I have found, in a rather un-scientific manner, that there seems to be a common ground for some us comic artists, or any artist in general it may seem. And that is at some point our artistic aspirations will come into conflict with our spouse or significant other. Now, I’m not saying we’ll be forced to chose between doing our art or helping the wife in the garden… wait a minute, yes I am!
After 29 years of marriage and 25 years of being self-employed, I have a few experiences in balancing my home life with my independent career. And as webcomic artists, we are independent publishers of our own work. We know it is a long, hard road to success. That’s true in most careers. But the people in our lives that we look to for emotional support often cannot make the leap of faith that we artists are struck with when we do our art. One cannot describe what motivates us to take pencil/stylist in hand and create our comics. It is like we’re Lemmings being called to the cliff’s edge and we must answer that damn call! So it is a difficult if not an impossible balancing act of dealing with our loved ones and our artistic aspirations.
So, let’s turn the microscope onto me. When I turned 50 in 2007 and made the leap to change careers from Video Producer to Comic Artist, I was met with the tell-tale stare known only to deer gazing into headlights just moments before they’re an item on a claim form for your car insurance. My wife did not and could not understand why I had made this decision. Now, as a freelancer, it was not like I quit a job to do my comic, on the contrary, I made the jump into comics because my video career had peaked and was on the downfall due to economic and business situations.
To be blunt, I was going out of business and if the times had changed so much that a person like me was essentially unemployable, then making a career change was not only intelligent, but really the only thing you could do. But for nearly two years, my wife would not accept the fact that I wanted to become an cartoonist. It was just beyond her ability to understand. Ah, a point is building!
So here I am 4 years later. I consider that my education and internship era in my artistic career. My wife has grown to essentially accept that I’m doing art as my second career. As the little motivational quote that’s been making the rounds on the interwebs of late, it is a long road in growing your art and it takes even longer to get good at what you do and even longer to be successful.
Then why is it our spouses have such a hard time accepting what we do? Yes, I know I’m speaking in rather general terms and really putting a spotlight just on us artists, but hey, this isn’t called the Webcomic Alliance for nothin’ you know!
Then how do we communicate to our loved ones that our making art is something that our souls scream at us to do? “I must obey my master” Darth Vader said to his son Luke. I often feel like that when my 14 year old sticks his head into my office late at night and wonders why I’m glued to my monitor drawing the next comic. It is something I *must* do, there’s no other reason we do it. Nothing else in my life, outside of my kids, makes me stay up late and lose sleep then creating my next comic. It’s nutty in a way. So if we look at it from that standpoint, we should understand how the “normals” in the world don’t get what we do.
I have always found success in putting points of discussion into terms other people can understand. But art for the most part has always been a misunderstood form. Do people turn their noses up at a lawyer as they struggle to build a practice? No, as that is an “accepted” career. So it falls to us to communicate to those around us what we do is important to us and so much more than drawing “silly little pictures”.
For me, it has never helped that I draw a comic based on Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll with two sexy rock chicks. Man, folks not only think I’m a silly cartoonist, but a pervert to boot. But, once someone reads the comic and follows the progression of the strip, they do catch on. Just recently one of my clients took the time to pull me aside to tell me that he actually read through the archives and how much he admired my abilities and the drive I had to be successful. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.
I told him doing the comic was easy, it was something I truly loved doing. And if your loved one cannot understand that simple fact, then it is up to us to put it in terms they can understand. I’m no marriage counselor (but I’ve been to one) and it is a no brainer in any relationship that communication is the key to success. HOW to communicate it is up to you, but communicate it in a way they can understand. You won’t hit the nail on the head the first time, so keep trying.
It was not an easy transition for my wife to make, and to be honest she is just now tolerating what I do. It helps that I am doing conventions and the Webcomic Alliance as it brings some “reality” to my efforts. What really helped swing my wife was that the daughter of one of our good friends saw me at C2E2 this year and told her Mom how cool it was I was the one behind the table making a comic. She could now see it was more than just a hobby and could be something someday.
There’s the key: someday. I’m not gonna tell you it’s a long road to success, because it’s really not. I’m there now. It is just how you judge successes. Am I Donald Trump? No. Do I want to be him? Hell, no. I want to balance my happiness with my ability to feed my family. It is not an easy road, but this year, I am beginning to see a small turn in successes and in my abilities.
I have a long way to go and I want to invite you to come along for the ride. Invite your spouse or loved one to read this article and see if they think I’m as crazy as my wife does. I vote they’ll side with my wife. But perhaps reading this together may open the door to a positive discussion about your aspirations in the comic world. It can’t hurt and they’ll probably find about a dozen grammatical errors and realize that I’m artist and not a writer for a reason.
Good luck and let me know how you’re dealing with your loved ones in your life versus your comic career.