I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately on what exactly it is that I'm doing. What am I trying to achieve as an artist? And can I really do it?
Without this turning into a therapy session, I'll mention that when I was growing up, I came to the conclusion that I had to have a full-time career as an artist. Had to. I had to achieve something amazing, and if I didn't do that, well, no one would ever love or respect me, and my life would be a huge waste. I had to be the best of the best or I couldn't hold my head up. No pressure, right?
I've been bashing this same cranium against the wall for a lot of years, trying to find the magic formula that would enable me to make art a lucrative, respected, "successful" facet of my life. But this has been problematic. First of all, I'm bipolar, so I naturally go through periods where I love things and want to do them all day long - and then hate the entire world and can't summon the energy to feed myself. Throw those extremes around every few weeks and it's difficult to stick to anything. Secondly? I'm not as skilled as I would like. I have a natural talent with the arts that I take for granted, and so I've never established a drive to hone or polish skills - I'll always be sub-par technically because I'm just not interested in being technically "good". Last, growing mentally and emotionally - as a means to survive - has meant trying to accept that I have a right to exist no matter how "successful" I am, and that the pursuit of some external source of validation just creates more distance between me and what really matters in my life. American culture places a lot of value on people who destroy their health, their families, and their humanity for the sake of achieving some abstract goal - but that just doesn't sit well with most people. Most of us would rather be comfortable, healthy, and modest in our lives, and that kind of achievement isn't worth it to us. We idolize some heroes that were total assholes, but it's OK because they made some good films, or wrote a good book. There's a lot there to think about.
I've tried a lot of different times to pursue a lot of different art projects, but it would fizzle out after - at best - a couple months. I'd repeat this cycle over and over again without really taking in the lesson that's being bashed over my head. WHY ISN'T THIS WORKING? WHY CAN'T I BE A GOOD ARTIST? WHAT'S A GIRL GOTTA DO TO BE ADORED BY MILLIONS, HERE?
This year, I had a renewed spurt of energy as I decided that THIS time would be different, and THIS time I would really, really try. (Like I hadn't been trying the other 1,000 times I had a great idea for an art project.) It's like attempting to ride a bike by waving your arms; flail as you might, you're not using the right kind of energy to get anywhere. Recently, I fell off the metaphorical bicycle and had to accept that - whether I admitted it in a placeholder image or not - I was taking a break from my webcomic.
Everything I've read says that, if you want to be successful as a comic artist, you have to be doing it every day, and you have to keep at it for years before anyone gives a crap about your work, and you have to be able to slog through the monotony, page after page after page, and learn to enjoy it for what it is.
I just published my first book in an attempt to validate my place as a "real" artist and know that, if I take a break now, it means that I just don't have the long-term discipline and chutzpah to be up there with my comic-creating idols. This is the time to be creating, and promoting, and showing the world everything I've got; but... I'm taking a break. I have too many other interests, and while meds and therapy are helping them to get a little further apart, the mood swings are a hell of an obstacle to overcome. It's disappointing, to put it mildly, to look at facts and say "Maybe this goal I've dreamed up isn't really healthy or realistic, and pursuing it is just hurting me". It's also difficult to not throw it away, cursing the heavens with something like, "Why do any art at all? What's the point?!".
I know myself better than that, though. I've drawn comics since I was a little kid. I love reading 'em, thinking about 'em, scheming 'em up. Just because I'm not going to join the Mile High club of creators and sign merch at cons doesn't mean I'm not allowed to like a thing. I'm sure in another couple of months you won't be able to tear me away from my drawing table. I'll cycle in and out of it like I always do. And I will still have "fans" cheering me on and enjoying my stuff. It might not be in the millions, or even the dozens, but it's enough.
This notion of my art career not being like OTHER people's art careers bothers the hell out of me only because I don't accept it. I realized recently that, the point of Don't Call Me Candy is that it's my stories, and reflective of my experiences. Taking a break because I'd rather be doing something like, say, training for roller derby, or creating pixel art, or baking cupcakes for my family, or playing video games, or hanging out with friends, is just that much more faithful to who I am and what I'm about. And when I look at all of the other stuff that I do, I realize I'm pretty cool, and those things are good, and worthwhile, in their own way.
I'm not great at being a world-famous, critically-acclaimed, top-tier comics creator. But I'm pretty darned good at being me. What else should I be doing if not the things that interest me and make me feel good?
Hopefully someday this act of "being me" will feel like "enough". Even now I've got tears welling up thinking about the things I could or should be, and how I'm a miserable failure.
So, right now, I'm not making comics. I will again sometime - I don't know when. And I want to try to just let that be OK.