This last weekend I manned up and went to the Chicago Comic Con.  This was difficult for me to do because I had had such a lousy time last year (and was really put off by one big thing in particular), and I was really put off by the heavy celebrity emphasis THIS year.  Maybe it’s because these cons are usually business and not pleasure for me, but usually I couldn’t care less about what celebrities are showing up.  I care about what artists are going to be in the alley, what publishers are showing up, and what editors are showing up.  Wishing no offense to the man, I could care less if Patrick Stewart was there.

But I wanted to support my friends in the alley if possible.  I wanted to make Dusty Jack endlessly squirm by saying “You have a lover, enjoy it” over and over again.  I wanted to discuss my plans for world domination with Eric Adams (blood will run red in the streets, make no mistake people).  And I’m not shy in saying I wanted to network with whoever I could.

In fairness, business was booming at the Donald E. Stephens when I arrived.  And since this was a Friday (I was working the other two days that weekend) that’s saying something.  Eric told me he did his best first day numbers for a con ever, and he’s been doing this for a while so that’s saying something.  As much as it annoyed me, I’m guessing the big celebrity emphasis brought in a lot of people.  Might be enough to make me reconsider getting a table next year, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  Still don’t see what Billy Corgan has to do with wrestling, but moving on.

So during my time there I happened by a man from a prominent graphics firm who was doing portfolio reviews.  I had worked hard on my new inking samples the last few weeks (inking being what I feel I’m best at as a comic artist), and had gotten mostly positive responses from the friends and artists I had shown it to so far that day.  I realize I still have a ways to go for art on this level, but most of these ratings ranged from “good” to “pretty good”, which I was rather proud to hear.

This man reviewing my portfolio…to his credit, he wasn’t mean.  He didn’t get all Simon Cowell on me and tell me I’m wasting my time.  And he said the same things the others had before: “Pretty good, but still needs some work.”  I know that.  I accepted that.  I knew that going in.  But what he said stuck in my mind.  At first it made me angry and resentful, but not it’s made me more contemplative, which is why I feel compelled to write about it.  I’m not quoting him directly, but he said words to this effect:

“Your stuff is good, but not great.  It still needs work and I’m sure you know that.  What worries me though is you’re going for inking jobs, which is one of the toughest positions in comics.  There are hundreds if not thousands of inkers more qualified than you who, if they don’t already have secure positions, are desperately looking for them, especially in this market.  More than that, a lot of pencillers are either doing the inks themselves these days or are eliminating the ink stage and just turning in really tight pencils to save money on production.  If you go for positions like ones at my firm, you’re going to have to go up against all of these guys.  If you return and you’ve gotten better, great.  But I want you to remember the competition you’re up against.”

That word lingered in my brain: “competition”.  Competition has always been a weird concept for me, mostly because I don’t have a competitive bone in my body.  My parents very quickly learned this when they took me to my one and only tee-ball lesson when I was five, and guys in gym class used to hate me because I’d be the guy leaning against the goal post chatting with my friends during soccer games.  I’d be like “No, YOU take the ball.  I insist.  What am I gonna do with it?  You deserve it.  Take it.  It’s my gift to you.”

So how do I respond to that lack of competitive edge?  I simply don’t play sports.  I remove myself from the competition completely because I have no interest in it.  I may be a total liberal commie hippie tree-hugging dork when I say this, but I believe there’s room for everybody no matter what you do.  This is especially true for art, and this is especially true for comics.

In the end, I guess the only logical thing to do is remove myself from competitions such as these and do my own thing.  I suppose I had lingering anger and disappointment because I wouldn’t get any money or recognition for my work, but in the end if this guy had taken me on I’d just be another cog in his comic productions machine.  And I’d be competing against guys who had been in the industry far longer and were, frankly, more talented than me.  And that’s not the kind of thing I’m interested in doing.  And really, the way most industries are going in this economy (not just comics), we shouldn’t waste our time with such things simply because we’re broke and desperate.

Really, I’d love the kind of success Dusty + Jade have.  They get to travel the country, do their art their way, and work at it exclusively while doing it without a day job.  Sitting with Dusty, bull-shitting about “Twilight” vs. “Harry Potter”, and watching the scores of her fans go by was a revelation and showed me such things weren’t impossible, even with the slog of stuff that is online.  In the age of the internet, there’s never been a better time to build your own audience, and with enough talent and dedication you can make a living too.  You just have to think about what helps you stand out.

For me?  It’s my sense of humor that I feel puts me ahead of the competition, if ever so slightly.  How will I apply that in the near future?  I have some ideas, but nothing certain yet.  You’ll see it when it happens though.

Beats being a cog competing against a bunch of other cogs.