This is a difficult subject. For one it is going to be hard to keep from sounding like a hipster that thinks his farts count as “performance art”. The perpetual coffee shop space taker with computer turned to the wall so no one can see that the “script” he’s writing is actually just dicking around on a series of ineffectual social media outlets.
That being said, it’s hard to be creative.
Now at first glance it would seem to be a golden age for the creative type. The internet allows the “artist” to run free and open with her soul stripped bare, spilling its rainbow sparkles of creativity all over the place. This marvel of modern technology is a vast garden where the seed of beauty can be nurtured into a full grown tree of magnificence. Sounds great doesn’t it?
The problem I see is at the same time the worst part. In the current age of human development we are collectively as rich as we’ve ever been. This is where I’m going to start sounding horrible but it’s true. If you are reading this right now chances are pretty good that you’ve managed to surpass the worry of daily survival. Your life expectancy is probably on the far end of the scale so you can afford, like me, to think on matters pertaining to the creative.
That’s a good thing. It should be commended. However, it changes the idea of what it means to be a creative person trying to earn a living through what could be called art.
Is it a good change? Perhaps. In the past only the true masters of their form survived into today. People that were so extraordinary that their names entered into history. That’s a tough act to follow. In Shakespeare’s time there were certainly plenty of other people writing plays, some memorable, some not. Though the average person would be hard pressed to remember anyone other than the immortal bard himself.
Today, by contrast, fame can be thrust upon anyone at anytime for any reason. These flare ups can be brief or they can lead into a substantial career. The problem, I think, is that while in the past it was certainly hard to make it through life as some manner of artisan there was a certain level of skill required to even make a go of it. Today with the internet more often than not fame and success are awarded despite quality of product.
However, (this is going to sound really pretentious I bet) the people that think themselves to be artists tend to hold back their work because they have convinced themselves that in order to be successful their craft needs to be on the level of the old masters from history. On some level this is true simply because the art consuming populace has the same requirements for greatness engrained in their minds. Also, thanks to the internet, the market for creative work has been flooded with low quality material that can swamp and fatigue the average consumer.
Then your typical starving artist has to deal with the internal pain of witnessing some of that mediocre swill succeed through some combination of luck and lowest common denominator. To add more misery to the pile the nature of the internet is progressing towards a market where the artist will have to compete against free. Anything that can be digitized can be traded for a monetary price of zero. This is hard to fight against and more and more it’s becoming a trend in some areas that are legitimate businesses as opposed to pirates.
SOPA/PIPA Disclaimer: I did not support these bills because they overreached to violate civil liberties. I don’t think pirating is healthy for the creative content production industry, however.
So what can some jerk like me do about it? No seriously, I need some ideas….
One option is expansion of the skill set. This is easier said than done since “art” of any sort requires a great deal of practice. To take writing for example, it’s been said that every writer has about a million words of crap that they need to get out before they can produce quality work.
A million words. For reference, at this point in this post it is only just over 700 words and it’s already feeling over long. I haven’t keep track of my own personal count but I doubt I’m very close to that number if I want to be honest. So I’ve taken to branching out.
This is what brought me to write about this subject tonight. I’ve recently thrown quite a lot of money at shiny things that are marketed as being useful for the creation of artistic products in this crazy share space we call The Internet. I’m lucky to be able to have this money though it did cost me a family member and was only given to me due to failures of a paternal nature. I hope that it will not be wasted money. That is what gnaws at me now. If I fail at this venture then will I tarnish the memory attached to this money? Should I have given it to charity? Again it is hard to talk about these issues without sounding as shallow as a mud puddle on a hot summer’s day but that doesn’t stop them from bouncing around my head.
There’s a quote going around the internet recently from the NPR radio host Ira Glass. I’ll just add it here because it’s pretty good but long.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” -Ira Glass
This is pretty good advice that I haven’t really been following recently. I’ve always been drawn to the Jack-of-all-trades formula even though the cautionary addition to that phrase is “master-of-none”. I’ve been trying to branch out and its hard going. I feel overwhelmed at times. My biggest worry though is that my taste is no good.
Thanks for sticking around this long. Feel free to post a comment. It makes me feel like I’m running through a golden field wearing a cape of rainbow sprinkles riding on a magic unicorn.
