Shelf Life: No Time Like the Present

Thu, May 5th, 2011 at 1:58pm PDT | Updated: May 5th, 2011 at 5:30pm

Comic Books
Ron Marz, Columnist

Ron's shiny, new guitar

I bought a guitar the other day. I can't play it. Not a lick. Not a lick of a lick. But I've always wanted to.

I have, honestly, very few regrets in my life. I have pretty much the best job ever (says so right at the end of this column), I married an amazing woman, I have three wonderful children. All the rest is all small stuff. But one thing I've always wanted to do is play the guitar. That's the only regret I have that means much of anything to me.

I love music, most varieties. I need to have music when I write -- yes, even when I write dialogue -- or I end up concentrating too much on the silence. So with the kind of hours this job demands, I'm immersed in music all day, almost every day -- except for a few hours listening to the Mets on the radio. On the day I wrote this column, the playlist included Foo Fighters, Gaslight Anthem, Johnny Cash, Flogging Molly, Jane's Addiction, Bob Dylan, Joe Strummer, System of a Down and Springsteen.

But I can't play music. When I was a kid, I couldn't properly play the damn plastic recorder they sent home in third grade. We have a piano in the house, but I can't even summon up "Chopsticks" on it. I'm pretty much the only one in the house who's not playing something. My oldest son plays guitar quite well. He already has three guitars and has his eye on a Fender Mustang, the lefty version you can only get from Japan. My wife plays as well, and our two younger kids are taking piano lessons in addition to starting to play guitar.

I want to play it because -- well, because I love it. It's cool. It means something to me. And because I don't want to look back someday and say, "You know, I should've tried to play guitar." I want to play for all those reasons. I don't want to play it because I think I'm going to end up joining the E Street Band or the Foo Fighters. I don't want to play it because I think there's an audience for me. I just want to play it to play it. And I've felt that way for the better part of my life.

But other things come up, you know? There's work. There's always work, the next script and the next proof and everything else that often keeps me in my office 'til the wee hours. There's my family and our dogs and our horses, there's coaching Little League and ferrying to swim team practices. There's an hour or so a night when I might get to catch up on "Game of Thrones" or get a dose of Ron Swanson on "Parks and Recreation," or watch a Mets game instead of just listening on the radio. There's always, always something else to do.

But really, that's just the easy excuse. That's what we say when we're scared or lazy or some combination of both. That's what we tell ourselves when we can't quite get off our asses and start doing what we really want to do. Unless you want to always have that regret, though, that twinge of "I should've…" done this or that, at some point you have to just do it. In my case, I could've borrowed my wife's guitar, a really lovely Epiphone Casino, same model that John Lennon played. But her guitar has been in the house a couple of years now, and I've never picked it up with serious intent. I'm self-aware enough to realize that would likely remain the case. So I went out and bought a new guitar as a way to force myself to finally learn. I figure if I go out and drop a few hundred bucks on a guitar I can't play, the sheer financial guilt will shame me into applying myself.

You see where this is going, right?

If you want to do something, stop talking about it, start doing it. I know a great deal of the comic audience wants to be on this side of the table, to be creating comics, not just reading them. Well, it's about time you got off your ass and did something about it, isn't it? If you want to create comics, nobody's stopping you but you. Just like me playing the guitar. It might be beyond my skill level to ever do it particularly well, but I can do it anytime I want. I made the decision that "now" is a good time. And there's no better time than now to start creating comics, if that's what you want to do.

Ron Marz's first-ever comic work was a Silver Surfer Annual. But let's face it, you're not going to get that chance.

Note that "creating comics" and "creating excuses" are not the same thing. Excuses are things like "Nobody will read my pitch" or "I only want to write Batman" or "What I really want to do is draw Wolverine." That's like some guy in a weekend softball league bitching because the Yankees never call and invite him to play third base. Or some dude in a garage band feeling unfulfilled because Bono never pulled him on stage to take Edge's place. Don't equate making comics with working for Marvel or DC, or any other publisher. You don't have to work for anybody to make comics. And at least at the beginning, you probably shouldn't be working for anybody.

Just like I'm awkwardly finding my way through power chords on the guitar, you're just learning as well. You're learning by doing. It's all practice, it's all time spent honing your craft. In his book "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly refers to the 10,000-Hour Rule, which says you need about 10,000 hours of practice to become truly adept at something. You can say what you want about Gladwell's whacked-out hair -- I certainly have -- but I think the 10,000-Hour Rule proves out. Which means if you don't put in that first hour, the other 9,999 hours are never going to happen either. The first hour is the hardest, because it requires you to unclip the safety harness and take the plunge.

People say to me all the time, "I've got this story I've been thinking about." You know what? So does everybody. Thinking about a story, and actually sitting down to write it or draw it, are vastly different things. If you want to create comics, do it. Start today. If you're a writer, find an artist. If you're an artist, find a writer. Or be a one-man band and do it all yourself. But do it, and tell a story that matters to you. Put it on the web and share it with everybody, or go Old School and print up copies at Kinko's.

Your first effort will be brutal. Eventually you'll look back on it with a mixture of red-faced shame and (hopefully) bemusement. The next effort will be a little better, the next one after that will be better still. Each time, you'll discover some moment you've done just right: a turn of phrase, a moment of perfect pacing, an effective page-turn. If you stick with it, you'll have more and more of those moments.

Maybe someday you get to the point of doing professional work. But reaching that point isn't the point, at least initially. Right now, simply doing it is reason enough, so you never have to say, "I should've…"

What are you waiting for?

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts," "Witchblade" and "Magdalena" for Top Cow, and his upcoming creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image, set to debut in June, 2011. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, ronmarz.com

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