Saturday, January 22, 2011

On Waiting

This posting hiatus started pretty innocently. Having mentioned in several previous posts that I had a major publishing announcement to make, and certain as I was of that announcement's imminence, I decided to refrain from posting until I could drop the Big One. After all, it was getting kind of embarrassing, saying over and over again that there would be big news and then coming up empty every time. Maybe the internet didn't really care one way or the other whether I'd landed a publishing deal, but in the echo chamber of my head it felt like a big deal.

So, is this the post? Nope! But since there isn't anything more for me to do, and since I feel an overriding need to do something, I'll write about it.

I got into comics for the autonomy. A comic is just about the most elaborate thing a person can create without assistance, which sounds like heaven to somebody who's spent fourteen years in video game development. But what I hadn't taken into account was that "a comic" was more than just 24 pages of sequential art. Without a publishing infrastructure, a distribution network, advertising, and other promotional support, a comic is just a tree falling in a forest. Initially, I had anticipated handling the publishing logistics on my own, through print-on-demand publishers like Ka-Blam and distributors like ComicsMonkey. That probably would have worked out fine, but I was unsure of my ability to reach much of an audience on my own.

Soon enough, more established publishers came sniffing around. It was intoxicating. Sometimes it was humbling, too: many were quite up-front about what they perceived to be my comic's shortcomings (after I'd drawn only five pages, one executive told me that my color was going in the wrong direction, an assessment that was eagerly affirmed by several others on the same conference call). Ego-bruising aside, there was now the prospect of seeing my comic at a real comic shop. I might finally get to meet my comics heroes -- and as a peer, not just as a fan!

Late last summer, I finally came to an agreement with a publisher. I finished the first issue, went to work on the second, and waited. A publisher is a big, slow thing -- those who run it have to support hundreds of other creators while overseeing a large, complex business. Naively, I thought that once we came to an agreement, we would immediately step out the front door and shake hands for the cameras. Well, of course it doesn't work that way, least of all for a first-time creator. You may be in a hurry, but nobody else is. And why the hurry, anyway? Should the publisher give my comic some sort of priority because I erroneously mentioned in my blog that it would be coming out soon?

My hurry is the problem. It's also ironic, given how slowly the comic was created. I still have trouble achieving enough distance to realize how little it matters whether my comic comes out in March or April, and that impatience has had all sorts of bad side-effects: it has distracted me from my work, it has been an annoyance to my friends and family, and it has turned me into an email-crazy serial irritant to my publisher.

So why am I in this insane hurry? I guess I'm hungry for validation. Especially when you quit what to all observers looks like a perfectly good job to go do something that sounds silly, there's a gradually but inexorably increasing burden on your shoulders. Double that burden if your wife is paying the rent in the meantime. You wake up every morning just a little more desperate to prove yourself, and you go to sleep feeling like more of a failure every night. Eventually, this struggle becomes the only thing you think about. By the time you finish that first issue, you already feel a little bit hollowed-out. But it's okay, because that void is about to be filled with gallons of warm, nourishing validation.

And then nothing happens. For months.

One day, I'm going to look back at this post and laugh at myself for having thought of the release of the first issue as some sort of finish line. It's really the starting line, and things are only going to get harder. How easy will it be to focus on the comic when I'm one click away from a forum where somebody's ragging on me for working so slowly?

Christmas never comes. There will always be some ever-receding prize on which to fixate at the expense of the real blessings that surround me now. How much sense does it make to obsess over fulfilling my role as a good provider if that obsession turns living with me into a miserable experience? 

I have not been a particularly spiritual or even philosophical person, but I'm starting to recognize the usefulness of a philosophical framework in these situations. In that spirit, the following quote from the Bhagavad Gita seems wise, if not easily emulated:
You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself -- without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind... Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill. Therefore, devote yourself to the disciplines of yoga, for yoga is skill in action.
So next week, I'll announce both my publisher and the successful renouncement of all my desires. Ha!

Note: I posted this text yesterday, then took it down after ten minutes. It felt like this was one of those self-indulgent mope-posts that can't really help anything and can hurt quite a few things. Of course, I have since received several emails pointing out that anybody with an RSS feed can still read the whole thing, anyway. So the cat's out of the bag. And I suppose if the real point of this blog is to chronicle the entire experience of learning comics, then it has to show the dark moments as well as the happy ones. So here you go.

