Yesterday was FallCon, the comic convention put on by the fine people at the Midwest Comic Book Association. FallCon takes place each October and was the first comic convention I attended as a guest which was waaaaay back in 2002-ish. I remember working on Uptown Girl #7 at my table. I’ve attended each year since then.
Except for this year.
Now, before we go any further, please know I am not bitter or angry or anything. The volunteers who run the convention have always treated me, and all of their guests, with warmth, excitement, and kindness. I’ve always been happy, and honored, to be at their shows and I am grateful for every appearance I’ve had at their conventions.
I actually think it’s a good thing to shake up the guest list at these shows. Since there is no cost to be a guest or to apply for a spot, it’s a fantastic opportunity for an artist to get their work out there. I doubt I’d be making comics today if not for the fans and friends I’ve made at these conventions.
So, I went to the show as a fan and I had a lot of fun. I bought comics, saw some friends and had a great time. It was a little weird to be on the other side of the table, but seeing the shows from an attendee’s perspective gave me the opportunity to see how well these shows are run for the guests as well as the artists.
Of course, I didn’t always had this mature reaction to not being a guest. It wasn’t anger or anything like that, it was…I don’t know…fear, maybe? Would this be the first step towards becoming obsolete? When I stopped writing and drawing Uptown Girl as a monthly comic book and moved into annual graphic novels, I was worried that without having that monthly output I would become a little…irrelevant. I wanted to stay on the radar of the local comics scene and consistent output was an effective way to do that.
Of course, this sounds depressing and fatalistic and I have moved on from this, but if I am being honest this was what I went through. And I got over it. Promise. I am very close to accepting that I will never get a book published or anything amazing like that, but deep down I’ve always felt that if I was lucky enough to write and draw and self-publish books and have a local convention where I can sell them, well, that’s more than I ever expected or deserved.
I tend to go to extremes within the heat of a moment and I started to wonder if my days at these conventions were over. Of course, this is just one convention and I have no reason to think I won’t be a guest at the next one, but this is the life of a cartoonist, particularly one that is trying to grow their readership and fan base. I am always thinking about my comics and everything that comes with it. Where will my career take me? Will the impossible happen and I make a living off of my art? Will everything come to a screeching halt? Is this the piece of art that somehow goes viral and catches the attention of someone who could open the door to an amazing opportunity? Will my Twitter followers ever exceed 140?
I am grateful when my friends, family and fans comment, retweet and ‘like’ my art. I am lucky to have people who subscribe and support my books. Thank you. I see the notifications and I smile when I see you sharing and promoting my stuff. These small things are more helpful than you might think.
Some cartoonists worry about running out of ideas or breaking their hands or something along those lines. I don’t really worry about those things. I think about the small audience that I have. The Retros aren’t making the splash I hoped they would, my Instragram page isn’t growing in terms of followers…I want people to read my work and it’s fun to get a new follower. I don’t think that’s uncommon for a cartoonist to want. Please note that I am not complaining or feeling sorry for myself or anything like that. At the end of the day, I am creating comics and I love my work and that’s the important thing. One of the things I try to do with this blog is to pull back the curtain a little on the reality of someone trying to make a career with their art. Sometimes it’s exciting and stuff is happening, sometimes it’s a little introspective and discouraging.
Again, this sound more fatalistic than I feel. A cartoonist creates their work ultimately for themselves but there’s always the hope that the work connects with others. I like my stuff and it’s always fun when others do too. Although I don’t have the followers and readers that I hoped to have after almost three years of The Retros, I think it might bother me if I had zero. Please know that my self-esteem is not tied to the number of people who read and “like” my work online. I don’t think I suck or anything. I’m sure many people think that I do, and that’s okay, but my point is that I am happy with my work, I like how I draw…I like my stuff. I do think about the fan base that I have, not only wondering what they think of the stuff I create, but also how to grow it. I’ll be the first to admit that I can promote my work more, but to be honest I am not really sure how. I know there are other conventions that are out of state that I could go to, but finances are a concern, especially these days. A big, local convention such as FallCon is a godsend.
On the opposite side of things, not only do I think about how to grow my readership, but I also wonder why I’m not making a bigger impression than I am. Is my work just not appealing? Is it not universal enough? Is it too weird? Is it not clicking with a larger audience? As the rejection emails come in for my picture book, the common response was that the work isn’t bad, but agents and editors just didn’t…connect with it. I think the most important thing a cartoonist to do is create the work that they themselves want to do. It’s more sincere and a reader can see the enthusiasm in the work. Right now The Retros is exactly what I want to do and I think it shows. I have a lot of fun creating it and I am always excited to work on it. I used to think The Retros would have a little more universal appeal and friendlier to new readers but it’s turned into a sprawling epic that I think is almost inaccessible to new readers. Maybe that’s it..?
As long as we’re being fatalistic and extreme (and perhaps a little depressing), I often wonder when I should call it a day. When is it going to become clear that there’s no blood in that stone? How many more agents and publishers will I submit my picture book to until I throw in the towel? When does it become obvious that I need to stop beating a dead horse? How many more similes can this paragraph take? Nothing will stop me from drawing, but I imagine there will be a day where I stop making comics and turning my attention to illustrating.
Please don’t misunderstand. I am not quitting anytime soon. I have at least six more years of story lines planned for The Retros and I am about 50 pages in for the Norah Locke book and a long way to go on it. Here’s one of the pages I finished this weekend:
Maybe I think too much. Perhaps I look for significance in things that aren’t there. But I am constantly thinking about everything that goes with being a cartoonist all the time, whether it is the creative work, the fans or the impossible dreams.
Hope to see you at the spring show.