Q

nickscomic asked:

I have the utmost respect or you sir always keep drawing and writing.

A

Thankyou

I’m My Own Worst Enemy

I’m My Own Worst Enemy

Earlier this week I wrote a frank account of my cartooning career. I laid out the current sales figures for the three original graphic novels that I’ve written (I actually have a fourth book of short stories, Ace-Face: The Mod With the Metal Arms, published by AdHouse Books, that - surprise! - also sold very poorly), and talked openly about how it feels to have been working hard for so long, but yet be seemingly connecting with a smaller and smaller readership.

The main point of this essay was to discuss my own shortcomings as person unable to build “an audience” for his work. I didn’t even bring up in the original post that I co-hosted a well-known comics-podcast every week for five years, as well as another show on and off over at The Comics Journal. The thing I’m failing at, is taking the dim name-recognition and modest track record that I have, and converting that into future readers for my future work.

I knew very well that my post would interest people, but I definitely didn’t expect it to blow up and become an Actual Internet Freak-Out. It ballooned when Abhay Khosla responded to my post with one of his trademarked withering dressing-downs. I joked on twitter that I now know how the producers of Pacific Rim must feel.

I did read the first Khosla post, but am not going to bother with the followup. Seriously, there are thousands of words there - all from a guy who hasn’t actually read my comics. Surely I’m not obligated to wade through all of that from a fellow who thinks $20 is too much money to pay for a book that’s worth $20?

But, I have gathered through solemn heading-nodding this-is-the-Real-Talk-comics-needs-more-of reactions elsewhere on the Internet that buried beneath Khosla’s “style”, are many Good Points, having to do with marketing, price point, cover design, book titles, business plans, and so on.

I have no doubt that everything written there is likely a point at least worth considering, some of them even seriously. If my books are failing to reach an audience, then there must be reasons, and it’s entirely appropriate for people to share their thoughts on what those reasons could be.

So have at it, comics internet, I hope you figure it out, and I look forward to reading all of the bestselling books that you’ll be writing now. The next time I finish a full-length graphic novel, I will go back and jot down a lot of those tips myself.

What was I writing about?

I think there are a few misconceptions about where I was coming from with my original post. The main one being, that I was lamenting my inability to make a living from comics.

I was not. If you re-read the piece, look at the sixth section more carefully. Especially the fifth paragraph:

I have a lot of questions for myself about what I want to get out of cartooning. I know the answer isn’t money. But, I do want something more than just personal growth. I long ago came to terms with having a limited audience (around the time I only sold 2,748 copies of Freddie & Me), but I don’t feel prepared to have no audience whatsoever.

To parse:

I have a lot of questions for myself. My priority is to continue expressing myself in this medium. I am very driven to do so. I don’t think it’s an option for me to walk away, as appealing as that thought can often be.

I know the answer isn’t money. I have a day job. I feel very fortunate to have it. It enables me to have many luxuries in my life. One of which is the luxury to not be concerned about earning a living as a writer.

But I do want something more than personal growth/I don’t feel prepared to have no audience whatsoever. Herein lays the conflict.

I’m not an outsider artist. I’m not a mark-maker. I’m not making anything that’s so pure as that. I’m attempting to construct complex narratives. I’m imagining characters and situations. I’m thinking about crafting a coherent story. I’m drawing and then scrapping entire drafts. I’m spending time trying to make books that feel whole, that I think can reward the right readers.

The above points can be, and are often, at odds with each other. I write for me, but I also write to be read, because I want a reader to engage with what I have written, and through that, connect with me. I have ideas, and I put them into my comics. I then want to feel like people can encounter those comics, and through them, my ideas.

So much of what I have to figure out for myself has to do with can I be OK with my limited (shrinking) audience when I’m insisting on making comics on my own terms?

If I am so adamant about writing comics that I know won’t have much widespread appeal, how upset can I be when it turns out that the books have very little widespread appeal?

I honestly don’t have the answer. This is the dilemma I was writing about.

