I originally had a plan for this blog which was not really to blog as such, but just to craft a convenient excuse to foist various bits of writing which I thought had good lines in them, but which I had no hope of ever completing onto the internet in search of love. This was born from a rather dubious idea that it would be better to have those half-glimpses of a good idea in the public realm where they might have life rather than as stagnant data-flesh on a binary prison-ship destined to an eventual catastrophic failure. Which is a fancy way of talking about the fact that my hard drive is way beyond due corruption.
The thing about my plans is that they often go awry, as reading this blog ought to help you understand, and pretty much as soon as I started I realised that it was much more interesting to look at those points where I had failed and to use that as the starting point of a discussion. Failure is interesting in and of itself, even if the failure is not the spectacular kind, but is the mere absence of completion that I am mainly writing about. What's odd for me is that it has meant that I've started writing about my own life; as the failures about which I write are my own so they must illustrate and be illustrated by me. To not do so would be facile and smug. (Of course, in some cases the 'failure' on my part might well seem trivial - to not finish a novel because I think it is bad - and so my response may well still be seen as facile and smug. I have no defence prepared for this.)
This is odd because I have a strong urge against autobiography. I have never managed to maintain a diary, although this is as much a matter of laziness as it is anything else. More importantly, I have a genuine aesthetic dislike of autobiography as a narrative device. I find that just because something is real it doesn't automatically become interesting. Life lacks narrative structure, it lacks moral weight or authorial intention. It is the collapsed wave function, rather than the richness of probability. It just is.
I like my art to try to tell me something, even if I don't agree with that something.
Of course, if you do (small press/indie) comics, autobiography is a standard trope. Now, I do admit that some of it is interesting, and some of it is even artistically valid, but all too often it seems to stem from a lack of ideas. The artist's life is presented without reflection (or at least, without interesting reflection) to the reader, in an incredibly flat manner.
Further, from the point of view of a writer, I find my own life to be intensely boring. I lived it, so I know what happens next, and I don't have enough of an ego to be able to assume that other people would find it interesting merely because it happened to me.
It turns out, however, that a lot of people do really enjoy autobiographical comics. And, while some of that can be put down to the nature of an art-form where most of the consumers are also producers, it doesn't change the fact that the form has power. It might even be the case that I am wrong in my reading, and that my dislike is the fault of some internal failure, although I hold out against that notion. Regardless, from the straightforward Blankets to the personal-as-politcal Persopolis (both of which I enjoyed) to any number of fold and staple zines this is something that people read, and if people read it then as someone who wants to find a way to make people read the things he says I reasoned that I should utilise the form.
Of course, there's no way I was going to write something genuinely autobiographical, but I have an interest in the use of genre to tell stories larger than those it is normally believed to be confined to, which I will expand upon in another post some day. My grand plan was to use the genre trappings of autobiographical comics - the mundane settings, heavy black and white inkwork and the slow pace of action - as well as many of the narrative tropes, to tell some other story. Something universifiable rather than parochial, or at least with a load of dubious postmodernist wank in place of interest.
And so I came up with the idea of Scenes from My Real Life. In fact, I came up with the idea for Scenes From My Real Life a number of times over the course of a few years - each time the proposed execution being slightly different. The common theme was the style, and the fact that I would show up all of those boring people. But of course, I never did, because as an idea that is one of the worst. It is almost impossible to write something because you think that it should be written and not because you know that it needs to be written. It is nothing but pain and self-hatred to create out of dislike for a form, rather than affection.
The unfinished sample below was maybe not the first attempt, but in some ways it sums them all up - a combination of hubris and lack of content. Which is a fitting way to fail when attempting to parody autobiography, as the one thing that no autobiography lacks is content. Existence may not always be interesting, but it is always there. And truly, I can't get over my basic humanistic instincts, because lives may not always be art, but they are always important. In the end, attempting to show its faults led me to an uneasy respect for the genre, because I had to admit that there are a fair few comics that I like and some of them are done by people that I like as well. Although I still don't read autobiographies in book form. God no.
Scenes from My Real Life
Scenes from my real life is done in a very designed way – based on the sort of confessional/autobiographical comics favoured by North American graphic arts students. Stories where nothing happens but everything is significant. Where the quotidian is mistaken for the sublime via the lens of solipsism. Of course it is important, of course it is meaningful, it happened to me. The character design is naturalistic, the linework is thick and self-conscious and there is always a generically kooky girl to fall in love with about halfway through the proceedings, thus derailing any semblance of narrative altogether.
A succession of panels of a modern traveller – trains, taxis, maybe even boats. Very self-consciously drawn so that the traveller is obviously from small town somewhere – the impression of backwaters in Wales or continental Europe. The panels bring us in towards the Big City.
In the sort of poetically squalid apartment that indie kids love to think that it would be great to live in.
‘I have travelled long, Journeyed hard.’
Same apartment, unpacking.
‘In my homeland I am a master, higher than a king, for I am a storyteller.’
Big panel? Show the wilds of wherever. Lots of mountains and trees.
‘I am Life, I am history and I am knowledge. I hear the trees and the whispered threats on the wind. I hear the streams and laughing promises. I know the drought and I sing the bounty.’
A mysterious plant, in the wilderness.
The traveller communes with the spirits of his ancestors, or something.
‘I am the keeper of the keys to the gates of the consciousness – the mind of the world and the body of its people.’
A page of cod medievel, generic fantasy Mitteleurope mythical tropes, with the following in captions.
‘The hero comes, riding hard across the plain’
‘The sword in his hands burns with spiritual fire’
‘Alongside him, invisible, ride the gods, lending their powers. They are the wind at his back, the ground at his feet, the fire of day and the succour of night’.
‘Their’s are the stories that I have been charged to remember – to bring forward so that the world does not forget. Gundred, the Hunter. Brinwald the Storm. Kerkuwenal the Pure and Mighty.’
Big panel, trippy. The traveller guy is surrounded by a nimbus of narrative power, by the oral history that he alone is able to channel. The gods ride at his shoulders, nature stands at his feet.
‘These are the world spirit – the founders of my people. The true joy of our civilisation and the pain of its demise. These are stories that must be told.’
Cut back to reality. The traveller is pitching to some sort of publisher/editor. They are not impressed.
‘I’m sorry to say, I just don’t think that we have a place for this in our roster. The stories are, well... derivative. I’m very sorry, but we’ve heard them too many times before.’
Back in the shitty apartment, only it’s not so shitty as all that, now.