Philosophically, I have advanced more this year than any other, between the message from my teacher back around Easter to about a week ago. Nowhere near done developing, but for the first time, when I look at myself and think about what I am...I don't think I'm so bad anymore. Up until this point, all I could see when I reflected on myself was wasted potential. This year put a lot of what I am doing in a new light.
The key thing is my lack of success in the comic book field. God, just last year, I actually had a book in comic shops, one that sold nearly a thousand copies. Demand for The Supremacy #2 was high, it looked like the gang at Hard Ways Studios and I were going to beat the odds and actually break through the glass ceiling of the comic industry. I was already setting my new goals. In 2010, I wanted to have a book with a good mid-tier publisher, and was anxious for the next studio project that would do so. I was ready. My engines were revved. I was primed. Between getting Sound Waves out and my work with Hard Way Studios, I felt I was finally putting myself out there.
And then, reality set in. Even though it was only one issue of The Supremacy, I was still thrilled to have something in print I could show off and anxiously gave extra copies to select publishers (Aspen, Avatar, etc.). Absolutely nothing came of it, and I couldn't figure out why. I knew I wrote that story well, I heard great things from Jimmy Palmiotti and Erik Larsen about it. I could hit deadlines, as my output writing for Video Game Trader could attest. But no one came knocking.
It really got depressing. You have to keep in mind, I set very high goals for myself because I don't see any reason I can't achieve them. I understand others not doing things. They get busy, life interferes, and so on. They have extenuating circumstances for not advancing. Reasons. Excuses. Me? I have no excuse for not succeeding. I'm smart, ingenious, and driven. By my logic, I should have broken into the field, like, maybe, ten years ago. I should be at least writing series for IDW or something, not still struggling to get noticed by editors. Most people don't spend fifteen years getting their first published credit and then two years on top of that getting into comic shops, they give up loooooooooong before that point. I had a bunch of self-published comics, which I didn't regard as being as impressive as it sounded, an online comic, which was even less impressive given what I had seen of online comics, reviews in a small video game magazine, and writing in two floppies. Three appearances at comic shows this year, and sales of my comics at these things is in single digits. For going on eighteen years of effort, compared to the output of others like Bendis or Millar and what they have done by their ages, pretty sorry showing. It's like knowing you belong in the restaraunt but you just can't get past the doorman.
I kept going because I ultimately can't stop. That's really all there is to it. It's not some, "I'll show them, I'll show them all!" desire, proving to mom and the world I was right not be become a doctor or something. There was a period maybe a decade ago, when the indie market was pretty much destroyed and you couldn't really self-publish a comic anymore without an established distribution channel, that I thought, This is a waste of time, and I tried to set it aside. Instead, I started working on my screenwriting. That also went nowhere, and tried making my own movie. That didn't work, and eventually I swung back to comics. I need to write. I need to create. And just creating isn't enough for me, I need to get my work out there, share it with others, show the world what I can do. I am not happy with being an audience of one. And anytime I stay away from anything, I start drifting back to it. It's a compulsion.
One of the things that really started sinking in this year is that my situation actually isn't that unusual. In fact, I'm sort of where an underground cartoonist is supposed to be. This year, networking with others in the funny book biz has brought shocking revelations. Everybody's hurting. Those with established talent and established followings and that are friends with editors are not getting work. They go to shows to hawk their wares, and no one buys. These are people whose talent runs rings around mine, that have name recognition. People hear their names attached to some project and go, "Oh! That could be interesting!" They aren't nobodies, and they have the work and credits to prove they belong.
And they aren't working.
One guy who went to C2E2 and Wizard World? I actually sold more copies of Sound Waves at my three show appearances than he did. I mean, it just blows my mind.
I guess the writing has been on the wall for a while now, but I've never seen it in sharp relief before. There's a disconnect between comics and fans. The people currently buying comics, the people that Marvel and DC are courting, aren't exactly fans of the medium so much as fans of those specific characters. They aren't looking for anything other than what they already have. Meanwhile, the people who would try indie comics and such? They're gone. They left when the market shifted from storytelling to branding. Publishers are creating brands to build intellectual properties and licensing deals with. People who want to actually read don't have anything to read, just things to stump for. So they left. And those of us who still believe in the storytelling of the medium have no way to contact them, let them know we're out there. They aren't tuning in to the frequency we are on anymore.
