HEEEEEEEEY! Remember that blog post I made weeks and weeks and weeks ago explaining how I wasn’t gonna do Artist Alley at conventions for the near future and how that would hopefully help with the scheduling problems around here and how you longsuffering patrons wouldn’t have to keep paying money for things that weren’t appearing as promised? Well, yeah. About that. Here we are, two months into 2017 and let’s have a look at where things stand: Patreon content is down to a pathetic trickle, virtually every promised feature either on hiatus or updating so rarely it might as well be. Content for the general public has bogged down as well, to the point that OH SWEET MERCIFUL CRAP IT’S BEEN A MONTH AND A HALF AND THE MAGFEST COMICS STILL AREN’T FINISHED. And best of all, I’ve been quietly muttering under my breath that I’m basically not going to conventions PERIOD for the first half of 2017. So, what’s the problem NOW, and what fancy excuse will I make to cover for it THIS time?
Well, honestly, it’s not new at all. The situation is basically same as it was at the end of last year, I just underestimated the severity of it. Frankly, I’m burned out. Like, REEEAAALLY burned out. It isn’t that I don’t want to draw comics anymore, it’s just that I LITERALLY WANT TO DO ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD MOST OF THE TIME. Jamming live bugs up my nose, jumping naked into large piles of pointy objects, actually talking to my neighbors, ANYTHING else. Any time a comic has come out late over the past month or two, know that at a decent chunk of that extra time was me walking in circles on the other side of my room because being at my desk for another minute would probably cause me to vomit. Heck, as I write this very sentence, I’m SUPPOSED to be penciling the latest page of Far Out There, the page that should have been DONE four hours ago. But I’m not! It’s sitting there, barely half finished, while I pound out this rant because I had to just DO. SOMETHING. ELSE. Just for a minute or two. Just to avoid tearing my hair out. With my teeth. And you know what? It’s hard to stay productive while in that sort of mindset.
But again, I DON’T HATE CARTOONING. Really, I don’t. Seriously. When I actually CAN make myself sit down long enough to finish a comic, it’s great! When everything’s done, when all the writing and drawing and editing is finished and I can look at the final draft and say “Yeah, I did that. That’s mine.” …that’s the actual greatest thing in the world. This is what I want to do with my life. Really. And yet, here we are. What happened? Or more importantly, what’s going to be done about it?
Yet again, it’s KIND of the same as I was saying right after Anime USA, only cranked up several notches higher for added oomph. It’s highly unlikely I’ll be going to another convention this year until Animazement, and I’ll be using that time to get back in my groove and regain my footing artistically. Remember, back when I started this whole Patreon thing, I was honestly doing REALLY REALLY GOOD at the whole “producing the content I promised the people paying me money that I would” thing. It wasn’t until I added a string of back to back conventions heavy on both Artist Alley and panelist gigs that I ran into trouble. Removing Artist Alley from the equation seemed like it’d be enough, but then MAGFest happened, the weeks AFTER MAGFest happened, and it’s become clear that the problem was deeper than I initially thought.
Admittedly, trying to juggle that many Patreon projects while also doing that many conventions in a row probably wasn’t a very healthy idea. But in retrospect, that many conventions in a row probably wasn’t very healthy under ANY circumstances. At least, not for anybody who ISN’T a bouncing teenager composed entirely of energy drinks, nerdy enthusiasm, and youthful delusions of immortality. It was one or two trips too many, with one or two massive piles of comics to crank out on short notice afterwards too many. That’s the sort of thing that wears a mere mortal down after too long. It also didn’t help that the last two cons of 2016 (AWA and AUSA) were also the first time where the at-con stuff I did was stuff I was actually in charge of. For the most part, my “career” as both a panelist and a dealer has consisted of getting invited along by somebody else who did all the actual grown-up work. Those other people would be the ones who kept in touch with the con staff, kept up with times and locations, made the payments for the table, brought the equipment for the panel, all that REAL ACTUAL WORK would end up being someone else. Heck, I only ever took up about a third of any Artist Alley table I was at, and anyone who’s ever seen me at a panel knows that I’m WAY better as the sidekick to someone else than the real host. Basically, I’m a drooling handicapped baby, professionally speaking. But AWA was my first time as a Main Panelist, and AUSA was the first time a table’s specifically been in my name. And you know what? That SUCKED. Awesomely Bad at AWA wasn’t exactly a disaster, but it didn’t run anywhere near as smoothly as it does all the times when I’m NOT the senior panelist in charge, and that’s kind of demoralizing. Artist Alley at AUSA… well, that kind of WAS a disaster (see the other blog ) and that was also demoralizing.
Now, I’ve been a part of other problematic panels and underwhelming AAs before, but in those cases, I went in not having to really think about them more than a week or two in advance. With AWA and AUSA, I got to worry about them for MONTHS in advance because I was in charge, and that’s your job when you’re in charge: YOU WORRY ABOUT EVERYTHING. I get stressed out at the thought of picking where a group of friends will go and get lunch. If someone asks me to run an errand for them, I fake my own death and live in the mountains for seven months. I don’t handle the stress of responsibility well is what I’m saying, especially when the fate of other people is included in the mix. Being responsible for an actual business venture where actual friends could stand to lose real money, or an event that has to entertain hundreds of people that’s also one cog in a much larger event that has to entertain THOUSANDS of people, that’s the sort of thing that makes my stomach eat itself out of nervous fear. Granted, a lot of that was probably first time jitters (and I’m not TOTALLY opposed to trying the whole “running panels” thing again at some point), but remember that this was around the end of an already busy year. I was overworking myself in general, already getting worn out just from that, and adding a few months of ulcer-inducing stress every time I even thought about checking my e-mail only magnified the issue. AND THEN THERE’S THE MATTER OF NOT MAKING MONEY IN ARTIST ALLEY. Once again, I’ve gone over this already, so I’ll be brief. The time and energy I was spending on making goods for the table was far greater than the cash return, and that’s bad business. Also, it’s very frustrating. Nobody likes to think that they’re wasting time for no reason, right? I sure didn’t, and that was just one more reason I had to not be happy about anything anywhere ever.
