My ancient comic art, with my ancient awful lettering. This will be redone for a new print edition.
Whenever I tell one of my stories about dealing with fanboys on the make, passive aggressive fakers, or nebbishy pros hoping to raise their cred at the bar by claiming they get chicks they really, really can’t get, someone pipes up to wail, “Boy, Colleen, you are such a weirdo magnet!”
No, I’m really not. I just talk about it.
Look, I have worked on books that have sold millions of copies, have thousands of fans, and if I have one serious problem per year, it’s unusual.
However, I have a career that spans 25 years. In 25 years, 25 people add up to hundreds of incidents.
Hundreds of incidents due to 25 people out of the many tens of thousands of people I may encounter in a year. I’ve barely mentioned most of them. And some of them are just so disturbing and creepy, I don’t even want to talk about them.
Most are due to a half a dozen people doing crazy shit year after year. It looks like a flood of awful to an outside observer.
Usually, unfortunate people go away on their own with no prompting from me after about a half dozen attempts to get my attention, and I never hear from them again. I can barely remember them after, and I have no hard feelings.
But some go on and on for decades.
Last year, a long time fan had some kind of psychotic break and went from being a devoted admirer to wishing me and other fans on this board dead. Didn’t see that one coming! This was after my fan circle went to great lengths to raise money for her and get her a job. None of us had any idea that her real issues were internal. I spent days on the phone with social services and the police trying to get her into care.
Some women online complain of frequent death threats, rape threats, etc. I rarely get that sort of thing. But, I had serious issues with a tech website that wrote an inflammatory article in 2010. It stated I supported some kind of “censorship” legislation because I am pro creator rights. The article was a lie, and I never got a retraction. However, I did have to deal with the fallout of the harassment for about a year.
Almost all of my problems are from people who have romantic notions who are angry when rejected.
One woman believed she could channel my characters. She would call me up and speak in voices because she wanted to have phone sex while pretending to be Rieken, a character from my graphic novel A Distant Soil. For obvious reasons, I haven’t blogged about her in detail, but I’ve mentioned her obliquely several times as a frustrated creator who went from being another devoted fan/admirer to hating my guts when I did not want to participate in her fantasy.
People often fixate on young, vulnerable women on whom they can project their fantasies and expectations, and that fixation can last for decades. I have not had a major problem with anyone I have encountered for the first time in the last twenty years.
Recent problems are short term and annoying more than anything else, like the impersonal fallout from the tech website article, people who are nothing like the needy, smothering intimacy seeker, or the resentment stalker who is sure you ruined their career. Tech weirdos are just random dudes looking to vent and whatever their tech guru says they should do, they do. They couldn’t care less about you as a human being, and their attention span is short. ADD rage, and there’s always a bunny.
I attract people who “love-bomb”. It’s hard to describe exactly what this is like, but it’s this overwhelming, instant intimacy bid from someone you don’t know really well. I’ve always been afraid of offending someone by not responding to their affection with affection, but fans can be very effusive. They don’t mean any harm, they’re just happy to meet you. You learn ways to respond to that warmth while not letting people get inappropriately close. And anyone who responds badly to personal boundaries is the sort of person for whom personal boundaries were invented.
I can usually spot a “love bomb” quickly in a man, but I’ve been fooled by a few women.
In the case of every woman with whom I had issues, each was a struggling creator, and each was an associate on some level with a publishing company I had a bad experience with back when I was getting started.
The big mistake I made with each of them: “misery bonding”. Feeling a kinship with people who were relative strangers over a bad experience with a mutual enemy. I believed that made them good people, because the enemy was bad.
They may very well be good people, but none were in a good place.
“Misery bonding” combined with their “love bombing”, and I stepped right in it. Because they were women, I assumed they would not be a problem like men, which is how I ended up having one of them try to have phone sex with me while speaking in an English accent.
You want to be open, friendly, helpful. But your gut screams: She’s trying to friend me on FB. Better not add her. She just wrote on my blog that she’d send me something if I sent her my address. Nope, not going to give that one my phone number, remember what happened with the last one. Hm, I never met her…well, we’re not friends, we’re friendly acquaintances. But she’s telling everybody we’re the bestest buddies ever, she’s telling people she’s going to write a novel with me, she gossips about every phone call with everyone on the continent, I loaned her money because she said she was going to be homeless any minute now.
