Despite what it may look like, today is not merely an excuse for me to tell an amusing college anecdote. That’s just the bonus.
- On a long-ago episode of Webcomics Weekly (I don’t recall which one, so have fun searching), the strapping four lads agreed (that was what stuck in my mind — all four of them agreeing on something) that you can’t really put out a professional quality webcomic without engaging in some degree of commercialization and money making. If you were that degree of professional in the making and content of your comic, the argument went, it was inevitable that you would be making some amount of money from it.
I always thought that was too reductive a world view, considering that people like David Morgan-Mar (PhD, LEGO®©™etc) exist who have produce pro-level webcomics with no desire to make a living (or even pocket money) from them. The comic is its own reward, regardless of desire to follow a comics career¹.
I bring this up because I’ve been thinking a lot about a piece written earlier this week by Liz Greenfield (creator of the much-missed Stuff Sucks, now lost to time) on the value of non-profit comics:
Over the past seven weeks I’ve been in Bristol, working closely with a dozen amazing individuals to write a graphic novel. We did it in record time and the resulting manuscript is impressive. It’s full of true stories and fantastic lies and imagination. It’s the most exciting and bravest work I have been involved in yet and I can’t wait to share it with you, but I will have to draw it first.
It’s safe to say the past eight weeks of workshops and the process of writing using physical theatre exercises, improvisation techniques, group workshopping etc. has altered my practice forever. One thing that emerged was the advantages of non-commercial work – this project is being supported by the Arts Council of England and the Arnolfini in Bristol – over work whose end goal is to satisfy sales targets and generate profit for the writer, artist, publisher.
I’m aware that most of my colleagues in comic books aren’t familiar with this model of creating, as these opportunities are still fairly new and far between (outside of France and Belgium, who subsidise comics as any other art form with generous grants, residencies, prizes, awards).
If you’re in the same boat as me, maybe the reason you haven’t made a change is you’re waiting for someone to swoop in and bind it and put in on the shelves of a library/bookshop. My advice is: don’t. Don’t give way to a fantasy and let it stunt you growth. Don’t labour robotically under the illusion that someone will recognise your determination and see through all the levels of artifice you guard it with. This work should be made of doubts and hope and insecurities and love, or not at all. If you’re going to hate your job, at least find one that pays properly.
It’s worth a read, and Greenfield invites her fellow art bastards to add their opinions on personal and not-for-profit projects.
- Speaking of (very) personal and (potentially) not-for-profit projects, one of those comes to a fairly big denouement in a few hours, as Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder have a public unveiling:
Try to spot the guy who’s a nervous little nellie for his premiere tonight.
STRIPPED has its public gala premiere in about six and a half hours (as I write this), and if you cock your ears in about eight hours towards LA, I’m pretty sure you’ll hear sustained applause, as well as four years of tension and stress suddenly releasing in Messrs Schroeder and Kellett. If your ears are especially good, you might make out some of the questions and answers that follow, but as I’ll be on EMS duty I won’t be able to relay them to you. Anybody attending the premiere want to share the experience? Drop me a line.
¹ Perhaps analogous to the experience of a visiting professor of history when I was in college. Being an engineering school, we only had one professor of history and when he went to Japan for a year on a fellowship a replacement was found from a large state university a few hours away. Halfway through fall term he stopped suddenly in the middle of class (War, Revolution & Society 1789 — Present; being the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, he was playing it for all it was worth) and said I just realized something. You guys are all engineers and scientists, but you’re doing the same work that I would give to history majors and you’re all doing well. You’re doing as much reading in a ten-week quarter as they would in a 15-week semester. He paused, then continued, What the hell?
We explained that although none of us would be historians or use what we learned in our careers, we just enjoyed it; taking a 400-level history class (or literature, or psychology, or whatever) was like a hobby for us, since it would be the one class that term without math.
Also, it gave us an opportunity to write papers, which allowed for some serious pranking possibilities. Having nothing better to do one night, my buddy Thrice² and I wrote up a fake first page for a paper on All Quiet On The Western Front that used outrageously out-of-context and artificially conflated quotes to prove that Remarque was a bloodthirsty, warmongering proto-Fascist who regarded life in the trenches as one long, drug- and booze-fueled, dude-on-dude sex party. The real paper started on page two.
² AKA John Costain Knight III. Not very much later, he was serving on board an aircraft carrier ensuring that the nuclear reactor didn’t unexpectedly go boom!, which is exactly the sort of responsibility you want to give to a guy that you’ve seen drunkenly throw up after midnight in a booth at Hardee’s. On the other hand, the John C Stennis never went boom!, so I guess it all worked out okay.