After a surfeit of punishing insomnia that kept me awake until four in the morning last night, I had the most amazing dream. I sat at my drawing table and suddenly, without effort, I was inking a page of my own comic art, based on a brilliant new idea I’d conceived.
I felt a rush of relief and pride in my work, catching myself grinning as I made confident pen-strokes, India ink and inspiration flowing in equal measure. At last, I began to feel like everything would work out alright. I was back in “the groove”. It was sublime.
Then I woke up to the blinding grey reality that I haven’t drawn anything in months, and the brilliant new idea I had was only so much candy floss in a downpour.
I once heard a story about Charlie Chaplin, otherwise known as the most successful comedian in history. Even though Chaplin’s heyday was a century ago, his image is still known, worldwide. Despite his undeniable achievements in film, Chaplin was troubled by an intense paranoia, a fear that one morning he would wake from slumber having completely lost his comic abilities and skill.
The source of this tale was one of my favorite comedians, an “X-rated ventriloquist”, whom I have written about before on this site and in my comics. There’s no point in linking to a recording of the story, or even telling you the comedian’s name. The way the world is going, in a few years’ time, it’ll be as though he never existed. He’s dead, his albums and shows were on micro-labels or self-published, and eventually his admirers won’t be around to keep the fruits of his labor alive. So it goes.
I could spend an entire day listing all the artists and entertainers who’ve inspired me in life, and whom, despite their impact on me, are generally unknown to the public. As a teenager, the obscurity of my chosen idols would make me feel sophisticated and unique, whereas now, it only reminds me that unless something makes a fuckton of money, no one cares about it. With everyone’s emotional and humor needs met by social media and memes, there’s no need for cartoonists anymore. Comic books aren’t worth the paper they’re printed upon.
So there’s no reason to draw comics anymore. Unless they make money. Which they don’t.
Oh, I know, I’m being a “doomer”, right? I should just press on, damn the torpedoes. Endless poverty is the benchmark of a true artistic being. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime, right?
Dude, how fast do you think I can draw a page?
Do you not understand that the easiest way to destroy an artist is to take away the time they use to create art? Because that’s literally all it takes.
In sheer desperation to buy food and pay rent, I took a menial job lugging tools and lumber around back in March of this year. No one noticed, but shortly before then, the weekly strips on my Ceaseless Fables page ceased, for the first time in three years.
Because I had no time to do them anymore.
Almost every weekday was consumed with ten-hour days of labor in 80+ degree heat, working on a house I could never afford to live in, which will be occupied by people I’ll never meet. Every spare moment I spent eating, sleeping, or screaming in pain from a pinched nerve in my neck, which caused my arms and hands to stop functioning for a few days in April and is still currently causing me problems. In three months of work I was paid twice. Both payments were so delayed I was almost evicted, and my roommate and I were fined another $250. On more than a few workdays we worked without breakfast and lunch, because of the exorbitant food prices thanks to the piece of criminal shit you just had to get into the Oval Office.
Both my roommate and I almost died on this job. Once I was using this awesome palm driver, seriously one of the coolest power tools I’ve ever seen, and an existing nail popped out of the crossbeam and skewered the tip of my right middle finger. I had no footwear other than a worn-out pair of low-top Adidas, which wrecked my knees and back from standing on pressed concrete, red clay, or mud for hours at a time.
Twenty-five years ago I was taking a bow on the stage of a theater in front of a rapturously-applauding, standing-room-only audience. Twenty years ago I was in talks to make a cartoon show for either Adult Swim, the Sci-Fi Channel (pre-“Syfy“) or MTV. My animations on Newgrounds brought my site so much traffic I had to keep buying more bandwidth. I was part of a band whose music was broadcast on radio stations like the late lamented Album 88.
From 2002 to 2021, the comic strip upon which this site is based was printed in a monthly periodical and seen by tens of thousands of people. From 2009 to 2023, I drew over 500 sequential art pages in pen and ink. I developed a reliable system for getting comics done, which I made available on my Patreon page.
