2015 will mark my 14th year making comic books. It will also mark the first time in almost seven years that the bulk of my income will come from elsewhere.
I made a decision last year to take a break from work for hire comics to focus on my creator owned work. That had a strange side effect, it wound up leading me down a very different path.
It’s not much of a secret that I’ve been working on THE BUNKER tv show the past year or so, and, it’s been an immensely pleasurable (if slow) experience. I’ve learned a ton, and become a better writer (I think) for it. Alongside writing that pilot, I’m a few inches away from selling a second tv project that’s a dream come true.
If that wasn’t enough, I just found out I’m going to write a few episodes of an upcoming animated series that’s a favorite property, that I’ve done some other work on over the past year that isn’t yet announced.
I’ve found myself suddenly back to work on my young adult novel that has been simmering in the background as a passion project for a few years now.
I’ve worked on video games and cartoons and TV/Film projects, short stories and the occasional SyFy Channel movie. I’ve done web series (see above) and interactive stuff. But, that was always a sideline. 2015 marks the first year that, well, doing all that stuff is my job.
Working at Marvel and DC had it’s ups and downs, but to some degree, there was always a feeling of being trapped by my circumstances. I love those characters, and I got to work on some incredible books with even more incredible people. But, the grind of monthly work for hire comics is, well, a grind. I had a baby and a mortgage and every decision had to be couched in that. Including the one to quit DC and leave one of my favorite franchises before a single issue had shipped.
If I fell behind or got fired or left a book, that would have catastrophic consequences for my family. That made every choice I made terrifying, crippling even. But I had to do what I had to do for my family.
I set about this year doing what I can to make a living outside the mainstream by doing books that speak to who I am as a person, and to what I want out of the medium. And I’ve found success in doing just that. But it’s success with a catch.
It is certainly an age for independent comics right now. Books are selling substantially more than what they were even a few brief years ago. BUT, that’s not true across the board. Truth be told (and this is the catch), while I’m creatively as satisfied as I’ve ever been, the sales on THE LIFE AFTER and PUNKS in particular have been…. anemic.
Let me back up a second. THE LIFE AFTER is not in any actual danger. Oni looked at it as an ongoing series from the beginning, and we’re all waiting for the performance of the first TPB to really make a decision about how long we’ll go. It’s going to be at least four arc/tpb’s. I’d love for it to go on forever, but, economically it might not be feasible. Oni has been simply incredible in their dedication to both THE LIFE AFTER and THE BUNKER. More than I could ever wish for, honestly. (I should point out that for a limited time, in the direct market only, you can get THE LIFE AFTER TPB for a measly $10. Please, please, please pre-order it.)
PUNKS on the other hand, is a bit more of a worrier. It’s such an odd book, and it certainly found more of an audience then we ever thought it would, but, the numbers have gotten low enough that we’re having very serious discussions about continuing or letting it go. The hard part about having so many great indie comics is that a lot of them get ignored. PUNKS and THE LIFE AFTER have both suffered that fate.
I worry that saying all this and seeing what may happen with those books that I’ll wind up accused of moving on from comics. Of abandoning ship, or whatever nonsense they say about people who crossover to other mediums.
I will always make comics. I will always make MY comics. I’ve got two more creator owned series launching next year, we’ve got lots more BUNKER on the horizon, and even more PUNKS and THE LIFE AFTER.
I make comics because I love them. I love the medium. I love what it can do. Working on the pilot for THE BUNKER has been an experience not just in terms of strengthening my muscles in another medium, but in reminding me of the amazing things comics can do that no other medium can.
Comics are my art. Comics are the core of who I am as a creative. But, that doesn’t mean they’re something that will always support my family and pay my mortgage.
Everyone moonlights. From the biggest writers in comics (Geoff Johns and Brian Bendis both, technically, have day jobs. They’re just, y’know, incredibly awesome ones), to the little guys trying to eek out a living doing customer service while grinding away at their self published mini-comics. It’s just a reality of the medium.
Hell, to be honest, work for hire comics are a day job, too. Again, just a super awesome one.
I got off track somewhere.
All of this is to say, thank you. This year, the support my friends, family, and fans have shown have taken me on a wild adventure I could never have predicted. I’m getting to work with people I’ve respected for years, even a few I idolized as a child, and all of that is because of those sixteen pieces of paper stapled in the middle and folded into a pamphlet.
