What it’s like to be completely out of your depth

I wrote the following as an afterward for my first graphic novel: Strange Skies. I since realised that perhaps it’s worth publishing separately here.

Anyway, here’s the article, I hope it helps with anyone else in the same position. It’s exhausting, but such a great place to be!

Some years ago, I was in the park with my son. He was around two at the time. I had developed RSI from writing and drawing. I was sleep deprived and exhausted. I think my son had only recently started sleeping properly, and, by then, my sleep patterns had become messed up. Added to this, I had stopped doing any sort of exercise, so I was in really bad shape.

Anyway, while I was out there, I remember thinking about the book I was working on: Strange Skies. I was halfway through the project and wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into. It was my first ever comic over four pages in length, and it was a full-blown 165-page graphic novel!

You see, around two and a half years previous to that moment, I had decided to throw myself into the project. I could have picked something shorter, but there was something about this story that really drove me. The themes of journeys and destinations (or lack thereof) seemed appropriate to that transitionary period of my life. I was about to become a father and was about to quit full-time work in order to concentrate on my writing.

So now, flash forward to that moment in the park, where I had just finished page eighty (or thereabouts). And the analogy of the light at the end of the tunnel popped into my head. That light seemed far away, and I was getting impatient.

But what was I going to do? I couldn’t exactly leave the tunnel, could I? I couldn’t dig myself out into the middle of nowhere, miles from home and from my destination. I was a different person from when I started. More specifically, I was halfway to becoming a different person. I had sacrificed so much to get this far.

(By the way, “home” in this analogy is the blissful ignorance of how hard it was to create a graphic novel and the relative luxury of staying within my comfort zone. The “destination” is the pride I imagined of holding the finished book in my hands.)

Needless to say, I decided I had no choice but to continue with the book. So I persevered. But I’ll be honest, I rushed it. I was so busy concentrating on reaching the light as quickly as possible that I had sacrificed quality along the way. I thought my journey would end upon reaching the light. I thought that creating a graphic novel was all about the destination. All about having that final book in my hands.

I was wrong.

Creating these books, and telling stories, is all about the journey. It’s all about being in that tunnel, writing the stories and enjoying the privilege of being allowed here in the first place — there’s a strict requirements policy for entry into the tunnel.

All this leads me to tell you about the book you’re holding: the second edition of Strange Skies. This is an edition in which I’ve rejigged the words and the artwork — well, technically Stephen Baskerville rejigged the artwork by re-inking it, but you get what I mean.

Basically, I thought it was important to get this book “right.” I’m now six books into my career, and reading the original version left me cold and embarrassed. So I put into practice the now couple of years of writing experience I had to really be true to the original vision I had for the story.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I was completely content with this latest product. I don’t think I ever could be satisfied with a book I’ve done. But what I can tell you is what this book now means to me. This book was a challenge I set myself. A challenge I mistakenly thought was a marathon but was instead an eternal treadmill (a fun eternal treadmill, at that). Strange Skies is the book that started me on the journey as a writer. A journey with no particular destination.

Not having that destination is something I’m really okay with now.

I hope you found this article useful. If you did, then please consider following me on twitter or tumblr and drop me a message. If I’ve got anything wrong, or if you have a better alternative to improve my process, then please also let me know!

I’m Iqbal Ali, I write comics among other things. You can check out my work on midlfrenzy.com. My Amazon page can be found here.


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