I’m gonna tell you guys a secret about chasing your dreams.
It’s not the cliche crap, about never giving up, or overcoming adversity. You know all that. If you relate following a goal to The Odyssey, everybody knows about all the monsters you have to slay, battles you have to win, cyclopses you have to outwit, and all that.
But what no one tells you is the the adversity is not the hardest part to overcome. The hardest part is comfort. To return to our The Odyssey metaphor, the hardest part of his journey had to have been the land of the Lotus Eaters.
There were no six-headed monsters on that island, no sirens, no angry deities. There were just some nice dudes offering some fruit that made Odysseus and his men feel awesome. They offered a home, they offered rest, they offered community. This wasn’t exactly Odysseus’ goal, but it was another version of it. The men could have stopped their quest RIGHT then and there, adjusted their goal to find A home instead of THEIR home, and been done. No more cannibals, no more witch-goddesses, no more being turned into pigs. But Odysseus didn’t stop there. He wanted HIS home. He wanted HIS family. He knew that if he stayed one second longer, it could jeopardize his chance to ever accomplish his real goal. He left, knowing that he was giving up his safety net, and possibly risking everything.
I’ve had this experience twice.
In 2007, I was living in India, working as a trainer for Citibank. It had taken a couple of years of adversity to get to where I was… but at that point I was being paid INCREDIBLY well for doing, well, next to nothing. I was there because it looked good on paper to say they had an American trainer on staff, but in reality their employees has no time to attend training. I made $5000 a month, was provided with an apartment, a maid, a personal driver, and spent most of my workday watching DVDs in the library. It was a very comfortable place to be.
But my goal has always been to have adventures and make my own art. This wasn’t exactly my dream, but it was another version of it. I was having adventures a’plenty, and I was making some art, but my job involved spending my nights in a call center (that I couldn’t bring paper in or out of) and my days to exhausted to draw. I made very little art. My graphic novel had been on hiatus for six months. I even lost some big opportunities…. a publisher wanted to run my comic Aki Alliance right alongside Diary of a Wimpy Kid right before Wimpy Kid became as huge as it did, but I lost the gig because of my long hiatus.
It was terrifying to step away from that oh-so-comfortable safety net. Everyone told me I was living the dream, but I knew I couldn’t sit doing nothing forever. Even though I’d only been paid to make a comic a few times, and had no idea how to make a living at it, I knew I had to try. If I took this step, it was going to be back to fighting monsters. I didn’t want comfort, I wanted to follow my dream. I quit.
I started something called Cartoon Commune. I did custom comics at a flat rate. Boyfriends as superheroes, how-we-met comics for weddings, promotional comics for trade shows…. and just like Odysseus, I was right back into adversity. All nighters. Customers that never paid me. A whole year where I was so broke I had to live on the floor of a broom closet of a friend’s art school and shower at the community gym.
But all that perseverance paid off. Cartoon Commune became a very successful endeavor. It allowed me to travel the world and make a decent living off of comics. Not nearly as much as I made in India, but enough to have an amazing life.
Everyone told me I was living the dream. Well, a dream. But only a version of my dream. I’ve been having adventures and making art, but not MY art. I have a folder on my hard drive with thousands of pages of comics. Comics for brides, grooms, boyfriends, girlfriends, CEOs, rock stars, famous people I can’t name because of nondisclosure agreements. But none of them are for me. They’re not my comics.
I’ve taken time off to draw some of my own books, having to choose the simpler-to-draw scripts so that I can get them done in between Cartoon Commune commitments, and every time it has been an amazingly rewarding experience.
Recently, I got to the point, where I knew it was time to take the big, scary, next step.
I quit the Cartoon Commune. I passed it on to its new manager, Chad Thomas, and lost my safety net. As of 12 hours ago, when I drew the last line on my last Cartoon Commune comic, I’m done. I’m now not just a full-time cartoonist, I’m going to make my OWN comics full time. Once again, I don’t entirely know how to do that. I’ve had success recently selling creator-owned comics, but I realize that it was a group effort and my contributions weren’t necessarily the most popular part of the package. I have no idea how people will respond when I launch projects of my own.
There will be adversity. There will be battles to fight, and monsters to slay. As a recently married man, those battles have higher stakes than ever. But I am ready.
I’m gonna go make some stuff.
I hope you like it.