Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wicked Dreams

I'm in a bad mood today.

It's just been one of those days were everything has been off kilter and piling on new levels of crankiness. Being at work just adds a whole new dimension to it. For those of you who don't know, I'm an accountant at a small private school which, when all is said and done, is a job that should only be held by those cranky goblins from the Harry Potter movies.

Which reminds me that this is not the job I'd like to be doing and certainly not the job I thought I'd be doing 20 years ago. All of which leads me to think about dreams and how they can really screw you up.

A few days ago, Valerie D'Orazio posted a message in her always excellent blog, Occasional Superheroine, which was basically a response to some messages artist Colleen Doran posted in her blog about a particularly odious fellow who'd been stalking her and her family for quite a few years. Val's post didn't excuse the guy's bad behavior but gave some more details about who he was and what his life was like. Apparently he's a guy who's been hanging on the fringe of the comic business for a lotta years, hoping for his big break and dreaming of making it in comics.

And that made me think.

I certainly don't condone his stalking and consider it inexcusable but there was something in Val's description that hit a bell with me. So I started to wonder. How many people are out there, yearning for a career in comics and making that basically the entire focus of their lives? These are people who forgo opportunities in life because they might interfere with that possible comic career. They hang onto the outskirts of the industry, trying desperately to break in but forever hopeful because comics is their "first, best destiny". Such people pass up chances for life, love and happiness because that's not what they were born to do. They were put on this earth to make comics, if only someone would give them the chance to do so.

These are the types of people (generally male) who end up alone in apartments full of their collections that are often fire hazards but which they cannot part with. In many cases, these people are getting older now and that comic career hasn't happened and probably will NEVER happen. How many people break into comics when they're middle-aged? It's a youth market, now more than ever. To be older than 30 in comics is to have that black crystal from LOGAN'S RUN blinking in your palm. But they hold onto the dream. Partly because they've invested too much in it already to back off but also because they're afraid of what it would mean to abandon that dream.

For the most part, these will be people who will end up being unemployable except in the most limited sense because they didn't get the skills or training or a diploma to do anything other than working in comics. They have little to no savings. Health insurance will be virtually nonexistent.

We have, in effect, created a new sociological group: The Forgotten Comicists. It's one that never existed before but their numbers have been growing since about the mid 1970's. Before that time, we didn't have the hundreds of people who grew up wanting only to make comics and, if they couldn't do that then they wouldn't do anything. Back in the 1950's and 60's, if you wanted to do that and couldn't (for whatever reason), you went and did something else because you still had to feed and clothe yourself. Not today. We are now seeing an alarming amount of people who refuse to do anything else because this is their dream and who are we to tell them that they can't live their dream? Soon, I expect the American Psychiatric Association to declare this a legitimate mental disorder.

Funny thing is that this isn't all that unusual for creative people and their obsessions. How many times do we hear of actors and actresses who keep trying to land that elusive part that will make their career while they're waiting tables or parking cars? Or that painter who does his 'real' work at night in his studio waiting for that downtown gallery to realize he's a genius and give him that one-man show he deserves? Or the writer chipping away at that Great American Novel because that's his purpose in life even though no one wants to read it?

Truth is that it's not as easy to be a creative person in this world anymore and JUST be creative. There are no more patrons and grants are drying up faster than an ice cold Pepsi in the Sahara. And here's the really hard, painful truth for all of us... there isn't much need for so many creative people. There will always be really successful creative people at the top end. Those actors/writers/painters who make lots of money and live the life. But most of us are going to end up in that middle ground. The one filled with people who might be really good, but just aren't good enough. The place where no matter how hard you work or how many networking connections you make, that role, that gallery show, that book tour, that big time comic assignment, isn't going to happen.

Maturity, I think, lies in the ability to reach that point of understanding. To objectively look at your work and determine if it should remain the sole focus of your life. No one is saying you should abandon it completely; just the dream of that being your livelihood.

Americans love to say, "Never give up on your dreams." Funny, it's always the ones who succeed that say that. It's not the ones who have failed for the umpteenth time and they don't have the money for rent and the car needs repairs and there's no food in the house. The universe only needs and creates so many Walt Disneys or Henry Fords or even Stan Lees. Most of us will end up being Vince Colletta or, even worse, Ed Wood Jr.

We come to comics or acting or dance or music or writing or art because we love it, because it inspires us to be creative. But, in the end, only so many will go to the show. The rest of us will play out our days in the farm teams of A, AA or (if we're very good) AAA ball. And we'll be let go to try and make our ways the best we can because there's a shiny new crop of youngsters coming off the bus all the time, endlessly feeding the machine.

"No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, The Fool."
"Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." T.S. Eliot

Sorry I wasn't more entertaining today. I'll try better tomorrow.


dan said...

X-tremely not entertaining as a matter of fact. You are Lewis Black? And you drag Vinnie's name out to make your point? V-e-r-r-y original. My point, it compares to Lewis doing "take my wife, please". Try originality, dude.

LordShazam said...

Well, Dan, sorry you didn't like the post. You can't hit a home run every time. Sometimes you just end up fouling the ball off your foot.

Perhaps my use of Colletta was a bit unfair. Although nearly universally decried as a hack today, Colletta was an acceptable artist who managed to make a living doing comic art. I'd debate if he elevated it to "fine art" as your blog claims but one cannot dispute that Colletta had far less impact on comics than Kirby, Ditko or Eisner. Still, capable as he was, I doubt if Colletta would be able to find work if he were trying to break into comics today. I imagine that his art would be criticized for being 'stiff' and 'undynamic'. Considering what passes for art in some comics today, that isn't necessarily an insult.

Donna Barr said...

Well, there's always a new group of hacks -- a word originally defining a rented livery stable horse, among other definitions, taken out to do a job, looking forward to nothing at the end of the day but its stable and hay.

Then there's the work of so many people like myself, the irreplaceable thoroughbreds -- you can't get this stuff from anybody else. We're one-and-only.

There are more of us all the time, writing and drawing books no else can -- but you won't find us through Diamond (60-65% markup -- an amount that makes even Booksurge blanch); you'll find us out in the regular bookworld, on Amazon, from Lulu, Alibris, etc.

Start with mine at:

And yes, I'm being a schill on this post -- why else, as an author, would I be reading this blog? (Thanks for creating it, by the way -- can't have too many blogs about drawn books).

Donna Barr

alphamale73 said...

Hey I found this to be very inspiring. Let me know I'm not the only loser out there. At least you have a day job Lord! That's commendable in itself!

Fat Boy said...

Well, I don't have any aspirations of being in the comic book business but if I did my pick for who I would be is Vinnie Colletta! What an artist, what a guy! Who is more interesting, talented and/or controversial than Vince "The Prince"?