So after my post yesterday, I received some correspondence from one of my watchers talking about a difficult situation that he is currently in. I wrote back to him about my financial struggles and the transition from high school to college to adulthood and complete self-sufficiency. I thought I might detail that just incase some of you are interested in hear it because I'm interested in hearing about your journey as well. Some of us end up where we always wanted to, and some of us change course when we encounter obstacles, and some of us find ourselves in places it never occurred to look. So after reading this, if you feel like sharing your story, I'll be happy to read it.
For me, my journey really started when I was about 13...Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, & Rob Liefeld were at the top of the comics industry... this was pre-image when they were still drawing Spiderman, X-Men and X-force respectively. I started reading and collecting comics around 7th grade and I'd always drawn characters, and mini comics during class when I should have been doing my math problems and trying to get a grip on that stuff so I could have been an Engineer instead of an artist...hindsight and all that. One day while I was riding in the car with my father and my brother, I asked my dad if comic book artists made good money...he unknowingly lied to me and told me they did...(more on that later.) That settled it for me, I knew at 13 what I wanted to do when I grew up and I set myself to the task of learning to draw comics...spending my teenage years drawing when I wasn't chasing girls.
We never had much money when I was a kid and being the first to graduate high school in my family, I didn't really have an example to follow for how to navigate the ins and outs of college or college finances...I'd gone through school with the dream of attending The Savannah College of Art and Design and so the courses I took in high school were gear much more toward me having time to draw than they were me getting prepared for success at a typical college. SCAD was more than happy to accept me and the $500 matriculation fee...essentially the first $500 that you pay them to put you into their system...when I saw the additional costs, I quickly realized that I could never afford to go to such a school. I spent my first two years of college at a junior college...this actually stretched out to five years because I'd spent all that time in High School drawing instead of getting a grip on Algebra and so College Algebra was quite the obstacle for me...and I would often get discouraged and drop the class, along with whatever other difficult class I was taking. This period stretches from Jan 1997 to December 2002 when I finally graduated with my associates degree in Art. The internet was just becoming widespread during these years and Yahoo Fan Groups for different artists were popping up. I was a tremendous Rob Liefeld fan and so I joined the group "Awesome Army Online" where I made a lot of friends, one or two of which I still talk to occasionally. We made fanzines in this group and every once in a while Liefeld himself would come into the group to tell us about all the products he was putting out that he wanted us to buy. It was in this group, that I met a Real Estate guy from Boston, named John LaFleur who was also self-publishing comics under a small press imprint called Acetylene Comics...He had two titles, Vesper and B.U.G.G.s. I think if I remember correctly, Jason Latour worked for him at one point as well and I think he had some affiliation with Ed McGuinness before he became what he became. I convinced John to let me do some work on spec, with the promise that he would pay me a whopping $25 per page if he liked what I did...the work was total crap, but he published it anyway and gave me a second story for his next book which I completed doing slightly better work. Voila, I was published artist, which used to be required before you could get table space at conventions back before they started selling them for the cost of a Kidney.
My first convention was Megacon 1998, which I went to only to have my portfolio shredded by the pros...one of which was Tim Townsend...he gave me a scathing critique and sent me on my way, properly humbled. I learned to take criticism that day, having never heard anything but how great I was up to that point. I'd gone down to Megacon to meet Rob Liefeld, convinced that when he saw my portfolio, that he would give me a job...on a side note, my understanding of art and illustration at the time was so weak that I equivocated Liefeld's art to genius and Mike Mignola's to the epitome of crap...oh how much things have changed in 17 years. But at that point, I figured if a guy like Mignola could get work, then surely I could. If I had a time machine, I wouldn't use it to go back and invent the first Personal Computer...well maybe I would, but before that, I'd go back and smack myself in the head.
I left Megacon that day having only briefly met Liefeld as he was walking into the convention with Jeff Loeb. I introduced myself and told him I'd brought my portfolio for him to see that day...He was nice and asked if I would wait for him at his table, but after the brutal critiques I'd already gotten, I was discouraged and left the con around 1:00 p.m. that day, not even staying for a whole day. I drove the six hours home with my best friend and resolved to get better...a year later I was talking with John LaFleur and doing my first published work.
I returned to Megacon in 1999 determined to show Liefeld my portfolio. While I was waiting for him to get to the show, I went around and got some other critiques. These were equally brutal, though I avoided Tim Townsend this time
I ended up talking to some artists in Artist Alley, one of whom was Garry McKee II. He was actually nice to me and offered me his card. Still gave me a brutal critique, but he left me feeling like I had hope. I got a few more for guys sitting in the same row and then I was directed to go talk to Neal Adams...I won't go into that story, but suffice it to say, I am not a fan of Neal Adams as a person...16 years later...still not a fan. I ended up meeting Liefeld and getting a critique... he gave me a pretty standard critique, "work on perspective, storytelling and anatomy." I came home that night in better spirits, now knowing better that there really was more to this occupation than simply drawing superheroes, but not fully grasping just how much more. I settled in for another year of drawing while I waited for MegaCon 2000.
Going through the cards that I'd gotten in FL, I found Garry McKee's card and realized he only lived about an hour from me in Savannah GA. I emailed and he called me and suggested that I bring my work by the studio in Savannah. In my Naivety, I expected the studio to be one of those tricked out glass building office suites like you saw in the Behind the scenes at Extreme Studios pages that ran in Youngblood comics in the late 90's. What I found when I got there was a crappy 3rd bedroom that he and one of my other best pals on here, Mike Torrance had made into their studio with two drawing tables and an Imac. I began to hang out with Garry and Mike almost every weekend, drawing and talking comics with them. I learned perspective from Garry who had actually learned it from Brian Stelfreeze. I learned about some of the best practices of storytelling and I was introduced to the work of some of my consistent favorite artists including Dave Johnson, Brian Stelfreeze, Jason Pearson and Rob Haynes.
