It’s a brand new year, and everyone is looking back on all the great comics that came out and all the great things coming up, and sales are up and things are going great. But there are some clouds on the horizon. On New Year’s Eve everyone on Facebook and elsewhere was posting their year end thoughts, and…well there was a lot of struggle.
I actually noticed this a few months ago with a few big picture, where am I going posts from folks. Dustin Harbin, a fellow who had worn many hats in comics, responded to a question on Tumblr asking about his larger aspirations as a cartoonist, his three year dream plan. I hope he doesn’t mind my posting much of his answer because I’m sure most creative people, hell most PEOPLE, have pondered these very things:
…I’ve spent a lot of time hopping from project to project, paycheck to paycheck, and was surprised to realize I don’t have a long-distance plan for my comics or drawing or whatever. Or at least, not one that’s in any way coherent or.. actionable?
A lot of what I have done and continue to do—for instance those diary comics—is based around a continuing process of.. maybe therapy? Thinking? Whatever it is, it’s a continuing process, and so I’ve focused more on that process than in any end result. I admit, it feels a lot like flailing around in the dark.
I think what I’d prefer most of all, as a goal, is to work for someone again, say for a show, or a book publisher, or something where a fussy guy who’s good at figuring things out could excel. Something with health insurance and that pays enough that I can afford to stop worrying about money, maybe get on anti-depressants, etc. I’d like very much to return to think about “art” or whatever, at least in terms of making art that is important to me, as something entirely separate from earning an income. I’m not saying it’s bad to think of art and income at the same time—in fact, in some cases it can be the force that drives an artist to excel, push themselves, etc. But for me, and the way I’m constructed, I feel like I’m best and most comfortable earning a paycheck as opposed to chasing one.
Around the same time, Evan Dorkin, certainly a creator who has achieved much in his career, pondered completing his final Eltingville story (the cover is at the top of this post.)
This is why it feels so weird to me to finally — after 20 years or so — be finishing up The Eltingville Club. After making comics professionally for about 27 years or so, this is the first project of my own that I’m finishing up on my own terms, something most creators do much earlier in their career, something many creators have done many times over by my age. It was never the way I worked, or the way things worked out, until now, so, this is a new experience for me, heaped on top of the mixed feelings I get finishing up any extended gig of importance (to me). I’m not trying to make more of it than it is, I’m not hating on myself but I’d be the first to say (and here I go) that this isn’t the end of a big deal comic from a big deal creator, and these aren’t big deal characters making big-deal money that most folks want around forever (certainly not me, brother). But they’ve had a run, better than most small press things, and they had a solid shot at a cartoon series, and they made some folks laugh, and some other folks angry, my little monster children. Who I’m going to put out of their miserableness. So, yeah, it’s a strange feeling.
But, ever a pragmatist, only a few days later, Dorkin wrote about finally getting on the platform du jour, Tumblr, after someone else posting one of his pieces gave him a reach he hadn’t considered himself:
What made me decide to do the Tumblr thing was that someone posted a Beasts of Burden short story on there a few weeks ago and it ran up almost 60,000 notes, which even if you halve that number to account for people both liking and reblogging the post, means almost thirty thousand people read it. And it’s still getting tossed around and read. A small percentage of these folks ordered the book and a lot of people commented on the material and gave the series some very positive word-of-mouth. This is the biggest burst of activity generated by the book since, well…maybe ever. It got more readers than anything we’ve published, and at a time when the series is in hibernation, to boot, so we can certainly use the attention. Anyway, I figured it couldn’t hurt to post my stuff to Tumblr and see if anything happens. Even a few folks seeing it is better than nothing. There’s only so much you can do, especially when you don’t have time to do much, and every little thing helps. So, yeah, I’m on Tumblr. Big news, I know.
Moving forward, making plans, joining Tumblr.
Elsewhere, as the year closed, a lot of people noted that 2013 had “kicked their ass”, as Liz Prince did. While confronting a lot of personal problems, Prince managed to dig in and complete a full graphic novel, something we have to look forward to this year. But it wasn’t easy.
Kevin Colden was even more blunt in a piece called - Yes, 2013, That Is My Foot Your Ass As You Walk Away, and that wonderful thing called money comes up again:
In the interest of perspective, I’m going to break taboo on talking about money (if I haven’t already, and fuck taboos anyway) and say that I gross a little less than the median income for where I live. My wife grosses half that. We live pretty nicely, but we are nowhere near what would be considered middle class in NYC. Like I said, we usually manage really well, but while my financials were back on track, circumstances left my wife with her income being halved in the last half of the year. We’re still not entirely back in track yet, but things are looking okay going into 2014. We chose this lifestyle, and know what the risks are. The real frustration comes from having too many actual adult responsibilities to be able to draw comics as a side gig or hobby – if it don’t pay, it don’t play. I’m pretty damn fast, but when you’re the primary caregiver for a 3yo and working 15 hour days at the same time just to not go bankrupt, drawing a personal project isn’t super feasible. In fact, mixing a cocktail and firing up Netflix is usually even stretching the mental capacity at the end of the day. There was much serious talk of retirement this time – putting down the pens and going on sabbatical at the very least.