To many people in comics, I only arrived a few years ago with Joe the Barbarian. Then came Hellblazer (completed in 2008 before I began working on Joe), American Vampire: SOTF, and finally Punk Rock Jesus. Once in a while someone will mention Off Road (an OGN I did with Oni back in 2004), but for the most part it seems like I've been published only these last few years when in fact I've been published professionally for a decade now.
This isn't a plea to have everyone go back through my previous work--in fact, I'm glad that a lot of the books I've done over the years aren't on readers' radars. I'm proud of it all, but the books above are a nice, tight group of titles to be associated with. They're all in a similar brand, they're all recent, they all have good creators/publishers associated with them, and the artwork is mostly consistent. Go back further than that, and you'll see artwork that looks nothing like the stuff I'm doing these days. (Although Off Road still holds up to some degree.)
I realized I hit the 10-year-mark only a few days ago, and I wanted to write something about the past 10 years, so here's my list of Top 5 Mistakes
5. Not getting paid
I won't mention the company (I have in the past, and it's not worth more drama)--at this point it would only give them undeserved attention. But when I was still in college, I did 3 issues over a summer and never got paid. I had a contract, but it was written in such an amateur way by the publisher that there was nothing I could do legally. 3 months were wasted when I could have gotten a job at Home Depot to pay my college bills, but I learned a valuable lesson about trusting publishers. I haven't been burned since, and that's because I've become a viper when it comes to paperwork and negotiations. I can be unpleasant and overly suspicious, I'm sure, but it's the only way I know how to protect myself.
I'm not sure how I would have avoided this at the time. Now I'm better at noticing shifty behavior from people and knowing whom to avoid. Back then, I was too young to see it. Oh well, lesson learned.
4. Learning valuable things about art, then ignoring them
At SCAD Savannah (the impressive Atlanta campus didn't exist yet), I'd sometimes have time to do a page in a week, and I would use the time to explore a lot of different techniques, tools, and ways of mark-making. During the latter half of school, I began getting work with Dark Horse on Star Wars Tales, and then on a book called Crush (once I'd graduated). It was the first time I'd been forced to work at a page-per-day, so I stripped away the stuff I'd learned (in and out of class) for a more streamlined look. Instead of using brush, quill and ink, I used Microns and French curves. The art was slick and had lots of movement, but it lacked depth. It was plastic, lazy and unimaginative. For two years I was coasting on cruise control and not challenging myself. The art served the story and nothing more--there was never a panel to drool over. Never anything to hang on a wall. There are guys who have found many ways to effectively use Micron, but I'm not one of them.
It wasn't until I started inking Zach Howard on some unpublished Vertigo pages (this was 2004) when I began to use the brush and quill again. Microns and Rapidographs were taking too long and I couldn't make the tools embrace how dynamic Zach's art was, so I forced myself to pick up the older tools. It was clunky at first, but after a few months it was like rediscovering a limb. And I've never looked back.
To this day, I'm still trying to think of a good reason why I stopped using them in the first place. My career might be 2 years advanced if I'd never done that.
3. Store signings
The one thing I've never gotten over the past ten years is get a line of people at a comic shop signing. And I'm not asking for a killer line, just any line at all.
I'm sure if I did more high profile superhero stuff, it would happen. But with how well things have been going lately with Joe, Vampire, Blazer and PRJ, I would have expected to get a least some kind of showing, especially in NYC. But it never happens. The best one so far has been at Casablanca Comics in Portland, Maine. And even though it was somewhat successful, I had plenty of time to stare at stacks of books that I wasn't signing.
There's a lot to gain by doing store signings, of course. It means a lot to people who can't travel, it gives you time to spend quality time with readers, and it's often a free mini vacation to wherever the store is. But 9 times out of 10, it's usually a disappointment for me and the store owner. And I always apologize to him as I leave the store, my head lowered between my shoulders in shame.
Here's why I think I do so poorly at these things: half my readers are women who don't like going in comic shops. Lots of them brave it out, sure, but most don't because--let's face it--a lot of shops are creepy. I also think that many Vertigo readers prefer to buy the trades in books stores or order stuff online. Or they download in digital.
Whatever the reason, I've decided not to do any more store signings for a while. They're great for keeping an artist humble, but I've found them very depressing.
2. Turning down Assassin's Creed 3
I mentioned this before, but I was offered a chance to work on Assassin's Creed. I was also offered the chance to work with a lot of great writers over the past few years--one was even offering $1000 per page. But I turned them down to do Punk Rock Jesus.
I'm glad I chose to stick with PRJ--great gigs will always be there, but finding a window to do your own stuff is really hard. But every time I drive by an Assassin's Creed billboard, see a commercial or hold an action figure, I feel a tinge of regret. And now that I'm trying to put a down payment on a house in Brooklyn, part of me wishes that I'd taken a script more lucrative than PRJ.
But not really.
My thoughts on the psychology of being an artist are always evolving. I'll spare you a drawn out emo-description of what it's like inside an artist's brain, because most people on dA know exactly what I'm talking about. And that's my point--no matter how much we fight it, we can all be overly sensitive, emotional, and very insecure. That's just the price of creativity, I think.
I used to pretend that I wasn't insecure because I thought it put me above the drama and the hen-pecking I see at conventions and online. And you can see all kinds of insecurity playing out if you know what to look for. There's the "quick-to-anger" artist: getting upset so quickly is a defense mechanism to quickly isolate himself and appear alpha in a situation. There's the "emo-hipster" artist: being a comic artist isn't enough, so he decks himself out in some sort of costume complete with leather bracelets, floppy hair, and a b&w artist bio photo. Or there's the "I-don't-care" artist: he claims to not read comics and will go out of his way to act like he's not caring what people think--while constantly checking his Google alerts.
There are a bunch more, and I've inhabited many of these roles over the years. And there's nothing wrong with being any of them, but try not to kid yourself because (chances are) you've got baggage.
The types of creators I'm really drawn to these days are the ones who admit their insecurity in some way. And by no means are these creators above it; they still let bad reviews get to them, they're not above trolling the internet for mention of their name, and they usually keep a list of "I don't like this creator and here's why" on the edge of their tongue. But at the end of the day, these creators do their best to laugh, admit that they're not perfect either, calm down, and try not to take it all so seriously.
I find that doing this for a living requires constant monitoring of your state of mind. Patrolling myself for weirdness, immaturity and other artist-insecurity is part of the daily grind. Of course, focusing too much is its own form of insecurity and egocentrism, so be careful.
And when I fail at this (and it happens a lot), it's always my biggest regret.