Yikes it’s been awhile since I’ve spent some time at the old creative computer here and gotten something done that wasn’t exploring a magic dungeon for doodads of ultimate power (Skyrim/Torchlight), exploring barren wastelands for ammo and new slapdash instruments of ranged death introduction (Borderlands), or dealing with the vast minutia of my modest for a lone-wolf-space-manufacturer business empire (EvE).
Yes I’ve been playing a lot of video games lately. Which is awesome because I bet the rest of you wish you had time to piss away at something so frivolous and entertaining.
Also I was sick as a dog on a spoiled meat bender for most of the week. That, was not awesome. I got better though. Sort of. I’m still off the sauce, however. Even more committed to it now since I saw a man take a running drunk header down two flights of stairs in a major train station.
Ever take a large fruit, a melon of some kind, tie it up in a pillowcase, and thwack it against a slab of concrete with all your might? I imagine that sound is very similar to the one this poor soul’s head made against the unforgiving stone at the bottom of the stairs. I know he was drunk because I know the body kinesthetics involved in the floppy arm non-response he was able to muster as he tried to grab the hand rail. Sober people tend to have the cognitive ability to arrest forward momentum or at least redirect it before it becomes akin to diving head first into an empty swimming pool.
I didn’t stick around for several reasons. One, it was late and I had to catch my train. Staring at an accident scene is not worth missing out on sleeping at home. Two, it was in Shibuya, one of the busiest stations in town, as such there were easily one hundred other witnesses. So if he did survive he would get help. Three, there was a lot of blood and that is not fun to deal with. I think the guy was dead as soon as he hit. We are some fragile bags of meat ambling about surrounded by constructions of our own creation that could crush the life from our bones in an instant. We are a dumb species when you think about it. Just wish I could get it out of my head.
Here are some pictures I took of Gotanda. Not the most popular part of Tokyo but I spend a lot of time there.
Another weekly addition to the anthology of Chuck Wendig flash fiction writing challenges. This week we were to write a story about three photos taken randomly from Flickr. These are the ones I got.
Here’s what I wrote!
The first alarm I’d set went off. I snoozed my phone back to sleep. The second alarm I’d set went off five minutes later. I managed to snooze it as well without opening my eyes. The cycle of alarms went on like this for about thirty minutes. That’s usually the amount of time my brain takes to activate. I started to calculate how much time I had to waste in bed. I was on vacation, so I let the dance go on for a while past my normal limit.
My father banged on the door to my room once. He didn’t believe in the over expression of emotions but his displeasure communicated through that one act well enough. I buried my head in the cool sheets wrapped around me. I tried to ignore the nagging thought that I would miss breakfast if I didn’t get up right away. Once I felt the tug at my stomach, however, I gave up on the idea of more sleep. So I threw off the covers and stomped over to the window. The early morning sun blasted into my room after I opened the curtains. It drove the winter chill away from my bones and the cobwebs of sleep from my mind. Behind me, the third alarm I’d set went off.
When I came downstairs my father was in the kitchen poking at a cast iron skillet with a plastic spatula. Bacon sizzled within the skillet, the fat popping and snapping. I poured myself a cup of fresh coffee while my father carefully pulled finished strips out to set aside on a thick pad of paper towels.
“Need any help?” I asked before taking a sip of my coffee. He shook his head.
“Got to make the toast yourself though,” he said. I put my cup down and went to a cupboard to get a few slices of wheat bread to feed to the toaster.
My father was wearing his favorite hat while he continued to cook the bacon. Brown, cracked and wrinkled as he was, he called the old fedora his ‘driving hat’. He added a few fresh strips to the skillet.
“Today’s the day, isn’t it?” I asked as I set the bread on the journey to become toast. My father dropped the skillet down on the stove with a bang. A small fire flared up as some grease spilled but it went out quickly. The stench of scorched fat hung thick for a moment before my father reached up and turned on the vent. The fan hummed like a nest of overweight hornets.
“Yes that’s right,” he said. He adjusted the hat on his head making sure it was on tight. The toast popped up from the toaster so I grabbed a plate from next to the stove. I added some bacon to the toast and then went to sit at the counter with my coffee. My father soon finished cooking so he turned off the heat and set the skillet aside.
Instead of loading up a plate for himself, he went to the window across from the stove and stood staring out at the driveway. I looked at him as I crunched on my bacon and sipped my coffee. He stood there, with the yellow sunlight staining his face, for about two strips of bacon, half a piece of toast, and most of my coffee. He turned away as I got up for a refill. As I poured my second cup of joe my father got his breakfast. I wondered if his cough was getting better, it didn’t sound quite as ragged as before.
