As I was preparing to write this essay, I was looking through some old files, old scripts. To get an idea of truly how long I’ve been trying to ‘break into’ comics. 2012. Eleven years. But wait, that’s not the oldest script. Alas, the ones older than that live on floppy disks, formatted for a word processor. Not a word processing program but a word processing machine. A typewriter with the memory of a goldfish. So those are lost to the march of time, forever. That takes us back to 1992, my first year of college. But wait, what about the comic I made with my friend Jim Lopes in the summer of 1986? A blatant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rip-off called Assorted Animal Assassins. We were serious at the time, spent every day of that summer writing, drawing, erasing, drawing again. I think we finished 4 pages. Comics, man. Comics are hard.
The Familiar Sound of a Shutting Door
Breaking in suggests there is a big break. You hear these terms all the time, ‘what was your big break’, ‘how did you break in’. I’ve told my ‘breaking in’ story many times and it’s filled with twists and turns, many false starts, opportunities that fell through. It should be: “how did you slowly chip your way into comics over many years”, but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue. We want to believe in the one thing that gets us there, but I can’t think of a single example of that. It’s just work, long hours of sitting alone at a keyboard, writing things that nobody other than your closest friends will ever read. Spending your weekends staring at a wall, trying to come up with an ending or nights after eight hours at a day job, trying to focus enough to get the dialogue just right. Then you get a chance, say a well-known comic writer offers you an opportunity to write a backup story in their comic. But then that comic pivots direction and the offer vanishes. Door shut. You get a pitch accepted and the publisher stops returning your emails. Door shut. And then there is just rejected pitch after pitch. All doors slammed in your face. What you think will be the start is just another end. But only if you let it be the end. You decide. You find a spark of hope, a reason to continue and then the guy that you met at a con ten years earlier is part of a brand-new publisher that isn’t afraid to look at new talent. A door cracks open and you shove your foot in. Luck = Opportunity + Preparation. All those misses, all those ‘failures’, all those slammed doors...they were just preparing me for that chance that Tim Daniel helped create for me at Vault. Resonant was born, my ‘overnight’ success, eleven plus years in the making.
In End After End, Tim Daniel and I used this artistic frustration to form the heart of Walt, our main character. Tim’s breaking in story is even more twisted and full of fits and starts than mine. That’s what we wanted to manifest in Walt. Someone that has his heart broken over and over by the artistic pursuit. I’m part of the “you can be anything you want” generation, heard that on repeat by my parents. Walt wants to be a painter, producing fine art, admired in galleries and museums all over the world. He settles for decorating windows in retail stores for holiday displays and graphic design. Not exactly setting the art world on fire. Not really the ‘anything’ that he wanted to be. He never finds peace in his time on earth, always dissatisfied, always unfulfilled. I think every person in an artistic pursuit knows that feeling well. You build a bookshelf, it’s sturdy, holds books, you did a good job. You write a comic, pour your heart into the character, plan out the plot and fill it with action, twists and turns. Did you do a good job? That’s not yours to decide, bud. To make art is to open yourself to judgment. Walt tried and failed. Like we all have. Like we will continue to do. But he also found success, maybe the success didn’t look like he thought it would, it was hard to recognize and even harder to accept, but it was there. Maybe you can’t be ‘anything’, but you can sure as hell be ‘something’. The only person stopping you is you.