Strange Animals 13sep2019: Scribbles on Screen

It’s been about a month since I last wrote you, and in the meantime, I’ve collected a pretty large bunch of new subscribers (Hello there!) when a tweet of mine about failure quoting the songwriter Paul Williams went unexpectedly, mentions-wreckingly viral.

So it might be worth reintroducing myself and this newsletter so we’re all on the same page.

I’m Aditya, and I work as a comic-book letterer, mainly for the American and UK markets – my portfolio is here if anybody would like to give it a look.

I’ve also been a fiction writer in a previous life, and started doing that again on a serious basis last year. Nothing submitted or published yet, but lots written, and there are things in the works you’ll be hearing about through this newsletter.

I also do a comics-related podcast with fellow letterer and Eisner award-winning editor Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou called Letters & Lines that you can listen to here. It’s on no set schedule, but we drop a new episode around every month.

I started this newsletter because I missed old-timey blogs, and wanted a place to work out whatever I’m thinking at the time, but have it be more solid and more specific than places like Twitter and Facebook. Most times, I’ll be talking about lettering, writing or some other aspect of the creative life.

Let’s get on with it. Hope you stick around!

1. Notes

This Wednesday saw the release of Coffin Bound #2, written by Dan Watters, drawn by Dani, coloured by Brad Simpson, lettered by me, from Image Comics. Coffin Bound #1 was reprinted for the third time and released on the same day.

Isola #9, written by Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl, drawn by Karl, coloured by MSassyK, lettered by me, was also released this Wednesday from Image Comics.

Finally, the collected edition of Punks Not Dead: London Calling, from Black Crown, came out this week, written by David Barnett, drawn and coloured by Martin Simmonds, lettered by me, and edited by Shelly Bond.

Other than the usual work stuff, I’ve been writing at a fair clip. PROJECT STRANGER stands at finished first drafts of issues 1-3 (out of 6 total). I decided to take a pause after #3 because while writing PROJECT STRANGER is exciting and exhilarating, it’s also exhausting, as you’ll see when it actually comes out.

As a palette cleanser, I started drafting a new graphic novel I’d been toying with for the last few months. This one’s a lot more personal and small-scale. It’s intended to be around 80-90 pages, black-and-white or single spot colour, and probably sized smaller than a regular comic. It’s got a few autobiographical elements, but mostly, it’s fiction on the scale of life. No sff elements, which is a rare and frightening thing for me. I’m a quarter of the way through the longhand draft, and I have an artist interested, although of course I’d want them to read the script before coming on board. I’ll keep you posted on this. Let’s call this, for now, PROJECT SAWBONES, since it’s got stuff to do with health and medicine.

I sent out my prose story ‘Dragon Lady’ to my first readers, and got back some great feedback (as well as welcome assurances about the story’s quality). I’ll be redrafting it sometime next week based on these notes before – for the first time in eight years – sending out a short story that I wrote on spec rather than on commission.

Finally, some housekeeping. This, or the next edition, will be the last edition of the newsletter I’ll be sending through the current provider (MailChimp). I’m following the current trend and porting this newsletter over to Substack. Essentially, MailChimp is too powerful and too fiddly for what I need to do, and Substack strikes a nice balance between ease of use and ease of reading. Another plus – it’s allowed me to import all the archives from MailChimp as well as TinyLetter, which hosted the first incarnation of Strange Animals.

I’ll be transferring my entire subscriber list over, so you should ideally not notice a difference, but I’ll drop a note through this service when the new one is posted, just in case the Substack address gets caught in your spam folder.

2. Ephemera

For the last couple of months, I’ve been slowly making my way through Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, which is a compendium of letters Steinbeck sent to various intimates throughout his life. I’ve also purchased a copy of Working Days – his journals maintained during the writing of The Grapes of Wrath – which I mean to read once I’ve finished the Letters.

I’ve always enjoyed reading collections of letters and journals, probably since I came across a rundown copy of The Journals of Arnold Bennett as a teenager without being at all familiar with any of his other writing. (I still haven’t read anything else by him, but I read the Journals literally to bits.)

There’s a feeling of intimacy to reading someone’s private correspondence – an idea that you’re getting an unfiltered life of the person. I know now, having maintained a journal myself for the last decade, that it’s not a true sense, because the fact of the writing is itself a filter. But what this sort of writing does have that novels and essays don’t is a sense of impermanence, that the letter is meant to be discarded, and the diaries not to be read.

