This is all a bit raw and rambling so bear with it if you would.
I wrote a comic in 2014 and someone drew it for me in 2015. That someone was Conan Sinclair, an Australian artist and just a generally cool dude, and I paid him for his work. But I didn’t pay him as much as I feel he deserves. He took the work because he read what I sent him and responded to it. I didn’t know until this year that he got something more out of it than I expected (and that made me quite happy). Turning 21 this year made me freak out the way I freaked out when I turned 20 last year, so I resolved to start putting more effort into my comics career that I had been sheepishly keeping up. I looked at what I had completed: a short comic completed with a great artist that I had complicated feelings towards. Part of those complicated feelings was that I had paid Conan the only page rate I could afford but not the one he deserved. I wanted to get that comic published so I could put “Comics Writer” in my Twitter bio without feeling like a liar and I wanted to get Conan paid.
I found a place online that could publish it, an outlet that wasn’t aimed at the comics internet and stood to grant more exposure to myself and Conan, and I sent them a pitch. I sent them a PDF with the comic and a short paragraph describing a prospective personal essay in which I described the process of creating the comic from my perspective while exploring my complicated relationship with the material. They said they wanted to publish it. I spent a few days working on the essay to accompany the comic. I knew they were buying the essay more than the comic so I knew I had to make that purchase worth it for them and I felt I owed it to myself to express some things I hadn’t really been open to discussing. Shea Hennum, a writer I greatly look up to and someone who I think of as a friend, really helped me in editing that essay from something raw and ineffectual in its communication into something much better. I was proud of how it turned out.
The publication of the comic and my essay was a bit of a nightmare, though.
I was horrified by how the site’s Twitter account promoted it as the story of how my art saved my life when it was about how my unhealthy relationship to my art contributed to a nervous breakdown that led to me dropping out of college for my physical and mental well-being. I was angry. I was hurt. Even after a very positive interaction with the site’s social media department resulted in honest apologies and a more accurate promotion, I was burned out. I didn’t want to promote the work so much as forget about it. They were going to pay me and that made it better because it meant I could give that full amount to Conan for his work. Just because I’m at a point in my career where being paid for my work isn’t a concern doesn’t mean I don’t take compensating collaborators very seriously. Again, it was less than he deserved but it’s what I could do for him at the time.
But I haven’t really been able to forget about it. That site publishing the comic and my essay has led me to having interactions with people I hadn’t spoken to in a while in which we discussed our own or their family’s experiences with mental illness and suicide. That really meant a lot to me. I had written the comic in the hopes that it would help me with my own issues. The fact that it along with an essay about how it failed to do that for me could result in something good for other people makes me want to cry sometimes. We build a community when we listen to each other.
Almost two months removed, I’m in a better place with my feelings about what happened with the publication and promotion. Mistakes happen. But I find that I’m still a bit reticent to promote the thing outside of it being my pinned tweet and slapping it up here. I didn’t post it on Facebook, for example, although my friends list has been able to see me write about my experiences with mental illness before. I’m a little nervous about self-promoting until I have more work to do that with. I have two comics in different stages of production right now so I might feel differently after they hit.
I have difficulty with being perceived as “a bipolar comics writer” or “a comics writer who tried to commit suicide.” Let’s be real, there are a lot of creators who fit both descriptions and they’re doing fine in the industry. But the fear, the insecurity, still remains. I don’t want someone down the line to buy a comic I wrote because the writer is bipolar, multiracial (I consider myself white for a lot of reasons but there’s more under the surface and I have a complicated relationship with talking about it because it makes me feel like a poser), or anything else that doesn’t necessarily relate to the quality of my work even though I believe seeing a connection between oneself and a creator is absolutely a valid reason to pick up their work. That’s my insecurity about feeling me and my work aren’t good enough to stand on our own. It’s something I’m gonna feel no matter how well I do so I’m learning to accept it and not let it trip me up any further.
As it stands, promoting that comic does feel a bit like promoting my mental illness to people first and myself/my work second. I have a great respect for people who can produce autobiographical works and not let that feeling get the better of them.