it takes more…the discipline of webcomics

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So, webcomics.  You want to start one, right?

It takes a lot more than server space and a scanner to make that happen.  I mean, if you want it to last that is.

As of this writing, I’ve been drawing Bob the Squirrel for ELEVEN YEARS.  That’s a one with another one right after it. You may be asking yourself, “If Dreamworks or Pixar haven’t knocked on your door by now, why keep going?”  When someone asks me this, I think one of three things:

  1. They haven’t read my strip that much.
  2. They have no idea what passion is.
  3. If they’re asking this and want to get into this line of work, they really shouldn’t.

There’s way more to it.  Way more.  Passion, discipline, desire, love.  All needed…all vital.

In the 2009 documentary Still Bill, singer/songwriter Bill Withers says something that hit me like a brick.

“…it’s okay to head out for wonderful.  But on your way to wonderful, you’re gonna have to pass through alright.  And when you get to alright, take a good look around and get used to it…that may be as far as you’re gonna get.”

Now, on the outside, that may seem like a real pessimistic view.  It kinda is.  But, if you read a bit more into it you’ll see more optimism than pessimism.

Cartooning will not make you rich.  Of course there are exceptions to this… but most of us are not exceptions.  I will never be rich and famous in the conventional sense and I’m more than fine with that.  I don’t give a toss about fancy cars or swimming pools… expensive food, clothes or jewelry.  I am proud to be a working stiff.  I come from a family that taught me the value of hard work.  My grandfather worked a minimum of two jobs simultaneously his whole life.  He was holding down two jobs right up until his health forced him to retire.

I am a well educated, blue collar cartoonist with angst in his blood and ink on his jeans… one could do a lot worse in life.

For many years, I tore myself up about striving for a financial goal…that if I wasn’t as good as this one or that one, I was not successful.If you constantly do this, you will waste time and energy.  The energy you can find again… the time you lose forever.  Time is the one thing you cannot make more of.   That’s why I see optimism in Withers’ quote.  You have to stop and enjoy, savor what you do.  Wonderful is a judgement someone else makes.  There will be plenty of eyes out there ready to tear your work apart… why do it to yourself?

It bugs me when I see young kids being interviewed on the latest “Idol” type show talking about how being a singer is what they’ve wanted to do their whole life.  It bugs me because their whole life may only be a decade and a half.  Their dream has existed as long as the tv program they’re trying to get on has existed.  A dream is something that doesn’t necessarily need an audience or a camera in your face.  A dream starts from a belly fire, a desire…not necessarily quick fame on a program that will be forgotten by the next commercial… or gimmick.

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This is where dreams happen…the product of discipline and passion.

I live my dream every day…at a drawing board… in the early morning hours… with a piece of blank bristol before me… alone.  It’s always been hard, but it’s never been work to me.  Drawing day after day is just what you have to do.  I don’t question it, I just do it.

An artist makes art.  A musician makes music.  A cartoonist makes cartoons.  It has to start with that.  The audience?  They come later.  If you start by being concerned more for the audience and not the art, you’ll always need that audience.  When they go home and you’re left alone, what then?

No one wants to play to an empty house.  But, if an empty house is a reason not to play, think about doing something else.

This notion of passion, discipline and character really hit me while responding to an email from someone seeking my advice.  Nearly 20 years as a professional and it still amazes me someone would ask ME for advice.  I’m still asking for it myself–which is the way that it should be.  Once you think you know everything about something, you don’t get it, and you never will.

A phrase I used off the cuff in my response, completely created out of thin air, will now be my new mantra.

There’s nothing wrong with always being an opening act…as long as you always keep playing.

I can’t tell you how to have passion.  I can’t give you a set of processes to go through that will get you there.  But, remembering this line, will point you in the right direction.  This doesn’t mean to stop trying hard.  It doesn’t mean to settle.  No, no, no, no.  It means that the work will be just as important as it ever has been.  The hard work gets you there.  The harder work KEEPS you there and it keeps the audience there.

So you want to start a webcomic?  Ask yourself why.  If you have that answer you’ll never have to ask yourself again.

