Wizard World 2007

Originally uploaded by jeremydale.
This is a shot of my buddies Jeremy Dale, Loston Wallace and Nate Lovett at this year's Wizard World Chicago comic convention.

I've only been to two Chicago cons and two San Diego cons in my life. I've been to another smattering of small press expos, local sci-fi conventions and art fairs. Conventions are a weird animal for me. I like these guys and the other folks I've known for a few years like Shane Peters and Dash Martin, but I've always felt like an outsider because I wasn't that into comics.

By "into" comics I mean steeped. Starting from even my early days back in college of collecting comics, it was superficial at best. I'm the same age as these guys (older that most actually) but I didn't grow up on comics books like they did. Loston especially has this knowledge of comic lore and creator history that needs to be bottled and archived at the Smithsonian. And all of them want to be, and for the most part are, comic book artists. Dash, Jeremy, Nate and Shane all got call backs from Marvel or DC this past weekend. They've been doing their own books or indie press books for some time now, but there's a good chance that most of them will be doing work for the big two very soon.

I'm proud of them, but I'm also a bit sad. I'd like to go back to Chicago (yes honey, alone) but it would be solely to hang out with these guys and that's an expensive weekend just to see some people you only know from the internet. I don't know what to do with my art lately, but it hasn't been comic books. I don't have the time any more to do anything that extensive and I can feel another wave of people leaving me behind as I sit at work doodling.

As I look back to the last time I went, 2005, I was surprised how much I actually didn't like being there. I liked talking with and hanging out with these guys, but the rest of it seemed like a haze or a fitful dream. I mean, I know I'm a bit of a geek, but the people there were uber-geeks and I can't tell even now if I was sad for them or jealous of them. They were in their element and I wasn't, I was trying really hard to be included and it didn't work.

Jeremy works very hard at what he does. He's like any of the other artists I admire. He draws for 17 hours a day. It's how he makes a living. He draws commissions for people and works on licensed projects for retailers. He just worked on a project for a GI Joe toy line that will be released with a comic book that has circulation 5x that of just a regular title. It was good money and it got him visibility. Loston's doing much of the same work for DC, some licensed projects. Shane and Dash have been stalwart Image padewans for years and Nate has his own comic, Xombie, already out.

These guys have really made it.

You'll notice I'm a little angry about it. We all didn't start drawing together, we weren't in school together or anything, but especially Jeremy and Dash and Shane I've known for years. I've know that they weren't always good. They had to learn and get better and hone their skills, just like anyone. Back in the day I would have considered myself a decent, comparable artist. I would have even said I was as good or better than these guys - at the time. There were things I was doing that were different and I thought more artistically challenging but it was all in the name of being seen as a comic book artist.

The trouble was, I made different choices. I won't say "wrong" choices, but I made different choices and at some point I didn't make any choices at all, I just let people decide for me. Instead of going to San Diego for a third time I came to visit my soon to be wife in Texas. Instead of pushing hard to get on with a local Houston comic company I spent time playing video games with a bunch techs at a day trading company. I had a window of opportunity somewhere around 1999-2000 where I could have said, "I'm going to be a comic book artist and I'll work my ass off and hope it starts paying the bills."

But I didn't. You know why? Because it would have not paid the bills. The job I had at the time was brainless and tumultuous but it was good money. We lived in Houston and we had only one car and we had to pay for it and rent and if I'd have chosen "artist" over "IT monkey" I don't think we would have made it. It's no one's fault either, it's just the way it happened.

Then we moved to Austin and I had another small window of opportunity before our firstborn came along. We'd moved out because I got a job offer (doing more tech support) and Mrs. A got on with Dell. We were making decent money and I actually had a plan that if Mrs. A moved up in the company enough and made a decent wage, I could quit and focus on art. Well, that never came. She became really disillusioned with Dell and sales in general and she'd eventually quit. Between maternity leaves and layoffs in which she'd watch entire teams dissolve around her, it was only a matter of time before she grew tired of the crap and had to get out. Luckily she had her photography.

And that's where we are today. As of now, Mrs. A works 5 jobs, all having to do with her photography. She works her ass off and barely makes enough to pay bills. Her latest job should pay decently enough that she can not work as hard, but with having the kids with her all day (the 6th job) it's a wonder she can do anything. I'm just as envious of her as I am of my comic buddies. I don't know what drive they have to take that chance and say damn the torpedoes, but I don't have it - and if I did it's gone.

I've found a good niche for now I suppose. Cartooning is a good way to get something done that doesn't take a lot of time. Lettering a comic book is nice in that it makes it finally look like a comic book page, but it doesn't take long to do and doesn't require much effort. I've been able to get some commissions and hopefully that will lead to more, but there will be a critical mass where I can't squeeze anything into my day any more. I can't bring a giant drawing board and a bunch of tools to work and spend 10 hours drawing in order to get these fantastic pages done. Nor can I do 20 cartoons in a single sitting. It's frustrating but in the end I have to look out for more people than just me. If I were single or childless it might be different. Mrs. A and I could live in a hovel and still be ok. With all her work she's hardly home anyway. But until the kids are older, I have to make sure their needs are met first and if that means sacrificing my happiness, then so be it.

The high point of my artistic "career" as been self publishing a half-assed drawn comic book. It was lettered in Flash and I spent $400 getting 100 copies of which I sold maybe 10 and gave away close to 50. It's odd that given that's the best I've been able to do, I don't know that I'd want to do it again. So what else is there?

Carry on.

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