The Two Margarets


When I teach comics I talk a lot about drawing as a practice of trust.  The more you draw, the more you learn to trust your instincts and your sense of being able to render.  In the beginning there is very little trust, so we try to control it, fearing our imperfections.  Often we reach to the eraser to help us feel more in control, but I think doing this actually slows the progress.  It’s like using training wheels to learn how to ride a bike.  You can’t know you are capable of balancing a two wheeler until you remove the little wheels that keep you upright.

I’ve always been “able to draw,” and loved to do it as a kid, so I continued beyond the years when a lot of my friends stopped.  Then it eventually became something else more complicated and while I had ability to draw, like most people I struggled to control how that ability showed itself.  As a result, my drawing was often stiff and calculating.  Through consistency and experience, there were times I grew in my abilities, but I still didn’t entirely TRUST them.  I see this in my drawings over the years–both the leaps and the rigid moments and I can pinpoint exactly when my drawing suddenly just…felt better.

I have had the pleasure of illustrating Margaret Cho not once, but TWICE for books.  As she is one of my favorite comedians, this has been a sublime opportunity.  I recently posted the two portraits, 6 years apart in creation, on Tumblr and was immediately struck by the differences in quality.  They are both fine portraits, expressed to their own unique ends, but I couldn’t help but see a marked growth in the second.

A16I can remember feeling like the first one for my book Great Gals was a PUSH for me artistically.  I had so far relied on images of people that had straightforward, somewhat static expressions for the portraits I had done in the past, but I loved this photo of Cho laughing.  I thought it expressed something true of her essence and energy, both as a comedian and as a personality. I can remember drawing it and literally holding my breath, thinking about it deliberately as something of a challenge.  When I was done I liked it.  I was relieved that it came off and I was so pleased with it, I put it on the cover.

margaret cho.jpegLast fall Zest Books approached me to make 35 portraits of feminists on a tight deadline.  I got them all done in a little less than 6 weeks. The challenge for this job was simply how to get these drawings done in time, not in whether or not I could render their faces accurately.  As a result, I think the second drawing of Cho is just more fluid, more confident.  All the portraits are.  I wasn’t worried about it–I trusted my abilities enough to get it done.

Looking at these two drawings I see my development in trusting my lines and it suddenly occurred to me what had happened between the two drawings:


The practice of making comics regularly has pushed me as an artist.  Any consistent discipline does, but the practice of making comics have asked me to draw things I NEVER would have.  They have asked me to draw things like CARS and buildings and environments–things I actively AVOIDED drawing in the past.  As I learned that there is NOTHING you can’t make a comic about, I have also learned there is NOTHING I can’t draw if I put my pen to it.  I am not saying that I make perfect drawings, I just trust myself more to rise up to the challenge. Essentially that’s all self-confidence is: a sense of trust that we are at the core basically okay. Comics have given me a sense of trust that YEARS of drawing never did.  What a gift!

Like I said, ANY regular practice will help with getting better, but if you’ve been curious about comics PLEASE JOIN ME for the next session of Writing & Drawing Comics that starts on Monday. I can help with that sense of trust perhaps you’ve been seeking.  It’s one of my favorite things to do–and it’s …(wait for it)…FUN.

If you don’t join us, let this be a note to just keep going. NOTHING is a better teacher than doing.  Keep going and know the work will always show you how to do it.

The Capitola Book Cafe

bookstoreWe learned last week that the bookstore where we met, The Capitola Book Cafe, is closing its doors for good.  This was not a surprise, as we know people who are still involved, but it’s another relic of my history to go and it’s just too bad.

I have moved across the country several times over and every time I arrived in a new town the first thing I looked for was the bookstore.  It was like that instant sense of “home” when I could find that store–I already knew everyone in there and in a way everyone in there already knew me.  When I moved back to California, threadbare and limping from my last few years on the East Coast, The Capitola Book Cafe was one of the first places I went.  I already knew it well from years ago, when I was a nanny living some blocks away and I thought all I needed to feel inspired or part of the world was a fancy cup of coffee and time to peruse a Frida Kahlo book.  It was the early 90’s, so The Capitola Book Cafe had plenty of both.  Now back in town a decade later, I often went to peruse the shelves aimlessly, to feel less alone, but really to ponder the plight of my life, which seemed bleak and lonely and confusing.  One evening I sat on a stool by the biography section (of course!), with my journal on my lap, doing just that–worrying myself sick on page after page.  I looked up and saw one of the clerks get ready to go.  He was tall with a shaved head and glasses and he wore a gray hooded sweatshirt, which I watched him zip up, before waving to the other clerks and walking out the door.  He looked like a drawing–the kind of drawing I used to make of part rock, part nerd boys.  So I drew a little sketch of him in my morose journal entry and noted how much he looked like a drawing, and then went back to complaining on the page.

I didn’t know it, but I just drew a sketch of my future.  Actually, while I was worried sick about what had and would become of me on that slow evening at The Book Cafe, I was sitting in a room filled of so many good things to come.  I wouldn’t know it for another year, but the guy who just left, the guy that I just jotted down in my sadder than sad journal entry, was the love of my life.  He was Graham.  Behind the counter stood his best friend, someone who would become one of my dearest friends, Richard–and out of that would come several important friendships.

In that way, you could argue that Gus’ life began there.  I sold my Great Gal Calendars in their calendar and card section and found some of the material that would go into the book version there.  I gave a reading of my first book, The Artist in the Office, there.  In the end, my habit of finding a bookstore was the thing that lead me to the best of my life.

The death of The Capitola Book Cafe was a long time coming, and I will be sad to see it gone the next time we are in town.  You can buy books in the floating space of the Internet, happen upon interesting places, find like-minded voices, but you can’t smell the ink and paper from the shelved books, or see a famous poet get her daily coffee, or feel something like hope as you pull up in front of the glowing warm lights of the windows.  As hard as a try, I have never been able to find true refuge in a web site, but I found it in The Capitola Book Cafe, along with every good thing that came after.