Hey guys, long time no blog! Many apologies, hopefully I won’t let things slip like that again (and thanks to Prudence for taking up the blogging slack). I’ve been drawing two comics at the same time, the 2nd Bigfoot Boy book and The Last of Us: American Dreams, and this has been very time consuming as you might imagine. Plus there was Christmas, so had to go do the family thing and eat a million cookies. Yeah … “had to.” I miss those cookies.
So wow, it’s 2013! I had an amazing 2012, a year where a lot of things went wonderfully right for me. I drew comics like crazy (I drew about 255 pages of comics), Friends With Boys was published and had a wonderful response from readers and critics, and I had a great time at a bunch of comic book conventions. And I met Jeff Smith. ^_^ So yeah, pretty great year. And looking ahead to 2013, it’s already shaping up to be incredible. Did you know I’ll be a guest at San Diego Comic Con? Wild, huh? And the hardcopy of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong will be out! And The Last of Us: AD, and the hardcopy of The Adventures of Superhero Girl, and the 2nd Bigfoot Boy book. Crazy!
Looking back on 2012, I’m really surprised by everything that happened for me in comics. I’m constantly shocked and amazed that I work in comics, that people continue to want to read and support my work, so much that I find I just get overwhelmed by it all sometimes. Comics have been better to me than I ever imagined possible, and I’m so grateful …
… which brings us to today’s blogging topic, which was prompted by a question asked of me on Tumblr. I’ll just post it here:
I totally went off on a ramble with this question, so I’m going to put everything behind a cut. Read on, faithful … um, readers!
Oh man! Would you believe I think this is the first time I’ve been asked this question? I get asked HOW you keep going with comics (answer: butt in chair, draw some comics), what gives you motivation and that sort of thing, but I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me about persevering in the face of discouragement. So I’m going to try to answer this question as best I can, because I think it’s really important.
So here’s an awful truth: if you pursue ANYTHING, be it comics, writing, movie-making, acting, piracy or clog dancing to a professional level, if you seek to make this one thing your life’s work, you will meet people along the way who will discourage you from making a thing you love into a thing you do well and a thing you (possibly) do for money. I’m not talking about Random Internet Idiots who like to hide behind anonymity and snipe at you that your comics suck, I’m talking about respected industry professionals, people whose opinions are worth your time, telling you that your work suuuuuuuuuuucks and you should probably reconsider your quest to become a professional artist.
I’ve had a lot of these kind of people, from college professors to beloved comic ambassadors to my peers tell me my work is not good. Some have said it kindly, probably meaning to challenge me to do better. Others have said it with anger or dismissively, meaning to hurt and, I guess, inform me that I am not wanted in this industry. Because I was not good enough in their eyes.
A fun story:
I went to an intensive 3 year animation college because I wanted very much to work in the animation industry. I loved drawing and comics and Disney movies, and thought that through school I would somehow find a niche in the arts industry. I just wanted to draw for a living, even though I was not yet very good at it. I knew I wasn’t a great artist, but after all, isn’t that why you go to school? To learn?
Animation college was rough. I busted my ass there. I was firmly in the middle of the pack, not a great artist by any means, but I worked hard, completed my assignments and tried to improve. I was also going through some personal crap, living at home while my parents’ marriage disintegrated and my dad up and vanished from our lives. The personal stuff made it hard to focus on college, but I tried my best.
At the very end of my 2nd year of school, in the span of a week, my dog died and my dad decided he wanted to be a part of our family again. I didn’t take it well, and punted my final 2nd year assignment, handing in an unfinished piece of crap animation because I couldn’t focus on anything. I’d begged for an extension on the project, but the professor refused to give me one, as it was the end of the semester and marks were due. It was the first and last assignment I ever blew in post-secondary school, but I’d done well enough for the rest of the year that I didn’t even fail that class.
A year later, I graduated. My animation college had kind of a nifty thing where you work on a short film your entire third year of school. It’s supposed to be about 2 minutes long, and you do everything on it, from story to backgrounds to animation. It’s tough, but I think it’s a great exercise, and I worked very hard on my film. It wasn’t great (I wasn’t a good animator, one of the reasons I no longer work in animation), but out of a graduating class of 60+ people only about a dozen completed their final year films, and I was one of them. For 8 months I worked on my film from 10 am to 4am in the morning, waking up every day to do it all again.
I was so proud when I was done. I’d survived this trial by fire school, I’d worked my ass off making it through, graduated, and surely, some studio would notice and hire me and I could start my life as a Professional Artist.
My college had an Industry Day, where studios would come to the school, look at the graduating students’ portfolios and films and cherry pick the top students. Everyone was warned straight up that no one was typically hired at Industry Day, it was just a way for us to make contacts, maybe get a few business cards, and talk to industry professionals.
In the meantime, my former 2nd year professor had started up his own studio in Toronto. He was a Highly Respected Industry Professional; he had worked at Pixar and had even worked on The Iron Giant, the greatest animated movie of all time. So he was there, looking at everyone’s portfolio, scouting the students he liked.
He came around the table and looked at my portfolio.
“Last time I saw you–” he said. I laughed uncomfortably, and cracked a stupid joke about the last time he’d seen me, I’d been crying because my dog had died, and that horrible final 2nd year assignment–
“Yeah,” he said, “I didn’t think you’d make it through.”
I didn’t respond, assuming he’d maybe say something about how I had made it to the end of college? or maybe that I’d finished my film? Something?
With a shrug, he flipped my portfolio closed, and walked off. I felt like I’d been punched in the face.
I spent the rest of the day talking to other industry professionals, trying to get anyone to take my sad little portfolio home with them, then went and sat in my car and bawled. And I thought, okay, screw it. This is it, I’m not going to make art my career. Just screw it. Respected Industry Professionals think that I’m not even good enough to graduate frigging art college, and y’know what? Maybe they’re right. I don’t belong in art, not as a professional. I’m not good enough. That guy told me so.
That was 2004. In 2012 Friends With Boys had a good review in the New York Times. In 2012 I met Jeff Smith and he knew of my work and thought it was good. In 2012 Naughty Dog picked me to draw the prequel to their upcoming game, The Last of Us. In 2012 I drew 255 pages of comics, and it was my job, my fulltime job and it was amazing.
It took me many years of slogging away at drawing, at internally telling all the people who discouraged me, okay, you think I suck at drawing, you think my comics suck? Well, I’ll show you. I’ll draw a million pages of comics and I’ll study all the people who are good at comics and I’ll draw every day and make comics for MYSELF, not for anyone else, and I’ll get GOOD at making comics. And I’ll show you.
And it took so many years and so many pages and pages of bad comics to reach a point where my comics were good enough to be professional comics, but … it was so, so worth it. It IS so worth it. I’m not saying I didn’t doubt — I did! — so, so deeply, I doubted my abilities and many many times came so close to quitting. But I kept drawing, because it was something I wanted to do for myself. Seriously, don’t ever do something because you think you’ll be praised for it. Do it because it’s something you want to do. And I wanted to make a living at art.
You will have plenty of discouragement when you try to become good at something, when you try to make it the thing you do well. My advice is not to dismiss the discouragement, but use it to fuel you. Someone tells you your comics suck? Prove them wrong. Draw a thousand comic pages for yourself. Do it because you love comics and you want to draw them, and always seek to improve, and then when you’re on the other side of that trial by fire, you will be better at comics (or writing or movie-making or acting or piracy or clog dancing) than you ever thought was possible.
So go prove them wrong. I believe in you.
PS. Please don’t take my job.