Rejection #9 from the publisher who I was convinced would bite. Ongoing rejection from my girlfriend, who was failing to see the point in my commitment to breaking into comics. Rejection from a life in comics that didn’t appear to want me.
What am I doing?!
It was all too much at that very moment. I felt completely disoriented, and for once I was convinced that some dreams were not meant to transition into reality. I decided that I needed some clarity, so I proceeded to dive to the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniel’s amidst recording another episode of The Process. I don’t have much recollection of those 90 minutes. All I do remember is spending the rest of the night sick on my bathroom floor, deeply regretting my foolish pipe dream.
There are no aspiring artists. You either create or you don’t.
There is truth to this idea, but it also serves as a warning. As a creator, I was my own worst enemy. More specifically, as a fledgling comic book writer: There were no limits to the lengths that I was prepared to go in order to get published. Sacrifice was the name of the game.
I remember the day when I decided that I wanted to become a published comic book writer, I made a declaration to myself that self-publishing was not an option; my career could only be validated by someone else, someone who was willing to take a chance on me and my work. This was the same day that I had discovered what I was meant to do with my life.
Writing comics was the first creative medium that spoke to me more as a reflex than a conscious decision. Considering I had spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on a four year fine arts degree, this was like winning the lottery. Unfortunately, this negatively impacted everything else outside of comics, and the people and things that mattered in my life were gradually getting ignored more with each passing day.
As absurd as this plan of action was, what choice did I have? I was working a full-time job that left my lunch breaks, commutes, nights, and weekends to write. I took advantage of any free moment because as Brian Michael Bendis once said, “Everyday you don’t write, someone is stealing your dream job.”
Why had I become so obsessed by all of this? It’s because every time I’d sit down to write, I was facing my fears and trying not to flinch. No one told me that if I worked hard enough, I could reach this lofty goal of mine. In fact, I remember breaking the news to my family, and my oldest brother said, “Really? Are you sure that’s a good idea? What do you even know about writing?”
However, with each completed script, I was dispelling everyone’s doubts, and my close friends and family were taking notice that I for once in my life, I was taking this seriously, and I was good at it. The one person that was struggling to support my creative id was my girlfriend, who was watching me slowly turn my back on a life we were supposed to be creating together.
This life that I was watching slip through my fingers was 2 1/2 years in the making. We met by pure accident, a true moment of serendipity. I was scheduled to attend to repairs in the Genius Room that day, and she almost didn’t get her computer fixed after a Specialist [a.k.a. Sales Person] said, “Oh, yeah, the Geniuses [a.k.a. Tech Support] won’t be able to help you with a swollen battery. You just need to buy a new one.”
Ignoring his advice, she walked up the glass spiral staircase towards the Genius Bar located on the third floor. As an Apple Flagship, our customer queue was always behind schedule, so I was eventually called up to help alleviate the wait time at the bar.
We were randomly paired up, and after swapping her battery for free–which was covered under an Apple Repair Extension Program–we briefly chatted while I finished the necessary documentation for her in-store visit.Continued below
“So what do you do,” I asked as I hit print on the finalized work authorization form.
“I’m a writer,” she said.
“Oh yeah? Me too. Want kind of writing do you do?”
“Well, I want to be a TV writer, but I’m getting my computer fixed in time for a grad program in Journalism that starts soon. What do you write?”
“Comic Books,” I responded as I slid a copy of the paperwork over to her to sign.
“Cool! I’m actually a big fan of this one guy, but I doubt you’ve heard of him.”
“Try me,” I smiled.
“I love Adrian Tomine’s work.”
“For sure. He’s awesome.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“Am not. I love Optic Nerve and Shortcomings.”
“You have heard of him…”
Against my better judgement (and company policy), I wrote my number on her work authorization form, and invited her to call me if she was interested. A few hours later, she texted me to ask if I wanted to meet for a drink. This girl was no-nonsense, an extremely rare quality to find in New York women.
One week led to one month which led to one year. We did everything together. We met each other’s parents, went on family vacations, volunteered in the Haiti relief, adopted a rescue dog, and eventually moved in together. As my focus on comics began to intensify, her own writing did not. There were a lot of compromises that were made in order to mend the one thing that connected us from the beginning–our love for writing. However, as time wore on, I could see that our priorities were shifting. The more I pushed on with writing comics, the more disinterested she seemed in writing her own scripts. She was more focused on building our relationship and because of that, our creative bridge was slowly eroding leaving a growing distance between us. I was in denial to think that my relationship was off limits to the sacrificing I was willing to make to get published.
At this point, I should have been weighing the price vs. the costs of engaging in a business that possessed no guarantees and at best marginal levels of success, but I wasn’t. It didn’t matter to me because every fiber of my being was convinced I would break in, and once that happened everything would be better. I would be fulfilled on a truly profound level, and from that foundation, I could build the life that I wanted, not merely one that I needed. She was just going to have to trust me by waiting it out.
This stubborn mentality was the bullet-proof armor that allowed me to charge head-on into an emotionally charged war zone of the heart. With each publishing setback, I treated it like a new tool that would aide me in continuing on when all others had turned back. Whether this was supreme confidence or delusions of grandeur, it was vital to my success to remain optimistic and focused.
