“I’m not happy,” she said with tears in her eyes, and at that moment I knew that it was over.
I was in my office, putting the finishing touches on a comic pitch I had been working on for half a year, when I looked up to see the beginning of the end of a relationship that I thought was going to go the distance. (The pitch didn’t work out, either.)
Creating comics, like most creative endeavors, can be an empowering, self-actualizing experience. Pulling an idea from the ether and then putting in the hundreds of hours of work to turn it into a staple bound sequential story with your name on it is rewarding beyond belief. Being recognized by readers, retailers, and other creators in the medium you adore as having created something of value is cloud nine stuff. Yup, creating comics is a wonderful pursuit.
But it can also be an all-consuming passion that, if left unchecked, can ruin relationships, finances, or your life.
Melodramatic? Yeah, probably. That doesn’t mean it’s not accurate.
Every week, we celebrate the best of our medium. A comic book movie that shatters records at the box office. A new creator-owned book that delivers. The latest Scott Snyder issue of Batman. And yet, it also seems like every week, there is a new creator in dire financial straits, in need of charity. While the outpouring of support in the comics community is always heartwarming, and the work creators like Steve Niles and Neal Adams do to raise awareness whenever these situations arise is inspiring, it’s not much of a safety net. I can’t help but wonder…was committing to a life and livelihood in comics their first wrong step?
I don’t want to cast judgement on others. Lord knows I’ve made and continue to make bad decisions from time to time. (Don’t tell anyone I bought Facebook stock, okay?) But when I hear about a relatively young creator getting hospitalized and now facing crippling medical bills because the family lacked health insurance…that’s an instance of letting your pursuit of a career in comics and art potentially ruin your life.
I live in Massachusetts. Under some former governor named Mitt Romney (no relation to the guy running for president…can’t be) a law was passed requiring everyone in the state to have health insurance, less you pay a fine at tax time. And yeah, it’s easy for me to say, “Just get health insurance” as a non-freelancer with full-time employment and a company paid plan. I recognize that health insurance in America is WAY too expensive. There was a three-month period after grad-school and before getting a full-salaried position that I was not covered…I couldn’t justify the $300 a month or so a rider would have cost me.
But damn if the universe wasn’t telling me I was pressing my luck.
In that three-month span, I had a car accident where the vehicle spun out and did a 360 on a wet highway on-ramp and miraculously righted itself on the side of the road; I nearly crushed my hand under a tire while trying to change a flat (ProTip: Remember to put on the emergency break!); and I sprained an ankle pretty seriously playing basketball. (Still hurts.) Point is, by not having health insurance, I was rolling the dice…and I’ve never been all that lucky.
Robert Kirkman, creator of the Walking Dead, has talked about going seriously in debt in the early days of his career in order to finance his pursuit of comics as a career. He’s spoken about the stress it put on him and his family. Robert went all in, he bet the farm on comics…and it clearly has worked out for him.
But you have to wonder, how many creators are out there doing the same damn thing whose names we’ll never know?
And it’s not just a financial toll that pursuing a career in comics can take on creators. I know I’m not the only one who lost a relationship, at least in part, because of comics.
Creators, truth is, we’re not always that easy to love. If you’re like me, you have a never-ending list of things you could be doing, projects you could be working on. There are plots that need fleshing out, layouts that need revising, websites that could use updating, and promotions planning. If you’re like me, you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be bored…you haven’t been bored since you decided you were going to be comic creator– because there’s ALWAYS something you could be doing. You don’t miss video games. You don’t miss network prime time TV. If there was nowhere else you had to be, you could plunk yourself in front of a computer or drafting table and create for hours and hours and hours…eating and sleeping be damned.
Yeah, I know you know what I’m talking about. You’re in the Tribe, of course you do.
But chances are, many of the people we love don’t get it.
If comics is the first thing on your mind when you wake up, and the last thing you think about before you hit the pillow, your significant other is eventually going to wonder where he or she fits in.
Yeah, it’s hard to love us. That was a theme that I wanted to explore in my online graphic novel, OVER.
In the failed relationship I spoke of earlier, there was one thing that was particularly hard to hear. She told me, “For months, you’d spend so much time in your office working on your comic book. I was lonely and I missed you. But I got used to it…and then realized, I was fine with it. And I really didn’t miss you anymore.”
Not being missed at all… Doesn’t get much worse than that.
And besides the toll an unchecked pursuit of your creative endeavors can have on others you care about, let’s not forget the toll it takes on yourself. A necessary component of pursuing comics is rejection. If you want a career in comics, you’re signing on for an unpaid second-job in hearing NO. You will get NOs from:
- Editors not interested in your pitch
- Artists and writers not interested in working with you
- Collaborators who can’t deliver on what they promised
- Fans not interested in buying your book
- Retailers not interested in carrying it
- Reviewers not liking your work, or worse, not deeming it worth their time to critique
Over and over and over again, you will get rejected. And psychologically, you’ll need to hear three YESs to counteract the impact of every NO. It can be an emotional gauntlet. You WILL think about a quitting. You WILL question whether it’s worth it. That’s just what you’re signing up for.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the physical toll comics can take. Walking up and down artist’s alley at any con, I think you’ll agree that collectively, we are not the healthiest collection of human specimens on the planet. Long hours at the drawing table or keyboard do not always lend themselves to great personal fitness. Hell, I’m someone who has worked out regularly since 13 years old, and even I let my exercise routine go to crap the last few years as I put more into comics. And in all honesty, it took my wedding at the end of the year and the obscenely large photographer bill associated with it to force me to start getting my ass back in shape.
The broad point being, a long and successful life of creating comics involves getting away from the table regularly.
A Few Things That Work for Me
1) Financial Literacy – If you’re going to make a career out of comics, then treat it like a career. You are not an art or word monkey. You’re a creative entrepreneur. Start thinking like one. Get your financial house in order. I recommend this book as a starting point to getting your financial life on the right track.
And for the love of God, go get health insurance!
2) Make a Schedule – Though I learned plenty of lessons from past relationships that have allowed me to be a better man, and (knock on wood) a better husband, I need to recognize that I’m still susceptible to spending too much time on comics. So, when my fiancé spoke up about that fact, we agreed the best thing for me to do was to make and post a schedule plotting out Work, Comic work, Family Time, and other necessary blocks of time in my weekly schedule. Doing this (and sticking to it) will allow me to make sure that I have enough time away from the table.
3) Smell the Roses – Remember all of that rejection I spoke of? Hey, it’s a part of being in the Tribe. We all go through with it. It’s what makes the journey a challenge, and thus ultimately rewarding. Wherever you are in your career and your journey as a creator, stop and remember that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. You’re farther along than you were a year ago, and a year from now you’ll be farther along than you are today.
How about you? What have been some of the unintended consequences of your comics creating? What have you done to mitigate those?
Category: Comix Counsel