Control Group?

JRD   2018-02-09   No Comments on Control Group?

Two young women recently released fantastic new projects, both of which I would highly recommend.  Upon further reflection, these two works also seem linked by a theme that is becoming more common, an important, in today’s world.

Milck-TINTE-CoverIf you were paying attention to the Women’s March last year, an unofficial anthem emerged from a young woman from California with the stage name Milck.  That song, Quiet, was adopted by the march, and by women everywhere as their rallying cry.  Quiet, which blatantly tells everyone that women, especially women of color, will no longer remain quiet for you.  When I heard it for the first time, on Samantha Bee’s show, the song had not even finished before I had gone online and purchased it, both for myself and my daughter.  In late January, Milck released a 7-song EP, THIS IS NOT THE END, anchored by her anthem of courage.

Tara-AHOWS-CoverI’ve known Tara O’Connor for years.  She and I have been friends and a support system for each other for a long time, despite being very different demographically and creatively.  Whereas I create children’s books, Tara is more heavily involved in YA fiction that encompasses everything from space adventure to coming-of-age tales, and autobiographical work.  Tara is very much a product of the current zeitgeist, and her art style is influenced by the American Manga style most represented by Brian Lee O’Malley and Faith Erin Hicks.  Late last year, Tara released ROOTS, which detailed the dissolution of her marriage and the life-changing events that transpired immediately after as she tried to re-discover herself and her own identity, while on a trip to her ancestral home of Ireland.  Tara recently released THE ALTERED HISTORY OF WILLOW SPARKS, a graphic novel about a young girl who finds that control over your life may not always be what you want.

It occurred to me, after reading SPARKS, and after several listens to the far-too-short END, that these are both hallmark works of a generation.  A young female-led generation, specifically.

Tara and Milck are roughly the same age, and they’ve seen a great deal in their young life…and more of it than should be is bad.  For people like me (read: old white guys), the world of constant harassment at multiple degrees of severity is nothing we are aware of.  Yes, the courageous declarations of men like Terry Crews does signal that harassment is not a problem only endured by women, but the tables lean to the overwhelming majority of victims being women.

In their own ways these new works speak to that reality, which is finally coming to light, thanks to women, well…having enough.

Women are rightly tired of our BS, and they aren’t going to stay quiet anymore.  Women are taking control of their lives, and not letting the patriarchy (yes, egg-icon-dudes on Twitter, that’s a real thing) tell them what to do.

If you have read SPARKS, then you probably wonder what I’ve been smoking.  But stay with me, please.

THIS IS NOT THE END ebbs and flows with subtlety and power, and a resonance you would expect from someone with the life history of a Tina Turner.  Call of the Wild starts the album, and is a solid introduction for the collection.  It is also a fine addendum to Quiet, where Milck sings about once trying to tame the rage within, and then deciding to let it, and herself, fly free.  Call and Quiet are bridged by I Don’t Belong To You, and it’s a near perfect song.  Driving but calm, you can feel the anger building as the singer confronts her oppressors through song.  Harassment is not love, nor is it ownership, and Milck breaks those chains with this song.  “I’m letting the lion loose, [with] nothing to prove to you,” she sings, a warning to anyone who tries to stand in her way.

Quiet is the third track, and by now it’s a familiar song, but in this slot on the album, continues the story of personal discovery Call and Belong set up.  While it tells of the singer being a “one-woman riot,” it also rallies the entirety of the gender, both directly to those unhappy with the current administration, and as a warning to those women who helped elevate this administration into office.

The next song is an interesting, but perfect choice: a cover of the Five Stairsteps classic, Ooh, Child.  Milck rescues the song from the Guardians of The Galaxy films, and returns it to it’s necessary place.  Milck, in this quiet piano and vocal cover, brings it back to the important message the song has presented: the fight is never over but things will get better.

