The Perils of a Journal Comic
Okay, SO! I’m finally getting around to writing something about where I went for November and December of 2012. I hope to write these blog posts more frequently, as I feel I’ve got a lot to share in regards to parenting, making comics, and just being an indie cartoonist in general. But anyway, that’s all down the line and we’ll see if I actually follow through with it or not, considering my habit of having 2 or 3 hundred projects going on at any given time.
So where did I go? What was up with my sudden absence right around the holidays? Those who have been following me on twitter for a while probably already know the answer to this, but in short:
I needed a break.
To be quite honest, I had sort of fallen out of love with making comics. It is incredibly sad that I ever got to that point, because I *LOVE* comics. I’ve read them in some form my entire life, and getting to make one of my own that people around the world actually read was something that I was constantly thankful for and extremely humbled by that fact alone. I really don’t know when it started, when my appetite for creating something new just fell by the wayside. Thinking about it, there are several reasons for it. I don’t think I can pinpoint one thing alone as “that’s what did it to me.”
If I had to guess, I would venture to say that it all started to fall apart here. I had quit my job, and had starry-eyed hopes and dreams of having a much better time at the new job. The thing about that though, is that my previous job had me as Superintendent of a Sewage Treatment Plant. I hated it. Even though I never let it show in this comic, I was always stressed out, and work was on my mind 90% of the time. As Superintendent of a Sewage Treatment Plant, if anything went wrong, it could mean fines or possible jail time for me. And it didn’t help at all that my boss at the time had no idea how to treat people. I was constantly the victim of homophobic slurs and insults, and was threatened to be fired on a near-weekly basis. I honestly could have sued. It was awful. But it was a small company, and unfortunately, from what I understand, that seems to be the norm for small public utility companies, and when you’re working for a small company life that, you are deathly afraid that if you ever speak up about it, that you would lose your job. I’ve worked way too hard for way too long to get everything I have, so I just shut my mouth and did my best to carry on. It was very depressing, to say the least. I had always sworn to myself that if I ever quit that job, that it would be me leaving that field of work entirely. And what did I do? I got a job at another Sewage Treatment Plant. Only for a MUCH bigger company. To sum it up, instead of leaving the field entirely, I went deeper into the field. What kind of sane person does that? Tell me. :/
But alas, I have a family to take care of. I’ve always put my own personal wants and needs on the back burner to take care of everyone else first. It’s… just me. I just want the people who I know and love and care about to be happy, and if I can help them get to that point, then I’m all for it. But it is, of course, to my own detriment, as I hardly ever spoke up for myself. Writing this now, that has completely changed, and I sort of have a habit of speaking my mind about things, even if it can get me into trouble from time to time.
So I got this new job, hoping it would make life better. I would be working four 10-hour days, and have just that much more time off to do what I want to do on the weekends. That was the plan, and we were all excited for it.
And then reality hit. Those 4 10-hour days really wore me out quick, especially when you consider that our kid normally doesn’t to sleep until around 9 or 10pm, leaving me with only a couple hours to really spend with my wife or to just fart around on the computer for a bit. My normal bed time is around midnight due to that, and I have to get up for work at 4am. Working 10 hour days on 4 hours of sleep? OUCH. I was able to handle it alright for a while at first, but soon it was me just struggling to keep my eyes open once I got home. It became normal for me to sit on the couch and watch my wife and kid play, while I just sat there, my blood-shot eyes glazed over, all but unconscious. looking like what I imagine a person would look like before the zombie virus took over their body.
It became normal for me to only get 3 or 4 hours of sleep on nights that I worked. “Haha, oh the life of a cartoonist,” right? Sure. Only here’s the catch: I really wasn’t making that many comics at all. I was just trying to survive for the most part, and tried to dabble in my hobby as often as I could, provided I had the energy and/or stubborness.
Eventually, comic convention season for 2012 started to roll around, and I reaaaally wanted to do SPX. BUT TABLES WERE ALL SOLD OUT AHHH. Thankfully, my buddy Perry had nabbed a half table, and he was more than gracious to fit me, Lee, and Sam all into a half-table. Perry truly is a great great GREAT person and you all should read his comic because it is adorable and I love it :)
But anyway, where I’m going with all that is all about me making my first book: a collection of the first 250ish strips that I had made. Let me simply state that I had NO IDEA HOW TO MAKE A BOOK. I had no prior graphic design knowledge, I don’t own a copy of Adobe InDesign or Illustrator, and man, I didn’t even fully understand how books were even made for indie creators. Eventually, I figured it out and made a pretty decent book! I learned a TON about the whole process, the best way to lay things out, master pages, all that fun techinical stuff. But that process itself was maddening, considering I had no clue as to what I was doing when I started. Not to mention that I had already fired up a fundraiser to fund the book.
