Tumblr Mailbag: On Faith and Writing

October 18th, 2012 by | Tags:

I’ve been doing questions on Tumblr here and there. I had it turned off for a while, after it turned from “here and there” to “more often than I blogged music videos and pictures of Anna Karina and girls in hoodies.” But it’s back on now and at a much more reasonable pace. I’ve answered a few that I think are relevant here, too, so I’m going to ~crosspost~ a bit. Maybe it’ll spark some convo or something? No sé qué, but I’m doing it anyway. Original post. I don’t think I edited this one much at all, though. Fixed a typo here and there, tightened up a sentence or two, cut the weird bit about the comic-con sex parties…

When questions are turned on, you can ask me things here.

David, I’ve been following you ever since Spurgeon or MacDonald linked to your piece about Frank Miller’s ability to render acrobatics. I’ve noticed you’ve got a pattern of writing with conviction. I’m even noticing as I type this– your tumblr theme is “brutal simplicity.” I’m personally real interested in how faith systems affect folks’ art– do you have some sort of faith background that informs your writing and worldview?


I’ve been thinking about this question since you sent it in, mulling it over and feeling out the edges of it. I think the answer is yes, I do. I’m Christian, and protestant is as close as I’ll get to claiming a denomination beyond “Christian.” I went to a baptist church growing up, and a mission off and on, but I don’t know that I’m particularly baptist. I don’t go to church much at all any more, but I still believe, pray, give thanks, etc, and I figure I could go bar for bar with anyone in a casual religion conversation. I used to know the Bible really well, but it’s probably down to mildly well at this point.

Anyway, yeah, the things I prize most come from or are a reaction to my background in the church. Let me run down a couple:

Clarity: say what you have to say as clearly as possible, but don’t be afraid to throw some swing off in there to keep people paying attention. I hate it when preachers vamp, because I feel like that’s performance getting in the way of teaching, but when you find a speaker who’s charismatic and interesting, there’s a 90% chance that speaker isn’t just some schmuck who read a book. There’ll be some type of swing, a joke, a smile, a way of speaking that keeps you in.

Directness of speech: the church, the black church at least, can be pretty passive-aggressive and guarded. “Situation” was the one word I always picked up on. “I’m going through a situation, I’ve got a situation,” everybody’s got a situation. Nobody ever says that they’re so depressed that getting out of bed takes twenty minutes every day. Nobody ever says that they’re feeling the weight of the entire world on their shoulders and needs somebody to talk to. It goes in the other direction, too. If somebody thinks you got something going on, “I’ll pray for you.” And naw, I hate that. I understand not letting people know your business — I’m including myself in this for sure, I hate asking for help — but be specific! We can help each other if we know the deal. That thing you’re having trouble with, someone else has had that same problem and might be able to talk you through it. Be direct and be clear.

Well-reasoned arguments: A side effect of knowing the Bible reasonably well is wanting to fight people who know the Bible less well than you but still manage to talk louder. Last time I was back home, this guy was preaching from the Old Testament. I don’t remember the exact verse, maybe 1 Chronicles 12:8 but possibly not. (It probably was.) It was about how certain soldiers were like lions, at any rate. And when this false prophet was like, “Yes, back in the day, there were lion-men and–” I got up and walked out.

I dunno if dude wrote his lecture the night before or what, but how do you get to be like 45 years old and not understand how metaphors work? Or do any type of research? Why would a shepherd lie to his flock out of ignorance and arrogance? because the verse was CLEARLY referring to strength and fearsomeness, not dudes with lion heads tromping around. That’s moronic. But it’s a sermon, and you don’t interrupt those. (My favorite church format is essentially a college class, with back & forth and all. Sunday School > 11 o’clock sermons.)

But I could’ve eaten that guy alive any day of the week because he didn’t think his thing through. So one thing I try and make sure to do is to work the angles on whatever I end up writing about. I think about this stuff a lot more than you might expect, and even dumb posts like the thing about Miller drawing acrobatic moves was the result of like three weeks of thought and jokes/threats to friends about doing that exact post. And it’s such a nothing post, “Frank Miller draws jumps good,” but I still researched, read a lot of books… I knew most of it already, but I wanted to confirm that what I knew/believed was accurate/true. “I work the angles, sharp and precise.”