Next is Black Sheep, a song for those folks who have always been outcasts, no matter where they stand.  Every group has it’s oddballs, and this song embraces and encourages them, without resorting to the Baby Boomer ridiculous message that “everyone is special” that is probably to blame for a lot of the MRA yahoos Milck is rallying against.  Here, Milck sings to anyone who has been ostracized for their quirks and encourages to take that harassment and make it your armor…and to keep fighting.

Undercover sounds like an homage to some of the 1980s music I grew up on, which may tip this tune to being my favorite.  Milck sings that she is done pretending to be someone else for the comfort of others.  Be that the silent victim society prefers, or simply a young woman tired of changing herself to be liked or accepted by peers.

This Is Not The End wraps up the album, and very clearly states just what it’s title implies, both for Milck and her intended audience:  I’m not going anywhere.  Women have found their voice in this crumbling society, and they will build it back up, better than it was.  The voices of oppression are loud and calling, but their numbers dwindle, and one day soon, this world will be different.  This album is a conversation that a young woman has with herself when she has decided enough is enough.  When she has literally decided this is the end of her compliance with her harassment.  This one story, contained in seven amazing songs, may be over, but its one chapter of a larger, greater saga.  We can either encourage it and enjoy it, or try and stand in the way.

SPARKS is the story of a young, awkward girl simply trying to survive.  Like so many families these days, hers is basically herself and her mother.  Along with her best friend, Georgia, Sparks navigates the perils and pitfalls of high school, with a familiar nemesis: the “perfect” prettiest girl in school, who likes to take advantage of everyone she feels is beneath her.

What starts out as a somewhat common coming-of-age story immediately zags when it should zig, and becomes an almost Rod Serling-esque cautionary tale, complete with supernatural overtones.

Sparks works part time in the local library, and one night she needs to close the library by herself.  Towards the end of the evening, her school nemesis, along with her crew, arrives to bully Willow.  They push Willow down a long staircase into the basement, and crashes through the wall.  Behind the wall she finds another, much larger library.  As she explores this new library, she realizes that each book is different.  Each book carries the name of a resident of her town.  She eventually finds one titled simply, Willow Sparks.

She realizes that each book is a chronicle of each life led in town, past and present.  Each book updates in real time, with script appearing on the page as events happen.  Willow’s book has stopped with her picking the book up and opening it.

She races home with the book, and soon notices a small pen tied to the book, labeled, “for emergencies only.”

Wondering what might happen, she takes the pen and writes a new passage on the blank page.

The next morning, her bruises from the fall the night before, as well as all of her acne, are gone.  At school, the other students begin to notice Willow, including her nemesis’ crew.

What follows is a series of events in which Willow falls deeper and deeper into the possibilities of where her life may go if she keeps writing.  However, a dark and fateful warning has emerged, and Willow has to decide which is more important, control, or fate?

SPARKS is an enjoyable work, with nods to the Twilight Zone, and plays out like it could very well have been one of the shows teleplays, complete with Shelly Fabares as Willow, and Anne Francis as her nemesis.

But the underlying theme, the desire for control, coupled with the music by Milck, made me think more about these works.

Sure, Willow’s desire to control her life is completely understandable.  At that age, when you aren’t one of the popular kids, it is easy to feel like your life is over before it started.  It is nearly impossible to see beyond the next day, and know that your life is a long and rich story, and will never be defined by your high school years, and certainly not by a few obnoxious jerks who you are forced to endure as classmates.

Willow learns that wielding control has its consequences, and the ways in which people can control their lives.

But the control we see exercised in SPARKS is wholly different, yet complimentary, to the control Milck sings about.

In fact, it is almost like Milck is singing TO Willow: BE weird.  Be yourself.  And don’t take anything from anyone that doesn’t have your best interest at heart.

The control that Willow exerts through her book is not a control over one’s own fate through thoughtful decision-making, but of manipulation.  She learns the lesson well before it leads her down a road she doesn’t want to travel.  That type of control is the kind of manipulation Milck is fighting against, and when Willow realizes just what kind of control she really needs to exert, everything changes.

