Who here likes looking at their old work?
Yeah, me neither. Even reading more than a few pages of what I would once have considered my magnum opus rubs me like sandpaper now. I don’t see the accomplishment, but rather its shortcomings. What once was my everything now only strikes me as an embarrassment. A thing that can’t live up to its own hype.
I distinctly remember my first Comic Con, back when Unlife was only a few pages in. I had a table where I sold the first (and only) trade of Fenix Gear after what felt like agonizing years of production, not to mention a false-cancer diagnosis, a new job, and a new wife on the horizon. So much effort, all coming down to one event that I had hoped would be my big splash into the comics scene… where I sold hardly an eighth of what I had expected. I had truly believed that this would be the moment where my life would change forever, and then it didn’t. Upon that realization, I took a walk through the deep crowd, losing myself for a few moments, until I stumbled upon the promotional booth for Asura’s Wrath, a DBZ-like action game. They had set up a “scream tank”, where you were challenged to release your best Dragon Ball-like scream of fury. I reached into the depths of my soul…
And blew out the machine on my first try.
It’s been about 6 years since then, and a lot has changed in my life. But one of the greatest change is the way I look at my past work; what I once considered the pinnacle of my art now feels… lacking, I suppose.
That’s the real ephemeral quality about art, isn’t it? An expression of a moment, circumscribed by your current skills and outlook on life. And as life changes, and as you change, so does that viewpoint. It’s like going to school; at first, the place feels so big and mighty. As you grow, and as it grows more familiar and comfortable, it diminishes, eventually too small to hold you at all. I feel the same too about fictional worlds I once devoured, few of which survived the marathon of years, a very great many becoming indelibly scarred by an unmistakable corporate agenda. Many more of those remaining are, upon reflection, less sincere and less mature than I once believed them to be. Considering all that, and considering the canon of art that is considered “timeless”, it’s insane to believe that any work can make it 16 years, much less 16 centuries or more.
A lot of this carries into Unlife; both the art and writing have evolved heavily during these last six years. Though I still read the old backlog, I can only look at my mistakes as if I made them today, rather than recognizing them as markers of how far I’ve come.
It’s hard not to want that mark to last and feel like more. Something that matters not just in the moment, but eternally. Something I want to look at again and again and see the beauty, not the mistakes. But maybe I can’t because it doesn’t belong to me anymore. It’s on the page, or the web, for everyone else to see, react to, and engage with.
Maybe that’s why I can’t look at it anymore. Because it’s become something all its own. The meaning has changed. I still care about it. I still love it. But it’s not just mine anymore.
Maybe that’s what being a parent feels like.