I started this blog in 2015. Back then, I was all fired up from reading people’s race reports and was excited to write my own. Wanting to do something a little different, I included cartoons and diagrams that helped to communicate my thoughts and inject a little levity between walls of text.
But this wasn’t the first time I put pen to paper to produce shitty art. Not even close. I’ve been slowly and sporadically clawing my way towards mastery of the art of visual expression since one fateful day in middle school homeroom, over fifteen years ago. Join me on a brief sojourn through my artistic history, starting with the Gallery of (Almost) Fine Art.
At Twelve Corners Middle School, students would start their day with homeroom, where the teachers would go over morning announcements, and the kids could talk excitedly about how Lost was the greatest show ever made. As a bottom-feeder in the middle school social ecosystem, I spent most days in homeroom furiously scribbling Blue’s Clues fan-fiction or trying fruitlessly to move objects with my mind.
One morning, I was doodling the hideously mutated and cool-as-hell left arm of Resident Evil 4’s penultimate boss on a sheet of loose-leaf paper. Another one of my classmates who was at the table took the paper once I was done and drew something on it. And then another classmate did as well. And then another, until the page was filled with the simple drawings of a group of middle school kids.
Looking at the paper, a dream came to me. A dream that everyone in the world could be united through the simple expression of a quick doodle. An opportunity to take a moment (or more) out of their day to draw something, anything. Maybe something cool they saw on TV, or a visual metaphor for something that was bothering them, or just some creative improv right off the dome.
Between classes, I asked friends to draw something on this piece of paper until it was completely covered, front and back. I considered it proudly, then scrawled a title at the top: The Gallery of (Almost) Fine Art.
Over the next several months, a few dozen volumes of the Gallery piled up, featuring hundreds of works of art from my peers at school and beyond. I found the courage to reach across social strata and request artwork from the cool kids and the smart kids and the delinquents. I thought about how to grow the initiative, and how I might be able to feature everyone in the country, then the world. I had stars in my eyes.
The genesis of the Gallery happened to coincide with my first serious bout with depression, and the stars soon faded. Melancholy and loneliness covered me like a blanket, the project receded back into a dream, and a few years would pass before my next foray into the world of shitty art.
A lot of things changed very quickly when I started high school, but one thing that didn’t was band class. I played the euphonium, a cool mini-tuba that I had been given in fourth grade when I showed little to no aptitude with the trumpet. Band was fun, but it didn’t really capture my attention, so while the clarinets continually rehearsed their melodies, I spent the class periods idly counting ceiling tiles or emptying my spit valve over and over. It was in one of these band classes that inspiration struck once again.
In a real give-an-infinite-amount-of-monkeys-an-infinite-amount-of-typewriters moment, I drew a quick picture that immediately struck me as one of the funniest things I had ever created.
Looking at this again, many years after I originally drew it, it doesn’t strike me in quite the same way as it did back then. The tragedy of maturity, perhaps. A decade ago, however, the sudden and forceful absurdity of this guy’s situation struck a chord with me, and soon I was off to the races. I cranked out dozens of quick comics in the same vein as the original, with some sort of misfortune befalling the eternally-shocked protagonist.
Similarly to the Gallery, the scope of the project quickly outgrew the drawings themselves. The protagonist got a name (Butch Edwards), I made t-shirts, and some of the cartoons were adapted into a short film I made with my sister and some of her friends.
This was my first real experience with social media as well. I uploaded all of these cartoons to deviantart, where they can still be found. I learned firsthand the intoxicating power of likes, favorites, and follows, and felt my first real fake pressure of performing for an audience. What if people didn’t like what I created? What if my work isn’t as good as I think it is?
Under the creeping weight of these doubts and fears, my confidence began to buckle. Drawing, once a thing I had done to flex my freedom and creativity, became a paralyzing, compulsory task. Slowly but surely, my output slowed to a trickle, and the hapless protagonist, though occasionally making appearances in the margins of my notebooks, suffered no more bad luck for the sake of entertaining the internet.
