Dundee Uni Masters course I enrolled on. I need to give myself the ability to focus on learning about and researching comics for the sake of it for a while. I enjoy it, I’m good at it, and it could give me potential career avenues when I complete it, that would complement the creative work I do. I love the medium of comics, and exploring history, sociology, form, all of that, is exciting and is giving me the buzz back.

And, I’m also focused on making AION. It still comes with hubris (I’m calling it my “queer Flex Mentallo”, go figure why anxious and depressed people like to paint these kinds of targets on our heads), but it’s a complete thing, almost entirely written in my head, pages started. It’s a semi-autobiographical work with elements of superheroes, sci-fi and Burroughs-esque fiction in there. I mean, I never really make it easy on myself, but I have to make the work that excites me, the kind of work I’d read.

I’m also exorcising some pretty big demons throughout AION too. I hope that helps me to feel at least a little better about myself. And you know what? In some ways, I’m looking forward to having it completed and putting it out into the world.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned over the last year or so has been that I need to learn to create without lust for result. AION is mine, and if I put the work in and everyone thinks it sucks, fair enough – but I can’t argue with the fact that it’s exactly what I want to make. And I’m not beholden to anyone, anyone I can let down on deadlines, or fuck up with in some other way. I just have to please me, and right now, that feels like the best I can do.

I’m also writing a novel, which has some very minor elements of autobiography in’t. It’s another thing I think I need to get out in the open – it’s bleak, unremittingly bleak. New Bleak, in fact. It comes from reading ‘Ghosts of my Life’, ‘Conspiracy against the Human Race’, ‘Cyclonopedia’, the ‘Southern Reach Trilogy’ and other stuff that I absorbed over the last year. It’s also my take on queer zombie horror, completely nihilistic, as the zombie genre really should be.

I get moments where I sit and wonder what’s wrong with me that I’m writing something so bleak.

Then I get other moments – mad, raving moments – where I realise that the bleakness is unmitigating anger at the world.

So, that should be fun, for you to read, I mean.

And finally, I’m sitting with this post open, completed, re-reading it and staring at it, wondering what egotistical drive makes me want to write this, thinks I should write it, that I have anything worthwhile to say, that it’s just me feeling sorry for myself, or trying to publicly make excuses, or self-flagellate, or

That’s what it feels like, all the time. In everything I do. Who am I? I’m not good enough to do this. I’m not worthwhile enough to do this. I’m nobody. And so I suppose writing this, and making work, and sharing work, even though it comes with fear, is about trying to prove that I’m not nobody. To try and silence the voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough. So whatever, here it is, and that’s that.

Feel free to hit me up with your thoughts in the comments box below.

aion-page-one-flats

 

 

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Musical Stuffs

All seeing eyeSo in my ongoing quest to stave off boredom and continually do new things, I’ve got back into making music again. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything but I grabbed myself a fantastic mini M-Audio keyboard that sits neatly on my desk, and I’m getting to grips with Ableton Live for the first time. Been noodling away at ambient and electro stuff, partly inspired by The Knife, Susumu Hirasawa and Blanck Mass, among others. Have a listen!

 

Process Process Process

I’ve had a busy old week, starting on two projects simultaneously. One of those is the third issue of Freak Out Squares by gentleman deviant Harry French. Coming back to comic work after a fairly long break (the last thing I did was a strip in December, then I was focussed on the animation) has been fantastic. I seem to have loosened up a bit – I feel like I’ve got a style that’s working for me, and I’ve gotten much faster at producing pages thanks to a refined, all-digital approach.

Harry and I are in discussion about some exciting prospects for Freak Out Squares which we’ll reveal when and if, but we’re keen to share some process and work-in-progress work with you.

Here’s the stage by stage work on page 1:

01Thumbnail

02Panels and Guides03Large Sketch

04Layout

05Final

For those who’ve read the first two issues, you’ll notice that the Blanck Mass are returning for more digital erotic thrills and adventures, whilst the Uberminister watches intently…

This issue, I’ve dropped back the spotted blacks from the last – that was an experiment, but I don’t think it worked as well as just letting my lines breathe, so I’m concentrating on detail this time around.

Working in Photoshop digitally has become ideal thanks to some wonderful brushes, the Lazy Nezumi plugin (which smooths brush strokes, has ellipse guides and and and! perspective tools that make perspective in PS a total breeze now), and my increased use of things like the the Ruler tool (which I didn’t even know existed) and the grid.

All of these things have combined to make it really intuitive and simple to go from thumbnail to layout to finished digital pencils/inks, doing perspective on the fly for each panel, setting up grids and stuff and just making everything look clean. A lot of this stuff saves a lot of time, which means I can do a lot of preparatory work without taking ages, and leaves me more time to spend on the finals.

