Work Ethic: Ten Thousand Things To Do #6

Posted by on January 16th, 2010 at 6:23 AM

Rob reviews the last collection of Jesse Reklaw’s diary comic, Ten Thousand Things To Do #6.

One element of Jesse Reklaw’s personality that came through in his diary comic, TEN THOUSAND THINGS TO DO, was his dogged work ethic, even when he found himself openly resenting his assignment.  Considering that many of his assignments and tasks were entirely self-imposed, his mood swings came as no surprise.  This final collection of strips that were originally published on his flickr account (inspired by Lynda Barry’s example) finds Reklaw eager to get to the finish line and nervous about finding a publisher for Couch Tag, an impressive autobiographical work that’s been published only in minicomics form so far.  What’s inspiring about Reklaw is the way he works through his problems by getting up and working: on music, on his Slow Wave weekly strip, on the diary, teaching classes and organizing art shows.  He attacks his depression by making sure to keep in contact with others, organizing game nights and movie nights.  Reklaw keeps busy because he knows what staying still will do to him, but such activity comes at a price.

Reklaw kept a tab on pain on a daily basis, mapping it out here over the course of several months.  In this volume, we see him trying some low-cost acupuncture treatments (like many cartoonists, he has no insurance) as a way of getting at his pain.  Chronic pain is something that can induce depression & fatigue, so it’s no wonder that he found himself struggling, even though this comic was really the only outlet he used for expressing his woes-and even that is done in a matter-of-fact way.  Whatever it is about him that inspires his fanatical work ethic is the same thing that compels him not to be a whiner.

Indeed, whenever the diary comic started to feel like a burden, he found ways to change it up.  Abandoning the 4-panel grid that he uses so extensively in his comics work, he did five days’ worth of hourly-comics strips: documenting what he did once an hour.  With 24 panels on a page, Reklaw was forced to be more immediate in his depiction of his day and didn’t mediate or contextualize this experience through after-the-fact narrative captions.  It was also enjoyable to see a week’s worth of guest strips when Reklaw was battling a deadline, with each artist using Reklaw’s format and some realizing just how difficult it was.

Reklaw made it his goal date of September 16, 2009, and even managed a happy ending, as Couch Tag got picked up by Fantagraphics.  Despite his personal and career struggles, Reklaw managed to avoid having to go back to doing a “straight” job in computers.  In a sense, his chosen profession as an artist became a form of therapy for him, pushing him to make connections with others (most especially his girlfriend, Andrice) and become more aware of his physical emotional states in the moment.  Cartooning is a solitary pursuit, but Reklaw’s emphasis in Ten Thousand Things To Do was usually on how happy these interactions made him.  It’s not coincidence that the back cover of this issue is an 88-panel grid of all the people who appeared in his strip—in other words, all of the people who have some importance in his life.  In a comics scene filled with autobio strips in general and diary strips in particular, Reklaw’s point of view and approach stood out and proved to be enormously compelling.

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