At the end of 2011, I was considering my position as a comic artist and maker after a poor showing at Thought Bubble 2011 and a general creative rut that can happen when things are a bit shit, plus the fact the fact that after all the hard work I was putting in, I was barely breaking even. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
“I’m going to take a step back from everything for a bit, not worry about the scene and what other people are doing, and try and recharge my appetite for this lovely genre which still hasn’t seen its potential realised. i’m probably gonna do a bit more drawing for drawing’s sake, maybe a bit of painting (the recent posters are possibly evidence of me cheating on comics a bit) and soak up a bit of proper culture, not just off tweets and blogs”.
Not long after this, I decided to pack in my rubbish office job and see what would happen if I tried to be a full time creative, and with the support of my partner we said we’d give it three months and see what happened.
The break from comics and the freedom to follow my creative whims meant that I was raring to go in January, and luckily I got a couple of jobs doing copywriting which provided some actual money as I tried to work out how to turn my comics and art into a living (I’m still working on it, let me know if you know how it’s done pals!- ed) and I came up with a few ways of trying to monetise my skills, setting up an animal portraits business and advertising a one-hour drawing service for £20, both of which had a bit of uptake without ever coming anywhere near paying the bills.
My other intention was to try and get some illustration work, and to this end I spiced up my illustration site, and also paid a large amount of money to join the AOI, but to this day, I’ve not had any genuine interest from potential commissioners, so that’s a bit shit, but I don’t really know what I could have done any different.
So three months into the experiment, and I was doing alright. I was still in the honeymoon period of having a list of things to try, and the copywriting was more or less paying the bills, leaving me enough time to draw things in the afternoon. LACF4 took place at the end of April, and I wanted to make a new comic (I hadn’t done one since Chris Sandwich in May 2011) but with my new business head on as a freelancer I wanted to make something that was cheap to produce but had a bit of substance to it.
This necessity was the mother of Christopher Wren- In Search of Excitement, a comic created from one piece of A3 printed both sides, that I could fold myself without staples. I’m really pleased with how it turned out and how the unfolding of the paper has its role in the telling of the narrative, and the format meant it was possible to have two different endings, another possibility suggested by the unusual format. This went down pretty well, and LACF4 was the best attended and most lucrative of the five Leeds Alternative Comics Fairs that me and Hugh Raine have hosted.
The free time I had allowed me to explore a lot of new ideas, and during these glory days I worked on a number of projects including Banal Pig 5, aka the Banal Pig Apocalypse, where a nuclear explosion throws our pals from the BP universe into chaos, with hilarious consequences (I’m about 12 pages into it currently), The Space Wars Colouring and Activity Book (19 pages complete) Monsters Of the Schwarzwald (just the 2 pages). I also actually finished some things, including this Star Wars painting (which I also turned into a print), stuff for Comical Animal and this animation, which i’m pretty happy with:
So, three months became six months and the honeymoon period was over, slowly but surely the copywriting jobs started to decrease, but I thought I’d use my free time to put together an entry for The Observer/ Jonathan Cape/ Comica Short Story Prize. I’d entered a few half-arsed efforts before, but I basically spent the majority of September to make my entry ‘I Yeti’ as whole-arsed as possible, and I felt I had a decent chance. Pig lovers will know what happened next, a creditable 2nd place, a lot of exposure and by the time it came around a very welcome prize of £250. More than the money though, this piece of recognition has given my freelance year a point, and it’s satisfying to have something to show for my efforts- I was seriously considering jacking the whole fucking thing in if I didn’t get anywhere, as I was getting pretty disillusioned with all my efforts coming to nothing.
The exposure from the competition provided a welcome boost to my coffers, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to keep me in bread and water, and in December I had to return to exactly the kind of irrelevant and uninspiring office job I had left at the beginning of the year. We also did another LACF, and i printed a very small run of Banal Pig’s Royal Assortment, a collection of recent stuff and although the fair wasn’t the worst, it was pretty disappointing in terms of sales and attendance.
So what have I learned in my year out? Firstly, it’s really fucking hard to get people to pay you to do something that you like, even if you’re (>ahem<) good at it. I’ve also decided to stop making small press comics for the foreseeable future- my experience over the last seven years has been that the small runs of comics I’ve made have taken a long time to sell, and there is such a small profit on each comic that it really doesn’t make sense for me to do it anymore. I was happy to do it for the love in the first few years, but I can’t see a viable business ever evolving from this.
My strategy therefore is to focus my efforts onto a big project, namely a book version of Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure, which I will be working on this year and will hopefully be taken on by a publisher. I will also be looking to put other stuff online for free, as if I’m not making a profit anyway I may as well cut out the middle man. Hopefully, at some point I can go back to freelancing, but I’ll have to do a bit of earning actually money first, and hopefully I’ll find something where the remuneration actually reflects my skills and the effort I put in. Ha ha ha, i wish! Happy New Year Pig Lovers! xxx