A lot of cartoonists have contacted me privately and publicly, letting me know that they know how I feel. This isn’t just me. This is a generation of artists believing in the notion that The Work is What Matters, but having that bang up against cold hard book publishing realities.

For me personally, I have found that recently turning to Tumblr and allowing myself to embrace short-form comics has been a partial solution. Currently I’ve been making comics for the web, and being happy, which is what I want. It might not last. Who knows?

^This. This was the intent of the essay. Trying to find a way to make comics (non-negotiable) and be happy (tricky).

Honestly, I am my own worst enemy most of the time. Sometimes I think it’s just dumb-stubbornness that prevents me from attempting to broaden the appeal of my work. Or, I honestly don’t have the chops. I don’t know. I want to do this, and I only want to do it on my own terms. I don’t think I can change that.

In Conclusion

Despite opening myself up to harsh criticism, I can’t say I’m entirely unhappy about how this week is playing out. Prior to me posting my essay, nobody was talking about my book. A lot of people talked about it afterwards. Not exactly in the way I’d choose - almost nobody involved in the discussion had actually read the work - but maybe some people will take a look now.

And, I can’t complain any longer that not enough people know it exists. If some reviews and feedback come out of this hubbub, and even if it turns out that the consensus is that it’s a shitty book that I should be ashamed to have written, at least I no longer have to feel like it’s failing because of a lack of awareness. And that’s all I can ask.

sequentialstate:

There’s been a great conversation regarding the work of Mike Dawson this week, somewhat self-inflicted. Dawson posted some honest to god numbers about the number of books he has sold and talked really frankly about his work and his audience.
I honestly didn’t know anything about Mike’s work until earlier this year, when I bought his second book, Troop 142, at the Secret Acres booth at TCAF ‘14. As a former scout, a quick flip through showed a lot of the things I remember from my scouting experience in the late 90s-early 00s. A read of the book late last month showed more of the activity that I remembered from scouting - the roughhousing, the idiotic talk of boys who don’t know anything about women, the personal growth and exploration. But Troop 142 tackles some of the darkest memories of my scouting experience as well – the institutionalized homophobia and expulsion of agnostics and atheists.
Dawson manages to discuss ideas through a slice-of-life storyline that is driven more by the passing of days than any particular plot. David and David, younger boys in the troop who are attracted to each other, deal with bullying and their anger in a very “scout-sponsored” way. The boys are horrified when called “boyfriends” as a joke, and lash out in anger with slurs that ultimately attack themselves. Dawson captures the way that young men communicate very well in Troop 142. 
And while Dawson wants to draw attention to these things, Troop 142 is more about vulnerability and the social constructs of adolescent groups than the politics of the scouts. We see boys getting picked on and see egos swell and burst. Fighting breaks out at a moment’s notice over tiny slights, small moments that turn into life-changing moments.
Dawson’s cartoonish illustration style lends it to this kind of story, where the subtleties of human interaction can clearly be displayed on faces that are somewhat larger than life – Dawson uses different body shapes and facial features to differentiate between a large cast of characters, but I admit that I still had problems telling two characters, Jason and Matt, apart. It doesn’t help that the two are seen in a lot of scenes together. I feel like this could have been avoided, given the amount of revision that Troop 142 went through before it was published in book form.
I picked two specific pages that I thought were very well placed at a second read – boys and men from the story all recite the Scout Law – “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” In some way, the tenet of the Law that each boy or man recites is their biggest character flaw, and it will take some time for these flaws to show themselves throughout the book. This was a really interesting composition decision that paid dividends later on.
Overall, Troop 142 is hard to categorize. Dawson has created a complex and multifaceted work, simultaneously discussing the politics of a gigantic organization and the emotional frailties of its members. But I think more importantly, Troop 142 carries the weight of these things in the small moments of campfires, tents, and merit badges. Which, honestly, is just like real life.
——

Mike Dawson is an Ignatz winning cartoonist and hosts the TCJ Talkies podcast. You can find him at his twitter page or at his tumblr account, mikedawwwson.
Secret Acres is an independent comics publisher based out of Brooklyn. You can find their twitter account here.



