The Early Years
I’ve wanted to make comic books since I was eight years old. Eight. Years. Old. Thankfully I’ve come a long way since then. After almost three decades I’ve matured. I now have the mind of a 12 year old. And I still want to make comic books.
Some 11 year old artwork, amid more recent attempts…
I grew up in a family of readers, a trait which I thankfully adopted as well. I had some comic books around the age of 4 or 5, and while I didn’t really understand what was transpiring in them, the images definitely stuck in my brain. Action Comics #557. In the opening sequence Superman is a gunslinger in a wild west shootout with his cowboy opponent. My young mind was enthralled! I flipped the pages as the tense standoff unfolded, the staredown, hands poised by holsters… only to see Superman lose! He’s gunned down, and the bad guy strides over and kicks the head clean off his body revealing robotic innards inside! Needless to say, I was traumatized. Had Superman been a robot all along? Had I just witnessed the demise of a hero!?! The nuances of the story, such as the fact that Superman had been no more than an elaborate training dummy for a villain named Terra-Man, were lost on me at that age.
Don’t even get me started on Incredible Hulk #295! A family dog dying of cancer is irradiated by gamma rays in an experimental treatment. He is cured! Unfortunately, later he turns savage and attacks the family he loves. Some people recall the horror of watching Old Yeller as a child, I think I upped the ante. Watching a snarling green gamma dog break down a door as Pa grabbed his shotgun to defend the cowering family… that was formative. I haven’t tracked down all the comic issues that these memories spring from. I can still visualize a scene of Robin getting devoured by crocodiles as Batman looks on in horror. I’ll find that one someday… Those comics didn’t survive. While they had a massive impact on me, I wasn’t quite ready for that world. No, Mom didn’t make me throw them away. I did the damage myself. I discovered that the glossy covers slid excellently on carpeted floor. I could stand on them and “ice skate” around the house. Needless to say, they were not in mint condition.
I know I read a lot at a fairly young age. I must have worked my way through most of the Hardy Boy’s adventures when I was only about 7. There was a bit of my sister’s Nancy Drew mixed in as well as some old Bobbsy Twins. The summer when I was eight years old I was already searching for something new and different from those young adult mysteries. Reading about cyborg Kryptonians and Gamma rabies at age 4 had kind of taken the edge off of How to Eat Fried Worms now. At WaldenBooks with some allowance money, the comic rack caught my eye. I bought New Mutants #65 that day and have been a fan and creator ever since. The cover overflowed with characters brawling, all drawn with such power and animation by the fantastically talented Brett Blevins. Many of the images and moments were just as powerful as those moments read when I was 4 and 5, but I was an elder 8 year old now! I started to piece together the stories and understand the characters and narrative. I got the next issue, and the next. Other titles followed. Quasar, Forgotten Realms, Legion of Super Heroes, The Incredible Hulk. All of them overflowed with excitement and imagination. In the next couple years I graduated from book store spinner rack to a full fledged comic store! What kid could have imagined such a thing existed!
If you’d asked me when I was 7 years old what I wanted to be, I actually would have said “an author.” Maybe there was a hint of baseball player and paleontologist dreams too, I was a 7 year old boy after all, but creating and storytelling was already where my dreams were headed. By the time I was 9 the answer to that same question was solidly, “a comic book artist.” My big christmas gift around the age of 10 or 11 years old was a drafting table. I was already discovering Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, McFarlane and Liefeld were in full swing on Spider-Man and New Mutants, and the Image boom was just around the corner. I had my prized copy of “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” and I was ready to take the comic world by storm.