My Patreon page, which has never even reached five patrons.
Get the picture? Are you starting to get a clearer idea of the difference between then and now? Because it’s a major one.
I have no problem creating comics for myself; it’s what I’ve done from the beginning. My problem is that I don’t have time to do it anymore. I spent decades getting to the point I was at, where I could create a 9″x 6″ full color page in a week. Rushing any part of the process weakens the final product. Unless I’m functioning properly in a studio setup like a professional artist, which is ostensibly my career, I can’t accomplish what I want to at the standard I have created. That means a decline in quality, and disappointed fans who quickly move on to greener pastures. That means the chances of any animation getting done are nil. Producing just one minute of animation can take anywhere from a week to several months, and every month means another subscription fee for the necessary Adobe program. That’s on top of the sums I pay to keep my two websites hosted and running.
I can shoot and edit videos for my YouTube channel with relative speed, which is great because no matter how much work I put into a video, the views almost never hit double-digits until literal years have passed. I make live-streams no one watches. There’s no reason to hire a crew when I have nothing to pay them with. Even the live podcasts I enjoy watching don’t get over a couple hundred viewers. The problem isn’t me.
Every single thing you’ve seen me create since 2007 was produced in the bedroom of whatever shoebox I inhabited, which I tried to pretend was an art studio. I am gradually surrendering my dreams of maintaining a real studio again. It’s impossible to properly record sound or dialogue with the never-ending thudding din of fucking moron music ejaculating from nearby cars 24 hours a day. It’s impossible to concentrate while the stupidest people alive bellow and squeal outside your window at all times, and you know you’ll never live anyplace better.
I know, right? Why don’t I just draw cartoons or make animation about these common frustrations, to take away their power through laughter?
Sounds great, chief. When would I do that exactly?
I don’t even technically have the time to be typing this. I should be putting stuff on eBay. I should be looking for a job, because that’s so totally something I can just “find” realistically. I’ve been at this all day, and once it’s finished, it’ll probably get about as much attendance as a salad bar. So logically, I’m stupid and wasteful for even doing this. There’s no money in it. My decades of experience in this format are worth nothing.
“The Snowball Theory” is something I’ve talked myself hoarse about for years, so this’ll be the last time I bring it up. I look at creating work like rolling a snowball. The more you keep doing it, the bigger the snowball gets.
Writing out notes for a page is the start of the snowball. It gets bigger and bigger as the page is outlined, roughed, bordered and blue-lined. By the time I’m doing final inks, the snowball is huge. Once the page is colored digitally, and collated into a book for sale, the snowball is practically crushing houses, and the next page is well underway.
If at any time you stop, the snowball falls apart, and you have to start all over again. It only stays intact if it’s in motion.
The snowball’s crumbled, folks. It’s 91 degrees outside right now. The snow is long gone. It may never come back again.
When you can’t create because you don’t even know how you’ll cover rent, you don’t create. You look at a blank page and give up. You resent your past successes because they’re in the past. When people suggest that you’ve wasted your life, you listen. They have money. You don’t. That’s all it takes. I can’t put it any plainer than that.
I want to thank everyone who’s supported me and donated to my cause. I hope you know that it was the only thing keeping me going much of the past few years. I wish I could assure my audience that things will continue, but I can’t. Years ago, I tried to warn everyone that America was fast becoming a place where it is impossible for an independent artist to make a living, and no one cared. I’m tired of begging people for money when I don’t have the time to produce anything in return. I’m tired of offering my own ideas and opinions on social media to gain followers and receiving scorn and banishment in return. Overall I’m just fucking tired.
In a couple more years, once everything in entertainment media has been thoroughly co-opted and macerated, and you can’t find anything even resembling an honest opinion, maybe think back on what I said in this article. Maybe print this out for the inevitable day I go offline for good, and my enemies expunge my efforts from the world wide web, so you can remember after all evidence of my existence has vaporized.
After all, if anything I created was any good, it would have made me some money.
And time has run out.