He took a seat next to mine, after moving the box packed with the dinner glasses first. He glanced at the newspaper headlines as he ate but flicked the pages back and forth not settling on any article for long.
“What time are you meeting the collector?” I asked.
“He told me around eleven,” my father said.
“Sure going to miss that old car,” I said around the last bite of my toast. My father grunted a noncommittal response.
“You want me to follow you so I can give you a ride back?”
He shook his head without taking his eyes off the paper.
“Your aunt said she’d give me a ride,” my father said, “We’ll probably stop for lunch in town.” I’d finished my breakfast so I stood up to take my plate over to the sink.
“I’ll try to get the garage finished before you get back then.”
“You’d better,” he said. He finished the last of his bacon then handed the plate over to me. My father set the paper aside, grabbed his keys from the counter, and headed out the door without another word.
While I was finishing the dishes I could hear the old engine roar to life, sputtering only a little in the cold air. I went to the window to watch my father pull his classic car out of the driveway for the last time.
Just a quick one to keep the blog from dying from neglect. Off to Hammamatsu tomorrow for a much needed escape. Chuck Wendig is helping his loyal followers keep the writing muscles fresh with this week’s flash fiction challenge. Here’s my entry before I hit the sack.
“I’ve never had what you might call a “stable” relationship,” Frank said. “Nothing crazy, mind you, just nothing healthy.”
“That’s why most people come to us,” the orderly said. He had difficulty keeping the heavy boredom of a long day out of his voice as he scratched down Frank’s insurance information.
“There was this one girl though, a long time ago,” Frank said. A thin smile tugged at the corner of his chapped lips. The orderly snapped the pen against his clipboard breaking Frank’s concentration.
“The doctor will be with you shortly,” he said before leaving Frank alone in the examination room. Frank squirmed a little on the hard examination table. The crinkle of the butcher paper under him sounded far too loud in the tiny room. He cracked the knuckles on his right hand, then the left before standing up. Frank paced the room looking at the various objects scattered on the shelves lining the wall. Tongue depressors, latex gloves, cotton balls. Everything seemed normal to him.
The door clicked open causing Frank to jump. A short bald man with thick glasses strode in still looking at familiar clipboard. Frank wondered for a moment how the man could see through the thick mass of wrinkles that made up his face.
“Mr. Sterling?” The doctor said, looking up at Frank. When he saw the doctor’s eyes Frank sucked in a sharp breath. The doctor’s eyes were covered with a milky film and seemed to stare right through him. If the doctor noticed Frank’s reaction he gave no indication of it.
“Has my assistant explained the procedure to you?”
“Mostly,” Frank said, “Are you sure this will fix my problem?”
“That’s the hope Mr. Sterling,” the doctor said, “I’ll remind you again, the procedure is highly experimental.” Frank swallowed hard. The sound was laughably loud in the still room. The doctor smiled and reached out a hand to Frank.
“Don’t worry,” the doctor said, “I haven’t lost a patient yet.”
“And you can reverse it at anytime?” Frank asked.
“Well it will take a few weeks for the incisions to heal,” the doctor said, “But after that the procedure should be fully reversible after a short stint of drug therapy.”
Frank looked around the room and scratched his freshly shaven head. He wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for, a sign perhaps. Or maybe an escape. The doctor waited, arms folded across his chest, while Frank came to grips with his decision. After a minute or two Frank sighed, his shoulders slumped.
“Let’s do it,” he said. The doctor smiled once again and held out a hand to guide Frank out of the room.
“Don’t worry son,” the doctor said, “It’ll be over before you know it.”
As promised yesterday, (I hope because this is the first time I’ll try delayed posting trick) here is the next piece of the story of Nick and Tom, Yokai detectives.
Nick and Tom arrived in Roppongi close to an hour after they got the call. By that time the body had been roped off and most of the reporters lost interest. Nick recognized one from a particularly seedy gossip magazine. Usually they dealt with celebrity sex scandals and corporate shenanigans but no newspaper or magazine could resist the scent of a murder story.
