I’m looking forward to seeing all of my southern fans at Dragon*Con this Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ll be defending my crown as the reigning Iron Artist on Sunday morning. It should be fun!
Speaking of fans, I’d like to talk just briefly about how important they are to me and what I do, and why I maintain the positive attitude I have towards my fans.
I see all of the travel to the conventions and shows and schlepping my stuff around as being similar to a rock band playing all of those small clubs at first, building up their following so that eventually they can play the big stadiums.
Life on the convention road can be pretty lonely, though. As I schlepp boxes and suitcases full of art and books from one city to another, it’s sometimes hard not to look in the mirror and find Willy Loman staring back. Happily, though, I’ve established a network of great fans across the country (and in different parts of the world) that go a long way towards giving me something to look forward to in each city and at each show I visit. Many of my fans have become good friends. I anticipate having a dinner or drinks (or both!) with them like I would with beloved relatives I haven’t seen for awhile.
At the conventions I always try to maintain a veneer of happy confidence (in show biz talk it’s called being “on”). Who in the heck wants to talk to someone on a downer? But in reality, I’m like most folks; I have my up days and my down days. On my up days I do realize how good my work is — but then there are those dark, down days. As I’ve discovered from talking to many of the artists and writers I deeply admire, way inside our private psyches we’re our own harshest critics. I may seem like the most positive guy in the world in public but psychologically I rip myself apart on a fairly regular basis for not being better, for not working hard enough.
Although I am the author of a body of work that makes me proud at times, I still try to be humble. I truly appreciate my fans. The life of a freelancer is up and down, almost by definition. During those down times, when no work is coming in, it’s the fans who keep me afloat, both financially and emotionally. My fans seem to never stop believing in what I can do, even during those periods when I’m wallowing in a deep tub of my own self doubts regarding my abilities.
A lot of my loyal fans are poor students in high school or college who can’t afford to purchase original art. That’s OK; that’s one reason I publish my very affordable sketchbooks. Many of them, however, will be able to afford original art as attorneys, doctors and film directors some day. Years down the line, they’ll remember who was nice to them — and who wasn’t.
I think it’s very important to make that personal connection with the people who show interest in my work. For one, my fans seem to be of a much higher caliber than most, certainly much more intelligent in general (They’d have to be — my stuff is so diverse and all over the place it would take a Sherlockian to collect it!). But there’s a practical side to this, too. Let’s say a collector is considering a purchase. He (or she) has a choice between buying three pieces of art, each of equal quality and price. One is by an artist he’s never met. Another is by an artist he’s met who, when the collector met him, was very cold, reserved and business-like — maybe even rude when the artist thought the collector wasn’t going to make a purchase. The third is by an artist who has taken the time to talk to him, not just as a fan, but as an interesting individual in their own right and even, perhaps, as a potential friend farther down the road. Whose piece do you think they’ll most lean towards buying?
I remember quite vividly what it was like to be poor. Gravy on bread was a regular weekly dinner when I was a kid. I’m not going to bore you with any more “I was so poor, that…” stories, though. Let me just say that without my California State scholarship (from my SAT scores) I probably never would have gone to college. My mom and dad would not have been able to afford even my first semester at CalArts. My jobs previous to art were tunnel digger, dishwasher and as a punch press operator in an airplane parts factory. When I was fourteen, my mom became a single mom raising four boys, trying to make ends meet without an education. She got a job as a waitress. During the day after school I helped to raise my younger brothers, often making dinner for the family. I’ll never forget her coming home one evening; she was awash in tears. My mom was crying because one of her customers had generously tipped her five bucks (this was in the 1960s; five dollars was a lot of dough back then, gas being fifteen to twenty cents a gallon where we lived.).
That’s one reason why I do a lot of public freebies; talking to the troubled kids in juvie, speaking to kids studying art (or dinosaurs), giving free business lectures to young artists, supporting local community causes with paint-outs, etc. I think it’s important to bring something back to the community. We all need to occasionally give back to our well; we can’t just always take from it. There are plenty of folks who may be going through a less than fortunate time who just need a hand once in awhile. Not a hand-out — but a hand.
So, I really do look forward to seeing you — all of you — at Dragon*Con this weekend and the comic convention in Avilés, Spain the following weekend — as well as at all of the upcoming shows who sign me on as a guest for next year.