What I Learned Making Comics With a Five Year Old
You may or may not know me as the "Axe Cop Guy", aka the older of the two brothers who created the webcomic Axe Cop in 2009 that went viral and eventually became a TV show on FOX and FXX. I had been drawing comics and trying to make it in the business for years when Axe Cop happened. I had a few comics published, a TV show optioned, an Eisner award nomination, but I was definitely struggling.
The truth about Axe Cop, when I first made the comics, was that I felt like was cheating or wasting time. I didn't think they would take me anywhere and I felt like anything I created that wasn't to further my career was a waste. But something in me HAD to draw them, and so I did and the rest is history.
This article could easily be an entire book, but for now I'll lay it out in bite-sized chunks. These are, in no particular order, just some of the things I learned creating Axe Cop with my five year old brother.
If you had fun making it, chances are people will have fun reading it
This is simple, but easy to forget. If you had a blast writing your story, or drawing it, that experience will be infectious. There's a quote by Robert Frost, "no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader". This also applies to fun. If you weren't enjoying the ride, don't expect your readers to. If your story doesn't surprise you, it won't surprise them. If you are working on a story and there are dead zones in it that you didn't enjoy creating but felt "they just had to be there", you need to do something about that. Make it fun. No one will labor through your work if it is not fun for them. They don't have the same patience for your writing that you do.
Hollywood has no idea what it actually wants
After moving to Hollywood I became inundated with the concept of trying to create things to serve a specific market. I had pitched to networks and been told that "this" was not hot right now but "that" is. Trying to keep up with the ever-changing "what's hot" of Hollywood trends is exhausting, and usually by the time you have something to show, they've moved on. I remember action comedy was a no-go when I was pitching pre-Axe Cop. Recently I was told that is the most popular format they're looking for right now.
The truth is, most of the people who pull the trigger on books, shows and movies don't actually know what they are looking for. They will know it when they see it. That is not a good enough answer, so they say something like "we are really looking for something in the female-action-comedy realm". But really, if they see something great they will go for it.
This is why making something great is your number one goal. I never would have imagined that Axe Cop would be the thing that put me on the map, got the attention of every publisher who ignored me before and got me interest from multiple TV and film companies. I made it because I loved making it.
The creative experience was made to be shared
I think one of the most important things I learned from my brother is that, to him, making Axe Cop was never about an end product, a book, a TV deal... it was about playtime with me, or anyone else who wanted to join in. The creative process can be a blast, but many of us become so obsessed with making statements of self-expression that we huddle up around our creations and don't want to share them. We want to be seen as the brilliant mind when the thing goes big. But your creation is a result of you sharing in the work of many other artists, the influences of all the people on your life, your family, friends, experiences... all of these things go into your creations, so why pretend like you are some brilliant mastermind? J.R.R. Tolkien believed that we are not creators, but sub-creators. God is the only creator. As sub-creators, we are not inventing our stories out of nothing. We are discovering the stories that were there in creation all along. When you detach your ego from your work like this, it frees you up to enjoy it and avoid the curse of becoming an egotistical, introverted artistic type. See your ideas as toys in the playroom. They were meant to be shared . Don't fear collaboration or input from others.
Anything can be fascinating if you choose to look up at it rather than down on it
One of my favorite books by G.K. Chesterton is Tremendous Trifles. In his first chapter, he tells a fairy tale of two boys who each get one wish. The first wishes to become giant and the world becomes tiny and boring. The other wishes to become the size of a flea and the little garden he spent his life in becomes a vast, endless and amazing place. Chesterton's famous quote on wonder is from that book. “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”
I remember how, at first, I resisted really putting in the time and energy it would take to draw Axe Cop comics based on what my brother was saying. I had more important things to do, I had my own pursuits. I could snicker casually at him, but I didn't need to spend a bunch of time drawing it. But when I finally did draw it, I found that the more I let his story expand, the bigger the whole thing got. Something magical happened when I stopped looking down on him as a child and took him as an author. When I looked upon his ideas with wonder. I think you can apply this to almost anything. Take a humble approach, look up rather than down on a thing, and seek the wonder that was already there the entire time. It not only works for writing, it works for being a joyful person.
I could go on forever, and perhaps I will do a part 2, 3 maybe even 4. I feel like I could write full chapters on each of these. For now, I hope this has inspired anyone who is trying to make stuff. It is easy to forget the basic truths any five year old should know.
Remember why you started making stuff in the first place? Because it is wonderful.