Creators who suffer from chronic illness, especially those whose illness isn’t obvious at first sight, experience the double stigma of being in a creative profession many people don’t respect and having their health issues dismissed as malingering.
The other day, I had a discussion with an artist who is very unhappy to have to carry a day job while trying to create. He suggested that artists who aren’t producing good work should chuck art, get day jobs, and not clog the racks with mediocre work. I don’t think bad art will go away if all the bad artists got day jobs: most probably already have them.
I am a big believer in the day job solution to creative life problems, but I don’t think people consider the many creators who struggle with chronic illness: lupus, chronic fatigue, Lyme Disease, Multiple Sclerosis. A stay-at-home profession is a necessity for many of these creators.
A good ten years of my career as a full time artist was made possible only because I was able to stay home and work. In the years I struggled with chronic fatigue, brain fog, and chronic migraines (and I still get the migraines, though not as often,) there is simply no way I could have held down a job at the Piggly Wiggly.
I’m sure many would be happy to have a day job when freelance times are not going so well, but some people don’t have that choice.
“Unbroken”, the new film directed by Angelina Jolie, is based on a book by journalist Laura Hillenbrand, a writer who has not been able to leave her house to work for years. Yet she wrote one of the most moving, carefully researched, and best-selling non-fiction books of the last decade. Her works have sold more than 10 million copies.
What’s startling to consider is that Hillenbrand has done this with little access to the outside world. She is cut off not only from basic tools of reporting, like going places and seeing things, but also from all the promotional machinery of modern book selling. Because of the illness, she is forced to remain as secluded from the public as the great hermetic novelists. She cannot attend literary festivals, deliver bookstore readings or give library talks and signings. Even the physical act of writing can occasionally stymie her, as the room spins and her brain swims to find words in a cognitive haze. There have been weeks and months — indeed, sometimes years — when the mere effort to lift her hands and write has been all that she can muster.
Here is a moving and informative article at “The New York Times” which I hope will be inspiring to all those of you who suffer from chronic illness.
Your art is a gift you give to yourself as well as to others.
I got a note today, outlining a lot of personal issues I’ve been asked to edit out, about trans content in “A Game of You” storyline in SANDMAN (I drew one issue of the storyline). The ASK outlined what they believe to be transphobic content in the story.
I can’t really speak to the concerns of the trans community. Until recently, I wasn’t even aware of many of these issues, and don’t think I’m the person to discuss them.
I think there’s a difference between being phobic (fearful or hateful) vs ignorant or uninformed. I think it’s a mistake to assume malice where this story is concerned. But since I am not the focus of the issue, maybe I’m not as sensitive to it as I should be.
What I know of Neil Gaiman is I don’t think he has a phobic bone in his body. I think there’s a tendency to assume that when someone of Neil’s stature makes a public comment, that comment has a great deal of weight. And if it’s a viewpoint you like, he’s an angel. If it’s a viewpoint you don’t like, he’s a devil.
I don’t believe I am phobic either, but then, I have said some boneheaded things in the past out of ignorance.
I don’t think “A Game of You” is transphobic. It was written over 20 years ago, and I’ve met many fans who said they felt it meant a lot to them.
But if it is problematic to you, you have the right to your opinion, and the right to express that opinion as you see fit. All I can do is try to learn from what you say to me, weigh it with what others have said, and encourage people to seek resources to learn more about these issues.
I admit I find some of the talk about the matter confusing, because I read different things from different sources, and trans friends have given me differing opinions. But one person’s opinion does not represent an entire group.
All I can do is try to do right when I can.
One of the hazards of the freelancer life is sitting down a lot and eating too much while you’re working. Yet every time I say I need to watch what I eat and get more exercise, someone pipes up to announce that deprivation is bad, and I should just treat myself!
That gets on my nerves. If you treat yourself every time someone tells you to treat yourself, you’ll dig your own grave with a fork.
People in our field are often unfit, and tend to die young. It’s a high stress profession, and a very unhealthy lifestyle. I realize not everyone has a choice about fitness, but I do. And I choose fitness.