Very excited in this week of discussion about my comics career, to see someone writing something about my actual comics. sequentialstate:

There’s been a great conversation regarding the work of Mike Dawson this week, somewhat self-inflicted. Dawson posted some honest to god numbers about the number of books he has sold and talked really frankly about his work and his audience.
I honestly didn’t know anything about Mike’s work until earlier this year, when I bought his second book, Troop 142, at the Secret Acres booth at TCAF ‘14. As a former scout, a quick flip through showed a lot of the things I remember from my scouting experience in the late 90s-early 00s. A read of the book late last month showed more of the activity that I remembered from scouting - the roughhousing, the idiotic talk of boys who don’t know anything about women, the personal growth and exploration. But Troop 142 tackles some of the darkest memories of my scouting experience as well – the institutionalized homophobia and expulsion of agnostics and atheists.
Dawson manages to discuss ideas through a slice-of-life storyline that is driven more by the passing of days than any particular plot. David and David, younger boys in the troop who are attracted to each other, deal with bullying and their anger in a very “scout-sponsored” way. The boys are horrified when called “boyfriends” as a joke, and lash out in anger with slurs that ultimately attack themselves. Dawson captures the way that young men communicate very well in Troop 142. 
And while Dawson wants to draw attention to these things, Troop 142 is more about vulnerability and the social constructs of adolescent groups than the politics of the scouts. We see boys getting picked on and see egos swell and burst. Fighting breaks out at a moment’s notice over tiny slights, small moments that turn into life-changing moments.
Dawson’s cartoonish illustration style lends it to this kind of story, where the subtleties of human interaction can clearly be displayed on faces that are somewhat larger than life – Dawson uses different body shapes and facial features to differentiate between a large cast of characters, but I admit that I still had problems telling two characters, Jason and Matt, apart. It doesn’t help that the two are seen in a lot of scenes together. I feel like this could have been avoided, given the amount of revision that Troop 142 went through before it was published in book form.
I picked two specific pages that I thought were very well placed at a second read – boys and men from the story all recite the Scout Law – “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” In some way, the tenet of the Law that each boy or man recites is their biggest character flaw, and it will take some time for these flaws to show themselves throughout the book. This was a really interesting composition decision that paid dividends later on.
Overall, Troop 142 is hard to categorize. Dawson has created a complex and multifaceted work, simultaneously discussing the politics of a gigantic organization and the emotional frailties of its members. But I think more importantly, Troop 142 carries the weight of these things in the small moments of campfires, tents, and merit badges. Which, honestly, is just like real life.
——

Mike Dawson is an Ignatz winning cartoonist and hosts the TCJ Talkies podcast. You can find him at his twitter page or at his tumblr account, mikedawwwson.
Secret Acres is an independent comics publisher based out of Brooklyn. You can find their twitter account here.



Very excited in this week of discussion about my comics career, to see someone writing something about my actual comics. sequentialstate:

