Be Your Own Hero - Comics, The Internet and Faking It 'Til You Make ItA column article, Kate Or Die by: Kate Leth
In this week's Kate or Die, Kate Leth has decided to pull from the grand tradition of FDR and Mr. Rogers by pulling up a nice, cozy chair and just talking to you about inspiration for a moment. But fear not, if you hate the written word she first has this neat little comic to show you:
The other night on Twitter I posed a question: has there ever been a comics anthology of "Coming Out" stories? A decent, accessible, honest collection of sequential art that people struggling with their sexuality or that of someone they know can pick up as an alternative to a thick textbook? Stunned by the response-- there hasn't-- I asked some folks on Tumblr how they felt about the idea. This afternoon, less than 24 hours later, I'm working on putting together a book.
Now, I've never made a book. I've never put together a collection, never curated or edited anything other than my own work, but here's the thing-- this time last year, I'd never made a comic. The other night on Tumblr, over a hundred people and dozens more on Twitter and through email contacted me about the idea with exclamation points on every sentence. Writers, artists, creators of all types and even a few who just wanted to share their stories put their virtual hands up and said "Yes! I want this! Let's do it!"
So why the hell not?
In two weeks, my first published comic comes out as the inside back cover of Locke and Key: Guide To The Known Keys. This month's issue of Previews has two solicitations for projects that I'm in (Womanthology and Locke and Key: Clockworks #5). I have been making comics for less than a year. If this sounds like bragging, it's not-- it just runs through my head sometimes and boggles me constantly. I'm still a small fish, but the pond is starting to take notice. Am I lucky? Yes, incredibly so. But I've also worked my ass off, and though I have a long way to go, I'm making progress. So... why not a book? And why not you, too?
In my last column I talked about being inspired by the Womanthology panel, especially the idea that if the comics you want aren't out there, you should make them yourself. I want that on a t-shirt. It's such an inspiring idea: create things you wish existed. My favourite comics come from that place-- Hark, A Vagrant!, Dar, Scott Pilgrim... Each was born from an idea that needed manifestation. Fun and accessible history comics, honest accounts of how confusing sexual orientation can be, a hip adventure romance epic built like a video game-- these are things that should be in the world. It leaves me wondering how many fantastic ideas are out there floating around unharnessed, looking for people with ambition and relentless drive. Waiting. Biding their time. Seeking out the people who will embrace them with all their heart and ability, unbidden by self-doubt or the idea that what they're making isn't necessary. People who will push and, if limited by their own ability, find the resources to collaborate. What if J K Rowling had thought to herself, sitting on that infamous train ride, that she couldn't write a novel and just pushed it out of her mind? Instead, she grabbed it with both hands and, despite having no experience writing anything that massive, churned out an epic that defined the childhoods of millions.
Confidence is the most important thing a creator can have. I'll use myself as an example: I started putting my comics online because I drew on every surface at work and my boss told me to get off my ass and make something of it. So, I did. I put my art up on Tumblr, which I was only using to reblog pictures of cats and girls with tattoos at the time, and found a surprisingly positive response. Emboldened, I started submitting to every possible relevant website, drawing as often as I could and posting everything I made regardless of how I felt about it. I contacted every artist I found whose work I enjoyed and invited them to check out my comics. After awhile, I didn't need to try quite as hard to get noticed. People were there. I've built a sort of network, and now I find myself able to direct attention towards other creators. It's neat!
If I could take every amateur creator aside and shake them until they stopped apologizing for their art, I would, and I'm barely more than an amateur myself. The saying goes around every industry, but I heard it first when I worked as a makeup artist-- fake it 'til you make it. Nobody starts out a professional, but you must always value your own work. If you put time, effort and heart into something, it has worth. If you must compare yourself to others in your field, don't say you'll never be as good. Imagine how much progress you'll make in a few months or years and get excited about it. Set goals, but keep them realistic. Think of how many people spend all their time consuming (watching TV, playing video games, sitting around staring at the wall) and not producing (writing, drawing, dancing, singing, making anything at all). Take pride in yourself for having ambition!
Here's a bit of advice, without getting too after-school-special-y: Do it. If you've been thinking you should get back into drawing, get out your pens and stick with it. Do you know how many parties and events I miss because of comics? Most. If they made a talking doll of me and you pulled the string, it'd say I CAN'T TONIGHT, I HAVE TO WORK ON A COMIC and probably I'LL BE OVER AS SOON AS I'M DONE WITH THIS PANEL. Very few people become successful by half-assing it. Give yourself a schedule and stick to it. Try not to drive yourself insane. Love it with all your heart and tell everyone you meet all of the time. If all that sounds like too much work, think about the places it can take you.
So, again, why not a book? The need is there and the enthusiasm is contagious, so a silly little thing like inexperience shouldn't be reason enough to throw my arms up and go home. I want it, the people I'm talking with want it, and what a fantastic learning experience it'll be! To reach out to kids who might know what to do, or grownups that have nobody safe to talk to, and show with talented artists and writers who lived the experience of coming out that they're not alone. Maybe it'll work out, maybe it won't, but at least we're doing our best. Womanthology showed so many girls what's possible with a little determination, and the comic industry needs that energy. People want things they can be passionate about. Everyone's tired of the same old thing.
Now, are you thinking of a project you wanted to do, but were maybe discouraged from or talked yourself out of? I felt like that about a comic I did on my struggles with self-injury. I debated for weeks about sharing it, about being able to do it justice, before I sat down and thought, "Fuck that noise, I need to tell this story." So I did. And guess what? I got hundreds of responses from people all over the world who told me it made them feel better, who shared their stories with me or were able to use it as a talking point with someone they loved. A comic that wouldn't have existed if I'd given in to that voice that always tries to tell me I'm no good. In a few weeks, that comic's going to be in the back of Locke and Key for thousands of people to see. I'm scared, I'm excited, but mostly I'm glad I did it.
Go out there. Forget about what you think you're worth, and make the things you want to see in the world. Stir shit up. Be your own hero.