So that's 2016 out the door, then. Like a lot of people, I'm saying "good riddance" to it; not just because of the gruesome parade of artists' deaths, disasters and political earthquakes it brought us, but also because it's been one of the worst years of my professional life.
The rot started early on, when not one, but two substantial projects I'd been banking on fell through at roughly the same time. Since then, the number of paid comic pages I've been asked to draw has been pretty small – you can count them on your fingers and toes. All of the pitches and proposals I've sent out since then have either been ignored, rejected outright, or put on hold indefinitely while legal or licensing issues are worked out. (Fortunately, I've had a few people come through for me with some cover work and commissions, to whom I'm eternally grateful. You know who you are.)
It wasn't all awful, though. Here are a few of the positives from 2016:
- I finished my Fred the Clown graphic novel, The Iron Duchess, and (after sending it around and getting no offers) decided to do a small self-published run so I'd have something to sell at SPX (incidentally, attending this year's SPX was a highlight all of its own). Having that book to sell has made the last few conventions I've done very successful for me, so that's been great. And it's a book I've wanted to do for years, so I'm very glad I completed it and got it out into the world.
- For the first five months of this year, I did a daily strip, which I have always wanted to do. I stopped at the end of May, having done nearly 150 strips by then, because it was burning me out; I needed that time and creative energy to work on pitches so that I could get some paying work, and the daily – which was supposed to take me a single hour each day, as a kind of warm-up exercise – was taking up more and more of my time as I became more ambitious with the kinds of techniques I was using on it, not least my attempts to get to grips with...
- Drawing digitally! 2016 was the year I finally cracked and bought a Cintiq Companion so I could work digitally more effectively, and the year when I really got to grips with Manga Studio (or Clip Studio, as it is now) after treating it as a diverting but largely useless toy for a number of years. Still figuring out how best to incorporate it into my regular workflow, but I'm pleased with the amount of progress I've made already, and it does mean I can work while I'm travelling without carrying a suitcase full of art supplies – so that's already a win.
- A series I wrote in 2015 saw the light of day in 2016: The Baker Street Peculiars, drawn by the wonderful Andy Hirsch, from Boom! Studios. Very proud of that book.
- A Betty Boop comic I'd written a pitch for in 2015 finally came to fruition with Dynamite Entertainment, allowing me to play in the Max Fleischer universe (which is something I always love doing), and to work with the immensely talented Gisèle Lagacé.
- I wrote my first Doctor Who comic story, for Panini UK's long-running Doctor Who Magazine – and got to draw it as well, which was a blast. Then I was invited to participate in the jam comic for the spectacular 500th issue, enabling me to work on a script by Scott Gray again, which I always look forward to (even if he does write me insane crowd scenes!).
- And, last but not least, I got to work with Shaenon K.Garrity again, this time on an Adventure Time story. Working with Shaenon is always a joy and I hope we can do it again sometime soon.
So that's the year looking back. What about forward to 2017? Here are a few thoughts about what I've definitely got planned and what I'd like to accomplish.
Firstly, I'd like to get more work published (well, duh!). I've got several projects being considered at the moment, all of which are in various stages of inertia right now – the odds of every single one of them falling through seem unlikely (though after 2016 I wouldn't rule that out!), but right now nothing's definite about any of them.
So, given that I've got no guarantee that I'll have any work coming out in 2017, I intend to begin a new work of my own, to be serialised online (and hopefully collected eventually), just to keep the juices flowing – and to remind people that I'm still around. I've actually been struggling to make this happen for several months now; I've made a number of false starts on things, lost confidence in them and gone back to the drawing board. Initially I was planning to do a new Fred the Clown story, and I haven't given up on that idea entirely just yet, but first I thought I'd have a go at another project I've wanted to do for years: THE GREAT McGONAGALL, a factually-based story about William McGonagall, widely considered to be the worst poet who ever lived. I intend serialising it on ZCO.MX, as I did with The Iron Duchess, and linking to it here whenever there's an update.
That loss of confidence thing I mentioned there, though... that's been a real problem in 2016. Having nearly everything I submitted to anyone be rejected, ignored or placed in publishing limbo has been a real knock to my belief in my abilities, and that's something I've been struggling with a lot. It's been exacerbated by my first baby steps into working digitally – that has, I think, opened up many more stylistic and methodological options for me, and that's been a little overwhelming and paralyzing: with so many options open to me, how is one to choose? Ultimately, I don't know if there's a better way to get through it than to just give myself a task with some very specific boundaries and tough it out. So, with McGonagall, I'm aiming for something more realistic than my attempt in 2016 to do a daily strip with no parameters – this one will be weekly, telling a single story, using traditional media, in black and white. I know I can achieve that. Just plugging away at it one page at a time.
I'm working on more pitches, both on my own and (in one case) with a collaborator, for which I have high hopes. I'll announce it here if anything comes of any of them.
I'd also like to use my skills to do some good in the world – educational comics, charity fundraisers and such like. With the political landscape being what it is right now, things are likely to become a lot more difficult for a great many people over the next few years, and we owe it to them and to ourselves to try and make some sort of difference. I've already done some work for one project of this kind and am negotiating another, and I'd like to do more, on top of whatever support (financial and otherwise) I can give to organisations and institutions that are fighting for what's decent, rational and right. We've got some major battles on the horizon if we want to live in a world that isn't a total nightmare. We all need to do our bit.
Okay – I think that's about all I have for now. As rough as 2016 has been, I know I'm more fortunate than I probably deserve. Things could be so much worse. I have many blessings and I'm grateful for all of them.
Thanks for reading this far, and I hope you have an excellent year.