This is the first installment of a column about sobriety and artmaking. If you are a sober/clean person who makes art of any kind and think you would make a good subject for an interview email Amy at email@example.com and explain why you think so.
Nate Doyle is the cartoonist behind Crooked Teeth Comics. He also plays bass and handles half the vocal duties for the band Worse. He graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a Cartooning BFA in 2008 and started self publishing his comics while in school around 2005/2006.
You’ve been sober for a year and a half. Tell me what your artmaking practice looks like and how being sober has changed how you work.
My practice generally starts with rituals that help me focus prior to sitting down to the desk… make coffee, clean or organize miscellaneous items or the desk itself. Followed by “The Purge” which can range from drawing in my sketchbook to mark making to writing. The idea is to let loose the accumulated thoughts since the last session, allow them to manifest on the page in notes and sketches to be referenced at some point. And get enough ideas out, warm up and get nervous energy out of the way – roughly a half hour to an hour and then focus on the comics work or piece that requires more attention. Clear the path and travel is smooth.
Sobriety has made this practice more of a regular mantra and allowed for a huge increase in productive output for me. Having the time and prioritizing it behind the desk instead of the other side of the bar has been a monumental wake up and break through for me. I have the clarity and focus I lacked now behind an already belligerent work ethic…
I like the idea of a belligerent work ethic. Did you have that before you found artmaking?
I think so, or would have to think so. I remember that in college I was pretty shocked at how lazy and unenthusiastic my peers were. I was paying money for school so I figured I should be giving it my all, so I feel like that environment motivated me. At jobs the only way to move up to me was just to bust ass and get it done as efficiently as possible. I have worked hard and have a pretty “put your head down and get it done” attitude in regards to anything I approach, which I am proud of… I have a pride in work; from mopping a floor to a finished comics page.
How about the performance element of music making? How is it different sober?
Making music is much different sober. The experience of music has changed, it’s much more intense and also much more difficult to lose myself in it. What was once a sea of euphoria at almost any point in a night out playing or spectating is now more of a once-in-a-blue-moon type of situation… I think this largely has to do with being disconnected from the buzz and hum of a collective drunk… Performing is not something I particularly enjoy right now, sobriety may be a factor in this, but I feel an inability to relate or don’t feel the energy reciprocated as one might while in the collective drunk but…I feel that’s too much of a tangent for this!
How do you feel the work has changed without alcohol? In both media?
Its gotten more prolific in both media. As far as drawing and working on comics I spend the hours I would spend pummeling my liver at the bar now brooding over pages and ideas at the desk. Its a solid trade and I feel I got a better deal.
I feel that now I am able to communicate ideas more fluently and have a much tighter grasp on what I’m going for or how to translate mental noise to a bass line, drum fill or guitar fuzz. Collective art is like problem solving at times, how to put all these scattered things together into a congruent piece is easier now. I think. It’s hard to say, because I have so much more mental noise that’s not drowned out that I find myself more eager to play music than I might have been in the past. It’s harder with an active mind to sometimes slow it down and catch all these fleeting riffs, bends and holds. It still is thoroughly enjoyable and when it does get to the point of getting the chills or just having an emotional epiphany while playing or observing, its heightened to a degree I haven’t been familiar with at this this juncture in my life. And for that it’s been worth it.
I love this phrase: the collective drunk. Can you tell me more about your experience with this as a performer and a musician?
I guess it depends on the night, it’s like a cosmic alignment, haha. So everyone generally starts at the same point and then as the evening progresses the crowd and bands get more drunk (respectively). At that crowning moment the buzz and mood hit a high and everyone seems to be on the same level of euphoric enjoyment. But it’s also contagious. It’s the dragon I feel we all chased, trying to actually feel good. And it happens and happened for me, many times. Now I feel like this contagion hits me still if I’m at a particularly tipsy show. I feel it, the buzz, and the next day have a weird borderline hangover. It’s interesting…
Tell me what is happening with comics.
I’ve been self publishing since 2006. I used to scam photocopies and would make tons of copies and just wanted to get them out to people and make it accessible and cheap for me!
In 2007 I started Crooked Teeth, which is an ongoing moniker I run my comics under. The works vary from auto-bio, abstract, science fiction and fiction. There are six issues of Crooked Teeth so far and I have put out a few other stand alone shorts, sketchbook selections, participated in a myriad of anthologies and have done a lot of art for bands over the years as well. And I am currently working on the next installment as well as an epic sci-fi story entitled Bowl of Flies.
Are you exploring similar territory with both media?
No, not necessarily. I think with Worse we work to achieve a communal piece…While when I am drawing it’s all me…Sometimes I enjoy working with others more, as there’s the immediacy of critique, conversation and criticism which helps direct the end result. Checks and Balances.
– Interview by Amy Fusselman