Tuesday, January 25, 2011

As the end nears, gratitude.

I wanted to write this now, before I finish it all. I expect to complete the final illustration, page 552, this Saturday morning, January 29th. Even though I was able to work ahead quite a bit, it was very important to me to finish the final piece on the same day that I would scan it and post it to this blog. I wanted it all to end at the same time, you see. So expect to see page 552 on Saturday at 11:11 a.m. Eastern time.

I really don't know how I am going to feel when I finish the last illustration. I can't even imagine it right now, although I am starting to see the shape of it, and starting to feel like I really will finish this. I'm going to write and post something, but I expect I'll feel so giddy with elation and so sad that it's finally over that what I write might not be as coherent as I want it to be. Hence the importance of thanking the important people now.

When I started this project on August 5, 2009, I had absolutely no idea it would become what it has. The blog was just a way for me to share the art with friends and family who lived out of state. That was really my only intention. I never would have guessed that it would come to the attention of so many other wonderful artists, poets, writers, bloggers and others. And I never in a million years expected that this would turn into a book. Never. I think some people out there imagine that I conceived this idea and launched the blog in the hopes that I would land a book deal. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As I have mentioned many times before, I am not an artist. I am a librarian living in Ohio. While knowing there will be a book continues to thrill me, I don't think I'll ever get used to it. I'm deeply grateful to everyone who helped make the upcoming book a reality, but it still feels really weird.

In my mind, this project has two aspects. The first, and most important, aspect is the art itself. The slow steady journey from the first page to the last, and what it has meant to me as a person and as someone who loves to draw. The second aspect is the book, and that seems to occupy an almost entirely different piece of mental real estate. So I am going to divide my thank-yous into two groups: those who have meant a great deal to me during the course of this project, and those who have been a crucial part of making the book a soon-to-be-reality.

The simple truth is that every person I have ever met, every person I have ever had some kind of contact with, and every experience I have ever had has been essential in shaping this project. I can think of a million and one little conversations or instances or illustrations or even pieces of music that have somehow become part of the alchemical brew which produced these illustrations. A list like that would be unwieldy and would defeat the purpose of this honest and heartfelt expression of gratitude to those that had a direct impact on this whole thing. So, first, the project itself...

Nothing, and I truly mean nothing, would have been possible without the constant, unwavering, and heartfelt support and encouragement of my best friend in the entire universe, the love of my life, my wife. This has been a long long journey, and it deprived us of a great deal of time together. The last three months in particular have been absolutely brutal, with me working in the closet studio almost non-stop, pausing only to eat dinner, kiss her goodnight, and get some sleep. And yet through these 18 months, she has never once had anything even remotely resembling a cross word for me, or for the project. She has cheered me on, told me how proud she was of me, shared the work with her friends and family and coworkers, and done every single little thing necessary to keep our daily lives running smoothly. Laundry. Grocery shopping. Car repairs. Ironing clothes. And, amazingly, she did all of that while sharing a 90 minute (one way) commute, working an extremely demanding full time job, and earning tenure at the university where she works. She is quite simply an astonishing human being, someone who I respect more than anyone else in the world, and the absolute foundation of my life and my happiness. This belongs to her as much as me and I would never have gotten past page 5 or 6 without her.

I have this friend named Brian Stephens. If you saw us together, you might never guess we were friends. He is 9 years older than me, drives around in a weird old car filled with stuff, and has all kinds of jobs. But in the entire time I have been making art, other than my wife, no one has supported me more. Brian is one of most genuine, honest, and decent human beings I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He seems a bit crusty on the outside, but he truly has a heart of gold. He's helped me in innumerable ways, and I honestly think of him as my patron at times. I would have given it up long ago had it not been for him.

Next, I need to thank my old college friend Tobin Becker. This thing actually grew out of an offhand comment he made to me on Facebook, so without that spark I might have never started down this road.

Meg Guroff, who runs the excellent web site Power Moby-Dick, a site I have referred to almost daily for the last 18 months, was the first person to contact me about this project and the first person to interview me. She was directly responsible for getting this project wider exposure from the very beginning, and I can't imagine what might have happened without that first boost.

There are very very few people in the world that I would call a friend without ever meeting them. Scott B. in Georgia is one of the those few. Scott was the first real, non-web site affiliated, non-journalist person to contact me about this project. Through the last year and a half, he has never been out of touch for long and he has never hesitated to share his own experiences as a sailor, his thoughts as a reader, or his encouragement as a friend. There are very few people who I would say this project has really been for. Myself and my wife, definitely, but in many ways this has been for Scott too. His passion for reading and for Melville have stoked my fires when I was feeling down and kept me going when I needed an extra boost.

It is important for me to thank the artists Tom Williams, Andy Bennett and Craig Bogart and the writers Dara Naraghi and Sean McGurr, my good friends from the Columbus, Ohio arts collective PANEL. I have had the pleasure of meeting with them all fairly regularly over the years, sharing work, and talking about what looks good and what doesn't. I haven't seen them as much as I would like lately, but they were a big part of the first 180 pages and they were constantly enthusiastic about the project.

