Last summer, I set myself a goal of producing fifty pages of comics within a year (from September to September) so that I could test the waters of the medium. And also, I hoped, escape the desperation I felt myself sinking into as the end of my academic career left me without a sense of purpose.
Now that that year is about halfway spent, I can happily say that I’m more than halfway towards meeting that goal. Although my work is still rather rough, I’ve found myself acclimating to the medium’s grammar, and have found that it has provided the focus I’ve needed for honing myself both as a visual artist and as a storyteller.
It hasn’t all gone according to plan: I’ve had to put Future Fairyland on hold in favor of working on some short comics (it shockingly turns out that starting off with an epic story idea that would take at least a few years to complete was a bit rash. At least I had the humility to not start with that epic Biblical adaptation idea I’ve nursed for some time). But I’m not discouraged, because I’ve caught the art bug, so to speak: these days, I often find that drawing is something I have to do, if the day is to feel complete; it’s something that I can lose myself in for hours and realize that I forgot to have lunch. It doesn’t feel like a hobby any more.
I’ve felt that way about writing as well, but rarely in the context of fiction. Which is something that I’ve wrestled with: my teenage self really wanted to be the next James Joyce, and I’ve always assumed that if I were to practice the art of storytelling, it would have to be in prose. But over the years I’ve reluctantly found prose fiction to be more of an endurance trial than anything else, requiring stuff like NaNoWriMo to force myself into a regular schedule on any given project. And so, my career in that regard consists mostly of rough drafts and incomplete manuscripts.
I wonder if a lot of that was just a frustrated inability to express things visually, as drawing a comic feels a lot less like an act of translation than writing a novel can be – what winds up inked on the bristol paper is still a huge downgrade from what I see in my head, but there’s more of a correspondence. It seems to be the case that the emotional immediacy of the visual was the one thing lacking. And in comics, I can have that without leaving the necessary solitude that I find in writing.
But the salient point is this: until quite recently, when asked what I do, I’d reply with something along the lines of “I’m in a bit of a transitional period and trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.” Nowadays, I just say that I’m an artist, and that I currently draw comics.
It’s still the case that, in terms of paying the bills and putting food on the table, I still feel like the future of my career is still a question mark. But it’s a matter of practicality, of the “day job”, and no longer a vocational crisis, which robs it of a considerable amount of its existential terror.