My decade in webcomics (comics)
Saw the suggestion over on ComixTalk.com about writing about your past decade in webcomics (if you’ve been around that long!) – Sheesh, it seems more and more things are making me feel OLD lately, even though I’ll only be 35 in January. Either way, I thought it might be fun to look back at my own career doing comics this past decade… geez I’ve drawn a TON of stuff and worked with a lot of amazing people, if I forget to mention you you can berate me in the comments if you ever see this.
Looking back I’m pretty proud of all the work I’ve done and glad I didn’t stick to one project or style.
Prologue (Pre-Web Days): Before my past decade in comics began, in 1999 I was 23 and I had already been drawing comics analog style for 5 years. Those 5 years between 1994-1999 I sort of consider cutting my teeth after learning to walk. I dabbled in the comic book industry working for a lot of indy writers and small press companies… projects you probably never heard of like “Earth Force”, Darker Justice, Bounty Runner and holy crap there was this all blue energy guy I drew for some rinky dink company from Ohio that I can’t remember the name of the company or the book or characters! Yeah, that’s how lame it probably was. Back in 1997-98 I was actually getting small page rates to draw people’s comics but I still had a day job working in places like a marketing firm in Pittsburgh and print shops as the graphic design slave. In 1998 I put all of my frustrations with the comic book industry and how STUPID the direct market system was into a little mini comic called YIRMUMAH and started delivering it to shops around Pittsburgh…. and people LOVED it. The loved it so much I started setting up my own tables and going to comic shows where it sold like hotcakes and we had a real circus atmosphere of spin wheels and Kordell Stewart handouts. I even scored a publishing deal out of going to shows and meeting some folks… that’s a whole other story… UGH… but it ends again with me thinking how fucking DUMB the comic book industry direct market system is and how sales were declining then and continue to be in the toilet…. but I digress…
I had always had a big hard on for doing a daily comic strip in newspapers and I came really close to landing a deal at King Features for a strip Bob McDeavitt and I developed called “GRAVITY” which was about a kid and his pet Galgackian Wildebeast who lived on a space station and had wacky characters like “Cap’n Crafty” – We were so close to a syndication deal with it that it was pretty painful when the powers that be at the time turned it down saying it was pretty much because “outer space” wouldn’t work in newspapers, the old people won’t get it. That’s almost word for word what they told us and I was offered a deal to develop a strip about coffee shops which I turned down (stupid of me? maybe) – But I had this dumb fire in the belly that wouldn’t go away, a real “I’ll show them!” attitude and I started just taking my strip around to newspapers and editors I met loved it and picked it up. WOW that was easy! “Who needs syndicates!” – We setup a system online which kind of mirrored how papers grab the new comics from syndicates through FTP accounts, and so it was a super easy sell just saying… hey, try us out, here’s where to grab it. It really was kind of that easy… we ended up having like 53 papers carrying it. That would last about a year before I completely burnt out and realized why people needed syndicates in the first place. Hah! It’s a ton of work to self syndicate like that…
So GRAVITY was my first foray into putting a regular comic on the web in 1999 or so I believe… It was hosted on Keenspace.com back in the days when everyone was eager to gain a spot on Keenspot.com – I consider that year or so of doing that to be where I cut my teeth with learning simple things like HTML and how to make interactive CDs and fool with programs like Fireworks, Flash, Photoshop… it was really fun. And I knew from the first week or so that COMICS ON THE WEB were the future of comics….
Unfortunately, back then there was a stigma that if you were publishing your work online, and for FREE to boot, that it meant one of two things or both:
