By Neil Kapit, creator of the webcomic Ruby Nation.
The most common question that creative people get asked by “normal” people may well be, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s a difficult question to answer, because it assumes there is an easy answer, some kind of tangible oasis that transforms visitors into brilliant artists. In my experience, ideas for comics (and other art forms) aren’t found in one place, but in EVERY place. And if one wants to be a creator, then one should constantly be seeking out new experiences in life and art alike, actively seeking inspiration instead of expecting it to arrive.
For many creators, this is much easier as a lofty statement than it is as a daily practice. Most people, whether they create art and fiction or not, tend to have a comfort zone when it comes to their media. For some people, it’s a genre, such as science fiction or detective novels. For others it’s a medium, like video games or manga. People find a style of story they like and stick to it; it’s why a disproportionate amount of webcomics are gaming themed, often about two men on a couch.
It’s understandable that people would have a comfort zone, especially regarding how they spend their leisure time. I can easily point to my own intellectual “comfort foods”, usually involving Marvel superheroes and spiky-haired anime boys. However, I was taught in creative writing classes that the greatest writers are also the greatest readers. I realize that my education doesn’t have to be limited to school, so I try to read and watch as diversely as I can, making it a point to try new things in the hopes of learning something that I could work into my comics.
This doesn’t even demand that I go too far way out of my way to find this illusive inspiration. We live in an age where an incalculable amount of information is available to anyone with an internet connection. If you see an interesting link on your Facebook feed, don’t hesitate to click it. If you see something you’ve never thought of reading on a Kindle book sale or something you’ve never thought of watching on Netflix’s streaming service, try it. Hell, if you’re stuck in traffic, you can listen to an unusual NPR segment instead of the same CDs you’ve heard a thousand times. If it doesn’t work for you, just move on to the next thing until you find something interesting. The important thing is to keep moving and keep learning.
In the words of T.S. Eliot, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal”. The implication is that the mature poet improves upon their inspiration, as opposed to blandly restating it. But it’s impossible to improve upon your inspiration without knowledge of everything else that’s out there. Thankfully, Webcomic Underdogs has connected me with plenty of brilliant new ideas for my overall base of knowledge. Between office drones from the darkest corners of the Dungeons and Dragons Monstrous Manual, LGBTI culture within 1980s Russia, or polyamorous relationships in the a future straight out of Archie comics, the Underdogs prove that webcomics need not start and end with sprites from childhood video games.