My 2014 in review (I’m a cartoonist)
For me, 2013 ended with the release of Celebrated Summer, the second comic I had published with Fantagraphics for the year. That along with The End of the Fucking World put a cap on a lot of dreams that I had for myself since I was a kid. When I was 16 my friend Mark introduced me to Eightball and Hate and I began to dream about being published by Fantagraphics. And somehow I made that happen. Well, not somehow (I’m trying to build my self-confidence), I’ve worked damned hard since my first day at The Center for Cartoon Studies in the Fall of 2007. I didn’t grow up with a strong sense of work ethic. I did eventually learn the joys of accomplishment after working jobs in movie theatres and restaurants. Those jobs taught me what it feels like to be asked to do the impossible for the ungrateful and at the end of the day have a drink and a cigarette and feel like you earned the hell out of that pleasure. It is much harder to get that feeling when you are working for yourself and you have to be creative. You have to find a structure for yourself. And for me, that is very difficult.
There are artists that can sit down and use methods they found work for them and just pump out the work. I wish I was one of them. My brain doesn’t afford me such pleasures. My mind is a maze that resets after each comic is finished. Often times when I sit down to start something new, I feel like I’ve never drawn a comic before. I lose all confidence in my line and I get overwhelmed by the thousands of decisions that go into creating something.
So as 2014 began, I was in the middle of a series I had began called Teen Creeps. I thought I could keep riding the wave of doing a monthly mini-comic that I had started with TEOTFW in 2011. I had such a good experience making TEOTFW and people really responded well to it. I loved the attention. Who wouldn’t? But you know what? When I tried to keep it going with Teen Creeps, it started to feel phoney. I got bored. I wasn’t focused. And soon I decided to end it after 6 issues. People still ask me if I’ll ever go back to it. I tell them ‘maybe’, but most likely I won’t. It feels a bit tainted. There is stuff in there that I like but it felt like I was trying to rehash what I had done before.
And that is a feeling that my brain won’t let me ignore. I have a need to try something new with each project. And I think this need goes hand in hand with the other maze-brain idea I wrote about. The board gets reset and I need to figure out new rules for myself. It is something I seem to hate and love all the same. I hate it when I just want to sit down and draw a comic. I hate it when someone asks me to do a story for an anthology and it turns into a giant mountain to climb. I hate it when a publisher offers to print the next Snake Oil and I end up staring at a spread in my sketchbook for months with only the words “Snake Oil 9“ written down.
2014 was also a bummer of a year for me mentally. My 32 year old brain decided it was time for a nosedive and cranked up the anxiety and depression knobs to maximum power. I stayed up late watching movies and TV. I slept till 1pm. I did get some stuff done this year but it was a struggle. I spent most of my days in fear. Fear of my choices, fear of what people thought of me and my work, fear of failure, fear of success. In case you don’t know, anxiety knows no logic. It only knows fear. Every decision, every turn probably leads to a cliff. So it goes without saying that this really fucked with my comics. I struggled with what to do next. I achieved my dreams and what do I do now? I don’t feel that different. The money didn’t roll in. By some miracle I seem to survive without a day job. Melissa and I are poor as shit but I’m not complaining. I do want more money. I want to have something to call my own someday and to do it doing the thing I am good at. Which is another thing. I think it hit me this last year that I’m getting older. And the future began to weigh on me. But I also began to beat myself up for everything that I have. I’m a white, straight(relatively) male in the United States. I’ve got it easy. I know this. And that shit fucks with me. I spent much of the year hating myself. And with a lack of output comic-wise, my confidence just ceased to exist. I convinced myself that I didn’t deserve to have confidence.
The good news is I got to go to therapy every week and talk it out with a great person trained to listen. And I got to try like 3 different medications this year to try and put a crutch under my brain. The latest pill I am on seems to have done the trick. I feel much clearer in my daily life and I’m less bogged down by my thoughts. I’m so thankful for that. So, so, so thankful. And it goes without saying but I’ve leaned on my partner, Melissa Mendes, a lot this past year. She is a goddamned peach.
So what else? I guess I forgot about Luv Sucker. I did an issues of that comic this year I think. I like it still. I am going to finish it. I have ideas. It will come. But it was hard to squeeze those out of my foggy head. I also managed to do a 60 page comic called Hobo Mom with my friend Max de radigués. It was good to have that to work on because the writing had been finished about 2 years before we had a reason to do the final art. I enjoyed the collaboration. I think it let me off the hook a bit. The work was shared and Max and I seem to work well together. It is a strange feeling to flip through Hobo Mom because it feels like it was done by a 3rd cartoonist.
Well, that brings me to the thing I’ve spent the most time toiling with, a project called Revenger. To me Revenger feels incredibly different than any of the comics I have published before. It think it is due to me wanting to stretch my legs and give myself a challenge. I’ve never considered myself a natural artist. And I’ve never been particularly proud of my drawings. But I want to change that. I used to reject the idea of drawing well. I put great stock in how a comic makes you feel and nice drawings are great but if they don’t work with the story than I can take them or leave them. I think it just comes down to my tastes. Comics that are too beautiful bug me. Sure, I like pretty drawings but I don’t like them to get in the way. Which is why I have been drawn to the simple and minimal way I usually work. and the other thing is I have not been reading a lot of “alternative” comics this past year. I have been looking at old mainstream and independent comics. Artists like John Severin, Herb Trimpe, King Kirby, Paul Gulacy, and Matt Wagner. Also, I have been watching a lot of movies from the 70’s and 80’s. Action movies. John Carpenter is a favorite. Also, Brian De Palma. And of course I have been inspired by my contemporaries Michel Fiffe and Benjamin Marra who have already been playing in this sandbox. So all this shit is in my head and I wanted to do a very American comic book. I wanted to have it be the standard comic book size and be full color. I can’t tell you the number of times I have started and stopped Revenger. I’ve spent a year wrestling with this thing. I have a stack of pages that will never see the light of day. Last month I even finished the first issue. I drew and colored the thing. Had a big smile on my face but the next morning, I knew…I knew it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t what I wanted. It became too big, it was too convoluted. I needed to simplify the story I wrote. So the next day I re-wrote it and thumbnailed a new issue one. This lead to an amazing few weeks of activity. I am high on comics right now. I haven’t felt this feeling in a long time. I spent the next 2 weeks penciling and inking 24 pages. It still isn’t perfect but I am much prouder of this version than all of the dead ends I went on before. The main thing, is that I am having fun again. That is how I know I’m on a good track. Now let me lay it out. This comic is dumb. But I hope it is dumb and fun. It is violent and colorful. It is what I want it to be. It won’t be for everyone and nothing is. I can’t write for an audience. I would just go become a janitor if that was my only choice. (I’ve worked as a janitor btw. I can wax a floor if pressed to). That is just how I do it.
So I guess that brings me to the end of my year in review. I hope this was interesting to some of you, and maybe it will bring some comfort to people who are neck-deep in some shit. I wasn’t going to post this because it felt a little too personal, but some folks on twitter demanded to read it. Anyway, here is to a new year and a new hope!