Saturday, January 12, 2013

10,000 Hours Of Biographies

Over the holidays, I read The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga. I was familiar with some of Tezuka's work, mostly his anime though I've read a few of his shorter manga works. I had a general sense of who he was and how important he was to manga, but I didn't have a solid appreciation of not only what he contributed but how revered he was in Japan until I read the book. He wasn't honored just by other mangaka, but by everyone. I mean, there are TWO different museums in Japan dedicated exclusively to him! I learned quite a lot about him and the manga industry in general just from that one book.

On December 30, I started reading 2000 AD: The Creator Interviews. Author Michael Molcher talked with Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, Ron Smith and Mick McMahon and provided lots of background on the four men, as well as what they were doing more recently. I was vaguely familiar with some of their work, primarily their older Judge Dredd stories, but little beyond that. Nearly everything relayed in the book was entirely new for me.

A little over a week ago, I posted a review of the biography of Vee Quintal Pearson. She was a Golden Age artist who died in 1998. I had never heard of her before December 26 when I stumbled across the biography. I had never even heard of the comics she worked on, or even the publisher she worked for!

Michael "Doc V" Vassallo noted today that Golden Age comic artist Marion Sitton died on December 29. He was 92 years old. That same post includes a decent biography of Sitton, including many personal interactions Vassallo had with him in the past several years and links to other posts he's made about the artist. I'd somehow missed all of them; I don't recall ever hearing of Sitton before tonight. Long-time comics retailer and historian Robert Beerbohm noted that he had never heard of him either.

I don't claim to know everything about comics. I don't claim to know everything about American comics. I don't even claim to know everything about the comics I have in my personal collection. I like to think I know a bit more than most comic fans but, more often than not, I have a continual nagging feeling in the back of my head telling me that somebody's going to finally call my bluff and point out that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

A few years ago, author Malcolm Gladwell promoted an idea that, to a degree, gained a bit of traction. He claimed that to really become an expert in something, you have to practice at it for at least 10,000 hours. That's about 20 hours a week for 10 years. At 40 years old and having read comics and books about comics about as long as I can remember, I suspect I've hit 10,000 hours but it's not something I've kept very careful track of these past few decades.

But let me go back to Beerbohm's comment. What he actually said was, "Never heard of him [Sitton] afore so thanks for posting, Michael, as I am always open to learning more of the wonderful world of comics. I realized a loooong time ago each one of us will never learn it all."

Think about the history of comics for a moment. It's made up of people, right? Guys like Will Eisner and Charles Schulz and Katsuhiro Otomo and Alan Davis and Robert Crumb. ComicBookDB.com has almot 1500 creators in its database, and I think it's REALLY light on non-American creators. And there are almost no references to webcomickers. So what are we talking? 3000? 5000 people who'e gotten credit for creating comics. But don't forget that there are also guys like Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Max Gaines and George Moonie and a host of other names of guys who weren't in the spotlight. Editors and publishers and folks that got the comics produced, even if they didn't contribute actual stories or art. We're easily talking thousands of people here; of course there's no way one person can learn about all of them!

But the interesting thing is that, because it's all comics, it all ties together. And the more you're able to learn about the Tezukas and Pearsons and Sittons of the world, the more you'll be able to connect the dots and paint a better picture of comics writ large. 10,000 hours of reading Superman or Spider-Man would only make you an expert on those characters. If you're looking to be an expert on comics (and I know I'm still looking) then that's 10,000 hours of biographies of obscure creators and histories of business practices and art techniques and everything else that might be connected with the medium.

And that's one of the things that I love about comics -- there is NO end of material to keep studying and learning about!

No comments: