2,000 words or less: Oh, the Internet…

I’ve spent a lot of time today wondering whether the Internet is the most inspiring or most depressing thing ever devised. So far, it’s been a maddening combination of the two, and I’ve spent today waffling back and forth from one side of the fence to the other.

Some background on where I’m going with this; my memories involve comic books to some degree for essentially as long as I’ve had memories, starting with ten-cent issues of things like Shogun Warriors, Star Wars and Micronauts in the late 1970s. I had a three-ring binder full of Star Wars comics I used to regularly carry to school with me in the early ’80s. I frequently picked up random issues of comic books over the years – Spider-Man here, Batman there and, for a time, even Duck Tales every now and then. In high school, once I finally had a job and my own money, I began spending a lot of money on comics. Some for the story, almost all because I loved the art. I’ve drawn stuff and had people tell me I was good at it for almost as long as I can remember, as well. But I’m not, nor have I ever been, in the same area code as anyone who does this professionally.

Now, there’s the Internet. It used to be that my only exposure to comic artists was by driving downtown and dropping a pile of money on books at the Master Gamer every Tuesday. Today, I can find them everywhere. I follow them and, occasionally, try to engage some of them on Twitter; I friend them when I can find them on DeviantArt; I put their blogs in my RSS reader. I’ve done this with a broad range of people, from Jim Lee, whose work I’ve admired for almost 20 years now, to guys like Mark Brooks, who I first heard of at about 12:30 this afternoon. Today, just by chance, I happened to find an opportunity to get on UStream and watch a guy draw Superman, live in streaming video. He even said hi to me. All while I was sitting at my desk at work writing a story.

It was remarkable, and their work is *amazing*. When I collected comics in college, I got to see the finished product; covers, panels, prints, the final work. Now, the door is open to the *process*. The initial sketches, the guts, the nuts and bolts. Ryan Stegman’s perspective grids, that I almost find more beautiful than the finished product. Lee’s progress shots, posted on Twitter, start to finish of the painting he did of Wonder Woman on an iPad with his freaking fingers. Watching the guy on UStream erase Superman’s head, and later his entire upper torso, because he wasn’t happy with the way it was progressing and, in his words, was just having an off day. The kinds of things you have no inkling of when your only exposure to the material is the final four layers of Pantone inks on glossy 120-pound paper.

For the few of you who follow the things I do here, you know that I’ve been trying to draw more; things like this sketch from tonight, right over there to the right. That’s a ridiculous attempt to draw a figure without reference material on the left, and a comic-book character named “Dagger” from the cover of a March one-shot, “Cloak and Dagger.”

On one hand, maddening; I see plenty on that page that indicates I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m doing. On the other hand, encouraging; I see plenty of other things that indicate I may be able to get this.

Maddening tends to win out, because I can see the difference in the slop I’m producing and the work done by actual artists. But there’s enough “encouraging” in there that I’ll keep plugging away and, hopefully, over time work to close that gap (which is more of a chasm).

And I’ll keep spending time looking at the work of brilliant artists on the Internet – to remind me that I am horrible at this, and provide the inspiration to keep working and try not to be.

Andy Bartlett

By day, I am the executive director of communications and marketing at Bemidji State University. The rest of the time, I'm a husband, father of three, and proponent of super heroes, lasers, space ships and explosions.

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