On Business: Comics Will Break Your Heart

By | Monday, February 13, 2017 Leave a Comment
My father gave me some professional advice when I was a teenager. He said to take your first love, the thing you have the most passion for, and make it your hobby. Take the thing you love second, and make that your career. That does a few things. First, it keeps your love "pure" since you don't have to deal with the inevitable uglier parts of that vocation. Second, it provides for a greater work/life balance since, when you clock out at the end of your work day, you still have something you're super eager and excited to participate in. Third, it gives you a little distance and perspective; if your first passion is also your job, you can potentially have clouded judgement when you're trying to make career decisions.

I think this advice has served me pretty well over the years. I've made a little money on comics, but it's by far not my primary source of income. I'm continually energized and re-energized by comics in part because I can step away from it any time I need to. My well-being is not at all linked to comics. I've got a day job that I like well enough, but because it's not my primary passion, I can more easily emotionally divorce myself from any of the day-to-day bullshit that happens to come up. I certainly care enough to do well and be successful, but not so much that it weighs me down when I'm off the clock. After a hard day of work, I can relax by reading comics, or about comics. Or talking with friends about comics. And I can completely forget the work stuff because that's not my primary passion. That's not what drives me.

If you spend much time around comic creators, though, you'll soon find that they pretty much all do it for the love of storytelling. Maybe it's a burning desire to get some story out of their head and into the world, maybe it's a passion for illustrated communication in general, maybe it's just because they really, really love Spider-Man and want to help contribute to the Spidey mythos. Regardless, pretty much no one goes into comics hoping to strike it rich. While there are a few people who have become financially successful due to comics, they're more the exception than the rule.

More typically, you'll find that the really talented creators can make a living doing comics, maybe even a downright comfortable living, but they're likely going have to work at that their whole lives. That's part of why you don't see many creators retiring until poor eyesight and/or shakey hands all but force them to do so. They love comics. They breathe comics. And because it's such an integral part of their lives, they'll get their hearts broken by them.

Both Jack Kirby and Charles Schulz have been attributed with, "Comics will break your heart." And if you're familiar with the industry, it's not hard to see why. I've been able to find a modicum of comfort and success working outside of comics; I can't imagine putting my all into my day job the way comics creators do, though. I've had enough disillusions in my own industry that I think it would cause an existential crisis if I cared about it more passionately. And yet that seems to be what comic creators regularly put themselves through.

It's a shame any vocation will have some share of that; it's doubly shameful that one which spawns such passion provides so few financial rewards as well as cause such heartache. My hat's off to anyone who earns a living doing comics; I wouldn't want to be in your shoes.
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