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Camp 2019, Safe And Whole

One of the things that I find most valuable about #ComicsCamp is that there’s a degree of honesty, of willing vulnerability that quickly becomes a cultural norm; you start out meeting strangers¹ and a couple of days later you’re sitting on a couch sharing your deepest insecurities about your career, artistic evolution, and/or life. In a couple of instances, you talk about them in a room of a couple dozen of your new best friends, simultaneously looking for and providing reassurance that it’s gonna be okay.

There’s a lot of raw edges at times, trying to find walking the line between feeling exposed for becoming totally emotional, and feeling comforted that everybody there has your back. And because of that, there’s an agreement in the culture of Camp, that we may talk about what was said, but not who said it or under what circumstances², I am in a couple of cases not even going to mention who was taking the lead in sessions. Here, then, is how Monday shook out:

10:00 am Hey Let’s Draw Each Other w/ Scott C Procreate & Clip Studio w/ Lucas Elliott & Gale Galligan Comics Collaboration w/ Alison Wilgus
11:30 am Board Game Jam w/ David Malki ! Mid-Career Burnout Comics & Community Event Planning w/ Jen Wang, Pat Race, and Aaron Suring
2:00 pm Making A Living Drawing Comics w/ Kazu Kibuishi Z-Brush & Stop Motion Animation w/ Nikki Rice
3:30 pm Games, Books, Hangs Let’s Talk About The Hard Stuff
5:00 pm Games, Books, Hangs SECRET PANEL w/ Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett

Lot of open space during this day, time to mess around in impromptu groups and make it up as you go along.

  • Scott C provided loose direction to three round tables of artists, each getting five minutes to draw another person before rotating to the next person at the table; after a while the tables were shuffled, and in the end you got a bunch of new portraits of yourself. I can’t draw for crap³ but I love watching it happen. Elsewhere, the mysteries of Clip Studio were deciphered by Gale Galligan and Lucas Elliott, and Alison Wilgus talked about creative collaboration, something she has a bit of experience with.
  • David Malki ! is known for a bunch of things, but at Camp he’s known primarily for Always Doing A Bit With [Los Angeles resident Dave] Kellett. Are Dave and Dave being serious right now? was asked with increasing frequency as the weekend progressed. Nah, it’s a bit was the invariable response. It was a relentless iteration of voices and premises, polishing the humor ever finer until it shone like a laugh-chuckle diamond4.

    But he was also known for boardgaming, playing everything with cheerful ruthlessness (or possibly ruthless cheerfulness), and designing new games throughout the weekend and at the Jam. If you see him, ask him how to play Mine, which features tension and splodey things.

  • Jen Wang knows a thing or two about organizing comics events, what with being one of the founders of Comic Arts LA. Pat and Aaron put one this one-day con and camping event that you may have heard of. Between the three of them, there’s a mountain of event planning experience, and if you get the chance to hear any of them opine on the topic, I urge you to take advantage.

The first of the big raw emotion sessions dealt with the serious condition of career burnout — there’s some data I’ll share later on about how folks in the various stages of their comics careers view success — and the feelings that Nothing Is Working Like It Should and This Sucks and the very real possibility of those mutating into I Suck. Folks from all ends and durations of comics careers contributed to how they experienced and dealt with feelings of burnout, and let me assure you — everybody feels those creative doubts, everybody is subject to imposter syndrome. Some thoughts, without names:

Because I put myself on the page, I have to figure out how to stay safe inside.

Best advice I ever received: Don’t let being an author take over from being a writer.

When caught up in [the work] I felt like I gave my life and soul and there was no way to stop.

I’ve had a self-made career, in the self-published, self-promoted space. But there’s not a [contract] that obligates me to that.

Everything I was asked to do, I said yes.

To do this, you have to ask others — family — to sacrifice.

I want to be able to maintain a relationship with my work that’s healthy.

There’s more (and plenty of crossover with the other big raw emotion session that afternoon, which was focused on self care in all aspects of life): family and friends that don’t understand the sheer amount of work that’s involved, even if you can do it on the sofa; money and how to keep it from interfering in personal relationships5; how to keep the career dream from colliding with the family/friends/relationship dreams.