1. You weren’t good enough to be published by a “REAL” publisher.
2. You couldn’t afford to self publish your own work in print.
The stigma. I hated that stigma a lot. I realized in my own brain that the WEB was just another delivery method for comics and for clients… Around 2002 I started getting paid to produce other people’s webcomics (EUREKA!) And there was a big period where I was working with Kevin Smith’s Movie Poopshoot.com and tons of fun stuff for Brian Lynch in the MonkeyMan and Angry Naked Pat era… that may be one of the FUNNEST times I had drawing goofy comics in the past 10 years. But still, there was that stigma… Even Monkey Man which was being pushed through View Askew was turned down by Diamond Comics, basically I was told because it was an “online thing” … the Diamond rep at the time was only interested in trying to get us (Brian and I) to get in touch with Kevin Smith to see if he would sign an exclusive deal with Diamond… FUCK YOU DIAMOND!!! Kevin allowed us to sell the first issue through the Jay and Silent Bob store. At Pittsburgh Comicon I bumped into a PRE-FAMOUS Robert Kirkman with his Funk-O-Tron comics and told him the story and he was flabbergasted as to why they wouldn’t pick up Monkey Man – he slipped him his reps name and BOOM, Monkey Man got listed in Previews pretty much thanks to Kirkman passing the info along to us. — but again, the frustration with the backward comic market persisted… we had already sold issue 1 direct to fans and now we were asking them to preorder again and WAIT two months… FUCKING STUPID. It’s the dumbest entertainment distribution system EVER. The only thing stopping me from exploding with anger with that was the idea that ALL of this would be worked out in time. The web WAS and IS the future of comics.
That stigma stuck around though. When I’d go to comic book shows in 2000-2002 and mention the “WEBCOMICS” or reading comics online, there was lots of eye rolling. I used to say all the time that it’s only a matter of time before Marvel and DC or the real big boys figure it out and come in and try to plant their flag as the innovators of online comics… and they’ve tried over the years, but it seems like they failed every time. Even NOW it seems the comic industry is on a better path, but not quite GETTING it yet. I digress…
2003 – The Drama Years
2003 Was the beginning of the “DRAMA” years for me, which would continue off and on through out my decade in webcomics. In 2003 I launced YIRMUMAH again as an online comic and sort of put on a persona online of being a tough guy and shock jock attitude… and guess what? It worked. My pageviews and sales on anything I was selling went up with any type of controversy I would stir up. It felt great to let loose and be a complete asshole and just tell people how I really felt about a lot of things. I had these web enemies like “Joey Manley” and a couple other guys who I forget their names… but there was always this paranoia feeling that there were people trying to screw over creators and I liked to expose it and drum up drama around it. Sometimes I was way out in left field on things, but I became a magnet for “trouble” and conspiracies. People would just feed me these crazy stories about how this person screwed that person as if I was some Robin Hood who could set it right or at least expose it, or use me as the guy who falls on the sword, and I didn’t mind (drama = pageviews) – And that’s how I operated for a number of years… things were good, I didn’t have to answer to ANYONE and I was making really great money with my own webcomics and drawing side projects over in comic book land for friends like James Patrick, etc…OH, There was also the incredible amount of shit-talking I did at the Daily Grind Iron Man Challenge too, where when I joined I thought it was supposed to be a fun shit-talking contest in the forum, but my super power to really get under people’s skin…well, really got under some people’s skin! One guy even wrote a song about me which I believe was entitled “DJ COFFMAN, WHAT AN ASSHOLE”– which just made me smile. Meanwhile the people who knew me in “real” life knew I was the nicest guy ever and would just laugh along at the stupid drama I could whirl up online. Boy was I good at that!
2006 – Sell out with me, oh yeah.
You know for all intents and purposes I was doing really great for myself with my YIRMUMAH webcomic at the time. I had a great audience and I had started 2006 off by publishing a monthly full color comic direct to my fans. I followed the comic news and that’s when I saw the ad for “THE COMIC BOOK CHALLENGE” and I immediately thought about entering one of “shelf” ideas into it “HERO BY NIGHT”, which I was going to launch as a webcomic at some point. I won’t dredge up all the bad details, but there was a lot of drama around Platinum Studios at the time. Many of my friends and colleagues questioned why I’d even enter the damn contest. Part of me thought, okay if these people are right and these dudes are assholes I’d just go out to San Diego and find out myself and then just expose them like I did every other asshole or shady character that’s crossed me in the past… but to my surprise, I met people who actually really LOVED comics and had a passion for them like I did and who agreed with me on just about everything I thought was wrong with the comic industry direct market system… no evil dudes in robes waiting to stab me in the back…
And then I won the damn thing! To be honest I never really had any doubt that I wouldn’t win it. I was really confident in the idea and as it turns out, I guess I was really good at pitching and just being the “every guy” — People in Hollywoodland (not just Platinum) found my Pittsburgh-like blue collar attitude refreshing. One guy told me it was because, and I quote: “for the most part we’re surrounded by a culture out here of wheelers and dealers and people kissing each others asses and praising really BAD ideas just to get to that dollar.” – People loved that about me, and I had several people asking me for MY honest opinion because they knew I wasn’t going to bullshit them. And hey, that felt really good! It was weird at first.
