Being the sole creator on your own book, as well as the publisher, is a lot of work creatively. But add the marketing, advertising and general business to it, and your schedule almost becomes more than you can manage. It has been the one constant problem since I started this book. Where to find the time to do everything?
Conventions are among the many "everythings" I have been horrible with. I've been lucky to have a con buddy in Todd Goodman of Old World Comics. He has been extra helpful and generous by giving me a section of his table for the past two Huntington Tri-Cons. But past that, my narrow-mindedness to getting my book finished has put the selling of it in jeopardy because, although I planned a con tour, my follow through has been awful.
Didn't attend the Lexington Comic Con this year because it was knee deep in me finishing a part of my story. I was able to attend Tri-Con. However, I didn't have the forethought to find a place to be on "Free Comic Book Day." Wanted to go to Louisville's Derby Con, but it was the same weekend as a planned vacation my family had. During of which, I planned to go to HEROESCON. That I didn't make, because I had to replace my car's set of tires, which took the steam out of my "play money" for the con.
Only opportunity in July is S.P.A.C.E. (Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo) which Todd has invited me for a place at his table. But looking at the list of books there, my little masked book may not look so inviting to that "sophisticated" crowd. I don't know yet if I will go.
So that has left me pondering. Can I produce this book and attend conventions at the same time? Is that what is really holding me back on making these conventions a priority. Should I wait till it's all over? It's a holdover of me choosing to serialize my graphic novel. Every time I consider a convention, the first thing I think of is, I have nothing to sell, or an incomplete story. Then the other part is, who am I to sell a comic? With so much out there, I am such a small dustmite amongst so much talent.
Yeah, I know. I think too much. But such is the mind of the sole creator. You exist in your own vacuum for the production of your book. Then you venture out to see if anyone might like to see the finished work of your labor. Not really intimidated by opinion, someone will either like it or they won't. Not the reason I'm doing it. But the feeling like I'm only showing one or two things of a much bigger part, leaves me uncertain of my future conventions.
Much more to consider as the weeks go by...
I've been working on and off on my story for close to 20 years. As such, there have been tweaks to the story here and there. The main part hasn't changed, but "B" stories or thinking behind certain other parts definitely has. Tooled to refit maybe changes in my personality as I age, or storytelling that I've abandoned for different tones.
But perhaps the biggest changes has been how I planned to present the story.
At its inception, it was a straight-forward action book with a family dynamic. I had planned out a years worth of story for 12 issues. It was heavily influenced by the idea of single stories that contained "B" stories that would build as the 12 issues went on.
Then I modulated it into a bi-monthly at a bigger size that would be more story focused and less on a continuity.
It was until the mid-2000s that I decided to do a graphic novel. As my work schedule got more hectic and trying, I wanted to figure out a way to produce my book realistically. So it was going to be an introductory novel with a beginning, middle and end in case that was all I would be able to produce. I kept this particular plan to the completion of the first part of the story in September 2014.
The sheer weight of the story though, became a bit much for my self -employed self to put together. So I decided to serialize it.
It was a hard decision that even now I have a time with.
It's primary effect was supposed to be more spontaneous chapters. But the fear that it's starting to feel disjointed is there. I'm not creating this in harmony as the books get finished. I have to break to refocus on what pays the bills. So it can be a month or so before I can get back on the horse again. And then, there's that moment of inferiority. Can I do at least as well as the previous issue, etc?
And then there's the conventions. The graphic novel was going to be a complete story. I didn't have to fear that someone might purchase parts of the story and not be able to get the continuing parts for one reason or another. But now I do. And while I've only sold at a couple of shows, there's a part of me that kind of holds back because I'm not selling the whole thing.
Now that I'm actively producing the book, and I have a few readers following it, it's interesting how my decisions aren't just about me now. It's about my story and how it's being interpreted. Adds a whole new layer to everything and believe it or not is pretty calming. It keeps my changing in mid stream tendencies to the side.
But not too much.
I want to admit right off the bat, I'm the product of a reboot. I was a "Crisis" kid. I picked up a DC book here and there at the dawning of my comics collecting of the early 1980s, but nothing really stuck. It wasn't until the masterpiece that was "Crisis on infinite Earths" changed my comic collecting heart forever. I was on the ground floor of a generally well thought out reboot. Even though the origins of most of their characters were modified and modernized, the characters at least looked and acted the same as always for both old readers and the integrity of the characters.
And though as the years went by, that "Post Crisis" continuity did get convoluted at times, the characters always seemed to find their way out. I collected DC exclusively for quite awhile, and while I would buy the occasional other books they interested me, DC had me.
That was, until FLASHPOINT.