Thank you so much to everyone who’s followed me from indie to mainstream and back again, or any part of that journey whatsoever. Thank you to the wonderful people at Oni Press, Image Comics, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Dynamite, Dark Horse, IDW, and anyone else I’ve been lucky enough to work with the past few years. Thank you to ComiXology and Chip Mosher who backed Joe and my wacky idea for a business model and gave me the strength and impetus to launch the next phase of my career.
2015 is going to be an amazing year, thanks to all of you.
The whole point of life as a creative is to surround yourself with people who are smarter and more talented than you. It helps you be better, and they cover your ass when you fall short. When you find great people, hold on to them for dear life.
Waiting for inspiration to hit is for amateurs. It’s for wannabes, and cry babies. It’s for a non-professional looking to make excuses.
It’s also for each and every one of us who create for a living. Some days the tap is on, and some days the tap is off. What separates the pro from the amateur, is the frequency of the outages, and the ability to force the damn nozzle open.
That doesn’t mean you can always actually do it.
Coming off around six weeks of sickness and half speed work, I can vouch for how hard it is to get going again from a standstill. So I start small. I’m working on the shortest, easiest thing I have on my docket. Get that done, and then move on to something bigger, and bigger.
This all comes back to setting realistic goals. Know what you’re capable of, and then over-reach SLIGHTLY.
People will say all sorts of things about you when you put art out into the world. Some nice, some not so. The approach I’ve always tried for is fingers in ears. Yes. I see it. Yes, I know it’s being said, But “LALALALALALA I’M NOT LISTENING TO YOU.”
I’ve lost almost a month of time to sickness. I am a good two weeks behind on most of my work. Most of the work that pays our bills. And because, well, life, all three of us have the flu right now.
But, despite the injuries and the illnesses, I’ve worked every day, gotten the emergency stuff finished, and, am finally getting caught up. You never stop grinding if you want to keep surviving.
The amount of work that a freelancer has to stack up is one of the hardest, scariest parts of everything. Especially after a slew of health problems (like I’ve had this month) knock you down. So, what went from a breezy one or two scripts a week, is now up in the total meltdown of workarama.
Part of that is because I’ve been overloaded the past few months, and, well, miss a couple days, and you’re a couple days behind, miss a couple weeks, and, it’s infinitely worse.
So, part of coping is realizing that some stuff has to go. The way I’ve prioritized it is the work that gives me the biggest long term benefit. That means that a lot of my work for hire is going away, and I’m focusing on the stuff that I own.
Making money is a constant issue, don’t get me wrong, but, it’s become increasingly clear to me the past few years that the real way to fix that is not taking jobs to cover tomorrows costs. It’s about creating opportunities to pay NEXT YEAR’s costs, and the next TEN YEARS after that.
There’s a point in every freelancers life where they start playing the long game. This is my year.
If you enjoy this Tumblr, may I suggest pre-ordering my newest creator owned series, THE LIFE AFTER from onipress. Final orders are due this coming Monday. Tell your retailer, they’ll do the rest.
Some good tips about comic lettering from Nate Piekos of Blambot.com
I frequently talk about how important lettering is for all aspiring comickers. Here’s a great couple of tips you can use.
I still whole heartedly recommend Richard Starkings’ LETTERING THE COMICRAFT WAY which is the best nine bucks you can spend when trying to break into comics.
Know the length of your rope and what the consequences are for reaching the end of it. Sometimes, you get to fly up in the air and out into a lake, other times you realize that you’re dangling by your throat a few inches off the ground.
When your gut tells you not to do something, always listen. You will never be wrong.
This is different from fear, different from nerves. This is a deep sense that bad things will come from what you’re about to do.
This is especially true with job opportunities. No matter how much you want the job, sometimes, it just isn’t worth it.
I try to draft in my head before I ever sit down to write. So by the time I’m actually sitting down, it’s almost like automatic writing of a 2nd or 3rd draft. And then, y’know, I make sure it doesn’t totally suck by drafting it yet again.
The work is never as hard as it is right before you start it.
Doing what you love will always lead you to success. It just might take a forever and a half to get there.
What drives me is a need to be great. The understanding that I’ll never by great, and that I have never been great is what makes me do the work. The key is to understand your shortcomings and continue to keep on trying. No matter what.
Aspire to greatness, never accept that you’ve achieved it.