There’s been a great conversation regarding the work of Mike Dawson this week, somewhat self-inflicted. Dawson posted some honest to god numbers about the number of books he has sold and talked really frankly about his work and his audience.
I honestly didn’t know anything about Mike’s work until earlier this year, when I bought his second book, Troop 142, at the Secret Acres booth at TCAF ‘14. As a former scout, a quick flip through showed a lot of the things I remember from my scouting experience in the late 90s-early 00s. A read of the book late last month showed more of the activity that I remembered from scouting - the roughhousing, the idiotic talk of boys who don’t know anything about women, the personal growth and exploration. But Troop 142 tackles some of the darkest memories of my scouting experience as well – the institutionalized homophobia and expulsion of agnostics and atheists.
Dawson manages to discuss ideas through a slice-of-life storyline that is driven more by the passing of days than any particular plot. David and David, younger boys in the troop who are attracted to each other, deal with bullying and their anger in a very “scout-sponsored” way. The boys are horrified when called “boyfriends” as a joke, and lash out in anger with slurs that ultimately attack themselves. Dawson captures the way that young men communicate very well in Troop 142. 
And while Dawson wants to draw attention to these things, Troop 142 is more about vulnerability and the social constructs of adolescent groups than the politics of the scouts. We see boys getting picked on and see egos swell and burst. Fighting breaks out at a moment’s notice over tiny slights, small moments that turn into life-changing moments.
Dawson’s cartoonish illustration style lends it to this kind of story, where the subtleties of human interaction can clearly be displayed on faces that are somewhat larger than life – Dawson uses different body shapes and facial features to differentiate between a large cast of characters, but I admit that I still had problems telling two characters, Jason and Matt, apart. It doesn’t help that the two are seen in a lot of scenes together. I feel like this could have been avoided, given the amount of revision that Troop 142 went through before it was published in book form.
I picked two specific pages that I thought were very well placed at a second read – boys and men from the story all recite the Scout Law – “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” In some way, the tenet of the Law that each boy or man recites is their biggest character flaw, and it will take some time for these flaws to show themselves throughout the book. This was a really interesting composition decision that paid dividends later on.
Overall, Troop 142 is hard to categorize. Dawson has created a complex and multifaceted work, simultaneously discussing the politics of a gigantic organization and the emotional frailties of its members. But I think more importantly, Troop 142 carries the weight of these things in the small moments of campfires, tents, and merit badges. Which, honestly, is just like real life.
——

Mike Dawson is an Ignatz winning cartoonist and hosts the TCJ Talkies podcast. You can find him at his twitter page or at his tumblr account, mikedawwwson.
Secret Acres is an independent comics publisher based out of Brooklyn. You can find their twitter account here.



Very excited in this week of discussion about my comics career, to see someone writing something about my actual comics. sequentialstate:

There’s been a great conversation regarding the work of Mike Dawson this week, somewhat self-inflicted. Dawson posted some honest to god numbers about the number of books he has sold and talked really frankly about his work and his audience.
I honestly didn’t know anything about Mike’s work until earlier this year, when I bought his second book, Troop 142, at the Secret Acres booth at TCAF ‘14. As a former scout, a quick flip through showed a lot of the things I remember from my scouting experience in the late 90s-early 00s. A read of the book late last month showed more of the activity that I remembered from scouting - the roughhousing, the idiotic talk of boys who don’t know anything about women, the personal growth and exploration. But Troop 142 tackles some of the darkest memories of my scouting experience as well – the institutionalized homophobia and expulsion of agnostics and atheists.
Dawson manages to discuss ideas through a slice-of-life storyline that is driven more by the passing of days than any particular plot. David and David, younger boys in the troop who are attracted to each other, deal with bullying and their anger in a very “scout-sponsored” way. The boys are horrified when called “boyfriends” as a joke, and lash out in anger with slurs that ultimately attack themselves. Dawson captures the way that young men communicate very well in Troop 142. 
And while Dawson wants to draw attention to these things, Troop 142 is more about vulnerability and the social constructs of adolescent groups than the politics of the scouts. We see boys getting picked on and see egos swell and burst. Fighting breaks out at a moment’s notice over tiny slights, small moments that turn into life-changing moments.
Dawson’s cartoonish illustration style lends it to this kind of story, where the subtleties of human interaction can clearly be displayed on faces that are somewhat larger than life – Dawson uses different body shapes and facial features to differentiate between a large cast of characters, but I admit that I still had problems telling two characters, Jason and Matt, apart. It doesn’t help that the two are seen in a lot of scenes together. I feel like this could have been avoided, given the amount of revision that Troop 142 went through before it was published in book form.
I picked two specific pages that I thought were very well placed at a second read – boys and men from the story all recite the Scout Law – “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” In some way, the tenet of the Law that each boy or man recites is their biggest character flaw, and it will take some time for these flaws to show themselves throughout the book. This was a really interesting composition decision that paid dividends later on.
Overall, Troop 142 is hard to categorize. Dawson has created a complex and multifaceted work, simultaneously discussing the politics of a gigantic organization and the emotional frailties of its members. But I think more importantly, Troop 142 carries the weight of these things in the small moments of campfires, tents, and merit badges. Which, honestly, is just like real life.
——

