The Wisdom of Doug

By Michael Adams

I’ve been following Doug TenNapel for a while and he has some really great advice for up and coming artists. Doug TenNapel is known for his creation of Earthworm Jim, Ghostopolis, Bad Island, and Cardboard. Doug’s love of creating comics has been very inspirational for me as of late. His hard work has led to several of his books being optioned for movies and has allowed him to work on comics full-time. I thought I would share some of his advice and perhaps lead you to his weblog or his website. The following are exerts from Doug’s weblog.



Doug TenNapel – On Comics

November 30, 2012

Question: Thanks for the logical kick in the proverbial pants Doug. I’ve wanted to create a graphic novel using my own characters since I was 13. At 37 it’s still on my someday/sometime list. Now, with 2 kids and one on the way, it seems extremely unlikely, but given your advice, I think I’ll try to commit a small portion of time during the week and just get it started. Any advice on using small portions of time during your day to make progress on your story? I feel like it takes me a long time to warm up creatively.

Answer: Small increments are your friend. Commit to 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week for a year and you’ll be a more prolific comic artist, piano player, or carpenter than most others who long to do the same. The key is in the longevity of your commitment, not in the amount of time you are committing. Set aside 20 minutes a day, preferably in the morning before work, and only work on your graphic novel. Do this for a year and you’ll start seeing profound results.

The problem is that we aren’t used to seeing our art as a craft or a skill that needs practice and discipline, not inspiration and feelings. On any given day my feelings come and go about my faith, my commitment to my marriage, my place in the world, my sanity, my desire to draw or not draw, my care about you as a person, but my values do not change. Try to find the values-shaped handles on your art, not your feelings. Tell me that you will commit to it, that you will simply do it regardless of how you feel about it and you’ll accomplish a lot over time.

The ant is stupid. He has one millionth of your intelligence at best but moves one grain of sand until it is placed at its destination. Ants rework the whole world. The little termite can completely dismantle your house, not because of his passion, but because of his tedious, regular work at small, repeatable tasks. If you want to do something big, then the ant’s way is one good way to try.

I had lunch at Dreamworks yesterday and enthusiastically thanked the cafeteria worker for presenting me with a fine plate of food. I thought to myself, “Today, on this particular day, this worker is making more money than me.” It reminded me of how my friend Ethan Nicolle was thought to be rich by all of his fans for the blockbuster smash webcomic Axe Cop. Ethan figured out what he actually made on his comic and he would make more as barista at a local Starbucks coffee shop. My mind goes to the year of 2007 where I made $20,000 in a year… with a wife and four kids… and a house that drained every inch of our savings… we qualified for foodstamps (I didn’t take them).

It was 1987 and my comic strip had captured the attention of L.A. Times Syndicate’s editor David Seidman, so he came down to San Diego for a visit. We talked comics, and I was so impoverished my first question was, “When can I quit being a dish washer and make comics full time?” His answer, “Don’t quit your day job just yet.”

One of the more popular emails I get from up and comers is about when they can finally ditch their menial, good-for-nothing job and do like me… be rich making indie comics. If you’re not very good you shouldn’t quit your day job, but even if you’re great you shouldn’t quit your day job. I find artists ten times better than me all the time and they aren’t making money off of their artwork yet. Go to a California plein air art gallery in Laguna Beach and look at some of the greatest paintings of our times being sold for $400 bucks a pop. Half of that goes to the gallery. Good luck on that get rich thing.

My sister-in-law Debbie is a world class concert violinist but there is no big city symphony where she lives. She ended up joining a group that appeals to the masses by playing orchestrated versions of Doobie Brothers and Journey music. If you think all of those concert musicians studied Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven to play the chord structures of Doobie Brothers I’ve got news for you. Most of the great musicians who can play piano, violin etc. aren’t making a living playing Mozart. They must be in it for some other reason than the money.

In the end the artist, the book author, the musician has to decide why they’re doing what they’re doing. If it’s for the money, then I hope you make a lot of money. But most of us got into our art form for the love of it, and the money came second as a reward for years of hard work and a lucky break or two. By far, most every artist in the world, no matter how good, will not likely make a living off of their work.

My art pointed me to God, saved me, rescued me from boredom, gave me soaring thoughts, impressed my wife, developed my work ethic, brought me joy, stimulated my mind long before it ever made me a dime. My brother is a world class journalist who is a coal miner. I may one day join that cafeteria crew yet, but I still know one thing… I’ll be making books, artwork and having fun in my spare time for the rest of my life. You?

Be sure to pick up his books either online or at your local bookstore. You can follow Doug TenNapel at:
Check out Doug’s webcomic Nnewts