So this weekend we went to a wonderful comics convention in Chicago, called CAKE, that was really great and fine (and already expertly reviewed on other blogs). We debuted our modest little comic Weather and went to a bar or two with some other cartoonists and chatted with many old friends and new cool random people. We also swam in a pool and — if you can believe this — patronized an actual hotel gym… before noon.
However, as we pulled away from the towering Chicago skyline and back into the darkening midwestern plains, our muscles seizing into a post-workout rictus, we couldn’t help but detect the slightest twinge of melancholy stealing over our psychic landscape. We realized that we had been very rude and boring — not ONCE this weekend did we take the time to stroll around and actually enjoy the convention which we had traveled across two states to attend. Admittedly, this was mostly a budget issue — we just plain didn’t have the money to spend on comics, and thus didn’t want to insult anyone (ie, everyone) by chatting them up & then refusing them even a single crappy penny of reward for their noble cartoon efforts. We know how it feels, the subtle searing scorn of snubbery, and are reluctant to expose anyone else to the pain of rejection. We are also happy to avoid any conversations having to do with how broke-as-balls we are and probably always will be, and how we can’t afford to buy any of the media we are ourselves struggling to create.
And so we lurked behind the Secret Acres table, fondling our shirtsleeves, smiling at the revolving parade of acquaintances, crushes, strangers, celebs & exes, and feeling gradually more and more as though we have become a mere observer rather than participant in the grand spectacle of “Alternative Comics.”
You see, dear reader, the truth is that we have no real claim to the mantle of Cartoonist. We didn’t go to art school; we never dreamed of signing a Marvel contract; we didn’t learn anatomy by tracing over copies of Scrooge McDuck; we never impressed the gradeschool girls with pretty pictures. How we even got into this racket is, as far as we can tell, a total fluke.
It’s easy to forget, a couple Ignatz Awards & ego-strokes later, that the majority of our life was spent outside the inky bubble of the Comics Scene. Why, just six years ago we were still living in a 20′ box truck, pulling our dinners out of the trash & cooking them over a portable butane stove. True, we were also drawing comics in this truck — but these were quietly labored over in comfortable obscurity, while waiting for the next transient ShitJob to fall into our grease-stained laps. This was our life. We had no plans for the future, no aspirations of recognition or remuneration. All we looked forward to was more of the same, as we quietly faded into middle age & died of an infected tooth abscess. The idea of making a Career out of Comic Art — mainly due to our own lack of confidence — had not yet even registered in our minds as a possibility. We just drew comics for our own ends, mostly because we couldn’t afford therapy & didn’t have any friends.
But then one thing (a fellowship at a cartoon school) led to another (Monsters), and the next thing we knew, we had gone from feral auto-bum to Award-Winning Cartoonist with a publisher, internet accolades, fans, trophies and a vanity website. We moved to a new city; were introduced to whole new sets of semi-famous friends; accrued a whole new Artist identity. We dressed nicer. We traded our carhartts in for slacks. We even started showering semi-regularly. For the first time in our life, people seemed to respect us, include us, pay attention to us. Attending “cons” suddenly seemed important and normal. We began to feel as though we had a some kind of (small) public responsibility to create comics, when a couple years ago it’d been just a dumb hobby on our time off from throwing pizzas at college kids.
Pretty laughable, we know. Because in spite of how much we’ve enjoyed this voluptuous & intoxicating period of our lives, we are starting to suspect that this cartooning path we’ve recently stumbled down has a shade of martyrdom to it. We’re still and will always be broke & creditless; we’re still and will always be hatching out our comics in cafes and libraries while squeezing eight cups of tea out of one teabag; we’re still and will always be dressing from thrift stores, drinking bottom-shelf liquor, and subletting slums. We’re still and will most likely always be buffeted by gray tempests of doubt, depression, self-hatred and sloth. We still and forevermore will be unable to draw forearms. We’re still walking the demimonde’s increasingly cat-hair-thin tightrope, balancing one false step away from utter ruin over a deepening chasm of a globally bedshitting economy. The difference is, now that we’re a Cartoonist, we find ourselves a little older, a little softer, a little more bourgeois, & a little less able to account for these new gaps in our resume to potential ShitJob employers. Considering how time-consuming the act of comicking is, considering how old we were when we got into this game, and considering we don’t see ourselves illustrating any New Yorker covers anytime soon, this leaves us with some difficult algebra to calculate. Comics readers may be patient, but landlords aren’t.
