Friday, March 29, 2013

Carrots and Icees

When I was a little girl, my parents and I had a deal.

If I stayed on the 'green' light, and didn't get my name written on the board at school, we would stop and get me an Icee on the way home from school.

It could be any flavor.  Coke, pina colada, blue raspberry, orange creamsicle.  It didn't matter, the choice was mine.  So long as I was good, I was given a dollar and allowed to run in and get my Icee.

Some days, earning that Icee was hard.  I was diagnosed with ADD at 5, and it was known early on that I had trouble focusing, staying on task, and not distracting other students.  I had a tendency to finish my work early, and was often left with fairly large spans of unoccupied freetime, with little outlet for my attention.  If I wanted that Icee, I had to sit quietly, which is a hard task for any 5 year old. 

When I graduated from kindergarden to first grade, earning that Icee became even more challenging.  Every week, my normal class assigned 20 spelling words, and my gifted class assigned another 20.  While the normal class might have words like 'boy' and 'cat', the gifted class assigned words like 'turquoise'.  My gifted class pulled me during phonics, which was never my strong suit despite learning to read at an early age.  I guess I didn't see the need for both 'oy' and 'oi' words when they sounded exactly the same.  Needless to say, spelling wasn't easy for me.

My mother, a teacher of ten years by that point, had a solution.  Every single day, from Monday to Thursday evening, we'd go over spelling words.  Any words I couldn't spell right the first time, I'd have to write five times each, spelling each aloud.  Any I missed the second go round, it was 10 times each.  The third was 20.  There were a lot of Mondays where I wrote the entire gifted spelling list 20 times each several times over.

It was frustrating, and as a reward for hard work, my parents upped the incentive.  For A's at the end of the quarter, I recieved $25 total.  I couldn't exactly spend it as I wished (one time, I'd saved around $100 and tried to buy a used Super Nintendo.  That got shot down by my mom fast), but it was mine, and it generally got frittered away on My Little Ponies.  $25 may not seem like much, and honestly, it isn't (my dad upped it to $25 per A on a report card when I was in high school), but it was something.  And for a goal oriented kid like me, it was something concrete to work towards.

As an adult, how do we reward ourselves for hard work?  I feel like some of us are taught in college that the effort should be intrinsic, but that seems to run out after awhile.  When I have the time, I treat myself to an afternoon off- picking up cat food, buying groceries, getting coffee, eating lunch out.  When I don't have the time, that's when things get sticky.  I can brute force myself to work non-stop for a couple weeks, but after that, I am mentally done.  I start to resent what I'm doing.  Resentment eventually turns to hatred, as I think about all the things I'm missing out on just to get this done.

Usually good planning prevents this sort of circumstance from occuring, but unfortunately for me, this spring has been pretty non-stop.  From art histroy to MoCCA, it's been hard to make the time necessary to recharge my batteries.

It got particularly bad as I struggled to find inspiration.  Sadly, I know 7" Kara chapter 2 won't make me any money in it's current print interation.  Double sided, large format color printing is expensive, and I can't afford to charge customers more than the meerest profit margins if I want to see any sales.  I've been posting the pages online to my Twitter, Tumblr, and to this blog, but the reaction has been muted to say the best, so completing this chapter won't make me more popular.  And publishers are hesitant to print color comics by a newcomer, let alone WATERCOLOR comics by a new comer, so it probably won't advance my career.  This led me to wonder "Why am I putting in all this effort?"

It took getting back to my roots to find my Icee.  Talking about the stories that I love and inspire me, stories that give the reader something more than they started with.  I thought about how I felt the first time I watched Howl's Moving Castle at the Canal Place Theatre on Canal Street, in a theatre no bigger than my living room with a screen hardly bigger than my current TV.  I remember watching it with my highschool boyfriend, clutching his hand and sobbing with Sophie as she dealt with Howl's hair drama meltdown.  I remember crying at the end, when Sophie returns Howl's heart, and I remember hearing others in the audience sniffling as well.

I'd gone into that movie annoyed, tired, cranky at getting lost on the interstate for thirty minutes.  I left that movie hopeful and happy, wanting to create something amazing.  I was inspired and my head buzzed with ideas. 

The only reason I make comics is to give a gift to others.  I want to make others feel happy or inspired.  If I'm successful in this, even a little bit, then the time it takes to make those comics is worth it. 

In three years of critiques of my anatomy, perspective, shot choices, and style, I'd never once been critiqued on how successful a mini comic was at conveying its story.  It seems like we focused on everything but, like we danced around the heart of what makes this job worth it.  It's a sensitive subject, one we try to ignore perhaps, but all roads lead to Rome.  Money, popularity, those things pay the bills yeah, but they also indicate that what we created has value to SOMEONE.  This is why people slave over webcomics.  It's why they sell their mini comics for a dollar a pop, when time and labor would cost ten times that.  We all want our work to have value to others, we all want the sacrifices we've made making these things to mean something.  Otherwise, it's just wasted time.

My reasons for writing this blog aren't far from my reasons for making comics.  I want to give a gift, if I can.  I spend a lot of time and money trying to share what I know, and to find out answers, in an attempt to help others.  It's discouraging when all I hear after months of radio silence is a complaint about how I may be possibly doing something wrong (protip:  I research stuff before advising it, or else I am very clear that it's how *I* personally do it, and that results may vary.)  It's never a quiet email to alert me to this fact, it's always very public- a barrage of tweets where everyone can see, no private opportunity to resolve the matter, and I find this discouraging.  I try to keep in mind that when 'everything is going well, no one notices, but if you make a mistake, the world will hear'.

This is a bit rambly, but I have two points to make.  1. Find your Icee.  and 2. Pursue it.  And if you have trouble attaining that Icee, vocalize it.  Maybe others are willing to help you get it.  Maybe others want it too, and you can work together.

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