My first comic featured the Carnosaur Kid. (That paleontology love clung on there a bit…) It was an 18 page masterpiece! It was one of the first times I ever drew on unlined paper and I felt like a real pro. It contained three stories of a young boy transformed into a hulking dinosaur man. “Stories” is a loose term. In actuality it was three different fight scenes with several opponents. In the third fight Carnosaur Kid valiantly gave his life in stopping his foe. I’d killed off my titular hero on page 17. It didn’t reflect well on my attention span or business savvy. I like to think I’ve improved at least a little on those traits since then, but I still have a ways to go! A couple years later my work found it’s way into hundreds of thousands of homes as some of my fan art of the character Violator was published in the letters column of an issue of Spawn. Clearly my comics career was a lock! But…
Workin’ for a Livin’
…I’m still working on it. Comic books, like any kind of creative endeavor, are very hard work. Hundreds of hours spent crafting an issue that is read in perhaps 15 minutes. I published a comic called “Seer” in 2004. It expanded on a short story I’d had published in 2002 in the anthology comic book Digital Webbing Presents. “Seer” was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and truthfully it burned me out for a while. Even in a void where it’s just you facing the work at hand, it would be difficult to accomplish.
There is no void though, life is teeming with obligations and distractions. Finding the energy after a day at work to pursue the dream career was a constant struggle. The struggle only became more intense as a few years later I was hit hard by illness, the chronic disease Ulcerative Colitis. I battled it for many years. During that time my greatest accomplishment was crafting about 40 pages of my own webcomic called “Appetite for Distraction.” It was fun, some friends enjoyed it, and I could fit in a strip or two when I was feeling well enough to work.
Unable to subdue my Colon with medications, and having it fully ruining my life, I finally opted for “the nuclear option” and had that colon removed. It was a series of three surgeries over the course of more than a year. It was grueling. I said that Seer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The disease and surgeries are the only things keeping Seer from holding that title outright.
Not long before the third surgery, I was sitting in a Panera with a good friend. I remember telling her about Jeremy Dale. A couple days before I’d read the news that Jeremy had passed away suddenly. He’d been admitted to the hospital and within a day or two he was gone. I still don’t know exactly how. I’d never met Jeremy in person, but more than a decade ago we’d run in the same online crowd. Jeremy had even drawn 5 pages of Seer intended for another issue of Digital Webbing Presents but due to some other commitments our collaboration eventually fizzled. Jeremy had been inspiring to me,he was the same age, a contemporary, and at one point we’d been at the same point in our fledgling comic careers. I’d watched him achieving his goals during the last decade through his hard work and perseverance. He was proof positive that I could do the same. Jeremy was doing wonderful work on his own comic book Skyward, and suddenly he was gone. I remember telling my friend about this as I idly picked at my food. I wasn’t feeling very well and my appetite was minimal. Within a week my friend was hanging out with me again, this time in a hospital emergency room as a doctor told me I was in full kidney failure. My Colitis had never felt life threatening, it was just destroying my quality of life. This however was scary, and I know that I could have been someone who checked in and never went home.
The surgeries are done. I’m consistently feeling well for the first time in almost a decade, and I don’t want to waste the new opportunity that I’ve been given. All the normal obstacles are still right there waiting. I have a full time day job… and since my last published comic there has been this invention called Netflix… All that aside I’m ready to make my next serious run at the comic world. Along with age and life experience has come a sense of urgency, it’s time to do what I’m meant to do. So here I am. It’s an amazingly exciting time for comics. Print on Demand, Webcomics, Digital Comics, KickStarter, Patreon, none of this was around when I published Seer! It’s an amazing new landscape of opportunity that allows creator owned content to make it’s own way in the world much like the indy comic boom of the early 80’s. There is such a diversity of genres and the quality of storytelling and art has never been better. With the playing field so level, and the barriers to entry so low, readers do have to sift through plenty of sub par material as well, but their search will yield gems that never could have formed in the publishing systems of yesteryear.
At this moment I’ve regrouped. For the first time in 15 years I don’t have a website currently online as I gear up to relaunch myself and my next comic book.
*My next big project… I Thought It Would Be Zombies
I plan on sharing much of my upcoming journey. Behind the scenes peeks, works in progress, tutorials, reviews, and discussion of the world of comics in general, everything is on the table. I’m looking to explore if Steemit can form the base of my blogging platform and help me reach my goals. I’ll be working to hold up my end of the bargain, which is providing worthy and entertaining content!
Based off this post or any in the future, if there are any questions you’d like to ask please don’t hesitate. I’d love to know what others are interested in seeing and learning to help steer this blog on a rather wide ocean of content.
Take care of yourselves and your dreams!