What happens in a reboot, good or bad, is that something about a character you liked, goes away. A clean slate is established and can then be built upon. But comics nowadays, especially corporate ones, are preoccupied with the idea of "diversifying and becoming more modern." Instead of bringing out what makes the character unique, the focus is how to make it different than other versions that have come before. This is, no doubt, due to no one under a certain age having any attention span whatsoever. We leave in the wake of the "instant." Instant news and communication we bring up on our phone (attached to our hands at all times). Everything is so instant, the current generation is quickly bored and ready to move on to the next thing. Add that to the fact super-heroes are hot right now in film and TV. Which means more money for the corporates than those paltry print booklets.
So then, older readers that have devoted (and spent quite a bit of money with those characters) are left out in the cold. The ownership we felt we earned during our time with those characters is challenged by our familiarity with the past and the alienation of the current. I chose to walk away from those characters. Obviously my time with them had ended because I couldn't see a shadow of the ones I knew in the new versions.
But this dissatisfaction with corporates, I believe, helped me want to get my comic produced after being stalled for years. It freed me from the "big guys" grasp and allowed me to see what else was out there. In addition to producing my own book, I'm trying my best to only buy creator owned indy books. I finally can see that their ownership may keep them from following the corporates into marginalizing their readership.
As of writing this, Marvel has just announced all new #1's with new versions of their characters. But it's not a reboot. It's just another chapter of their publishing story. I stopped reading the HULK when Peter David left. But in trying to find new, familiar things to read, picked up Gerry Duggan's HULK run and have been immensely enjoying it. Part of the news release says there's going to be an all new HULK that's not Bruce Banner.
We are the sum of our total experiences. Drawing and creating are prime examples of that. We all have some basic resource that had us move that pencil for the first time. Right in my prime influential period, I was lucky enough to witness true masters of the comics medium during their "hot" streaks.
Seeing how I was born too late to witness Kirby, Romita Sr. and the myriad innovators of the art form in their "hot streaks" these modern (at the time) masters put their mark on how I see and judge comics. Frank Miller, John Byrne, Matt Wagner, Denny O'Neil and John Ostrander were early influences that I would carry with me through the years.
And by following them, I was able to see where they came from. It was through Frank Miller that I was introduced to the genius that is Will Eisner. Once discovered, it was so glaring the fact of where Miller took most of his influences in story telling and tone. Through his influence with Eisner, Frank went on and made his own legend.
Of course, similarities of my MAN IN THE MASK and THE SPIRIT are, on the surface, hard to miss. But in truth, he's simply meant to be a turn on the plain clothes masked man which I was initially introduced to in my early teens. Within the pages of Denny O'Neil's "THE QUESTION I met my first plain clothes mystery man before I even knew what THE SPIRIT was.
I went from doodling super heroes on the sides of my school work notebook paper, to drawing suits. Ties, suspenders and trenchcoats became my obsession for awhile. And then I'd add that all important mask. My hero would then be complete.
As I started to develop my MAN IN THE MASK in the mid 90s, I wanted it to be a true love letter to the comics that quite frankly were my best friends. While working out the legacy portion of the story, I knew my original character that would encompass my world's golden age, would be a plain clothes character. It made sense. Add that to the fact my grandfather was a clothes horse himself, it was a perfect fit. He never left the house without his tie and hat, even if it was just a trip to McDonalds. It's due to my respect to both Eisner and THE SPIRIT that my character doesn't wear a hat or coat, even though they were an important part of my Pop's wardrobe.
My hope is that while my influences can be seen within the pages of my book, perhaps I can carve out my own voice. In attempting to actualize this very long in the works passion, maybe I can create something that stands on it's own.
Who knows? But I'm enjoying the trip to find out.
With deadlines and such, stress can be pretty high around my studio. Luckily, I take at least an hour break away from it a day. Since working on this book, I try to get as much sketching done as I can. However, I try not to do a sketch for my book. I can fit that somewhere else into my day. No. What I'm talking about is just drawing a character I like and do it as spontaneously as I can. Not much fluff or major cleanup, just a spur of the moment drawing.
This drawing can be a lot of things. But it can't be finished. I like the rough look of it. And, this particular exercise has allowed me to loosen up on my own drawing style. I used to torture myself with endless criticism because I was so rigid in my construction. A true student of "How to Draw the Marvel Way," I would construct my work using those valuable lessons. But would sacrifice the energy of the fun of drawing to make sure I "did it right."
If anything comes out of the resurgence in my getting this book out, is that I've rediscovered my love of drawing because of this.
A lifelong comics fan, Mike W. Belcher is the writer/artist of MAN IN THE MASK. A story he's had with him for over 20 years.