18 comments:

  1. You need to give this guy's blog a look: http://justonceaweek.blogspot.com/
    He's trying to get a movement going which would promote and feature creator-owned comics. He just put the word out about two days ago, so he's still looking for plenty of titles to feature in the coming months.
    More than that, he's passionate about making this a communal effort.

    I ran into the same problem of wanting to make "the big announcement." Turned out to be a couple of months from the announcement of the announcement before I could actually drop the big one... haha

    Even with the first issue of Bonnie Lass (re-)released by Red 5 Comics last month, I've found myself significantly out of the loop as to when the next one will hit digital shelves. And it's no fault of the publisher—being digital releases that are ultimately handled through Apple, the official release dates are often capricious, at least for anybody other than The Big Two (and maybe Image).

    I (and Red 5) didn't find out with certainty on which Wednesday the first issue would get released until the Monday before.

    Basically, it's been about a month since the first issue went live. Even after the first issue, I still find myself rather in the dark on the "other" side of the comic—i.e. the side that isn't simply creating it.

    I get the feeling that this is just a ringer most if not all first-time creators have to go through, so there's nothing I can really do except wait for the protocol confirmations from the appropriate sources.

    Glad to see an update on the journey! Looking forward to next week's announcement!

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  2. Thanks for sharing this last post (and all the ones before). I was definitely curious about the current state of Project Waldo. As for success, I think you should keep in mind you've left a comfortable place to pursue a dream. That in of itself is a huge success. Most people don't have the courage or the ambition to chase their dreams and just keep on dreaming. So choose which entices you more, Bhagavad Gita's inner peace or industry approval (or maybe both?) and keep plugging away. Looking at what you've created so far I'm confident you'll get whatever you're after.

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  3. I have been feeling the same thing concerning my novel. I finished the first draft back in October (maybe?), which I was very proud of. How many people have sat down and written a 118k word book before? I thought it would be a few more months until I finished editing, then it would be the easy part. I was, as it seems you were, wrong. Finishing the first section of work is far from total completion. I am now taking it one day at a time, whittling down the amount of work there is left until soon it will be complete.
    Thanks for the post,

    T.B. Wright

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  4. your work is fantastic but in life theres always a dark point within it.iam 21 full time job not going to college dont have the time.iam writing and illustrating a novel.its really hard i have a brilliant story great artwork(mainly because all i do is draw).but things get complicated dont get yourself down because things aren't working you get yourself right nobody with the power to get your comic out there is waiting on you in some cases people like us dont exists but we do we have something in ours souls that we want others to enjoy. i bug my family and my girlfriend all the time about if this looks right and etc. you do what you need to just know i support your effort for making yours dreams a reality something that is really there but to you it still seems like a dream. I cant afford a drawing tablet or any of that awesome stuff a lot of artist have these days.But that dont stop me and dont let anything stop you pimp.

    http://arabdasavage.blogspot.com

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  5. Props for keeping it real.
    Hang in there.

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  6. Just put up some random fanarty stuff on here while we are waiting.

    Call it the waiting fun gallery or something.

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  7. I just came across your art and it it beautiful; but, you don't need me to tell you that. I've been working in comics for over a decade and every single one of your concerns are still my constant bane. It's not that things ever get better, but you will get stronger. Speed and stability is the aim and don't believe what any publisher says. They're job is to tame you and make you believe that you need them much more than they need you. The plain truth of that is that you can change them as easily as you do your socks if you have talent and you certainly possess that in spades.

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  8. I absolutely loved that post. I just recently finished creating my 1st issue of comic & have begun working on the 2nd issue. Except my plan is slightly different from yours. I want to self-publish through ka-blam's sites indyplanet & comicmonkey. And a digital ebook 1st issue was just published by lulu.com last week.

    I have a set amount of copies that I want to sell this way, & then I am going to the larger publishers after I can create a buzz work it locally. I already have a dates set to speak to children at elementary schools, b/c the book is geared towards that audience.

    This last post by you was brilliant & really embodied the thought process & emotion of some one trying to do a project like this. I would love to talk to yo more about this. I believe being able to talk to peers about this is very important, my friends/ family don't truly understand like some one that is trying to attain the same goal. My blog is

    http://behavelikeakid.blogspot.com/

    Look forward to talking with you.

