Dear Teen Me,
Okay, you’re a pretty awesome kid. I know you know that. But I think you know that most of what is really so awesome about you is hidden secretly inside. You can draw, but you’re not the best drawer. There’s always going to be some other dude who can draw better than you, that has more “chops”, more pure drawing skill. Like that kid that draws the perfect Ewok comics. But no one else has your mind.
Your mind is your secret weapon. Because you think things that no one else thinks. Or else maybe they do, but they’re not willing to admit that they think them. Stupid things. Silly things. Scary things. If you’re willing to let all that stuff out, you will amaze and flabbergast those around you.
Don’t let anything like writer’s block stop you from letting your mind free. Do you know what writer’s block really is? It’s not when you don’t have any ideas. It’s when you’re afraid that your ideas are stupid and not worth sharing. Well, I’m here to tell you that stupid ideas are ALWAYS worth sharing. You just need a little guts to do it. And I know you have guts.
You’re about to get really into “fine art” and trying to be a serious painter. And you’ll be pretty good at it. But this attempt to be serious is going to limit your creativity way too much. You are a serious person, in part. Yes. But you are also totally goofy. Please, please remember to always let your ridiculous side shine through. There’s no reason why art can’t be serious and stupid and goofy all at the same time. Draw more comics.
A silly man’s life doesn’t have any less meaning than a serious man’s life. Both have the same struggles, the same sorts of hurdles to overcome, the same sorts joys and failures and triumphs. Falling in love, sickness, growing up and trying to find your way in the world, parenthood, the death of loved ones, whatever… these things are pretty universal to both the silly and the serious. Silliness can lighten the load of the gravity of life, while the gravity of life lends density and depth to expressions of silliness. Your silliness will be informed by the depth of your humanity. I’m not even sure you could even prevent it from happening if you wished. But your seriousness will not be shaped by the depth of your silliness unless you allow it to be so.
You don’t have to be the “best” to change the world. You just have to let a few stupid ideas out. Some of these will be really special… they’ll have an unexplainable spark of magic. You can’t predict which ideas will have this effect when they’re locked inside your mind. You have to share them with the world to test if they’re magic or not. So, definitely turn all your stupidest ideas into art. And then enjoy the magic.
P.S. This letter might sound a little megalomaniacal, but I know the teen me will appreciate that.
James Kochalka is the first Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont. He’s the author and illustrator of several popular children’s book series, including Johnny Boo and Dragon Puncher. DRAGON PUNCHER ISLAND won an Eisner Award in 2012 for Best Publication for Early Readers, but he’s also won the Harvey Award and four Ignatz Awards for his books for adults. Kochalka lives in Burlington, Vermont with his wife and two sons. Following a rich career in indie comics, THE GLORKIAN WARRIOR DELIVERS A PIZZA is his first book with a traditional publisher.