There is absolutely no single aspect of one's personality that is more important to develop than empathy, which is not a skill at which men typically are asked to excel. I believe empathy is not only the core of art, literature and music, but should also be at the core of society, from ethics to economics.
Fortunately, I'm able to make a living from comics, so I'm privileged enough to be quite choosy, though most cartoonists can't afford to be. It's really an uncomfortable situation, since I'm not an illustrator, though I do get calls from morally indefensible businesses offering me money to decorate their ambitions. It's extremely rare, almost unheard of, in fact, that I am asked to do a comic strip. Do writers get calls to pen Toyota advertisements? Do composers get asked to write chamber pieces about exercise machines?
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Unlike prose writing, the strange process of writing with pictures encourages associations and recollections to accumulate literally in front of your eyes; people, places, and events appear out of nowhere. Doors open into rooms remembered from childhood, faces form into dead relatives, and distant loves appear, almost magically, on the page- all deceptively manageable, visceral, the combinations sometimes even revelatory.
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I don't trust art that promises a 24-hour joyride. In fact, there seems to be a modern sense of entitlement for such constant "ups," which is a repugnant attitude any way one chooses to look at it. I definitely believe in the possibility of happiness, though; it's just something that I think, rightfully, is rare in its genuine form, and that it can't be counterfeited.
[Comics is] one of the last havens for honesty when it comes to a reader's genuine response to art. Most of us, if we don't find any sympathy or pleasure, for example, in a modern painting, are likely to blame our own ignorance of the history and theory of painting. But nobody pretends to like a bad comic strip. Such harshness is necessary for any real truth to surface, I think, and for art to really contribute anything to life. Though I don't know. I could be wrong.
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There is something about the medium [in comics] that allows for a simulation of actual experience with the added benefit of actually reading. You're reading pictures, but you are also looking at them. It's a sort of combined activity that I can't really think of any other medium having, other than, say, a foreign film when you are reading and seeing. It allows for all sorts of associations that might not come up with just words or just pictures.
I was used to being disliked as a kid. Not that I didn't deserve it: I was a pretty sad and unappealing creature, and still am, I guess. It's sort of simplistic to think that one tries to make stuff that accounts for one's repulsiveness as a person, but there's some truth to it. So, when I read something unfavorable, I always take it deeply personally. It's as if my efforts have been in vain, and I should just quit.
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"Real" drawing is about specifics. It's about describing an object as accurately as possible. In a comic strip you have to draw a picture of the idea of the object. You have to draw the word that you are picturing, then you have to mix in specifics with it for it to work as a story. But you are still working with drawn words.
I'm only trying to present as honest a portrayal of the grimness of human ambition as I can. I'd hope it's rather uplifting, actually, since I find the sort of blind optimism and empty laughter of a great deal of "contemporary culture" to be more depressing than something that admits to a potential for disappointment and a gnawing sense of existential mockery.
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