When most of the reputable outfits find out it was a sex worker from Roppongi they pack it in early. The people down here dying were a dime a dozen. Only upstanding citizens; housewives, office workers, high school students, and the like made for good stories that sold copies. So the big players left these stories to the gossip rags that were more interested in client lists rather than life stories. Nick made sure to bump hard into the reporter as he passed. The whip thin man started to curse Nick when Tom knocked him to the ground with a casual nudge. Tom bowed low and offered his apologies but not a hand up. The reporter made a stumbling excuse about how he must have tripped and waved Tom off with a smile. Tom might dress like a clown on LSD but he was still seven feet tall and three hundred pounds of scary blue muscle. Tom nodded at the reporter then turned to join Nick at the police cordon.
Nick was chatting with his friend that gave him the tip. The officer looked the same as most do, broad shoulders, buzz cut, neat and clean uniform, but this one had a smile in his eyes as well as his face. Most cops Nick knew would smile at someone but couldn’t hide the contempt or even outright condescension they felt.
“Nice one Tom,” Nick said. He jerked his thumb in the direction of the reporter, who was busy dusting off his pants. “Have you met my friend Shin before?” The cop bowed at Tom who returned the gesture.
“I think we met at the end-of-the-year party last year,” Tom said. Shin stopped to think for a moment, hand on his chin.
“That’s right!” he said, snapping his fingers, “That was one hell of a party. I can’t remember the last time I drank so much.”
“Do you know a lot of Oni, sir?” Tom said, “I figured we’d be hard to forget at a party.”
“Like I said,” Shin punched Nick on the arm, “I can’t remember when I drank so much or even how much I drank. But forgive me,” he bowed again, “it’s nice to see you again Tom.” Tom returned the bow and Shin responded. This set off a small feedback loop as both bowed several more times to each other before breaking out into laughter.
“So,” Nick said, “are we going to get to see the body anytime soon?” Shin looked at him, wiping a small tear of laughter from one eye.
“Did you remember to renew your license?” Shin asked. Nick started to say something, stopped, then turned to look at Tom. Tom gave a small nod.
“Of course!” Nick said. Shin laughed but let them through the cordon and into the crime scene anyway.
The stairs leading up were narrow to the point of claustrophobia. Tom hit his head on the low ceilings twice. It was his only choice though, he wouldn’t fit in the elevator. Nick had wanted to take the elevator and avoid the seven flights of stairs but Tom had threatened to quit if Nick left him to climb alone. When they reached the seventh floor the door by the stairs had no markings except for three chinese characters written in the complicated traditional style.
“What’s that say?” Nick asked. He was breathing heavily through his nose though it was clear he didn’t want to let on how winded he was.
“Seems they didn’t take clients of my size into consideration when they chose this place,” Tom said. He was hunched over, the ceiling too short for him to stand up straight. Shin laughed again.
“Sorry Tom,” he said. Then he pointed a thumb at the door. “As for this,” he said, “It’s gibberish. ‘Happy Luck Day’ or some such. Come on, let’s go in.”
The massage parlor was rather typical in Nick’s opinion. Soft leather couches lined the walls underneath long plate glass windows. There was what looked to be a reception desk, papers and notebooks scattered across the surface. An office phone with multiple lines sat on one corner, the receiver dangled off the side, resting on the floor. A large TV hung on the wall. It was showing a re-run of a popular variety show. The sound was off but Nick remembered the human interest piece about a five year old kid that took the bullet train all by himself. On the opposite wall, facing the door, a security camera looked down at them.
“Was that thing on?” Nick said, pointing at the camera.
“Yeah but the first run through didn’t show anything obvious around the time of death. The footage is back at headquarters by now,” Shin said.
“You’ll get me a copy?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Shin then led them into the back of the parlor. Heavy curtains made of cheap fabric hung in large ovals. Some were open, revealing the flat massage beds covered in clean white towels. Nick had been in some less hygienic establishments before so this place was a step above the rest. Shin kept walking to the very rear of the massage area. There were two forensic workers standing off to the side comparing notes.
“About damn time,” one of them said when Nick and the others came over to the scene. The one who spoke looked like he was about to continue his complaint when Tom coughed. It was a deep rumbling noise that sounded like a spoon in a garbage disposal. The forensic workers went back to their notes. Shin smiled.
“Let’s finish this quickly, I’m already overstepping my authority letting you two in here,” he said.
“I appreciate it,” Nick said, clapping his friend on the shoulder. Nick turned to look at the body. It was already in a bag, resting on one of the tables. A softer pillow and heavier blankets than are typical for a customer were crumpled on the floor next to the bed.
