lookwhatimadeforbreakfast asked: do you consider yourself a "success" now? if not, at what point would you consider yourself "successful?"
I was out with friends shortly after selling the book based on its proposal, and one friend who’s written a few books congratulated me. I crossed my fingers and said, “We’ll see, we’ll see, I still have to finish writing the actual book.”
He shouted, “No. Uncross your fingers. If you’re crossing your fingers now, you’ll be crossing them when you give your editor your first draft, and you’ll be crossing them when the book comes out, and you’ll be crossing them as you wait for your first review. If you don’t uncross them now, you never will.”
I was out with some other friends recently and a few people were feeling like their creative lives weren’t where they wished they’d be, even though they were all creating fantastic work.
I said, “What would yourself five years ago think if they could see what you were doing right now?” Most of us agreed that our younger selves would think we’d “made it.” But it didn’t feel that way anymore because we’d all raised the bar higher for ourselves.
So, I’d say:
The only thing you can value is the work you put in every day, not any of the results. If I sit and get work done instead of BSing online, it is a successful day.
4me4real4good asked: Do you have any favourite 20 something characters, or films or books about 20 somethings ?
For a brief period in my early twenties, I decided to only read books by men in their twenties about men in their twenties, which is probably something only a man in his twenties would think is a good idea. As it turns out, reading about young men fascinated by their own angst did not help relieve mine. Though it did make me consider writing a memoir.
I don’t think I found a book I truly, completely loved, for years. I had Salinger’s Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, which I returned to many times, but I was still searching.
Some recent favorite books of mine that also happen to be about people in their twenties are:
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Just Kids, Patti Smith
Taipei, Tao Lin
And two movies:
But I don’t know if anything from this list would have really been what I would have needed them to be.
For Christmas when I was in my early twenties, I asked my family members to give me their favorite books or movies. And this might be your best bet. Ask people you love for the book they most love. Even if it’s not something you imagine you’d be interested in, or maybe especially if it’s not, make it yours.
As for my own answer to that question, the unfortunate truth at the moment is that I don’t have a favorite book. I’m still looking. But I did hide two books I love in the background of illustrations in Alice in Tumblr-land: Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and John Porcellino’s King Cat Comics. And I think I may have subconsciously been giving recommendations to my younger self. Or, maybe, to you. At the moment, I’m reading Hilton Als’ White Girls, and it is more than I know how to say.
The weird thing about my tumblr and book is that, while they’re about people in their twenties, I couldn’t write these fairy tales the way I do if I were still in my early twenties. The art and writing I did then was far bloodier, more emotional, for better or worse. I’m still addressing many of the same feelings, but I’m doing it in a way that’s a little more palatable.
If you think those older projects might be of some use to you, several are still online: I did an art project when I was 22 called "i need you to know how much i love you" where I wrote a note on my hand to someone in my life every night before bed, and when I was 23 I did one called "100 reasons to be happy" where I made cards of reasons to be happy, and I wrote autobiographical comics called "stories i wish i could tell you" when I was 25. (I’m 28 now).
I know this answer is exceptionally long, but I’m trying to imagine the things that I would be interested in hearing about if I’d asked this question. And this is those things.
ghirahims-left-shoe asked: Is it hard finding a publisher? Is there any particular way to do that?
A couple folks have written in asking for advice on how to be published. I can only speak from my own experience, which is very limited.
For me, it happened because of this tumblr (not to get too cheesy, but because of you guys). The short of it—and there are many more details in this interview—is that because the tumblr gained a following online, I was able to sell a book to a publisher. What would have happened if I hadn’t had the tumblr and I’d approached an agent with a collection of illustrated fairy tales set in the modern day? I have no idea.
Many books being published now began with a following online. In some cases, this is how agents or publishers find writers. It is how my agent found me.
In my eyes, a publisher is drawn to a writer who already has a following because it feels somewhat proven. If X number of people already like this writer or project, you are more likely to believe that even more people will.
Still, I am completely certain that quality of work is the only thing that matters. There are a lot of people who have to fall in love with your book in order to make it a real book, and that won’t happen just because of a following online.
It is probably also relevant that, though this tumblr and book all happened very quickly, I’d been writing—in various forms—for many years. There were a lot of times when it looked like someone might want to publish a short story, or be interested in a book I was writing, and then it fell through. The trick is to still sit down at your desk the next day and keep writing. You don’t even have to believe in yourself or have hope for a positive outcome, necessarily. You just need to keep doing the work.
perianfrost asked: What was your favourite fairy tale when you were a kid?
