Why was The Repository of Neglected Things written, illustrated and published?
The idea of this published project began grudgingly.
First, some background. Old sketchbooks, from decades ago, resurfaced when I cleaned the garage a year or so ago.
“What am I going to do with these?” I asked my wife.
“Save them,” she answered.
The cleaning plan was to throw away or sell garage items. Throwing away these large sketchbooks was not an option. And neither was selling them. The black cloth cover hardback sketchbooks varied in sizes. Most of them were nine inches wide by 12 inches high with 96 to 110 pages. Some were smaller. The smallest was four inches wide by six inches high. The largest was 11 inches wide by 14 inches high.
A navy blue cloth cover hardback sketchbook made its way from the garage to my desk. It measured six inches wide by nine inches high. The little blue book was half full of sketches. Or half empty. As many as 40 blank pages. My wife encouraged me to fill the blue cloth sketchbook with drawings. My children asked me to make more drawings. One of the children requested I storyboard a comic book. Or picture book. Reluctant, I began a few pencil drawings. My wife bought me some brush markers. I added more sketches. Once the blue sketchbook was filled with drawings, I reviewed it. Should I return it to the garage with the other black sketchbooks?
Summer faded to Autumn. A plan formed around the recently filled blue sketchbook. A mission to show my children that they can write and illustrate their own stories, their own books. The goal. Showcase their work in a print publication. A comic book. With creativity and energy they pulled their stories together. They learned about the process of creating a story, illustrating, organizing pages and layout, and basic pre-press tasks. The stories from the children featured one about cats baking muffins and another of a mouse warrior. My contribution to the anthology was selected drawings from the blue sketchbook. The art inside spanned twenty years. A single narrative titled “The Little Blue Sketchbook” tied the drawings together.
Finally, the publication The Repository of Neglected Things arrived. The children celebrated by flipping through the pages. They paused to examine their contributions. They read selections to each other. And then collected copies to send to friends and family. One child asked, “So, when do we publish the next edition?”
Three years ago I rediscovered these 11 inch by 17 inch pages. Illustrated comic book pages hidden in a storage container. A gray Rubbermaid® Roughneck® storage tote of the 18 gallon variety. I stored art supplies, books, family keepsakes, manuscripts, and tools in dozens of similar totes. Living in a humid subtropic climate at the time, I did this to avoid water damage and mold ruining art and other supplies. Additionally, heavy duty polypropylene bags also prevent mold and water damage. To offer an added level of protection I used the technique of poly bagging art pages and then placing them within totes. When I moved across the country this also acted as a good way to pack.
However, that was not the case with these pages of art I discovered three years ago. Like an archeologist, I excavated those pages from a gray Rubbermaid® tote. They were loose in the tote. Not poly bagged. Print samples of graphic design projects filled the tote as well. And also old newspapers and magazines. Either these publications featured something I wrote or something I designed.
In an effort to preserve the illustrated comic book pages, I found an old presentation book used for interviews. The Itoya Original Art Portfolio presentation books work the best. Good for professional presentation and storage.
During the holiday season I found one of the portfolio books with those illustrated comic book pages. Examined them again. This time one of the kidlingers was spying over my shoulder.
“These are really good,” the kidlinger said. “Better than I can draw.”
“These are practice pages.” I said. Paused to let the kidlinger read the panels on the page. For a brief moment a wave of vulnerability washed over me. A child-like anxiety of examinations. The kind of fear I had when a school teacher reviewed my arithmetic work during class. Found an error and announced it so that all the class might hear. Why had I felt that way about my child reading this page? There were no objectionable elements to the story. Nor art. Nothing inappropriate for the kidlinger’s age. The moment passed.
“What language is this?” Kidlinger pointed at one of the panels on the page.
“German.” I answered. “Deutsche.”
The kidlinger hesitated. I considered translating the passage: Im Schatten sah ich. . .
“Lines from a German poem,” I said. “I added it to the story to help me remember the poem.”
Or to add texture to the short slice-of-life comic book story I composed. Sequential art as some have called it. A clever way of renaming comic book art.
I did not purchase my own comic book until I was in high school. An art teacher suggested that it may be a good way to study human anatomy. And it was. Exaggerated, dynamic anatomy. Superhero comic books were the only type sold at the local gas station on the way to school. The public library carried collections of Peanuts. But nothing like Superman or Batman. They did, however, carry the Classics Illustrated book series. Excalibur was the name of the comic book I bought at the gas station.
Though superhero comic books introduced me to sequential art, it was the slice-of-life stories that intrigued me. At the time, I had not heard of nor read American Splendor, Berlin, Cerebus, or Strangers in Paradise. But that was the direction I was headedcreatively.