“We think she was in here sleeping off her shift, waiting for the trains to start running,” Shin said. “Other than the bag, we found her pretty much just as she is now, flat on the bed, no signs of injury.” Nick unzipped the bag and looked at the corpse for a few moments. He zipped the bag up again.
“She’s human,” Nick said. Shin said nothing, his expression hard to read. “Why did you call me about this?”
“You didn’t recognize her?” Shin said.
“No,” Nick said. He stopped then, thinking. “Give me a light.” Shin handed Nick his flashlight. Nick unzipped the bag again and flicked on the light.
“Is she?” Nick asked.
“That fox we found the other day. She worked for this one,” Shin said. Nick said nothing as he continued to look at the corpse, trying to find a hint of familiarity in the features swollen by death. What he did notice, however, was the same yellow discoloration as his friend the fox had. It was harder to pick out on human flesh than white fox fur, but it was there.
“Did you get the results from the lab on what killed Lin, I mean, the fox?” Nick asked. Shin raised an eyebrow. Tom looked anywhere but the corpse. He had a weak stomach for death.
“Funny thing that,” Shin said, “Toxicology said she died of acute nicotine poisoning.” Nick sniffed the air. Out of the ordinary actions are just as contagious in yokai as they are in humans. Soon both Tom and Shin were sniffing the air and even the forensic guys started as well. Shin shrugged his shoulders.
“Smells like an overripe corpse to me,” he said. Nick looked at Tom.
“I can smell tobacco smoke though,” Tom said, “Even over that.” He waved a hand in the general direction of the corpse. Nick could smell it too. He had just given up cigarettes. Two months clean after seventeen years at a pack a day. People told him often that the sense of smell was the first thing to come back. Shin still smoked, however.
“I smell it too,” Nick said, “which is odd. They usually don’t let customers smoke in a place like this. At least, not in the rooms.” Nick saw the forensic team writing down new notes at a furious pace. They avoided his gaze when he caught their eye. Nick was used to it, the incompetence of your average crime scene investigator in this area of town.
“Might be something to follow up on.” Shin said, “If there’s nothing else you want to see, I’d like to get this body out of here and down to the morgue.”
“Of course,” Nick said, “I’ve seen enough for now. Hope you can get me that video though.”
“I’ll try,” Shin said with a small laugh, “but you’re going to owe me a beer or two if I come through on this.” Nick just smiled and followed Shin back to the exit. At the elevator Shin turned to Tom.
“Why don’t you head down ahead of us big guy,” he said, “I want to talk to Nick alone for a moment.” Tom sighed.
“More chatter about human females and their ample rear ends?” he asked.
“Exactly,” Nick said patting Tom on the arm, he couldn’t reach high enough to get his shoulder, “we’ll take the elevator and meet you down there.” Tom stomped off down the stairs muttering about “yokai discrimination”. After he disappeared around the corner of the stairwell Nick hit the elevator call button.
“So what did you want to talk to me about Shin?” he asked. Shin hesitated, unsure of how to begin.
“I know you and Lin were close,” he said. Nick shoved his hands in his pockets and began shifting his weight from foot to foot. His eyes locked onto the lights above the elevator signaling which floor it was on.
“And I know you had a falling out,” Shin said. Nick threw a sharp glance at Shin then went back to the elevator. He reached out and stabbed the call button a few more times.
“I’m not saying you’re a suspect,” Shin said.
“A suspect?” Nick said. His outburst echoed down the stairwell. The elevator arrived and Nick immediately stomped inside the car. Shin grabbed the door as Nick was pressing the button for the first floor.
“You’re not a suspect yet, Nick,” Shin said, standing in the doorway so it couldn’t close, “Yet being the key word. I’m just saying you should be careful.”
“Thanks,” Nick said. Shin’s shoulders slumped, hurt apparent on his face. Nick sighed deeply.
“No seriously,” he said, “Thank you. I know you’re trying to help.” Shin smiled. He stepped out of the way of the door.
“You still owe me a beer for the file I gave you,” he said as the elevator closed. Nick gave a thumbs up as the double doors slid shut.
Outside, Tom was waiting with his arms crossed.
“What took you?” he said to Nick as he entered the street.
“Slow elevator, should have taken the stairs,” Nick said. He paused to take a small flask from his coat. He opened it then took a long drink. He offered it to Tom who took it.
“Why does Shin help you out so much anyway?” Tom asked after he’d taken a swallow of the whiskey.