I think I’m in trouble.
People who have poor boundaries have no understanding of the term “friendly acquaintance”. If you talk to them, share some emails, chat on the phone once in awhile, give them any attention whatsoever, God forbid you actually do help them, you are the BESTEST BUDDIES HAVING A RELATIONSHIP OMG WE’RE TOTALLY FRIENDS 4EVER and what the fuck do you mean you won’t follow me on twitter?!?
And there is absolutely nothing you can do about some dude who is writing you letters about the conversations you have with him in his dreams.
As I said, I first encountered all of the people who would be serious problems in the 1980′s or 1990′s. It’s 2014, and I’m still dealing with the fallout. All ended up being extremely demanding, both personally and professionally, huge time and money drains, obsessive and destructive.
But…it’s just a handful of people.
I meet thousands of people. Thousands.
I try to be friendly with a few. I avoid a few others. I’ve made genuine, life long friendships with some, and don’t regret trying to be open with strangers. The problem is not being friendly, the problem is being friendly with the wrong people. And you don’t make friends by being afraid all the time.
The problem is not with me, it’s with people who have problems.
And whether I am friendly or whether I ignore them, the result is the same.
They get really pissed when I don’t fulfill whatever need they think I’m supposed to fulfill. Make the pro dreams come true, be their girlfriend. Whatever.
It only takes one or two a year to create a ripple, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a Nerd Culture Butterfly Effect.
It’s like dating.
Thousands and thousands of dates.
A few of them are going to be just awful.
But you don’t actually have to date any of these people for them to be the worst date you ever had.
And they will tell everyone you dated them, especially if you didn’t.
Which is what makes them especially awful.
If you people had any idea of just how often male fans and pros try to cultivate relationships with women creators for bragging rights, access, jobs, etc, you’d quit whining about what users women are.
So, back in 1989-ish, I met this dude “R” at a convention. He was cute, and in a very rare move for me (maybe the only time I ever did this with a male fan,) I gave him my number. We spoke on the phone once, and I agreed to meet him at my next convention for dinner.
He insisted that as an old fashioned gentleman, he was buying.
No worries fair lady!
To my deep annoyance, he showed up at the convention with his extraordinarily awful portfolio of art for me to see. It’s always a bad sign when a guy expresses interest in you, then springs the art on you out of nowhere. I realized pretty quickly I was about to step into it with a user.
He asked for a critique. Shit.
There was nothing good to say about the work. It was just dreadful. Very bad profile drawings of people, some of them with elf ears or dragons on their heads. But really, really bad in every way. For some reason, everyone got a huge, deformed forehead.
His conversation all had a negging edge, odd, sly put downs, like comments about my age, what with me being in my 20′s and getting old around the eyes and all. I mean, really.
I knew I was in big trouble if I said anything truthful about his art. So I just said, “What do you really want to do?” He looked at me and smiled and said “Make a lot of money.” And I said, “How are you going to do that?” He smiled again. Looked at me.
Shit you not.
I was a little wigged out and needed to find a way to ditch this guy who’d shown up for our “date” wearing a RenFaire costume. I’m not into that sort of thing, and didn’t want to go out in public with a social climber in tights.
Fortunately, he announced that he was not going to dinner because he had no money. What difference did that make, I had money! He said as the MAN he could not accept money from a woman.
Less than an hour after he said he was willing to marry money.
I declared I was hungry and was going to get something to eat with or without him, so I went to Denny’s, which was a short walk from the convention hotel. He said he wanted to talk, and followed me on this non-date.
I ordered a grilled cheese and fries, and while not taking a woman’s money for a meal, he picked fries from my plate. I finally just gave up on the entire charade of Renfaire manliness he was putting on, and let him have half my sandwich.
Thus endeth the entire “date”, which was not a date.
As we walked out of Denny’s, there was a small crowd of his friends waiting outside the door. That’s right, he’d called his posse to come see him on his “date”. I cannot even begin to tell you how disgusted I was with this move.