She has hope, and something to live for: friendship.

Milck has something to fight for: her future.

Two messages about the ways in which we present the notions of control, and how we let it change us.

And not just messages for young women.  We men should pay attention as well.  These messages of control, self-reliance, and resilience are not gender specific.  They are not a message that one gender’s time is over on this earth.

It is a message that it is long past time for us to let women be.  Simply be.  Be fighters, be themselves, be whatever.  To get out of their way.  To help them, or to let them be alone.  They don’t want to be quiet anymore.  And we should get out of the way.

 

THIS IS NOT THE END is available for download from major digital retailers.  THE ALTERED HISTORY OF WILLOW SPARKS is available from bookstores and better comic shops everywhere.  They are both wonderful.

Two Thousand Eighteen…And BEYOND!

I’ve written quite a bit before about the financial pitfalls of self-publishing and freelancing. Unless your name is Grisham or King, it will be some time before you can live comfortably solely from your creativity. You could go many years before your bank records emerge from the red.

In the world of politics, recent administrations have federal employees constantly wondering when, not if, the next shutdown will occur. And when it does shut down, as it did just the other day, you have to wonder exactly how you’ll pay your bills.

Imagine you’re in both scenarios, and you (or your significant other) works for the government and you self-publish.

Like we do here at DFP. (Which is one of the reasons we maintain a Patreon campaign to help with expenses.)

While the most recent shutdown was resolved fairly quickly (well…quickly for the government, anyway), it still caused us to start thinking about our plans for 2018. Given the expenses we normally incur exhibiting, and the costs of things we wish to finish his year, we were forced to make some difficult decisions.

So, for 2018, we will be trimming our budget and focusing on three things for DFP:

  • Formalizing Our Business Effects
  • Focusing on Local Shows
  • Making A Major Push for Our Books

Business Effects:  We’re in the process of finalizing a couple of things to fully transition to making DFP an LLC. This will make us, in the words of Daffy Duck, “all nice and legal,” and hopefully simplify our taxes. We hadn’t decided to make our little venture into a formal business until last year, after it looked like Shakes might actually have a future. It’s a lot of paperwork which is very time consuming, and we’re in the home stretch.

Local Shows:  This is the hard one. Really hard. The primary casualty here is HeroesCon, which has been both a working show and a family vacation for the past five years. We have made so many friends at that show that we really do view it as the family reunion we want to attend. Shelton Drum, Rico Renzi, and the whole Heroes crew do an amazing job.

Unfortunately, we just can’t afford to go this year, which stinks. Believe me, we did not make this decision lightly. Shoot, there are some new fans we earned last year we won’t get to see because of this decision, and we feel bad for letting them down!

But, by focusing on local shows, we can broaden our customer base while eliminating our travel budget almost entirely, saving us…well…thousands. We are also hopeful that doing more local shows gets us, or at least me, on the radar of local educators for school presentations, which can always help the bottom line.

This means that, as of right now, our convention calendar looks like:

    • June, All Star Comic Con (Tyson’s Corner)
    • July, FredCon (Fredericksburg, Application Pending)
    • August, Faifax Comic Con (Fairfax, Application Pending)
    • September, Baltimore Comic Con

(Organizers! If you have a show within 90 miles of DC and want us to be a guest, please email us!)

Major Push:  This last one is interesting.

I used to envy folks who worked in comics, and thought I could never work in comics because there was no way I could ever come up with enough ideas to do more than one comic. Ever.

Heh.

I’m currently working on books 8, 9, 10, and 11. Seriously.

I recently took part in a webinar and was given some disheartening advice: publishers don’t care about self-publishers, unless you sell thousands of copies per book. So, since they won’t care about Shakes, I should come up with a new idea if I want to sell anything to a real publisher.

Already working on so many Shakes and Stanley ideas, I figured it would be a while before I had any idea that I could pitch to publishers and agents. Months or even a year.

And then I took a shower.

