For most cartoonists, winter is the time to get work done. Short, cold days keep you inside and productive. For some reason, I start cranking out pages at a supernatural rate in the spring. Usually. Not for the last several years. With two surgeries in my rear view, it was hard to sit at my drafting table. A couple weeks ago, I exploded out of the gate and did 5 pages of The Walk in one day. And now I finally have something to blog about. Because I have been in a bad place for a long time and it’s time to share.
The bug is back
I was filled with pent up creative energy that I would like to spread out. Regardless, I’m within spitting distance of finishing up The Walk. I’m ready to start working on some of these other projects in my head. But I need to talk about how depressed I’ve been first.
The Walk has been killing me for years now. I’d get a head of steam working on it and then would hit a mental setback or a physical ailment (like ha-ha two surgeries). Or I’d get busy with web work. Also the subject matter is depressing. My entitled protagonist is trying to fulfill his dreams to a self-destructive level. It was a cycle, and each go around through the cycle my mental well being would keep getting worse. I would derail myself for a week on small things like “should I use a font?” Or “man I’m so far behind on this – should I draw it digital?”
And it wasn’t like I wasn’t productive as a cartoonist during this time. I was well paid for a cartooning assignment from a publication of note. I ended up cranking out 30 pages for them. I don’t think it ever appeared anywhere, but the check was nice. I also did two Spongebob assignments in that time. Hell, I was sending emails to my editor while I was in the cardiac ward. But then I’d hit that depression again where I would question everything I was doing.
Last year in a particularly depressing time, I decided to try a short story about a bedraggled hitman. The art was fun, but the story wasn’t quite working so I put it aside. I kept meaning to get back to it. I thought working on another project on the side might propel me to work harder on The Walk. It didn’t.
Another reason I haven’t had much time for comics is that I’ve been swamped at B² Interactive and it’s been great. I love building websites, and I love my job. Which makes it hard when we are this busy as a company. I was getting to the point where I’d think “maybe I should stop working on comics forever?”
The morning after my big burst, I was getting ready for work and got hit with a load of thoughts kind of all at once. A real brainstorm. I was mentally preparing my to-do list for my clients. Those tasks were all over the place. The list ranged from branding, ADA compliance, mobile fixes, API integrations, and adding new content. And it hit me. What if I got back into webcomics?
I missed doing Drunk Elephant Comics because I always felt productive. I would receive instant feedback from my Drunk Elephant on Twitter when I posted that night. That led to making friends and gaining fans. And the drawing wasn’t so insurmountable that I couldn’t do it. I could work a 12 hour day and still be able to draw a new strip for that night. I had a constant presence online, with fresh new content coming in a couple days. It was easier to gain an audience when I always have something fresh to share, versus a graphic novel. With a graphic novel, you usually have to wait to share online once it is published. Or you can post a page a week online, but then once the story is done, where does your audience go? Hopefully to the next book you do, but that’s not always true.
But more importantly, I found that I could do longform graphic novel work on top of my work for Drunk Elephant. In fact, I was doing fill-in strips for other webcomics, and then also doing Lydia and later Signs & Meanings. The latter is important to mention because I was working on my thesis graphic novel at the Center for Cartoon Studies while doing both Signs & Meanings and Drunk Elephant.
So I’m telling myself in the shower “maybe I should get back into webcomics.” But I didn’t want to go back to Drunk Elephant. I wanted to do something new. I wanted to build a new webcomic using WordPress and focus on Custom Post Types and mobile design. And it all kind of hit me at once in the shower: use the bedraggled hitman story as a starting point.
I’ve talked about getting back into webcomics before, and I have a ton of ideas. But they are all longform graphic novels that, yeah, I could serialize online, but who cares? It’s hard to find an audience that way. Webcomic strips have always had an easier time finding an audience. And I never feel like I can work on them because I can’t even finish this one damn graphic novella.
P.S. I’m still in the shower at this point and I’m still brainstorming. “Those longform projects? Serialize them for Patreon backers. Do the hitman comic as a strip for free.” And it all kind of fell into place for me. I figured out exactly what I want to do with the hitman and what the story is. I got out of the shower and bought a domain name immediately. Then I went to work. This was on Friday. Saturday I cranked out five pages of The Walk. I don’t think this was a coincidence.