Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Two)

I was a luckier child than I realized. I grew up with two creative parents. Dad wrote for a newspaper; Mom drew, explored various arts and crafts (incuding ceramics painting), and later on wrote freelance for the Atlanta Journal.

As a result, I drew the conclusion at an early age that everyone either wrote or drew or both. I didn't think of the process of creating words or pictures as an arcane art; in fact, I presumed that every house in my neighborhood, every house that we passed as we enjoyed an leisurely afternoon ride, was occupied by people who wrote and drew... just like us!

That also meant that, once I discovered comic books, I wanted to write and draw comic books. I tried my hand at my own comic books at an early age, but discovered that my art lacked to visual appeal of art by Carmine Infantino or Dick Sprang or Wayne Boring or Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or Gil Kane. Eager to improve my skills, I did so by using an all-too-common (in our house, at least) office supply: carbon paper.

Anyone who peruses my original childhood copies of my beloved comics will notice that many images from the cover and the interiors have been traced over in pencil. That was me. Dissatisfied with my own illustrations, I borrowed some carbon paper and 8 1/2 x 11" sheets of newsprint from beside Dad's typewriter and created carbon copies of my favorite images. Some of them became pin-ups, meticulously colored before being thumbtacked to my wall. Others were combined in panels to become new comics.

Soon, I realized that a carbon copy of a favorite piece of art didn't have to be complete--that is, I could carbon copy the dynamic figure itself, but leave off costume details. This way, a drawing of Superman could become Batman if I so wished. Suddenly I could create very professional-looking comics--well, professional-looking by a five or six-year-old's standards-- that told my stories, even if the art wasn't exactly mine. I had discovered on my own what Wally Wood was simultaneously advising fellow artists: "Never draw what you can copy; never copy what you can trace; never trace what you can cut out and paste up."

(Later on, tools like art-o-graphs and scanners and programs like Photoshop would make it easy for professional artists to take my carbon copy gimmick much further than I ever imagined. Heck, I pioneered the "why draw it when you can swipe it?" path later mastered by Ron Frenz and others!)

I really wanted to be an artist, and as a result I put far more time into trying to draw comics than I did into trying to write them. For years, I imagined that I might become a comic book artist, in fact. So why didn't I put more time into writing stories? Because, like almost any child, I had no shortage of stories and ideas. Heck, I could make up a comic book story on the spot at any point. I also discovered that I could create a myriad of characters whenever I needed them--heroes and villains alike. So it was only natural that I'd put more of an effort into drawing them, which seemed more like work to me.

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