Not that kind of funny

Art by Carina Santos

I’ve always wanted to make short comics, the kind you saw online by artists you wish you knew in real life, but I never really thought I was funny enough.

I think I’m pretty adequate in the humor department, but my build-up and delivery could use some work. My hits are often accidents, and I’m only ever on a roll when I talk incessantly with my sister when she’s so tired, she ends up laughing at everything I say.

It’s one thing to be unfunny, but I’m not very good at drawing either, especially not consistently and repeatedly, which I feel is required to be able to tell a progressing story in frame-by-frame panels.

(I’ve noticed this pattern where I tend towards wanting to do things I’m not very good at, e.g. being a rock star, vlogging, this comics thing, but that’s a whole other thing to unpack.)

Although I’ve read a few graphic novels that are beautiful but aren’t exactly comedic, most of the short comic strips I’ve seen were funny and had frames that built up to some sort of joke. From my formative high school years, there were comics like A Softer World, Married to the Sea, and Perry Bible Fellowship, sure, but even they inserted some type of clever humor, though dark and sardonic.

So, at the basest level of my conscious mind, I knew that it was possible to not be funny as a short comics-maker, and it’s probably okay to even be unfunny, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to do it.

I still wasn’t funny, and I still couldn’t draw. And yet I realized that my problem was thinking that the punchline had to be laugh-out-loud, crazy funny, when all it had to be was something that could be built up to.

Years later, in my adult life, I saw a different kind of comic by a young artist named Mabel Ye. Someone I was already following retweeted it. Mabel made a rough comic in her journal with a pen and some markers. It was funny, but there was no obvious punchline; it was about fate and eggs. My life changed.

I was on a press trip to the States then, and I was traveling alone during my first winter. I had many, many moments of solitude, and this meant that I had too much time on my hands, which was of course largely spent thinking too much about stuff I didn’t have time to think of back home, where my time was consumed by deadlines and looking for ways I could sleep. I still wasn’t funny, and I still couldn’t draw. And yet I realized that my problem was thinking that the punchline had to be laugh-out-loud, crazy funny, when all it had to be was something that could be built up to. The punchline doesn’t have to be the kind of joke that kills at parties (although of course that helps heaps), and my comics don’t have to be what I thought in my head they should be. They don’t even have to have a punchline, really.

Comparison is often called a thief of joy, but I think it murders creativity, too. “I can’t possibly do that” is where plans for making things remain stalled as plans. The plans die along with your fragile insecurity. Whatever you make can be whatever you want it to be, and if you’re not happy with what it ends up being, well, no one has to know that you made something crappy. Keep it with you and move along.

So, I’m still not funny — I accepted my designation as the unfunny sibling/friend a long time ago — but I think I can sort of draw okay now. But what’s changed is that I continue to make my comics, even with the burden of my humorless existence and subpar drawing ability. Some people seem to like them, which, phew. They’re pretty janky, as far as comics go, but I think I kind of like them anyway, which I suppose is what matters the most.

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