I now have a partial manuscript in the works.

That “big push” will be a strong focus on getting 10 to 20 pages of this children’s book idea finished to submit to publishers all over and try to get my hoof…foot…in the door.

As you can see, 2018 is going to be a busy, and different, year for us.

And, while the shutdown is over this week, I am still VERY open right now for commissions! DM me for details! (Every little bit helps!)

Cheers!

JRD

2017: A New Kind of Review

One of the little, goofy, things I used to do over the course of every year since about 1997 is scour the papers for the ridiculous or weird, and take notes.  I would then write a fairly long, sarcastic look back at the absurdity of the previous year’s events.  Until last November 8, that is.

Suddenly, writing about people making fools of themselves, ultimately for my twisted amusement, lost appeal.

Fools were no longer the anomaly in the news, they were making the news.

They were electing “leaders” to spread a visceral and ugly bigotry and elitism, to their own ironic detriment.

When the face of our country speaks, and it’s less Toby Ziegler than Toby Kieth (on a good day, that is), it’s difficult to find humor in small moments of absurdity.

The days are just one long trip through a Dante construct.

Perhaps I will return to those ICRVN Year In Review posts some day.  Perhaps not.  Sometimes when writing the reviews, I wondered if they were too nasty.  After all, I was using the actions of people for the purposes of comedy.  I’m no Dave Barry, and my contempt for some people (especially the tiki-torch-and-khaki set) cannot be hidden.

Instead of the once-usual sarcasm, here are some general comments about this past year, a wrap up of things that I want to point out…in no particular order.

It goes without saying that my wife and Kidlet are always there, through thick or thin, times both good or bad.  It’s not always the easiest, but there is a reason our little corner of insanity is referred to as a family production.

Every year…hell, every day…I go through a period of self-doubt that makes me wonder if I did the right thing, writing that first Shakes book.  The first book was a whim of an idea.  Following it through to the end meant choosing writing and drawing, which I had never really done before, instead of finding a job after my layoff.

Two Kickstarter campaigns, three years, and seven books later, I still worry I’ve made life for my family hell for choosing to chase a dream instead of chasing a stable job.  Unfortunately, I have to do both because while we need money to survive…I cannot imagine doing anything other than creating books.

It’s a delicate, life-affecting tightrope act.

And I’m not alone.

Fellow creators like Tom King, John Gallagher, Eryk Donovan, Erica Schultz, and Amy Chu.  Like Drew Moss, Kevin Cuffe, Bob Frantz, Tara O’Connor, and Shing Yin Khor.  Like Corinna Bechko, Jamar Nicholas, Mark Mariano, Dawn Griffin, and Christy Blanch: folks who write or draw to create books and art that delight people of all ages, less concerned with obtaining fame than telling stories.

Friends, all of them.  And dozens more.  A community of creators who work as everything from teachers to zoologists, but for whom putting pen to paper and letting ink flow to create worlds to delight and enthrall us.  A community that we consider family, and are very lucky to have us as a part of their ranks.

Every time things seem dark, there’s always a fellow creator ready to listen, ready to talk, ready to help.  And, as a testament to the breadth of the community, it’s almost never the same person twice.

It’s an amazing community, and we are thankful for it every day.  They are part of the fuel that helps me going.

That community is also made stronger by the fans who support us with even the smallest purchase, or shared post, and even former customers who look for me, even though it’s been years since I sold them their comics.

A specific subset of folks, my Patrons, need a special acknowledgement.  They very generously give a few dollars every month to help me work closer to achieving the ultimate goal of being a full-time writer and artist.

There is also a young girl out there to thank.  This year at Baltimore, Alice came to our table, and her mother bought her a copy of TEMPLE OF MOO’D.  While they were looking at everything on our table, Alice’s mother explained that Alice had insisted that I was to be their first stop…the first table they came to after entering the convention.  Combine them with the handful of repeat customers this year from last, and I have a very small, but apparently loyal fan base, of whom I am grateful.