(I think this is also why I hate seeing underinformed people open their mouth about race & comics or creators’ rights & comics. They have the opportunity to do so much damage due to their own ignorance, and that’s not what people in a position to exert influence others should be doing.)

Honesty is another big one, and it ties into directness. I’ve amped up an opinion for dramatic effect (“The Winter Men is better than Watchmen”), but I’ve never expressed an opinion I didn’t hold for hits or whatever. I don’t argue things I don’t believe, and I only argue things I really believe in. I try to make sure that the person I am online is an accurate picture of who I am in real life. The only real difference is that I’m way smarter online (everyone sounds smarter in text) but way funnier in person (glib tumblr answers aren’t just a gimmick, they’re a lifestyle). I curse more offline, too, and generally don’t online.

But like, past that? I think if you meet me in real life, I would be the exact person you expect if you were familiar with my work. I’ve got a black power tattoo on my arm, I’ve done a pretty detailed job of documenting why I like certain types of music, and I’ve even written about fashion. That stuff derives from my life and feeds back into my life. Writing about black history & comics is like pulling teeth, but it enhances my knowledge of black history and myself, which in turn alters (altered, at this point, I think I’m done with BHM) the approach I take next year.

I try to be honest with my readers and with myself. What you see is what you get, you know? If I’m being a turbodick for no reason, I’ll apologize. I’ve written a few awkward apology emails in my time, and I’ve definitely apologized on the site. I never like when people demand an apology because screw you, I’ll apologize when I actually feel sorry. It’s worth more if you mean it, and I try to make sure that I mean it if I have to apologize. If I don’t mean it… ah well, them’s the breaks. Which sounds like something a turbodick would say, but as a dude who has given and received insincere apologies… I’d rather you hate me for me than fake like I like you. That’s just another type of lie.

That’s also why my name is on everything I do, too. I shed pseudonyms entirely a few years back (I think Twitter’s the last holdout, but my name’s on that, too) because I think it’s important that I be held accountable for what I do and do not do. I’ve never said anything online I wouldn’t say in real life if you gave me half a chance, and I feel good about that. I might say it better or more eloquently online — it’s sorta hard to get obscure rap quotes right when dissing someone on the fly I guess — but I keep it as real as I possibly can.

(Eloquence = rap quotes??? what is wrong with me)

There are a few other things, too. At its best, Christianity isn’t so much a religion as a blueprint for self-improvement. Constant self-interrogation, carving out the parts of you that aren’t Christ-like, pushing for a better you by any means necessary. I apply that to my writing, looking for new ways to do old tricks, better ways to deliver points, and just getting better. I attack my work to find out what doesn’t work and turf whatever doesn’t fit.

So yeah, I hadn’t realized it until recently, but faith, and the structures we’ve built up around faith, have definitely affected how I work. I think I chalk a lot of this stuff up to a Malcolm X influence, especially the directness and swagger, but I guess I’ve got a lot of fathers.

Really good question.

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4 comments to “Tumblr Mailbag: On Faith and Writing”

  1. No more black history month stuff? Why not? Thats one of the main reasons I come to this site.Fo’real, why not doe? I can wait. :colbert:

  2. “At its best, Christianity isn’t so much a religion as a blueprint for self-improvement. Constant self-interrogation, carving out the parts of you that aren’t Christ-like, pushing for a better you by any means necessary. I apply that to my writing, looking for new ways to do old tricks, better ways to deliver points, and just getting better.”

    I hadn’t ever thought of it in those terms, but wow. You’re totally right there.

  3. @JB: I’m still going to write about black people and comics stuff, for lack of a better phrase, but I think I’m done doing the yearly black history month death march. I’s like peeling a scab off a wound slow-like, or taking a dip for a little too long in ~the black condition~. It’ll still happen here and there, I’m too focused on it these days for it to not happen, but it won’t be concentrated over the course of a month like it was from 2008-2011. I’m glad you dig it, tho.

  4. @david brothers: Please keep up the articles about black people. They are all great and they give me some much need air in this all white neighborhood I’m living in. I moved from NYC to Florida, its such a mind-bending experience for me due to never living in a neighborhood with white people. My Uncle says It takes some time getting used to but its taking me much longer than I thought. Any ideas on how to assimilate better lol.