[A]fter I’d given up on my dream of being an actual working cartoonist and gone on to write my first novel, and long after I’d abandoned hope of there ever being such a thing as a genuine school of cartooning, I learned about the Kubert School in Dover, New Jersey. New Jersey! My beloved home state! When it opened in 1976, I was 27 and hadn’t drawn comics in over five years; even so, I toyed with the idea of applying. But: nah. Too late.
Tom DeHaven’s commencement speech at the Center of Cartoon Studies was posted on The Comics Journal, but for all the helpful advice and enthusiastic insight I saw in that speech, this passage jumped out in a way that twisted my stomach. I might have more to write on this someday, but here’s the short version: I used to want to be a cartoonist, but after a few different factors derailed those aspirations — trying to find a peer group in a fandom culture I grew self-consciously uncomfortable with, an inability to get work after a hard-fought graphic design diploma at the local technical college, a distracting sideline in music criticism that eventually became a distracting career — I gave up that dream sometime around my early twenties, then started trying to pick it back up again long after the “too late” age 27/five-year abandonment timeframe DeHaven mentions here. I had a stint a few years back of doing (very) occasional spot cartoon illustration work based on the fact that a few people knew I could draw, but I don’t consider it the kind of work that makes me a real cartoonist, or at least someone who has the confidence to call himself a real cartoonist. It doesn’t help that for all the times I’ve tried to find some helpful advice on improving and gaining good working habits and finding the confidence and willpower to continue, it’s referred to — much like the TCJ’s front page blurb of DeHaven’s speech — as “words of wisdom to young cartoonists”. 34 isn’t young, especially by contemporary cartoonist standards, I know that much. If you’re 34 and you consider yourself a cartoonist in something other than a half-assed work-meeting notepad-doodler sense, I get the sense that you should at least be able to draw credible anatomy, lay out realistic perspective, know color theory, have a grasp on the ins and outs of inking, own a distinct style, and actually put together something worth considering finished work once in a while. I’m not at that point yet, and I desperately want to be.
But why? I’ve got a handful of writing gigs, some of which are for pretty high-profile outlets, and as far as making a living at something I’ve worked hard at for a significant portion of my life I’m doing all right in that regard. Maybe I miss the feeling of sitting down for a couple hours and letting some of the imagery ricocheting through my head actually manifest in some physical sense that other people can see. But if that’s the case, why haven’t I drawn much of anything lately, much less shown it to anyone? Is it because I worry that it’d come across like some kind of distracting sideshow from my regular writing work? Because I’m worried it’s not “good enough”? That I’m not sure what the work I create is going to say about me as a person? I don’t know — these are all kind of ridiculous neuroses when it comes down to it. But I loved to draw and was approaching the possibility of getting good at it, and then I quit — and I’m not even sure I had to. It’s a hard thing to get past, maybe. All I know is that I have a hard time looking at other peoples’ comics work without wishing I was able to be a part of that kind of life, too. Not for money or renown or anything — just to know I could.
(originally posted on panelslang)