THE RULES DO NOT APPLY TO YOU
This week past I have been subjected to more than my usual torrent of emails asking me THE SECRET OF SUCCESS IN COMICS. These folks want to break into comics, or start self-publishing, or, I dunno, want to have a beer with Marcia Allass…
…and don't want to hear that the only way to do any of that is through dint of hard work.
Of course, I refer these short-cutters to the archive of columns I wrote about this for Matt Fraction last year so I'd have a place to point folks for useful information instead of answer the same four or five emails nine thousand times.
But the odd thing this week has been that several people have written back, "OK, yes, I read all that already, but what is THE SECRET?"
After I stared, incredulously, at more than a few of these emails, I asked the missus what to do about these cats. I feel badly about just ignoring them, but, y'know, I don't have anything to say about DIY past those archived columns. Seems self-evident. But then Mimi said:
"Sounds like it's time to revisit this. But don't do the nuts-and-bolts; obviously they don't want to hear that it's Hard Work. Do the philosophy of it. The people who believe you're holding out some sort of SECRET need to know that it starts with How You See The World."
I could swear I saw the capital letters when she said that.
So here is THE SECRET. The philosophy behind success in comics, in business, in inter-personal relationships:
The Rules Do Not Apply To You.
This is another One Of Those Things that I learned very early in life from my dad, who, as those of you reading this column regularly will recall, is a rock-solid, take-no-shit, New Hampshire Yankee with a granite exterior and a heart of gold, all Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne.
So, one day in the summer of 1969, when, of course, all kids my age were thrilled that guys were walking around on the actual moon, the Cub Scout pack we were in decided that maybe they should hold a Space Derby.
The Space Derby is similar to the Pinewood Derby (which, as you know, is the model car race the Scouts run), except that the models are miniature 'rockets' -- propeller-driven and powered by two or three rubber bands -- that travel along a heavy monofilament fishing line.
You get the picture, right? Four lines strung about four feet off the ground between two wooden frames about twenty feet apart. The kids carve rockets, wind up the rubber bands, hang 'em on the fish line, and let 'em go. The rocket that gets to the end first wins, and moves to the next heat until you go through all the kids and their rockets and you have a winner. It's all fun and picnics and family bonding and good-old American character-building competition.
I wonder if they still do it.
Anyway, the dads all had an elaborate chart set up of who went when, and my dad looked up at it to figure out when it was our turn, and sat down with me to watch my little six-year old fingers wind up the propeller on the front of my rocket. When I couldn't get it to move any more, he said, "Here; lemme give it a few more turns."
We put the rocket on the line, let it go, and won the first heat.
This happened a few more times, in just the same way, us winning every time. It started getting closer and closer to the finish… only twenty or so kids and their rockets were left.
One of the judges came over to my dad, who's on the ground patiently winding up the rubber band, and said, "You're up."
"We're not ready yet," my dad replied.
Well, this freaked my little head right out of its gourd. The reason I remember this summer day so clearly is because while I was telling my dad that we had to go, it's our turn, we have to race, the guy said we did, my dad got a little twinkle of Yankee stubbornness in his normally taciturn stoneface and said, "Now, don't take this wrong way, but you don't always have to do what you're told. You have to do what your mother and I tell you, of course, but just give a thought to what other people say."
"But…" I said, trying to grasp this new situation.
"Here's the thing. We'll go when we're ready. Not when somebody else tells us to go."
"But…" I said. Remember, I was six.
My dad stood up, blotting out the sun, as he did, in those days, and said, "Listen, this is How The World Works for the Young family… we say yes, sir, and no ma'am, and follow the laws and pay our taxes… but The Rules Do Not Apply To Us."
And that was the biggest favor my father ever did me, because he gave me the OK, at a very young age, to think for myself and not worry about what other people are doing.
So, we wound up that rubber band, and won that heat, too, and made it all the way to the final race, and the last four rockets…
…when those rubber bands that had been wound up all day in the hot Texas sun finally let go and broke a third of the way down the line in the last race and absolutely shredded my little winner into a glorious spray of balsa wood toothpicks.
Most kids, I'm sure, would have been disappointed. Me? We won all day long, and did what we wanted when we wanted to do it. And that was the fun part for me. Doing things our own way.
So, as far as I'm concerned, that's THE SECRET. If you want to be successful at comics, or business, or what-the-hell-ever, do the hard work, sure, know what you're getting into…
…but think for yourself. Don't do what other people are doing, because, you know, other people are doing it, already, and better than you. You won't stand out if you're just following the crowd.
Sure, your rocket may destroy itself and you'd be stuck with fourth place, but, y'know… that's a fourth place you did your way. Get a whole bunch of like-minded folks on your side and throw a shin-dig, and don't worry about what everyone else is doing on Saturday night.
When the word gets out you're having fun, there'll be folks showing up at your party.
And it's just like the ocean, under the moon/It's the same as the emotion that I get from you/You got the kind of lovin' that could be email@example.com
Here's a link to Robert Kirkman's site. Ol' Robert is one of those guys who's just doing what he wants to do, having a blast and throwing one of the best comic book parties around. Check out his book BATTLE POPE, at www.funkotron.com
Looking for something to help you kill some time at work? Stop on in the Loose Cannon Message Board and ask me what I really think of the Internet. You can tell your boss it's research on some project you're doing.