I've been staring at this blank post for two days, not sure what to write.
You see, today marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of The Dreamer webcomic. It debuted on the July 4th, 2007, via the webcomics platform Drunk Duck, on a much, much younger internet.
I had spent the months leading up to the webcomic launch drumming up interest on MySpace. I joined every historical reenactor group I could find and messaged each member individually with a note explaining I was going to be writing a comic about the American Revolution and they should follow me. I also joined a bunch of teen-themed groups, like the Hannah Montana fan clubs, and sent them a note about my new teen-drama webcomic. About 1 in 10 members followed me back.
Not bad returns.
I posted character designs and research on MySpace and back then there wasn't nearly so much digital content so people actually paid attention and engaged. Drunk Duck's infrastructure created opportunities to be discovered by new readers--like spotlight features, crossovers, favorites and rankings. It was the perfect place to cultivate a budding fandom.
By September of 2007, Webmaster Mike had built thedreamercomic.com —but without an html page viewer, I was exporting web-friendly pdfs from Comic Life and you had to read the webcomic in chunks. It was so clumsy that when TomGeeks (remember them?) reviewed The Dreamer, they encouraged people to check out the story, but read it on Drunk Duck instead.
(Webmaster Mike soon after found an alternate solution.)
My mentor Beau Smith, whom I had met when I was in art school, featured me in his column in Sketch Magazine. It was The Dreamer's first press! The interview came out right before Wizard World Chicago 2007.
I bought four feet of table space in Artist Alley, made a table banner, and printed out ashcans of the first eight pages of The Dreamer to hand out to editors. But I'd never self-published and didn't know about Ka-Blam (which I would later use), so Webmaster Mike hired a printer he'd worked with at his graphic design agency. But that printer had never printed comics so instead of making the ashcans comic-sized, they were printed full size. So I had awkwardly large sample comics to distribute at the show.
(Anyone still have one of those?)
After Wizard World, things snowballed--an article in my hometown newspaper here, an online review there, a comic magazine spotlight over there and my web numbers started to grow.
Back then, webcomic communities relied heavily on their "Links" page—and trading links with a popular comic could really drive traffic to your site. I remember when some readers of Scott Sava's The Dreamland Chronicles noticed my story and took offense on his behalf, noting the similiarties of two webcomics about teens having adventures in their dreams. I tentatively introduced myself to Scott when I saw his table at Baltimore Comic Con and instead of a reprimand, I left with armloads of free Dreamland swag and the start of a friendship that would become one of my dearest friends in the industry.
I was contacted by a small publisher interested in publishing The Dreamer. Unsure if I should sign with them, I reached out to Beau for advice. He told me it was uncanny that I called that day--he'd just been telling Ted Adams, founder of IDW, that he needed to check out The Dreamer.
Well, you know how that turned out. We released six individual issues of The Dreamer with beautiful variant covers by another creator just getting her start, Jenny Frison. The first graphic novel compilation came out the summer of 2009. The Dreamer was nominated five times in the Harvey Awards, the comic book industry awards voted on by the pro community—one of noms to Jenny for her covers.
We stopped publishing on Drunk Duck and moved all my readers over to thedreamercomic.com.
I started doing as many conventions as I could afford. And that grew into doing as many conventions as I had time for as soon as they started generating income. Eventually I started getting invited and didn't have to pay my own way.
Readers online became faces I could hug at conventions. Pros I admired from a distance became trusted friends. Historical connections opened new doors and resources for adding validity to the story. Road trips became excuses to spend long weekends in a car with my oldest girlfriends who somehow never tired of eating gas station food, carrying heavy boxes, sleeping in hotels, and running to get me coffee during a convention.
I say without exaggeration that I've met some of my dearest friends through The Dreamer.