“I saved his life once,” Nick said. He had another long drink on the flask then put it away. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go talk to the kappa.”
“This should be fun,” Tom said.
It’s amazing how quickly Christmas went from everywhere to nowhere in the span of just a day. I don’t remember what it was like so much in America, perhaps I never really paid attention. It seemed like to me, in the fuzzy memories knocking around in my head that there was at least a day or two of “Christmas Hangover” in the general culture.
If I’m wrong be sure to let me know or else I’ll never learn. Anyway, over here it was quite stark. Christmas isn’t quite as ubiquitous as it is in the states (despite what conservative media would rather you think). Still, in one stint in a coffee shop I heard at least five different covers of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas”. It’s Japan’s most over done Christmas song by far. The very next day, however, everything was gone like I’d shifted into a new dimension that had no such thing as Christmas while I slept. It was sudden is what I’m trying to say.
Of course now that Christmas has come and gone it’s swiftly approaching time for the next real big holiday in Japan. New Years. Did you know Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan? I know weird isn’t it…
The first three days of January are holidays though. If translated the titles of said days off are “First three days of the new year”. That’s hardcore. The new year is a time for reflection on regrets and hopes for the future. And that takes three days in Japan apparently. It’s a time to visit shrines (Shinto) or temples (Buddhist) and get your fortune told. Last year I think I got the “sorta lucky” general fortune. Hopefully this year will be a little better. I probably have to go to a better shrine though. (Some are luckier than others but those are usually packed)
Of course in America we have the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. Promises we make to ourselves that we typically cast aside after a few weeks to a few months. This too is tradition. Last year my resolution was to be better to myself. Open ended promises are better because they’re far easier to break without anyone noticing. I did quit smoking though so I guess we can call that a success. It’s been 4 months as of this writing.
So chalk it up as a victory, how can I build on that? I think when I made the resolution last year I was thinking only in a physical sense. This year I think I’ll continue the same idea (recycling completely/semi-failed resolutions is also tradition) but I’ll try to be better to myself mentally. This is a difficult task in such a soul sucking pit of concrete hell that is Tokyo (just kidding but not for real though). Hopefully I’ll be able to escape for a day or two in the new year, depending on if I can get a bullet train seat. I should probably check into that sooner rather than later.
Anyway, as a tangible goal, my resolution is to finish my book started in Nanowrimo season. And by finish I mean extend, edit, and release it into the wild. Either to publishers/editors/agents (will give it a shot but I think Japanese mythology based supernatural crime noire is rather niche’) or into the gaping suck-maw of the self-publish market place. I’ll need readers and maybe someone who can draw/computer-up a cover for it. So if you’re interested let me know.
Tune in tomorrow for Chapter 3 since feedback so far has been pretty positive. And I still need to practice using the delayed post feature to see what that’s about.
Stay Creative. V(^_^)
Edit: Me no good with mobile WordPress app. Rargh…
Well it’s Christmas in Japan. So I’m feeling a little nostalgic. As you can tell from the title I’d like to talk about what is one of my favorite pieces of creative property, let alone favorite comic strip. It’s a little known fact that I can not be friends with any American male of around the same age as myself if they do not agree that Calvin & Hobbes is the best newspaper comic strip ever created.
Rather specific requirements but it’s that serious. Well, if they never heard of it for some reason I suppose to can’t blame them for such a deprivation. For the uninitiated, and those of you that didn’t bother to click the link to Wikipedia up there, Calvin & Hobbes was a newspaper comic strip about a young boy and his stuffed tiger/best friend. Both characters were named after medieval aged thinkers so already the bar is set rather high. I’ll be including some visual examples because that makes for a more entertaining piece. However, I want to be clear, I am not taking credit in any way, shape, or form.
Calvin & Hobbes is the sole property of Bill Watterson and perhaps his newspaper syndicate. I don’t know the rules. What I know is they certainly aren’t mine and that statement is a whole lot more than some of the sites I pulled these images from will acknowledge. So with all of that out of the way on to why I love this comic.
Let me show you a strip that doesn’t have much story but I think speaks very well to the heart of the strip. A little boy with an overabundance of imagination.
