I love starting my morning catching up with Tom Spurgeon’s excellent site, The Comics Reporter. He just published a great interview with Sammy Harkham, and one part in particular really hit home for me:
I am genuinely in awe of anybody in the comics industry who makes their living from making comics. That’s a wonderful thing. What I think the rest of us do, is at a certain point, you begin to scramble and to find ways to make it work I need an – agent! I need to do a topical graphic novel! A memoir! I need to do a web comic! But once you exhaust yourself thinking about what you did wrong, what could you do better, it really is about producing the work and just releasing it, and trusting that it will find whatever audience there is for it, naturally. You can’t look at the success of another cartoonist and assume you can copy it. So therefore, just do the work and things fall where they fall.
You can look at a successful non-genre cartoonist, like Chris Ware, and it’s as simple as it gets as far as a “plan.” He drew Jimmy Corrigan one page a week — it ran in weekly papers. When he had enough material for a comic book, it came out as a comic. Then when it was all done it came out as a book. I think thats as good a model as any, with the web being the equivalent of the weekly paper.
So I don’t think cartoonists should worry about finding a way. If anything, they have a tendency to get in their own ways and make things incredibly complicated. Very few people will have the readership of Ware, so I am not taking about making a living now, I am talking about a system to keep engaged and working on comics. I am tempted to think cartoonists are like fiction writers, who also rarely make a real living from their work, but there is institutional support in the other arts thats are not in place in comics. People love the story of Carver sitting in his driveway writing at his dashboard after work, but it’s not true. Talented writers are often recognized and encouraged and supported very early on. The more of that in comics the better. Until then, I think its healthy to expect nothing, do it because you love the process, the medium, and the great people it puts you in contact with. That’s enough.
In my youth, I made myself miserable worrying about comics as a career instead of comics as my art. I see that drive in so many younger cartoonists. I feel much more free now not worrying about it. I have the freedom to choose what I want to do. It’s a much healthier frame of mind. Now, I just work.