Exercise As Art (or How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way)

Tell me if this has ever happened to you.

When you were a kid, did you ever want something really badly but it wasn’t exactly the time for you to get a present?

Even though you told your parents you wanted it, it wasn’t your birthday or Christmas or Hanukkah or Easter or whatever so you had to wait?

I can almost guarantee this has happened to everyone reading this. But let me ask a quick follow up question.

Did your parents ever take that thing you wanted and decide that it really was a great idea for a gift so, in a pinch, they bought that thing for your brother or the friend’s birthday party that you were attending or some sort of random holiday grab bag?

This is exactly what happened when I saw, wanted, yearned for a copy of “How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way” by Stan Lee and John Buschema at a mall book store when I was about 8 years old.

But rather than snagging that book straightaway, my Mom bought it for my childhood friend Michael to satisfy the obligation of showing up to his birthday party with a gift. Now, I have no idea if Michael was interested in drawing comics the Marvel way and that’s not really the point.

I was certainly captivated by that notion and when my birthday ultimately did roll around, that book was on the top of my wish list.

(Side note to my Mom, who I know reads these posts. I don’t think it was the wrong thing to make me wait for the book. I think we tend to give in to people’s desires and whims way too quickly and delaying gratification has actually served me really well in business and in life.)

I’ve saved exactly two physical artifacts from my childhood. One is a small, brown Dachshund-looking stuffed animal named Cognac that my grandmother bought for me (clearly she is also responsible for the name choice. What six-year old names their stuffed animal after an after-dinner cordial?!?). Cognac now sits on a nightstand next to my son’s bed.

The other is my hardcover copy of Stan Lee and John Buschema’s “How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way”.

I poured over this book for hours and hours in my room. Reading about forced perspective and how to build the structure of a face using various shapes and guidelines. I endlessly tried to copy the examples of Sub-Mariner and Spider-Man and Doctor Doom.

I remember struggling so much to draw hands and feet that I would add other things like rocks and flamethrowers in front of the appendages after drawing and erasing and drawing and erasing again until I risked putting a hole through the page of my coveted Strathmore sketch pad.

Being an artist is the very first thing I could ever remember wanting to be.

Turns out this wasn’t a fleeting desire, either. Throughout High School I doubled up on painting and art classes whenever I could. I joined and wrote for the annual school literary magazine (for which I also drew the cover!). I bought Bob Ross paint sets and spent weekends in the basement trying to perfect the techniques that he magically displayed every afternoon on public television (I still, to this day, cannot comprehend how he was able to bang out full paintings in 23 minutes).

After college I seeked work as a writer at an advertising agency and had my college friend and future roommate Jim teach me to play the guitar.

I wasn’t particularly good at any of these artistic pursuits but I loved them and they made me feel fulfilled. They still do.

When I decided to leave advertising and pursue a career as a personal trainer (fitness is the only pursuit that I’ve felt nearly as strongly about) I thought I was leaving my artistic ways behind. In some ways I was sad but in others I was relieved. It is very difficult to pursue something that is completely subjective and feel like you aren’t particularly good at.

But just as quickly as I left I found myself back. Within a couple of years of “changing careers” I was writing for several fitness magazines and websites and authoring a couple of training-related books. This weekly newsletter that hits your inbox is just an extension of the desire to keep art in my life.

Art is about one thing: authenticity. And if we accept that is true, the side of me that I thought was turning away from the arts may ultimately be my most artistic pursuit – the training itself.

Because I don’t know if there is anything as authentic that I have a hand in producing as the training that I engage in and develop for our members. It comes from the purest of places – wanting to help people realize their potential and believe in themselves more than they ever would on their own.

There’s a reason it’s called Exercise Science. There are rules and principles that should be adhered to in order to make things sound and effective.

But connecting with people, keeping it all psychologically engaging and meaningful and helping people carry the confidence and other lessons learned on the training floor out into the rest of their lives, that is art.

And with love and appreciation to Stan Lee and John Buschema, that’s just not something you are going to find in a book.