There is a calm I haven’t come to yet
I spent half my life figuring what comes next
You cannot walk with the holy if you’re just a halfway decent man
I don’t pretend that I’m a mastermind with a genius marketing plan
I’m trying to tap into some wisdom
Even a little drop will do
I want to rid my heart of envy
And cleanse my soul of rage before I’m through
So, tomorrow I turn 40. I had no idea how I would feel the day before my 40th before and I am surprised by how okay I am with it. I feel like I’m ready for it, I feel I am in a good place mentally, creatively and physically right now, much more than I was earlier this year. I feel like I’ve come a long way in all three of those things. Think of it as my Triforce.
I think the mental part was the hardest in all of this. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and beating myself up a lot about not having certain things accomplished in my life yet. For a while I thought the pressure was good. I thought it was helping me work harder and keep me focused on my art and my goals but it was…not benefiting me. I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t sit still, I was never calm. I’d look at what other cartoonists were doing and what they had accomplished and it made me feel like I was behind, a failure and that I’d never get there. This was hard when I’d look at cartoonists who were my age like Craig Thompson who had achieved worldwide acclaim with his excellent book ‘Blankets’, published when he was 28. I was just getting started in comics when I was 28. It’s even harder when I look at guys like Pendleton Ward who created ‘Adventure Time’ and debuted on Cartoon Network when he was 28.
Huh. If 27 is a bad age for musicians, maybe 28 is a good age for cartoonists.
At any rate, in the back of my head I kept telling myself that Jack Kirby created The Fantastic Four when he was 44. I do cheerfully ignore the fact that Kirby had more comic accomplishments by the time he was 25 then most of us will ever have over the course of an entire lifetime. I am not comparing myself to the King, I just tell myself that just because I’m 40 it doesn’t mean my most creative days are behind me.
Your mental attitude shapes your creative life. Like I said, I used to think putting pressure on myself helped drive me, but I realized it’s the creativity that keeps me drawing. Creating new characters, thinking of new stories is what helps keeps me going. Earlier this week I thought of a character that I created about 15 years ago, predating Uptown Girl. I thought of a way to bring her back and include her in The Retros comic. She’s a perfect fit for a storyline that is years off. I keep notes and story outlines and I have the next 5 or 6 years of stories planned out and I can’t wait to draw them. I
think know the pressure I was putting on myself to achieve certain milestones was creating a lot of anger, frustration and rage in myself. It certainly didn’t help my self-esteem. I feel I have come out through the other side and feel I can focus on creating and letting things fall where they may as opposed to hating myself for not being what I want to be yet. I can’t be calm, I cannot be at peace if I am constantly thinking about what happens next.
With The Retros launching TOMORROW, I’ve worked to keep my expectations realistic. Part of me used to think “I’ve been doing comics for over ten years and this is my first new project since Uptown Girl and The Retros will be an amazing success and will get ten million page views and I’ll have a movie deal by Thanksgiving” but of course I know that I need to work hard, have fun, keep my head down and not think about what might come next. The Retros is super fun to draw and to write and I think will surprise a lot of people. If you like Uptown Girl then I think you’ll like this. It’s not a departure from my work in terms of the potential audience, it’s still funny, the characters love and hate each other and have fun adventures. It’s still an all ages comic.
A year ago I realized I’d turn 40 on a Monday and that kind of sucks. So I decided to give myself two birthday presents. I am not the type of person that feels I deserve presents, in fact I feel very conflicted about getting them, but I’ve no problem giving myself a gift if I think it’s good for me. My creative gift to myself is a new comic. It’s not a coincidence The Retros starts on my 40th birthday. I want to wake up tomorrow excited for something and not many people are excited about turning 40 on a Monday.
The other present is the third part of my Triforce. My physical self. A year ago I wondered what it would be like to wake up on a Monday and go to work and turn 40 all in one day. I would then wonder what it would be like to do all that and be hungover because I knew I would be.
I used to drink a lot. I didn’t think it was a lot but looking back, it was. I drank a lot and I drank often. It started slow, as it usually does. It started with a glass of wine on the weekends, then a glass a night, then almost a bottle of wine a night, every night. This went on for almost ten years. At first a glass (or three) was a great way to unwind after a long day. I’d draw, read, whatever and have a drink. It was a slippery slope. I’d try to cut back and it would last a few days but I’d always be right back to where I was. I didn’t like doing this. I didn’t like how I felt. I was worried about myself. As I got older, having this much wine this often was really taking a toll on me. It got harder to bounce back each morning.
I was gaining weight and feeling very depressed about myself. I belong to the Y and work out 4 times a week but I was still gaining weight. I could justify it all I wanted to…I was getting older, my metabolism was slowing down, this was normal. But earlier this year I took Sophie swimming at the Y and hopped on the scale and was 218 pounds. I had gained about 20 pounds in 6 months. Not good. I felt frustrated, I felt embarrassed and I didn’t want to take her to the pool. This is when I knew I had to make a change.
So I stopped drinking during the week. I stopped the next day. I also stopped eating potato chips. Those were the only two dietary habits I changed and I started to see a difference right away. Without drinking I slept better, had more energy during the day and had longer, more effective work outs. I liked how I felt, I liked how I looked. I felt I had overcome a difficult obstacle. I felt like I was pulling myself back from the abyss. I didn’t need to have a drink each night. In the last two months or so, I cut back on wine on the weekends as well. I don’t know if I will ever stop drinking completely but I feel for the first time in ten years I could. Not drinking has made so many positive changes in my life. Mentally I am more present, I enjoy…everything more. I sleep better, and I feel better and I look better. This morning I weigh 170 pounds. I lost 48 pounds in 6 months and I’ve maintained it since. I know some people were concerned about the pretty dramatic weight loss but in honestly I only made those two dietary changes to my life. I haven’t lost any more weight since July and I’m not trying to. I’m okay, I promise.
Tomorrow I wake up to a new world. I know that sounds grandiose and a little dramatic, but I feel like it’s a new day, a new start. I’ve changed a lot this year, mentally, physically and creatively but I needed to, and I’ve needed to for a long time…I just did it all really fast. Looking over my blog and the entries in the last few years I see a lot of frustration over not having achieved what I wanted to achieve yet. I think I’ve moved on from that and my vacation last month helped with this new perspective. Tomorrow is also launch day for the Retros. I am so excited for this. I’ve been working on this comic for a very long time and has gone through so many versions and changes and I am so psyched to get rolling on this. I look at what I’ve done with Uptown Girl over the last 12 years and how many stories I’ve told and characters introduced and I am excited to see what happens to Alie, Lucky, Fly-Girl, Zoo and Sputnik as well as the other dozens of new faces you’ll meet over the coming years. I feel that everything I’ve learned from cartooning, whether it’s from reading comics, listening to other cartoonists and drawing itself is all coming together.
I feel I am leaving one part of my life behind and another one starts tomorrow. I am so excited for tomorrow you guys.
Alie, why don’t you wrap things up?