My contribution to these discussions is pretty constant, and it comes from a place about as far as you can get from creating comics, and it’s something I want to repeat for everybody. As you probably know from reading this page, I’m an Emergency Medical Technician, and in my spare time I’m Deputy Chief of Operations for my town’s EMS agency. I also teach lil’ baby EMTs how not to kill their patients. The first thing — literally, the very first thing — that we teach lil’ baby EMTs is a simple three-word mantra:

I’m Number One.

When I roll up onto the scene of a horrific accident, patient(s) on the verge of death, onlookers everywhere, emergency apparatus hopefully screening me from the highway traffic whizzing by with too little attention paid? The most important person on that scene is me. In all circumstances, no matter what, I go home safe and whole6.

Second most important person? My partner. I will pull her back out of the way of a speeding car; I will not throw myself into her, knocking her free of the speeding death vehicle and take the impact myself7. Next? Everybody on that scene that is not already sick or injured. Don’t make more patients.

The actual person we’re called to help? They come last.

The goal is that the entire population of people in and around my response scene is no worse off than if I’d never showed up. I can only make things better for the initial patient if I (and my partner) can work, and nobody else gets added to the list of patients. If keeping everybody safe means that we can’t get to that patient and they die on scene? That’s too bad, and simultaneously the best possible outcome8.

There’s a reason why that emergency information card in the plane’s seat pocket tells you to secure your own mask before attempting to help others. If you aren’t able to protect yourself, you won’t be in a position to help anybody else, and now you’ve got more people damaged or dead. People will tell you you’re being selfish, but it is absolutely true — you must take care of yourself first.

Anyway. There was an uncertain laugh when I shared my screw everybody else, I’m going home alive rule, but I think the context — not a creator, but a representative of your audience — as giving permission for everybody to take a step back and take care of yourself first. We’ll be here when you’ve got something ready for us at your pace. You have to set boundaries, you have to be able to say no, you have to adopt a pace of work that will not injure you, physically or emotionally. Success can’t require sacrificing your life and soul.

More on how to reach that success, and what it looks like, tomorrow.

Up top, two portraits of the blogger with moustache. Lucas Elliott wasn’t at the Draw Each Other session, as he was presenting elsewhere at the same time; it didn’t stop him from doing a bunch of quick portraits during the remainder of Camp, including one of me. Shing Yin Khor did the other, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, delicate and perfect. Coincidentally, they are two of the finest cabinmates you could ever ask for.

The cabin where the the Burnout and Hard Stuff sessions were being held featured a loft. Not content merely being a giant among men Ryan North climbed the ladder and loomed even larger over we tiny creatures below. He’s so tall, it’s impossible to get all of him in focus at once.

¹ Sometimes very strange.

² Barring explicit permission, which I have chosen not to ask for.

³ Give me a pair of drafting triangles and a circle template, and I’ll make circuit diagrams so beautifully symmetric it’ll make your eyes water, but that’s not what we’re talking about here, is it?

4 Either that, or by the 57th iteration, anything (no matter how stupid) is hilarious.

5 Especially in two-creative-career relationships. If you’ve never heard LArDK talk about the balance he and his wife struck to develop both of their careers without risking financial ruin, dig through the recent archives of Comic Lab.

6 I will admit for myself one exception to this rule: if there is a cadet on my crew, I have promised their parents that I will bring them home safe and whole. They’re number one-half.

7 There is a terrible sort of calculus in this logic. If my ambulance is hit by an idiot turning left through a red light, injuring me and my partner? It takes four additional crews to deal with that situation: one to help me and my partner, one to help the idiot that hit us, one to help the patient we were originally dispatched to, and one to replace us until we’re able to ride again. This self-protection is doctrine because my presence is a force multiplier for the general health level of my service territory.

8 Remember the tiger that got out at the San Francisco zoo a dozen years back and killed/injured multiple people? At one point on the security cameras, an ambulance can be seen coming up to where a person — maybe still alive — is laying in the road, and the crew doesn’t get out to render aid. They were excoriated as cowards for not rushing out into the open, not knowing where the tiger was, with nothing to defend themselves but a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff.

They did the right thing. EMS personnel are more poorly paid than you realize, not that any salary is sufficient to require tiger suicide as a job function. I’m a volunteer, and I sure as fuck am not getting killed to satisfy anybody with an opinion about my bravery for free.

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