[More thoughts on “How To Be Creative”:]
37. When your dreams become reality, they are no longer your dreams.
If you are successful, it’ll never come from the direction you predicted. Same is true if you fail.
[A Brief History Of The “Cartoons Drawn On The Back Of Business Cards” Format.]
As this book reaches its end, I’m thinking how it’s been OVER TEN YEARS since I first came up with the “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards” format. And it seems like I’VE ONLY JUST got them to the commercially successful level I thought they were capable of reaching.
Better late than never, I suppose.
A friend asked me recently, had I known it would take this long, would I have bothered in the first place? I have in my mind this fantasy version of myself that makes reasonable and sensible decisions, more often than not. This reasonable and sensible person, if he existed, would probably have answered, “No. Definitely not.”
But none of this is sensible. None of it ever was. So yeah, knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have behaved any differently. I’m not proud of that; I’m not ashamed, either. It just is.
Was it worth the cost? Not really. It never is. Van Gough once told his brother, “No painting ever sells for as much as it cost the artist to make it.” I’ve yet to meet in the flesh any artist who could prove him wrong.
Though looking on the bright side, it IS nice after years of struggling away in obscurity, to have a body of work that you’re actually proud of, one that [A] makes you a good living, [B] exceeds your earlier expectations of what you thought you were capable of achieving as a human being, and perhaps most importantly, [C] has given a lot of other people a lot of joy and value.
When I was a kid in college, there very few avenues a cartoonist could take, if she wished to be successful. There was no internet. There were only newspapers, magazines, books, TV, movies, comic books, merchandising, and little else. A world I find hard to imagine now, only a couple of short decades later. And besides, I never saw my work as particularly commercial, so even if I did give it my best shot, I never thought it would ever realistically pay off.
So in my last year of college, feigning maturity, I turned my attention to landing a job that would pay my bills upon graduation. From what I could then tell, writing TV commercials seemed to use the same part of the brain it took to draw cartoons, and I wasn’t a bad cartoonist, so I decided to give Madison Avenue a go. It looked like it could be interesting.
Somehow I managed to get a job as an advertising copywriter, straight out of school. Some skill was needed, most of it was luck, but when you’re in your early twenties and entering the serious job market for the first time, you’ll take whatever you can get.
Though I was in the ad industry off-and-on for over a decade, I don’t think about it too much, now. Some part of me has blacked it out. Besides being VERY hard work, it wasn’t much fun. I was very much in the ranks of what I would call the “In-Betweenies” i.e. those good enough to get and keep a pretty well-paid position in an ad agency, but not good enough to really get ahead in it; not good enough to enjoy it properly. This was the world I lived in, in 1998 New York, when I started drawing the cartoons with a vengeance. And like every other In-Betweenie my age, it was a tiring, stressful time for me.
[And then the internet happened…]
Over the next couple of years, yes, I drew a lot of cartoons, but I didn’t do much with them. They were just a hobby. Besides, I had a lot going on at the time, with the job and the New York lifestyle to maintain. Most of my cartoon audience back then consisted of fellow New York barflies that I had foisted them upon.
But all good things must come to an end. One day I found myself under-employed, broke and pissed off with life in general. With nothing better to do besides waiting for the phone to ring, in May, 2001 I started my blog, gapingvoid.com.
I would like to say that the website took off soon after, the cartoons were a smash hit, and things improved dramatically right away, but sadly that didn’t happen. I just kept at it, day after day, building it up slowly. That’s still how it happens, for the most part.
The million-dollar contract has yet to arrive in the mail. That’s OK, somewhere along the line I figured how to make good money off of them, INDIRECTLY.
How? It’s pretty straightforward, in retrospect. I posted the cartoons online, and because I had a lot of free time on my hands, I then spent a log time tracking what happened to them, once they went out into the ether. This was 2002, just as blogs were beginning to hit the scene. This was the beginning of Google’s rise to the top of the search market. This was the era of Technorati.com, when people wanted to start seeing what was happening on the web RIGHT NOW, not just historically.
Over the next year or two watching the cartoons traveling about, watching what other bloggers were up to, I started getting a pretty good feel for how the internet ACTUALLY worked, not just how the journalists and marketing folk told people how it worked. After a while I started posting my thoughts about this brave new world online. And after a while people started e-mailing me, offering to pay me good money if I would share more of what I had learned online with them.
Sharing this information for me was A LOT MORE FUN and better paid than trying to sell ads to clients, so hey, I went for it.
So far I’ve managed to turn it into a pretty nice business. A lot more money, for a lot let stress and time than Madison Avenue ever offered me. Not a bad outcome.
The thing is, none of it happened on purpose. It just kinda sorta happened, one random event at a time.
I find having two strings to my bow, cartoons and internet, helps the business out a lot. I like to play them off each other. Sorry, I can’t draw you a cartoon; I’m too busy doing internet stuff. Sorry, I can’t help you with your internet problem; I’m too busy drawing something for a client. I totally believe that if I gave one of them up for good, the other one would crash and burn overnight. It’s keeping the creative tension between the two, an extension of the aforementioned “Sex & Cash Theory”, that keeps things interesting. For both me and the good folk paying my bills.
I never intended to be a professional cartoonist. I never intended to become an internet jockey. But somehow the two got mashed up to create this third thing. That’s what I mean by “If you are successful, it’ll never come from the direction you predicted.”
It’s good to be young and full of dreams. Dreams of one day doing something “insanely great”. Dreams of love, beauty, achievement and contribution. But understand they have a life of their own, and they’re not very good at following instructions. Love them, revere them, nurture them, respect them, but don’t ever become a slave to them. Otherwise you’ll kill them off prematurely, before they get the chance to come true.