There has been an interesting trend that has happened since, at least, the beginning of Long John. A friend of mine was rereading Long John in preparation for Chapter 5 and he relayed to me how much better I’d become since Chapter 1. As incredible a compliment as that was, if anything, my immediate response was muted. I know the common trend for artists is to look back on their old work and retch in disgust for all the flaws they let slide in the past. There’s something about the beginning Long John, however, that I miss with regard to that style, something I don’t think I have any more, for better and for worse.

Back before the world of Long John had really solidified, it was much more of a statement of purpose, creatively. It was partially meant to be a much more sketchy book than my previous work, which leaned heavily into the clean line style of animation. Eben07, my previous comic, was bright and colorful and very much trying to be a sequential art version of an animated show. It was a look I worked really hard on and one in which I still have a lot of pride, but I knew that I wanted to make Long John look like a comic book rather than a facsimile of a different medium. I wasn’t going to sweat the perfect line; I was going to leave in mistakes that I could live with; I was going to draw everything on the page and scan it as-is. With Eben07, there were a lot of times where I hand-drew the figures but saved the backgrounds to draw digitally where I could spend three hours drawing a car without destroying paper with all the erasing (because cars are hard to draw). With Long John, I wanted the reader to see my hand rather than have it disappear into the fiction.

A small sample of two non-sequential pages from my previous comic, Eben07. The “animation”-heavy style is really clear in the exaggerated designs, thick, smooth lines, and simple backgrounds. Click for a larger version.

My friend made specific claims that my style had become more refined over the course of Long John, to which I can’t disagree, but that’s kind of what upsets me. That aesthetic drive I had at the beginning to leave things a bit messier (but well-drawn), to not fret the small stuff, has dissipated a bit as time moved forward. Long John does retain much of the looser, sketchy quality I started with, but it feels codified in a way that felt more raw and free and expressive at the beginning.

One side effect of refining my style on Long John over time resulted in me becoming a more competent artist than I was at the start. Being more precise is, in a way, a result of me being better at drawing. I will not downplay how much I’ve learned about drawing (and my ability to draw) over the course of these chapters; I’m quite impressed with myself in most ways. To that end, the other thing I feel has dulled over time is my ability to be more interpretive and expressive with page layouts and weird standalone pages like the “nightmare pages,” which is what I call pages like today’s. We’ve seen nightmare pages three times before. Early on, with the freedom of being in the beginning throes of creative excitement that comes with a new series, I feel like the ideas for these wacky, Symbolist images came to mind much easier (perhaps I also learned to lean a bit too hard on leaving those types of images for Josh Tobey to draw in the Hellrider short stories). But now, as I become more precise and am able to think and execute on more complex layouts and drawings than I was willing to consider at the start, my more wacky, artistically expressive side has atrophied.

The first pencils to this page. I really enjoy drawing figure work and new I needed to get that nailed down for the rest of the page to work. Click for larger version.

I knew I needed two nightmare pages for Chapter 5. The truth of my anxiety is told in their creation––if the first three pages of this chapter were the last pages to be drawn, the nightmare pages were the second-to-last pages to be drawn for Chapter 5. That being said, when the inspiration struck, it struck hard and I’m really happy with this page and the second one (spoilers, I guess) that waits down the line. The earnest joy I had drawing this page (aside from all of those damned chain links) made me wonder how to practice this side of artistic thinking, if it could even be practiced. All in all, I learned that I do retain that more expressive creative tendency, I’ve just repressed it, I guess, and that I should learn to trust my artistic self a bit more.

I should also learn how to take a compliment.