“Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures” – Harvey Pekar
If you read comics, or even read about comics, I imagine you’ll find that quote enchanting. It conjures images of children buried in notebooks building impossible landscapes in crayon and of wonderful conceptual essays that spill across pages, illustrated with monk-like endurance by people who cannot help but see terrible things.
Pekar’s statement is wonderful, but it falls a little short of what I want to see.
I have written here as placeholders some reminders, three little words: Future; Optimism; Ambition. I am supposed to be writing about comics. Bear with me.
The future is a process. Time is not made of fixed instants, it is not binary, it is not a thing that leaps to dates or tipping points. The future is a long now, a time that moves towards all time, in which we change and are changed by what we do and what we encounter. You are taking part in this process, allowing your ideas and techniques to be shaped by this movement through time. When you become aware of this you start to see the effect you have on other things, people and places, and on the lives you never really know. You can do anything to the world around you: some you will never want to do again, but a lot more you’ll be happy to put your name to in that long, constant tomorrow.
Tomorrow is worth seeing. Since people began to think about the unknown ahead of them a prevailing sense of doom has crept into thought and discourse, but I’m becoming a lot more optimistic than that allows. People can and repeatedly do accomplish brilliant things, in the face of impossible odds, on a global and personal level. I work knowing that what I put out now I will better, knowing that I learn from my mistakes and will try to avoid repeating them.
I have the ambition to affect an audience, to change them in some way, if even a barely tangible one. You have to put yourself on the line to do that, but the rewards can be magnificent. We spend most of our lives going through experiences wrapped solely inside ourselves, and it would be beautiful if those rare moments of cultural or emotional specificity – when somebody reaches out to us and says “You are not alone” – happened more often.
You see I want you to think about the images you have seen of doomed worlds. Of nuclear death. Of solitude. Of rot, entropy and carnage. Of the flash-burst obliteration projected behind a thousand artists. These pictures, all around you, that say “What comes next is the end.”
Reject this; I will. My grandparents saw Europe break out in peace, my parents saw men walking on the moon and I have seen the world collaborate to pool its knowledge in the space between servers and source code. And before that begins to seem big and impossible I want you to remember that you are moments away from combining words and pictures to share a story, shape an idea, perhaps affect someone for years to come. You have an opportunity to fail a thousand times without judgement and you should take advantage of that.
So if we can do anything, what means we shouldn’t aim to do everything?
Do Everything is an essay from the first volume of Solipsistic Pop written by Matthew Sheret.