I love superheroes.
Always have. Always will.
There’s just something about people using amazing powers to right the wrongs of the world that has always appealed to me.
I grew up reading comic books and watching the animated adventures of heroes like Superman and Spider-Man. I fell in love with the incredible images of these fantastic beings and their superhuman adventures.
Artists like John Byrne, Walter Simonson, and Jack Kirby were my heroes, even though most people had never even heard of them. I marveled at their line work and use of perspective, and desperately wanted to be able to create my own powerful images like theirs.
My school notebooks were filled with heroic doodles rather than scholastic notes, which pretty much explained my average grades.
I jumped at the chance to enter any contest that would allow me to show off my creative talents, but never won a single one. Even though I would be disappointed, I was inspired by the art that won and was determined to get better.
Wanting to draw comics as a kid sounds like it wouldn’t be a big deal, but you’d be surprised at the amount of resistance I continually met along the way.
In grade school, I was told that “joke books” were silly and I was often admonished for spending my time drawing or reading comics. That’s when I learned to be more secretive about my passion.
I submitted a few comics to my middle school newspaper, only to have none of them ever see the light of day. Just my luck to go to school with someone who went on to be a professional cartoonist (thanks a lot, Mark Tatulli!). I knew he was better than I was, so I never submitted anything ever again.
When it was time to choose a college in high school, I chose the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art. I was told that was a foolish decision and to pick something more practical. I ended up going to Long Island University for marine biology. I dropped out in less than three years.
At 21, I finally decided to listen to my muse and applied to the art program a local state college. At my application portfolio review, I was asked if I had any “real art” along with my comic illustrations. Although I was accepted, I was continually told by the professors that I was wasting my time drawing “musclebound freaks in leotards” and that comic artists were the “whores of the art world.” I eventually dropped out of the art program to study film-making, instead.
By the time I left college, I had all but given up on ever working in the comics industry. The years of constant negativity had taken their toll and I gave in. I hoped that my new direction in a different medium would satiate my hunger for bringing fantastic stories to life.
With my film-making degree in hand, I followed a girl out to Las Vegas, where the only work I could find was at a video games store. I was told by all the production studios that I didn’t have what they needed. In fact, one producer said to me “your degree and a quarter might buy you a cup of coffee in this town, but that’s about it.” I never applied for another production job after that.
It was a chance encounter at the video games store that reignited my comic book dreams. As I was helping a random customer, I found out that he was a freelance comic book inker. An actual professional in the field I had pined over for years! After a little prodding on my part, he agreed to look at my work.
He was the first to believe that I had potential and I started working with him as his assistant. At the ripe old age of 29, my name finally appeared in print in a comic book (Dealthok #26 , if you’re interested!).
It was a HUGE moment for me, as you can imagine, and I still have it framed on my wall. For decades, naysayers had been telling me to quit on my dream and I listened. They told me I was stupid and foolish, and I listened. They told me to be more practical and sensible, and I listened.
This tiny bit of ink on paper proved them all wrong.
I continued to work with the inker for a couple years and did some freelance work on my own. Very small jobs, but still in the comic biz. I was developing relationships with editors from the major comics publishers and decided to finally give it a go solo.
I told the inker I had been working with what I was going to do and he told me I wasn’t good enough. I figured he was upset that he would need to either replace me or accept less work, so I didn’t believe what he was saying.
I set out on my own determined to make it.
I reached out to all my contacts and sent samples of my work. I followed up religiously and hoped for any kind of response. I knew I wouldn’t be handed a large project, but thought that the reputation I had developed should have garnered me some work. No matter how small.
Nothing ever came.
I spent six months chasing down anything I could find, only to leave countless voicemails without any responses. My mailbox began filling up with very polite rejection notices. I was able to finally get in touch with one of my editor contacts and he politely said to me, “I’m sorry, but we really have no use for you at this time.”
These words echoed all the others throughout my life and triggered a response that I’ve regretted ever since.
I put down my pencil and never picked it up again.
That was in 1995.
Great Story, Bro
Why am I telling you this tale of woe?
To stop you from making the same mistake. To stop you from allowing fear to hold you back from being YOU.
I chose to walk away from the one thing that brought me the most joy in the world. I rationalized it in every way possible, but the truth is that I allowed the fear of judgment and the fear of failure to take control of my life.
I did something that MANY creatives do.
I equated my self-worth with my creative work and the responses it brought.
When someone didn’t like my work, they didn’t like me. If they didn’t like me, then I wasn’t worth liking.
My chosen course of action to avoid that?
Stop being seen.
Stop Being Me.
Just because I chose to stop DOING anything creative, didn’t mean it wasn’t gnawing at me every day thereafter. I heard its call. It’s who I am. By denying my creativity, I was denying who I was.
If I’m not living as me, then who am I?
Everyone’s a Critic
A cliché often uttered after a joke falls flat, but one that holds great truth for any creative.
Whenever you give people the opportunity to tear your work to pieces, someone always will. Doesn’t matter the reasoning behind it or whether it’s valid or not. It’s the name of the game.
Is that reason enough to quit doing what you love?
Embracing creative expression will have its discouraging moments, but these are not reasons to give up. Putting something out there for others to see will always garner some negative attention, but you need to keep doing it.
It’s who you are.
Every stand-up comedian has been heckled to death from their humble beginnings at truck stop venues to large Broadway theaters. If they ever want to get that HBO special, they have to persevere through every discouraging heckle and lousy audience. It’s not the response that keeps the successful comedians going.
It’s doing what they love that keeps them moving forward.
The only way to build up your creative confidence is to grab onto your willpower with all your might and keep working despite the fear and anxiety. In fact, the more you feel the fear or anxiety, the more you know that what you’re doing is important to you. That’s reason enough to keep going.
Which life would you rather live?
The empty one filled with fear and regrets for never allowing you to be you?
Or the one where you dared to be your authentic self and showed the world what you’re made of?
I spent 20 years denying who I was and have nothing to show for it.
I dare you to do better.
Which life will you choose?
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” – Georgia O’Keeffe