”You find the tools you make your art with, and they’re going to be your best friends or lovers. They’re always there for you, and it’s up to you to really get the best out of them. You just gotta treat them right, be their friend, and let them talk to you.”
Daniel, Danny, Dan, D.W, D. These are the names Mr. White goes by. Lucky for us, we also have the privilege of calling him a friend. Whether you’ve known D for years or only just met him, you’d be hard pressed not to bust out laughing at one of his wisecracks. That said, he would be the first to tell you he’s not entirely comfortable being the center of attention and often prefers being the observer. “I love people watching. I’m really fascinated by the way people talk to each other, to the point where I feel like I’m some weird, information gathering robot who’s just here to see how humans work.” Underneath that comedic, don’t take things too seriously exterior is someone willing to go deeper and share some of his more sensitive moments. Often the two go hand in hand, as many of his darker experiences are expressed through humor. “Some things that seem really dark are me having a giggle with myself because I do feel that darkness, and it’s me trying to fight that back. So my way of doing it, sometimes, is to wallow in the darkness and laugh at it a little bit.”
When it comes to creativity and inspiration, life is full of experiences to draw from, but it can also be full of distractions. When inspiration strikes, fear can get in the way of expressing it. On the surface, it seems like D isn't affected by any of that. He has an incredible ability to push beyond the fear, get the work done, and get it out for the world to see. His hope is that being more open will encourage others who may be afraid to put their work on display. “You’re making something, and you don’t make something to set it on fire and have it disappear. You make something for it to be seen, understood, felt, or enjoyed.” It’s easy to look at someone as prolific as D and think that inspiration always comes naturally to him, but that's not the whole story. The apparent ease with which he creates was hard won. Countless hours were spent in search of his own voice before hitting a stride.
The first image D posted on Instagram was of a man standing next to a street lamp, on a chunk of cement ripped from the Earth, hurtling through space. Underneath was the caption, "I wonder how far I can go?". That was two and a half years ago. It was the eighth image in a series about an idea he was wrestling with. D has always drawn and painted, but this was different. He knew there was more that needed to be said, but that would come in time. It was clear a fire was lit inside and, what started as a few glowing embers, quickly grew into a full blaze. From that day forward, he was committed to honing his craft, working incessantly. He was not only delighting his friends with his work but, increasingly, finding an audience online as well. “I wouldn’t have been able to do half the things I’ve done in the last two years if not for putting up pictures on Instagram. I’m not shocked by the technology of it. You know what I mean? I’m not that old, but I’m definitely shocked by people being interested in what you do. They make me want to work harder and better.”
His love for comics started at the age of four and has continued, unwavering, for thirty-four years. Over that time, he amassed a large collection but, in recent years, has pared it down. Wednesdays are still spent at the comic shop, pouring over new arrivals. He counts many influences in the comic world but, these days, finds himself drawn to a particular style. “The ones that I respond to most do it in a perfectly flawed way. Not too cleaned up.” In his own art, the telling of a tale is the most important element. He still experiences some anguish over putting an idea on paper but no longer gets stymied to the point of incompletion. “The mental pains of trying to figure out if you are going to be able to do something versus the euphoric feeling of having done something...it just feels so much better having it done than not doing it because it isn’t up to the standard you’ve set in your head.”
Most nights are spent drawing at his desk. It’s rare that he takes a break, which is no small task, considering he has a full time job and moonlights at a coffeehouse on the weekends. Even when on vacation, he has a hard time keeping a pen out of his hand. You can see evidence of his work ethic by the sheer volume of art on his Instagram page. He posts a variety of imagery ranging from classic, superhero characters to flapper girls of the 1920's. Sometimes he puts up work inspired by his most recent read or an interesting event out of his day. Other times his creations come from listening to a lyric in a song. “I try to take the weight of those words that I heard and turn them into something visual because I want to find a way to share that weight, good or bad, with other people.”
Music is definitely playing a role in his current, extended project 1976. After two and a half years of steady work, D found he was finally ready to revisit what had originally kicked off this copious chapter of his creative life. 1976 is the culmination of everything he has learned thus far, both in illustration and life, making for a very personal story. What’s the reason behind the title? “It doesn’t get more personal than the year you were born.” It’s being released in four chapters and is expected to be around 60 pages when completed. With little to no words and relying on the strength of his visuals, he is using music to help form the narrative. Each chapter is inspired by a different song. The Damned’s “New Rose” forms chapter one. The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K” holds up chapter two. Chapter three will be informed by Blondie’s “Kung Fu Girls”, and The Modern Lovers’ “Girlfriend” will wrap the story up. We listened to “New Rose” while reading chapter one, and it certainly made for a multi-sensory joyride.
1976 is, primarily, the story of a relationship and all the elements that inform, help, and hurt that relationship. D finds that storytelling comes easier when you write what you know. Much of it pertains to his own experiences, but there are some sci-fi elements as well. “I’ve never flown through space on a rock yet, but the solitary feeling that might have is something that I’ve gone through.” D’s sensitivity to panel placement, inking, and hand-coloring are the pillars that support the story. "I don’t mind if elements of the story itself are sort of difficult to follow along with, and you gotta really think about it, but I don’t want the physical activity of looking at it to to be difficult." His inking is clearly the work of a steady, practiced hand. ”I want the ink to be its own beast. I really love drawing roughed out lines with a pencil and then going in there and bringing it to life with the ink." His color choices, three to four extremely vivid colors, reminiscent of highlighter markers, grab hold of your eyes and force you to pay attention, drawing you into his world. "If I’m gonna color it, I want that color to have an element of shock to it. I’m gonna try to make the small moments as impactful as they can be." He grew an affinity for these colors from drawing at the coffeehouse on the weekends. He would just use whatever was handy in the cup by the register, which meant a few pens and a handful of highlighter markers. What started off as a limitation later became an important tool. ”You find the tools you make your art with, and they’re going to be your best friends or lovers. They’re always there for you, and it’s up to you to really get the best out of them. You just gotta treat them right, be their friend, and let them talk to you.”
Of the four chapters comprising 1976, “New Rose” has just been released. You can find it on his Etsy store and, increasingly, in comic stores around the country. “Anarchy in the U.K” is in the works and expected to be available in February 2015. No dates for “Kung Fu Girls” or “Girlfriend” yet, but you can keep abreast by following his Instagram @birdsinboxes.
So how far can D White go? We can't wait to find out.
A big thank you to Jay Meli, D White's compatriate and fellow member of Left Left.