ON A QUIET ATHENS STREET, between MODEST HOUSES AND FRIENDLY NEIGHBORS, A MAN SITS alone AT HIS tidy DESK, WORKING. IT IS EARLY MORNING. THE LARGE WINDOW COVERING SHIELDS HIM FROM THE COMING DAY'S OVER-ABUNDANT LIGHT AND INEVITABLE DISTRACTION. THOUGH OCCASIONALLY RISING, STRETCHING, and FEEDING THE WOOD STOVE WITH self-hewn KINDLING, HE IS FOCUSED, TRAINED TO MASTER THE MOMENTS SO THE DEADLINE cannot ATTACK!!!
Later, mounting his trusty bike (his sole mode of transportation), he shakes off cabin fever while tackling errands. But he will not be caught empty-handed!!! Always, always, he carries his pack of necessary tools. Inside the pack, a water-resistant case cleverly seals inside one sketchbook and a zippered pocket with pencils, pens, erasers, sharpeners, etc. he defies wet weather, the mortal enemy of this outfitted and crafty artist!!!
Born and raised by two artist parents in bustling Manhattan, N.Y., Sandy Plunkett of Athens, well-known comics writer and artist, suggests, "I'm pretty convinced that my artistic inclinations are partly inherited." As he grew older, he discovered his dyslexia as typical children do, while learning to read. "To try to get me to read," he remembers, "my mother brought home comics."
Being introduced to his first superhero comic in the third grade, he was hooked, and began a lifelong tendency to render his own superhero drawings. But pressure in sixth grade about the then-unpopular kid's medium ("Are you still reading comics?"), he says, led to his involuntary repression of comic-character sketching till the near completion of high school. "I don't think the interest had completely gone away," he says. "Inspiration kicked in again."
Of his one year of college studying fine arts, Plunkett remembers, "It was a wonderful year, but what I wanted to be doing was at such odds with what they were offering." He then pursued a career as a comic-book artist, which soon expanded to contracts with Marvel, DC and Gold Key comics.
During the '70s and '80s, as he grew older, the appeal of living in the big city soured a bit. "Growing up in New York, I felt perfectly at home. But as an adult, I was pretty unhappy," he says. "I was getting hit both ways: in emotion, and in terms of career and finances, it was starting to affect me."
The decision to relocate became appealing. "When you are depressed, it is hard to create," he states. "The more you can eliminate that from your inner life, the freer you are to really do your work." He knew he could continue comic work anywhere due to telephones, Internet and overnight delivery services, with occasional contact-maintenance trips.
Through a "circuitous turn of events", the curative destination became Athens, Ohio. The year was 1990.
Plunkett cites the writer David Foster Wallace, who penned in the novel "Infinite Jest": "You compete with your own limits to transcend the self in imagination and execution." Plunkett thinks this summarizes the challenge for growing in his craft. "The drawing I do provides me with the pleasure and satisfaction of making things (hopefully beautiful, interesting things), and that desire could be fulfilled through other artistic expressions," he explains. "But the drawings I do also provide me with the chance to become completely engaged in an endeavor so huge and so thoroughly consuming that in an entire lifetime, one can never hope to reach its conclusion. And in the process, what you're really grappling with is yourself."
When he arrived in Athens, ready to begin afresh, his plan was to continue along the path of his already-successful career. But the excited buzz about his move here had rapidly spread from ear to ear, as mysteriously happens only in small towns.
"Other opportunities presented themselves, and none of them were things that I had anticipated," says Plunkett. "It has been wonderful." Drawing political cartoons (including occasionally for The Athens NEWS, CD covers, posters, business logos, T-shirts, as well as commissions from fans who contacted him through his Web site (www.plunkettart.com), began taking up his time. Soon, comic-book work was less necessary for a source of income - perfect timing for avoiding the comic-book industry's crash in the mid-'90s. Today, he says he works only occasionally for the slowly recovering field.
Finding work as an artist is a constant worry. But even in today's shipwrecked market, by comparison, Athens' smaller competition pool and alternative-embracing nature supports Plunkett's efforts, reflected in the fact that currently he has more commissioned work than before.
"I know some artists who begin with a very clear mental image of what they're about to draw," says Plunkett about his approach to drawing. "That rarely happens with me. Most often I start out with a feeling I want to convey, but only the vaguest visualization. That develops on the paper (if I'm lucky)."
He approaches assignments with an understanding of his personal capabilities, he says, and paces the time he knows he will need. Wanting to avoid the notorious stigma that artists always miss deadlines, in the end, whether he is personally satisfied or not, he strives for one thing: "What I'm looking for most of the time is not to embarrass myself… I give myself a little pat on the back, not because the work itself is great, (but) because I did it efficiently."
HIS BIGGEST INVESTMENT of self and time went into a graphic novel of his own device. Through his self-imposed guidelines and focus for a number of years, the project is now complete. But it's the publication process that tires him. "It is one of the most masochistic things I've ever gone through," he says.
Three different publishing companies have expressed interest, but have backed out at the point of contract-signing. The difficulty, he explains, is taking the chance. "If you are writing a novel, imagine you can show an early draft, then you rewrite it. In one comic-book page, no one will really understand the impact you are going for. When it is all together, if someone says, ‘I think your pacing is wrong,' and you have 20 pages, then you really can't do anything at that point."
Though discouraged by what seemed like a job in itself to get the publication wheels turning, he says, "For the time being, I'm tired of it, but I don't know if I've given up on it."
OTHER PROJECTS KEEP HIM busy, as does exercising his craft. One of the three running sketchbooks he keeps (he calls it his exercise book) has been the most enjoyable as of late. "When I sketch, it's all just a big flurry of lines at first," he explains. "Often those extraneous lines are gestural lines, though they are kind of abstract. Working in this notebook allowed me to say, ‘OK, those lines aren't right, but I like what they look like. Just don't erase, don't keep revising, don't have an absolute idea in your mind on what it should be - that type of space where initial gestural lines can be explored.'" In other mediums, he feels he has gained facility with watercolor painting, and would especially enjoy more experimentation with oils.
Plunkett also tries different perspectives, like turning his piece upside down, or looking at it in half-light:
"Sometimes," he says, "when you are seeing less precisely, you are seeing more truly. Like a hidden structure behind the visual world which we are distracted from. Because we see so clearly, if you see it in the half light, I think you can be more sensitive to the underlying structures."
Plunkett is not invulnerable to life's banalities. Plumbing problems, appointments and housework are not sensitive to artist's deadlines, just like in everyone's life. "If you have too many things going on, it's hard to get that sense of quiet.," he says. His solution? "I think I'm always trying to return to that place of stillness where everything else seems like it is distant, so I can just focus on what is there."
The single-minded and meditative artist always carries in his mind an imaginary audience for his work. he can be found basking in the energy of a summer night, COLLECTing INSPIRATION in the new warmth of spring when biking out on country roads, or diligentLY WORKING snug inside on a winter's day. He explores inside, outside, and in between the lines. It is all in a day's work in the place he calls home.