Thoughts on Creativity

Over the last couple of years I’ve given a lot of thought to the idea of creativity & technology. Not as two separate topics, but a single, combined notion. In particular, the technique and production of creative ideas and how engineering, data, production and science (I’ll lump all of these together as “technology” because I really view them as tools in a technology toolkit) inherently blend together in a seamless way.

So let’s start with the first part… my introduction to “creating”.

Comic Books and the craft of storytelling

I started out in the early days of personal computers because I driven by a desire to create things. I dug printing. Specifically, lithography and screen printing. That’s why in the late 80s and early 90s, I was drawn to Macintoshes over traditional “PCs” because they were my inroad to “printing stuff”. I’ve also had a love affair with comic books going back to my childhood. It’s always gone beyond geeking out over Batman and Superman though. There’s something about the very idea of the craftsmanship of comics. Artists and writers together telling a story in a singular experience.

I think we’re all brought up initially to believe that art and artistic endeavors are a means to an end. You’re “making art”. You’re writing a song, painting a painting, or otherwise engaged in the act of creating something. It’s when you marry illustration with writing and effectively use both to tell a story in a medium like comic books that you start to expand your idea and understanding of art and technique. You can’t separate the written idea from the illustration telling the story. Comics are unique in that they marry the two in a seamless manner. Once you realize this, you start to pick up on the idea that comics are using certain… “techniques” in a way to create their own artistic language.

Consider, for instance, the idea of conveying an idea across two, three, four… or a page or panels. You’re not only advancing the story with the written word, but drawing the reader’s eye across panels, filling in gaps and pacing the story in a way that words alone aren’t doing. It’s kinda magical how it comes together.

This is more about the “how” than about the “why” or “what”.

Connecting it all

For me, this love affair with the “how” was the beginning of the insatiable desire to understand it. How were these things produced? How was a story written? How was it communicated to the artist? Was it broken down in a way that made the role of the artist part of the larger creative process? How did a comic book go from idea, to written script, to layouts and pages (that were paced to ALWAYS land precisely at 32 pages), to inked (what was inking anyway?) to lettering (was that different than the writer?) to a printed book? What was the role of the editor?

Fantastic Four 86, May 1969. Copyright, Marvel Comics.
Credits. There was more than one person responsible for this issue of Fantastic Four, and understanding that was key to understanding that creative was more than just an artist drawing figures.

Comic books also contained a valuable clue, in that every issue contained credits. The credits clued you in by calling out the names and roles everyone had in creating the book you held in your hands. Writer, Artist, Inker, Letterer, Editor… multiple names, multiple roles. This was key in understanding early on that there was craft at work here. There were no happy accidents, and this wasn’t just a single artist creating something alone, but a concerted effort by a team of people to build something larger than their own individual talents could bring to the table. Shipping these things involved more than just your ability to draw Spider-Man, you needed teamwork.

Making it real and tangible

So when I had the opportunity in the early days of computers to begin to learn how things were produced, I jumped all over it. I never thought of myself as a “technologist” or a “creative”, I just thought of myself as someone who recognized that “making something” that people held in their hands was a larger undertaking than any single individual. I could step into the process of creating, and I could help make something.

My early days with computers were primarily spent as a production artist. Color separations, layouts, production, typesetting… Working with teams of people to make beautiful things, I quickly realized that I loved working WITH them as much as I loved working FOR them. Along the way I learned how to make things that had inherent beauty in how they were made, as well as the techniques that improved the quality of the things we produced. Where attention to detail made the difference, and where a creative eye & the application of solid fundamentals could be the difference between good work and great work.

I was creative. We were creative.

This was the beginning of my journey to become someone who valued their skill and appreciation for creativity in all shapes and sizes. Understanding what “creativity” meant and how an idea can be shaped by the people who touch it. A love of “how” things are made beautiful.

This seems like a good place to pause, and I’ll pick it up where it naturally picks up in my own personal experience. The moment I stepped foot inside a creative agency environment.

More to come…

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