I spent probably a total of 80 hours on making the book. I had to restart the whole thing twice. Once because I hated the layout, and another due to file corruption. And the fundraiser had already ended and people were waiting patiently on their books. Finally, I got the book finished a month or two after the fundraiser had ended, and sent it off to the printer. After waiting and freaking out and making tons of phone calls to the publisher who was already hard enough to get hold of as it was, it was a good month before I even got my books. And it was *just* in time for SPX. Thank. GOODNESS. Now all my cartoonist dreams can come true!
About the fundraiser: I didn’t expect the turnout to be what it was. I only asked for $500, enough to get maybe around 40 copies. Maybe half of those would be the “artist edition” where I would offer up drawings in them. I could handle that, no problem. What I ended up with was close to $1,700, and that just floored me. I honestly cried several times, just because I never in my entire life expected that. I was so humbled by the turnout, and I still am. I still can’t believe that a nobody from Frederick, MD who decided to make comics one about his family would be at this point. I am a broken record, so I’ll say it again: THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH.
So back to the story here. I sold about a dozen books at SPX, not bad! With the pace that the books sold during the fundraiser and also at SPX, surely this bode well for my future in this crazy world of comics and cartooning. Or so I thought. It’s taken me a while to learn that the majority of book sales are going to be from either fundraisers or conventions. Outside of SPX and the fundraiser, I’ve sold maybe 8 books through my store? It’s hard trying to market your book, and with my comic being what it is, I’m essentially trying to market myself. Especially when you feel that you’re only really known as the guy who made comics about how he was abused as a child.
About that, my Memory Lane series. At some point during the fundraiser, I got a HUGE link from Zach over at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. He didn’t know me, didn’t follow me on twitter or anything so this came as a shock to me. I am guessing he found it through a reddit post the week before and decided that he would share it on his site as well. My site was SLAMMED with traffic. I was seeing it being talked about all over the place online, it sort of went viral I guess. At first, I was overwhelmed with joy that my story was being shared. To finally reach out to people who maybe went through a lot of the same crap. Then as the day wore on, I started to get an awful feeling of “Oh no. This is what people are going to know me for.”
I never wanted to be known as the guy who had the hell beat out of him as a child. I carry these scars, but I am not a bitter and resentful person. I do not carry these scars as some sort of badge of honor, as if to say “Man, I’ve been through some stuff.” No, not at all, and I never will.
I wanted to be known as the guy who loves his wife and child more than life itself, but unfortunately, the majority of the people who read that series did not bother to read the rest of my comic. So I am known as that guy who had the hell beat out of him as a child. It sucks. I have a page on this website dedicated to that specific series of strips, as it is very much an important part of who I am today, but dammit, I really did not want to be known as that guy. Regular readers of this comic know that I am not that guy, and bless you all, I love you. But for 98% of the people that read those comics that day, that’s all I am. The guy who had the hell beat out of him as a child. Then again, I wonder how many of them even remember this comic at this point. Which then makes me think that I’m still a sort of obscure cartoonist guy, even after all that. Hell, I still am, really. I guess in all, I am incredibly saddened by that fact.
That’s not to say that I wish it didn’t happen, not at all. I am incredibly thankful to Zach for sharing it, I just wish people cared to dig a bit deeper to see who I really am.
I guess, back to me and my lack of sleep. I have honestly had the worst time ever trying to just keep up with this comic, and everything that goes with it. It took me FOREVER to get all the artist editions of the book sent out just because I didn’t know how to set time aside to work on things. I was trying to juggle making sure that I was still updating my site with new content, work on artist editions of the book and get them sent out, and work on commissions. This should all be a dream come true and here I was failing miserably at it. People actually wanted my artwork and I was just failing time after time again on just delivering everything.
Finally, my wife and I had sat down and said that we were going to make a schedule for me to work on things. It lasted maybe 2 or 3 weeks before I had just had enough. I was so burnt out, and had been burnt out for a long while before then, but was just denial. I love comics. I love making them, reading them, sharing them. Some of the best friends I have today are all thanks to me just making comics. The friends part, especially, is what makes making comics so gratifying. From readers to other creators, I have made so many good friends, and I am forever thankful for that.
That’s what just made it so hard to accept that I was burnt out, I loved it all so much, but ultimately I was just tired of it. Book sales weren’t what I’d hoped they would be, I was failing at updating my site at all, and I wasn’t meeting any obligations at all outside of the comic. I wanted a way to get away from all the stress that I had built up around me, to just… leave for a while.
So I did.
I suppose that sort of dives into the title of this blog post: The Perils of a Journal Comic. With a normal story-based comic, the creator can pick up wherever he or she last left off without missing any important elements to the story. But for a journal comic? Just because the creator has stopped updating, doesn’t mean that that creator’s story has stopped. For us, life still goes on, regardless of when we update. For me and my struggles with updating, it was hard to make a good update about my life. I wanted so badly to use this comic as a means to collect memories of my child’s growth, and when I finally sat down to update, so much would have happened concerning him, that I did not have enough time to make a coherent comic or comics chronicling all that. So in order to just update the dang comic, I would often resort to just cheeky, throwaway gag strips. They would be things that honestly happened, but I was totally missing the point of why I started this comic to begin with. Essentially, this comic is me and my wife’s baby book for our son. So many memories have been placed in it. I look back, and it’s frustrating and sad to me to see how much I’ve missed of my son growing up in terms of recording it in comic form.
