Saturday, May 19, 2007

It ain't easy bein' green

At the studio again, all day. Mixing goes slowly, but the mixes have been coming out excellent, so it's worth it. Ryan Kaplan (the artist) is a little stressed out by the time it takes - and I don't blame him, as he's a new father and under pressure to spend time at home and also not spend money - but I suspect that the quality of the work is convincing him that it'll be worth the time. Probably one extra session will do it, really.

Of course, it's all easy for me to say - it's not my money. But it is my time, and given everything that (blah, blah, blah) has been piling up around the house, time is doubtless the most valuable commodity I have.

Too, I've gone through the same thing with the mixing sessions for Selling the Downtown Dream, and I know both the hopes of getting great mixes at maximum speed - hey, at one mix an hour, we could be done in a day and a half - and the anxiety-producing reality as you spend a third hour trying to figure out why the bass sounds like it was strung with used fan-belts and played with someone's limp dick.

I guess that would be my limp dick, considering I play the bass on both albums. But I digress.

Actually, let me continue the digression for a moment to pat myself on the back: the bass playing on Ryan's record is really neat. Really, really neat. It's by far the best playing I've ever done. The lines are tight and imaginative, and the playing itself is pretty damn smooth.

It's a little scary, because we're mixing stuff I played four years ago, and I can't even imagine playing some of it today. Of course, I haven't played bass in about two years, now, and at the time of the original tracking sessions, not only was it my primary instrument but I played it in a band that practiced regularly. But, seriously: if I'd enjoyed my bass playing while I was playing it half as much as I enjoy listening back to it four years later, maybe I wouldn't have been so cavalier about handing off the bass chores in the first place.

Gah. I sound like a sad old man crying for the lost love of his youth on his deathbed. In my defense, Yesenia has said that I'm very sexy while playing bass, but not expressed such sentiments about watching me play the Rhodes. Look, a bass is small and light, and you can wear it slung low around your waist and move your hands up and down the neck and it looks very sensual, but the Rhodes is this close to being a piece of furniture. It's damn hard to look sexy while you're pounding away at a veneer-covered plywood box about the size of a child's coffin. Just ask Michael McDonald.

In my life, I really have tried on and discarded a number of identities as an artist - animator, illustrator, pianist, bassist, drummer (kind of), songwriter, writer - and all of them have shown that with some diligence, to a greater or lesser degree, I had real skills to burn. I've always been hardest on myself while I'm in the mode, but it's odd to look back later and really nod in appreciation of what I'd accomplished.

In 1995, I walked away from comics in near total dejection, thinking that all the work I'd done up to that point was terrible, horrible, no good, etc. But the years have been kind to the work, and comics have been calling me back with increasing force over the last year, especially when I sit and look at the old pages that I'd done. What's funny is that when I gave them up, I'd suspected that it was something that I needed more maturity as an artist (and a person) to do the kind of work I wanted to do, and to be able to work through the hard parts without giving up.

I don't know that I'll ever return to the comic that broke me, an incomplete piece of sci-fi Americana called At the End of the World with my Sister, but I find it odd that if I sit and think about it for even a moment, I can completely call the entire 600-page graphic novel into my head, all the characters, all the plot, the symbols, even a good deal of the undone visuals. Which has to mean something. For the record, about 60 pages of Sister were written, lettered and pencilled, and 40 of those are fully inked. But to do it again would mean to start from scratch, and if there's one constant about me, it's that once I've done something once, very little can interest me in doing it again.

But here I am, and there it is, and if I owe myself anything in this world, it's to lay out the few things that are mine and mine alone. Sister was born out of the swirling miasma of anxiety that was the final end of my childhood, from nights of terrifying but enveloping dreams that came to me in my Junior year at RISD. Though it owes a lot to what I was reading at the time (particularly The Stand), it's about as close as I can claim to have come to a unique vision, a view of the world that didn't exist before I dreamed it. And the fact that it still lives in my head suggests that it's not yet done with me, even after all these years of neglect.

Hmmph. Well, if I do start that thing again, it's going to have to wait until I'm in my 40's. I just don't have the wherewithal to tilt at that particular windmill, just yet.

One of the students in my comics class is clearly losing interest in the visual arts and falling headfirst in love with playing the guitar. I couldn't get him to lift a pen the entire course, but the moment I offered to show him how to play "Blackbird" to impress his girlfriend, he sparked for the first time in 12 weeks.

I know just how he feels. It took me 12 years to feel good about a comic I drew, versus the four years it took me to love the bass playing I did on this recording. That's a much better rate of return.

Now if I can only find some of this "Instant gratification" I hear so much about, it'll all be worthwhile.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

To this day, I cannot comprehend why you got so demoralized and gave up on ATEOTWWMS. The first issue was quite good and the second issue was looking a lot better, in terms of the story picking up some steam.