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  9. Michael Mayne - Man, do I feel your pain. I'm not sure if veteran creators have a different experience from the one we're having -- I think if there is a difference, it comes from adjusting expectations. I get the sense that novices like us expect these big publishers to turn on a dime, but the older guys just send their stuff off and get to work on the next thing. They always seem surprised when they run across something they've drawn on the shelf: "oh, I guess that's out now!" I have literally seen that happen.

    And as for your "next week" prediction -- well played, sir! If I were more prone to correlation/causation muddling, I'd ask you why you didn't make that prediction three months ago so everything could get moving then!

    Thanks for the support, Michael. As always, your work is looking absolutely spectacular. I hope it finds its way into print, as well -- I'd love to have a copy of Bonnie Lass on my shelf!

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  10. Lord Slapdash - Thanks, man! I suppose there's a fine line between irresponsibility and bravery, but I like that you choose to interpret my career as an example of the latter. I don't know if I'd recommend this path to anybody else, but I certainly would do it exactly the same way if I had it to do over again. Good luck with your own adventure, man. And good luck with your new blog!

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  11. T.B. Wright - Yeah, starting a big project is a little bit like petting an alligator. It seems like a pleasant enough thing at the start, but soon enough you're in the drink and getting violently rolled at the bottom. Making a book seems pretty glamorous, and reading one is such a breeze. But finishing one is a major grind, and as if that weren't enough, you'll have plenty of chances to doubt yourself along the way.

    I think it's great that you've knocked out TWO novels now. I can't imagine the amount of focus and dedication it takes to go through this twice. And it sounds like you're learning quite a bit along the way. I hope you apply all of those new skills to novel #3!

    The Koreans have a cheer that they yell out at sporting events: "fighting!" Which they pronounce more like "hwaeeting!" I think it very accurately sums up what's required to win at anything, and it sounds like you're doing quite a bit of it. So this one's for you:

    "HWAEETING!"

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  12. Aaron Simmons - Thanks, Aaron. Man, I love your enthusiasm. And though I can't find much of your work online, I like the character sketch on your blog! It reminds me a little bit of Brandon Graham's work (royalboiler.livejournal.com), and your energy reminds me of him, too. If you don't know about him yet, you should check him out. You guys may be soul mates.

    Best of luck on your book, and may it capture even a tenth of your intensity! That should be enough to put it over the top.

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  13. Sam Mooney - Thanks for the encouragement, Sam. That was definitely a tough week, but it was followed by a sublime week. I think my nervous system is ready for a plain old normal week now.

    But dude, your comic! I hadn't been keeping up, but I just read your Issuu preview (again, thanks for turning me on to Issuu), and it's GREAT. You're creating a real, honest-to-God page-turner. I'm looking forward to more pages! It's awesome that you're writing it simultaneously in Japanese and English, too. I hope your book gets picked up by somebody, somewhere. And if it doesn't, I hope you go ahead and self-publish it. You're doing really nice work, man. Keep it up!

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  14. Michael Pfeffer - Why don't YOU post some fan arty stuff here? If you post it on your blog, I promise I'll post it on this blog, too. So please make it as rad as your other stuff, so that I don't have to make any excuses! And since I'm making unreasonable demands, I'd like it to be in color, too. TAKE NO PRISONERS.

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  15. Michael Pfeffer (again) - Oh, and drop me a line when you've posted it to your blog so I don't miss it -- as you can see, my online time is pretty sporadic.

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  16. ariotstorm - Alitha, your art is SO GOOD. It's always a surprising when pros like you pop up around here. It sounds like you're actually paying your bills with comics, which is to my mind the most miraculous thing ever. Right up there with water into wine. Do you have any plans to do any creator-owned work? In your (ha) spare time, perhaps? Man, I'd love to see you unleashed on something of your own.

    Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for the kind words!

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  17. Jason P. Crayton - It's a pretty cool time to be alive, isn't it? You wanted to make and publish a comic, and now you're doing it! We're the first generation to have that kind of power at our fingertips. I think your strategy makes a lot of sense, too -- build up a following, show that you can produce consistently, then bring that work and those fans to one of the big companies.

    Nice work so far on Grade 5! Keep it up!

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  18. You do realise that there's a comics version of The Gita, right? It's in English and part of the Amar Chitra Katha series: http://www.google.com/search?q=Gita%20%22amar%20chitra%20katha%22&tbm=isch

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