To Be Article

I wrote about writing this article a few months back.  I was asked to write an article about Tiny Life with no direction.  “Just write something.”  So I did.  And it was rejected because it was too good.  Instead, I wrote this one; it’s much more straightforward than the other one.  It appears in the magazine (and online) Revista Spooner:

The most common question I get about my Tiny Life series of graphic novels is, “So what’s it about?”  It’s also the toughest to answer.

A more accurate question would be, “Why would I like it?” to which I would respond: you would like it because it’s the most original thing you’ve ever read.  You would like it because the art is much better than most independent comics.  You would like it because it makes you think and because you have to read it more than once.

Most of the time, when people ask me this question, they’re not really asking me this particular question.  Sometimes, depending on the inflection of the voice and who it is I’m talking to, that question is actually a little more layered.  To someone who makes comics, “So what’s it about?” actually means, “So how is your story any better than mine?”  To someone who’s aspiring to make comics, “So what’s it about?” actually means, “Where’d you get your idea and how can I get one too?”  To both questions I would respond: you have to listen to life.  The place where I got all the ideas that make up Tiny Life came to me over a period of years.  I wrote and rewrote and rewrote and drew and redrew and started all over again when something else came to me.  It’s better because Tiny Life is mine.

To a reviewer, “So what’s it about?” actually means, “What are you trying to say?” to which I would respond: I’m trying to say something that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue but no one seems to know how to word it.  I’m trying to answer the big questions in life without coming right out and saying it because life just isn’t that direct.  I’m trying to get people to come to their own conclusions in a format and through a story that has never been told before.

To my friends, “So what’s it about?” actually means, “Is this about me?” to which I would respond: absolutely.  This is our past.  Everything that happens here happened there.  You’re definitely in Tiny Life.  Somewhere.  You might be more than one character and you might be meshed with someone else, but you’re definitely in here.  Maybe you’re Jed.  Or part of you is Jed.  Or part of Jed is you.  But this isn’t your story.  Not exactly your story.

To my family, “So what’s it about?” actually means, “Is this about you?” to which I would respond: absolutely.  There’s a little bit of me everywhere in Tiny Life.  I am a little Jed and Fred and Sis and Amy and Peg and Roy and Jared and Drudge and Mona and Dave and Ducky.  But I am not only Jed or Fred or Sis.  This is not my story.  Not exactly my story.

But if you’re not someone who makes comics, if you’re not aspiring to; if you’re not someone with $10 burning a hole in your pocket; if you’re not a reviewer; if you’re not a family member or a friend of mine, then “So what’s it about?” means just that.  And defining Tiny Life to someone who’s really curious is the most difficult part of my job.

To you I’d respond: Tiny Life is the half-biographical, half-autobiographical, half-fictional account of a stick figure living in a world of flesh.  It’s sometimes funny, sometimes serious, and sometimes a little of both.  There are no super-heroes, there is no manga.  There are no post-apocalyptic vampire-cyborgs who terrorize the zombie populace while simultaneously falling in love with the one shy yet very attractive girl who’s just coming into her own.  It is the completely original story of Jed, a man who can see color in a black-and-white world, a man who must eventually learn – like we all do – the truth about himself, about relationships, about God, and about reality.  Tiny Life is about the world behind things.

But I always have a hard time saying that out loud.  It sounds pretty pretentious and I have a hard time talking about myself.

So instead, I usually just point to my pregnant wife, hold out my hand and say, “Baby needs diapers.”

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2 Responses

  1. Well, you could say stuff like, “It’s about this kid who’s a stick figure and whose father might have been the Christ.” You could layer that with, “And there’s another dude who has seen the future, and knows he will be killed by the stick dude.” And, “There’s a character that at time references Dave Sim.”

    I mean, you could actually write a plot summary to tell people what the book is about. The reason you don’t want to do that is that it doesn’t really give them any idea what reading the book is like, and just about everything sounds either boring or ridiculous when you lay out the plot like that. (See, e.g., Rinkworks’ Book-A-Minute, http://rinkworks.com/bookaminute/classics.shtml .)

    The problem with doing what you’ve done right there is that you still don’t really explain what it’s like to read the comic, and you haven’t said much of what it’s about, and nobody believes anybody when he/she says his/her creation is exceptionally original, because half of everybody says that, and ninety percent of everything sucks. (Sturgeon’s Law)

    Moreover, it’s not clear what you mean when you say it’s completely original, when you earlier note that it is half autobiographical. There is certainly creativity involved in writing autobiography, but the story cannot be completely original if it is lifted from life.

    Essentially, you’re saying, “My book eludes comic book cliches and explores important topics.” That doesn’t answer anybody’s question, except perhaps, “Why would I like it?”

    Self-promotion is a difficult and terrible thing. Some people can pull off shameless self-promotion (e.g. Dave Sim twenty years ago), but most will just come off as desperate shills (e.g. Dave Sim today). My suggestion, for what it’s worth (i.e. nothing) is that you formulate a plot-based answer to the question of what the book is about. While you have someone’s ear you can also talk about how different and important the work is, but if that’s all you’ve told them then you haven’t told them anything worth hearing.

    You could quote me for a tagline, if you like:

    “Good enough to make me wade through two years of irrelevant blog posts in anticipation of news of the next installment.”

    • I should’ve just had you write it. You use “e.g.” and “i.e.” much better than I do.

      (also, the unrelated articles seem to generate the most traffic; apparently I’m more clever as a blogger than a stick-figure-inker)

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