June has become a major month for me.
In 2014, I returned from a family vacation at HeroesCon to a phone call telling me I was being let go from my nearly ten-year job running a comic shop.
In 2015, I returned to HeroesCon with my first book, MOO THOUSAND AND PUN.
Last year, our second year exhibiting, I got to share table space with good friends Jamie Cosley and Jacques Nyemb, and debut my third book, TEMPLE OF MOO’D…and toys.
This year, after three years trying, I finally got a job (part-part-time minimum wage, but…it’s a start) …and promptly dislocated a rib.
That’s not all.
I don’t talk about my work that much, in terms of my “career.” I have a thirty-three year resume that is as eclectic and scattered as my brain. I’ve been at the lowest rung of food service, and the highest rung of non-profit. (Neither ended well.) I have taken jobs that were “beneath me,” and jobs that I was way under-qualified for. I approach every job the same way: I give everything I have because to do anything less is an insult to myself and the people who rely upon me.
I take pride in every job no matter where in the ladder of success it places me.
To get fired over the phone…that hurt. The shop where I worked was having problems for much of its existence, and I don’t think many of the issues were really my fault. (The fact that my assistant quit the moment he heard I was let go gives me some reinforcement to that conceit.)
Since that phone call, I have heard several anecdotes that in a small way make me feel better.
But I still failed.
I didn’t get to leave on my own terms, leaving a business in a better place then where it had started.
That is always my goal. Make a place better. In my years of non-profit work, that meant making the world a better place.
The day after I got fired, the idea for MOO THOUSAND AND PUN slammed into my migraine-addled brain like an ACME anvil.
Since then, I have written and drawn six books, and exhibited at over a dozen comic shows.
June is “Heroes Month” in our house. HeroesCon, run brilliantly by Rico Renzi and Sheldon Drum and their amazing staff every year, is one of the two most sensational conventions in comics. (The other is Baltimore.)
We consider it Heroes Month simply because it is our family vacation. We don’t do Disney, or a National Park, we do Heroes. Every year, thousands of fans flock to Charlotte and interact with hundreds of talented creators to celebrate this wonderful medium.
Now, a moment of context: my wife went to Baltimore with me five years ago to help keep an eye on our Kidlet. Five years later…and she gets more excited for Heroes and Baltimore than I do.
The creators we hang out with at these shows are our family. Wonderful human beings all devoted to their love and passion for art and creativity. Pay attention to the social media feeds of these creators and they all talk about shows like Heroes act as rejuvenation periods, reinvigorating the creative souls of artists and writers alike.
In these three years, we have not sold enough to make back our table fees twice. Once at a recent show which our product was not at all in keeping with the audience, but we attended mostly just because we knew friends would be there. The other was my “hometown” show at the Richmond Raceway.
At Heroes, at Baltimore, at FredCon, we have been lucky to make those table fees every time. Every year, we get a few more purchases from new customers, and sometimes we hear back from them on social media, or via email, about how much they love Shakes or Stanley.
These past three years have been tough, thanks to the total lack of success I have had in securing employment. The passing from cancer and Parkinson’s of my mother and mother-in-law left us with some sizable medical bills and we are still adjusting, still paying…and still just making it.
I love writing. I love drawing. Someday, I will even be good at them both. But being able to take a silly joke and turn it into a storybook…and then having a parent send me a picture of art their child has made of a character I created…
I don’t think I have truly enjoyed any of this. I keep thinking back to that phone call in 2014. Or that job I resigned from in 2005. Or the three or four interviews I’ve had since. Or…
Today, I posted about how I might just end up in the corner of Heroes, a blubbering idiot, because my friends Jamie Cosley and Thom Zahler would be on our row, and we would be surrounded by my idols.
Every June, I go through this “HOLY COW!” period when we find out where we are sitting, and who will be nearby. Last year at Heroes, we sat next to June Brigman, and behind Ramona Fradon. This year we are next to Roy Thomas, and behind Don Rosa.
I still can’t believe any of this. I’m still not convinced I belong.
One of the things I track is purchases by friends. I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to the people that have supported this goofy dream of mine from the beginning. Thom Zahler was the first ever person to buy a book from me at a show. There are people who were customers at the comic shop for nearly the entire time I worked there, and have bought something of mine at every show, just to help. I have friends who buy multiple copies to give as gifts.
And yet…I never feel like it’s working. I feel like I may never get past having an audience of remarkably kind and loyal friends. I feel like I’m performing for a wall. (And not one paid for by Mexicans, either.)
Every June, the nervousness and excitement of seeing friends, and “talking shop” with folks that inspired me and entertained me long before I tried to tell my own stories gets tempered by the gut punch of “what ifs.”
What if I can’t sell anything? What if we can’t even get people to stop at our table? What if I have wasted three years on a folly? What if…?
I have been lucky to have gone nearly twenty years without feeling suicidal.
Yesterday, I stumbled upon this song. And, as odd as it may sound…it helped.
(My grandfather, who died before I was born, was a professional Jazz drummer, so there is a nice bit of synchronicity in the message for me.)
Now…it will not cure my depression. It will not sell my books for me.
We are coming up fast on the twentieth anniversary of the moment (and yes, I remember the exact minute) when my wife walked into my life. I cherish that moment.
My wife really doesn’t understand depression. But, that’s okay. Only those of us with it fully understand. It never goes away. It can be abated and tucked away for brief periods, but it never goes away.
The lucky ones are able to check on each other, and help each other through the tough times. My wife may not really understand it, but she keeps trying to help in whatever ways she can.
It always gnaws at me. Pushing those “What If’s” to the fore every June as our convention season begins.
As I begin the process of trying to convince complete strangers to take a chance on my work.
To convince people that a talking cow or a koala spy are really fun ideas for children and adults.
To make it to a point when my writing books about friendship, the world, and overcoming odds wrapped in silly packages helps. Somehow.
Helps our family be more secure. Helps some reader smile a little more. Helps the world be a nicer place, for even just a second.
No one can put more pressure on you…than yourself. And, when you also have depression, that pressure is backed up by industrial-strength hydraulics.
That song is right.
If I can keep trying…
There is a line that has always resonated with me, that I try to buoy myself with, from STAR TREK GENERATIONS.
Data wants to take leave because his emotion program is too much for him, and Picard tells him, “sometimes it takes courage to try.”
So I will try.
I will try to think less about the bills and the potential for failure and the depression.
And I will bang that drum.
And perhaps…this can be the show where I can stop worrying and asking “what if,” and start thinking “why not?”
And perhaps…my day will come.