Unnatural Talent: Growing A Tree


Way to go! You’ve answered “yes” to the questions: Do you love comics? Do you love to draw? Do you love to tell stories? And do you love/really like/tolerate publishing? That’s a good first step, and you’ve convinced me of your passion to create a graphic novel. Now I’d like to talk to you about growing trees.


Don’t worry. This didn’t just turn into a science textbook. Just keep reading and I promise it has something to do with creating a graphic novel.

Publishing a graphic novel is a long process. Period. Building a website that generates good traffic is a long process. Learning to tell compelling stories and to draw well is a very long process. I think of all this as being like growing a tree. That may seem unusual, but the analogy of a tree is important to understand so you don’t get overwhelmed with the amount of work involved at all levels of this venture.


Remember, you can’t build a tree, not in one day, or a week, or even a month. You have to help a tree grow. To grow a tree, you need to plant a seed in the right soil, make sure the conditions are right, water it, and give it daily sunlight. Once the roots take hold, you can let go a bit and watch it make progress on its own, but it will always need sunlight and water. Every now and then you might need to prune it to make sure it stays straight and healthy. In time it will give you shade, and eventually bear fruit. Soon you will have a big beautiful tree for everyone to enjoy. People will ask you how you grew your tree so fast because they tend to focus on the end product. You, however, will know the truth: your tree grew slowly, bit-by-bit, every day, and it all started with a little seed. All the time that it was growing, it was invisible to everyone else, but you remember where it came from. You nurtured it every day.

In order to grow your graphic novel skills you need to do something every day to keep your project alive and growing. I’m serious. Every day. Now, I’m not saying you have to draw a new page every day. You’ll be done that much quicker if you do, but there’s a whole range of things that you can, and should, do to keep things moving forward. Here are a few suggestions: work on your storyline or structure; fix dialogue; take a writing class; read articles about someone’s process; draw a panel; ink part of a page; color something; teach someone a new technique you learned; or participate in online forums. Maybe you just need to spend some quiet time thinking about your next steps.

The huge list of items you need to get done to finish a graphic novel can be overwhelming, but if you tackle just one or two things a day, every day, then your project and ability will start growing. Keep a notebook in your pocket, and as you think of new ideas and things to do, you can add them to your list. And remember, you only need to do one or two things on your list a day. Feel free to do more, but try not to get burned out too soon. Just like if you over water a tree or give it too much sunlight, you can kill it. Same thing can happen with your graphic novel. If you do too much, too soon, you can kill your passion for your project.


Just doing a few things a day will cause your tree’s roots to start to take hold, and soon you will see a noticeable difference. A year from now you’ll look at what you’ve nurtured and be amazed at what you’ve learned and accomplished. In two years you’ll be astounded. In five years you’ll be filled with wonder. Okay, I think I’ve run out of other words for amazed.

My point is, do something every day. You won’t regret it.

Keeping Your Motivation

In following with the analogy of growing a tree, motivation is a big factor in your successful growth. You need to stay motivated to keep that tree alive. Because, let’s face it, your tree won’t always look great. Sometimes it might look like it’s dead or dying. You will need a source of motivation that will help you when things aren’t looking so good. Where does this motivation come from you ask? Remember my first point about believing in what you are doing? The same goes for your graphic novel. If your graphic novel is just a pointless exercise then nothing is stopping you from giving up when you run into challenges.

A great way to keep up your motivation is to start with an idea that you really believe in and want to share with others. This is important. It takes dedication to make a graphic novel, so you really need to love and believe in what you’re trying to say. Your comic needs heart for others to fall in love with it. It needs to have heart if you are going to fall in love with it too. The last thing you want to do is work for two years on a graphic novel, only to realize you don’t really care about it.

Many comic artists just focus on doing what they think others will like. Or they focus on what’s popular in the industry. Some just focus on making awesome action-packed scenes. The problem is, it takes so long to write and draw an entire story that you end up doubting what you’ve started. If you didn’t have anything of substance to begin with, then you’ll most likely never finish it. It took me almost fifteen years to finish reMIND. For the first seven years, I didn’t have an idea I believed in, so I kept changing it, and I kept wanting to quit. But the moment I decided it needed to have an important message, the moment I finally believed in what I was trying to do and say, that’s when I was finally able to truly focus.

Kazu Kibuishi, author of the Amulet series, told me: “I write the kind of story that I wish I could give my 10-year-old self. Stories that would have helped me through something. A story that I wish I had at that time.”

So, figure out what’s important to you. I mean REALLY important, and make a comic about that. I think the world is tired of seeing stories with lots of flash and no heart. Think about your favorite stories and tell me, are they heartless?

Even with 100 per cent heart it will be a daily struggle to keep moving forward especially when everything seems to be against you. At times it will appear that way. Just remember why you are doing this. Remember your true motivation, and keep pushing forward.


This project you’ve started, or are about to start, could change people’s lives. You’re building a world, a culture, a movement when you create art. You have a powerful opportunity to help others grow if they are inspired by what you do.

I truly believe that art defines and creates what culture becomes. Art can either destroy society or build it up so don’t take this lightly. Keep dreaming. Keep spending the late nights and early mornings perfecting your craft because one day your tree will be full grown and everyone will see it and be influenced by its beauty.


2 Responses to “Unnatural Talent: Growing A Tree”

  1. Michael Freely

    I remember reading this over a year ago when I first found the making comics website. I found it just as exciting and enervating today as I did then. Thanks for that folks.

  2. Tim West

    Yeah, motivation. It’s easy to lose, especially if you feel you’re going off track. I think you just need some sort of blind determination. Not give a poop about anything and just focus on following the lofty dreams you had in your head during the times when you pictured your comic taking over the world and being a smash hit.


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