I had a nice time last night meeting up with a group of local cartoonists (and one who drove more than an hour) to get to know each other, share our work and talk shop. It's the first time I've really done that in a semi-organized fashion, and I think it'd be fun and useful to do it again.
My pal Lex Fajardo herded us up. In addition to his personal creative outlet of "Kid Beowulf," Lex works for Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, the company that oversees the "Peanuts" empire, so was able to arrange us an after-hours conference room at Mr. Schulz's old studio. Which for me is kind of like holding your church bake sale in the Sistine Chapel. You look around in awe and wallow in your unworthiness.
Seven of us showed up, representing a wide range of experience, from often-published to self-published to just getting going. At the experienced end were Vanessa Davis, whose book Make Me a Woman is charming and terrific, and her significant other Trevor Alixopulos, whose book The Hot Breath of War won an Ignatz Award and is a smart and passionate piece of work. I'm a fan of both and fear I gushed. If they see this, I'm sorry; I'm usually less gushy.
Also there were cartoonist/artist/teacher Gabby Gamboa, cartoonist/colorist/digital media maven Nina Kester (who until recently also worked for Creative Associates), and cartoonist/designer/consultant Karl Dotter, who's the one who drove too far.
That's a lot of slashes.
What often happens when I talk to cartoonists is I rediscover what a small universe it is. Everybody knows everybody else. You're one or two degrees of separation from anyone in the business. So when you sit around telling stories, you not only learn from the person across the table but from the good and bad experiences of everyone they know--who sometimes turn out to be people you know, too.
I was also struck by how few people really earn a living at this. Even popular, influential, critically acclaimed comics creators (friends and friends-of-friends), some whose names surprise me, need day jobs to pay the bills. As I said last night, I find that both inspiring and depressing: inspiring to learn that even the best struggle and flounder; depressing that comics just seems to be an inordinately difficult field to succeed in. We're all in the same boat, but it's a tiny boat with a lot of leaks.
Thanks to everyone for showing up and sharing, and thanks to Lex for arranging it. I expected to be there a couple of hours and stayed for four. I'd love to do it again sometime, especially now that we're past the awkward "getting to know you" phase. I don't have enough people in my life who get passionate about a new brush-pen.