It’s also hard to just do this comic while trying to be 100% open about everything. There are many, many things that I will never make comics about or ever write about, just because it’s either very personal, or I just worry about what others will think. It’s easy to say “Ah, who cares, just make the comics for yourself.” But that is sheer ignorance. We, who make webcomics, do not do so for ourselves. I will be 100% honest with you and say that anyone who makes a webcomic and actively promotes it, is NOT doing comics for themselves. They are doing so because they want an audience. I do so because I want an audience. And I love my audience incredibly much! But it also causes me to worry incessantly about what that audience will think of me. Such as my thoughts on my Memory Lane strips that I wrote about a bit there. I worry like hell over what people think of my comic, and vicariously, me.
I know the question has come up time and time again about what happened to our pets, how are they doing, etc. I’ve dodged it for the longest time just because I am afraid or what people will think. To be quite frank, we do not have them anymore. We do not have Penny, our cat, anymore due to her lunging with claws out at our child TWICE in a row right when we came home from the hospital with Nathan for the first time. In fact, in this comic, with me laying down laminate flooring in the upstairs hallway was directly due to our cat ripping and tearing up the carpet with her teeth just because she wanted to sleep with us. But she, being a crazy cat, was really only interested in clawing at our feet and gnawing at our toes. We do not have Cinnamon, our dog, due to her growing aggression and jealousy over the attention that our new child was receiving. That’s not to mention that she also had SEVERE separation anxiety. When we came back to our house from the hospital, the blinds in our front window had been ripped to shreds, and the cat door that I had installed had been torn to pieces. And leading up to having our child, we had paid about $2000 in vet bills over the course of a year for sedatives, anti-anxiety meds, and oral surgery three times to remove teeth that she would break off during her anxiety trips. I should add that she was a 9 pound dog, a tiny thing, and she was able to destroy so much just because she would get so crazy whenever we would leave the house. We could not handle the dog any more, financially and mentally.
So that’s finally out there, and I’m sorry to have dodged it for so long. I’m not a mean person by nature, and in all honesty we treated Cinnamon and Penny as our own children before we had Nathan. But see, that’s the thing. We had Nathan. And he is far more important to us, and rightly so.
So I guess all in all, thinking about all this, I’m still figuring out how to do comics, and how they fit into my life. Well, I should say: how to do comics more professionally and try to make a bit of extra money off of it. It is a strange but widely carried misconception that cartoonists/webcomic creators make good money off their comics. I really don’t. As of right now, I have absolutely no money left from the fundraiser or anything. In all actuality, I owe mine and my wife’s bank account $50 (I have a separate bank account to fund my comics/cartooning). This website is far from self-sufficient, but I aim to try to correct that, as I’ve got a couple projects I’d like to complete and get done before convention season rolls around again. I guess going forward, though, I’m already in a better spot than when I started when it comes to making books. I’ve got my own LLC now to use as a sort of (self)publishing head, a stack of ISBN’s that I can slap onto my books, buttons, post cards, and business cards. And I owe it all to you readers for making that happen.
I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for everyone’s constant support and patience with me. I constantly feel that I have the best readers in the world and you all prove that to me time and time again. This year, I am aiming to correct all my missteps and am going to do this the right way. I’m taking baby steps right now, and just trying to update once a week until I get a good rhythm going again. Long-time readers may remember a time when I actually updated every single day, and while I’d LOVE to get to that point again, I’m not sure when or if it’ll ever happen. Ideally, I’d like to work my way back up to 3 comics a week. But we’ll see how it goes with the other projects I’ve got going on. Either way, I won’t let you all down again.
As for me personally? I’m still sleep-deprived like hell. But I’m trying to correct that. I’m also trying to just, well, get the hell out of this job. As of right now, I’ve FINALLY started a portfolio. And while it needs quite a bit of work after putting it together (it’s got quite a bit of old stuff that just doesn’t feel right in the portfolio as a whole), it feels good that I’m starting to make a solid effort to try to get a job in the creative field. I think it’s the only way that I’m going to be happy professionally, and it’s high time that I start making an effort to get there. I never went to college, and for the longest time, I used that as an excuse as to why I couldn’t get to where I wanted to be in my professional life. It’s hard not to feel that way when every job opening you see in the creative field says that it requires you to have a BA or an MBA or an NHL or an NBA or an MLB. Okay those last few were a bit of a joke, but still. I think I’ve finally found what it is that I want to do, and dammit, I aim to get there one way or another.
So uh, I guess that sort of wraps it up. Over 3.5k words, and I’m finally wrapping this post up, holy good gravy. I would really like to write more of these posts, as I am able to say a lot more than I ever can in my comic, and it also gives me the opportunity to just talk about other things. If you read this entire thing, then I thank you very much. I just felt like I needed to get a lot of this stuff off my chest. Thank you for reading :)