Over at Platinum I pretty much came in guns ablazing and just said… HEY, this is how I do things, this is how I want to do them and how they SHOULD be done. I had heard the horror stories of creators who’s projects had been in limbo there with certain editors for ages. At first I had a little resistance— an infamous tale I like to tell is how in one of the first conversations with my assigned editor (who I won’t name!) she asked how I wanted to deliver the scripts and there would be this whole process of revisions and… UGH… I just told her I liked to use the Will Eisner method to write my books out visually… and she replied “Who’s Will Eisner???” — And I think on my end of the phone I remember my mouth dropping open and being silent for a moment thinking…. HOW IS THIS PERSON AN EDITOR AT A COMIC COMPANY!?! — But I took it easy on her. There was another guy who seemed like a complete TOOL who once questioned where the air tank was for Hero By Night’s underwater rebreather…. SAY WHAT!?! — When I brought up these instances to the head honcho, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg he was kinda appalled too…. and I swear it seemed like those people were FIRED. I kinda felt bad I complained even in the slightest. But from there on out, I was free to do whatever I wanted with Hero By Night and I even worked up a different contract for webcomics and stuff that was never in the basic deal… Platinum Studios was at the time AWESOME to deal with as a company, and most of all they were friends, some I’d talk to for hours about OTHER stuff.
So yes… I defended them A LOT during my deal, and they loved that too. I was being paid great and on time and I really didn’t want to hear from people who had beef with them that had never worked with them. That included the whole webcomics crowd who were sounding alarms about Platinum.
2008 Bitter and Sweet
In 2008, Platinum hit a dry spell and the money dried up. Drama happened, and things were said to me that kinda brought back the OLD me… the one who promised that if things were bad, I’d say something. Other creators were coming to me in droves asking where their money was or i could get in touch with the higher ups since they were friends and would answer from me… it was a mess. The whole thing was handled very poorly. But for 2 years I put all my eggs in one basket and had a lot of promises made to me… heck, two weeks prior to quitting we were having big conversations about moving my family out to Hollywood and I was going to take on a much larger roll at the company!!! Then POOF. Gone…. WHAT. THE. FUCK.
It was a really negative time for me. All of the webcomic haters came out to say “we told you so!” and I had to eat a lot of crow. It doesn’t erase the fact that I did what I always said I’d do, and what I’d always done. If someone is shady and dealing with me, I’d talk about it. Yeah, it got messy and Hero By Night and the fans are the ones who really suffered.
At a really dark time for me, I also fell right into discovering and working with the FLOBOTS. It was like this strange net had caught me before I completely crashed and burned. I had gone from feeling like there were no more honestly GOOD people left in the world, that everyone was a step away from a knife in the back. We originally started discussing doing a webcomic, but that turned into my other skills coming into play for the band which was also just blowing up and getting national attention. A very long story short, I not only did some comic stuff inspired by the band, but I ended up being their #1 web guy, web guru, whatever you call it. I also took on helping out the Non-Profit group with them, doing things from hosting, to graphic design… it really felt like all of the skills I had built in self publishing made me into a ONE MAN ARMY for creation of any kind that could really help an organization like theirs. — but yeah, most importantly I got a GOOD feeling back in my heart and soul again that had been missing for many years. 2008 really was a Yin-Yang year but I ended it with a lot of HOPE.