In Steinbeck’s case, the man behind the books appears to be mostly who you’d think him to be, but there is a peculiar self-regard to him that a public personality might not show anyone but people he already knows. And of course, the format dictates certain lacunae – an affair he’s having with the woman who would be his second wife is codified and obfuscated and then stated out loud only just before his first wife finds out about it.

One of the reasons for reading something like this is to get a peek into the mundanity of life in a particular time and place far from one’s own. Novels and films, specific though they might get, are generally focussed on the important stuff, not on your very expensive typewriter getting a key stuck and you having to finished a letter in biro, to pull an example out of the air.

But this has me thinking about the idea of ephemera and writing that is meant to be disposable. Little of what a jobbing writer writes now is actually lost, since we write on computers constantly connected to the internet. My first blog is still around, as are all the comments I wrote in the heat of the moment that I might be embarrassed by now. There are emails I can search for in seconds dating back to 2004, archived chats with people who became friends later as well as with those I barely interact with now. This being the internet, there are people in there whose real names I never knew and have no way of finding out now.

This newsletter, in fact, stands somewhere between formal writing and a private note. There are things here I might like to stand by years from now, and others I wrote with the option to forget them.

But they’re all there now, permanent. What has changed, perhaps, is access. There is little likelihood of anyone stumbling across my emails decades from now. My journals are encrypted and their existence after me will depend on how long the company maintains its servers.

There are things to be said about the privacy of text behind a screen, ready to be hidden or shown, as opposed to words on a page. But we also know now that everything is backed up constantly, while a piece of paper is, by default, a single copy.

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this. I was about to say something regarding the same device being the implement of creation for everything from a shopping list to deathless prose, but … that was true with pen on paper too, wasn’t it?

Maybe it’s the idea that medium you use to communicate with thousands of people and the one you use to communicate with a single person can be – has always been – the same, and there’s a lovely inefficiency to that. That even if, say, Stephen King’s grocery list is published, and it sells millions of copies, it was only ever meant to fulfil a task for that half hour between leaving home and getting back and it was meant for his eyes only.

3. Recommended Viewing

I rewatched Yojimbo over the weekend, after a long time, and it’s still as powerful as the first time I watched it, more than a decade ago.

It’s almost theatrical in both its physical ambit – centred around one square in one village – and in its characterisations – characters are as likely to be “old man” and “casket maker” as they are to have a name. The storyline veers between the cartoonish and the sombre, and almost no one but the titular Ronin is a full-formed human. But that, if anything, make the film work better than it would have otherwise.

The dialogue is lean and the staging dense but clean, which lets the actors, led by the magnificent Mifune, inhabit the screen in an animalistic fashion, bundles of energy communicating through facial expressions and body language.

Every person on screen bristles with purpose, as does every scene. Mifune himself is the centrepiece, of course. Kurosawa said of him that Mifune needed 3 feet of film to travel the same variety of expression that another actor needed 10 feet for, and it shows. He’s rarely at rest, coiled taut to unleash emotion in every movement, magnetic and mesmerising.

But it’s not just him – there are so many striking small choices in the movie, from Inokichi’s constantly bitten lower lip to the way Unosuke holds his gun from within the folds of his kimono and bounces slightly when he walks.

It’s a film that struggles to contain everything it’s putting on screen, and therefore thoroughly rewards every rewatch.

4. From the Commonplace Book

Context for new subscribers – I’ve maintained a digital commonplace book for the last decade or so, and at the end of every newsletter, I post an item of possible interest to my readers.

This week’s entry has Philip K. Dick writing in The Exegesis about Zen koans in a manner that might apply to imaginative creation:

Zeno, the Sophists in general, saw paradox as a way of conveying knowledge – paradox, in fact, as a way of arriving at conclusions. This is known, too, in Zen Buddhism. It sometimes causes a strange jolt or leap in the person’s mind; something happens, an abrupt comprehension, as if out of nowhere, called satori. The paradox does not tell; it points. It is a sign, not the thing pointed to. That which is pointed to must arise ex nihilo in the mind of the person. The paradox, the koan tells him nothing; it wakes him up. This only makes sense if you assume something very strange: we are asleep but do not know it. At least not until we wake up.

Filed under #writing and #philosophy.