What’s a Good Question?

ReneI’ve been staying up really late this week. Well… I always stay up late. I tell people I’m trying to be nocturnal.

But this week, I’ve been staying up to read about revolvers of the Old American West: cowboys, y’all. This research actually started with Charles M. Russell, a famous painter who almost exclusively depicted the wild, fantastic world of cowboys, settlers, and Native Americans. I had planned on simply pulling references from Russell’s work, since his semi-realistic style seemed to provide more than enough details for my cowboys and cowgirls. I wanted to know: “What do cowboys look like?”

Incidentally, the word “cowboys” originally referred to bandits and cow-rustlers. Didn’t know that.

Anyway, as I was studying Russell’s work, I got to the point where I needed to know what a revolver really looked like. Unfortunately, Russell never painted a close-up of a revolver. In fact, when he did paint guns, there was usually a large puff of smoke and gunpowder hiding the weapon. So I collected three books on pistols, hand-guns, and firearms, and I began closely

studying the photos. My question was this: “What do revolvers look like?”

Revolvers are complicated, though. How was a revolver different from a pistol? How did you load a revolver?

Good questions pretty much always lead to more questions, which is frustrating… at first. “I JUST WANNA DRAW DUSTER JACKETS, FORGET THE STUPID GUNS!” is genuinely what I said to myself when I started this process, especially since Russell makes dusters look so epic. But after a while, when you’re asking questions about something you really care about… you don’t want to stop asking questions. You want to know more. You need to know what comes next.  What the heck was single and double action? What does a revolver holster look like? All of these questions take time to answer, and it’s a lot of just reading and watching YouTube videos, before I get to some point where I can do some studies. But you know what? That’s how I know I’m developing something really cool and interesting: I’m asking good questions.

I’m starting on rifles and shotguns this weekend, and I can’t wait. I’m even going to rewatch “The Big Country” for the gajillionth time.

What’s something you love to question? What’s a topic that you’re always eager to explore?

3 thoughts on “What’s a Good Question?

  1. Mary,

    Some things I think that are really working in this post: Firstly, the visuals. I like that I see one of your duster jacket illustrations b/c it brings life to when you talk about them and their “epic-ness”! Obviously, for a blog about comics and your specific artistic process, seeing what you are talking about is super essential. Secondly, I like that the title of the post points to what it is actually about, even though at first glance we might think the entry is “just” about cowboys and guns.

    I see the “life writing” all over this post because when I read it, it sounds like you. I mean, it sounds like an authentic blend of your super-enthusiastic and invested interest in the things you’re passionate about, your quick wit and sense of humor, and your careful and thoughtful reflection on your passion(s). I like how the reader is led into the post in an informal way, talking about your nocturnal-ness (p.s. you are crazy). But as you go on, you engage the reader in the second person which I think was a really cool, interesting move. Going from the I- to the you- really engages the reader and does ask them to respond, or at least to think about what you’re asking. The use of italics to emphasize the main point of your post really worked for me visually as well- it allowed me to distill your message into a key point that I will remember even after I’m done reading.

    I can see your audience pretty clearly, and though I may not be in its primary target, I can also see a secondary audience that I might belong to- a wider range of artists that includes writers, teachers, educators, etc. Interestingly, I also think the way you have written this post sounds very much like something a teacher might use as a prompt in a classroom. Was this something you thought about?

    Some other questions I have: This made me think about how this idea of “what comes next” is part of the artistic process, or specifically even the comic-making process. It also made me think about where the “questioning” instinct that you have comes from- this is where I think even more specifically about life writing aspect- is it your questioning drive that makes you a good artist? Is being an artist what nurtured your questioning drive? It makes me wonder about MCM growing up and how you’ve taken a natural curiosity and essentially made the life and “career” (oh how I despite that word, but you know what I mean) you want. I am more and more interested in how you might incorporate yourself into this blog- your blend of the technical and the personal.


  2. I love to question social constructs, and whether they hold any water when put under a microscope. It’s interesting, grounding, and appeals to my rebellious nature in more constructive ways than my pre-grown-assed-woman approach to life.

    I really like how you ended your post with a question. It was humble and engaging. I also like how the main subject of query is more the undercurrent of the post, kind of hiding behind a revolver. It seems (from the opening paragraph) that your writing process is not unlike mine, because it seems like you start with stream of consciousness then, follow strings of thoughts as they come up. It’s a warmer, more organic approach than painstakingly planned blogs.

    Last week in class I mentioned a restaurant owner spending time with Clark while we ate and teaching him about John Wayne and cowboys. I picked up some cowboy trivia from that. She said the reason slapstick cowboy movies were called “spaghetti westerns” is because, for a time, all the movies coming out of Italy were westerns, and in this style.

    Another movie that came to mind as I was reading your post ‘Cat Ballou,’ an old Jane Fonda flick I was introduced to by a grizzled alcoholic (a former customer of mine when I was bartending at a pool hall in Iowa) who had checked it out at the library to loan me. I dug it, but couldn’t get the theme song out of my head for days. My favorite western is ‘Kung Fu Hustle,’ which (if you haven’t already) you must see immediately. It will combat 1940 Batman-style racism nicely.

    And as for the gun research: you should come over some time and talk to my husband. He can barely draw a stick figure, but he’s got guns down. He’s a bit of an enthusiast, which I’ve always found weird on a white-collar dude like him. But he’s knowledgeable about the physical characteristics and history behind an extraordinary amount of guns. So… open invitation. Give me a call sometime and we’ll set something up.

    Keep on keepin’ on, you always have insightful things to say.

  3. […] In my previous post I mentioned that the right questions always lead to more questions, just like a detective mystery. The same thing goes for drawing and painting: Why doesn’t the head look right? Is it the eyes? The nose? Yes. How can I fix the nose? How do I draw a nose? What does a real nose look like? And then you do a study of a nose. Or if you’re a really good artist, you’ll do several studies. And never stop. […]

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