Many, many years ago, I showed up at a popular Midwest convention with a pen, a prayer, and no godly idea what in the hell I was trying to do. People had urged me to make money with my artwork, and I thought that the idea sounded fun. I actually did well enough that first weekend considering I had no signage, no real focus, and a complete lack of proper materials. But it sparked a love affair that refused to die.
Over the past 12 years, I’ve done freelance work, web comics, design and just about everything in between. When we launched Whip Angels, I was totally convinced that it was the best thing we had ever thought of. It’s a great concept. I STILL think it’s a great concept, and we are continuing the production of the comic. But even after 12 years, I thought about quitting. And I thought about it hard.
2013 has been one of the hardest years of my life. We moved. We lost two of our cats for five days, leaving me in pretty much a gigantic mess of a human being. We’ve lost not only family, but an old friend from back in the day, taken from us not even two weeks ago. Family issues arose, medical problems kept me out of work for a week and a half, I almost lost my job due to financials, and that was just the start.
Then there was C2E2.
I was going to avoid saying the Con’s name, because really it isn’t the convention’s fault that we had a terrible time. For local attendees, I am sure C2E2 is a fun event, especially if you are looking for some serious shopping opportunities. The con was clean and full of well informed and fairly friendly staffers. I can’t knock them for that. But I won’t be going back. Because C2E2 was the convention where I questioned myself as an artist for the first time and was personally bullied by not one, not two, but probably about 100+ attendees over the course of the weekend.
I haven’t talked about it much since it happened. I know that I blogged after the con, but things didn’t really sink in until recently when just this past weekend my husband and I were discussing the future of our studio and what we wanted our goals to be. And I burst into tears. I don’t do this regarding much in my life, but it seems like every time I do, it involves the studio. I think it’s because I have sunken everything I am into our work, regardless of what people think. I’ve bled myself dry, drained bank accounts, and moved mountains to get things printed and bring new stuff to the masses. I’ve literally bled. No, seriously. Stabbed myself with an xacto knife once. So did Rich. This is why we now use digital screen tones.
Emergencies set us back this year pretty hard core, which has put us behind on our production schedule. Very far behind. Otaku –no- Yen has been sitting there unfinished for the year. Whip Angels volume 2 is running a bit late. Dirty Rice has another project but hasn’t had any movement or direction. And it dawned on me Sunday, sitting there as I faced the reality of it all, that I felt lost.
Let me explain.
Art used to be a passion for me. I’d lost that feeling for a very long time until we came up with the idea for Whip Angels. Book 1 of W.A. is probably some of the best color and artwork I’ve ever done. I am proud of it like a mama is proud of her children. It isn’t perfect, but it’s damn good in my opinion. And the series is just going to get better as it goes along. When we came up with the idea for the series, it brought new life to me. I felt energized for the first time in years. I felt hungry and ready for a fight, ready to take on the whole god damned world. I worked endless hours and didn’t sleep, poured my love into every single layout and page. Richard and I fought over EVERYTHING that had to do with the book because we both wanted it to be completely perfect. When the first copies arrived, I was so happy I cried. I shed a tear. I felt like hey, this is legit. I mean, we’d had books for OnY but not like this. This was a new format, a new way of approaching our work and a new story that catered to what we felt was a larger audience. It was relatable. Even I felt I would read the book if I had no idea what it was.
So when we took it to C2E2 and people openly mocked me just for displaying my artwork, it was like being burned at the stake. People didn’t pick up the book or read it, or offer constructive criticism. They didn’t say “this sucks and here’s why”. They didn’t say “You need to work on your art.” No.
They said “don’t go to that booth. They’re perverts. Just look at them.”
They said “fucking otaku get out of our con.”
They said “Jesus lady stop kidding yourself,”
They said “Don’t bother looking at that shit. It’s garbage.”
They said “Dumb bitch doesn’t know how to draw.”
I made it until Saturday mid-day before I finally had to run to the restroom and cry in a stall for a while. And I was more ashamed of the fact that I WAS crying. I don’t let people get to me. I just don’t. But this time around, it was relentless, and it was consistent. It didn’t end. And it kept going right until the instant that we broke down to leave.
I spent a majority of our drive home in silence, trying not to let it get to me. But in the back of my head, that little voice had started, saying “maybe this isn’t your calling”. I didn’t want to listen. We’ve been insanely fortunate over the years to have gained so many fans, to have people that brought us hand made pillows with our logos and shrinkie dinks of our characters. We’ve had the good fortune of making dear friends through the convention circuit that have stuck by us for years. But here I was, staring at the rolling Wisconsin landscape that I am becoming overly familiar with this year and wondering…was I kidding myself? Was my stuff that bad?
I’ve been mulling this over for months, and I’ve let it fall to the wayside because it was easier than dealing with the pain. And Sunday, that came up. Tears welled again and I felt myself growing vulnerable. I hate vulnerability. I’m not a vulnerable person. I stand up for what I think is right and I shamelessly put myself out there. But I also explained it to my husband like this.
“I am more scared of getting back behind a convention table right now than I am of getting on a stage in pasties and shaking my ass half naked. What the hell is wrong with me?”
And then the dialogue opened.
I’ve grown weary not with the artwork, but with the circuit. For so many years, our focus has been to do as many conventions as we could. We’ve been invited to conventions as guests, yes, but we’ve also been treated like second class citizens at some of these conventions because we are ‘just artists’. We’ve also been invited to several local conventions only to have them un-invite us because we weren’t important enough, or they botched and just figured we weren’t important enough to give the consideration of a phone call. We’ve been told we are “D-listers” in the convention circuit because we aren’t voice actors (this is not a knock to voice actors, we have lots of friends who do voice work and they are amazing people). We’ve been passed over at autograph lines because we ‘weren’t known enough’. We’ve been insulted, told we suck, and now trolled right to our faces.
Really…how much of that could YOU deal with before you just stopped giving a crap? I pointed all of this out.
“I wish it was like it was in the beginning,” I admitted quietly.
“So we stop doing it for anyone else,” he said. I blinked and didn’t quite follow, so he continued. “Remember what we used to say about our comics?”
“That they were killing us slowly,” I said with a joke. He shook his head.
“No,” said Rich, “that if we sold three books, we felt like John Grisham. So let’s just be that way again.”
And he’s right.
I’m done worrying about convention invites or publicity. I’m done fretting and losing sleep over things, and I am done listening to the trolls. I am done worrying that I am ‘not good enough’, because I am. I am good enough to tell our stories and move forward in my own way. I’m good enough to keep learning and grow as an artist and a person. And I’m not going to give a crap what people think anymore.
Whip Angels will continue and it will be spectacular. And the studio will continue to do things. We’ll still support our local cons (much love for Anime Detour and Anime Fusion) and do what we can from time to time, but 2014 is going to be a quiet con year. 2, maybe 3 shows. Tops. That’s it. We’re going to refocus and do our own thing and put out good quality material.
Growth is painful even after over a decade of doing something. Just remember to keep your head up and grow. Keep growing, enjoy yourself, and screw the haters.