As a kid, I loved Robin Hood, but I think it was just because he had a bow and arrow.
Today, I love Cinderella, because everything is going against her but she never gives up hope. Maybe she is actually naive but I like to believe her outlook is correct.
Someone else wrote in asking what my favorite obscure fairy tale is. I have a few: “The Cat and the Mouse Set Up House” because it’s adorable, “Six Who Made Their Way in the World” because it is life-affirming, and “Thousandfurs” mostly because how awesome is the name Thousandfurs?
I should also say that Philip Pullman’s versions of the Grimm’s tales are spectacular. If you are in any way interested in reading the original fairy tales, but want them lifted from their poor translations and sloppy prose, read Pullman’s.
rachelfershleiser asked: Do you want to write a novel?
I have just recently returned to a novel I was working on last year, and I am having so much fun. It almost feels rebellious.
I can’t say too much about it, but I can say that one point of view is told through prose, and the other point of view is told through comics. So it is half graphic novel.
notsomeaningfool asked: Hi. Do you follow some kind of routine with the writing? It may sound a little lame, but I need to know. I am the laziest being on earth.
I do, and I’m obsessed with asking other artists their routines. Here is one version of a routine from before the fairy tales tumblr went viral, which is still taped up next to my desk:
Also relevant: I was listening to Pete Holmes’ interview with John Hodgman on You Made It Weird, and Hodgman said, “There is no ritual that enhances creativity other than starting.” (Which he says is a paraphrase of Lynda Barry, who’s done a bunch of brilliant comics about creativity).
wickdgmes asked: This isn't really a question, but my English class analysed this entire blog as part of our course on texts reflecting the values, attitudes and beliefs of their culture. Lol. As in, our teacher printed out every page of this blog and we line by line went through each of the cartoon; which was fun. So I guess, how do you feel about this blog being taught in Australian high schools?
Oh my God! Did they bleep out any of the words??
I was a high school English teacher for a while and when I went back to my old school recently, a bunch of my old students had the book, and I had to apologize immediately—There are some words and ideas in there that Mr. Manley did not say in class!
Anyway. To answer your question: Obviously I think your English teacher is the coolest person on the planet.
julihawk asked: Which character is your favorite to write for?
Peter Pan, without a doubt.
My version of Peter Pan is pretty dumb, and when I write about him it always makes the part of me that is pretty dumb feel good.
steeledthorns asked: How did you develop your fairy tale drawing style? Did you take lessons?
Learning how to do the illustrations correctly was a long journey. If you look at the first few illustrations I did on the tumblr, and then those that are in the book, I think you’ll see a development of style. I’ve always enjoyed drawing, but rarely did so on anything close to a professional level—I was a high school English teacher before starting this tumblr—so I had a lot to learn.
The most important thing I did was sit and study my favorite fairy tale illustrators—Rackham, Tenniel, and many others (see the bookshelf on page 69 of Alice in Tumblr-land). I imitated their style as closely as I could, and, in falling short of their perfection, arrived at something that was my own.
I also, luckily, live with my older brother, who is an incredibly talented painter and illustrator. I’d always harrass him to explain why certain drawings of mine weren’t working, and he’d point out changes I could make. Or he’d say, “It’s fine, you’re being crazy, put some pants on and leave the apartment.”
For what it’s worth, every illustration on the tumblr and the book was done with a regular sketchbook, plain HB pencil, and two or three sizes of Micron pens. Most of them were done from my bed. My apartment doesn’t have great heat in the winter, so I’d pull the covers up, put on a cap, scarf, and fingerless gloves, and draw.
typewrittenchaos asked: how did you go viral?
I gave a very extensive answer to this question in this interview with Inklings, and I tried my best to say everything that might be of interest about my experience.
One thing I learned was that, regardless of all the time I spent googling my tumblr’s name or trying to figure out the perfect tags, it was always a better use of my time to just make new content. People want stories and art that are worth their time, and if they see them, they will share them.
This also helps to put into perspective why you are doing what you are doing: Not to “go viral,” but to write stories or make art for people. Of course, you can’t help but want your work to get noticed. And that’s a good thing. But if it’s the only way you derive meaning from what you’re doing, it will never be satisfying. All you can do is create work that means something to you, and not go insane worrying about whether it catches on with people or not. The work will make you grow as an artist and a human, so it is worth doing even if barely anybody sees it.