Mike Dawson is an Ignatz winning cartoonist and hosts the TCJ Talkies podcast. You can find him at his twitter page or at his tumblr account, mikedawwwson.
Secret Acres is an independent comics publisher based out of Brooklyn. You can find their twitter account here.



Very excited in this week of discussion about my comics career, to see someone writing something about my actual comics. sequentialstate:

There’s been a great conversation regarding the work of Mike Dawson this week, somewhat self-inflicted. Dawson posted some honest to god numbers about the number of books he has sold and talked really frankly about his work and his audience.
I honestly didn’t know anything about Mike’s work until earlier this year, when I bought his second book, Troop 142, at the Secret Acres booth at TCAF ‘14. As a former scout, a quick flip through showed a lot of the things I remember from my scouting experience in the late 90s-early 00s. A read of the book late last month showed more of the activity that I remembered from scouting - the roughhousing, the idiotic talk of boys who don’t know anything about women, the personal growth and exploration. But Troop 142 tackles some of the darkest memories of my scouting experience as well – the institutionalized homophobia and expulsion of agnostics and atheists.
Dawson manages to discuss ideas through a slice-of-life storyline that is driven more by the passing of days than any particular plot. David and David, younger boys in the troop who are attracted to each other, deal with bullying and their anger in a very “scout-sponsored” way. The boys are horrified when called “boyfriends” as a joke, and lash out in anger with slurs that ultimately attack themselves. Dawson captures the way that young men communicate very well in Troop 142. 
And while Dawson wants to draw attention to these things, Troop 142 is more about vulnerability and the social constructs of adolescent groups than the politics of the scouts. We see boys getting picked on and see egos swell and burst. Fighting breaks out at a moment’s notice over tiny slights, small moments that turn into life-changing moments.
Dawson’s cartoonish illustration style lends it to this kind of story, where the subtleties of human interaction can clearly be displayed on faces that are somewhat larger than life – Dawson uses different body shapes and facial features to differentiate between a large cast of characters, but I admit that I still had problems telling two characters, Jason and Matt, apart. It doesn’t help that the two are seen in a lot of scenes together. I feel like this could have been avoided, given the amount of revision that Troop 142 went through before it was published in book form.
I picked two specific pages that I thought were very well placed at a second read – boys and men from the story all recite the Scout Law – “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” In some way, the tenet of the Law that each boy or man recites is their biggest character flaw, and it will take some time for these flaws to show themselves throughout the book. This was a really interesting composition decision that paid dividends later on.
Overall, Troop 142 is hard to categorize. Dawson has created a complex and multifaceted work, simultaneously discussing the politics of a gigantic organization and the emotional frailties of its members. But I think more importantly, Troop 142 carries the weight of these things in the small moments of campfires, tents, and merit badges. Which, honestly, is just like real life.
——

Mike Dawson is an Ignatz winning cartoonist and hosts the TCJ Talkies podcast. You can find him at his twitter page or at his tumblr account, mikedawwwson.
Secret Acres is an independent comics publisher based out of Brooklyn. You can find their twitter account here.



Very excited in this week of discussion about my comics career, to see someone writing something about my actual comics.

sequentialstate:

There’s been a great conversation regarding the work of Mike Dawson this week, somewhat self-inflicted. Dawson posted some honest to god numbers about the number of books he has sold and talked really frankly about his work and his audience.

