I had just finished drawing the biggest book of my career, the Justice League, written by Chris Claremont of X-Men fame. I had just worked with a venerated writer on a flagship title (mini-series) at one of the Big Two and I couldn’t have been worse off.
My work had been coming in late. My draftsmanship was subpar. I wasn’t ready for the opportunity I’d been given and learning on the job in a meritocracy like comics isn’t a good recipe for success or longevity. I had become another in a long list of comic book artists who’d been good enough to get the chance to work, but not good enough to keep work. I certainly wasn’t professional enough to be given the chance to develop. I knew it and the editors I’d worked with damn sure knew it.
The industry was contracting and those of us who fell into that woeful list couldn’t get a cup of coffee at the Marvel or DC Offices. Nothing against the Big Two, mind you. They were trying to keep the doors open at the time. The couldn’t afford any more lenticular covers with an eight-page gatefold sold in a silver foil stamped mylar bag, so they certainly couldn’t afford to have mediocre artists working on mediocre books.
Capes and Tights had become passé and a new distraction called “The Internet” was blamed for audience decline. Those in the know proclaimed that comics were dead (not dying, dead) and whatever remained of the carcass would never be anything more than a niche fetish or sold off and re-purposed.
Not that I had a choice, but I left and in leaving left all comics behind. I didn’t read or touch a comic book or graphic novel for almost ten years. I gave away a collection of books I’d curated since I was eight. When it was over I couldn’t remember what it was I loved about the work or the medium in the first place. Whatever was special about comics was now inextricably bound up with all the feelings I had about the sour end to my spotty career.
I broke up with comics.
A few years later I bumped into comics on some random Tuesday in a large chain bookstore in a nondescript mall while I was sipping a hot flavored beverage from an overpriced status identifier. I happened upon the store’s newly expanded Graphic Novels section. My first thought as I grabbed a collected Old Man Logan off the shelf was that I was surprised they were still trying to legitimize the industry by using the phrase “Graphic Novel.”
I opened the book and read the first few pages, then the next few, then the first half of the book. I finished it at home that evening amazed. The losses that overused, overly exposed character had were real. His struggles were simple and compelling. I was carried along during the slow build towards the story’s inevitable ending.
The next day I was back in that store thumbing through titles I’d either never heard of or never given a second thought to. Fables, Irredeemable, Northlanders, Hack/Slash not to mention the improved Capes and Tights books at the Big Two. New companies, new creators and a new level of art like I’d never seen. Sure, there was still crap, but the crap-to-cream ratio had never been so low.
Within a week I’d bought the old tools I’d used before and got back to sketching. Within a few months I’d tossed the old tools in the garbage for the new and improved digital tools of this new and improved age.
Comics continued to become more diverse, created by not only men but some other form of human that’s smaller and generally has less facial hair. Honestly, how many of you nerds saw that coming? More diverse backgrounds, more diverse stories, more kinds of art, and more ways to consume it made comics as sophisticated and sexy as it’s ever been.
Comics and I got back together.
I’ll be covering my love affair with comics and working in comics every other week in this column. I’ll discuss our fights, our victories, our children and the terribly difficult birthing process as well as what it’s like to see them take their first steps into the world. Fortunately for me my newest child, “We Can Never Go Home” is adorable!