my stop is hereon October 26, 2012 at 10:53 am
A few months ago, the great Dave Sim wrote his farewell to comics in the last issue of “Glamourpuss“. We all know what happened with that; a very convoluted public negotiation between Sim and Fantagraphics for publication rights to High Society, et.al- that ended with an announcement of a Sim book to be published by IDW. (I couldn’t be bothered to read through the endless blather back-and-forth–honestly,whose got that kind of time?)
I was stunned that Sim would feel as though there were no options for him; surely-a cartoonist of his stature had any number of options (and no matter what one thinks of his various opinions on matters large and small-and I have a lot of problems with those-he is a first rate comics creator of historical significance). And of course, in the end-he did. Was it all posturing, a contrived part of a negotiation strategy? I don’t think so. From everything I’ve read and heard over the years, Dave Sim is as notoriously sincere as he is smart.
And to be frank, as one of similar years-I recognized the brick wall he was staring at. There comes a point in middle-age when you realize you’ve used up all your options. (To use a dental metaphor I’m uncomfortably familiar with, there are only so many teeth in your head. In your 50′s you come to the realization that you can’t pull any more molars, you’ve got to try to save what’s left.)
I first saw that wall( or rather, paid attention to it) when Diamond refused to distribute “fandancer“. In the instant they rejected it with one terse line,(“…We’re not interested in this project…” ) I felt it sink like a stone into the watery graveyard of failed and forgotten comics. Gone. I know just how people who work on a movie for two years or more feel when it goes straight to DVD-“two years of my life -sleepless nights–sweating, agonizing over this– and for what?” At least they have DVD. I could barely talk the most progessive shops into consigning “fandancer”,(“…oh, no–it’s not an oversize book, is it?….”) and out of all the copies I sent out, there were a few reviews from friends, but more instances when it was simply ignored. Used to line a litter box, I suppose. So be it. I swallowed my pride and carried on, hoping it might be picked up for America’s Best Comics that year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Being listed in the back pages was nice, but I knew that wasn’t going to bring the book the attention it would need to get it into the hands of readers. At least I still had “pood”.
OR so I thought. I was very, very optimistic the day I opened up the email from Diamond with the orders for issue #4. But as soon as I saw the numbers I felt my heart sink into my shoes like a lead weight on a pulley; I knew right then pood #4 was the last issue. It was an emotional farewell.(I wrote a post about somewhere-I don’t feel like looking for the link at the moment)
Still, I got into the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival last year. It was a good show, I had a great time-and after a number of years doing shows that were always more hit-and-miss for me, and which had become prohibitively expensive to someone who is trying to salvage an 1850 farmhouse( I simply do not have the cash do shows that have $300-$400 table fees and require all the expenses that come with traveling), I felt like I’d found an audience sympathetic to my work. So I looked forward to it this year. But this year I was rejected. And I was rejected from the PS I book show just after that. I suddenly felt as though whatever outlets I’d had for my work, whatever options there were, had been snatched out from under me. Where was there for me to go? I felt I’d tried every available avenue.
The absolute final straw was the mild “broo-ha-ha” that came with the near-universal lambasting of the cover I did for Charles Hatfield’s book, “Hand of Fire”. A great, ground-breaking book, the small and petty voices that populate the internet zeroed in on my cover with outrage. I was cool with people feeling uneasy about it-I did too. But I accepted the reality of the circumstances Charles and his publisher were in, and as one who reveres The King, I was honored that Charles would think of me to help him get the book to the public. I hoped to do Jack proud-and that his fans would understand the spirit it was done in. “Twas not to be. Instead, there were articles about what a travesty it was and how it was disrespectful to the comics artist I love more dearly than any other.And this is probably the single thing I’m most “known” for (if, after almost 20 years of doing this I’m known at all.), a cover that has been publicly humiliated and no one will admit to liking even if they do.
And that’s when it hit me. I’m banging my head against a wall here. This train is not going anywhere. It’s time you admitted it.
