Marc Alan Fishman: The Road Less Traveled
A little over a day removed from the New York Comic Con, I found myself in a bit of an existential funk. My bearded brethren of Unshaven Comics and I had seen a whopping 40% increase in our book sales. On all accounts, we should have been cheering and rejoicing the entire 14 hour ride home. But, after our 36th hour in the car over a span of five days – with highway hypnosis beginning to creep around the edges of our vision – we turned to a game of “Would You Rather.”
This is one of those silly time-wasters stoners and the road-weary play to stay alert. One plays it by coming up with increasingly insane parameters from which each party member must choose. Generally this comes after an hour of Marry, Boff, Kill, which for the sake of this article, will not be discussed. But I digress.
Amidst choosing whether we’d “choose to suffer from an hour long seizure once a week”, or “have all our teeth removed without anesthesia,” I’d landed on a very controversial question. It’d been a query long-standing amongst us since the transition from our long-time friendship to a budding business venture. I asked, coldly:
Would you rather make it in comics, and know that the other two would never enjoy… or be in Unshaven Comics together and know we’ll never see the success we’re continually chasing with each passing year?
The question came to me after six years of attending conventions, with a résumé that still would appear no better than an intern’s after some time fetching coffee. Or, perhaps, far worse. To date, Unshaven Comics has produced a single commissioned piece, for which we were paid essentially Five Dollars an hour, to split between the three of us. Beyond that, we’ve been a solo show, self-financed long before the word crowdsourced was in the vernacular of today’s con-goer. As we were placed on the outskirts of the Small Press Zone of the NYCC, we had front row seats to Marvel, Boom!, Image, Dark Horse, and the like (DC apparently is so West Coast now they only sent some Batman suits). Forced to look at every publisher we Unshaven Lads had pipe dreams of working for left me thinking about those roads not traveled. It reminded me of Mark Waid’s non-joke about how breaking in to comics was like breaking out of prison – as soon as you figure a way to do it they seal it off. After six years in the trenches, I’m apt to believe it.
Before nodding off one of the late nights during the show, Matt lamented to me. His friend, now working as an inker for Marvel, was not much of a name when they went to college together. As he put it “he was just sort of there, and then, he wasn’t.” To see him now, with several variant covers, and the inking gig next to his name, Matt was remiss not to think why he hadn’t been lucky enough for the opportunity. When pressed, he recalled said friend landed at the House of Mouse by literally hanging around their booth so long they eventually threw him a bone. And like so many (so I hear) who actually make it, he took the assignment, completed it to satisfaction, and did so as fast as he could. Reliability is the secret sauce in the comic game, so I’m told.
Through the trials and tribulations of becoming an Indie Creator™, I’ve come to the conclusion that making it into the business (as in having one’s name under a known masthead, instead of a self-made vinyl banner) is akin to finding love. It’s not so much about desperately seeking it out, as much as being ready for it when it comes. If I’m to be brutally auto-biographical, I was a bleeding heart in high school (like many, duh). I was always in a constant drone on how woe I was over the fact that seemingly everyone was dating, kissing, and being in love… whilst I pined, and grew a pair of bitching sideburns. I moved on to college having only dated a very nice girl who in retrospect pity-loved me long enough to give me some semblance of confidence. After what I’d dubbed the truest breaking of my heart, I decided that I’d spend my time working on me instead of lamenting for my litany of lonely nights to follow. Less than two months later, I took a girl out to dinner. She’s now the mother of my son, and the love of my life. Natch.
But, back to that errant question. My brothers-from-other mothers did not hesitate in their answers; both opting to go down with our ship over the notion that there can only be one. I should note that Matt also started his answer with “Eh, don’t let the curb scrape yer’ asses too hard!” before digressing. It’s part of his je ne se quoi.
Their answers rekindled my waning spirit. After six years spent making great comics, and earning the respect of those who sit next to us in parts of the con floor the real publishers pity-date on rare occasion, I’m proud to declare I could give two farts in the wind if I never pen an issue of Batman or The Strangers. I’m making books that a continually growing base of connoisseurs plunking down their cash. I’m working beside two rare talents whose ambition, desires, and fit snuggly over my faults. Together, we’re not a lonely island. We’re a team built to succeed on our own terms. And six years of continually expanding sales numbers will build bridges elsewhere in due time. And if it never happens? Well, then I double-down on the ideology:
It’s not about where you’ve been. It’s about where you’re willing to go… and who’s willing to come with you.