I probably added lines of German poetry to seem more sophisticated. To elevate comic book pages to sequential art.
“You wrote each of these stories, too?”
“Yes,” I answered the kidlinger. “Every one.”
I started to say something. To explain that these were practice stories and drawings. I wrote the script and illustrated the pages a decade ago. No. Maybe two. Each page, each panel pencilled and inked with crow quill and brush. It was practice for greater things.
My goal in those days was to publish a comic book or a childrens book. I did not know how. But the owner of a comic book store suggested I visit some comic book conventions. I did. And even booked a table on artists alley for a couple comic cons.
Artists alleys are a feature in nearly every comic con. The alleys feature artists and writers showing their work in hopes of securing a job with a major publisher. Or any publisher for that matter. Or trying to sell their own artwork. I met several artist and writers at these comic cons. And learned how hard I needed to work. Over time, I connected with writers and got a few independent projects. Some of them published. Most remained unpublished.
The kidlinger flipped through the entire portfolio. Read through several 2-page and 5-page stories.
“Nice,” said the kidlinger. An expression newly formed in the teenager’s mind to mean awesome or fantastic or good.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said the kidlinger and ambled out of the room.
I thought about that for awhile. What had the kidlinger found in looking through these pages? These artifacts? In a way, this portfolio is a childrens book for at least one child — my child — mein Kind. But these pages remain unpublished. Hidden in a black portfolio book. Even a fragment of a German poem remained hidden: Im Schatten sah ich/Ein Blümchen stehn. . .
I stumble through a translation:
In shadow I saw
a flower stand. . .
In shade I saw
a flower grow. . .
What is that? Goethe? Was I reading Goethe back then?
I will not deny the desire that someday I would like these early drawings and writings published. But why? Maybe my desire is misplaced. Maybe these pages should remain in the shadow. In the shade. They are practice pages after all.
And then I have discovered something else. I was reading Goethe when I illustrated those pages. A fragment from Goethe’s poem “Gefunden.” Or, in English, “Found.”
What does one do with old, unpublished artwork? Dozens upon dozens of illustrations remain hidden. Housed in art portfolio cases and cardboard boxes. These sketches, drawings and illustrations remain artifacts of decades of work.
They resurfaced this summer. Drawings and illustrations created with the purpose of advancing a career as a children’s book writer/illustrator, comic book artist and/or cartoonist. Several four-page comic book stories present an exercise toward a full-length comic book. Inspired by the 1990s indie comic scene, a lot of the stories are slice-of-life scenes and dramas. One collection of illustrations is a story written by a friend. Another set of drawings features character drawings for a writer seeking to pitch a proposal to Image Comics.
There is a portfolio case filled with pages of a first issue and half a second issue of an indie comic. It was created for a writer who contacted me to collaborate on the project. The pages display pen and brush illustrations. Think of the early work of David Collier. If he drew every page with his right hand. (He is left-handed. If I recall correctly.) On second thought, maybe it doesn’t look anything like David Collier’s work. The struggle with this indie project was that I learned that I do not illustrate fast and well at the same time. Back in those pre-iPhone/pre-Twitter days, I worked as a graphic designer during the day and an artist by night. A 30-day deadline to complete 22 pages plus cover art was a difficult task. If I had worked eight hours a day on the project instead of two hours a day, maybe the results would have been better. The indie comic was never published.
Another sketch book has pages of comps for a cartoon strip. The idea was that if I cannot draw detailed panels and pages fast, maybe I can draw cartoons faster. So, I created a cartoon character and comic strip and discovered that drawing a cartoon is just as time intensive as illustrating detailed comic pages. I pivoted toward a cartoon style similar to Jim Davis. In short, a comic strip with near static panels and subtle changes in art between one panel and the next. Sort of a pre-Adam Ellis templated four-panel strip. The comic strip was published regularly in a North Carolina alternative newspaper until the paper took an extended sabbatical.
“I like that one,” my bride commented. Dozens of cartoon pages rest on a desk in our bedroom.
“Maybe I should collect these pages into a book,” I offered.
“What do mean?”
“You know, like an artist’s sketchbook or portfolio book. I’ve got several of those type of books.” I think of books like Michael Wm. Kaluta Sketchbook or C. Vess Sketchbook.
“Yeah, but aren’t those more like retrospectives of an artist’s celebrated career?”
“Hm. Yeah. I guess you’re right,” I answered. But why can’t it be used to promote a career, I think to myself.
“Maybe after you’ve published your magnum opus.”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
The illustration boards still rest on the desk I built from salvaged wood. A reminder to keep going.