#7: Steve Jobs, Creativity, Style & Soap Boxes

Today’s writing should be interesting – I had a rough night of sleep thanks to a pulled back muscle. A muscle I pulled while washing dishes yesterday.

Middle age: that part of life where involuntary learning about anatomy happens. And wishing that there was a real life disabled list to go on where I could wallow in pain and not do any work.

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Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs
No one else in history has ever pulled off the mock turtleneck except Steve Jobs.

I forgot where I came across this (most likely while surfing) but I cannot come up with a counter argument. There’s a small chance this might be an axiom.

For creators this applies directly to influences. I know that when I draw, each element of the human body is from a different influence. Eyes, noses, heads, hands, bodies – I can probably trace the source of each one if I think hard enough. They just come together based on my personal preferences and how easy they are to draw.

Note that my art is not terribly consistent yet as I’m still experimenting and haven’t settled on specific techniques for everything. I do expect that to happen over time with 1) practice and 2) what I find I can draw well *easily*.

These connections & preferences are the foundation of personal style.

The same goes for writing stories. Take the stories & characters you love, throw them in a blender with your own psychological needs and VOILA: stories only you can make.

Combine your influences like a blender
Blenders: perfect for combining your influences and freakin’ beats.

I know it’s not that simple but it’s fairly close, no?

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I’m not a huge fan of school because I don’t see too many things I learned in school that are applicable to life, or are things that could only have been learned in a school environment.

(Note: I discount learning how to sit down & do what you’re told, as well as a deep understanding of how power structures work, because no supporter of schooling admits that those are important lessons that are learned in school).

But if we’re lucky, we’ll spend some time with a teacher who passes on some learning that you never forget. In my case, it was Mrs. Ebling (RIP), in junior year American Lit:

Say it and get off.

Charlotte Ebling

I remember her saying this, probably because she said it more than once, but I did not heed it at the time. The reference was to people getting up a soapbox (literally) to pontificate about something. Mrs. Ebling did NOT believe in bloviating.

Say it and get off soap box
Soap used to come in sturdy wooden boxes which people would stand on and yell stuff at passers by.

It also sounded funny because it was so blunt and to the point (which she often was). But my writing was far from concise because I was in that school-oriented mode of using long words and flowery writing to squeeze a few extra points out when being graded.

The lesson stuck with me through the years, and I’d often think it to myself when someone was making a needlessly long-winded explanation of something: just say it and get off.

I didn’t write much for years after my schooling ended, until email became a thing. But the lesson was really driven home by Twitter & comics. Like most lessons, they aren’t truly learned until they are actually put to use.

I joined Twitter in 2007. It had the original character limit of 140 and the ability to create a series of tweets was years away. The best way to use it was to make your point as succinctly as possible and Mrs. Ebling’s wisdom came to mind over and over again.

Using Twitter cured me of the of the flowery, trying-to-impress-the-teacher style I learned in school. It also cured me of excessive adverb use, because it turned out that adverbs are often useless when trying to get a point across. Judicious use of adverbs is one thing but I saw how they can be a crutch.

Best. Comic. EVER.

Around 2009 I started reading comics again, just when digital comics started to become available. In 2010 I read Scott Pilgrim (including having to wait for the last volume to hit the library) and realized that I needed to make comics too. That year I dipped my toes into comic-making, working on a couple of strips before being waylaid by life. With limited space for words, it was important to say it and get off.

Now it feels like this lesson is drilled into me as I try to figure out the most economical way to tell a story. With visuals involved I can show as much as I tell, but I still agonize over single words and whether they’re necessary or not.

The lesson has been fully internalized. Thank you, Mrs. Ebling.

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What I’m reading

Last week I discovered the Libby app, which has a slightly different selection of books & comics than Hoopla – which meant more comics to read. So read I did:

Persephone

I finished this after starting it last week. “French author Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky presents a modern-day retelling of the Greek myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone in an exciting universe that blends high-fantasy adventure with visuals reminiscent of Japanese anime and 1950s American-style comics.”

Loved the art, the story was just ok. I would recommend checking it out for the art, especially if you’re a Studio Ghibli fan.

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson

The Fire Never Goes Out

Noelle Stevenson can, seemingly, do no wrong when it comes to storytelling. This graphic memoir of hers from last year is a collection (mostly, I think) of comics she posted to tumblr. She is a natural storyteller with honest observations. And she’s not afraid of sharing how she feels.

It’s a moving read, and you can really feel her pain (which continues despite her incredible success). I’m happy that she’s found love and a mental health diagnosis that clarified some things for her. But I’m totally jealous that she went to art school and took a sequential art class (THAT SHE WASN’T EVEN THAT INTERESTED IN TO START) and that one of her teachers was Sam Bosma (who made many Steven Universe backgrounds).

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The cover is gorgeous but haunting.

Coincidentally I just found some of Noelle’s art from her sequential art class which was only 10 years ago. She’s already had what feels like a lifetime’s worth of success with Nimona, Lumberjanes, & She-Ra, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. But it is cool to look at her early art and see that she is human and didn’t emerge from the womb as a fully formed, perfect creator.

Speak: the Graphic Novel

I don’t know the book but I had to read the graphic novel because it’s illustrated by the peerless Emily Carroll. Neither the art nor the story disappointed. The story is haunting, maddening, enraging. I don’t want to say much more, I just recommend reading it.

New Kid

New Kid by Jerry Craft is a phenomenon – and rightfully so. Being the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal (2020) is a tremendous achievement but it wouldn’t have been possible if the book weren’t so damn good!

New Kid by Jerry Craft

The story is about an African-American kid from Washington Heights who wants to go to art school (note: just like Jerry in real life) but his parents send him to an expensive, private, and mostly rich & white school instead. They want him to make connections and have opportunities that will help him in life. But as you might expect, a POC city kid encounters many different things in such an exclusive, tony environment.

There are two things that set this book apart:

  1. It feels so real. Normal people, having normal conversations and normal reactions, without being condescended or heavy-handed.
  2. Jerry doesn’t shy away from heavy stuff. Stereotypes, micro aggressions, code-switching – it’s all here. Again, it feels real and it’s not done in a didactic, heavy-handed fashion.

This is the book that should be required reading – for kids and adults. I need to add this to my Recommended Reading when I get a chance. Until then, it’s available on both Hoopla and Libby, and there’s a free preview online, so there’s no excuse not to read it!

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That’s all folks!

Wow – I almost did all the writing in my intended 2h block today (I’m at 2:09). That’s better than I thought I’d do after a crappy night’s sleep.

What have you been reading?

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