A few years later, I started college, and discovered lots of new ways to spend my free time. We’re talking partying, we’re talking sex, we’re talking all-you-can-eat at the dining hall. The world was my oyster, so I got inside, shut it behind me and played video games for like 30 hours a day.
Paradoxically, my social life improved significantly, and I met many of my closest friends in my first year of college. Between gaming and spending time with my new friends, I didn’t leave much time for drawing.
During class, I was a frequent margins doodler. My enthusiasm often got the better of me, and small designs quickly became page-filling fantasies blending dreamland whimsy with this-will-definitely-be-on-the-test information. My creative muscles were starting to fire again, and the imagination machine, long dormant, began creaking to life, a low hum in the dark recesses of my mind.
I never published these doodles, but I did save a bunch of them, since I knew I would want to see them again at some point.
This may have been when I was at my most creative, when I had no audience and no ambition. Hard to say, but I never remember having any mental blocks or a lack of inspiration. It was cool.
About halfway through college, I spent a semester studying abroad in New Zealand. Having never been a good communicator, I figured the easiest way to keep everyone up to date and cut down on redundant questions was to start a blog. I wrote about my experiences traveling, hiking, and exploring Christchurch, where I was studying.
As you may have suspected, this is where I first started drawing cartoons to supplement the text. They weren’t as fraught with intention as my modern-day cartoons are, but they ultimately filled the same role: give people an excuse to politely skim the tiring, melodramatic writing.
Though my chronicles from abroad are no longer accessible, there is one scrap of proto-blog left on the internet: a piece I wrote about the end of my running streak. The cartoons there really serve as a great missing link between my doodles from college and earlier and my modern blog of today.
A year or so after the one-hit wonder that was See Dimbus Run, I started this blog to tell stories of races and adventures. Here, really for the first time, I felt that many of my ideas and feelings could be emphasized more fully and in a more relatable way through the drawing than the writing.
This was liberating. After years of writing in English, I was finally able to communicate in my first language: crude pictographs scrawled in MS Paint. Scenes I wanted to share, feelings I couldn’t put into words, and experiences one needed to see to believe were all of a sudden available at my fingertips. I felt like a wizard.
As the pieces I wrote and the things I did grew in magnitude, so too did the heavy-handed drama and the pressure to perform. I worked too hard to make each post bigger and better than the last, to continually raise the stakes in a self-destructive arms race against my own sanity. I began to feel like I did in high school, focusing on chasing metrics rather than the quality of my writing and drawing.
At some points, I was paralyzed by my own insecurity. I wrote pieces about absolutely wild events like my experience at the 2015 Water Gap 50K, or the edge-of-your-seat roller-coaster ride that was the “Kill All Miles” 100-mile relay at Virgil, but I never published them. They didn’t feel grand enough, and I worried that publishing them would mean taking a step back.
This mental block, along with many other factors of varying severity, eventually culminated in another fit of depression, and it would be a little while before I put any effort into drawing again. Despite this, I often came back to it, with lifeless, biannual blog posts, or half-hearted attempts to flex my creative muscles in a vacuum.
And now, I’m back to publishing on this blog again, and drawing new cartoons for it (though the majority of cartoons in this piece are all old, whoops). I’m taking special care to write and draw for myself, and it’s been a lot of fun. I’m not worried about the content, or whether it’s what people want to read. I started this blog for three reasons:
- To share stories
- To lower crazy’s barriers to entry
- Because I fuckin’ wanted to
This story is still being written, of course, but it’s fun to look back on the things I’ve learned already. There are a lot, but the biggest one is that when it comes to expression, you can’t make anything good if it’s not true to yourself.
Thanks for your kind attention. I know I just went off about how I don’t care about anyone but myself, but I really do appreciate you taking the time to consume my shitty art, whichever era it might be from.