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Comics and creativity

I’m reading through the FreakAngels back issues right now. Damn. How did I miss this, and what am I going to do when I’m caught up and forced to wait a whole week for the next issue just like everyone else?

[And incidentally, this sort of thing is exactly why I needed to start a new blog. Talk about FreakAngels on Stringpage? With mild profanity? Um, no.]

Warren Ellis said something very interesting about the source of ideas in one of the interlude pages.

Here’s the deal. I flood my poor ageing head with information. Any information. Lots of it. And I let it all slosh around in the back of my brain, in the part normal people use for remembering bills, thinking about sex and making appointments to wash the dishes.

Eventually, you get a critical mass of information. Datum 1 plugs into Datum 2 which connects to Datum 3 and Data 4 and 5 stick to it and you’ve got a chain reaction. A bunch of stuff knits together and lights up and you’ve got what’s called “an idea”.

I’ve never understood the question, actually. It wasn’t until I saw so many authors and creative people talk about being asked where their ideas come from, a lot, that I realized that it was a serious question. I can see inquiring about a particular idea, but ideas-at-large? Poor impoverished brains these querents must have. Many authors seem to have a flip response, and many of those are quite entertaining, but Warren Ellis did a good job of expounding on how (I think) it works.

You need raw material. Lots and lots. Good, bad, indifferent. Written, drawn, heard, seen, tasted, smelled. Let all of that simmer together, tucked away in a corner somewhere, and eventually something might pop out of the primordial ooze, or at least coalesce into a proto-idea. Those then slosh around for a while, and maybe eventually evolve into proper ideas that might be good for something. Primordial ooze might be something like sourdough starter (only in odder colors): it must be fed regularly to keep it happy and bubbling.

But you never know what those proto-ideas will stick to, so you need to keep throwing lots of new materials into the mix. You also need to give the ooze time to simmer and slosh, quiet time, creative time. In the shower is good, or walking the dog.

Humans have been stringing together words and pictures and ideas for an awfully long time. There aren’t any new ideas, but there are still plenty of interesting uses for old ideas, combinations of old ideas, fascinating stories to tell, pictures to paint, music to compose. It isn’t usually the ideas, but rather having the skills and perseverance (especially the perseverance) to make the ideas into something good.

And still… are there really people who don’t have a continual stream of bubbles rising to the top of the primordial ooze? Even if they never do anything with them? Maybe, as Ellis suggests, most people use that chunk of their brain for storing more useful things. Me, I like the primordial ooze.


  1. Laura says:

    “And still… are there really people who don’t have a continual stream of bubbles rising to the top of the primordial ooze? Even if they never do anything with them?”

    I wonder that, myself. From observation I think it must be true, but I have trouble imagining what it’s like. My mental shelves of books, boxes of objects, piles of papers, and jars of ingredients thrive on being added to and jostled about. Using some of them never uses them up, because they propagate upon exposure to just about anything. Sunlight, dust, sticks, bits of string. Beads, seeds, glue, scraps of cloth or paper, seashells, bones, pebbles.

    My favorite answer to the “where do you get your ideas” question is from Barry B. Longyear, quoting Harlan Ellison: “A post office box in Schenectady. You send in two dollars and a self-addressed stamped envelope and they send you back an idea.” I’m probably prejudiced, because I was born in Schenectady. 🙂

  2. Marjorie says:

    I lke the primordial ooze, too.
    I wonder whether the poepl who ask make the mistake of thinking that idea = fully fledged creation, and that being an author is like having someone dictate to you, without any additional input or work.On the other hand, observation suggests that lots of people *don’t* remember ragbags of unconnected facts, observations etc. No yeast in their primordial ooze, maybe?