Follow up thoughts from the thread about Wally Wood below:
Which came first? The depression or the comics career?
Sad accounts of creator’s lives; they throw everything they’ve got at comics (or acting/writing/fine art/fill-in-the-blank,) and end up in a very bad way.
My completely unprovable theory is that some emotionally-challenged people are attracted to fantasy-oriented careers in hopes of creating a world they can enjoy, and in which they can find acceptance.
And when they can’t find joy in that career, when the work doesn’t make up for the other things wrong in their lives, they implode.
Comics is a business. It is not a nurturer, it won’t make up for the fact that you were picked on in high school, it isn’t the family you never had, it’s not the boyfriend who will love you.
It’s a very tough business.
It won’t make you happy if you are not happy. It will make you even unhappier if you can’t be happy without it.
What little I know of Wood tells me he was a deeply disturbed man, and there was no way comics was going to heal what was hurting him.
I had an extremely sad encounter some time ago with an older pro who had fallen on hard times. Did not know him well at all, but out of the blue, he contacted me for help. He told me he was discriminated against because of his age. He lied about his age, too, shaving off the years: I’d never met a man who did that before. He was no older than a number of very popular creators I could name.
When I finally got to see him some time later, I was appalled. He was emaciated, filthy, and he stank. He left his smell on my clothes, and I had to speak to him with my hand over my lower face to avoid his breath, and to keep from gagging.
One look would keep any client from hiring this guy. Aside from his personal hygiene, he acted insane. He didn’t need a career, he needed immediate medical care. I got him medical care – that day – and gave him money. He walked out of the medical facility that same day, and immediately blew the money.
I later found out that a number of other people had been giving him money, too. He repeatedly lied to me about his circumstances (loans, jobs, contacts, etc.)
On finding out he had misrepresented himself and had not made wise use of the medical care or money, I cut him off.
You probably have never heard of this dude, and I don’t really know him at all. Since I had no legal standing in the matter and live in another state, there was absolutely nothing further I could (or wanted to) do.
I bet he still thinks he is discriminated against because of his age. All he could talk about was how he had to get more assignments. Yet clients gave him assignments he never completed. He disappeared for weeks at a time. Then showed up filthier than ever looking for jobs, for help, for handouts.
I don’t see a happy ending for this guy. For all I know, the end has already come.
You can’t help some people.
Some of these dudes don’t need comic book jobs. They need mental health care. Helping them stay in this business with mercy jobs and handouts is enabling, not art patronage.
Some people should get as far away from the art and entertainment business as possible.
When things go well as a creator, there is nothing like it. It’s a high, an emotional drug. Some people get addicted to it. They don’t look at any payoff except the payoff of seeing their work being seen. Eating, medical care, roof over head: tertiary concerns. Until the day they wake up and realize they are fifty-years-old, they have no savings, nowhere to live, and their teeth are falling out.
There are so many people who will never get to see their work professionally published. One gig would satisfy them for life.
And there are others who, once having tasted the apple, they live the tortures of Tantalus, the juiciest fruit forever out of reach.
One job isn’t enough, one success isn’t enough. Whatever they had, they want it again. Whatever someone else has, they want that, too.
Few people have long term careers in any field of art and entertainment. Not being able to sustain this gig for decades is not failure. The only failure is in not being able to lead a happy, fulfilling life. You don’t need a pro career to do that. Immolating yourself on your art pyre will not make you a better artist or writer.
My friend Julie Ditrich gave me a great talk about self awareness: knowing who you are, what you are, your capabilities, your limits.
I am a professional artist, and I have had very little training. I had more than 12 years of training in music. That’s one hell of an investment.
Back in the Dark Ages, I was cast as a lead in a production of the musical Bye Bye Birdie. I played Kim.
Our little company always gave one performance featuring the understudies, so my understudy, Kacey Camp, took over for me. I sat in the audience to enjoy the show.
I watched Kacey stomp my performance into the dust. She acted better, she sang better, she danced better. She was lively, gave dull lines a funny spin. She sparkled.
And she really enjoyed herself.
I never felt comfortable performing, but let me brag about my wide vocal range: I made eyeglasses vibrate whenever I hit that high A at the end of the “Ed Sullivan” song. I plumbed contralto depths.
But I was not into it, and just because you can hit those notes doesn’t mean you should.
I didn’t even want the Kim role, the part of a pop idol-obsessed teenager. I didn’t even act like a teenager when I was a teenager.
The director called my family and asked my parents to talk me into auditioning because they were sure there was no one else in town suited for the part.
Then there was my understudy, singing, dancing, and acting like a dream. I had had weeks and weeks to practice the same role, and I wasn’t half as good.
I finished out my little role for the rest of the run, and that was that. I didn’t have the drive or ability to succeed as a pro performer, and I never auditioned for anything again.
Kacey became a professional actress with stage, TV, and film credits.
I became a cartoonist.
I never missed performing music in front of people. If I want to sing, I warble in the shower.
12 years of training – including summer music academy and private lessons – down the tubes.
I can sing anytime I want. No one can stop me.
If you want to make pictures or write stories, no one can stop you.
You do not need to be a pro to be happy. The pursuit of the pro career for which some people simply are not suited has led many people to great unhappiness. I was not suited for a career in music, despite 12 long years of banging away at it.
It isn’t a question of whether or not this is something you want to do: the question is, can you make a living at it?
You don’t have to make a living at art to enjoy making art. Give yourself the freedom to make art without the burden of art making you.
By the way, Kacey Camp and I have been very good friends ever since.
What’s the story, Morning Glory?
What’s the tale, Nightingale?