I honestly didn’t know anything about Mike’s work until earlier this year, when I bought his second book, Troop 142, at the Secret Acres booth at TCAF ‘14. As a former scout, a quick flip through showed a lot of the things I remember from my scouting experience in the late 90s-early 00s. A read of the book late last month showed more of the activity that I remembered from scouting - the roughhousing, the idiotic talk of boys who don’t know anything about women, the personal growth and exploration. But Troop 142 tackles some of the darkest memories of my scouting experience as well – the institutionalized homophobia and expulsion of agnostics and atheists.

Dawson manages to discuss ideas through a slice-of-life storyline that is driven more by the passing of days than any particular plot. David and David, younger boys in the troop who are attracted to each other, deal with bullying and their anger in a very “scout-sponsored” way. The boys are horrified when called “boyfriends” as a joke, and lash out in anger with slurs that ultimately attack themselves. Dawson captures the way that young men communicate very well in Troop 142.

And while Dawson wants to draw attention to these things, Troop 142 is more about vulnerability and the social constructs of adolescent groups than the politics of the scouts. We see boys getting picked on and see egos swell and burst. Fighting breaks out at a moment’s notice over tiny slights, small moments that turn into life-changing moments.

Dawson’s cartoonish illustration style lends it to this kind of story, where the subtleties of human interaction can clearly be displayed on faces that are somewhat larger than life – Dawson uses different body shapes and facial features to differentiate between a large cast of characters, but I admit that I still had problems telling two characters, Jason and Matt, apart. It doesn’t help that the two are seen in a lot of scenes together. I feel like this could have been avoided, given the amount of revision that Troop 142 went through before it was published in book form.

I picked two specific pages that I thought were very well placed at a second read – boys and men from the story all recite the Scout Law – “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” In some way, the tenet of the Law that each boy or man recites is their biggest character flaw, and it will take some time for these flaws to show themselves throughout the book. This was a really interesting composition decision that paid dividends later on.

Overall, Troop 142 is hard to categorize. Dawson has created a complex and multifaceted work, simultaneously discussing the politics of a gigantic organization and the emotional frailties of its members. But I think more importantly, Troop 142 carries the weight of these things in the small moments of campfires, tents, and merit badges. Which, honestly, is just like real life.

——

Mike Dawson is an Ignatz winning cartoonist and hosts the TCJ Talkies podcast. You can find him at his twitter page or at his tumblr account, mikedawwwson.

Secret Acres is an independent comics publisher based out of Brooklyn. You can find their twitter account here.

Very excited in this week of discussion about my comics career, to see someone writing something about my actual comics.

(via icallhergrady)

robkirbycomics:

robkirbycomics:

My review is of the graphic novel Angie Bongiolatti by Mike Dawson (Secret Acres) is up on tcj.com today.

Reposting my review of this excellent book in light of recent conversations here. The book deserves way more attention than it has received thus far. 

robkirbycomics:

robkirbycomics:

My review is of the graphic novel Angie Bongiolatti by Mike Dawson (Secret Acres) is up on tcj.com today.

Reposting my review of this excellent book in light of recent conversations here. The book deserves way more attention than it has received thus far. 

Advice to the mid-career cartoonist who has failed to build an audience

Advice to the mid-career cartoonist who has failed to build an audience

I’ve been publishing comics for coming on twenty years now. It’s hard to pinpoint a start-date, as like many cartoonists I’ve just been drawing my whole life, but sometime around ‘95 would be when I began putting out ‘zines regularly, along with a daily strip for the college paper.

My first “graphic novel”, my three hundred page debut memoir Freddie & Me, was published by BloomsburyUSA in 2008. The final sales tally (the book is now technically out of print) was 4,805 gross and 2,748 net. I think that means I sold 2,748 copies. Not great by Bloomsbury’s standards, but by my standards, that’s my bestseller.

My second book, Troop 142 was published in 2011 by Brooklyn based boutique publisher Secret Acres. I serialized the story online as I wrote. It was nominated for four Ignatz awards at the 2010 Small Press Expo, and won for Outstanding Online Comic. The book got nice attention from NPR and the American Library Association. It got another Ignatz nomination in 2012 for Outstanding Graphic Novel. To date, the book has sold 1,435 copies.