I've seen lots of people suddenly stop going to shows. Supposedly, even if you don't sell anything at these shows, the chance to network and make friends makes up for it. But unlike me, who has only been doing shows for a little over a year, they've made their connections. They've made their friends. They can keep up with that anytime thanks to e-mail and Twitter and that. What they WANT, what they NEED, is to build their audience. And when they spend $300 on a table for the weekend and don't get any commissions, see only a few prints sell, and sell single digits of their comics, it's just not cost effective, and they wonder what they should be focusing on. In other words, all these people who are industry pros? They're turning into me. An undergrounder screaming out for someone, anyone to listen, and realizing no one is. It's almost like my situation is the norm, and they have been able to avoid it for a while, but with the fraternizing of creative teams at publishers nowadays, their access is blocked off, and the days of being a freelancer are almost over.
Now, while I find some comfort in this, I don't take it as in, "Oh, how the mighty have fallen!" The comfort comes from reassurance that, maybe, I am doing the best I can. Maybe there is a valid reason I'm not freelancing in the industry. It's one thing when you are the only one struggling with obscurity. When you see others turning up in that neighborhood, you start thinking maybe the problem isn't your approach after all. And maybe it never was. Maybe, just maybe, this limited success of mine is actually more impressive than I realized. That the odds are so long and the obstacles so great, just surviving here is a victory. When I launched Stress Puppy, it was with the expectation that any success was good, I wasn't expecting it to be the next PvP or anything. So my reach didn't exceed my grasp. When I look at how much I could have spent starting some of my comic projects (computer, Photoshop, etc.) or screenwriting (agent fees and such), I see that I could very well have been much deeper in debt and unable to move forward because of crushing disappointment instead of a prudent approach that may not always be the best shot, but it sure as hell minimizes my risks to my pocketbook and my sanity.
What will the new year bring? Certainly, new challenges. I'm moving forward with Quantum Redshift because it's the only new project I have that is ready to move forward. I mean, I don't even have an outline for Safe Passage done. Never heard back from the editors at Archie, so I'm figuring I ain't getting anywhere there. Still debating if I'm going to talk to them at C2E2 this year (I don't want to seem like I'm picking a fight with the editors, I'd rather be quiet than confrontational). I have three copies of The Supremacy #1 left, and I want to drop one off with Zenoscope this year. You never know. Video Game Trader apparently doesn't need me anymore now that the focus of the mag has changed to general collecting instead of an overview of the classic gaming scene. No bad blood as far as I'm concerned, they are adapting as they need to, although I honestly am going to miss the free games they sent me to review. THAT'S the part I miss the most. Sound Waves is still out there with its cult following, which feels really good. Stress Puppy is what it is. Since it's debut in November, Hannah Singer has sold more copies than any other self-published project of mine other than Sound Waves (about thirty copies per, give or take), and has a lot more potential. People hear the concept and want to know more and how can they get it? It really has the potential to go viral, and without the bullshit of buddying up to certain people in the comic industry (the thought of "making the right kinds of friends," as one pro told me, has always offended me. You make friends because you like them, not because you can gain from them). If it continues to be talked about, and if I can impress the Image folks with Quantum Redshift, 2011 could be a very good year.
And if not? Safe Passage stands a great chance of getting the attention of Slave Labor Graphics (it will be the next comic project I work on, barring other projects jumping out). And the next Hannah Singer book will be out by Sept. 27 (The Feast Of St. Michael), which could really build for the next year. There are always possibilities. It's just, now, I see them as possibilities instead of, "What's wrong with you that you can't make this happen?" My lack of notable success is not proof that I'm out of my league. I'm in my league, it's pretty big, and it keeps getting bigger. I just got here before the rush started. And I may yet be able to climb out of it.
Time will tell. It always does....