Here’s a look at page 2:

01Thumbnail 02 Sketch03 Panels 04 Layout05 Finish

So that’s that then.

Working on page 3 just now, which is where the new sense of symmetry and asymmetry really starts coming into play – we’re pushing and pulling elements of the book against the grid, depending on the mood and narrative of the page, so being able to set up everything digitally is really helping.

I should say as well that this is the first book I’ve ever sat and thumbnailed sitting with the writer. Me and Harry had two sessions of sitting going over the script while I thumbnailed, and it was really worthwhile.

For Harry, it’s given him an idea of how I think visually, which is something writers can always benefit from – it can go into the scripts from the off. And for me, it was great sitting with Harry, bouncing ideas for panel placements off him, knowing we could alter the script structure without me having to try and explain it by email and waiting for the yay or nay.

I’d urge anyone who has the opportunity location-wise (or even through Skype) and the inclination to work this work to try it. While I wouldn’t expect much of my other work to follow this pattern, it’s good to do it at least once. Makes for more confident pages, I think.

Anyway, FoS 3 will be out soon, looking to have the art completed by early April, and then colours (by the brilliant Harry Saxon) and letters (by ‘Gentleman of Comics’ Colin Bell) so shortly thereafter.

It’s going to be brilliant, so keep your eyes peeled.

Thing

Last Tuesday, something happened. This was unusual in itself; nothing usually happens on a Tuesday. I was therefore unprepared for the eventuality that something might happen on that day.

Of course, when I say nothing happens on a Tuesday, I’m being slightly facetious. Obviously lots of little things happen – I get up, I wash, I eat, I drink, I smoke, I look out the window, sometimes I go outside, mostly I stay inside, I write, I draw, I spend time with my significant Other, that kind of thing.

What I actually mean to say is, nothing important usually happens, on a Tuesday.

Last Tuesday was different.

I had no sense of the numinous, no instinctual clairvoyance that A Thing would happen. Nothing to set this one Tuesday apart from any other Tuesday. It was like any other Tuesday; any other day at all, in fact.

But then, it happened.

Some Thing occurred that shook me from my usual stupor, some Thing that was so out of the ordinary that I could no longer pretend it was a Normal Day. As soon as The Thing occurred, it would be difficult to ever pretend again.

Where once No Thing important or noteworthy happened, now some Thing had. That was a state of events I was unprepared for, being as generally this was not the case.

When the Thing took place, I had to check myself to ensure my faculties were appropriately intact, that my sensory input was all working correctly. It was definitely not a dream; I was aware of being awake. Not in the way that sometimes in a dream you can feel sure that you’re awake and that it’s actually happening, even though that is proved to be patently false, either by the introduction of some ridiculous, nonsensical event that pushes the limits of the reality of the dream too far, or by the horror of the dream (and they are, mostly, horrific in some fashion or other) becoming so much that fight or flight sends you reeling from the world of sleep to awake into your sweat-heavy pillow. Not in that way.

In the way that even though the World is full of things that seem ridiculous and nonsensical, we’re usually aware of the rightness of the fact that we are not sleeping or dreaming when we are, in fact, very much awake.

Nor were my faculties dulled or enhanced by anything stronger than instant coffee and Golden Virginia. I had no hallucinogens, no amphetamines, no drugs of any kind in my system, save the coffee, the tobacco, and also an SSRI, one which basically took the nervy edge off being awake and not dreaming, but nothing so strong that it would convince me that a Thing was happening when it wasn’t.

Checking myself in this manner, I quickly (and I mean quickly, these kind of checks take no time at all, really, since we’re usually already sure of the results, even if we have that momentary fillip in our gut where it becomes necessary to just be on the safe side) concluded that the Thing was definitely happening.

Given that, the only thing to do was to form an adequate response. Since the situation was otherwise ordinary – the scene and setting just that of any other Tuesday – it seemed only right to not panic, to not act out in a manner unbecoming of a Tuesday, even though this Thing was definitely changing the tenor of the day in a way that could not be ignored.

I carefully assessed the Thing, taking in the nature of the event from as many angles (physically and philosophically, if you take my meaning, which meaning is complex when considering the nature of the information I’m relaying to you now) as I could, moving slowly to experience it without becoming involved with the Thing, as such.

It was important to me to maintain the sense that the Thing was occurring in an otherwise humdrum environment, that its nature was its own boundary, the fact of its occurrence part of the uniqueness of it, and that to get, as we say, up close and personal, might alter the nature of the Thing in such a way that it would no longer be the original Thing, but some other Thing, tainted by my interaction.

This is not an easy task, as you might be aware. Without getting into quantum physics, which I couldn’t even if I wanted to, as I’ve not the mind for more than the merest understanding of such, it’s almost impossible to witness a thing, any thing, without becoming in some way involved, and that was certainly true of this Thing, perhaps more than any other, so obviously contradictory was it. The more I studied the Thing, attempting to remain detached, the more I was changed by it and, I could only presume since it seemed perfectly natural to do so at the time, was it changed by me.