Maybe it’s just the sixpack talking, but we’re not afraid to say all this is genuinely terrifying, & we see no real solutions at the ready. As much as we’ve loved the ride, on some late nights, becoming a Real Cartoonist seems like the worst thing that ever happened to us. We’ve sold our housetruck, lost our restaurant connections, accustomed ourselves to the pampered refinery of the Artist’s lifestyle. The oven-burns & knife-gashes have faded from our once-calloused hands, precisely at that moment in socioeconomic history when a little thickening could have done our skin some good.
And maybe comics itself was a fluke — this enlightened epoch at the ass end of the American Century that briefly allowed us to indulge our fantasy that American sequential art of the quirkiest variety deserves not only respect, but compensation? Perhaps we’re at the end of civilization itself, witnesses to the final, whimpering chapter of humanity? And if so — if this is a real and imminent possibility — how does one justify, much less accomplish, the act of making comics?
Come what may, we can still say that we have been more than grateful to have played our part as another well-intentioned purveyor of Art’s cultural placebo. And we most sincerely do wish and pray that we may we yet be allowed to do same for many years to come, however that may manifest. However, as much as we would love to do so, drawing another 200-page graphic novel seems at this point to be an all but impossible feat, economically — the years spent drawing Monsters drained us to our last skinny dime, and the ensuing years, while personally enriching, have found us unable to increase or even maintain our portion dollars-wise.
In short, we have lost our way and have no compass for what lies ahead. Will we go the way of so many other cartoonists & give up on the Sequential Arts, squeezing out the last few drops of our integrity on gouache portraits to make next month’s rent? Will we fall off the map & surface a couple years later in a half-assed obit? Will we take up puppetry full-time? Will we dissolve into alcoholism & bitterness? Will we try to get in to some bullshit grad school? Will we compulsively crank out another humiliating autobio comic that renders us even less-eligible of a bachelor than ever? We honestly cannot say. All we know is that we speak to you from a rather dark and mysterious crossroads.
In December, we turn 40. It’s hard to express, to those who haven’t seen it themselves, just how closely this milestone resembles a gravestone when viewed right up close. It represents the calcification of one’s identity; a death of potential that renders all future behaviors inevitable. It’s that time in life when you are forced to realize that Who You Are is, for the most part, who you’ll always be. It’s a time to say goodbye, forever, to Youth’s lascivious eden of effortless beauty and painless dalliance; time to replace the frenetic romance of intentional self-abuse with a grim daily combat against mere entropy. Time to tally up the card & compare your bullshit little Yahtzee score with the other players. It’s a butterly-to-caterpillar moment, a process of externalization, a sort of prep class for the final exam of death.
It’s also an enormous drag. History isn’t kind to artists in my position — trust me, you don’t want to run the numbers on how many of us were still able to “make it,” much less keep from dissolving into tragic, exhausted hackdom, from this point onward. But we’d like to at least give this grave moment the solemn respect it deserves, by actually deciding what the fuck we’re doing with our lives — mostly by making some concrete decisions about whether we’re literally able to continue our little comics hobby, and figuring out how to make the rent from here on out either way. Drastic options have been tossed about — joining a commune; expatriating to Belgium; adopting a dog; selling out; marrying rich. Over the next few months we fully plan to employ the assistance of potent psychedelics toward the end of sorting this all out proper.
Mostly though, we’ll just blab about it on the internet to you. So please, if anyone has any suggestions as to how an old man in our position might best find fulfillment, or bliss, or redemption, or at the very least a way to pay rent while drawing another under-the-radar cult graphic novel, counsel is just a comment field away.
Also, Weather is now for sale, and in a short bit we’ll be putting up some more watercolors. We’ll also have “Sick” back up in a few, to please those who’ve requested it back.
Update: we sold out of Weather, but you can still get it on the Secret Acres site here.