Real deprivation is not having enough to eat, not saying no to a cookie when you can have whatever you want.
I want to be healthy so I can have energy, focus, a strong back to offset hours at the drawing board, and a long, productive life.
Taking care of yourself isn’t a beauty contest, and it’s not about deprivation. It’s about health.
So, I was talking with one of my peeps about a creator whose work I really don’t like, and whose sales are less than 10% what they once were.
His comment about their work was that it has not grown or changed, and that the style is the same as it always was. And that’s why their appeal has tanked.
I don’t even like this person’s work, but I don’t think a critique of the standardization of the style of the work was a fair criticism.
The few times I’ve looked at it over the years shows the creator has not grown as an artist in terms of maturity of content, draughtsmanship basics, or storytelling technique: in fact, they’ve gotten worse. I guess this applies to a lot of creators. Comics can be grueling.
I’ve read their protests that they have grown so much as an artist they lost an audience that simply can’t keep up with their growth and new ideas, but from what I see, there’s nothing new in their work at all.
Computer coloring, for example, does not change the content or markedly change the fundamentals of your drawing style.
It makes sense to me that the style itself should remain consistent, because it is one project. And they are the main creator.
I don’t look at “Peanuts” and complain the style didn’t grow. I don’t look at “Prince Valiant” and wonder why Hal Foster didn’t explore cubism. And I see absolutely nothing wrong with this artist sticking to a homogenous look for a long term project.
Whenever they do make an effort to try something else, they smother it with their signature look. That’s unfortunate. It really doesn’t translate to other works.
But on their flagship project? Fair play to them. It would be very jarring to read a project over a long time only to see the art style waver all over the place. It would be as annoying as, say, watching a TV show swap out its look each new season. Only the actors don’t change, they just wear the masks of other people’s faces.
I don’t think the sales have tanked because the work has not improved. I think the sales have tanked because there is more competition in the marketplace than there used to be. I don’t think, if their work were first published today, it would do very well.
I try to keep the style in A DISTANT SOIL consistent, and the few times I’ve varied from that I’ve regretted it. This is one story that takes place over just a few months but took years to draw. If you sit down to read it all at once and see wide variances in style, it’s jarring.
When I do other projects, I vary my style. Sometimes so much, people don’t even recognize my work. I don’t know if other artists are quite as willing to do this.
But I don’t think it’s a fair criticism to say that a single creator’s work, with a consistent look, is an artistic failure for maintaining stylistic consistency. Even if I don’t like their work.
I think it’s fair play to critique other artist’s work, but for long form projects, slamming a consistent style is not a valid criticism.
Spending thirty years as an artist while still not being able to draw a decent kneecap is a valid criticism.
This will be good news for those of you waiting on commissions, bad news for those of you who want one.
I’m getting down to the task of organizing and archiving my original art, and the realization that several commissions have been put on the back burner so long I actually lost a major piece somewhere in here has finally made me face the music: I will not be able to accept any private commissions in 2015.
I have several major pieces on my plate, and they are all running late. One of them I even started at the wrong size, and have to begin again. When I make these kinds of mistakes, it means I’m over my head and need to cut back. I tallied what I have left to do, went kind of pale and realized catching up, together with my current tight work schedule for my publishers (all five of them,) eats up all of next year.
I will be doing several conventions next year but will not take any commissions at shows. All work I will be doing at shows will be work that is already scheduled.
I’m really sorry, I know some of you were hoping to get an original piece from me, but I won’t be able to until 2016.
I will be able to sell art at shows, and sketches from my collection will be available. I will make original art available by mail order again in the spring. I’ll also be able to sell some books. But right now…I’m not exactly in trouble, but could get there if I’m not careful.
Anyway, as you all know, my commissions are worth waiting for. And as I complete them I will post them here.
There will also be some major announcements about my current publishing work as I near completion. Until then, I am going to continue to try to be careful about my time management and be good about saying “no”.