The Catch-22

Would you like to be a cartoonist like me?

You can’t. Sorry. Not even if you paid me to train you. It won’t happen.

You say you’ve got the talent? The desire? Good for you.

Get a 9-to-5 job doing something else, and draw cartoons in your spare time. Post them on the Internet, for free. Forget about making money on it. You won’t, no matter how good you are. Again, sorry.

Still think I’m being harsh on you? Okay. Let me ask you some questions.

Q: You have a great idea for a cartoon, but you have no food, and rent is past due. What now?

  1. Call your family and beg for money.
  2. Get hired to do a regular job, which starts in two weeks, and pays you in four.
  3. Go to a friend’s house for a meal.
  4. Draw the cartoon.

Did you answer anything but #4?

Sorry. You can’t do what I do.

Your fears will kick in and you’ll quit drawing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but my point is, once I draw the cartoon, it’s better than money. Ten times the value.

From 1993-1997, I worked 40+ hours a week at two different music retail outlets. I rose to the level of assistant manager. I wore a shirt and tie, and drove a car, for which I could afford insurance.

The first store I worked at was called Tracks. Around 1995, it was dissolved into Blockbuster Music. Then I was hired away by Media Play. 

Seen any of them lately in your trips to the mall? No?

So then, aside from the knowledge of music that I developed, and the stories about the era that I put into my comics, that five years of work equaled exactly jack shit. 

At the time, those jobs were the epicenter of my world. They required all of my energy, and then some. I could barely do my two concurrent newspaper strips on time, and I squeezed out maybe 40 pages of comics in five years. For nothing. 

I went from a happily married man to the nastiest (divorced) record-store employee in South Georgia. Five years, and I was literally being called into the office every day for having an altercation with a customer. I started smashing merchandise with a rubber mallet in my kiosk. I made up offensive band names for the “Coming Soon” marquee. I fantasized about backhanding every single person on Earth, right in the lips. I finally headed downtown with a suicide note and a bottle of aspirin, preparing to do shots until nature took its course.

My friends caught me, and my girlfriend at the time told me enough was enough. I didn’t belong there. I quit, and became an artist full-time, sink or swim.

This was roughly 20 years ago. Media Play died less than five years after I left.

In 1998, I drew the first batch of Bands I Useta Like strips. And here we are.

Here we are in 2017, about to be 2018, and people believe that art is worthless if it doesn’t make money.

That’s why those same people aren’t artists.

“Show me a good marketer, and I’ll show you a crappy comic.” -Nick DiPaolo

Your average web cartoonist is nothing but a whore, selling out their work with timely references and familiar aesthetics. Compare them to the underground cartoonists of the 1960s, who bared their innermost phobias and feelings in ink. Do you honestly think they were concerned with the “bottom line”, or becoming “famous”? If they were, would we still be reading them today? No. Of course not.

The great R. Crumb showed up bright and early for work at Harvey Kurtzman’s  HELP! magazine, only to find that Harvey couldn’t pay him. The mag had already folded. Did they take that as a reason to quit? Would you?

Do you draw cartoons to make money, or to express yourself? Do you see how important the difference is?

Let me rephrase that.

Do you think you’re being creative to express yourself, but you’re actually trying to make money?

I’m broke right now. I’m always broke. But you know what? People around the world know my name. They know my face. They know my cartoons. They’re reading this right now. 

That’s worth more than money. It lasts longer, even after you’re dead. And you can’t buy it. 

Whining about your problems and fears on Facebook accomplishes zero. Honing those feelings into a piece of artwork, one that resonates with other people in a meaningful way: that’s an accomplishment. They just don’t make trophies for it. Not that I’m aware of, anyway.

If I’d stuck with Media Play, you wouldn’t be reading these words. They wouldn’t exist; neither would the titular comic strip. I would’ve moved on to some other bullshit job after the closing, and continued to be a spare-time cartoonist. I never would’ve gone to that business convention in Hilton Head to draw caricatures, and scored the newspaper gig I’ve had for going on 20 years.

This is why I become enraged when guys ‘n gals treat their cartooning like a dalliance; it’s not. It never was. If you treat your art like something you squeak out in your free time, so will the public. They’ll attack you. Mercilessly. Then you’ll quit, because why not? Why subject yourself to that abuse? It’s easier to work a 9-to-5, like them. Go ahead and slide down to their level; it’s more comfortable in a crowd. Easier to hide. Less stressful.

That’s why most people quit. That’s the catch-22 artists have to live with. Money is a tool, not a goal. You use money for supplies, not status. You want real status?

Earn it, when you have nothing. Don’t buy it, or beg for it. Earn it.

That’s the only way you’ll keep it.

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