A Sense of Place… and a Place That Makes Sense
Last Saturday, for reasons too mundane to explain, I spent the morning and afternoon at a fellow pro’s house. Laptop in tow, I set up at my artist friend’s dining room table and pounded out dialogue polishes for “Artifacts” #13 and “Shinku” #4; both issues should be in stores on Jan. 4.
On the walls of my friend’s dining room is a small part of his amazing art collection, immaculately framed and hung with care. So I worked surrounded by stunning originals by the likes of Frazetta, Hal Foster, Noel Sickles, Al Capp, Milton Caniff and Robert McGinnis. In other rooms: Kirby, Toth, Wrightson, Rude, Mignola, Sienkiewicz, Don Newton and a host of others. Despite not being my familiar, comfortable office at home, I got a pretty fair number of pages written there. I think they’re good pages. Obviously it was an inspiring setting.
I do the majority of my writing at home, in my office, at the same desk I’ve used for more than 20 years. As I mentioned last time, I bought the desk with some of the first money I earned writing comics. It’s solid oak, not that particle board shit that so much furniture is made out of. The furniture store where I bought it, in my hometown of Kingston, NY, is no longer there. It went out of business years ago. Since then, the space has been a billiards parlor, a cafe, a printing shop, a shipping office and probably a few others.
Over the years my desk has been a constant. It’s been ensconced in a multitude of houses in New York State and Florida, every place I’ve set up an office, accumulating nicks and scratches along the way. There’s the faint ring of a coffee cup, a darker area where the heel of my right hand rests when I’m using a mouse, a trace of white paint where a corner dinged a wall. I’ve burned through a number of computers over the years, both desktops and laptops. But it’s always been the same desk. I supposed I could polish the desk, sand out the worst of the scratches, and have it looking pretty close to new. But I don’t want to. I like it the way it is, wearing the years and the miles proudly.
My desk, my office as a whole, is my comfort zone. I retreat to here every day, shut the French doors, and do what I do. I’ve done my best work at this desk. It’s an environment I can control, blocking out the distractions of the outside world. And yet, there are some days I simply can’t work sitting here. There are days this familiar desk and comfortable office are creativity killers, and I spend hours accomplishing nothing. Days when I need to be anywhere else but here in order to accomplish anything worth a damn.
Sometimes it’s due to an external factor. I’ve written before about my mother’s ongoing affliction with Alzheimer’s, and how she stays with us on a regular schedule. My mother’s visits, usually at least two weeks at a time, are an adjustment for everybody, including kids and especially my wife, who handles a great deal of the duty so I can work. There’s an increased level of… well, not anxiety, exactly. Maybe “uncertainty” is a better word. For me, that means interruptions are more frequent and inevitable. Distractions become the rule rather than the exception. My sleep patterns get disrupted, since I end up doing most of my work late at night, but have to get up early to help look after my mom. It’s… not ideal.
If we can make it work during my mother’s visits, I try to steal enough time to work elsewhere for a day or maybe two, just to get a little peace of mind and make a little progress. That usually means camping out for a chunk of the day at a Starbucks or a Barnes & Noble. Borders used to be included in that rotation, but sadly, no more. In a weird way, I get more privacy in a public place (with headphones on) than I can at home.
On those days, I almost always leave the laptop at home, cutting the electronic umbilical that attaches me to emails, IMs, Twitter and all the rest. It’s just me and a notebook, working out concepts and breaking down individual pages. When things are falling into place, I can break down a complete issue in just a few hours, then come home and type up my notes into script format. Those are days when this doesn’t feel even remotely like work. It’s more akin to simply hanging on while you’re being taken for a ride.
Ideally, I’d like to get out of my office once a week, and work in another space, just so I’m not looking at the same four walls. Some weeks that’s just not possible. There are books to proof, art to look at, a myriad of things beyond simply writing a script. Some weeks I honestly can’t spare the 20 or 30 minutes that it takes to drive each way. But when I can do it, I feel like being in another space keeps me fresh. Yes, I’ve written on a plane, on a train and in an automobile. Those go with the territory of being freelance, especially working on the grind of monthly books.
But I’ve also written comics on an island beach while dolphins played in the shallows, next to a waterfall on a mountain hiking trail, in the balcony between sets of a Peter Gabriel concert, and after dark at a neon-lit roadside diner. As a writer, even a writer of such fantastical things as comics, you take in the world around you, synthesize it all (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously), and it comes back out as story. You need to be around people, you need to hear how they talk. You need to imagine what the stories of their lives might be. You need to go places you’ve never been, and do things you’ve never done. It’s all important, from overhearing a conversation in the supermarket line, to climbing to the top of a Mayan pyramid.
I have my comfort zone. I’m sitting at it right now, finishing up this column at a desk that’s been part of the family longer than any of my children. I’ll be back here tomorrow morning, having my coffee and getting ready to dive into a new script. But it’s not enough. I have to be part of the world, even when I might not want it. If I’m not drawing inspiration from something, I’m not feeding my imagination. Nothing survives in a vacuum. Not much is created in one either.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it’s pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes “Artifacts,” “Witchblade” and “Magdalena” for Top Cow, “Voodoo” for DC and his creator-owned title, “Shinku,” for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com