Helpful Advice From A Benevolent Guru

There’re folks out there, see, who talk about the competent people and the incompetent people, with the intimation that they are amongst the former, and that they can help guide you to be one too so that you, like them, can enjoy your competence and laugh at the incompetents. Often they claim to represent the few true heirs of the Good Old Days, when men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

There are a lot of them in programming. The most well known, to me, is Paul Graham, a Lisp hacker who happened to sell his company to Yahoo in the middle of the first Net bubble and make millions of dollars. There is (well, was — it disappeared but appears to be cached for the moment, right here –) a wonderful parody blog, supposedly written by a dedicated Paul Graham fan, called “Lisp at Light Speed!” which illustrates the dynamic created by this kind of thing. The author of Lisp At Light Speed is absolutely convinced of the superiority of Lisp and the genius of Graham, and says the stupidest damn things ever (but many of them are only obviously stupid if you know a bit of Lisp — I know just enough to get some of the jokes).

Anyway, I just discovered one of these people outside of programming: John Kricfalusi.

In an interview conducted years ago with Tasha Robinson of the Onion, we learned that he considered himself and Ralph Bashki to be basically the only “professonal” animators working today — the heirs of a tradition of professional animation from the early to mid twentieth century. He considers basically every other animator to be ripping him off, badly. (I suppose they are ripping him off in a way — via Ren and Stimpy, he is singlehandedly responsible for the fact that children’s cartoons today consider detailed depictions of boogers to be actual comedy. Thanks, John K. Thanks a lot.)

I recently discovered he has a blog called John K Stuff, where he will teach you how to be awesome and professional like him, via secret techniques such as the “ball and tube” construction methods which you will find in every single how-to-draw comics and cartoons book ever made, of which there are about eighty thousand in my local Barnes & Noble alone. Oh, and drawing characters with big eyes, because they are more “appealing.” I kid you not, those are his secret techniques.

Encouraging you to learn how to copy images by older animators via shape construction, he says:

This won’t be easy at first, but the more you do it, the sooner it will all make sense and you will start to gain skill and confidence.

Then you can crap on the folks who refuse to learn anything traditionally and still can’t draw anything remotely professional or appealing. They will be so jealous of you. And you’ll get the better job.

That’s what it’s all about! He puts it so bluntly. But that is the attraction it offers. A secret path to greatness.

I hate this because I am a total sucker for it. I could easily be Bruce, the Lisp at Light Speed! author, or one of the eager young space cadets in the comments section of the John K Stuff blog, thanking him for dropping his nuggets of big-eyed, ball-and-tube-constructed wisdom on us all. In fact, I am indeed currently getting suckered by John K Stuff, I’m all ready to try some drawings taking his advice on Good Construction and Appealing Characters.

I hate it, I say again, because I’m a total sucker for it.

Why can’t I have the independence to believe in what I’m doing, and my ability to do it? Why do I have to look for gurus to give me the secrets?

In the comments to this blog post by Sten K Anderson, which addresses this phenomenon from another perspective (with respect to Joel Spolsky, who’s another Paul Grahamy type), a commenter named Chris Williams says:

“You will look back at what you’ve written in ten years and laugh at your naivety. Stop worrying so much about what other people might think, they’re all faking it anyway – even your ‘heroes’. Also, check your spelling.”

That might be the best guru advice you can possibly get.

3 thoughts on “Helpful Advice From A Benevolent Guru”

  1. This is a well-written, very thoughtful post. I empathize with many of the sentiments here.

    I think that (to quote the comment above) to “Stop worrying so much about what other people might think”, is indeed the goal, but much easier said than done. I think a lot of people’s success with being able to “let it go” is more based on personality than professional competency.

    Good writing, I enjoyed reading this.

  2. Thank you, I enjoyed your post in very much the same way; it inspired me to write this one!

  3. I read John K Stuff for a while. Then I got bored. Not sure why. A lot of the great cartoons his blog points to are great stuff. I suppose I wasn’t quite convinced that the stuff he didn’t like sucked though.

    Also, I don’t draw very often or very well so some amount of what he was teaching probably went right past me.

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