The Work Ethic

By | Friday, March 31, 2023 2 comments
This photo is what I see from my desk if I turn my head ever so slightly to the left. The shelving has a lot of reference material that I pull out regularly, and I've got a small bust of Jack Kirby staring down at me. There are, in fact, two reasons I keep that there.

First, as you probably know, I'm a big fan of Kirby's and I like surrounding myself with things I enjoy. (Not surprisingly, a good chunk of my personal library is Kirby-related material.) Second, and more relevant to today's post, I try to use it as a reminder that I should be writing instead of whatever it is I happen to be doing instead of writing.

See, Jack's creativity is the stuff of legend. There are multiple stories of him getting into car accidents because he was so busy plotting another story in his head that he didn't pay attention to the fact that he was driving. (One story even has him hitting a parked police vehicle with the officer still in it!) He created a whole host of characters and stories that were entertaining and engaging and enlightening and some other word that means powerful but starts with "e". He reinvented the entire comics medium multiple times! The man did a fantastic amount of work in and for comics, and much of it resonates with me to this day, sometimes in ways more striking than whenever I first read them!

But what's not discussed as much about Jack is that he worked. I mean, he worked. It wasn't uncommon for him to put in 10 or 12 hour days sitting at his drafting table creating comics. And when he wasn't sitting actually drawing them, he was thinking about them. (See above.) He turned out some fantastic comics, but largely through a phenomenal amount of effort.

Some of that stemmed from growing up during The Depression, where everybody had to bust their asses just to squeak by. Some of that stemmed from his working as a freelancer for his entire career without the safety net of a regular salary. But the work ethic that propelled Jack forwarded for his entire life seems to be more of a struggle for me. I grew up in a more comfortable setting. I hold a steady job that pays reasonably well. I could not write at all, and my finances would barely be impacted.

Of course, that's not why I write.

I also don't write because I feel some deep-seated need to tell stories. I know writers like that. Writers who have a passion for telling stories, whether they're fiction or non-fiction. Jack had that passion, too.

No, I write because it's a means to an end. My passion is more along the lines of research and analysis. Digging into the nitty gritty of comics and finding out the who/what/where/when/why/how. Why did this story work, but that one didn't? How did this creator get involved with this project? What was the thinking that informed the creative decisions on this work? Writing, then, is just a way for me to organize and solidify my thoughts, and take some modicum of credit for (hopefully) some original ideas. I would love to get paid to think about and research comics all day, but that can't happen unless you also express your findings and ideas to others. That is, you have to write.

I certainly don't dislike writing, and I think I'm reasonably decent at it, but I don't have the passion for it that might inspire a greater work ethic. The sitting down at a keyboard and pounding away until I've filled the screen with words that ideally aren't gibberish. So I keep a bust of Jack nearby. Staring down at me. Not really judging so much as just constantly asking, "Why ain't ya writin', kid?"
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Ted Dawson said...

I enjoy reading your work, and I think part of the reason is because much of it seems to be about those things that a comics fan might think about but nobody writes about. If one is personally curious about something, they will do the speculation and research in their own head, so why not write about it and formalize it somewhat? Some of what you write feels to me like openings of a time capsule, giving a certain perspective on a multigenerational medium.
One truth I’ve learned is related to what you said about Kirby’s work ethic. A photographer told me the only secret to taking a great photo is to take 100. So many cartoonists focus on making one comic that they hope will be great, but the truth is the most successful people in their fields are very prolific. And a lot of what they produce is subpar, even Kirby. So slacking away are a drawing board or computer doesn’t appeal to me at all, but the idea of just making a lot of comics that people can’ enjoy does, which is my little psychological workaround.
At any rate, I like that your work makes me think, and I appreciate your codifying those thoughts.

Cheers! Thanks very much, Ted!