Where The Hell Am I

Wed, November 24th, 2010 at 12:58pm PST

Comic Books
Jason Aaron, Columnist

COMICS WILL MAKE YOU FAT

Your humble columnist

My last day job was in a warehouse. A huge, un-airconditioned sweatbox where I was always lifting and carrying big heavy boxes. You know: actual honest-to-god labor. I was also poor, so I couldn't afford to eat out much. These factors all made it rather easy for me to stay slim. I was probably even a little too slim there for a while.

But then I started writing comics. And comics made me fat.

Well, technically I guess it was the poor diet and lack of exercise that made me fat, but you get the idea.

I went from carrying boxes around a warehouse to sitting behind a desk all day, typing. And when you work from home and love what you do, it's sometimes easy to just want to sit there and do it all day. I also found a bit more change in my pocket, so I started to eat out a lot more. This all resulted in me slowly ballooning up to the most I'd ever weighed in my life.

Eventually, I knew I had to change up the way I was doing things for the sake of my health. This year I signed up for Nutrisystem, which is a diet plan where all the food is shipped straight to your house. I figured, hey, if it's good enough for a bunch of old NFL players, right? I've lost 40 pounds so far, so it's been a good year. For some reason though Nutrisystem is under the impression that I've lost much more, as evidenced by the "Congrats On Losing 70 Pounds" commemorative "Willpower Bear" they sent me. Fuck you, Willpower Bear. Somedays a man just needs his Chick-fil-A, okay?

So now, as I continue to refine my daily writing process, I'm also working to incorporate some sort of fitness routine into my day. It's hard though. When my son was first born, I used to put him into a stroller and go for long walks every day. He loved getting out, and I was able to breakdown stories in my head while we were walking. A lot of the early issues of "Scalped" were written on those walks. These days it's just hard to find the time to walk or ride my stationary bike or waddle around on the Wii fitness board (if someone ever got video of me attempting some of that shit, I would have to pay to have them killed).

Whenever I talk with some of my fellow professionals, I like to ask them what they do to try and stay in shape, what their weekly workout routine is. Here are some of their answers:

About two dozen Guinness a week. 
Garth Ennis
Writer, "Preacher," "The Boys"

I've spent most of my life trying to gain weight, so maybe I'm not the best person to talk to. That said, there are definitely some things I try to be aware of. With a stressful, deadline-chasing job, sometimes the pressure can get to you in unexpected ways  - sudden back pain or stomach troubles often pop when I'm really in the weeds on a project. Other than a bottle of Tums, the only thing that really helped was going for a jog every couple days. You work off the stress, you sleep better and it allows your body to relax and stop twisting itself into knots. An interesting take how the mind deals with stress and translates it into physical ailments can be found in "Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection" by John Sarno. I recommended giving it a look.
Cliff Chiang
Artist, "Neil Young's Greendale"

Staying in shape and leading a healthy life style is real important to me. It's all about a balance between food and exercise. Calories in and calories out. Also, we stay away from processed foods as much as possible. 

For my exercise, I get up at 5 am, M-F.  I do 25 minutes of Cardio, followed by 25 minutes of weight training. 

For my eating, I use an online calorie counter, Daily Burn. It's a great website, that you can easily track your calorie intake and output. We are inundated by food opportunities. I think in this day and age it's really important to count your calories, you'd be amazed how easy it is to eat too many calories in our society. I can eat anything, as long as I stay in my calorie range. 

Also, my weekday breakfasts and lunches are always the same. Breakfast - A bowl of low sugar, hi fiber cereal and a glass of milk. Lunch - A bowl of berries, a Greek yogurt, and an organic peanut butter sandwich. These planned meals let me really maximize my drawing time and efficiency. Weekends are looser.
Shawn Crystal
Artist, "Deadpool Team-Up"

Aaron and friend in leaner, meaner days
I don't have a workout routine.  I'm too disorganized.  When I think of fitness, I think of sitting down.  Or typing.

I have bad knees.  When I was a kid, I could pop my knee cap out and stick it back in, just by twitching my leg.  I can't do that anymore, but it means that I'm not much of a runner.   Which is a shame, because I've heard that mountain lions have been seen in the area. I'm not into yoga.  I don't swim, because those pool-germs are icky.  I recently tried an exercise video, but the instructor was too creepy.  

I am, however, an excellent walker.  Get me in a comfortable pair of shoes, point me in the right direction and I can really cover some distance. I also love to dance.  Especially on tables in small Chinese bars. Fast music makes me boogie, and I like to tango.  

I love to eat, but I'm careful. I don't consume a lot of bad, funky, carbs, and no junk food. Just fruits, veggies, lean protein.  A lot of tea.  Every now and then I cheat.  With chocolate. And cheesecake.  Life is too short. 
Marjorie Liu
Writer, "X-23," "Daken: Dark Wolverine"

When drawing comics, all that time at a table will just murder your back and lower neck. It can also threaten to make you myopic and less observant of the world beyond your desk. 

So while I do hit the regular gym sometimes (treadmill, weights now and then), my most consistent and effective workout is playing full court basketball for 2 hours, 3 or 4 days a week at 5AM. I know that sounds insane (because it is), but working the hours I do, my days are always threatening to become one giant blur. Having something to plan around helps me anchor my week. It also gets out of my house and interacting with people regularly. So it becomes like a fly on the wall kind of journalism project. 

It also allows me to yell at someone now and then.
Jason Latour
Artist, "Noche Roja," Scalped"

I've struggled to find an activity I consistently enjoy enough to do every day. I've walked nine holes of golf, biked, walked - just about everything bores me or takes too much time out of the day.

