by Bevan Thomas
“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question so common that it has become a cliche, the thing the creators supposedly least like to be asked. All works of art, indeed all human creations, develop from ideas, but each person finds ideas in their own separate ways. What may be a font of inspiration for one person may be a dry ditch for another. That said, there are a few generally reliable sources:
1. Your Own Life: One of the prominent philosophical traits of the underground comics movement was the importance of the individual human experience, that “the stories that make up our lives are more interesting than the stories one usually encounters in comic-books” (Chester Brown, The Little Man, p. 169). A similar stance to the Realist painters of the 19th-century who sought to depict everyday existence, warts and all, in opposition to the Raphaelite idealists. Though science fiction, superheroism, historical dramas, and other such genres present fine opportunities for stories, even they can be given depth by including feelings, events, trials that have been directly experienced by the reader. In the 1960s, Stan Lee’s superheroes were ground-breaking because he sought to include within them many of his own personal issues, which made the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and other such individuals potent and engrossing characters. Always be aware of what is happening in your life and think about how it can be brought into the stories you create. Every person has experiences that can serve as powerful inspiration.
2. Your Passions: What do you love to it? What fascinates your mind? Dominates your dreams? Alan Moore developed a bizarre fascination for Jack the Ripper that he couldn’t quite explain, and from that produced From Hell, a graphic novel with intense depth and vision. Neil Gaiman was always compelled by the blurring distinction between dreams and reality and from that created Sandman, one of the most influential sequential series of the nineties. What is important to you? Is it medieval Spain, baseball, the city of Medicine Hat, Korean mythology? How can you present it in a way that is uniquely yours? What do you have to say on the subject?
3. The World Around You: Things are constantly happening every day and you can receive inspiration for a thousand works of art just by going for a walk and being attentive to what is going on around you. A strange design inscribed on the pavement in chalk, a tired old woman who looks like she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, a snatch of conversation overheard on the bus, a man screaming at his pet gerbil, all of these could be woven into something grand. And that doesn’t even take the news into consideration. Open up a newspaper, and you encounter stunning events on the front page, detailed biographies in the obituaries, curious notions in the editorials, a wealth of ideas there for the taking.
4. Other People’s Works: The one piece of advice that all creative writing teachers given is that the best way to improve, much more important than lessons, is to experience a lot of whatever medium it is you want to create. A screenwriter watches a lot of movies, a novelist reads a lot of novels, and a cartoonist reads a lot of comics. By seeing how a lot of other people have done it before you, you develop your understanding of the medium, seeing what works and what doesn’t, savouring their successes and learning from their mistakes. You also build on their own ideas, using them as a guide in finding your own path. But also don’t be afraid to incorporate elements outside your chosen medium. After all, a large part of Sandman‘s great success was in taking a lot of the ideas and sensibilities of the fantasy novel and introducing it to the fantasy comic book.