Online, we had fan art contests. People wrote songs, cosplayed, sewed plushies, baked Bea out of cake. On DevinatART we had nonsensical fun with caption contests, memes and designing outfits to appear in the comic. Historians wrote guest blogs on their areas of expertise and we learned about Nathan Hale's romances, his last words, Dr. Warren's children, Frederick Knowlton's military service, 18th century medicine, revolutionary currency, and the history of the Morris-Jumel Mansion from people who knew the most about them. We had inside jokes on the blog like plot chickens and blog gremlins and OROs--the ominous redlines.
We mourned together when characters died and held each other tight when we met in person.
In 2012 we had the first and only Dreamer meet up at Anime Boston. There were togas and a Dreamer panel and historical sight seeing. Dr. Sam Forman gave me a personal tour of Bunker Hill. And Old South Meeting House let us go behind the scenes and up in the belltower. If I wasn't afraid of not being invited back, I'd admit that I touched the Paul Revere bell while I was up there.
I worked with my friend Rachel Smith and a team of historians to create an exhibit in the Nathan Hale School House in New London and to this day, my version of Nathan Hale is hanging in the very building where the man himself taught. Rachel took me to Yale where we sweet talked a security guard into letting us into Nathan Hale's dormitory. And then we ate clam pizza and I've dreamed about it ever since.
Things rolled forward with much momentum and I finished The Consequence of Nathan Hale story arc.
While you pondered that, I took a break to catch my breath.
I planned on a summer break only. I spent whole days at the park, started running, actually mowed my lawn. I worked on anything but The Dreamer.
For six years it had been my only creative outlet. At first the hiatus was glorious. I created a pitch for a new story called The Homesick Kids about my summer as a Hurricane Katrina relief worker. Pitching that project didn't lead to a publisher, but it did connect me with my literary agent.
Pressure started to set in as the break stretched on and I still didn't have a plan for the Countdown to Culper. I had vague landmarks I knew I wanted to hit. But huge plot holes peppered the landscape between here and there.
I had announced a return date and I wanted to keep it, so in January of 2014, The Dreamer was back. I figured the details would fill themselves in as I went along. But not long after the relaunch, I had knee surgery and recovery stretched out longer than planned. Combined with the tenuousness of the story problems, I ran out of story and steam and had to put the comic on hold again.
I brought in my long-time friend and college, Alan Evans, to bounce ideas with. We'd meet on Skype and talk for hours through possibilities. And though the story I settled on is a far cry from these early discussions, those calls were an invaluable part of the process.
Things started falling into place, but not fast enough for me. The amount of fear and guilt I felt around the project and the breaks I was taking increased.
IDW Published Volume 3.
I was invited by the Discovery Network to appear on TV, as a talking-head historian on their three-part documentary "The American Revolution." They flew me to Washington DC and when it was finished recording, I walked down to the White House from my hotel and waved hello at President Obama and walked around the square trying to triangulate the spot where Dan Sickles shot Phillip Barton Key.
Webmaster Mike got a surprising new job at a Silicon Valley start up company and began telecommuting from Ohio.
In January of 2015 I launched my Patreon which has been a game changer. During the hiatuses, and when I've been unable to do as many comic conventions, Patreon has continued to bring in revenue enabling me to continue to pay my colorist, Julie Wright, and cover other expenses like research, convention expenses, and print runs.
To all of you who pledge month after month, thank you: You are changing my life.
With Alan Evan's help, The Dreamer was back on track again. Or so I thought. Countdown to Culper restarted for the second time. At least I was updating again. At least I had a plan.
Until I didn't.
Mike and I decided to follow his job to Calfornia. We listed our house in the spring thinking it would take awhile to sell and instead found ourselves with four offers in one weekend. Homeless, we moved in with his parents and spent six months living out of their basement to save money.
I was invited to THE San Diego Comic Con as a guest and we doubled-down on the trip by using it to scout out neighborhoods we might want to live in.
Through a roundabout way, out of Comic Con came a producer expressing interest in possibly developing The Dreamer for TV. But she did not like the ending I had planned. I ran her concerns past several trusted friends and they all agreed with the critique. I realized that I also had issues with Countdown to Culper and that was a big part of my writer's block. But I wasn't having any luck breaking down that wall on my own.
