Can’t Finish What You Started

When I finished the last page of the final Uptown Girl graphic novel in February, I was excited about doing multiple creative projects, as well as playing ‘The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild’.

I thought the same thing when I finished the last page of the monthly comic series almost ten years ago, though.  Projects take talent, passion, commitment and a dedication to follow through and finish.  Once Uptown Girl started as a graphic novel series, I realized that if I ever wanted to finish the books, as well as work full-time and be a father and husband, I really didn’t have time to do anything except work on the book.

Life after Uptown Girl has been more drawing and less Nintendo than I had expected, but that’s fine.  I love drawing and I am energized and optimistic about what I am creating.  But the lack of structure that Uptown Girl books demanded affects my output and planning.  I thought it would freeing and exciting to not really know what I’d be drawing or working on a day to day basis.  And it was at first, but things have changed.

A few weeks ago, I sat down at my drawing table and realized I didn’t know what to work on.  In the Uptown Girl days, I always knew what I was doing that night and that week.  Usually my to-do list consisted of “pencil page 165 on Monday, ink it on Tuesday, scan/photoshop/letter on Wednesday, pencil page 166 on Thursday…” and soon page by page, drop by drop, the book was finished.  A journey of a thousand steps, if you will.

Sure, I always have The Retros to work on, but my schedule for the Retros webcomic is that I think about the next part of the story all week and on Saturday and Sunday mornings, fueled by a pot of coffee and music, write and pencil and ink and scan the next five pages.

But that particular day I didn’t know what to do.  I did my little daily painting and…well, didn’t know what else to do.  I have an idea for a new picture book, and unlike my earlier ideas, I think this one is really solid.  It has a solid start, middle and a really great ending.  I am having a ball with it.

However.

I had a realization the the other day as I was looking at the artwork for the Retros newspaper comic strip pitch.  I realized that I was doing the best work of my comics… well, let’s call it a career.  The work I am doing now is the result of fifteen years of drawing, erasing, inking, studying, reading comics, talking to other cartoonists, failing and trying again.  Cutting my teeth, if you will.  Here’s the art for the first strip:

strip 1

I then looked at the art I was doing for the picture book and although it’s not bad and not the final work, I haven’t put in the time that I have with my comics.  And it shows.  Doing a painting each day is a great start, but I’m not ready artistically to do such a project.  Trying to write and illustrate and then shop a picture book is a huge undertaking…especially when you haven’t established yourself in the creative world.  I need to step back from this project for now.  It requires a commitment that I just can’t work into my life right now as long as I am working full-time and working on The Retros.

I also realized that I am falling into what I had hoped to avoid.  I was drawing and researching publishers and working on my pitch to potential publishers, but not doing anything with it.  I have a really solid Retros pitch that I will use to shop the first collection of the webcomic to publishers, but it sits on my computer (well, Google docs) not doing anything.  To be honest, why I don’t print it off and throw it in the mail is beyond me.  I am not afraid of a rejection letter and the prospect of that is not turning me off.  I don’t feel it’s pointless at all.  It’s good stuff, the type of comic I would love to do for a long time and I am proud of it.

No.  My problem is that I love to draw and after spending 10 hours a day at work and 3 hours in traffic (I hate my commute), the last thing my brain has the ability to do is write a letter and do anything on a computer.  I just want to draw each night and that’s it.  I know I need to do non-creative work if I want to get published, but I just avoid it and ope it somehow gets done but…it doesn’t get done.

I talked to my wife yesterday about all this.  I told her I don’t know what project to work anymore.  I told her about a post I saw on ‘Humans of New York’ that kind of was a wake up call to me:

“My English is not good. Spoken English is very difficult. But I want to study at Columbia so I am trying to improve. I decided to come to America because of Forrest Gump. I’ve watched the movie five times. I like Forrest very much. Forrest is very simple. He picks one thing, and he keeps going. When I was young, I thought Forrest was stupid. But now I have a different view. I think people are too complicated. They complain about everything. Forrest never complains. Forrest chooses one thing and he keeps going. I watched the movie last month to encourage me. My life is hard because people don’t ever know what I’m saying. But I just think of Forrest. Forrest figured everything out because he just kept going.”

I realized that he touched on something that is the root of my problem.  A complete (and willing) lack of focus of my own doing.  I need to choose one thing, finish it, and then start something different.  Currently I am working on wrapping up the second arc of The Retros, researching publishers for the first Retros collection, my newspaper pitch, an unannounced Fly-Girl project (this doesn’t count as an announcement) and the now sort of…well, not abandoned, more like…set aside for now, picture book.  Some projects are creative, some are not.  It’s the creative projects that get my time, energy and attention.  Amy pointed out that I need to come up with a schedule ahead of time.  She said I spend too much time working at being a cartoonist and not enough time being a published cartoonist.

That’s a damn good perspective.  And she’s right.

If I want to do this, I need to do the non-creative work.  I need to spend my evenings writing letters, printing the pitch package and mailing it.  This realization and perspective really energized me, to be honest.  No one is going to come to me, I need to go to them.  I have projects I believe in, I have projects I am excited about but I need to tell people about them.  I need to finish what I start.  Drawing the last page of a book is not the end of it.  I need to do the pitching too.  It’s part of the project.  Although the book is completed, its not finished.

So, my goal is to send out three Retros (the book collection, the newspaper strip submission is still in the Photoshop stage) submissions each week until I have exhausted all potential publishers (currently I have twelve that I am targeting) or have a publisher.

So, that’s that.

Smart lady, that Amy.

 

 

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