Gigantic Joe Kuth was the first person to ever publish my art in a real book, his excellent collection Emberley Galaxy, a compendium of art and comics dedicated to Ed Emberley. Joe is kind of a kindred spirit in that we share many of the same favorite authors and artists.

I have gone on and on about the artist Jeffrey Meyer many times on this blog, but if I ever had a creative mentor it would be him. Again, I have never had the pleasure of meeting Jeffrey since he lives in Washington and I am in Ohio, but I hope to someday. He is a brilliant artist and someone who I would normally be too intimidated to even correspond with. Yet in spite of his strong opinions and outspokenness, his words have always provoked me into thinking deeper about the creative process and working even harder. I owe him a lot, probably in ways he doesn't even realize, and I hope to repay it all some day.

Daryl L. L. Houston is a pretty fascinating guy who seems to do about a million interesting things. Chief among them is his excellent blog Infinite Zombies and he was kind enough to invite me to guest post over there for a group read of Moby-Dick. I don't get to correspond with Daryl as often as I'd like, but I know he's alwasy checking in on this project, occasionally leaving wonderfully insightful comments and sending me an email or two when I'm flagging. Of course, even more awesomely amazing is that he got my illustration of a Fin-Back whale from page 131 tattooed on his back. For a guy like me, who loves tattoos, that is quite possibly the highest compliment that has ever been paid to my art. Just phenomenal.

Will H. from down south has also been a constant presence, sharing my paradoxical love of both Moby-Dick and Mega Man videogames. He's been a great listener and I have shared with him some of the bumps in the road for this project, and some of the frustrations of navigating the publishing industry. He's connected me with some essential legal advice as well, and I don't know if I'd have had the courage to proceed the way I have without that.

I find it intriguing that my art seems to be so well received in Europe, and the constant and deeply deeply appreciated comments of the bloggers Lizzy G from France and poet JoAnne McKay, AKA Titus the Dog, from Scotland have become as necessary to me as breakfast. I miss them when they don't chime in and I've truly come to look forward to their thoughts on these illustrations each and every day. And they are fascinating women as well. Lizzy is a globetrotter with a delightfully unorthodox way of looking at life, and I owe JoAnne so much for selecting a few of my illustrations to accompany her absolutely brilliant poetry in her book Venti. As Joe Kuth was the first person to publish my art here in the United States, JoAnne was the very first to bring my art to Europe and that, to me, is thrilling. I believe her book is still available from her site, and it is well worth getting a copy as she is a fantastic poet.

Another gifted poet who has been inspirational to me is Hannah Stephenson who maintains an intriguing blog called The Storialist. There, Hannah selects images she has discovered online and writes perfect verses to accompany them. Even more amazingly, she keeps this up every single weekday. She somehow found out about this project and even wrote a poem about one of my illustrations, which floored me.

Gratitude and a bit of awe goes to Professor Elizabeth Renker of The Ohio State University. She wrote the foreword to the Signet Classic paperback edition of Moby-Dick that has been my guide for this project, so I was blown away when she contacted me. She is as brilliant as you would guess, but she has also been incredibly supportive of this entire thing and a pleasure to correspond with.

Thanks go to Jamie Hook who was kind enough to invite me to Brooklyn to share this art with a ton of people who stuffed themselves into Pete's Candy Store as part of his OCD (Open City Dialogues) series of lectures. Really, if it hadn't been for that appearance in New York, I don't think this project would have come to the attention of as many people as it did.

Obviously, this project was directly inspired by the artist Zak Smith and his own project illustrating every page of Gravity's Rainbow. His came years before mine and is as endlessly fascinating and labyrinthine as Pynchon's novel. Similary, Zak along with the artists Shawn Cheng, Matt Wiegle, Sean McCarthy, John Mejias and Craig Taylor have begun, but not yet completed, a similar attempt to illustrate every page of Cormac McCarthy's powerful novel Blood Meridian. Their work far surpasses my own and has been hugely inspirational to me.

Thank you to every single writer, blogger, or journalist who has ever interviewed me or written about this project, especially Aaron Cael (who also painted the best portrait of me ever made, which now hangs with pride in my closet studio), Sean T. Nortz who wrote an almost frighteningly perceptive piece about me, and David Carver who asked me some of the most probing questions I've ever had about this project.

Thank you to the regular and semi-regular visitors who comment here. People like Buck, Sandy Longhorn, the wonderful people at The War & Peace Project and everyone else who, in this haze of exhaustion and delirium, I am sure I am forgetting.

Finally, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to everyone who has visited. There are simply no words to describe what that has meant to me. I am not used to this many people. I've never shared my art so widely. It was terrifying at first. But you have all been very kind, and you have all helped this project out in a million little but essential ways that mattered very much. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. I couldn't have finished this without you.

(Okay, just a little bit more now)

Last, I have a few people I need to thank for making the upcoming book a reality. First and foremost, the artist Sophie Blackall. Really, the book started because of her, and without her there never would have been one. She saw a mention of my appearance at Pete's Candy Store last April and even though she wasn't able to make it, she was intrigued enough by the description to look me up online. She too is a fellow whale and Melville lover and thought highly enough of my work to suggest that a good friend of hers, an agent, take a look at it. Again, there never ever would have been a book had it not been for Sophie. She gets the first copy.

