Finding a new normal

The first time I attended  Cartoon Crossroads Columbus I got to spend some time hanging out with Craig Thompson, the acclaimed graphic novelist, and was surprised to discover he knew of my work. I was thrilled to be able to talk shop with him over a couple of drinks.

Craig had a work life that I envied. Well, at the very least, I envied my perception of his work life from the outside. Craig produced sprawling and beautiful graphic novels. He work quietly in his home for a year or more on a book and only shared it with the world once it was complete.

I remember telling Craid how envious I was of his work-life. How he got to disappear for a year or two to work quietly on a book. Then appear with a beautiful finished project and present it to the world with great fanfare and applause. Only to return to the drawing board to start again.

I, on the other hand, had a daily schedule to maintain. A daily schedule with no end in sight. I could never stop, you see, or the whole thing would unravel. My entire business model was based on momentum. Like a shark, if I didn’t keep moving my career would die.

Then dad got sick and covid hit. My output dropped, conventions went away and advertising tanked. It all kind of…imploded. Once I finally got my head above water again I found everything had changed.

Content had been aggregated to social media platforms and larger networks like Webtoons and Tapas. Nobody really wanted to visit individual websites anymore, they want to read things on their phone in their favorite feeds. Conventions eventually returned, but not without substantial financial and health risks (in my opinion).

I was going to have to do something new, and the graphic novel market has never been healthier (especially for middle-grade and YA readers.) Why not take a shot at a Craig Thompson way of life? Minus all of his talent, of course.

I managed to pull off some tricky things pretty quickly. Landing a literary agent was a big step. Getting a good pitch in order was another one. I worked on it for almost a year. Being on submission was brutal, but we really lucked out and got a wonderful publisher to pick us up. And I really love my editor. Those should feel like huge wins

But it didn’t feel like winning. In fact, I felt like a complete failure and I was falling into somewhat of a depression. Instead of sitting down at the drawing board and working on the book, I started chasing revenue, trying all kinds of dumb things to generate income. I was all over the place and I was beating myself up in the process.

Then my wife stepped in and snapped me back to reality. “This is all ego,” she said. “You need to let go of your ego.”

It was a punch in the gut, but she was right. When you develop an ego around your work, that false sense of self-esteem tells you that you’re successful and brilliant. But the moment any weakness is exposed it all comes tumbling down and that ego turns into insecurity and self-doubt.

Letting go of that ego. Focusing on the work, the process, and the path has been huge. It’s leading me to my new normal. Walk and the path appears. I believed that when I started my career and it paid dividends.

I started producing pages that I’m really proud of. I found someone to help me update my website into a new hub that will integrate with Patreon and consolidate all my work into one place. And most importantly, I’m remaining mindful of my ego. 

I don’t have to have it all figured out. I don’t have to maintain some level of “success” for others to observe. Conventional opinion about me has nothing to do with reaching my goals. You walk and the path will appear.

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”

That’s where I’m at. That’s the new normal I’m trying to settle into.

As I sit here reminiscing about my drinks with Craig Thompson, I struggle to know if I’m remembering or imagining him telling me to “be careful what I wish for.”

Either way, I’m sure he’d agree.