And then came the absolute last straw. The final crack that brought everything crashing down. That dreadful, horrifying, apocalyptic monster that is… CHRISTMAS! Fa lala lalaaa lala lalaaaaaa... Okay, anyone who knows me knows I LOVE Christmas, I wouldn’t go as overboard drawing Holiday Far Out There stuff or that new Becky & Gilb comic if I didn’t. But after everything I just moaned and groaned about up above, it should be obvious that diving into the biggest, toughest grind of the whole year WITH NO BREAK WHATSOEVER was a very dangerous move. After all, I’d just announced that I’d be giving up on Artist Alley… TO SAVE TIME AND ENERGY. Vastly increasing my workload and giving myself even less time to finish it is an ODD way to relax and recover. I tried to convince both others and myself that it’d be fine since Becky & Gilb and the Christmas comics were different from what I’d been working on before, and the change of pace would do me good. At another time, under other conditions, that might even have been the truth. But the sheer exhaustion of that steaming deadline orgy added on top of everything else was just too much. By the time the New Year rolled around, I’d used myself up. Even though I had a fantastic MAGFest, went nuts at the joy of not being bound by a table, and came back with an epic novel’s worth of comic material, it simply didn’t matter. I couldn’t get anything drawn. I came home, collapsed into a pile of quivering jelly, and have been that way ever since.
It’s weird the way the human brain works. As I’ve said several times, I WANT to make more comics. I really, genuinely do. Today’s Far Out There page is still sitting here next to me as I write this part. I finally finished penciling the thing, and have made the first steps of inking. I like the page, I think it’s very funny. But the thing’s over six hours late now, and it’ll still be several hours more before it’s done, at least. Why? It’s not even a very elaborate page. It’s just four panels, in a totally plain layout. There’s not really any action, and only one character. There was a time when I would have had a page like this finished and loaded onto SmackJeeves a day EARLY. What’s wrong now? Why is it so hard to make myself get this stuff done? Why should I even HAVE to “make” myself do something that I really, truly, in all deepest sincerity WANT to do? But that’s just how we’re wired. Bad emotions linger long after the events that triggered them have passed. Tedium and repetition make even things we love seem stale and off-putting. One frustration amplifies another until things that shouldn’t be frustrating at all suddenly are. And through it all, we do things we KNOW will make things worse, all while convincing ourselves they’ll somehow make things better this time.
Yeish, I feel like I’m writing about marital problems, not drawing silly cartoons for the internet. But you know what? That’s kind of what going. Me and Cartooning are in the midst of a rough patch of our relationship. To be frank, we’re falling out of love with each other. Except love, real love, isn’t a thing that you just fall into in the first place. Infatuation, maybe, but not Love. That takes work. That takes a choice, a choice you make over and over again every single day. And that’s something I haven’t been doing. Instead, I’ve been coasting along, taking what me and Cartooning USED to have for granted. I’ve just assumed that everything will always be as good as it once was, even as I stopped doing all the things that made it good in the first place. So me and Cartooning are going on holiday for a little while, just the two of us. We’re going to get away from all the stresses and distractions and try to rebuild this relationship. Revisit those places we knew when we were young, reconnect with one another, rediscover what we loved about each other in the first place, and try to rekindle that passion we once shared… for… each… oh dear God, this is the stupidest paragraph I’ve ever written in my life.
OKAY, PRETEND THAT NEVER HAPPENED. The point is, I’m well aware that I’m in a bad place creatively and professionally, and it’ll take more than just another empty round of “Oh, I’ll do better this time! Please keep giving me money!” promises to turn things around. Things actually have to change. Bad mindsets need to be altered. Unhealthy habits need to be broken. And… well… when I first started typing all this out, the plan was to wrap this blog post up with an outline of what that would mean. Heck, “wrap up” nothing. That was supposed to be the main body of the post, and all this was just going to be the introduction. But then things spiraled out of control and suddenly I’m describing my imaginary romance with the anthropomorphized concept of drawing sequential art (seriously, forget that paragraph exists). We’re nearly at four pages here, and that’s way too much soul bearing and mad rambling to add anything else to.
So here’s the deal: for my NEXT blog post, I’m going to outline exactly what bad habits put me in this condition and what I’ll be doing to try and revitalize myself. And as tempting as it’d be to capitalize on a cliffhanger, I’ll make that blog open to the public the same as this one. Why? Well, for one thing, if I’m going to keep asking people to give me money for this silliness, I want to be transparent about why they haven’t received what they were promised. But also, I know I’m not the only person who’s gotten burned out like this. I know a lot of artsy types who’ve fallen out of love with their chosen profession, and that’s really sad. So if I’m trying to work through it anyway, I might as well put the process out there for others to see and, just maybe, get some good out of it. If I’m dumb enough to drive full speed off a desert cliff and crash in a spectacular fireball of bad choices, the LEAST I can do while dragging my battered, bloody frame back to civilization is try and flag down anyone else heading that same direction, right? If nothing else, I can at least paint a vivid picture of what NOT to do, ‘cos I’m sure as heck an expert at THAT.