I've got a program now that I really like, but it remains to be seen whether I will really stick with it long term. I have a two mile plus path I've plotted around my neighborhood. I'm afraid I've never been in running shape, but I'm working up to it. I walk a third of a mile, jog a half mile, walk some more, jog again, etc. It only takes about a half hour, but it gets my heart pumping good. So far, I'm loving it. My mood is much better and I feel like I have more energy. Will the body I abused with nearly two decades of sitting at the drawing table hold up? I certainly hope so. Taking off a pound per year I spent behind that damn table will make the running a hell of a lot easier.
Ande Parks
Writer, "Capote In Kansas," "Green Hornet: Blood Ties"

I have two 25lb dumbbells next to my drafting table, which work wonders for knocking out the kinks in my back and shoulders that I get from being hunched over with my arms in front of me all day. A few rounds of presses, curls and rows every day help keep me from feeling completely wrecked. I also have an elliptical machine in the studio. While more often than not, it's just a fancy place to hang my coat, an hour or so does help a lot, especially when I manage to stay on routine a while. Mostly, though, I just try to not eat myself into oblivion, as I am a total pig with a bottomless pit for a stomach and I have an awesome chef for a wife. I'm not the best example of "in shape," but I have somehow managed to maintain a relative stasis given my sedentary lifestyle. 
Tony Moore
Artist, "FrankenCastle," "Fear Agent"

Get a dog. Not a small lap dog so much, but a lab or golden or some other such larger dog that will stare at you incessantly and make you feel guilty if you don't take him outside to play. I was always active, but when I started this as a career twenty years ago I gained twenty two pounds the first year from just sitting on my ass (drawing heroes who were in shape). I  knew was going to go downhill healthwise fast and that lifting weights wasn't enough. So, in essence, my dog would walk me. Getting him was the best thing I ever did. Aside from the great bonding experience one gets with a dog, it was a wonderful break and we'd hike every day on local trails and up the mountain in back of my house and Id feel very refreshed to sit back at the table. My golden has slowed down now, him being fifteen, but he's still healthy as a horse and we still hike three or four times a week which shows the benefits that exercise has given him!  I also train in Jiu Jitsu,(co-owner of a school in fact) and believe me, if you want to shed the extra weight fast, try something like that.
Ron Garney
Artist, "Ultimate Captain America"

I have a pair of dumbbells and a cross-trainer in my office, but I can't claim to use them as often as I should.  The latter was a Christmas present from my wife - I suspect she may have been trying to drop me a subtle hint. I'll occasionally guilt myself into doing some push-ups and sit-ups, but I never stay at it as long as I should. The truth is, I hate exercise, but I'm edging up on 40, and frankly it's time this tubby hubby started taking better care of himself. Maybe this article will give me the push I need!
Andy Diggle
Writer, "The Losers," "Daredevil"

Personal routine is going to the gym 3-4 times a week along with a good diet, ie: No White Castles :(.  This can be challenging with deadlines, family obligations, etc., but you really have to force yourself.  The trick to longevity in this (or any) business is staying in shape, and if you look at 84 year old Papa Joe, you'll know what I mean.
Adam Kubert
Artist, "Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine"

Willpower Bear!
Hooooo boy.  

Bane of my existence, this.  

The food end is easier for me - I love fruits and vegetables and I try to make them the biggest part of my diet.  I limit simple carbs (it also helps that I don't drink), but I do allow myself one piece of chocolate with my coffee at 3pm.  (I don't smoke, drink, do drugs or even speed.  I'm allowed coffee and one fucking piece of chocolate.  And cursing.)

The hard part for me is making time to work out.  It was so much easier before the kids.  I like running, swimming, yoga and weight-lifting.  Dread of the activity isn't a problem.  Making the *time* is.  I don't have an easy answer. 

Matt and I have actually been talking about getting a treadmill and a weight bench for the house and, honestly, though I have NO IDEA where we'll put them, I think that might be the best idea.  
Kelly Sue DeConnick
Writer, "Osborn"

I really struggled with staying in shape once I went full time on comics a couple of years ago. I was used to biking to work, for a half hour each way, and then being on my feet all night in the restaurant.  When I could finally quit my day job, I was suddenly at my desk all day and barely got out, and it showed. Now I try to get out and bike or run once a day. It helps clear my head and I get some of my best "writing" done as well. I find it helps re-energize me and helps me keep at the drawing board for longer stretches.  Oh, and I play hockey on the weekends, too.
Jeff Lemire
Writer/Artist, "Sweet Tooth"

The answer for me is: it's not easy. In addition to the normal sedentary writer's lifestyle I tend to travel a lot and travel means a lot of eating. Yesterday I was in Rome and I'd need a stronger will than I've got to behave in the face of Roman food. Basically: when I'm not traveling I'm very strict with what I eat. 6 very clean meals a day, no bread at all, my carbs are in cereals, rice, etc.  And I do an absurd amount of plyometric exercise... almost every day of the week I sweat my ass off. Usually 5 days, minimum. When I lack the time for a more intense routine I'll try to make sure to at least get on an exercise bike for a half hour while I watch the Daily Show on my tivo.
Ivan Brandon
Writer, "Viking," "Doc Savage"

So now you know how some of your favorite comic creators try to stay in shape. Do with that information what you will. And remember, comics will kill you if you give them the chance. Just listen to Willpower Bear when he says, "You write comic books for a living? Seriously? And you're how old? Dude, being fat is the least of your problems."

Well said, Willpower Bear. Well said.

Jason Aaron is an Eisner and Harvey Award nominated comic book writer whose current work includes the critically-acclaimed crime series "Scalped" for DC/Vertigo and "Wolverine," "Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine" and "PunisherMAX" for Marvel. He was born in Alabama but currently resides in Kansas City. His beard is bigger than yours.

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