My therapist asked me the other day about this aspect of my life. I told her that I’d hit something of a brick wall in the “career” part of it, and at this point in my life, I think it’s an insurmountable obstacle. It’s over. As an older woman, a respected academic who similarly watched the public part of her career come to a halt in mid-life, she nodded in understanding. “…The zeitgeist is moving away from us…”
Yes-well, in reality, it was moving away 20 years ago–as it does to those of us in middle-age. Even the greatest, most well-known artists have trouble remaining “relevant” to the zeitgeist as they grow older. And it’s true, I do not have the experiences or the interests of people half my age. We don’t speak the same language. And I think it’s futile to try and interest them (or the broader, youth oriented culture-be it art, comics or whatever) in the ideas and thoughts of an old man. They have their own voices and they want to be heard-and they have the energy and the teeth left in their heads to do that. I was young once too, y’know.
But I don’t have the energy (or the money), the time, or the optimism to beat my head against that wall any longer. At 52 I’m afraid I’m too much a realist, too pragmatic to waste precious time on a futile enterprise. It’s just stupid. So I’m getting off the train here. I’m not going to worry about shows, or publishing, or promotion or PR or networking, or getting my books out there to people who don’t care anyway. The website will continue-but that’s about it. There are better, more positive things I could be doing.
The creative part of my life continues unabated. I have a lot of ideas, I’m working on “Babyheads” and enjoying it immensely–and in my humble opinion, it’s a terrific comic strip and it’s only going to get better.(I have a lot of snobbish comic book loving friends who refuse to “like” the “plastic babyheads” page on facebook. To them I say, “your loss”). If I ever get the time, I want to continue the single page collage comics I had been doing for pood. They’re too big and too esoteric to be printed by anyone but a lunatic-(i.e. -me), and a shop would never take such a book anyway–but I love doing them and I hope to find some time soon to get to another and another.
To young, student artists–the thing about being an artist is this–you know you’re really “doomed” to this life when you continue to make work year after year when you know no one other than you, your partner or your mother gives a shit. (and be excited about it! so much so that it keeps you awake at night and gets you up in the morning) When the world has looked at you with scorn, ridicule or simply dismissed you (which it will do over and over–there are zillions of us!!!!) but you are still rushing into your studio day after day–you know you are the real thing.
And honestly–despite all of the humiliation or disappointment or hurt you feel from rejection–(and you will feel it)–rejoice inside—because it truly is a special way to live life, it is its own great adventure–to see the world through the eyes of an artist. You are blessed with a vision–don’t ever forget that. Follow it-see where it leads—9 times out of 10 it won’t be riches or recognition, but it will be someplace no one else has likely gone. It will be your destination–and yours alone.
Unlike Dave Sim(or at least the way he portrays himself or others portray him, I have no way of knowing–and I hope indeed that portrayal is a bit less austere than it seems), I have a very full life outside the world of comics. I’ve been happily married for 26 years to my best friend and the best partner I could ever have hoped for, someone I love more than life, more than art. And yes, I’m lucky enough to be the Chair of the Art department at Adelphi University—where we have the best art faculty I’ve ever encountered(and I’ve been in a number of art institutions, so I should know!), terrific students and a great environment for young artists to flourish in. & I’m introducing a comics program as we speak! And next year animation! And yesterday, a colleague and I found a way to help an international student overcome some financial difficulties( and not with loans, thank you!)-so that she can continue her education at Adelphi uninterrupted. Good work, that.
And admittedly, unlike Dave Sim, I’m not well-known or a great cartoonist of historical and aesthetic significance. I don’t think I have options in comics, or art, any longer. I think I’ve used up my chips in that regard. I’d be surprised if more than 3 or 4 close friends read this-and that’s okay with me. I speak from obscurity and I’m going back to obscurity-no net loss. But I might be able to bring comics people together with students in classrooms and forums and symposia in the coming years at Adelphi, who knows?
All-in-all, I have a wonderfully fulfilling life. So while I might be getting off the “comics” train, the “art” train, the “career” train–this stop is my own–and it looks pretty damn good to me.
And there’s somebody meeting me at the station.
‘bye ‘bye train.
(this post grew out of a therapy session in which my therapist said that “…we have to discuss this…”–thus, my discussion, my therapy.)