I also returned to college that fall, and began taking art classes. Over the next two years, I spent quite a lot of time hanging out with Garry and Mike and developed a strong friendship with them that eventually evolved into a brotherhood. In 2001, I was approached by a guy who wanted to self-publish a horror comic book about a mysterious stranger who meets people going through horrible things in their lives and gives them a "gift" that at first gives them power to overcome their circumstances, but eventually destroys them. I was contracted for 6 issues at $85 a page...not much, but better than I'd gotten up to that point and certainly enough for me to get by on with my minimal number of bills as I was still mooching food and shelter off my Dad who was incredibly patient and supportive of my dreams.
I was anything but a professional at this point...I was a premadonna actually, thinking I was a better penciller than my employer was a writer. I was slow to get pages done, spending a lot of time on a few pages, and then hacking out the last couple...I got paid in batches of 5 at a time so I'd usually get motivated to finish pages when my last check dwindled. The writer had his faults as well, but that isn't what this story is about. Eventually, the writer decided I was too slow and unprofessional to keep on the project...I was fired and replaced by a guy who is currently doing pretty well in comics...at that point I'd penciled 2 1/2 issues of my arc. The writer was convinced by an editor he hired to have the pages redone. The storytelling was actually pretty good, but the style which was kind of a mix of Brian Stelfreezes Angles and Frank Miller's implied lines wasn't popular with the editor...so the writer paid the artist who replaced me to copy my pencils over in his own style...PANEL FOR EFFING PANEL. I saw the result a year or so later. This was kind of a big hit for me psychologically...I began to hate the industry and the artform. At that point I'd begun doing spot Illustration work for White-Wolf and AEG, and a dozen other gaming companies and that was enough for me to feel like I was part of the industry.
In 2003, I moved to Myrtle Beach to take a job drawing Caricatures. I'd done this job on River Street in Savannah for about year from fall of 1999 to spring of 2000 and made the best money of my life typically clearing 500 to 1000 bucks a day, so I had no problem quitting my day job and moving to a beach town. I was promised a minimum of $1000 a week and that the owners of the caricature business were hiring myself and seven other artists to work at their 8 locations through out Myrtle Beach. When we arrived, we had to lease an apartment before we ever met our bosses, I was was grouped with two artists from Philly, and 5 other artists were grouped at another apartment complex. We soon discovered that they had only secured 1 actual location and were in negotiations for the other seven, leaving 8 artists to try to draw a living from the one location. We tried to hold on for about a month, exhausting our savings before in the middle of the night, we packed up our stuff and left for home, leaving a lease behind. I came home to no job and three months behind on my car payment. At this point I was completely disenchanted with the idea of being an artist. I eventually found a job as a graphic designer with the local news paper and worked my way up to Art Director there which didn't pay much and certainly not what you think when you see the term art director. I enrolled in the local university and finally finished my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Graphic Design.
I'd done some guest lectures while I was a student for the local art teacher at my hometown high school and when the time came for her to move on to a better position, she suggested I take over...I had to jump through the hoops it too to get provisional certification and I took over at the beginning of 2006 where I taught for 6 years, completing my masters in education and getting half way through my M.F.A. It was during these six years that I began to draw and use the methods that are represented in my DA gallery. Having to teach two-dimensional design really made me learn it and I began to make connections between these concepts and their relationships to art-forms like Sequential Storytelling and Graphic Design. Having a steady adequate paycheck also did something not so great for me...it stifled my hunger...I was no longer hungry to work in comics. I haven't been able to get that hunger back...I'm content to get one or two things published a year, and really only want to work on small projects with short lifespans. I don't know how you get that hunger back and I suspect that is how people give up on their dreams...they find a situation that is tolerable and even enjoyable to some extent.
Drawing a monthly book is beyond me...As Sean Murphy put it in one of his journals a few months ago, I simply don't have the "Chops" for it. Maybe, I never did, or maybe my goals have just changed.
I see hungry artists on here everyday. They are younger and far more talented and disciplined than I ever was. I admire them. My studiomate Robert Atkins robertatkins.deviantart.com/
is one of those guys I admire most. He's a machine and he patiently paid his dues while he honed his craft on GI-Joe for several years. If you are young and looking to do this stuff for a living, he's a good role model for you to have.
I Still get to draw everyday even if it isn't superheroes, and I get benefits and a nice check every two weeks. It's the compromise I accepted...what I was willing to settle for. I don't think I am out of the game or that I'll never get to put something out that makes a splash in the industry, but I've just sort of moved on from the original dream where I did this stuff every day and made my entire living from it. I'm not justifying my choices...realistically, I failed to realize my dreams...I've just managed to find an uneasy peace with that... and I know that ultimately, the responsibility of failing or succeeding is on me. At some point, being hungry gets old and something you can stand to do fills in those empty spaces. I still feel the twinges of those hunger pains when work gets boring or tedious, but I appreciate the stability, especially now that I have a little girl on the way.
If you read this far then thanks...hope it was worth it. I don't know what my point was or if I ever even had one. I just got a message this morning from another frustrated young artist and it inspired me to share my journey up to this point. I'm gonna stop here because my finger hurts. Typing with no fingertip and a big fat clumsy bandage sucks. It is also the reason this journal is fraught with typos.
If you take anything from this journal, then I hope it is this... professionalism is most important in your early career, make good habits then and treat every project like you are drawing Batman, or working for Google or whatever your dream gig is...I didn't do that and I've paid the price more than once in my career. That being said, I'm only 37...I still have plenty of time to make something happen.