On History: Influence

By | Tuesday, June 13, 2017 Leave a Comment
When I was 12-13 years old, I wanted to be a comic book artist when I grew up. I thought the coolest thing in the world would be to draw the Fantastic Four every month. After a few years, I came to the realization that I simply was not a good enough illustrator. I didn't feel I'd improved as much as I should have by the time I was 15 or so. I don't know if I'd seen professional artists' work from when they were kids or if I was simply grading my work against professional level illustrations, but I realized that I was not talented enough, nor fast enough, to make a living illustrating anything.

At some point, I got a copy of the Marvel Try-Out Book. I believe it was a gift and came a couple years after its original publication, so I couldn't enter the formal contest, but I still thought it was useful. And I thought, as kind of a last chance for myself, I might be able to become an inker. Before finishing a full page, I could tell I was crap. My attempt at coloring yielded equally lack-luster results. (I've still got the book. I looked again just now, and I was REALLY horrible!) I still enjoyed art, though, and that prompted me to study graphic design when I went off to college.

Sometime towards the end of my college career, it occurred to me that I might become a comic writer. I'd had enough different people say that I had a talent for that I thought it was a possibility. I actually toyed with that idea probably the longest, sending unsolicited scripts to Marvel and doing a lot of letter-hacking to get my name noticed. But after doing that a while, I realized that most of what I wanted to say wasn't through the metaphors of stories. It was research and fact-based pieces like what's here on my blog.

All of which is to say that I've never had anything resembling a career in/around comics. I worked as a graphic designer for many years, sliding into web design when that was in its infancy, and eventually climbing the corporate ladder high enough that I don't do much in the way of actual design any more. Which is cool because I learned that I wasn't all that great a designer in the first place, and in the second place, I was pretty certain I'd have more and more trouble sustaining that as a career as I got older and fell more out of touch with design trends and standards.

What that also means is that, by focusing on a career in corporate America, I'm almost certainly making more money than I would be if I'd have gone into comics professionally. But, more interestingly, I've been able to use my non-comics resources and funnel some of that back into comics. I spent maybe $150 on comics at CAKE this past weekend, buying self-published comics directly from the creators. I spent around $125 the weekend before at Quimby's on self-published comics that have minimal availability. I contributed to the SPACE prizes the past couple years, and have made multiple donations to the Billy Ireland Museum and the CBLDF. And I probably don't want to know how much money has gone to comic-related Kickstarter projects and Patreon campaigns over the past few years.

That's definitely not as "glamorous" as being asked to draw Batman every month., and I'm certainly not spending enough to subsidize a comic creator. But maybe I bought the book that took a creator past the break-even point. Maybe when I said, "Hey, this looks really cool" that gave someone an incentive to keep working through an otherwise trying period. And maybe I'm only impacting a small number of people whose work isn't as popular as, say, Spider-Man. But I daresay that my impact there, even among those few people, is greater than anything I would've been able to do as a comic creator.

I find that an interesting notion to think about. That my influence on comics is greater from outside the medium than from inside. I'm not sure what that says. About the medium. Or me. Well, I know it says my skills as a comic creator are total shit, but beyond the obvious, I mean.
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