My third graphic novel, Angie Bongiolatti, was also published by Secret Acres. It debuted at the MoCCA Festival in NYC this past April. Last week I got my first quarterly sales report.

106 copies.

Holy fucking shit! One hundred and six copies??? How has this happened?

Well, it’s not a completely accurate picture. I sold about 20 of my own comp copies at CAKE. And my publisher tells me that there were roughly 40 other copies sold last quarter that hadn’t yet been paid for. Also, the book didn’t get into the PREVIEWS catalogue until this past July, so those order weren’t reflected. They came in this morning: 120 copies.

But still, we’re talking about a book that’s been out since April, that I’ve hyped about, spoken about in interviews, promoted on podcasts, done release parties and readings for, all of those things… By comparison, Troop 142 sold 438 copies in it’s first quarter and 211 in it’s second.

This isn’t great. This isn’t how I anticipated things going. I’ve been at this for a long time now, and my expectations are that my comics career should be improving the longer I keep at it, not declining from book to book.

Selling my work should get easier, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t it become less of a struggle?

I’ve done pretty good on the making things part of being a writer. But I have completely shit the bed on the part where you get people who read your previous work to stick around and buy your new stuff. Y’know, that mythical thing that I’ve heard men tell tales of, that elusive thing called “an audience”.

Here’s my advice to people like me, mid-career indy cartoonists who are failing to build an audience for their work.

1. Don’t Ask Me, I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Or, I wouldn’t be writing this embarrassing essay. I don’t know how to make a comic that people want to read. I mean, I’ve had my moments where it felt like maybe there was a teensy bit of buzz about my work - I felt pretty good in 2010 when I got four Ignatz nominations - but I don’t have a clue about how to sit down and consciously write something that has a decent shot of clicking with readers.

If I did, that first sales report would have looked a whole lot less anemic. 106… yeesh. Where do I go from here?

2. Give Up

Oh, Holy Lord, doesn’t that sound like The Best?

Just think, I could enjoy my life, instead of constantly fretting about whether or not I’m putting in the time at the drawing table. I could take up a new hobby. Instead of spending lonely Saturdays in my basement studio staring at the drawing board, I could become a triathlete, or a deep-water swimmer. I could join a Rugby team, and be one of those guys you see in movies out at bars having loud laughter-y drinks after they’ve just played a game of Rugby on their Rugby team. That’s a thing, right? I could do that.

But, sadly, as much as I’ve contemplated it recently, I just don’t feel like I can give up. I’m stuck with cartooning. I’m a lifer.

3. Take Your Time

Alright, I’ve had three books published in the past six years. And after the first two, before they’d even hit the shelves, I was fretting and stressing about not being knee-deep in something new already. I lunged from one long-term project to another.

The same thing started to happen this last time around. I sent off the final files, and then started neurotically floundering around to find my “next book”.

Luckily, I hadn’t quite figured out what that thing would be before it started to dawn on me that this new book might not be off to the strongest start. It wasn’t a complete surprise to me that the sales figures were low. I could already sense the book had no buzz. It had barely gotten any reviews, nobody was talking about it. Nobody had added it to their Goodreads page. The only person showing up in the “Angie Bongiolatti” vanity search column on my Tweetdeck was me.

My frantic floundering and splashing about to find a new project slowed, and became an easy tread. Eventually I hoisted myself out of the water. What’s the point? Why rush straight into a new long-term project, something that’s going to take me 2-3 years to complete, if nobody’s looking at the last thing I attempted? What’s the rush?

I’m stuck making comics, but maybe there are some other things I can rethink.

4. Social Media

Ugh, fucking Social Media.

To date, my attempts to leverage social media to build my “brand” have been absolutely horrendous. An abysmal track record.

I’m on Facebook, but I don’t really add any friends who I don’t know IRL, since all I ever post are pictures of my kids doing the darndest things.