There are other things that helped make this weird dumpster-fire of a year bearable, things that were little moments for me but major events for the people involved:

Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ MISTER MIRACLE comic book, which brilliantly merged Jack Kirby’s crazy Fourth World with very real issues of marriage and depression.

Young Ivey, a Wonder-Pig-loving girl, and Mary-Beth, a cow-and-pun obsessed cosplayer, both of whom gave us some great pictures and memories from an otherwise difficult showing at Heroes.

The TELLOS two-part anthology, written by Todd Dezago with dozens of amazing artists, including my friend Matt Wieringo, all to honor Matt’s late brother Mike.

The entertaining genre films WONDER WOMAN and STAR WARS THE LAST JEDI, which cemented the place of women and people of color to the forefront of modern adventure films, and giving little girls an invitation to be their own rescuers.

The Scottish band Dead Man Fall, whom I stumbled upon by accident, ending up with an anthem that suits myself and all of the writers and artists out there struggling with building their audience, BANG YOUR DRUM.

The teachers and staff at Kidlet’s new school, for making the transition to a new environment smooth enough to not only help her adapt, but make honor roll in the first quarter!

Watching the general comic-reading public discover folks like Tom King and Tara O’Connor, turning amazingly talented creators and friends into stars.  It’s both gratifying and encouraging to see good folks’ years of hard work pay off – they definitely deserve their success.

Lego’s WOMEN OF NASA set, which was both fun to build, and important to have, and just as important to give to the Kidlet for Christmas.

Baltimore Comic Con, not just for letting me be a guest (and constantly convinced they’d realize their error at some point), but for creating the RINGO awards, honoring the aforementioned Mike Wieringo.

Hoyt Silva, Francesco Francavilla, Laura Martin, and Janet Lee, who created some amazing art for my wife and Kidlet to give me for Father’s Day.

Oh…and one more thing I am happy about this year:  my apparent ability to not pee myself when talking with people I have admired and idolized for much of my life.  (Going along with that is a thank you to Jerry Ordway, Walter Simonson, and especially Louise Simonson, for being such lovely people and hopefully not thinking me a complete goober.)

And, of course…thank you.  For checking in occasionally, or following along throughout, no matter if 2017 was an amazing year for you, or if it was a struggle, I genuinely hope 2018 is better for us all.

Cheers, and Happy New Year!

~ R

Remembering Mike Wieringo

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of Mike Wieringo, a well-loved and -respected artist for Marvel, DC, and many other publishers.  In a time when the “Image Style” of flashy, over-rendered comics were in vogue, Mike maintained a style that was dynamic, fun, and full of life.  Dare I say, “cartoony,” which most fans today use as a pejorative, not realizing that cartoons and cartoony art is what got them into the medium when they were children.

As Image was growing, much of my interest in comics was shifting.  I was intrigued by the work of Lee, Larson, McFarlane, and even Liefeld, but that wore off quickly.  Pinups are fine, but in an almost purely visual medium, storytelling is key.

And in that regard, Mike was a master locksmith.

I fell in love with Mike’s art from the beginning.  His work reminded me of another Mike, Parobeck, who had made a name for himself at DC drawing the Batman Animated Series tie-in comic, and the short-lived JSA book that just happened to feature my favorite team.  Parobeck also infused his work with fun, life, and a seeming simplicity that belied a real gift for storytelling.

One day I was at work at the local video shop, and a fellow came in to pick up a reserved movie, and his ticket read, “Wieringo.”  I asked if he was related, and the gentlemen smiled and said, “he’s my brother.”  Matt Wieringo and I chatted for a few moments while I rang up his purchase.  Matt confirmed that his brother was also a fan of Parobeck, and for some reason, that made me appreciate Mike all the more.

Mike would go on to draw some of comic’s greatest icons: The Flash, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Fantastic Four, Spider Man, and the X-Men.  Mike was one of the very few artists that if his name were in the credits – even if it were just a cover – it would cause me to buy the book no questions asked.