The results of these changes were subtle and ontological; once, there was no Thing, no Important, New Thing in my existence, and therefore in my memory or my experience, and now there Was. My brain was already adapting in ways too subtle to recount, too subtle for me even to be aware of them exactly, save that I experienced that existential sense of something being different in me. Watching the Thing, I could sense that somehow the same was taking place for it.

Simple shifts and shudders in its totality seemed definitely to me to be a result of it having been experienced. There was no way for me to directly engage the Thing in discourse, as it was too unusual and out-of-the-ordinary, as one might say, to even know how a rapprochement might be reached.

That is to say, in less obtuse language, that the Thing was of such a nature that I wasn’t even sure I could communicate with it in any way. Although I was able to experience it, and know the sense of it having experienced me, I was completely unable to discern its nature. It was a Thing, completely other from every other Thing I had ever experienced.

How does one engage with a Thing when it is of such a new nature that one has no context for it?

Its very existence was contrary to everything else on that Tuesday, its being delineated only by its opposition to the natural, normal mundane day that was pushed aside for the space of its being.

It was there, but only in a negative fashion.

It could only be experienced as that which it was not – normal, mundane, everyday, Tuesday. Me.

For while I was definitely experiencing the Thing, I felt sure that it was not Of Me, not something I had begotten, not something created by me, nor willed into Being.

The Thing had independent existence beyond me, which in itself was not unusual (I’ve seen many things that existed independently of me – toast, newspapers, coins, dust), yet the fact that it was independent and yet unlike every other independent Thing I had witnessed in my time on this planet made it not only unique in and of itself, but also contrary to not only my experiences but also the limits of my imagination.

With no context to ground its existence, my continued study of it became a battle of some kind, my ground disappearing inversely with its continued presence – the longer it stayed here, contrary, existing despite its unusualness, the further I slipped from certainty, from the safety of catalogues and concepts.

I quickly rebelled at the Thing.

What was it? Why was it here? What did it want, if wanting was even a function of a Thing so distant that the mind could barely contain its existence except by rebellion and opposition?

My initial attempt to not interfere was dashed against the need to define the experience of the Thing somehow, to contain it in my head along with every other thing, thing or Thing, I’d experienced, to own it, the knowledge of it, to conquer it and say, this is smaller than me, it can fit within the meat of my brain, my neurons can make light work of this. I am clever, as far as it goes, and experienced, broadly, if not fully, in many things, and know the world around me, and I’ve conquered Every Other Thing, but not this.

As earlier presumed, my interaction with it was changing its nature, but instead of becoming more solid, more real, the way places do once you go back there a second or third time, once they have made space in your head, this Thing was becoming even more elusive, more distant, formless, bigger and yet smaller? or further away.

I raced with it, running alongside the essence of it, chasing down the reality of the Thing, desperate now to have it, to be one with it, to know the nature of this Thing that demanded to remain UnKnown. I stood still, but travelled highways of a topology I no longer recognised, nor knew how to process. The further it ran from me, the finer my enquiry became, now squeezing itself violently inside the very being of the Thing, lacerating it mentally, pressing myself inside ontological wounds that instantly rejected me and resealed themselves.

It was playing with me.

The Thing was enormous, size beyond comparison, distant in a way I could never break down enough to measure. I was exhausted by it, by the dance it led me, knowing that the faster I ran, the further it got from me, and in that exhaustion, I felt a strange kind of abandon, that I might never know it, and that I was now becoming too tired to care.

It was no Thing to me. Just a Thing, unusual in itself, but too remote to have meaning, meaning applied to No Thing, and I was happy now to see it go.

A Thing such as this does not ‘go’ in the way one might see a loved one ‘go’ as they walk down the street to work, or how a train or bus might ‘go’ as it leaves the station, or how oneself might ‘go’, with purpose, from one place to another, or even being still, go through time, and yes, space, as one’s going or not going is barely predicated on purpose, and just a function of being here, as the planet turns and swoops through the strange plasticity of Spacetime.

Instead, a Thing like this, or maybe just this Thing, who am I to judge the nature of Other Things based solely on the experience of this one, goes differently. In going, it comes, in leaving , it arrives. In becoming No Thing, it remains indelible – that is how it is catalogued. The memory holds the space of it, those boundaries of opposition, that which it was Not, instead of that which it Was. Not burned in memory, the burning is the experience of the Thing and all that’s left after is smoke, the memory of smoke, the concept of smoke, smoke produced without a real fire.

In going, it reveals that it was never gone, will never go, will always be here, and every Tuesday, and every other day from now on will be changed beyond the ordinary by its presence and yet, and yet, never remembered, never understood, never…