We walked back to the hotel, and I saw my assistant, a very cute but closeted Asian guy. I gave him the “HELP” signal, so my assistant came over and we played beard for one another.
“R” then got uppity, gave a stiff heel clicking bow and a kiss at my hand, and walked off.
That is the last time I ever had any interaction with “R”.
But “R” got his revenge.
For years thereafter, at almost every convention I attended on the East Coast, total strangers would come up to me to inform me that I had ruined “R”, cheated on him, destroyed him, destroyed his art hopes, despite his being a MUCH better real artist than me, etc etc. A woman who used to do the Maryland area shows dressed as Queen Elizabeth chewed me out at a Worldcon, announcing how great it was that “R” was now with someone who treated him right. When I tried repeatedly to protest that I never had a relationship with this guy, never touched him, these hysterical fans wouldn’t hear a word.
At Worldcon around 1999-2000 (can’t recall,) he showed up at my table in the dealer’s room. I recognized him right away, and pointedly ignored him even though he paced back and forth across my exhibit space and pretended to be interested in buying books. FOR AN HOUR. I finally got up and left, leaving my mom to deal with him. I never spoke to him.
And that was the end of it.
Until I saw him following me on Twitter.
That’s right, “R” crawled out of the woodwork in 2014. Only 33 tweets, 39 followers, and me.
Now he’s some sort of “pop culture” academic. I have to assume he didn’t think I’d remember the dirty trick he pulled. But I sure do, “R”. Because you used me to justify the fact that you can’t draw for shit or get a career in actual production of pop culture as opposed to pontificating about it. And you used me by pretending we had a relationship, so you could get fandom currency and sympathy.
You suck so much.
I ripped him a new one on twitter today (without naming him,) stuck around long enough to be sure he read it (he sure did,) and then blocked him.
I wonder if his next academic paper will be about social climbing geeks who slander accomplished women in pop culture for nerd cred.
“R”, one of us can pass a lie detector test.
Don’t push it.
A couple of people have asked why I can’t get A DISTANT SOIL at my authors discount any more. I’ve been able to offer them at sale prices, but I can’t do that for the forseeable future.
Well, I will be able to when the books are completely in the black on printer costs, but as of this moment, they are not. Don’t panic, it’s not the end of the world. We did fairly substantial print runs, and the books are up-front cost heavy. Our sales are respectable, but we do need to get them up. I’m taking a short hiatus again to make some moolah. While I expect Volumes I and II to be in the black sooner rather than later, by then we’ll be producing Volumes III and IV. Ow.
You can get A DISTANT SOIL by ordering from your local comic shop, or from online stores at prices lower than you can get them from me. Of course, if you order from me, I can sign them.
Needless to say, these are the new, digitally restored editions, and everyone who has one has been blown away by the quality of the tones, the printing, all aspects of production. It is a substantial improvement over prior editions, and has new art and story as well.
I will only have a few copies at Connecticut Comic Con, and those were provided via a bookstore. I completely ran out of my author copies during my sale this past month, and had to reorder quickly via a book store, which meant you got them at my cost! There is solid demand for A DISTANT SOIL. I was able to sell almost 400 copies all by my lonesome through my online shop. FOUR HUNDRED. The last of the mail orders from the sale have just gone out.
But we need to get retailers to order the book, and if we don’t, then it is groovy when you order online, either through me or via the many online bookstores that carry it. Ask your local library to get it.
If you want to support your favorite cartoonist (or, you know, me,) be sure to leave online reviews at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. Share your thoughts on social media. Let people know you support A DISTANT SOIL.
Here is my bookshop if you want to order from me. Cover price only, but that’s pretty decent when it comes signed and with a print!
Something people need to understand about creators. Many of us live in bubbles. Different kinds of bubbles, not the same bubble at once.
But we live in bubbles. If you try to snap us out of the bubble, the environment that enables us to create our work snaps too. We may stop creating when that creative bubble bursts. Some people’s creative bubbles burst more easily than others.
