Savoring The Mess

As a creative person, there’s nothing more refreshing to my creativity than watching someone else’s in action.

This past weekend, I did just that at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, where my friend Tim Demeter was sketching sequential art live as a prelude to the Rep’s latest production, A History of Invulnerability. This thoughtful play—which happens to feature some of the most badass screen designs I’ve ever seen on a Milwaukee stage—examines the life of a superhero from the perspective of Jerry Siegel, the Jewish artist who created Superman on the brink of World War II. It’s a production that brings sequential art and theater together in surprising ways.

Among Milwaukeeans, Tim is emminently qualified to help celebrate the occasion. He’s a lifelong comic artist and author of the graphic novel series RECKLESS LIFE, with other exciting projects in development with his creative team, Kabuki Robot. Tim and I often swap stories on the endless balancing act of a day job in marketing and the night life in independent storytelling. I’m surprised how often our current “lessons” as people and artists seem to coincide.

This evening, however, was no coffeehouse chat. Tim was sketching in the upstairs lobby of the Quadracci Theater as mellow folk guitar serenaded theater-goers nibbling on hors d’oevers. Tim’s subject was simple: Superman, of course, in his power stance with chest puffed and cape flowing. I took some photos of Tim’s work from various angles. But when I moved in for a close-up of his hands, that’s when I noticed.


His hand was covered with inkstains . . . even though he wasn’t working in ink.

“Nice artistic touch!” I joked as I snapped the photo.

Tim smiled. “It’s more than artistic touch.”

It turns out that Tim likes those inkstains a lot–so much, in fact, that he wears them a lot when he’s creating. Aside from the fact that his favorite inking pens tend to leak, the stains remind him of the mess inherent in the creative process. He confessed that whenever he needs creative inspiration, he likes to sweep all his projects aside and do something messy, like whiteboard ideation.

Apparently that’s Tim’s equivalent of me watching him work: a fresh spark for the creative fire.

We chatted a bit more, then I drifted away so Tim could chat with theater-goers who’d stopped to admire his work. The pristine interior of the Quadracci stood in sharp contrast to the picture he presented: an artist at his sketchpad, comfortable with exploration, rendering a classic subject with an exuberant celebration of stray lines. I left the session inspired by his creativity to go home and do some of my own.

More than that, I was inspired to pull out my own leaky pen . . . just to savor the mess.

* * *
Follow Tim on Twitter and see The History of Invulnerability at The Rep now through May 4th.

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