Bill Watterson left behind a legacy about how popularity and quality can defeat entrenched rules and traditions in a creative medium. The strip above is a color Sunday strip. What I didn’t know at the time (being a young child of course) but Calvin & Hobbes broke from the standard format on Sunday allowing Watterson to create strips the way he wanted on Sunday’s. Without delving too much into the details (because it’s kind of boring) Sunday comics were a big deal and newspapers liked to cram in as many as they could and so there needed to be a certain standard. Watterson got an exception for C&H which allowed him to do some really magnificent things with the format.
This taught me that if your work is better than good you can get away with a lot. (I didn’t say they’d be absolutely wonderful lessons, just ones that I learned for better or worse)
I love the subtlety of the interactions between Calvin and Hobbes here. I always imagined that Hobbes really came to life in the world of these strips. It’s never explicitly stated but that’s the charm. This strip kicked off a long arc about the terrible haircut, hiding it from his parents, and trying to cover it up (with a yellow marker of all things!). I like the comedic timing that Hobbes displays in the last frame and have included it in a lot of jokes I make with friends. Still makes me laugh to this day.
Maximum subtlety, minimum effort
A simple night camping. Ah the wonders of youth.
What was that?!
There is so much story between the third and fourth panel there. This is something I try to put into my own work. Usually there’s always something lying there underneath the surface that I’ll absolutely refuse to point out directly. I think it comes from a desire to be as good at it as this.
Another of the things I loved about the strip is how smart Calvin can sound when he’s talking to Hobbes and yet he fails constantly at school and does things that are borderline mentally-handicapped like drive a wagon off a giant cliff. (Sled in the wintertime).
This duality really made me feel better about the fact that I really didn’t enjoy school. Like ever, at all. Plus it developed a love of language in me just trying to figure out what the hell he was saying.
Skewed Views of Parents
This one I’m maybe not so proud of. Calvin’s view of his parents (whom are never named in the comic other than Mom & Dad) is fairly detached and aloof at times. This says a lot about the late 80s and 90s and about my own situation which was objectively fucked up, though, not the worst thing ever that’s for sure. But I liked Calvin’s parents. They always seemed like a couple that had been trapped into their relationship by their (unplanned?) child but stuck it out in a dysfunctional yet loving way. Guess I gravitated to that dynamic.
Calvin was a writer
Yep. Calvin wrote stories. I wonder if that had any effect on me as a child?
This still chokes me up a bit when I read it. If you’re a fan then you know there can only be one thing that’s coming. If not, I apologize in advance but hopefully you’ll thank me later.
I present to you: The Raccoon Story
Oh fuck…I’ve got something in my eye…..Excuse me *sniff*
Calvin was me
That’s a strange thing to say perhaps. I think C&H was about a certain demographic to be sure. Suburban white kids that liked to play outside. That was me and everyone I knew growing up. That’s just how it was. However, my best friend’s father would cut out the strips and hang them on the refrigerator. I owned every single book that they put out but almost never read it in the newspaper. Later you would see crazy things like car stickers of Calvin pissing on various things. Those were not officially sanctioned by the way.
And that is one of the reasons why I think C&H didn’t dominate the popular culture and also why it stayed so good. Bill Watterson wouldn’t let it. I can tell you, if you bought anything Calvin & Hobbes related that wasn’t just a book of the strips then you were paying a grifter. Calvin and Hobbes was never licensed for merchandise because the creator didn’t believe in it.
Today we would call something like that hipsterish but back then it was golden. Would Calvin and Hobbes have become crap and derivative if it hadn’t ended when it did? I’m torn of course. On the one hand I remember how sad I was to learn there would never be any more C&H and how much trouble I put my mother through to find the last book on offer. Which was just a collection of old strips with commentary from Watterson, like a DVD commentary before that was even a thing. I admit I was disappointed. I didn’t want it to ever end.
It was honestly, my favorite thing ever at the time. How could I not want more?
Looking back, perhaps it’s for the best that Calvin and Hobbes remained pure. All I know for certain is that I can not read a single strip without grinning like an idiot from ear to ear. I remember the first time a saw a collection was in the dorm room of my Big Sister. She let me keep it and started my love of the comic. The first time I can remember throwing up in the car on a family vacation was while I was reading Calvin and Hobbes. I kept that book despite the vomit stains crinkling the bottom half. Pretty much there is nothing else so integral to my childhood.
Someday I can see this as being the proverbial “back in my day” story that all adults seem to collect somewhere along the way. Though, for what it’s worth, I hope that someday I can have children that I can introduce to Calvin and his best friend Hobbes. And then to my grandchildren.
Merry Christmas everyone.