that's a great throught provoking essay Steven. I can definitely relate to most of what you’re talking about.
Being primarily trained as an artist, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to write and draw my own stories, but otherwise I definitely can empathize with your trials and tribulations.
I apologize in advance for the length and long-windedness of this, I certainly am not trying to stand on a soap box of any kind, it's just that your essay got me thinking about a lot of different phases of my comic book "life".
For years during middle school and high school I would draw and write comics with my brother, we'd make copies of the pages on a copying machine and sell them around our hometown. When I went off to college to study art, I figured that when I would graduate I would finally have the necessary skills to become some kind of professional artist, or at least pick up free lance work. I wasn't cocky per se but I was confident. I figured I’d get a job (at least doing something in art, preferably comic books) after I graduated.
Then in my senior year my instructor (who also self publishes his own comic) took me, my brother, and my friends to a comic con. We took our penciled pages and inked pages around to artists, editors, any body that would look at them. Most of the reviews were polite, some were brutal massacres, some still resonated days later like a ringing in our ears.
One thing was for certain though- we weren't ready.
Not long after that, my brother and I entered a short 8 page story to an independent company (I forget which one) that was sponsoring a sort of talent search. The premise was to send the first 8 pages of your story and the plot and they would pick 4 winners to publish their stories as graphic novels. Once they printed your graphic novel and marketed it their would the option to get a contract to do several graphic novels.
This was it- our big break or at least we thought. Anyways, we didn't get picked as finalists, we were runner up. BUT- one of the finalists dropped out, and they wanted to go ahead with us! However- they wanted to drastically change up the story, in fact they wanted to get one of their guys to write it.
Now- what I’m about to say will probably have some people saying were pompous jackasses-
We told them no. No, we don't want you changing our story, you can't possibly write characters that WE created better than us.
And that was a deal breaker for them, so needless to say we didn't get published or actually even hear back from them.
I've often looked back on that as one of the very few defining moments I’ve had in my life. Good or bad it's done, but if I had to do it over again I probably would.
Skip forward 2 years later, about 9 months before I get married, I sit down with my brother, and our highscool and college friend and we decide were going to self publish an anthology book, with 5 ongoing stories.
we use the first 8 pages from our contest for one of the stories (mostly because it's already done) we bust our asses during the summer, send the book to the printers and 3 days before my wedding we get our small print run of 1000 copies in the mail.
Holding the issue in my hand, I realized that I made the right choice in saying “no” that independent company.
We get our book in the local comic book store, sell some locally, hit up a couple of conventions and within a little over another year we've got issue 2 done and printed.
Self publishing can be a very double edged sword type of thing- on one hand- you have immense freedom to tell whatever kind of stories you want, and basically do whatever you want comic book wise, on the other hand, you foot the bill yourself, you have to do all the promotion yourself, basically you have to do every single thing yourself. And your pretty much gonna be not only losing money, but losing time in the process.
Not to mention that basically until sales start to pick up what you basically have is just a very expensive hobby that some people think is very cool (when they are nice enough to purchase your book and read it)
The amazing thing is- even at the very low level of independent publishing that we are at- people still are constantly trying to come work for us- the majority of them are writers, some are artists. It's always a tough thing to have to say to them that "right now, we don't have the money or the manpower to take on any new talent, or print any new books."
Suddenly in a weird kinda way, were the editor, or professional artist on a portfolio review and I’m telling someone to keep working on their craft, and were not taking on anyone at this time. I’m telling them no, and that’s weird.
Every time I have to tell some one that, I can only hope that they do exactly the same thing I did.
Whatever it is you feel from that encounter with that editor, company head, artist or whoever, that tells you to "keep working on your storytelling, anatomy, etc."
Use your anger, rage, disappointment and rejection.
Use it to move forward and tell your own stories, hone your skills and carve out your own path.
The important thing is- when you die, that you die with no regrets, no unanswered questions, no "I coulda been a comic book artist...."
If an artist, writer or whoever has a story to tell than they need to tell it. They might never make it big or make it rich, but they can look back and say "I gave it my last full measure..."
I have absolutely no delusions of grandeur or false hopes. I consider my comic team to be some of absolute best artists and storytellers in the indie comic field today, I am so very lucky to work with all of them. I think our book is a pretty decent book, and although it's very far from perfect I’m proud of it.
I'm also very well aware that it might never take off, it might never make it big, that we'll all be stuck at our day jobs until were old enough to retire. (Although the way the economy's goin’, we'll probably just work until we die)
But I’m gonna die with no regrets at least, and for that I am grateful.
Thank you and rock on.
I would encourage you to collect this as a book. In addition to the comments above concerning the need for "good" comic book books, this is also the only place in town that I know that gives you the complete package, not just information on inking, or lettering, etc.