One of the nicest things about teaching the after-school Cartooning class is that quite a few of the kids stay in touch, and I've been teaching it long enough that many of those kids are adults now. (I'm still alternating between pride and mild dizziness that several have come by shows we've been working to introduce their spouses to "the coolest teacher ever." Yes, and clearly, now also the oldest. But of course Julie and I love it, Julie especially-- though we tease the new nerds-in-law mercilessly about having to pass inspection, the truth is that she mothers all of them.)
Other times former students come to us with problems. We don't love that they are having difficulty, of course, but we are always moved that they ask us for help.
And not too long ago, we got one that might be of interest to the CBR readership. Moreover, I thought that maybe some of you might even have ideas on the subject as well. So here we go.
This came from a remarkably gifted young lady-- seriously, one of the best artists I've ever had in my two decades of teaching. Unfortunately, she is also from an incredibly poor neighborhood and there are no real social or educational resources available for her to fall back on. As long as I have known her, she has had to get by on sheer willpower most of the time, while also helping her family to hang on as best they could.
Here is the original letter--
I know this is kind of a random message, but I would really appreciate your help. Tiffany actually recommended I talk to you for some extra input so here goes.
These last four years have been kind of crazy, and not how I planned it as a wee teenager. I've always been so close to pursuing my dreams, and it's either myself or finances that get in the way of continuing my education. I've recently moved down to California in the hopes of establishing residency and transferring to a CSU University. And I'm scared I may not be accepted because education in California is so impacted (they focus more on the GPA than portfolio work).
It has gotten to the point where I'm questioning my abilities altogether.
I'll always remember that moment when I stepped into your cartooning class in middle school and knew Animation/Illustration was something I wanted to pursue. Being in your class showed me that there were other weird kids just like me that loved doing exactly what I loved doing.
I know my career choice won't be as lucrative as other career routes but I feel it's something I really want to do.
This message has become more of a rant haha but I feel like I'm in this weird limbo between what I should be doing and what I want to do. I'm not getting any younger...I just need someone at this University to see something in me and my work. I just need something to fall in place...
My question for you is: How can I put myself out there? I'm not the most sociable person, and I think that hinders me the most. What's your story? What sort of obstacles did you face as a younger artist? How did you connect with so many artists? What keeps you inspired? What do you love most about your job?
Thanks for taking the time to look at this wonky message.
And herewith, my reply.
Well, first of all, you never have to feel awkward about asking me anything, we are always available to any of "our girls," as Julie and I generally think of all of you.
But I don't know if my example is really a good one. I did everything the wrong way first. I was a drunken mess for most of my twenties. In desperation I moved to Seattle and tried to start over, but got thrown out of the Art Institute for not showing up... Hung over, usually. The ugly truth is that my first real break was sobering up in 1986. Everything else came from that. So you are already ahead of where I was at your age.
I'm not terribly social either. I connect with people through the work. You said it yourself, you found your people in Cartooning. My friends tend to be the people I met through the work. Startnig with writing and art classes in high school and college; and I still have friends from the debate program, that was pretty much the dork equivalent of going out for sports, and a lot of us are still in touch. I've met all sorts of amazing writers and artists through CBR, the website I do the weekly column for. I met a bunch more through the work I did at With magazine before it folded.
So start with that. Classes and clubs. Go where the artists are who do what you do, and friendship and connections follow naturally. A big thing for me was going to shows with samples and stuff and talking to actual artists... Who were doing what I wanted to do, that is. It isn't very helpful to me to learn the business side of being a professional quilter.
Understand that getting to do art you love full-time and make a living at it is about as likely as winning the lottery. I'm an award-winning writer and teacher. Seriously, I have plaques up in my office.
I've been getting paid for the stuff for going on thirty years. But I still have a day job. So that is the key thing. Find a way you can live and make the rent and still have the time to do the work and stay connected. Get through school. Join whatever is there that's connected to your interests.
What do I love most about my job? You kids, honestly. Julie and I can't have kids of our own so those of you that keep in touch are as close to our family as we get.
But I suppose you mean making art and so forth. I think that you have to love doing it and you have to find a way to share it. It's why I always insisted that we publish what we did in class, it's part of the gig. And having a deadline is a way to stay engaged and not procrastinate. These days I have my classes, the column, and the stories for the "new pulp" publications through Airship 27.
So I am doing all right and still working and having fun, and I am blessed with a wife who thinks that is more important than money. I warned her that we would probably always be poor when I proposed and she shushed me and married me anyway. And she is still my best audience. If Julie likes a piece I know it's working on its own merits, because she doesn't have all the nerd baggage and history.
So there you go. Wonky answer. Hopefully something in there is useful to you. Know that we're always delighted to hear from you, never feel shy about getting in touch.
That's what I had. But I know that a lot of our regulars have knowledge in this area as well, so any of you out there reading this that want to add to the common wisdom, especially working professionals, feel free to jump in.
Also, speaking of friends I've made through comics... the latest Radio Vs. The Martians episodes are up!
We finally got to do the vigilante episode we've been talking about doing for a couple of years now, and also a follow-up episode in which we get cranky about Jack Bauer and 24, and also beat up a little more on Batman v Superman. Or "Department of Justice," as Sam kept calling it. Check it out!
As for me, I'll see you next week.