Goodness Gracious!

So it looks like it’s a monster kind of week!  Bernie Wrightson is a comic book artist who produced a riveting series of illustrations for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

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Bernie Wrightson, Frankenstein, 1983

I have a confession to make.  When I see work like this, I get nauseous.  It’s so GOOD.

Immediately, familiar thoughts spring into my mind like Jack-in-the-box demons: I’ll never be this “good”.  Why am I wasting my time?  Maybe I should quit.  Or maybe… I should just imitate this guy’s style.

When approached the wrong way, masterful work can be really discouraging.  A lot of artists deal with these qualms, and our biggest question is always:

Will we ever be this “good”? The answer being:

No, we won’t.  

For several reasons.

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Bernie Wrightson, Frankenstein, 1983

1. An imitation can never match the original.  A lot can be learned by the act of imitation, but we’ll never exceed or even equal the quality of the original in our copying; we’ll always be approaching it.

2. We aren’t “the Masters”.  Artists are made up of more than just lessons and practice; artists are molded by their lives and surroundings.  The circumstances of your childhood and adulthood shape and mold you, and in turn you shape and mold your body of work based on those experiences.  This is what makes artists (and people) unrepeatable.

I’m convinced that we have to learn from the masters, rather than trying to become them.  We’ll never be Bernie Wrightson, or Gerhard, or Katsuhiro Otomo… we’ll never get “there”. But then again, do we want to get “there”?

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Frankenstein

Bernie Wrightson, Frankenstein, 1983

We also have to be careful not to confuse “good”ness and excellence- there’s a big difference. With time and persistence, we will arrive at excellence; that’s the journey of a thousand miles.  There’s no denying that Wrightson’s work on Frankenstein is excellent.  But the book’s 47 illustrations were seven years in the making. Excellence is a journey.

But “good”ness… that’s a nebulous quality that is relative from person to person. Groucho Marx was “good” at being Groucho.  Anyone else who tries it is annoying; the only solution for other comedians is to find their own schtick, and schtick with it.

The same goes for artists.  Find what you love, and express what it means to you, to the best of your ability.  Push yourself.  Put in the hours.  Make something truly original.

Let’s re-define “good”.  Let’s be excellent.

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