My Maker Mantras: ‘Education Never Ends’

My Maker Mantras

Nerdvana presents Small Press Saturday – aka, Lessons Learned Self-Publishing Comics

In 1993, I was asked to give a speech at my 8th grade graduation. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote or said, but I remember feeling PREEETTY smart for quoting a Sherlock Holmes story. The quote was, “Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.”

Considering high school was just three months away, I stand by my 13-year-old self in choosing that quote, and, now, let’s just say more than a few years later, I’m choosing it AGAIN — as this week’s mantra:

Education never ends.

This column is part of a series analyzing how creatives can best use their time. In last week’s introduction, I established a proverbial trifold attack for time management, procrastination, and writer’s block: Education. Production. Distribution.

I listed these strategies in a very specific order — chronologically, in how we experience them in life. As a cartoonist, my education began when I read my first comics — from the minicomics that came with He-Man toys to the issues of Batman and Spider-man I discovered soon afterward. 

As I read those issues, their creators’ techniques in graphic storytelling made an initial impression I draw from to this day — pun intended. The same can be said for any art — whether you’re listening to music, reading literature, observing art, your education begins the moment you proclaim, “I want to make this, too!”

Once those subconscious seeds are planted, education becomes a much more intentional pursuit, and we live in an era where it’s at our fingertips every second. Every book that I had to check out of the library as a kid, like “How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way,” is just an overnight Amazon order away. YouTube is pulsing with video tutorials on how to make, well, ANYTHING.

So, I propose that a third of your creative time and energy should still be the pursuit of knowledge about your craft — and knowledge doesn’t always come from actual lessons. When you have writer’s block, listen to an interview with an expert in your field. If you’re procrastinating via a streaming binge, include a biopic about an icon in your industry. Education may come from how experts do things, but it also comes from HOW they LIVED.

Also — STRAY from your field or industry from time to time, with the mentality that other artistic experts may have something to contribute to what you do. I’ve quoted celebrity chef Alton Brown in past columns; he’s a huge influence on my comics work. On the surface, making a souffle might have nothing to do with making a superhero comic book, but if you start to look at story, art, and layout as ingredients for a finalized whole presented to the public for consumption — well, grab a bag, a board, and a fork. 

The final thought on education — at a certain point in your creative journey, you should be OFFERING it, too. The more you learn, the more your own unique process and philosophy develops, distilled from the lessons and influences you’ve absorbed. Organizing and sharing that philosophy is a learning opportunity in itself. Why do you think I write these articles?! 

Frankly, if you don’t have — or aren’t developing — a conscious philosophy about making art, you aren’t an artist. You’re a hobbyist. That’s okay, too, but hobbies are things you like to do, that you may have in common with other people — they aren’t things you TEACH. They aren’t foundational to your way of LIFE — and, for me, comics absolutely are.

Recently, I taught a comics class for teenaged Girl Scouts, and a few of them had just come from Taylor Swift’s new Eras concert movie. Their excitement was so palpable, I “swiftly” (heh) adjusted my lesson to include Taylor’s outfits as examples of character design, and her songs, like “Love Story,” as evidence of a good story’s three-act structure. 

The girls were INTO it, and, by teaching that way, I learned to remember my audience. I learned that teaching comics doesn’t always mean using comics as the best examples. And I was reminded of the importance of my learning these things, at all — because, perhaps like Taytay, education persists through all eras of life . . . and it is, frighteningly, EVERYWHERE, where and when you least expect it.

My Maker Mantras aka Small Press Saturday: Lessons Learned Self-Publishing Comics