The Banal and the Profane: Nick Sumida
Author: William Johnson
April 10, 2015
“I have to give myself permission to turn my brain off and relax when I can, which usually translates to me eating gummy bears and re-watching Buffy episodes while live-tweeting about the outfits.”
“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from writer and cartoonist Nick Sumida.
Nick Sumida is a cartoonist whose work has been published in Time Out New York, The New York Times and Zing Magazine. He has worked as a storyboard artist on cartoon shows like Ugly Americans and Superjail. His first comics collection, Snackies (a 2015 Graphic Novel Lambda Literary Award finalist), was published by Youth in Decline in 2014. He is currently story-boarding and acting on Nickelodeon’s Harvey Beaks.
Sunday, March 22nd
Sunday was my day to relax, but also to work on freelance stuff. I’m always making myself feel guilty if I’m not spending my free time doing work. In general, doing storyboards for a kids show all week, and also developing TV and writing comics on the side, is a blast. It’s also really creatively taxing, and I can feel myself on the verge of being burnt out sometimes. I have to give myself permission to turn my brain off and relax when I can, which usually translates to me eating gummy bears and re-watching Buffy episodes while live-tweeting about the outfits. I don’t even call it “having a life,” because, as you’ll see from this week, I don’t really get out much. In animation, you typically work long hours, often weekends, and then get a break between production seasons. I’m getting a hiatus starting in May! A hiatus could either mean “a three-week vacation! What fun!” or “I’m out of a job for an indeterminate amount of time! What fun!” Either way, my boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Japan, which I’m very excited about.
We woke up and drove to Elysian Park for my friend Jen Wang’s birthday picnic. It got really sunny, and we brought a bunch of donuts, and my boyfriend Jimmy wanted to listen to this one Sky Ferreira song over and over. A bunch of my cartoonist friends were there, and everyone had recommendations for what to do when we’re in Japan. I met almost all my friends from the comics community here, and we all are recent transplants to LA, most of us getting jobs in animation. Everyone seems to like it out here, and we mostly talked about food and drag racing or wrestling.
We drove back to my place, and Jimmy and I decided to do some work and order Chinese food. Jimmy asked me for feedback about this thing he’s writing while I inked this cover for my friend’s comic series. Weekends are when I get my freelance work done, and for that reason, I try not to take on too much of it. When I first started my job a year ago, I had a ton of energy to work on my own comics, and I somehow finished drawing my first comics collection. Now, I’ve put my personal comics on hold because I’m spending most of my spare creative energy on developing this show I pitched to Nickelodeon. Once it’s done, I want to get back to making comics.
Jimmy went home to write more, and I finished inking most of the cover, took a nap, and then played Assassin’s Creed till 1 A.M.
Monday, March 23rd
I got up at 6 A.M. because I had a workout session with a trainer at my gym. I looked in the mirror and thought, “Yes! You are self-actualizing! You are taking charge of your body! You are the change!” Then, my trainer texted me saying he had to cancel because his bike wasn’t starting, and I texted back, “No problem! I’ll work out on my own today!” Then, I immediately took my shorts off and played Assassin’s Creed for another hour.
I got to work around 9:30 and started drawing clean poses for Act Two of my storyboard. My family never understands my job, no matter how much I try to explain it to them, but I understand how confusing animation can seem to someone on the outside. I storyboard on a Nickelodeon show created by C.H. Greenblatt called Harvey Beaks. We’re in our first season, and the first episode hasn’t premiered yet, which only adds to the confusion on my family’s part.
Harvey Beaks is storyboard-driven, which means that the writers generate episode plots and give the storyboard teams a three-page outline that says the story beats of what will happen in an episode. Each storyboard team is composed of two artists, and we have five weeks to take those outlines and write all the dialogue and draw everything in the eleven-minute episode. At the five-week mark, we pitch the episode to the network executives and act the whole thing out, scrolling through the storyboard like a slideshow and doing voices. Then, the network gives notes, a revision team makes some changes, the voice actors record their lines, editors make an animatic, and they send it to Korea to be animated.
This is the best job I’ve ever had. I get to write, draw and act. My storyboard partner, Monica Ray, and I have a really good creative relationship, and we basically just riff and think of jokes all week and put a lot of ourselves into every episode we do. The way we tackle our episodes is we write each act together by talking it out and drawing thumbnail sketches of each shot on Post-It notes on a wall. Then, we split each act, draw our segments on our own, and then assemble everything at the end. This week happened to be the pitch week for our current episode, so we were both racing to finish drawing all the acting poses in our Storyboard Pro file.
I drove through Wendy’s and ate lunch at my desk and worked intensely on drawing all the acting poses in my Act Two segment. I usually listen to podcast or TV while I work. I had gummy bears and Red Bull because I was staying late to finish more work. I left work around eight, and there was no traffic. I finished drawing my Act Two at home, high-fived myself, and then tried to stay up till midnight to watch when Drag Race got uploaded onto my Amazon season pass, but I passed out before it went up.