This was all happening behind-the-scenes.
I tried retrofitting the new ending that began percolating into the Countdown to Culper material but it wasn't coming together. The webcomic continued to update, and when I ran out of material, I filled in with Ask A Dreamer! strips.
Enter: Wynonna. In the fall of 2015, IDW hired me to draw a six-issue mini-series with Beau Smith for the comic adaptation of his Wynonna Earp series that was being developed for TV by Syfy. This was a great income boost when we needed it. Mike and I moved, right before Christmas of 2015. We spent that holiday alone together on the beach reading cards our friends had written us at our farewell party.
I took one of my Wynonna Earp paychecks and bought tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway with the original cast (still the greatest night of my life).
Bit by bit we created a new life on the West Coast. Sunshine does wonders for the soul but it didn't last. Two months after we moved, we found out that my father-in-law had terminal cancer. He had weeks.
We raced home and spent the time we had left with him, but it wasn't much. I've talked about that before—it's enough to assume this was the hardest thing we'd ever gone through.
I was wrapping up my work on Wynonna Earp during that time. Chris Evenhuis who had been doing the variant covers filled in for me when I needed help, and Carlos my editor and Beau were very understanding of what we were going through.
Grief mingled with guilt and I ran out of material again. I put the comic on hold again: I had to figure out the ending once and for all or I simply could not move forward.
I felt like the breaks had killed my fanbase and momentum. I was terrified of frustrating my Patreon supporters and losing their pledges. I was afraid that I was all dried up and didn't have anything left to give to the story. And I was sure I had taken too long to get the new ending to the producer and she'd lost interest. (Which was true.)
I cracked the door open and told Patreon what I was feeling and your overwhelming support lifted a gigantic weight from me.
I gave myself permission to throw out all of the pre-existing Countdown to Culper material: what would happen if I could change the pages that had already gone live?
With that freedom in place, the new ending quickly fell into place. Alan Evans helped with that, as did hiring as story editor, Lara Willard, to help me polish my pitch.
I decided to Reboot Countdown to Culper. I pulled the old material from the website, and began revising it. I posted every old page next to the new page on Patreon (you can still read them if you're curious). To say "Thank You" to Patreon, I drew sketch cards for every single patron who continued to support me during the webcomic's hiatus.
In January of this year, The Dreamer relaunched. When I hit new material in the story, you all helped spread the word with the amazing #LoveTheDreamer campaign. I still like to comb through that hashtag from time to time and revisit your beautiful support.
I hope you're enjoying the new, rebooted Countdown to Culper.
As The Dreamer has expanded and evolved, it's opened all kinds of opportunities for me. For years I've struggled to maintain regular updates like I used to when this webcomic was the only thing on my plate. The reality is that I can't. And instead of overpromising, then feeling like I let you down every time I can't deliver, I'm going to move forward with a new solution.
I've decided to proceed with The Dreamer scheduling breaks in between chapters. When the next issue is ready, I'll post Wednesday / Friday updates with no interruptions. Then in-between issues, I'll take short scheduled breaks to catch up and get ready for the next issue.
I have other projects I want to pursue, and having other outlets besides The Dreamer actually helps me to keep invested after all of this time. I have two podcast series in the works with three incredible co-hosts, and I cannot wait to share these new shows with you.
If you want more of what I'm working on, subscribe to Patreon! I post there multiple times a week. You'll always know exactly what I'm up to, and get all of the updates before anyone else. Right now I'm going through a writer's workshop series which I'm having a blast with. And I've been posting a lot of the historical research I've been doing with my dear friend and future podcast co-host, Sean McGuire.
Thank you for the amazing decade, Dreamers!
Your support, excitement, and fandom has changed my life irrevocably.
Thank you for embarking on this journey with me... and Happy Fourth of July / Dreamer birthday!
10 years. Wow.