Navel-Gazing

Yesterday I found myself descending into one of my periodic "What’s the point of blogging?" funks. It quickly morphed into a larger "Where do I go from here?" funk.

I’m on a cusp of some kind, folks. A creative discombobblement of uncertain duration has me thrown off-stride. Once I’ve completed cover art for a print version of my webcomic series "Mark the Art Guy," that Adobe-commissioned venture will begin receding into the past. It’s been a challenging commercial endeavor, and Adobe has deep enough pockets to have made it rewarding. But it’s been a real time hog as well, commandeering the lion’s share of my working hours ever since I was invited by a charmer in the software giant’s marketing branch to undertake it back in March of 2006.

That was roughly a month after this blog went online. Since then, as fate would have it, I’ve enjoyed an uptick in freelance opportunities on top of the long-running Adobe gig. That’s been a welcome change from the previous several years of comparative drought, so don’t take anything I say about its ramifications as a complaint. Between the payments from Adobe and the fees from other clients, I’ve been able to take comfort in better bank balances for a while. That’s been an unfamiliar sensation.

There’s been a downside to that income boomlet, though. I’ve had frustratingly little control over my own time, which means that the "real" part of being an artist—"following my muse," to use a term that has a grandiose ring but nevertheless cuts to the bone of my tender psyche—has gotten short shrift.

And now summer approaches. That almost always means a slowdown in freelance assignments, so unless something unexpected crops up the way Adobe’s proposal did last year, I’ll have at least a temporary increase in thinking time accompanied by a rise in anxieties over (a) money, and (b) my future.

Some of my time is already booked, of course. I will be leading a two-week comics-creation workshop at BArT, a charter school in Adams, beginning next Tuesday, and there are a couple of other personal projects-in-progress await completion. But hovering over everything is my need to find fresh ways to earn a living even as I toy with freeing my beleaguered muse from her cage—a cage I’ve been forced by circumstance to leave her pacing back andf forth in in for so long it hurts.

Freeing one’s muse! That sounds like a Good Thing, right! Artists should do that kind of thing.

But that muse of mine is one flakey dame when it comes to helping me earn a living. Allowing her to roam about my battered brain, free as a bird, can be emotionally harrowing unless I go whole hog and truly give her free reign. Then she gets spoiled by freedom (don’t we all?) and throws a tantrum if I show any sign that I have more cage-living in mind for her. The bond between her soul and mine runs deep, and I know from experience that forcing her back into hibernation after allowing her some time outdoors will be torture of a high order for both of us.

The ideal situation, of course, is to be paid sufficiently by some publisher, sponsor, or patron (dream on about that last one!) while taking whatever path my muse wants me to take for however long is required. That actually happened in 1990, when DC Comics contracted me to write and draw Stuck Rubber Baby. It had happened before that in 1983, when The Advocate signed me up for what became a nearly six-year stint drawing the Wendel comic strip series.

But it hasn’t happened often during my decades of professional cartooning, and there’s no particular reason to think that it’s going to happen this summer.

Which leaves me wondering: should I be spending what time I do have available at this juncture composing blog entries for free?

It’s hard to know. Color me uncertain.

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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6 Responses to Navel-Gazing

  1. Jonathan Jensen says:

    Hi Howard, Wanted to let you know I came over from Blake Bell’s site, and gave your blog a reading. Very interesting stuff, its been a while since I’ve read new stuff, and I don’t get out much to shows and stores (a truck driver on the road only gets where his 80 foot long beast will take him, truck stops and the like, which is where I sit writing this on my laptop. Thank god for wireless!). Anyway appreciate the insite into blog writing been thinking of doing same from the road. My problem being, I have too many interests, comics, pulps, music, wines, whatever. Oh, and what Blake said about lists is correct, I first saw his comments on the Timely Atlas lists and come from there, so that works. Jonathan Jensen

  2. Blake Bell says:

    Hi Howard. I wrote about this topic and posted a link to your blog, in today’s BestOfMostOf.com web log entry…

    http://www.bestofmostof.com/07jun/index070601.htm

    Gearin’ up to read SRB next week!

  3. I love that she-devil muse of yours too — keep that dame happy. As for the inevitable conflict of money versus muse, well, I’m clueless. I’d guess paid jobs are better than volunteer work; but I sure do appreciate stopping by here sometimes and reading your experiences and ideas. Actually I like it best when it’s just an entry every few weeks, which is enough for me to read. Have you considered approaching Berkshire Eagle, Transcript, or that entire media group to do a weekly or something where you and your muse could have more freedom?

  4. Wherever your muse takes you, Howard, we want to go, too. So blog if you can, but definitely keep making stories.

  5. Blake Bell says:

    By the way, your blog entries are awesome, a huge cut above what others do. By that, I mean you obviously work really hard to provide original content, and interesting imagery to go with it.

    That doesn’t solve your problem, of course (nor does it address my own)… 🙂

    …but certainly don’t doubt what you’ve done isn’t top drawer.

  6. Blake Bell says:

    Hi Howard. To Blog or not to Blog: the eternal question. I started mine on February 1st, determined to blog everyday with original content (not just linking to other people’s links) and it’s rough and has you questioning why you spend 2 hours a day doing it on those days you do.

    I cut out weekends and now, if I want (so it doesn’t seem like a prison), I’ll take a “long weekend.”

    I guess it can come down to whether it can be justified, in terms of “if I keep blogging, is it going to generate work/funds directly or indirectly?”

    “Directly” can mean in terms of money generated from a web site’s store, advertising, or referral fees; “indirectly” can mean generating more awareness of one’s name, reminding people that you are out there for employment purposes, and also continuing to generate what I used to call the “Cerebus Experience.”

    This was Sim’s Stan Lee-ish marketing tactics of not just having the work in the book, but also his Notes from the President, and those wild letters’ pages. He’s recreating that now with his blog, and it appears to be paying off, although I don’t know if it drives an income that could sustain even a spartan lifestyle.

    I don’t know if such an example would apply to you, Howard, but there’s also the Catch-22 of “am I using the internet and its promotional abilities to its furthest extent?” One can have someone set up a yahoogroups.com discussion group in your name and moderate it, collecting all your fans in one place to discuss the work. In my experience, those tend to work better than message boards or blogs, in terms of generating exchanges between the people on the group. Let it be known that you’re on the group and willing to answer questions, and it can really drive up membership. Publicize the group in the right places, and it could be worth your time.

    I say it’s a Catch-22 because it means some more time, and you’re already questioning how much time you can dedicate to efforts that don’t directly generate an income. That’s where having “volunteers” comes in; fans/people you have a good sense you know you can trust to represent you well, and letting them do a great deal of the work. You might even have ways of “rewarding” them that doesn’t cost you hard cash (“here’s a sketch from my files for all your hard work,” or something like that can satisfy a volunteer).

    You may have already thought of all this, Howard, but I just wanted to share similar emotions that I’ve gone through these past couple of months. Should I be taking the blog time and starting the Bill Everett book I want to do? Can I really economize my time on the blog, to get the maximum bang for the buck, for the least amount of time required to get that bang (without cheapening the whole process).

    I know I enjoy coming here, so maybe it’s just selfish of me! 🙂

    Say hi to Eddie for me!

    Thanks,
    Blake