Brad and I were just chatting about our early creative outlets, and I thought it might be interesting to hear what some of our readers did while generating the “juvenalia” volume of their complete works. As for me, I’ve been publishing more or less continuously since age twelve. I began drawing comic books in sixth grade, starting with “The Adventures of Mr. West,” based on one of my teachers. As I recall, I originally started it because I felt that he had unfairly denigrated a timeline that I was working on, so he was something of an “anti-hero.” Other stars included Mr. Wilcox, who was quickly reduced to a head in a jar. It was a more innocent time — I’m sure if I were in school today and drew such things, I’d be institutionalized.
Eventually it somehow evolved into a sci-fi series starring the crew of the S.S. Swift: Swifty (the incompetent captain), Ensign (the second-in-command who was always covering for him), Drago (who looked like a dragon and was often treated as their pet or child), and Paddy (an Irish character who was frequently killed off and resurrected). Every character’s body looked basically the same, and their heads were based heavily on the style of the comic strip Fox Trot. I recall doing at least two continuity reboots during my career as a comic book writer — publishing an issue every couple days led to some pretty contrived plots.
For a time, I was trying to monetize the comic book (which I would draw on notebook paper and distribute to friends by hand) by starting a spin-off magazine known as the Swifty Spotlight. It included single-frame Swifty comics, television reviews, and a series of sci-fi stories loosely conceived as a “prequel” to the Swifty universe. A lifetime subscription cost $5. It ran for approximately twelve issues, and I don’t know if any copies still survive.
By the end of middle school, the comic book thing wasn’t working for me anymore — it was clear that I couldn’t draw and had no willingness to do the work required to correct the problem. I did a few last issues that I’m still proud of. One featured “reader mail” and basically skewered all the questionable artistic choices and plot devices I used. For instance, I explained that the S.S. Swift was equipped with a clearly labelled “Villain’s Easy Access Door,” which was why the villains always wound up on the ship (an environment where the background art could be limited to a line designating where the floor and wall met, together with the occasional door). Another had the crew land on a planet in search of treasure, then get lost and give up. Finally, I did a one-off story about a superhero with electrical powers. He wound up catching the villain, but still felt empty inside — so the final frame showed him drawing a bath to electrocute himself.
In high school, I flirted with Kafkaesque short stories for a time, but only wrote a handful. Around that time, I also started a journal that I wrote in pretty prolifically — sometimes up to ten pages a night. It was all adolescent navel-gazing, but I did some experimentation with different styles, imitation of other writers, etc.
The groundwork for my current “system” of constant online publishing coupled with academic work was laid by my senior year. One of my friends had started a homepage featuring a “Hate List.” I was obviously a prolific contributor, and he ultimately handed the torch over to me. This formed the basis of my personal web site, originally designated “The Homepage.” After I graduated college, it would be succeeded by “The Weblog,” which incoporated some of the more self-obsessed “journaling” type of writing, and then the present blog.
Around the same time, I was taking an AP Literature class with an open-ended format: we would read books on the AP Lit exam list and write practice papers at our own pace. There were some required in-class writings as I remember, but it was basically the honor system — and I took it and ran with it. I became absolutely obsessed and even begged my mom to let me quit my high school job so I’d have more time to read and write. Critical and analytical writing came to seem like the most satisfactory creative outlet.
AND THE REST IS HISTORY!!! So what about you, dear readers?