Holy crap is this long…. 2718 words so far. Hey, it’s a 10 year review though, it’s worth it….
2009 – I was off again and on again with Yirmumah. A lot of false starts with no set schedule. Like an ex-girlfriend who comes back but things just don’t feel the same. We’d grown apart. And shock… I had actually grown UP. This year I really didn’t draw a regular feature but did a ton of custom work for people, merch design and spot illustration and such. I kinda was under the radar on purpose. This really was the year it sunk in that I’d really matured. I was totally SICK of drama and whatever little spats that came up online, I didn’t like them or get enjoyment out of them. This was also the year I really started applying the Law of Attraction to my life and gaining some REAL happiness in my personal life. I’m damn lucky to have a family AND a career around comics, because not many can keep it together. One old publisher friend of mine told me back in 1998 “Comics is a harsh mistress” — and boy are those words truer than true. You really have to LOVE doing this, and balancing a family is even harder. There were a lot of nights doing a big project like Hero By Night where your back is turned to your family, and you’re oblivious. I really started treating my illustration as WORK and set certain hours and days to do things, and not let it take over my life into a complete obsession.
2010 Magical Coincidences
I still LOVE comics. Maybe even more so. I remember the moment of feeling like taking a big break and trying a new profession totally…but drawing comics is just who I am and what I’ve made myself to do. My brain just works that way. I hear other people’s stories they are telling me and I’m constantly thinking “how would I draw that scene?” — And this is the year that I started using Law of Attraction very deliberately, almost to a MAGICAL level… Probably what Alan Moore calls Chaos Magic or something…who knows… I know all of this sounds completely INSANE to a lot of people, but trust me when I say that it’s completely true and not some delusion or imagination working overtime. I don’t know about the spiritual mumbo jumbo or hype around books like the Secret and all that, it’s just constantly repackaging what really works… and it’s pretty much positive thinking. You get what you think about the most. If you’re thinking about drama or that person you don’t like, or you hate your job… you get more of that. So the trick is deliberately thinking about what you WANT. And when you’re REALLY good you can attract specific things, people and events right into your life in pretty magical and crazy ways. It kind of becomes a game. Want an example?? I’ve got quite a few, but since this is about COMICS here’s a perfect example:
In December of 2009 I was talking about how much fun it would be to do a wacky comic just about UKULELES…one of my hobbies. Just something fun and all ages, or maybe even bring back Bigfoot and Tiki into their own comic strip that anyone could enjoy but was a little wacky. AND I added in the fact that it would be fantastic to be paid to produce that comic…. on Valentine’s Day 2010 I got an email out of the complete blue from the head guy at Lanikai Ukulele asking if I’d ever be interested in developing a comic about ukuleles. Now since July I’ve been putting out a twice a week Bigfoot and Tiki comic that’s sponsored by Lanikai and has LOTS to do with Ukuleles (one of the greatest instruments of mankind!) Oh sure, some will say that’s just a freaky coincidence, but when you have 20 stories like this, you start to learn quick that there’s really no such thing as coincidence at all. I’m fascinated by it because it seems like the ONE real super power we ALL have. I don’t know what it is, or how it works… just that it does. My belief in it leans more toward science fiction though, wherein I believe that it’s some form of quantum physics we can’t really understand. The idea that our thoughts are like radio waves that beam out and attract like thoughts to one another. It’s a really fascinating subject. I encourage anyone reading this to just try it out themselves (but don’t buy into all the wacky spiritual stuff out there) it works! Don’t believe me? Ask my wife… the most skeptical person on the planet.
So there’s my comics decade in a very big nutshell. Looking back it’s fun to see how I’ve grown from angry young man who didn’t have a lot of faith in anything, to whatever I am now. How would I categorize myself now? A 30 something guy who has the belief that ANYTHING is possible and that life is pretty friggin magical again. There are no coincidences.
Looking ahead on my 2011: I’m launching a regular comic again in January which I am working on now. Stay tuned to the blog or my twitter or facebook for more on that. Also there will be more Bigfoot and Tiki