I choose comics like I choose wine – by looking at the art. I’ll pick up a bottle because its label has a beautifully sketched tree or an abstract pattern begging to be studied. I don’t even like rosé, but bought a bottle once because the label yelled, “Yes way, rosé!”
Comics are the same; if the art is pretty, it’s in the shopping cart. Saga has long been my comic obsession. Seriously you guys, it’s insanely gorgeous. The colors, the creatures, the jarring beauty of all that nakedness! There’s a lot of bodies; its rated MA for a reason. I love a good, easy-to-look-at comic. The medium fundamentally needs both, so I don’t feel bad for paying close attention or for being picky. If I’m going to follow the pictures as closely or even more closely than the words, it’s best that they be beautiful. As a side note, I did read Preacher. I read it because I am obsessed with Dominic Cooper and I knew he was in the AMC TV show based on the comic. Yall, the comic was ugly .. so so ugly. There were pages that literally made me gag. I hated the pictures. Basically, this comic was forced into ‘speed read’ territory, because after a certain point I was just reading it. There was no picture-looking-at happening here. Loved the story – hated the art – will never read it again. (Don’t at me.) Preacher is a gritty and ugly story; gritty and ugly art definitely matched the tone. After that experience though, I just wanted a good story and pretty art. You can still tell a difficult, complex tale and not make me want to gag.
Christopher and I went comic shopping a few weeks ago. I was shopping for Bitch Planet to read and write about later. I hate getting only one thing at a local shop though, so I got Ms. Marvel and something called Beast by Marian Churchland.
I had been meaning to get the other two for a while, but Beast made its way home with me because of the art. After a cursory flip through the pages, I knew this was a comic for me. Everything was sepia-toned and sketchy; had this very simple beauty upon first glance but got more complex the longer I stared. Once home and with an iced coffee in hand, I set all three new comics in front of me. I knew Bitch Planet; I knew Ms. Marvel. This day, I just didn’t want to dive into something familiar. Beast sat there, a beautiful mystery begging to be opened.
Serendipitously, Beast turned out to be a comic about creating. It’s the story of a sculptor named Colette, who lands a job in which she must sculpt someone’s portrait into a slab of marble. I did not truly know this until page thirty-five. Despite having read the first two pages in which we watch Colette accept this job. Despite having read the intro in which the author’s close friend says of the frailty of art, “Here at last the features of the incorporeal may be carved in stone.” Even though on page two Colette says her parents used to own a gallery and on page three says she “works in stone” and went to art school. Even though the very premise of Part One rests on Colette getting a sculpting job, I did not understand what was happening until this panel:
Page thirty-five, you guys… THIRTY FIVE!
To see Colette stand in front of a huge slab of nothing and imagine making it into something was what hit me. Seriously, like a big shove to the chest, I sat back and realized what was happening. This is inherently a story about a woman trying to grasp creativity before it slips away. Her staring down the nothingness that seems to always come first before creating comes easily made me stop dead in my reading tracks.
Creativity is personified as this shadowy man named Beast who has charged Colette with rendering his face and body into stone. HOW DID I MISS THIS? Colette is me. Not only can I not grasp creativity in my own, real life, I don’t even understand when the literature I am reading is about creativity. Can I reference Big Magic again? It’s kind of my bible now. Gilbert says ideas float around until someone is ready to make them real. I imagined little fairies jumping from person to person, whispering in ears, and only stopping when they found an artist ready to listen and talented enough to bring them into the world. My knee jerk reacting was to disagree whole-heartedly. I am an artist! I have ideas! I’m not reliant on some fairy to come to me and beg to be made. Beast is not entirely dissimilar though. Here we have a shadow man who we come to find out only ever makes sporadic appearances and offers little guidance for Colette, even though he’s hired her to make a portrait of him that he should be sitting for.
How different is this Beast from Gilbert’s idea, really? Colette describes Beast as being made of shadows and light. If she reaches out, she’s worried her hand would pass right through him. How does any artist make ideas real, when they are so difficult to hold on to? As a creator, I CONSTANTLY feel like ideas are just out of my reach. Always on the cusp of understanding or materializing. There’s usually some vague notion of something amazing that I want to do, but until it solidifies, it could be some fairy floating around me or a shadowy man who randomly appears only to give me precious little to work with.
Once the realization hit me that this comic could work for my theme, I appreciated everything Colette was going through on a whole new level. There are instances here specific to sculpting, but a lot of ideas spoke to the writer in me. One particularly resonant panel in which the slab of Colette’s working, naked marble towers over her in an empty room made me feel anxious. The panel was dark and severe. This is how I feel about journals. I have stacks and stacks of blank journals ready to be written in.
Ready and waiting, waiting for me to be ready. It’s intimidating, maybe not as visual as a rock twice my size waiting to be made into a person, but just as difficult for a writer.
Colette spends the story hoping daily that Beast will show up; she waits for his appearance, tries to will him into the room. Same, Colette, same.
I can’t spoil the ending, but I can say I had chills raising slowly across my whole body for the last ten pages. In these pages, Colette races headfirst into this frantic search for answers to her creative puzzle. Every artist has made this mad dash. Her search was not in vain. I’d like to think ours won’t be either, dear reader.
This comic put a new face on creativity, on how I see the process. I didn’t necessarily buy into Gilbert’s suggestion that ideas jump from person to person, but I love this version of creativity as a shadowy figure. I think maybe because he’s slightly terrifying and starting new projects slightly terrifies me. Maybe because he comes to help us implement the idea already in play in our minds. Serving more as our annoying assistant rather than the actual idea, which would make us just the vessel. Maybe I’m a sucker for a guy in a suit. An aloof, tie-wearing friend who only shows up after we’ve begged him, and once present, only gives us a vague idea of how to proceed anyway. Barely out of reach and just out of our peripherals, but always top of mind and always promising a great reveal … eventually.