Strange Animals 13may2020: Side-Eyes

Depending on how you count time, it’s been anything from a few days to many weeks to several aeons since we last spoke. No matter. Time is an illusion, and not an especially persistent one.

I’ve been working quite a bit since we last talked. Like so many others, my productivity took a dive, and it took time to claw myself back to any sense of normalcy, and then to get on top of things once again. I’m hanging on, though, bailing out water from my boat hoping land arrives soon.

I slacked off on writing for the longest time as a consequence. Fiction, that is. I did start and maintain a log in which I’ve been writing occasional small thoughts. When I first got online (a decade and a half ago, sheesh), I used to have a blog, and I’ve noticed the things I’ve been writing in the new log resemble those to a fair degree. When I write a newsletter, I’m generally thinking about some sort of value I want the reader to get out of each edition. The log is just for me – whispering, or potentially screaming, into the void. I have no idea how many people know it exists, let alone read it. I’m not going to suggest you subscribe, but, y’know, have a look. It’s a thing.

A couple of weeks ago, though, after trying desperately to make time to write, I decided that I’d write for a half hour a day, rather than setting a few days a week aside as I’d intended. It worked, because, like an idiot, I’d forgotten that writing is a habit, and the muscles need to be exercised. Binge writing is as difficult and draining as binge exercising. So I’ve been accumulating pages as and when I can, a couple of pages a week. It’s more than zero.

1. Notes

I’ve had no new work come out since the last book, but then, neither has nearly anyone else. I did wrap up the lettering for Wynd, the graphic novel I’ve been lettering for Boom, written by James Tynion IV and drawn/coloured by Michael Dialynas. It’s quite lovely, folks.

Letters & Lines, my comics-focussed podcast with Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, is back for a Season 2. We started with a live broadcast of the first episode, and this time, we will be coming to you weekly, and we’ll be featuring some guests as well, starting with letterer Ariana Maher in Episode 4. And we’re now on Spotify, if that’s how you access your podcasts.

On the writing side, the estimable Nick Brokenshire sent me these design sketches, for a thing we’re doing together:

It’s a pretty special joy seeing someone take a bunch of words you wrote and turn them into … an actual thing. For the first time in seven years, it’s been happening again, and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me.

This will be turning into something you’ll see either soon or in a while, but I’m delighted to be making a thing with an artist whose work I adore. We’ve been hammering it into shape, and the final comic might not look exactly like this, but good lord I’m excited. And in turn, I got even more excited about the other things I’ve been writing – hence the desire to fit writing into my schedule even if it’s a page at a time.

2. One Step Removed

Over the last few weeks, I saw some lovely new projects either come out or be announced, and I had a vague itch of recognition when I saw them, only to realise that they were books I’d been offered that I’d had to decline for scheduling reasons.

After two years of taking on almost everything I was offered (2016-2017), I became far more selective about projects in the last couple of years, and thank god for that. I’d been teetering on the edge of burnout, and cutting down on the work I took on and doing fewer projects but giving them my full attention was the only way to make sure I could continue to do my best.

So there were quite a few projects that ideally I would’ve loved to do, but which I had to let go of. Usually, I’d just refer the client to one of my colleagues – someone whose style I figured would fit the project.

Seeing these in the wild, then, is an odd experience. I can’t help but think about what I would’ve done if I’d lettered the book. I’d probably have chosen a different font, or a different line style. Or maybe I’d have done the shouts differently, or maybe just broken the panel borders where they’ve chosen to butt them.

It might sound slightly ghoulish or perhaps just pointless, but it’s an interesting exercise. When I know the other letterer has done a good job, thinking about what I would’ve done is a stylistic decision specific to me. Because that’s the thing that attracts me even though I know there’s another perfectly viable choice.

Let me explain. Say you’re a writer, and you’re sitting with a couple of your writer friends – and an idea occurs to one of you, something vague and unfinished, but with a spark. You start batting it around together, adding bits and details that could be interesting, and for a while all of the suggestions feel like they could go in, that they could fit. But at some point, you will start … not disagreeing with each other, but strongly feeling that it should go into a particular direction, and each of you will start wanting to do something with it that the others would not. And that’s where you see the boundaries of each writer’s concerns – the things that they would choose to do despite other viable choices.

Something similar happens when I’m asked to take over a book from another letterer – to simply follow them or to reletter something from scratch. In the latter case, I’m usually given free reign – here’s what they did, feel free to ignore it – while in the former case, the request is to use the same font and try to maintain a similar enough style not to be jarring. In both cases, what I choose not to do is illuminating.

It’s like that. They say you can learn as much from looking at bad work as you do from looking at great work – but you also learn by looking at what your colleagues did and going, that’s cool … but nah.

3. Recommended Viewing

I watched Bacurau, a 2019 political Western film from Brazil, almost a month ago, but it hasn’t let go of me just yet. It’s got a mild weird sf bent, but is mostly a “realistic” movie set slightly in the future, about a village called Bacurau that has a strange relationship with the country it’s in. It’s shot beautifully, and has some great music and sound design, and it’s just … endearingly strange, but the thing about it is how every choice in the movie feels genuinely additive, slowly telling us more and more about the village and what happens to it and letting us make connections as we go.

It’s odd that, having watched it only once, I will still suddenly remember something from the film and either realise something new about it or just notice the meaning in a choice I hadn’t even noticed while watching the movie.

This one, it grows in your head.

4. From the Commonplace Book

As with a majority of items in my commonplace book, I have no idea where I got this from (and Google didn’t turn up a source), but it’s interesting:

People always think about what they want. People shout their desires out into the world and don’t pay attention to those of other people and still expect what they want to happen, when they’re not paying attention to what another person wants out of the situation.

So you gotta listen, because people will tell you what they want all the time.

Filed under #life and #advice.