If we stop creating because you broke our bubble, then people complain we stop creating. Then we complain you broke our bubble. And we don’t make things. So we turn off social media, or we don’t answer emails to protect the head space. We don’t go to parties.
The book must get written. The painting must get done.
People feel left out and locked out, because they are left out and locked out.
But we’re locked in. We’re working.
Would people feel left out and locked out if you didn’t let them hang out at your office where you work at IBM?
Some people are more demanding of your head space than others. We can spend time with someone who is light to carry. But drama-heavy people take up a lot of head space. And if I am writing or deeply involved in some difficult art task, I limit access to these people.
Being dramatic people, they will become very angry about it.
Dramatic people are often attracted to creative people.
Creative people are often dramatic.
I have a right to creative boundaries just as I have a right to personal boundaries. Everyone does.
I don’t apologize for working and living in my bubble. It’s not just my job, it’s my air. Either you get that or you don’t.
You can’t expect creative people to make worlds and then complain that they live in their own little worlds. It’s kinda our job.
Our environment, including the environment of our head space, enables us to create. Creators must protect that space to protect the creation.
If you take away a business’s office building, their work grinds to a halt. The business will scramble to recreate the work environment, replace the computers, the desks.
If you take away the environment construct that is necessary for creators to work, our work grinds to a halt, too.
Creators are often criticized for being selfish when protecting their work in ways that people with other jobs would merit praise for dedication.
Even people we think know better still see creation as a kind of play, not real work, not real intellectual effort.
A creator who loves their work will protect their work, their head space, the ability to produce.
And that is true love.
There are those who don’t know what that feels like. Never will. Some of them are people who create things, too. And it hurts them to see how much you love something that comes from you & not from them, whether that is a personal thing or an art thing.
Sometimes the worst head space invader is another creator whose work isn’t going well. This person will not want you to do well, either. Or they are hoping that whatever pixie dust gives you your mojo will rub off on them.
If it doesn’t, they’ll hobble you to get it. They won’t necessarily realize they’re doing it. But if their art is drowning, their drowning man’s grip will take yours down, too.
And you will do whatever you have to do to break that grip, or your art goes down with them.
And then they’ll complain you are selfish for protecting your creative ability or your creation.
How many of them would love you – want you – half as much if you didn’t?
The picture you see is work I am doing right now. It is a panel from my new graphic novel for Dark Horse. It is from a story by Neil Gaiman. I drew it in pencil. And now I am painting it.
I am going to finish this book.
And the next one. And the next one.
Thanks for understanding.
OK, so a comics blogger informed me at a convention a few months back that they didn’t know why I got invited to so many conventions and did so many appearances, because there are more women in comics out there than me, and I was hogging all the attention. They don’t think it’s fair for me to be on so many panels because I crowd out other women creators.
I am sure they mean well, but the perception has nothing to do with reality.
My fans know I rarely do appearances. I haven’t actually done a good old fashioned book tour in about ten years.
I do no more than a couple of conventions a year, and one or two book fairs.
I turn down almost every request I get.
There are nearly 1000 shows a year, of which I might do two. This is hardly hogging the spotlight.
I have done exactly two women in comics panels in roughly ten years.
I was sick for at least three years straight, produced very little work, and rarely went anywhere. I have a full workload now, but I’m not going to apologize for getting what I’ve earned, and what I need to do to make up for years of poor health and low income.
I am not hogging the blogging spotlight, either. No one is forced to read this thing.
I am also not eating up all the good women in comics assignments, as far as I know, since women are perfectly capable of writing and drawing all kinds of books whether I am there or not. And while some people might think other women could write and draw my books better than I do, I respectfully disagree. I am also pretty sure if I stopped writing or drawing anything, the theoretical person who would benefit from my absence is just as likely to be some dude.
No one is running around demanding dudes give up their jobs for other dudes because SPOTLIGHT HOGGING.
It is incredibly patronizing to incorporate the assumption that the only way one woman can shine is for another woman to turn off her own spotlight.
Women are perfectly capable of shining without dimming anyone else.
A woman’s place in comics is about achievement and talent, and work ethic, not about taking away a piece of pie from a woman who already has it.
It’s not about getting a piece of the pie, it’s about making your own pie.