Strange Animals 04jan2020: Looking Forward, It’s a Whole Thing

2019 has ended, 2020 has begun. It doesn’t particularly look like the world is getting better anytime soon, but the other option is to turn back time, and let’s face it, we’re here because a lot of people want to do just that.

So let’s cast a quick and wary look at 2019, and then proceed to 2020 where we can stand and be counted.

Quick note up top: I wrote a brief thread about some of the cool lettering tricks Dave Gibbons deployed in Watchmen that people seem to be quite enjoying. I like the idea that I’ve made people’s engagement with one of their favourite books a little deeper. Here you go.

1. Tally

As with 2018, I had a goal chart for 2019, lettered by hand, and it looked like this:

And as with 2018, I did some and not others.

But most importantly to me, I did in fact finish a novel. I wrote a full first draft of a graphic novel, as I’ve been wittering on about in this newsletter ever since. If I hadn’t accomplished anything else this year, I would’ve been okay with that one thing.

But I also finished three short stories and a short comic script (4 out of 6), one comic-book font (1 of 6), and worked out for 125 days (of 200). I also wanted to send 52 newsletters, and the total came out to 21.

As I said last year, the point of these goals is not that they be done, it is to keep an eye on the ball. Not accomplishing any of these is still a baseline decent life. This is about trying to do better, but being kind to myself if I didn’t. The question is – Did I live my year in a way that acknowledged why these things were important?

I think, apart from the font design, I did okay. Font design’s the one thing on this list that’s actually about my paying work and how I want it to look in the future, so that’s something I need to push further in 2020, and it says something that that’s the one I barely made a dent on – clearly I’ve been living on accumulated credit rather than moving forward, and that needs to change.

So here’s 2020:

Let’s do this, shall we?

2. Everything Else

I lettered fewer pages in 2019 than I did in 2018 (the tally was approximately 2000), and I’m very happy about that. I nearly burnt out in 2018, and 2019, more than anything else, was about relaxing into the work and taking stock of what I want to accomplish in the longer term. As I said above, I fell asleep of one big part that I wanted to grow, but it’s not exactly a tragedy.

I was profoundly grateful for the quality of collaborators I had, and I’m looking forward to some very exciting books in 2020, both with old comrades and new ones. It was especially a thrill to see how many books I worked on ended up on Year’s Best lists (These Savage Shores, The White Trees, Little Bird, Isola, Coffin Bound … the list goes on). I’m not always sure how good my work is, but I rest a bit more easy knowing both that I have good taste in collaborators, and that some amazing creators, both new ones and veterans, feel like working with me.

I also started lettering Hellblazer this year. For someone who’s been a nerd all their life, I’m not a very good fan – I don’t have characters or properties that I’m excited about separate from the creators working on them, with two exceptions – Doctor Who and John Constantine. My Faction Paradox and Iris Wildthyme stories took care of my hankering to play in the world of the first, and now I get to put words into John Constantine’s mouth for a little while. Cool.

2019 was also supposed to be about prioritising my life outside work, and while I still have some way to go, I mostly did not work on any weekend, stopped after 6-8 hours of work most days, and took 35 days of vacation between November and December (I worked for about a day and a half while travelling, but that’s way better than usual – I also wrote a short story, but that’s because I was sick and confined to my AirBNB while my friends went hiking). I hope to continue the trend of working less but better in 2020.

3. Recommended Activity


Okay. I don’t talk about the world outside much on this newsletter. I have my reasons, which I feel are justified, but now feels like an exception, so I’ll just do it this once, and take it as read for the rest of the year.

There’s a lot wrong with the world right now. Many of these things have been going on for decades or centuries, and some are new and specifically horrifying. Sure, you could point to many ways in which more people’s lives are materially better now than they would have been in an earlier age, but a) things that are wrong are still wrong, and b) a lot of the wrong things are causing irreversible damage in a way they weren’t before.

I feel that a big part of why this happens is the way modern life has been structured to eliminate the public realm from most people’s lives and alienate us from our own and from other people’s suffering (I’m basing this on my limited reading of Hannah Arendt’s account of labour/work/action). Too many of the rich and the powerful are invested in continuing to essentially not allow common people to affect the world at large by turning us into consumers of the world rather than inhabitants of it. Even the way we discuss atrocities on the internet is essentially geared to generate our outrage but limit it to the social realm so it does not leak outside and actually change anything.

Many more of us need to start affecting the public realm and reclaim it in defiance of these interests. Whether it is through protesting, organising, or by using our specific skills in order to make a difference in lives that need it. Protest is not enough by itself, but in a world where atrocities occur and are forgotten in days, it is a necessary first step of acknowledgement.

I can’t tell you how to protest or participate, because that’ll differ based on who and where you are and how much danger that puts you in. But whatever your cause – climate change, the detainment of refugees and the poor, or against the rise of Islamophobic politics and to stem the next oncoming genocide, or against the trampling of trans rights and other LGBTQ rights, please participate and try to make a difference.

4. From the Commonplace Book

Since we’re at the beginning of a new year, and a lot of people will be trying to create change in their lives, here are five reasons why most attempts to change behaviour fail, taken from this article:

  • We’re motivated by negative emotions. You might think negative emotions like fear or regret would inspire you to make a change, but the opposite is actually true. One review of 129 studies found that the least effective behaviour change strategies were consistently ones that focused on fear and regret.

  • We get trapped in “all or nothing” thinking. There are plenty of cognitive biases that get in the way of making any change, but one of the worst is all-or-nothing thinking. This is where we rely on a sudden jolt of motivation, and then give up the second we hit a snag.

  • We start too big and too vague. Changing any behaviour takes time. But most of us try to change too much at once. We focus on huge changes (like “get six-pack abs”) instead of realistic steps (like “do five sit-ups”). Behaviour change needs specific and realistic actions to take hold.

  • We forget that failure is a part of the process. Too many times, we focus on the end goal and not the process. Failure during behaviour change isn’t the end of the road. It’s a street sign pointing you toward what you need to focus on.

  • We don’t make a commitment. Any major change requires some commitment – whether public or private – to keep you dedicated to seeing it through.

Filed under #life.