Life, Love, and Comics. Part I : The Problem with Success.
Early in December, 2018, at the Indie Comic Con in Melbourne, I gave my first panel discussion (more of a lecture) to a packed hall of 3-people. It was a start to what I hope to be an ongoing presentation I make at other events and cons throughout the years to come. Mostly, after attending a number of these events over the last 10-years, I always see panels from professionals on “how to do this” or “How to get into the business of that”. But no one I’ve seen yet has given much thought to or discussion of how hard and difficult it is as a creative to just get started. All these panels and talks are important and good, but for people who have a hard time really getting started, people like myself, all this good advice means nothing to someone who has yet to develop a work ethic, a modus operandi, a work schedule. In short, a craft.
So, I decided to sit down and write out my experiences, philosophy, and work ethic that I’ve developed over the last 10-years. At first it was a panel discussion, and now, I’ll try to lay it out here as a blog. The point of these next few posts is to first change up our idea of “Success”, but then to identify what obstacles of resistance we creatives are putting in front of ourselves, and why we need to develop a craft to get through them. In this first part, I’ll be discussing the problem with our ideas of “Success”.
One of the reasons why I think its so hard for some creatives to get started or keep going is our cultural idea of “Success”, and how this idea is fundamentally flawed. The problem with success is that it can mean a lot of different things to different people, but as we’ve culturally come to understand it in the West, it often means money, fame, and status. I’m not about to dismiss the importance of money in anyone’s life, especially when it comes to creative endeavours. But if money is what you want to feel successful, then for the love of God, DO NOT get into comic books or artwork. We starve for a reason.
The problem with money, fame, and status being benchmarks of success is that it presumes that this is what is ultimately important in life. Again, I’m tooootally fine with having lots of money, but I’ve come to realise its not what I’m working for. For many people who do have money, fame, and status, they can still find themselves feeling vacant and disillusioned. I know this because I’ve been in this very situation. About 10 years ago, I had finished my first summer as a Hotshot fire-fighter, and now had a lot of money, few responsibilities, and tons of time on my hands. And I was bored out of my mind. Because what I didn’t have was anything to do. I had fallen under a terribly debilitating assumption that I had, somehow, succeeded.
This is the fundamental flaw with the idea of “Success”, that there is a finish line you can simply cross with enough effort (or with enough money). It also presumes that you are running a fixed length of a race, or simply following a formula to get an answer. These notions are true to an extent, but again, they are the flaws with our thinking of “Success”. These are rewards, but should not be the ultimate measure, or goal, of success.
The different idea of success I want to introduce here is one of fulfilment. In this game, the one where you’re really only playing against yourself, fulfilment is the only way you will win. This is a success of the soul, one that transcends time and place, and one that doesn’t just celebrate you, but celebrates humanity. This is important, because to get started on a creative project, one that has a lot of exciting possibility and personal connection, you must be able to measure your efforts in increments of fulfilment, not money, fame, or status.
Looking back on all the work I’ve done over the years, I can see how much I’ve been improving with each artwork or comic book I’ve worked on. And for each of these projects, it was its own struggle to work out what was working and what was not working. But within that struggle I found fulfilment from my work, because I was striving and pushing to do something bigger and better than I had ever done before. For me, pushing my creative talent and vision to newer heights and a better form is what gives me fulfilment. At first I worked so hard at my skill and craft because I thought “the better an artist I am, the more money I should be able to make.” Objectively…yes, this is true. But I’ve come to see that there’s more to it than that. I want the stories I tell or artworks I do to have lasting power. To become something that outlasts me, but something that I can also feel proud of.
Here’s an example I like to make: Bill and Melinda Gates. Bill Gates, as you should know, is the founder of Microsoft computers, who became wildly rich and famous from his company’ success. But since then, he and his partner have gone on to start and fund an incredible amount of philanthropic and humanitarian causes, such as bringing down the child mortality rate in Africa, setting up organisations to help alleviate hunger in many poor areas of the world, and teach and empower millions of people with educational resources.
They did all these things with their wealth not because it was going to help improve their stock options, bolster their already overflowing bank accounts, or make them more famous. They do these things because it brings them fulfilment, that using their resources on something larger than themselves is more important than the resources themselves. Now, which is more valuable? All their wealth or their wealth spent on a righteous cause? Which is the greater measure of their success?
You might start to see where I’m going with all this. That changing the idea of success can help lead you towards a better relationship with your own artistic life, and life in general. But its not enough to just “get real” about what you want out of your artwork. Doing the artwork is a whole different task, and requires a lot of effort, discipline, and patience. It requires a craft, which is what I’ll get into in Part II. But the reason why its so important to talk about success first is because, after travelling down the long, difficult path of a creative project, you’ll need to be able to look back on what you’ve done and feel good about it, regardless of any money, fame, or status you many get from it.