Social Media had not yet exploded into the global consciousness, but Mike posted art and thoughts almost daily on his blog (still available intact at mikewieringoart.com), and a couple of times he and I exchanged quick greetings in the comments on a post.

Ten years ago today, I was looking up something about Mike, and one of the first things to pop up was news of his passing.

A couple of years later, I attended Baltimore Comic Con with a simple goal: find Todd Dezago and Matt Wieringo.  Todd had interviewed Mike for a book, Modern Masters, and I asked them to sign it, and thanked them for their continued work in keeping Mike’s legacy alive.

I retold the story of how we met to Matt, and we chatted for a while about Mike, and about Matt’s work.  At the next table, Todd was delighting my Kidlet with goofy antics, all in Todd’s high-pitched “Choopie” voice from his character in the Perhapanauts.  My Kidlet was hooked.

It’s been seven years since I attended that show.  Matt and Todd have become friends, and we often talk about Mike, from his techniques, to his spirit, to his energy and compassion.  In those talks, Mike is still alive.

Sometimes you can tell how much one artist is influenced by another.  Take Jack Kirby’s influence on Erik Larsen for example.  Other times, it’s harder to find in an artist’s work.

I draw goofy animals in silly situations, and unpolished at that.  But while you may never see it reflected in my work, Mike Wieringo is a big reason I am drawing today.

In a time when I would surely have given up on the medium, Mike’s work kept me engaged, and gave me hope that bright, fun, four-color adventures could still be had at 22 pages a pop.  Mike’s work helped elevate my relationship to comics from fan to “I want to do that.”

It’s been nearly 24 years since I first found Mike’s work in a comic.

It’s been ten years to the day that we lost his talent.

But his spirit, his joy, and his sense of fun live on.  And if I can convey even a tenth of that in my own work, then I am on the right track.

I can say with some certainty, as I approach my second Baltimore Comic Con as a guest creator, I would not be where I am without Mike Wieringo.

Thank you, Mike, for everything.

We miss you.


A few of my favorite pieces by Mike Wieringo

This has been my computer wallpaper for years now.

This has been my computer wallpaper for years now.

Mike's rendition of one of my all-time favorite characters, Usagi Yojimbo (created by Stan Sakai)

Mike’s rendition of one of my all-time favorite characters, Usagi Yojimbo (created by Stan Sakai)

Mike drew this image of the Perhapanauts for his friends Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau, the 'Nauts creators.

Mike drew this image of the Perhapanauts for his friends Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau, the ‘Nauts creators.

Peter Porker, Spider-Ham, has always been a favorite of mine, and Mike was one of the few artists who drew the character with both respect, and a sense of the silly.

Peter Porker, Spider-Ham, has always been a favorite of mine, and Mike was one of the few artists who drew the character with both respect, and a sense of the silly.

More of Mike's Spider-Ham...and a few guests, too.

More of Mike’s Spider-Ham…and a few guests, too.

And another. Like I said...I love this character.

And another. Like I said…I love this character.

Another aspect of Mike's work was his ability to draw beautiful women who were strong and intelligent, without sexualizing them.

Another aspect of Mike’s work was his ability to draw beautiful women who were strong and intelligent, without sexualizing them.

Even when the female character in question was a teenager, there is still an inherent strength within the art, emanating from the character.

Even when the female character in question was a teenager, there is still an inherent strength within the art, emanating from the character.

We came close to a full X-Men book from Mike with ROGUE, but this was always one of my favorite of his X-Men drawings.

We came close to a full X-Men book from Mike with ROGUE, but this was always one of my favorite of his X-Men drawings.

Mike worked with Mark Waid to produce the best Fantastic Four comic since Kirby himself worked on the book.

Mike worked with Mark Waid to produce the best Fantastic Four comic since Kirby himself worked on the book.

Mike even drew Kirby into the book, a tribute more fitting as we are about to celebrate Kirby's 100th birthday.

