I wish I could draw like Ronald Searle did.
I wish I cold tell stories like Stephen King.
I wish I could paint like Howard Pyle.
I wish I could draw like Walt Kelly.
We choose our heroes haphazardly as the list above demonstrates. The ones who move us, the ones we admire, the ones we want to emulate. Hero worship is particularly rife in certain areas of the commercial arts. It seems a natural state for many cartoonists and illustrators.
When I was young my list went on and on and on. It was pointed out to me once, when I was too young to understand the implications, that this hero worship doesn’t do you any good in the long run. Of course you look around and find things that resonate with you. The art and the writing that you think is absolutely THE best. But you also have to understand that hero worship becomes a personal dogma, no more worthy to fight about than which ice cream flavor is best. Often it stands in the way of a person developing their own POV.
In the commercial arts it gets one step more complicated because commercial success seems tied to the creation of the artists. It’s easy to think, the secret to success is in how they draw hands, it’s hairless young kids talking like adults, it’s how they paint clouds or in how they introduce characters.
You don’t have Charlie Brown without Charles Schulz. But the mistake that is too often made is to try and reproduce that thing on the paper. The lines, the paint, the style of the words. But of course, that is a meaningless quest. The images and words left on paper are a manifestation of its creator/artist, more personal than a signature and the reasons behind its success are impossible to copy. And even if you did imitate the lines and the words perfectly, all you’d have is a forgery in the broadest sense.
I’m stuck with my solutions. Not as elegant as Walt Kelly, not as poetic as Ursula K. Le Guin, not as grand as Charles Dickens. It’s a good thing to appreciate and admire the work of others. It’s good to look for ways to improve your work. But hero worship doesn’t help the heroes you’ve selected and it certainly doesn’t help you.