Tuesday, March 24th
I have a very set ritual on Tuesdays that involves getting an iced coffee, getting into work, and drawing while watching Drag Race, then Untucked, THEN listening to my friend Hamm Samwich’s insane Drag Race recap podcast. I got through all of this by 11, and by then, I’d gotten halfway through sketching the acting poses in my Act Three segment. Monica got in and started her Drag Race ritual, and then we periodically conferred with each other over who our favorite was and who should have gone home. It was a very impassioned discussion.
One of the other storyboard teams was scheduled to pitch their episode, so the whole crew and the executives gathered in the conference room, and we watched. It was hilarious and made me quietly think, “Dammit, I need to make my episode way funnier!” Then, we all broke for lunch and went to this shopping center nearby that’s become our “usual spot” for lunch. I got mine to go and went back to the office to work. The premiere party for the show was the next day, so I wanted to get the episode done before then, so I could enjoy myself and not stress out. After work, I met up with Jimmy and we got dinner together at this place that has fried pita bread slices, which put me in a deep spiritual state of bliss. Then, we went to our respective apartments, and I read comics until I passed out.
Wednesday, March 25th
I finished my storyboard work early, which is pretty rare for me in this process. I got lunch with my coworkers, and everyone was antsy because we were all looking forward to our crew premiere party at 7 P.M. in Silverlake. Everyone was working hard until the afternoon, when the fog of pre-party mode started to roll in over the studio.
I had a series development meeting with Audrey Diehl and Kristin Koch, who work in development at Nick. One of my biggest dreams has been to write and draw and act on my own show, so I got really excited when I put together a show pitch in summer and Nickelodeon bought it. I’m in the first stage of the series development process, which means I need to turn in a show bible and a storyboard for a show pilot. Then, if the network likes that, they could give the green light to move forward and make a colored animatic of the pilot with voice actors. And then, fingers crossed, if they like that, they could order episodes of it, and it could get on the air. Most things never make it to air, and I have to just remind myself that it could die on the vine, but hopefully at some point, I might get lucky.
After the meeting, I raced home to get ready for the premiere party. Jimmy and I took a Lyft over to the venue and proceeded to drink a bunch of gin and tonics and eat tacos. Some speeches were made, everyone sang karaoke with a live band, and they screened some episodes. It was an abnormally fun launch party by everyone’s standards.
Thursday, March 26th
I woke up super late, probably around 10 A.M., and got into work at lunchtime. The studio was a ghost town, and most people were hung over. I spent all day mindlessly painting white behind all my drawings from the day before and assembling the bits that Monica had finished. I remembered that there was a new episode of The Good Wife online, so I got really excited and watched that while I worked. Traffic coming back home was bad, but I listened to a new episode of one of my favorite podcast, Professor Blastoff, which made things less awful. When I got home, I promised myself I would write some comics ideas out, but I fell asleep on my couch, reading and sipping cheap white wine.
Friday, March 27th
I got up at 6:30 A.M. because I was finally going to work out with a trainer. I really just wanted to keep sleeping, so I got dressed with a grim sluggishness and ate yogurt, granola and orange juice in my dark apartment in silence. It’s been, like, three months since I worked out regularly, so my trainer had me doing basic stuff, to varying results. Sitting and drawing on screens all day has really left my body feeling both rigid and pudding-like, if that’s possible. I left feeling really sore and sweaty and got an iced coffee because I felt grumpy.
I got to work, changed out of my gym clothes in my office and worked on little tweaks on my storyboard. Our pitch was scheduled for 3 pm, so Monica and I assembled everything and ran through it once together, making fixes here and there. I went out for lunch with my coworkers, and we talked about career stuff, then I got back, and we pitched, and it went really well. Monica took off because her brother was visiting, and I stayed a while just reading blogs and watching YouTube clips. I went to the comic shop on the way home and ordered Thai food and played video games. My friend wanted me to come to this bear party at Barracuda, but I felt really comfy and fell asleep while playing Candy Crush on my phone, which is a sentence I would like to have carved on my gravestone, please.
Saturday, March 28th
I got up and got coffee and a snack with my boyfriend and then worked for most of the day on drawing and coloring this variant cover for the Lumberjanes comic series. I periodically stopped to watch Six Feet Under, which is the current show I’m binging as I draw. My social media feed was flooded with a bunch of my coworkers tweeting about the Kids Choice Awards, which looked insane. After drawing and coloring for, like, five hours, I finished the comic cover and busted out my gummy bears.
I met up with Jimmy and his friends, and then, we all went to this party called Spotlight in Boyle Heights. A bunch of my friends were there, and we shouted about Six Feet Under over the house music. The party felt a lot like the parties I used to go to in Bushwick when I was in my early twenties, but for some reason, I was bored and dreaming about French fries. We shared a Lyft ride back to Los Feliz and ate some cold pizza before falling asleep, which is how most of my weeks end.