gabby's playhouse

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gabby's playhouse

you’re in all CAKE

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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.

20 Comments on “you’re in all CAKE”

  1. Never forget, Carl Barks didn’t start drawing comics until he was 41, and he lived to be 99. So it’s quite possible (and likely!) that your best work is still ahead of you, 40s be damned. After I finished Basewood I have noticed more and more cartoonists who are turning to smaller works after finishing huge projects. It is super hard to commit to a huge project that is going to take years and years, especially when you have to figure out how to feed yourself in the interim. But it doesn’t mean you should stop drawing comics! You draw a mean short story, and a few of those quickly stack up to another book. I, for one, can’t wait to read “Weather” and am excited that you have some new work! Hang in there Gabby, don’t stop fighting the good fight.

  2. I think you should apply/(audition?) to be one of those straight guys who get drag makeovers on Drag Race. I suspect walking the runway in heels and chanting “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else??” would do wonders for your self esteem. Let’s see, season 3 was older dudes, season 4 was jocks, so surely season 5 will be cranky cartoonists? Also, Weather is really good. Keep cartooning, dude.

    • i am long, long overdue for a makeover. and thanks for the encouragement. i just peeked at yr new comic & couldn’t stop reading it to the end. you were the coolest person at CAKE i think!

  3. Lucky for me I have a copy of Weather, and it blew me away. It’s like there is a taut wire in my spine, and when I read this book, it got plucked, resounding something so deeply imbedded I don’t know how to express it for myself. All of your work does this. Consistently.

    And puppets! Yes!

  4. Ahh…the ever pessimistic Gabby Schulz! I read Weather in the airport and liked it. Life is an impossible landscape if you look to far ahead, brother. Take it one day at a time is my advice.

  5. Hi Gabby,

    Forearms are bullshit. BULLSHIT. This morning, I saw one of society’s forward thinkers: a woman who cast off one of her own forearms and presumably said “shoulder-to-elbow is all I need. FUCK FOREARMS!”

    Something to think about,

    -Ayo

  6. Clearly none of us in it for the money. That’s what day jobs are for (also: freelancing, bartending, pet portraits, prostitution). I would be sad if you stopped making comics, Gabby. You’re so good at it! But if you’ve lost the love, then what’s the point? Or is that just the midlife crisis talking?

    • i would be sad too! but sometimes i step back from the whole genre and i’m like, what the hell are we all doing here and why is this important. mostly it’s about graphic novels taking too long to draw and there being 0.000000000000% assurance that it’ll be at all profitable or even readable when you’re done. that was easy in the 90s but now you can’t even sign a lease on an apartment without a credit & employment check, so…. thinking of going to dental school basically

      • I think dental school would make you sad. But who’s to say we don’t need comics about/by dentists? I say, do it. And keep drawing comics.

        Imagine how different the cultural landscape would be if, say, Bukowski had stopped writing after a couple books because it wasn’t putting food on the table. You have a lot to say, Gabby. It would be a shame if you stopped saying it (or relegated your voice to Twitter/blogs). Your fans need you. The cultural landscape needs to be shaped by you!

        I totally feel your pain though. Every month or so I have a mini-existential crisis and wonder what the point of it all (comics) is. But then a week later I’ll get a really sweet email from a stranger telling me my comics made her happy. Or I’ll get an endorphin rush when a story (or even a panel) comes together. And I keep on doing it.

  7. I think you are describing not just your uncertainty, but the uncertainty of America, itself. I’m cartoonist(hobbyist) and create in other arena’s too (even puppeteering!). I have friends in other creative arena’s too. Playwrights, stage and TV actors, musicians, desk jockeys at media companies, and others–and even the “successful” ones (they have money in the bank which they use to buy food and pay rent which they made from creative endeavors) are scratching their heads wondering what’s going to happen. The economy has made us all broke. The Internet and tech, in general, has made us worthless (it’s now cheaper than ever to be a creator-type so now a LOT more of us are doing it). The point I’m getting at is that you’re not alone. It’s not that you’re 40 (I just turned 41 a couple weeks ago, too) it’s that America, itself, is wondering just what is going on. A huge chunk of jobs no longer exists in America and many companies don’t want to invest in America by hiring workers or paying workers what they are worth (and whaven’t for decades). As a result nobody’s buying anything they don’t have to because we’re now a country of people worrying about what the future holds. So keep drawing, just like the rest of us but keep doing what you have to to keep drawing, just like the rest of us. Shitjobs, gauche portraits at malls, etc, are par for everyone’s course these days–even for folks in different fields. My wife is a musical theater actor, but every Christmas she dresses up in Victorian garb, ventures out into the icy winter and travels around the tri-state area singing Christmas carols to the 1%. So what if we’re atheists? Singing for some kind of pay is still better than temp work or working at Starbucks (which a writer/editor friend had to do recently after a career editing novels and reporting for Starlog). So, you’re not alone! i’m not saying “stop yer whining” (we’re artists, it’s kind of what we do) I’m just saying: I and a great many others are with you… artist-fistbump.

