If you’ve read the comic strip that was last posted on the home page (if you haven’t, click here) you’ll get the idea of my current theme. It’s about following your creative passions. Or for bitter old men like me, revitalizing your passions.
I take a lot of my motivation and inspiration for this approach from the story of late and legendary Stan Lee.
It you’re not familiar with the story, back in approx. 1960-61, Stan Lee was a creatively struggling comic book writer for Timely Comics. Stan had started as an assistant to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby on the Captain America comic, essentially a gopher. That job got him the gig as a full fledged comic book writer, churning out cliche’d and generic pablum for Timely’s line of Romance and Western comics.
So after a few years of that we come to circa 1960, where Stan, a would-be classic novelist, is so creatively frustrated and bored with the pap he churned out to make a living, he was considering quitting comics and changing careers entirely.
When Stan told his wife Joan that he was ready to give notice at Timely, she is famously quoted as saying “If you’re going to quit anyway, why not make comics the way you want to, before you leave.”
Stan took the advice to heart, writing a new sci-fi feature for Amazing Fantasy. The Story of Spider-Man. That was the beginning of the Marvel age. By 1962 Stan’s work made a major contribution to the revival of the super-hero comics genre, one that had been fazed out a decade earlier, with ventures that were so successful that Timely was soon changing is name and branding to Marvel Comics. The rest is pop culture history.
I often think about this story when I’m feeling lost or discouraged in my creative work.
Some of the same forces that caused Stan so much creative frustration, ultimately leading to the birth of Marvel, still exist today. Admittedly, some of that is self-imposed. Every creator does it. Pre-judging how your work will be received before it’s even finished. Worrying about how it will be misinterpreted by a a fan or if it will be offensive in an unintended way. That;s a natural inclination of many creative artists, myself included, and that is our own insecurity to get over.
This is why I tell my students that “the key to unhappiness is making comics that your parents would like.” It may be counter-intuitive, many writing “experts” and coaches will tell you to keep audience in mind, write for them and keep the audience in mind. That’s horse shit. No outstanding work of fiction has ever stood out because it delivered exactly as expected. Trying to force a twist can also come off as fake. My best advice; follow your inspiration. Make the stories that you want to make. Stop worrying about how it will be received or if people will like it. There are always going to be people who don’t like your work. Don’t worry about them, worry about the people who get what you’re trying to say.
The other challenge is editorial influence. There are editors in all places of the industry that will heavily and overly art direct projects. There are editors like this at all levels of your career at publishers of all sizes. These are the people that always wanted to be an artist or writer, but for some reason or another, never did (in most cases), but life has found them at a point where they are now in control of a comic or creative art project. These editors are very specific and know each and every thing they want on the page down to the most minute detail. These people should take the time to go back and develop their skills and do the creative work themselves, and often make their creative talent feel this way. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not describing all editors; just the ones that are awful to work with. The majority of editors that I’ve dealt with have been amazingly supportive and professional, and equally as important, allow the creative talent some freedom. (I want to mention that the publisher I’m working with right now if awesome and allows me all the creative freedom that I could ask for. I only wish I was allowed to tell you more about it and give them the credit they deserve, but an NDA prevents me from doing so until they are able to make their own announcement.)
I’m currently reading an Entertainment Weekly retrospective on Stan Lee that a family member gave me a a Christmas gift. As a flip through the story, I’m not ashamed to say that more than once I’ve been moved to tears at the realization of what Stan accomplished and the number of people he inspired.
Like Stan Lee, I also have novelist aspirations. I’ve had a number of Amazon bestsellers already. I like to think that it is thanks to Stan’s work, which inspired me throughout my life. I view my few film writing credits in a similar way.
When I say I’m going back to basics, I mean I’m focusing on storytelling.
Sadly, it seems that the environment of comics is not as creatively nurturing as it used to be, with more and more cases of overly editorially directed pieces, as every notable property continues to morph from a fun creative idea into a corporate intellectual franchise that must be protected from negative press.
I’ll always do comics, but my priority will be whatever medium best serves the story, whether that means the medium is comics, novels, film, blogging, video games or something else. One thing I can’t do anymore is waste my time on overly art directed jobs, or struggling in any medium that doesn’t help me deliver my work to the public. It’s one thing for someone to have a Youtube channel and share their stories successfully via video, or to have a group of supporters on Patreon that help finance your work, or share 25 social media posts per day. If that’s how you share and connect great, but thus far, those channels haven’t helped me deliver my work or stories to fans, so I’m going to have to cut those things out or reduce them significantly, at least until those channels grow into something worthwhile for me.
I’m looking forward to my new comic series with that aforementioned mystery publisher, and I’m hoping to enhance and finally unveil my video game making skills sometime in 2019.
If you dig it and want to join me for the ride, great, I look forward to entertaining you in the coming year.
Thanks for being a part of my creative family.
Happy 2019! – Mike