The importance of stepping back
As a father, teacher, and very busy fellow, keeping up with Circle is a bit of a challenge. If you factor in the fact that the work will be rather patchwork in design too, then you can see that when one very distinct chapter is over, some time must be spent regrouping to prepare for the new chapter.
The fact is that I do not plan these pages out terribly far in advance. The idea of the work is to be as organic as possible, as, in fact, one of the central themes is the conflict between the natural, or organic, world and the hard-edged world of so-called civilized men. In order to be organic, I feel that I need to let one page suggest the next with a sort of DNA program which outlines the general shape of the work. Field theory, so to speak. An acorn contains all the properties of a tree, but it does not dictate the growth of the tree. It is the tree. Wind, rain, drought, soil, and erosion all factor into the growth of the tree. The organic structure after it has reached a certain "maturity" is only in part due to an over-arching design. The rest is left to the field of influence around it.
One thing I have learned in the quest to create organic work (and any work, really) is the need to step back and let my subconscious do all the work. When ideas are nebulous, or understanding is somewhat lacking—but on the brink of breakthrough—a break from the work is an absolute necessity, and there is no rushing it. There is no time frame for when the good juicy bits will come. They just do.
Our subconscious mind is the wellspring of creative endeavors. And it is a complete mystery. How many interviews have you heard where the interviewer asks an artist or musician: “Where do the ideas come from?” And if the artist is worth half a spit—he won’t answer—or he will say honestly, “I’ve no idea!”
And so the time between chapter two and three drifted on for some time. There were so many things to consider. How to frame the new characters and the elder Jean—I drew no sketches or studies for him—he just appeared to me on the page. What did his wife look like? Their wagons? Their son? Very little of my panels are pre-sketched or studied. I do very little erasing. But the work has begun again, and I am delighted by what has appeared.
There is always a danger taking such breaks. As an artist new ideas love to creep in and thrill me at their possibilities. It takes a bit of fortitude to sketch the new ideas down and let them lie until the current work is finished. But I think if work is special to the artist, it will be finished. There is an impulse—an inertia that exists within good stuff. So, I hate making my readers wait, but at the same time—you’ll just have to! And you three readers know who you are.
Having said that, I have noticed that in my own work I have used a similar motif twice (pages 7 and 10, which, as of this post, no one has seen yet), and both are of Jean entering a nature realm or crossing a threshold of some sort. I did not consciously make the choice to depict nature--- a realm of mystery--- as female, but this is certainly not a new notion, and I am guessing the symbol has been embedded in my subconscious, influenced by who knows what. These "accidents" always surprise me at their appropriateness and bring Carl Jung to my mind. He certainly would have argued that the images were of a mystical/natural/feminine origin, but whether or not the V is a real feminine symbol is debatable. Over time it might worm its way into the popular consciousness and become recognizable in this way--- or perhaps it was there all along and Dan Brown was right. Either way, it's staring me right in the face (particularly on page 10, panel 2) and I can't help thinking it was no mere "accident".
So, today my cousin, Chad Thomas Johnston http://chadthomasjohnston.com/ checked out the site. Chad is arguably far more meticulous about the work he produces than I am. He apparently uses the GIMP software too, and gave me some pointers on how to re-contrast my pictures, which had been bugging me. There is a gulf between the creation of an artistic work and the refinement of it, and I can only say the gulf is filled with a sort of mania. The initial creative burst comes in a sort of storm and is quickly over. The rest of an artist's time is spent refining--- and part of this refinement is acceptance.
All creation is life. That is to say, when a person creates, the creation lives in and of itself. It has a personality of its own that appears as soon as the storm rages. I would feel safe to say that this aspect of a work even mesmerizes and mystifies the artist himself. But life is messy. And personalities are hard to define--- let alone refine. As an artist I have always been notoriously lazy, preferring to let the storm dictate the outcome without too much refinement. That part of the creative process is what I would call "the fun". But as I proceed on this work, which demands a certain other level of artistry to be truly effective, I find that I am confronted with my own laziness--- my propensity to only do things which are fun. And here is the mania. The gulf one must push through. Art is also work. It is vision. And mostly, it is belief that the end product will be worth the effort--- and only crazy people have such strong belief and convictions in their visions!
This conflict, ironically, is even relevant to the story itself--- which I believe in just enough to refine and demand that it live up to my vision for it. And when my resolve flags, and the willingness to accept too much creeps in, it's good to have a man like Chad looking things over! So, look forward to crisper pictures and a small word edit when Jean makes his silly rhyme. One "Lord" will be edited out to a "then" as I intended all along, and the words will work better as a result. The devil is in the detail, they say. So, too, is God, they say. I am not sure which is which. All I know is that I must serve one of them.
So, welcome to Circle of Blood. This story has been rattling around in my noggin' for a while. I suppose it is silly to say this story is pretty autobiographical, because most stories are, but this is more autobiographical than many of my other projects. I have been letting this story gestate for a while (about five years). Now, I feel I am ready to tell it. In many ways this is because all stories require relevance and connection for a writer, and there were pieces of the story that were still vague or unresolved in my mind.
It is odd how the world begins to offer up the right ingredients to our artistic endeavors when we begin looking--- when the time is right/ripe. Carl Jung called this synchronicity. It is a sort of game we play with the universe, pretending that it is offering up secrets when in fact we are the true engineers of the discovery--- it is us doing the discovering and revealing. Nevertheless, it has seemed cosmic the last few months, the way things come together. Maybe even God himself felt such a storm of connectedness before he let fly with his paint brush. I could see it--- God aglow with feelings of "This goes here--- and connects here! Wait til they discover it!"
That is, if he exists... which, of course, I seriously doubt. One thing I cannot doubt, however, is the creative impetus. And whatever God is--- certainly we may agree that it is amazing. Creation/existence/nature... it's good to be alive.