Another couple of weeks have slipped past, which could only mean it is time for another installment of the column you love to hate, Bread Crumbs from the Void! I do not know about you, but I have endured about as much election chatter as one can take. Vile streams of racism, misogyny, ignorance, xenophobia, and straight-up hatred spew forth from the comments sections of every major social media hub. I weep not only for the future of this country, but for the future of our species.
Man-kind. What a crock of shit misnomer if ever I heard one.
The divisiveness caused by America’s current election cycle not only underpins the intolerance this country continues to needlessly endure, but also highlights the disconnect and separation caused by the codependence of digital communication. Opposing sides shout into the abyss at one another hurling discriminatory epithets, widening the chasm, and failing to ever fucking resolve any underlying issues.
Now, there is no need to make the irreversible decision to slit your wrists or down a bottle of prescription pills you stole from your mommy’s medicine cabinet to escape the treachery of the world. Lord knows I cannot afford to lose the miniscule readership I have acquired. The sooner you realize that you can/will never please everyone or alter the masses opinions, the less likely you are to develop a monstrous ulcer and bleed out through your asshole. That is not to say you should be silenced or should refrain from making your opinion known. To the contrary, what people like you and I can do is continue to write.
I am fully aware of just how readily naïve the implication may sound, but consider for a moment one of the methods humans have used to connect and transmit information since the dawn of time: storytelling. Once again, you will never please or make a lasting connection with everyone who encounters your work, so there is no point in attempting to do so. This is a gift god-damn it! If you are squandering an ability or passion to craft tales or spin yarns then you may as well spend your life wasting away under your covers, beating off while awaiting the inevitable nuclear apocalypse.
The number of people you can influence or inspire is exactly zero if your work is never seen. Meanwhile, in the face of overwhelming odds and tremendous adversity I will continue to limp forward across the battlefield.
Speaking of trudging through the publishing wilderness, travel with me if you will back to the primordial graphic novel landscape of 2012. Derf Backderf’s haunting deconstruction of a monster My Friend Dahmer had just dropped, Charles Burns unleashed The Hive on an unsuspecting audience, and Alison Bechdel’s sophomore effort Are You My Mother burst onto the scene.
Although graphic novels had been around since the eighties — with titles such as the omnipresent The Dark Knight Returns — most still hinged on the super-flaccid super-dud set with personal or edgy books receiving all the recognition of a scabby leper on prom night. The human and/or raw books were relegated to cult status, maligned and banished to the fringes of the direct market. Of course there were a few dark horses such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, but these were most certainly the exception.
Throughout the late 90’s and 21st century aughts more and more traditional literary publishers began to realize the legitimacy of the graphic narrative (something countries such as France and Japan have known for decades) and began to dislodge their heads from their anuses. The graphic novel — which is not, as some would dismiss it, simply a big ass comic book — was finally beginning to receive some of the god-damn acclaim and respect it had always deserved as not only a viable art form but a venerable storytelling vehicle.
So you can only imagine the raging boner inspired by the notion that I was about to hitch a ride into the stratosphere among other creators I admired when I received the following email:
Sean, the owner of Arcana, loves your style and was curious if you would be interested in working on the attached project, Aqualung. There would be a little bit of money involved, but I’m not certain how much. If you’re interested, I’ll send you his way!
VP of Marketing and Promotions
Up until that point I had worked almost exclusively with vanity independent presses. To their credit, the editors from the likes of 215 Ink (http://www.215ink.com/) and Viper Comics (http://vipercomics.com/) tended to actually give a shit about the creators they worked with as opposed to the more prominent houses who rake in the dough only to pay their hired hands in peanuts and false praises.
My main gripe regarding said publishers included the fact that signing on with them was little more than one step above self-publishing. In addition to relatively no marketing or promotion I received no compensation for the work I had produced aside from a few contributor copies.
To be certain I am not lamenting my time swimming in the anonymity of the small press, I am merely attempting to illustrate why I jumped at the chance to work with an established publisher like Arcana Studios (http://arcana.com/).
The hitch was I had been contracted to work on a property which was not sprung from my own fertile creative loins. The Unemployment Adventures of Aqualung was a project created by Chris Rhodes in 2008, sold into artistic sex slavery, and shelved until 2012 when Arcana had bamboozled this eager up-and-comer into completing the hack job. Believing it would finally be my first step to a career in the funny books I accepted and immediately dove feet first into the manure pile.
Aside from the first couple of interactions laying down the law I had very little correspondence with the big cheese at Arcana, Sean O’Reily, and he widely ignored the majority of missives sent his direction. On the other hand the VP at the time, Erik Hendrix, was the kind of fella you want as a champion. Erik was complimentary and encouraging. He was upbeat and optimistic (two things I am not). Unfortunately he was not the suit in control of the constricting parameters laid out by the head honcho.
The rundown was as follows:
I am not the type to have ever attempted the “starving artist” lifestyle. I have been broke most of my life to be sure, but I have always held down a soul-depleting day job to pay the bills whilst pursuing my foolhardy goals. Being that this undertaking was not my first rodeo, I knew I could not accomplish outlining, writing, revising, drawing and inking 88 pages in the timeframe which was so gently shoved down my esophagus.
Recruiting my good pal Scott Tamanaha, we spent countless hours plotting at Starbucks and pin-ponging emails until we set the story. Scott set about crafting the script while I shackled myself to the drafting table, foregoing social outings including dates with my then new-ish girlfriend (who luckily decided to play her hand and is now my amazing wife). With the assistance of coloring and lettering maestro Colin Moore our team narrowly completed our suicide mission on deadline and only a couple of appendages lost.
An initial flurry of activity and buzz for the book followed, including a successful signing at San Diego Comic Con 2013 where the stockpile brought by Arcana completely sold out. The book received a few good reviews – and a couple not-so-favorable mentions – which led to additional sales and an interview or two. Then the god-damn bottom dropped out. Only months after its release, Arcana decided they would rather focus on new books penned by the douchey likes of Bill Paxton and fuckpuppet master Gene Simmons. The Unemployment Adventures of Aqualung was dumped on the shoulder of the comics freeway amidst all of the other refuse and bile.
On the heels of what I viewed as a great defeat I disappeared from comics for a few years. The hibernation cost me dearly when I attempted to return to the world of writing and graphic storytelling. It is all too easy to stay down when you are kicked to the ground. If my experience has taught me nothing else it is that you not only pick yourself up, you get right back on the bronco that bucked and break the motherfucker.
If you would like to hear me elaborate a bit more on my own process, you can find links to a couple of interviews conducted recently with me on my website at: https://alexschumacherart.com/about/. Drop me a line from the contact page if you have any other questions, complaints, or declarations of lust.
Bread Crumbs from the Void will return in two weeks, when I continue with my personal, and obviously enthralling publication trek. Until next time, keep scribbling you freaks.
Alex Schumacher has toiled away in the relative obscurity of minimum-wage jobs and underground comics longer than he cares to admit. Currently he produces the weekly feature Decades of (in)Experience for Antix Press, Bread Crumbs from the Void and The Fucking Funnies for Five 2 One Magazine, and Mr. Butterchips for Drunk Monkeys. Stalk him at http://alexschumacherart.com/.