Jason Fischer Shares The Life Of A Drawing Assistant In ‘Seconds Helping’
If you read Bryan Lee O'Malley's 2014 graphic novel Seconds --- and given that it was one of the most anticipated comics of that year, chances are you did --- then one of the first things you may have noticed that differentiated it from Scott Pilgrim was that O'Malley wasn't the one-man band he was on his name-making graphic novel series.
While O'Malley still wrote and penciled all of Seconds, the title page credits three other contributors: colorist Nathan Fairbairn, letterer Dustin Harbin, and drawing assistant Jason Fischer. Those first two job titles will be familiar to anyone who has followed mainstream American comics, as they're among the handful of credits that appear in most of the books created in the chopped-up, parceled-out system established in the Golden Age. But "drawing assistant"...? What exactly is a drawing assistant? Jason Fischer himself answers that with Seconds Helping: A Drawing Assistant's Memoir Comic.
Fischer's 12-page, black-and-white comic is not the elaborate, long-form comics narrative about a cartoonist wrestling with a huge life event that the word "memoir" likely evokes, but it nevertheless focuses on a pretty big, pretty important event in Fischer's life; his collaboration with O'Malley on a major graphic novel, a fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
The cover deliberately echoes that of Seconds, with an extremely frazzled Fischer standing in for O'Malley's character Katie, and there's more than a slight resemblance between Fischer's style and O'Malley's current style, although the black-and-white art and more pulpy paper stock recalls the Scott Pilgrim series more than the look and feel of Seconds.
More diary comic than memoir, Seconds Helping tells Fischer's story in a very straightforward, matter-of-fact way. Fischer began assisting O'Malley in the inking phase of Seconds about two and a half years ago, with Fischer inking most of the backgrounds, while O'Malley handled the characters.
Just as Fischer was going through a big life-change, of the sort that might seem a more natural subject for a memoir, he got a call from O'Malley saying they needed to step up the pace of inking, so Fischer left the girlfriend he had just made his fiancee and headed to Los Angeles, where he moved in with O'Malley and the pair inked like maniacs side-by-side for weeks.
With five weeks before deadline, they still had 200 pages to ink, and, by the time they reached the home stretch and were inking 12-to-14 hours a day; they achieved a kind of delirium many of us only know from staying up way to late at childhood sleep-overs, cracking up over nonsense, finding fully-inked pages with no memory of having even worked on them, and wrecking their bodies in a way that might sound counterintuitive to anyone who hasn't spent 12-to-14 hours a day hunched at a drawing desk, gripping a pen.
Drawing is, of course, a physical act. Though few of us spend most of our lives doing it, and because it mostly happens sitting down and with minimal movement, it can be hard to understand how physical.
That's one of the great things about this slickly-produced mini-comic. By letting readers behind the curtain and into the artist's studio, Fischer offers a rare glimpse of what making comics is actually like. It's a lot of hard work, even for those with all the talent in the world.
Once you get to a place like O'Malley --- a successful original graphic series under your belt, a major motion picture adaptation of your work in the rearview, a contract with a book publisher, your script for your next major work written --- you still have to sit at a desk for hundreds of hours and draw hundreds and hundreds of pages by yourself... or with a drawing assistant.
Fischer doesn't dwell on process or specific elements of Seconds in his comic, but rather shares anecdotes, like marveling at O'Malley's influence when he jokingly tweeted that he wished someone would mash up what both he and Fischer were listening to while drawing. (Drake and the soundtrack to Chrono Trigger, respectively.) Within the hour, someone had. Other anecdotes focus on what O'Malley's dogs were up to, or what the pair did to celebrate the book's completion.
There's a fantastic, last-panel epilogue that follows pages of notes, sketches and thumbnails for Seconds Helping, a panel that puts into perspective what a big deal working on Seconds was for Fischer. I won't spoil it here, but it's just as touching as any big life event in any other memoir might be, even if it's very specific (and very personal) to Fischer.
Fischer's fondness for his work and his affection for his colleague O'Malley are infectious, and his Seconds Helping is a beautifully constructed celebration of the life of a cartoonist, which has highs that can be higher than those experienced in so many other careers, and lows that can be just as grinding and grueling as those in the hardest and most stressful of jobs.
There is something special about the work of a cartoonist, however, at least as Fischer sees and experiences it: After all, he did spend the time and effort to draw a comic celebrating the time and effort spent on helping draw his previous comic.
(Disclaimer: Former ComicsAlliance editor Andy Khouri makes a cameo appearance on page six...)
Seconds Helping is available directly from Jason Fischer via Etsy, or at convention appearances.