That agent, Seth Fishman, has been a godsend. I am probably not easy to work with and at the very beginning I was suspicious and asked a million questions and was just pretty doubtful about the whole thing. I kind of gave him a hard time, really, but he was persistent and genuine and really trustworthy. That's hard to find. I'd trust this guy with my life, and what's even more amazing is that he got this thing turned into a real book with an awful lot of hard work and not much financial reward simply because he really believed in it. That made me feel indescribably good. I know a lot of people thank their agents, but Seth really deserves it. He is incredible.

Huge thanks also go to my publisher (yay!) Tin House Books for taking a chance on a total unknown like me. They've been so supportive and so wonderful so far, and I can't imagine a better publisher. My editor Lee Montgomery and the art director Janet Parker have been shepherding this thing along every step of the way, answering my questions, and working with me to make sure this book is as awesome as possible.

Alright. Wow. I think that is everyone. I am very tired now. And I worry that long list might be riddled with typos and some shoddy grammar. But it all came from the heart and I mean it all.

Thank you, everyone. And to my wife, I love you very much.

Back to work. Only a very few pages remain.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks man! I never experienced Moby Dick or any other book this way. It's wonderful!

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  2. I'm just hoping that at the very least your library will have an autographed copy of your book, and that you will have the joy of helping someone find it on the shelf.

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  3. Wow! I knew it had to end, but I'm sorry that it is. My feed reader (and I) will miss the daily updates.

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  4. dear matt - oh this is such an un-blog-like beginning, isn't it? - you're just amazing! work and comute and draw and draw and draw, and find time still to write such kindly and articulate thank yous! i am touched and delighted to be there in a special spot, and equally touched and delighted that you may have come to awit and miss input which i at times feared would just mean more work for you, since you never fail to react to comments - another feat i find astounding!
    i am totally with you on this and increasingly thrilled as the end nears.
    as for the "after" episode, go there like a babe in the woods is what is rekon...
    (looking at flying skulls nd love having them there too)

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  5. ps: want to take time to explore every link in your list!

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  6. Blimey Matt, I went all Gwyneth Paltrow after that, and it wasn't even my speech!

    That said, good people find other good people. Ergo, you are a good person. Q.E.D. There, you didn't know I was a mathematician as well.

    And I am so looking forward to the book!

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  7. God, just thought about Melville himself, and all the tragedy of the reception of the book. And look at us all now, with our love and admiration and utter astonishment at its brilliance. There's a mighty tribute in all this work to him.

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  8. Rather than clutter this post with many responses, I will do my best to consolidate them all here.

    This, for me, has also been an utterly unique way to experience a novel. Never have I felt more deeply and intimately connected to a work of literature. It is tempting to consider a next project where I illustrate every page of yet another of my favorite novels (Heart of Darkness? A Voyage to Arcturus? The Worm Ouroboros?) but that could be exhausting so soon, and I am not sure if I want to be "that guy." Still, it's tempting.

    Charlie, I do hope my library picks it up as well. Even more so than things like sales and royalties and books and stuff, I am excited about the possibility of this project perhaps introducing new or reluctant readers to "Moby-Dick" in a visual way.

    Keith, it won't end completely, since there are still months before the book comes out and there will be details about that posted here, details about sales of all of the art, and perhaps a few more "Moby-Dick" inspired illustrations as I wait for the publication to hit the shelves. So the daily pace will slow, and the book illustrations will be done, but I'm not gone for good yet.

    Okay, this is long. I need another comment post.

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  9. Lizzy, thank you, I don't know if I've ever been called amazing. Like I said, even that feels kind of weird. I just did what I loved, worked hard at it, and tried to do the best I could. More than anything, I am so grateful that so many people found it and enjoyed it. That means so much. The comments people left always brought me great joy, and I have loved all of the shared thoughts and exchanges of ideas. That is one of the best aspects of a blog, and I made sure I responded to every person who commented.

    Titus, thank you from the bottom of my heart for those words. I worry about what happens to a person when they adopt an "online persona." I have struggled mightily to be as genuine as I possibly could whenever I wrote something to post here. I don't want to just be someone else, I want to be me, and it has at times felt hard to do that through a blog. I am glad that I came across as a decent person. I do my best to be one, in real life too.

    And yes, the stark contrast between the initial reception of "Moby-Dick," how its reputation grew and grew in later years, and how much kindness has been shown to me throughout this project is not at all lost on me. I have seen so much phenomenal art, poetry, and writing surrounding this mighty book, so believe me when I say it has been an honor beyond words to be able to humbly submit this attempt to that greater body of work. I stand in the company of giants.

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  10. dear titus, i just bought your book with matt's drawings.
    thanks to matt and the circle of "good people", and am honored to share a paragraph with you.
    (love the dog!)

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  11. matt, will you forward my little note to titus/JoAnne? i couldn't find a place on her blog.
    thanks.

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  12. Lizzy, I will indeed forward it although I suspect there is a chance Titus / JoAnne will see it here. Either way, she will know your words.

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