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frank sig shotFrank Page Frank Page is a cartoonist.  Throughout his life, that is one thing that has never been disputed.  In 2002, he created the comic strip Bob the Squirrel.  The strip has been syndicated online through Universal Uclick/GoComics.com since 2004.  Page has been staff cartoonist/graphic designer at the Rome Daily Sentinel, Rome,NY.  He holds a BFA in illustration from Cazenovia College, Cazenovia, NY and a MFA in Visual Art with emphasis on Sequential Art from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT.
His work is enjoyed all over the world. can be seen daily at bobthesquirrel.com and squirrelosophy.com.  He currently resides in Rome, NY where he can regularly be seen chasing  his Jack Russell Terrier, Lucy,  through the streets.

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16 Comments

  1. Yep, thumpin’ my head to the beat for over 20 years…sometimes the passion wanes (as it is doing to me now) but I don’t think I can truly give it up completely as creating is such a big part of who I am. Does it bug me that what I create doesn’t sell, whether it’s my comic or my novels? Yer darn tootin’! Does it mean I’ll give it up? Not yet…at least not until the new year…gotta’ keep hopin’ it’ll catch on. Never wanted to get rich (although it would be nice) but it would be nice to pay the bills with my creations. 😉

  2. I really do hate to be one who flashes the cliches left and right, but they do work. If you have a discipline to put out a comic every day I truly believe that you have the discipline to get anything done.

  3. I like that phrase – “There’s nothing wrong with always being an opening act…as long as you always keep playing”, but your qualifier after it is the key – it doesn’t mean to *settle* for being the opening act! There’s something encouraging about knowing that, if you take the time to revel in what you’re doing even as you strive for something better, it necessarily means that at the end of the day you’ve had a great ride to wherever it takes you 🙂

  4. I grew up in Rochester in the 70’s and my family had a vacation home in the Adirondacks near Old Forge. On the way up there on Friday nights we would stop at the Savoy restaurant in Rome. I understand that it still exists. If I ever get up there again I want to treat you to dinner partly for my own nostalgia and partly because I went to your site and really like your strip. I think it’s very substantial. It brought to mind the strip “Citizen Dog” from the 90’s. I would look at Mark O’Hare’s strip and wonder why it wasn’t getting more acclaim. Anyways thank for your article. It was very sobering and good reminder that as cartoonists we have to make sure that we are doing other work to keep our financial houses in order.

  5. Nice article. I admire your work ethic and you. You’re the best webcomic artist I’ve yet encountered and I’ve reviewed hundreds. (Artistically and technically, you’re about equal to the great Berkeley Breathed, which is high praise. Your 08/11/13 is a masterpiece. In fact all your Sunday strips are superb) And I admire that you haven’t given in to the Wacom tablet and you still pen-and-ink. A few quick random thoughts….
    Why you haven’t made it big after 11 years? Simple. The strip’s writing needs work. It’s just not all that funny. You spent over a week of strips on a broken sewer line??? That will turn people off on day one.
    For the most part, your subject matter is trivial. It doesn’t touch the bigger philosophical picture. (The Early Nov2012 strips are an exception.)
    I dunno. I read over 200 of your strip entries and I’m still not getting a picture of Bob’s personality. This should have been clear in 4-5 strips……
    And there are other questions…..Is Bob the only sentient animal in your pantheon? It doesn’t look like the dog can speak. Why is that? Squirrels are prolific, so why is Bob the only one around? And why can’t he have a girlfriend?
    Oh, and one more thing…..Bob needs a nose. A big one. If not for the tail, he’d look like a lizard, which turns people off. A squirrel has gotta be cute…..
    I hope you don’t think I’m being critical. Far from it: you are the best webcomic there is. You have my deepest regards and respects…. Sir Roy

    • Sir Roy…

      Usually when someone starts off a conversation with the phrase, “Now, don’t take this personally, but…” nine times out of ten you’ll probably take it personally. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I happen to be that tenth person across from the other nine.

      I do think you’re being critical and I’m more than okay with that.

      If you do something 365 times a year, you’re bound to miss the grade a few times. I’m not using quantity as an excuse for lack of quality, but to say it’s not a factor would be a flat out lie. I admit there are some weeks that I know are not tip-top. There are two ways one can deal with this: 1. Work and re-work and re-work or 2. learn from what you’ve done and do better the following week. I’m of the number two school (yeah, not the best phrase to use). I don’t like to look back and obsess over something that’s behind me. Now, if it totally sucks that’s different. Otherwise, move on.

