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Eric: Because I can't live a lie any more... you deserve... you deserve to know the TRUTH!

I get asked one question that's hard for me to answer, these days.

Oh, I get asked a lot of questions. I'm kind of surprised at how many questions show up, in fact. But there's one that just crops up over and over again. And the most interesting aspect of that question is just how mean spirited it is.

"Hey," it typically opens. "Why don't you snark [Various comic strips]? They really, really suck! It'd be funny to read your snarking about them."

Well, like I've said before, I don't stick with strips I don't like -- especially when I'd be reading them just to get material for insulting them. "Websnark" or not, that's not why we're here. I like the art form too much to denigrate it just for the sake of denigrating it. So no. I won't read [various comic strips] just to insult them. Sorry.

"Oh," they say. "Well, okay -- but why not just mention how hideous the artwork is? That wouldn't take long! And the art on [Various Comic Strips] sucks! I mean, really really sucks! I mean, a retarded vole could do better than this!"

And I answer, in a somewhat small voice, that I never make fun of other peoples' artwork. If I don't like a strip, or don't like the execution of a strip, I'll say so. I'll even try to be funny, and fail. If I really like either the overall art or an artistic choice of a strip, I'll say so. But I won't trash someone's art. I just won't.

"But... why not?" they ask.

The answer is simple. And terrible. And you need to know it.

I don't insult other peoples' art, because I wasn't always just a smartass with a Movable Type installation. Once... for one brief, shining moment, from April 8, 2002 to May 1, 2002, I was a webcartoonist. I was yet another black and white line art strip creator, parked on Keenspace.

And I sucked, really, really hard.

The strip was called Unfettered by Talent. That's right. I was going for ironic -- because I was so bad at drawing, I thought to make that the hook of the strip. The strip starred Deke, who looked like a character out of the old "Sunday Funnies" kid's activity section of the Maine Sunday Telegram (starring Mighty Funny, a super hero with 'mighty funny' written on his shirt, who would always say "that's Mighty Funny!" after a bad joke), Rhoda, who looked like a particularly bad puppet from Mister Rogers's Neighborhood of Make Believe, and the Demiurge, who created them both.

That's right. An avatar for the cartoonist appeared in the strip. In other words... you know how I say using the cartoonist as a character in the strip almost never works? I know from what I speak. I did it. And you know what? Didn't work. Even with Gnostic overtones and a funky font for the speech patterns.

I started the strip for a perfectly valid reason: I wanted to. I always wanted to do it, and it hit me that I could. Oh, I had no illusions about being able to draw, but I had seen -- sometimes many times over -- that a lack of talent or skill was no barrier to putting a comic strip on the web. And besides, the more I did it, the better I would become. Sure, I'd be embarrassed by my first few months' worth of strips, but so were most webcartoonists. I'd get over it.

And I deserve some points for effort. In the four weeks of strips I actually produced I never missed a day (I was a Monday, Wednesday, Friday updater). Sure, that's just twelve strips, but hey -- it's twelve strips. I only resorted to the 'cut and paste panel' tricks for the last two strips, when my time had already been consumed. I did experimentation. I tried to do backgrounds. Even on 'talking heads' strips I would change the camera angle in each panel. I was trying to evolve as an artist, and I was trying to make it at least fun.

A few people read the strip. A couple even still ask me if I'm ever going to update it again. After all, I didn't quit it, per se. See, It was right in this area that I got two larger projects as an RPG writer -- Sidewinder: Wild West Adventures and a supplement for Star Trek: The Role Playing Game that ended up never getting published when Decipher dropped their RPG line. I had a full time day job plus several tens of thousands of words to write that I was being paid for; something had to give.

That something was Unfettered by Talent. And I never went back to it. A forlorn hiatus notice remains on ufbt.keenspace.com, declaring my overall personal suckiness, and Deke, Deke's unseen but heard cat, Rhoda and the Demiurge lie fallow, waiting for an artistic return that will never come.

So no, I'm not going to mock peoples' artwork. Because I know that even if they can't draw well now, they'll get better. If I had stuck with it, we'd be two years and 366 strips into it. I wouldn't be mistaken for someone who'd learned draftsmanship or taken courses or spent their life drawing, but I'd be competent at the least. And I won't mock someone over something that deep down I know I couldn't do better.

Have I ever considered cartooning since? Yes. A bad stretch of my day job turned into 8 four panel strips called Figurehead Todd, which sit in a sketchbook. The art's even worse in that one, but I felt a lot better. Maybe someday I'll put them up on the Unfettered By Talent site, so that the six people who actually noticed would have something new to look at. But for the most part, the only sign that I was ever a Keenspacer, ever a webcartoonist, ever one of Berkeley Breathed's 'strippers' is a livejournal icon I still use, featuring Deke's head and wearing a goatee, drawn as an icon for strip I contributed to the late, lamented 2002 Shakespeare's Birthday Celebration.

I know... you've seen these strips, and now you can't look at me the same way any more. I've... tainted myself, in your eyes. I understand that. But... I... I couldn't go on like this. I couldn't take the chance that one day you'd be pawing through the attic and come across the scrapbook and see it. If you never want to see me again... I understand.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at September 17, 2004 9:29 AM


Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at September 17, 2004 4:41 PM

Football head!

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