Mike even drew Kirby into the book, a tribute more fitting as we are about to celebrate Kirby’s 100th birthday.

This page features a key lesson for storytellers, and having it delivered by Kirby makes it all the more powerful.

This page features a key lesson for storytellers, and having it delivered by Kirby makes it all the more powerful.

Mike's Sue Storm was a fantastic character, often shown to be the real core of the team. Feminine, yes, but easily the most dangerous person in the book.

Mike’s Sue Storm was a fantastic character, often shown to be the real core of the team. Feminine, yes, but easily the most dangerous person in the book.

Mike created this for four covers of the book early in his run.

Mike created this for four covers of the book early in his run.

One of the last books Mike worked on was a great limited series, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, written by Jeff Parker. Parker is another favorite of mine, and it was a thrill to read a book by them both. I am lucky to own a couple of pages from this book, too.

One of the last books Mike worked on was a great limited series, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, written by Jeff Parker. Parker is another favorite of mine, and it was a thrill to read a book by them both. I am lucky to own a couple of pages from this book, too.

Mike drew some amazing (ha!) adventures for the webhead...but this quiet piece of Peter and MJ will always be one of my favorite Spidey covers.

Mike drew some amazing (ha!) adventures for the webhead…but this quiet piece of Peter and MJ will always be one of my favorite Spidey covers.

I love The Spirit, and I loved how Mike made this image all about Dolan, subtly expressing Dolan's trust in, and exasperation with, Colt.

I love The Spirit, and I loved how Mike made this image all about Dolan, subtly expressing Dolan’s trust in, and exasperation with, Colt.

Mike's version of the Louise Simonson and June Brigman team, Power Pack. Mike drew children as their own characters, and not simply "small humans." I love how the various ages is represented in their bodies, postures, and the shapes of their faces.

Mike’s version of the Louise Simonson and June Brigman team, Power Pack. Mike drew children as their own characters, and not simply “small humans.” I love how the various ages is represented in their bodies, postures, and the shapes of their faces.

I think this cover to a Spider-Ham special was the last Peter Porker drawing Mike did.

I think this cover to a Spider-Ham special was the last Peter Porker drawing Mike did.

This arc of The Flash is a great one, for no other reason than it includes all of the great speedsters from various generations, including my all-time favorite Flash, Jay Garrick.

This arc of The Flash is a great one, for no other reason than it includes all of the great speedsters from various generations, including my all-time favorite Flash, Jay Garrick.

I don't know what this was for...but there's no way you can tell me that the spaceship doesn't look like a penguin.

I don’t know what this was for…but there’s no way you can tell me that the spaceship doesn’t look like a penguin.

My favorite era of the X-Men is the first twenty or so issues from the Kirby/Roth era. Mike drew the early Iceman perfectly.

My favorite era of the X-Men is the first twenty or so issues from the Kirby/Roth era. Mike drew the early Iceman perfectly.

Mike drew some great covers for his friends, some of whom are friends of mine, including Scott Sava, for his book Dreamland Chronicles, one of Kidlet's favorites.

Mike drew some great covers for his friends, some of whom are friends of mine, including Scott Sava, for his book Dreamland Chronicles, one of Kidlet’s favorites.

Okay...this is a cheat. This is by Mike's brother, Matt, who is just as talented as Mike. It's just not easy to get Matt to accept that assessment.

Okay…this is a cheat.
This is by Mike’s brother, Matt, who is just as talented as Mike. It’s just not easy to get Matt to accept that assessment.

Who Needs Rollercoasters When You Have Depression?

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.

But…

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.

And yet…

There’s June.

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.

And yet…

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.

And yet…

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.

And yet…

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…

And yet.

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.

And yet…

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…?

Depression sucks.

I have been lucky to have gone nearly twenty years without feeling suicidal.

And yet…?

What if…?

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.

And yet…

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.

And yet…

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.

And yet…

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.

And yet…

That song…

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.

Fingers crossed.