    • thanks. i agree it’s a Larger Issue & to be honest i had to downplay a lot of that while writing this post — i actually think that things are getting way worse for all of us than i’m even letting on here. part of me really wants to document that in some way, & another part of me wants to keep being able to afford food while we descend into drone-patrolled radioactive neofeudalism. so i dunno. i think in the end none of this would be an issue if i just felt like other artists were addressing it. but in the comics world, those kind of wingnuts/people who actually read news & history are disturbingly spare, & i’ve already blacklisted myself as the too-“political” cartoonist guy who everyone quietly turns away from as he rants into his beer. maybe i should look into supervillainy

      • But Gabby, you can harness the fierce honesty and sensitivity that you pretty regularly express in blog posts in comics without being “too” political. I mean, at least in what you produce. Paying For It by Chester Brown is a good example of documenting serious social and political issues in graphic form but also of presenting it in 2-parts, one a comic narrative and two an extensive factual study. I mean I prefer the way you weaved these together in Monsters, but if you are worried about profitability, Paying For It, is another model to try. Or the author Brian Selznick who did The Invention of Hugo Cabret and many lesser known books before that, he has these EXTENSIVE bibliography/inspirations/for further reading sections. (Sorry this response is months after the fact)

  8. You’ve gotten some great advice here… I just wanted to add to it as a person who got a late start in making comics, and turned 40 last year. I have stopped and asked myself, where would I be now if I’d started making comics 10 years earlier, like some of my new, young friends? (Or like some of my new friends who are my age but have 10 years of experience on me.) It’s a depressing and unproductive thought; there’s nothing I can do about those 10 years.

    What keeps me getting up in the morning, going to my day job, making comics, and also helping run an all-volunteer radio station (because I am a glutton for overscheduling myself), is focusing on what I’m doing, not on what I think I ought to be doing. Few of us get to live off our work, but all of us get to tell stories and reach people, and that’s pretty cool.

    And I know I just got here, but so far, being in my 40’s is pretty nice. It’s scarier on approach than it is being there. (But of course maybe I’ll feel differently when I hit 41.)

    I didn’t get a chance to meet you at CAKE… maybe we’ll meet at the next indie con?

  9. I had the problem of self-doubt turning 40 as well but eventually decided how silly it was to use that as a barricade/excuse. It can be annoying being an elder statesman and persona non grata at the same time though aging should never be a factor. Yeah, thirteen-year-olds in China make more assembling sneakers, though everyone’s in the same boat. We’d all be living in ditches if not for supplemental jobs. It can be frustrating at times when somebody 15 years younger is better than you’ll ever be but ultimately I don’t let it bother me. On the other side, there’s Carl Barks but somebody beat me to it mentioning him as an example. Will Eisner was in his sixties when he picked up a pen again. In comedy, nobody heard of Rodney Dangerfield until he was well into his fifties. Fuck greylisting yourself, it holds you back more. It’s taken me a while to figure that out. The key is not to be down on yourself. It’s hard and I often fail but keep reminding myself not to imagine the worst case scenario about yourself. All cartoonists take turns talking each other off building ledges and this is my attempt.

  10. All cartoonists know what you’re going through, well most of them, I suppose. When I turned forty it was an emancipation for me. Because, as you said, I realized there was nothing else for me. I wasn’t going to become a doctor or a lawyer. I wasn’t even going to become a manager at a fast food restaurant. I was just an artist, and a cartoonist at that. So I figured I better stop sabotaging myself and worrying about it and just accept it and do it. Life got better right away.

    As to how to pay the bills. I feel lucky that I haven’t had to have a day job since 2006 (unless you consider Spit and a Half my day job, which actually, it kinda is. But it’s a good day job that I created myself). But that means it took me 17 years of nonstop self-publishing, and shitty jobs, and months where I got down to $0 to get to that point.

    Being an artist means, for the most part, learning to live alongside mainstream society. That’s the price we pay for our freedom. To me, my freedom is the most important thing.

    On the other hand we are at a unique moment in history. Who knows what the big picture holds for us all in the near future. But being an artist is valuable cuz our actions as artists can help others. Not to mention you’re a great one. Hang in there.

    • thanks john this is good perspective. it will be interesting to see what i make of this spare change i’ve ended up with once i’m officially booted off the back end of the Youthtrain & onto the Desert of The Real. i guess mostly what makes me nervous is the realization that i’ve made some grashoppery choices thusfar and have not accrued sufficient capital, monetary or cultural, to coast through my dotage. it’s like starting over again, but with a shit body & an intricate knowledge of the ubiquity of failure. but you found your purpose and i suppose i will find mine. *straps on bomb vest* haha no no kidding. that’s only a joke

  11. Gabby, do you meditate? Meditation is great for shutting up that voice in your head that only wants to blather endlessly about negative crap. I highly recommend it.

    P.S. Let me (or us, your adoring fans) know when you have more copies of Weather. I’ll buy one.

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