I count myself lucky to have interacted almost immediately–after embarking on my quest–with some very prominent and encouraging people in comic books. But this was simply pouring gasoline onto the fire. I was not going to let anything extinguish this burning desire to prove my worth, and hopefully garner enough recognition and respect to elevate myself from fanboy to colleague within the industry.
It wouldn’t be unusual for me to come home from work and muster up the energy to sit down and start writing until I was too tired to continue. Often this resulted in me staying up until four or five in the morning hammering away at various scripts I had been developing. At some point earlier in the evening, my girlfriend would suggest we get dinner, and reluctantly I would stop what I was doing in order to eat. I may have had meals with her, but mentally I just wasn’t present. I was too busy continuing strings of dialogue that happened to be running through my head.
This extreme was destroying my relationship, but I felt too much pressure to constantly write to do anything about it. To be fair, it would be inaccurate to place all the blame on my ambitions, but it certainly was the catalyst for the ongoing tension.Continued below
I know I’m not the only creator who was failing to navigate through these dark and stormy waters. One of Jason Aaron’s columns on Comic Book Resources was dedicated to this very conflict. What I was blind to–which can be chalked up as a rookie mistake–was the fact that I was not establishing boundaries on when writing started and when it ended for the day. Aaron’s column explored the importance of having a space you could call your own, and in exchange for that, the “work” would reside only there. This necessary separation fostered a balance within the writer’s life that would prevent them from neglecting everything else.
Since we couldn’t afford additional office space, I had compromised with my girlfriend, and set designated writing hours. When it was closing time, I would power down the laptop, and focus on the rest of my life. I found Aaron’s advice to be invaluable at the beginning of its implementation, but as time wore on this only caused new issues to surface.
Much to my surprise, scaling back the amount of hours I could spend writing didn’t negatively impact my productivity. I was consistently producing quality work, and The Process was gaining the platform of a fan base, but I continued to receive rejection letter after rejection letter. Each time I felt convinced that my latest project was an improvement–in all the right ways–from the last, I was left frustrated and confused when none of the prominent publishers could see its potential.
My weathered spirit that was hardened from years of this had finally started to crack. My slow but steady progress that should have been viewed as something positive, served only as a reminder that I was walking around in circles. This wasn’t “the grass is always greener” type of situation, I was being told that I my work wasn’t publishable.
To make matters worse, my discontent with failing to get published was slowly undoing the progress I had made concerning my relationship. It’s difficult to attribute one thing to the cause for the break up, and it wasn’t an immediate decision either. Looking back, I’d say our uncertainty of making it work spanned over half a year. In the end, she became a casualty after a long and difficult re-examination of individual priorities, and a lack of better timing. She eventually went on to pursue her dream of becoming a TV writer, and moved out west to Los Angeles with our dog–an eight-year-old black shih-tzu named Buddy. I miss my dog.
Around seven in the morning, I finally managed to stand up, I cleaned myself off, and took a good long look at myself in the mirror. I had hit rock bottom and didn’t recognize my own reflection. I felt like I was backed into a corner with no hope of escape. But why?
I felt trapped because of a two-fold problem I had built myself into: The first was an unrealistic expectation of getting a miniseries green lit within two years from starting. There is no such thing as an over-night success. This person is as real as Harvey the Rabbit. The truth is, the ones who finally obtain the level of success that gains them access to a larger stage, are the ones who didn’t quit. This might be an oversimplification, but I believe the secret to breaking in requires an unwavering urge to constantly improve, which in time trains you to never want to give up.
The second part that was responsible for my self-destruction was refusing to view self-publishing as an option. Depending on who you talk to, there exists a stigma with this avenue. Some might say that it’s synonymous with low quality, and to be quite honest, a lot of it is. There’s a reason a publisher’s seal is worth going after, it represents a stamp of approval by someone other than your mother. But on the other side of this coin is a perspective which reveals that top notch work can actually thrive in this arena. In fact, self-publishing gives you the reason to complete projects. As valuable as learning how to assemble a pitch can be, going the extra mile to complete something–whether it be a short, a miniseries, or a graphic novel–is ultimately what publishers are looking for.Continued below
Let’s be honest: Getting published requires a hefty amount of talent, but sadly even that isn’t enough. Ask any of your favorite creators, what everyone needs is a little luck. I’ve received feedback from every major editor at independent publishers ranging from Oni Press to Image to Dark Horse to IDW that have all agreed my work is almost there. I possess the talent, skill, and the eye for quality production of a book, I just need to follow through and complete projects. It might be a bold thing to expect from a new creator, but the reward is that it eliminates any guesswork for an editor. In essence, self-publishing–when done right–allows you to make your own luck.
These were lessons that could have only been taught to me through copious amounts of humility and perseverance. As difficult as it was to see my two and a half year relationship eventually crumble under the pressure, it’s taught me the importance of cultivating and maintaing a balance between the opposing worlds of a creator’s life, and the life that allows him/her to create.
TO BE CONTINUED…