I was on twitter. I was pretty active for a few years, but only managed about 1,200 followers at my peak. And I enjoyed the parts where it felt like a chat-room where I could banter back and forth with folks I knew through cartooning. But the other parts of it, where it felt like I was working in the marketing department of the brand known as me, constantly banging the drum of self-promotion… The never-ending hype machine. It made me unhappy.

I wisely deleted my twitter account in May 2013, thinking it’d be better for me to spend less time online and more time working on my book. That decision felt less wise when I signed back up for the service a few months ago and wondered where all my followers had gone.

I recently spoke to a prominent literary agent, who asked me what my social media audience was like. According to her, this has now become a major factor “big book publishers” take into account when considering a project. They like the idea of signing writers who can bring with them a sizable built-in audience. I felt like a fool explaining that well, yes, I had been on twitter, but it had felt bad for my mental health, so I deleted my account, and I am on Facebook, but that’s really for friends only, and well, I did recently start an Instagram…

5. Figure Out A Way To Be Happy on Social Media

Being on Social Media with my self-promotional drum-set, like a one man band, constantly banging it, with very little to actually call attention to, it all just brings me down.

Being on Social Media, making things specifically for Social Media, and then sharing that stuff, has turned out to be the best.

I got on Tumblr about nine months ago. For a little while I was just posting old comic pages and drawings from my archives.

Over Christmas, there was a thing that happened in my household where my wife and I decided to start letting our daughter celebrate Christmas. It was a wonderful little thing, and I drew a short comic about it in my sketchbook while we were on vacation. I took photos of the comic, and posted the sequence to Tumblr.

A few weeks later I drew another sketchbook comic about something else that had happened on vacation and posted that. Then I wrote another and another. These comics started to get some notes. One of them got republished at Slate magazine. I drew a Cartoonist’s Diary for The Comics Journal. A more recent comic essay got me into arguments with guns-rights people, and I was named The Idiot Extraordinaire of the week on some libertarian podcast.

Oh my god this was a satisfying way new way for me to make comics.

6. Figure Out A Way to Make Comics and Be Happy

This is the way I write: I have an idea I want to explore, so I make a comic about it. Cartooning is a way of thinking for me like no other. I am able to articulate myself most clearly in comics form. My ideas come together in a way that satisfies me that I’m not capable of in any other medium (except maybe podcasting).

Writing books has been a way for me to fixate on an idea for a long period of time, and examine it from many angles. The act of writing long-form work has been a way for me to learn about myself and grow as a person.

Writing short comic essays is a different beast. I have an idea, and instead of stretching it into something big, I attempt to articulate the thought efficiently. And then I move on. And I get to think about other ideas. It’s nice.

Neither one is better than the other. But, this new approach is certainly refreshing. It’s something I’d never allowed myself to do in the past. I have been making comics one way for so long, it’s exhilarating to be doing something different.

I have a lot of questions for myself about what I want to get out of cartooning. I know the answer isn’t money. But, I do want something more than just personal growth. I long ago came to terms with having a limited audience (around the time I only sold 2,748 copies of Freddie & Me), but I don’t feel prepared to have no audience whatsoever.

Lately, writing a book feels like I’m taking my ideas, spending years building something elaborate with them, putting them in a nice box, and then burying them in the yard. Then I’m asking everyone I know to find a shovel and hunt around and see if they can dig them up. (a.k.a. ask your Local Comics Shop to order this book from PREVIEWS).

At least with Tumblr, the comics get in front of people.

I’d like to write another book, but I’m going to take my time figuring out what that next big project will be. Why rush it? For the audience? Haha. They’re not going anywhere.

Upcoming Talkies

Spike from My Little Pony reads a scroll

fan art by my daughter

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mikedawwwson:

10-scheherazade-01:

One line is sticking out to me, one I specifically don’t agree with. “….Exercising their rights, but what about my right not to feel terrorized?” I understand that he’s making a point, and obviously he’s not referring to an…