Hard Reset

From Amazing Spider-Man #50. Image credit: Marvel Comics

I almost posted a very different blog about my 2020 plans and expectations, but I had something of a revelation today concerning my approach to creativity:

It’s not working.

It made the original blog mostly irrelevant, but there are a couple of key points that will sneak their way into this one, too.

My wife noticed that I have been upset a lot, lately. Stressed. Short-tempered. I can barely hold it together for five minutes with our daughter before I lose patience. She said that I seem miserable and wanted to know what I needed to make things better.

I told her that I have been struggling with time. I always wish that I had adequate time to spend both with my family and creating. Depending on the day, that is not possible. To be honest, it’s pretty rare. Since my family comes first, time to work on comics and blogs is relegated to the 15 to 30 minutes at the end of the day, but the part of my brain that knows how to do the creative stuff withers to a husk around late-afternoon, so I usually just spend that last 15 to 30 minutes reading or playing video games, instead. I know I should be working, but I can’t muster the gumption to get anything done. Then, because I’m also really hard on myself, I feel like a failure for not working harder.

This is not a new conversation between us. She knows I struggle with time, but I was able to articulate it better than I ever have before. I realized that I feel constant, overwhelming pressure to produce something, but when I sit down to work, I just can’t. It occurred to me that this is not the right kind of pressure. It’s not that feeling of relentless joy and excitement for an idea that I cannot shake until I get it down on paper. Far from that. This pressure to create doesn’t come from the love of the craft, but from an urge to stay relevant. Far too often, I create for the sake of posting content, for the sake of maintaining an online presence. Gotta get those social media follows and likes, y’know? When I put pencil to paper, there’s no passion for it. Just pressure to get something done so I can put it online. It is joyless behavior.

Which is why nothing has been getting done. Well, except this 1-panel Play-Doh comic I did. That got done. It got done because it was a funny idea that popped in my head based on mine and my daughter’s Play-Doh sessions (a Netflix Original Series, coming this fall!), and I drew it on a whim because I thought it would be fun. Not because I thought it would get a bunch of likes on the socialz media.

I continued to explain to my wife what finally made sense to me. Here’s the thing: I want Big Skink Tales, as well as this no good blog and everything else that falls under the umbrella, to be a business. I want it to be my “side hustle,” my thing that I would ideally make my full time gig one day, if I could. But, though it’s hard to admit, I don’t put in the work to make it a business. I never have. Not in the twelve(!) years I’ve been doing this. I’ll work on it consistently for a while, but then I might not touch it for a month. Months, sometimes. Yes, this is occasionally because life happens. But not always. My wife reminded me that many of my projects and self-imposed deadlines over the years would not have been completed or met without her keeping me on task and leaving me to my work. That was not a statement she made to try to guilt trip me or make me feel bad, or make me acknowledge how important she was to the process—it was an observation, as well as the honest-to-God truth. I’ve never been willing to do the work to make Big Skink Tales “succeed as a business,” yet I am upset that it hasn’t. It’s delusional behavior—I always questioned why my work didn’t have more of a following. That’s easy. I never earned it. I didn’t work for it.

So, now I have all of these questions running through my head. Really tough, identity-crisis type questions. Do I want to keep doing this? Have I lost my passion for creating? Do I even enjoy making comics? Writing? I’ve only been doing this forever. Have I wasted countless hours doing something I don’t even enjoy, something that only causes me stress?

My first, knee-jerk solution was to quit. Just quit. Shelve everything. Take care of my family and myself and give up creative pursuits altogether. That thought made me panicky, so I revised it a bit. Instead, I considered the possibility of dropping this whole “very important,” “very official” business aspect of what I do, and just approaching it like a hobby again, for the first time in years.

I didn’t feel panic this time. I felt relief. I think this is the answer. It seems simple enough, but I’ve been so indoctrinated into the “comics as a business” mentality for so long that the simple solution wasn’t even on the radar.

When I started working on Mike and the Ninja in earnest in 2008, it was with the intent of potentially turning it into a money-making endeavor. I cannot deny that. But that first year of consistent work was so energizing and so much fun. The work I put out was maybe not technically sound, but it was goofy and irreverent and snappy and full of heart. The passion was there! Unfortunately, once I put out the first print volume and started exhibiting at comic cons and officially became a small business, the focus switched from passionate content to a perpetually half-assed attempt at making this whole comics thing “work,” and that’s kind of where I’ve been stuck ever since. That’s not to say that everything I’ve put out since then has been passionless and no good, but none of it—none of it—matched that pure, unabashed joy of my first dedicated year of Mike and the Ninja, or the joy I felt when I first started making comics all the way back in grade school.

That’s what’s missing. I see it in other people’s work, but it’s not in mine. I owe a shoutout to my brother Craig, who recently started a horror/trash/sci-fi/action movie podcast called A Cure for the Common Craig. They are 14 or 15 episodes in now, and I don’t remember him being more excited about something in a very long time. He loves making the podcast, and it shows in the quality and genuineness of the work. He’s not doing it to make money. He’s doing it because he loves movies! I can say the same thing about my friends in The Scatterguns, or my friends at Podzilla 1985 and Cape Championship Wrestling, or any of the creative talents I’ve met through Cape Comic Con. They love what they do. And I just realized that I can no longer say the same thing about my own work.

That hurts. It’s devastating. And I think that if I continue to function the way I am, I will grow to hate what I do. For years, I’ve perpetually attempted to work beyond my own limits, and then harangued myself for not doing more or better work when I don’t have the actual capacity to do so. It’s no wonder I’ve come to resent my own interests. I have to change now, before quitting does become the best decision I can make.

So, that’s it. Now, and again, comics are my hobby. Writing is my hobby. It’s not a business anymore. Maybe it can be again some day, if the time and the drive to focus on it presents itself. But, for now, Big Skink Tales is not a “brand.” It’s just me. I am free to write and draw what I want, when I want, and post what I want, when I want, uninhibited by the demands of social media algorithms, or the pressure to maintain a business or online presence that was never truly alive, or my own overwhelming neuroses. I can work at my own pace, when I have time. I can work in peace. I can have fun.

It feels pretty good.