Doing a bit of Taking Stock at the moment. Thinking about priorities. Thinking about where I am, where I want to be, and whether any of it matters.
First, a look at what I've actually done this year, despite all the distractions. In no particular order:
• For the first time, I feel like I'm able to work digitally in a way that is indistinguishable from my traditional work (for some people that's not the goal, but for me it was always what I wanted to get out of it). This opens up some options in terms of where I can work, and by extension my productivity. So - good thing done.
• I drew a short story called "Cosmic Bowl", written by Dan McCoy, for a thing called Flop House Comics (affiliated with the Flop House podcast), to raise money for the ACLU.
• I began, then abandoned, a graphic novel based on the worst poet who ever lived, William McGonagall. The tone was all wrong; I felt like I was digging a deeper and deeper hole with every new page, so I put it on hold until I feel like I have a better handle on it. This did nothing for my feelings of confidence in my work, but to have continued would have been so very much worse. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with it at this writing.
• Fantagraphics Books published an edition of The Iron Duchess, my Fred the Clown graphic novel, which will hopefully reach a wider audience than those to whom I personally put the thing in their hands, which was the case up 'til now. I like that book a lot. I pissed away some professional opportunities to do it because I believed it was worth doing, so I want it to be read as widely as possible. Big thanks to Fantagraphics for being there for me, as so often in the past.
• Collections of my feminist take on Sherlock Holmes, The Baker Street Peculiars (co-created with Andy Hirsch), and the Betty Boop series I wrote last year (drawn by Gisele Lagace) were released by Boom Studios and Dynamite, respectively.
• I self-published a new issue of Zoot!, a comic I originally did with my brother Andrew in the 1990s. This was partly out of desperation – I hadn't had a professional comics job for some months when I did it, so it was a way to keep productive and (frankly) to keep feelings of worthlessness from overwhelming me – and partly as a statement of intent, a declaration of the kind of comics I want to make going forward. Trying to turn a negative into a positive. I'm pleased with it, and intend to do more of this sort of thing in the future.
• I drew several illustrations for a non-fiction book by Jeff Ryan called A Mouse Divided, about the relationship between Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks.
• A lorra lorra commissions. Thank you to everyone who commissioned work from me this year. You kept me going.
So that was 2017.
My sense of perspective about the kind of stuff I do for a living – largely frivolous, largely unnoticed – has been all over the place lately. I look at the world around me and wonder why I do anything at all. My family and I, all foreign nationals, could be deported at any moment in the febrile, immigrant-hostile atmosphere of post-Brexit Referendum UK. That seems to be a lot more urgent than anything I could commit to paper with a No. 2 Sable. I've done a few things for Good Causes this year to try and address my feelings of uselessness, and I'm glad I did, but I don't feel like I've resolved that tension by any means.
I'm currently drawing a graphic novel, Criminy, written by Ryan Ferrier. That will be coming out late next year. It's fun, but has some serious themes as well. I've been having trouble concentrating on writing much during 2017, so I'm grateful for this book keeping me busy. It'll keep me going until April 2018. It's got a bit of tooth to its subtext that addresses some of the bigger issues I've been thinking about, so that's a plus.
I'm thinking about what I want to do next.
What I've been thinking about most is jumping on projects I feel passionate about, because I just don't feel like I can make myself care about arbitrary projects any more. A few years ago, I found (to my surprise!) that I was quite good at taking a random assignment and finding something within it that I could care about and build upon. I find that incredibly hard right now. The world outside is making a lot of noise and I can't concentrate on much else. It's like having noisy neighbours who scream and fire guns at one another 24 hours a day. If I can't feel the love for a project from a standing start, I don't know if I can work myself up to finding a way in any more.
Another thing I've been thinking about is that I'm exhausted from having to deal with gatekeepers all the time. I spent the last couple of years flinging pitches left and right and nothing really got through. Most of the time I didn't even receive a response. The only reason I'm employed right now is because I hooked up with Ryan, who's still on his way up. So, come April, something I'm going to be working quite hard at is getting my work out there without having to deal with a traditional publisher. I've dabbled in self-publishing the last couple of years, on a small scale, but I'm really not temperamentally suited to the Art of the Hard Sell. I'm not sure putting physical objects in people's hands is the way forward for me, at least not exclusively (as part of a multi-pronged approach, sure). A regular presence on the web, which has served me well in the past, seems to be the thing that will cost me the least financially and get my work in front of people most effectively. Ninety per cent of the battle seems to be reminding people you exist on a regular basis.
I turned 50 in 2017. I don't know how many more productive years I have left in me, but I want to feel like I'm not burning them away on things I don't believe in one hundred per cent.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I'm going to try to shake things up a bit, work-wise, in 2018, once Criminy is done and dusted. I'd been thinking Patreon might be a way to go, but that platform looks less stable and predictable now than it did a month or so ago. So I'll be considering the available options very hard when the time comes, trying to get a sense of the lay of the land as it exists at that point – which might be very different in four months from the way it is now. Who knows anything any more? The world's exploding around our ears.
I've wanted to do something more substantial with my "mystic bastard" character, The Fez, for a while now. It might be that, or the Fred the Clown graphic novel, Arizona Daisy, I started in the recent self-published issue of Zoot! – or both. Those seem to be the options in play at this writing. Those are the things I feel I could most readily get out of bed for. They're the things I can see myself giving a damn about.
So that's me at the end of 2017.
I hope everyone who takes the trouble to read this far – and, indeed, everyone who gave up after two paragraphs – has an excellent, productive and satisfying 2018. I will be doing my damnedest to do the same.