Ten years on: Autobio comics and MINOR LEAGUES 3

Originally published as on of my newsletters

Did you know I’m a ten year old now? It’s true. I started drawing my first comic, SMOO #1, in February 2007, meaning that my tenth anniversary has just come and gone. A whole decade making comics. Woah. Imagine how many staples I’ve fucked up, pencils I’ve ground down and hours I’ve lost to self-doubt and anxiety, huh?!

Honestly, though, it doesn’t seem like ten years. It always seems like now is the most involved, stuck-in time to be making comics. Except, now keeps changing. Now is now. 2013 was now. 2007 was now. I’ve learned so much, made so many friends, seen things, been places, done stuff I couldn’t have done otherwise. It’s not an easy pursuit – what is? – but it’s part of who I have become and who I will be.

I’ve flip-flopped a bit in terms of how I describe what I’ve done over the years. Sometimes I call it comics and sometimes zines and those sorts of things. Labels are tough, and carry lots of weight, and sometimes they can give you an identity, and sometimes they can make you feel a bit pigeonholed. But I tend to make art about my life in the form of comics and publish them in zines.

I think I’ve always wanted to be an artist of some kind. I think it was Lynda Barry who pointed out that children draw comics or ‘narrative drawings’ from a very young age, and I was no different. Then, in my teens in the suburbs,  I really wanted to do something that would get me out of where I was. I wanted to be a musician, but I wasn’t very confident and didn’t really know you could just make a racket and have fun and call it music. But I had been drawing for a long time, and I’d always been introspective, and kept appropriately hideously blush-inducing diaries up until the start of my 20s. So when I finally started trying to pull some of those threads together a few years later, it made sense that I’d end up making art that was kinda diaristic, and, because I’d always been drawn to drawing and visual story-telling, that the art form that chose me would be comics.

I tend to come from the ‘show don’t tell’ school of comics making, so over the years that has largely allowed me to avoid (a few un-notable excursions aside) making work that is straight-up ‘here’s what happened to me’  (I know I did a book called ‘What Happened’ but shhh). That’s partly because I’ve always felt uncomfortable about sharing too much detail, ‘cause how much does anyone really need to know? How could I tell you all of everything anyway?

In this regard, autobio comics as a genre can divide opinion. How much is appropriate to share? Who are you sharing things about? Whose voices get missed out? This recent blog post by Inés Estrada about her ten years of comics-making touches on some of these concerns (also worth reading for her thoughts about social media/internet/the world, which resonate). She writes:

“ [making autobio comics] is so subjective you inevitably end up offending someone, exagerating something or forgetting something else. It can also get too self-aggrandazing or too pitiful. As easy as it seemed for me to do it at first, now I think it’s one of the hardest genres, just because of how boring it can get.”
I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot lately, particularly in light of what’s happened to my family this year, and (partly) how I’ve responded to it, in the new issue of Minor Leagues.

At the end of January this year, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer and everything was turned upside-down. About a month after his diagnosis, he died. He was 63. I loved my Dad very deeply, and admired him very much. During that time, I was drawing, and writing Minor Leagues 3. I think I felt (sometimes rightly, often wrongly) that I needed to keep my commitment to the zine going during this time. I guess it was a bit of a crutch, or a rubber ring, or something to hold on to.

But making art about death is weird. After artist, cartoonist and musician Geneviève Castrée died last year, her husband (musician and  artist Phil Elverum) recorded an album of songs he wrote in the aftermath of her passing. He’s spoken about that in a number of interviews. He talks about calling death *death*, not hiding it behind metaphor or platitude, how that’s hard, how it reveals – when you come to share that art – the contours of the market and business of making art. Are you making this art for sympathy? For dramatic effect? Does it seem futile? Does it help?

I feel like death is private and it is isolating. But it is also an experience that can lead you to reach out. After all this Dad stuff happened, there were suddenly people everywhere with similar stories to tell. Suddenly, although our experience of life is unique and personal and private, it also becomes not public (although it kinda does) but rather… communal? Collective? Where does art fit in that context?

I’m still working that stuff out. So this zine is about what happened to my family, but not because the stories directly relate to those events in any expansive sense. Rather, I think it’s more like a bunch of stuff about what it felt like for it to happen. So there is bewilderment and there is sadness, but I was thinking about my past a lot too – so there comics about teenage indiscretions, childhood dreams, as well. There’s writing and diary comics about what happened to us, and drawings of Spring, too, and going to work, and living. There are funny bits too (I hope).

At the end of the day, I know this is just a zine. I’d be naive in the face of everything that has happened (and is happening) to think about it as anything else. But I do believe in the power of small bits of personal honesty, however codified, to connect with people, and if only for a moment, like a dream that is remembered then *poof* gone, and allow us to say ‘life, amirite?’ to one another, and then go back to our busy lives. I think that’s what I try and do with this stuff.

Whether it works is anyone’s guess, but here’s to another 10 years of trying.

Minor Leagues 3 is available here for £2 or £3 (you choose) + P&P.