      My writing would get better if I had a more exciting life. The strip comes directly from my life. Boring life=less than stellar writing. I cannot make excuses for it. When I chose this route for the strip I realized this. Some weeks are Indiana Jones, some weeks are lumps on a log. It happens.

      You say that my subject matter is trivial. I’ll buy that. But the monotony of the daily routine can be trivial, but it’s trivial in a way that most of my readers can relate. We watch TV, we watch sports, we argue, we love, we lose. We get up the following day and do it again. Some do it with a talking squirrel, some don’t.

      If you’ve never had to deal with a broken sewer line I can assure you they are anything but trivial. Especially if you need to flush.

      If all the animals talked, he wouldn’t be unique. He can’t have a girlfriend because that is cliche and I say he can’t. He’s the only squirrel, because he’s the only squirrel.

      When I’ve gone out to speak to schoolchildren, they too think Bob looks like anything other than a squirrel. I’ve heard he’s everything but a squirrel…but you’ve charted new territory: never heard he looked like a lizard.

      So, Sir Roy, thank you for taking the time to write this. I am in no way offended by your comments. Quite the contrary, I encourage them. If an artist cannot defend their work under any kind of criticism then they are not worth their ink.

      Thanks!

      • Frank, I think you need a reality check on yourself…..

        You do NOT have a boring life because only an exceptional individual could accomplish what you’ve accomplished. I only discovered you today (after viewing hundreds of ComicPress abominations over the past 14 months). You have huge talent, a consistent quality product, a massive library of strips online, books, a store. You’re a corporation of one. You’re stellar. You’re what everyone with a Bluehost account, a flatbed scanner, and a shelf-ful of well-worn Bloom County books aspires to be.

        Only a few others can approach you: Tomversation is very good, Questionable Content has had huge success, and Nate Fakes’ Break of Day keeps plugging away. I also like Addanac City. (I have you all prominently bookmarked in my browser ribbon.) But I think you’re the best.

        Adding a squirrel girlfriend is not cliche. Have you seen The Looney Tunes Show? It’s a modern update of Bugs, Daffy, Porky, etc. Bugs and Daffy both have girlfriends and it adds huge depth to the show. (Kristen Wiig, an SNL alum, does Lola Bunny.) Also note that WB director Chuck Jones always lamented not adding more female characters to the original cartoons…..

        Anyway, I just wanted to clear things up: I admire you greatly and I will recommend your site to everyone I know….

  6. I like the way you think Frank! Being a cartoonist is a “Blue Collar” job. I’m only 32 strips into my webcomic and I catch myself questioning myself about why am I doing this when only 20-30 people are reading it. The point is to “do the work” and put it out there. Our job is to make people laugh and smile… to bring a little joy to this world.

    I cribbed this quote from a Steven Pressfield post, “We have a right to our labor, but not to the fruits of our labor.” What did he mean by that? He meant that the process is its own reward. The only real reward.

    Frank, you’re one of the “Ironmen” of cartooning! Thanks for the great post.

  7. Excellent article!

    The main reason for making a comic (and any kind of art) should be the satisfaction of the creative urge itself. That was much more obvious in the old times, where amateur comics were reproduced by Xerox and handed around. Now with the internet practically anyone can have potential access to a huge audience. Computers have also make it much easier to do coloring, lettering, check the spelling and other stuff… But there is no machine substitute for passion.

  8. It’s all the luck of the draw in the cartooning world. I see strips in the newspapers and online at comic sites that make me cringe. I enjoy your strip. I read it often. If we were 20 years back or so it would be a fixture in the daily newspapers I am sure. Unfortunately today, while anyone can be a cartoonist and post online, it sort of makes it hard to see the great work among all the shoddy work. Your work stands out. I appreciate what you do.

  9. Excellent article, Frank. I love the part about ‘setting out for wonderful, but realize that alright might be as far as you get.’ When I started my webcomic three years ago, I had no grandiose delusions about what kind of success I would enjoy. I did it for me, and hoped that others would enjoy it along the way too. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy some recognition, but drawing for myself and for the pleasure of continuous improvement has always been the goal.

    It’s good to see that another artist has the same view.

    Keep up the excellent work on Bob the Squirrel! Love that strip!

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