Marc Alan Fishman: Just Live Your Dream
I recently passed the one-year mark at my day job – in-house graphic designer for a software company in the higher education sector – and in having my performance review I reached an odd catharsis. I realized that I’d been a graphic designer professionally for over a decade, and had finally crossed the bridge beyond what I deemed pixel pushing. With that in mind, my desire for more was evident. Without a professional filter, I let my boss know exactly what I’d had in mind. In a flash of a few minutes, I’d all but admitted that I was being wasted as an asset… and for the first time, it wasn’t just a load of bull-squat. Just so you know: The first ten years on the job is really you learning to become a productive member of society.
My coworker lamented to me (post review-rant) that I was “so talented” (I swear I didn’t pay her to say it), that it baffled her I wasn’t “actually doing what I love.” That stung, but not for the reasons you might think. She was specifically speaking to my desire to work in comics, professional wrestling, the movies, TV, or just about any medium where scantily clad men and women fight for reasons that make little to no sense. While some might sigh that they’ve not attained their dreamed station in life, my ire was raised more because those aforementioned media are all veritable pipe dreams to me because of the systems built around them.
From the outside looking in, becoming an entity worthy of a title page (or credit roll, etc.) is akin perhaps to getting a city job in Chicago. As my Uncle Howard once lamented on his position: “It’s more about who you know than what you know.” For every year as an indie creator attending comic cons, those ladies and gents working at Marvel and DC (and Boom!, IDW, Dark Horse, etc.) all seemed to carry a collected air amongst them. An unspoken bond, I assume, built through late-night editor notes, insane deadlines, and the knowledge that at the end of the day your name appeared next to Batman, Deadpool, or G.I. Joe. And when pressed for how these lucky ducks got into their positions? Well, it’s been said in my column enough for you to know the joke by now: Getting into comics is like getting out of prison. As soon as you find a way to do it, they seal it up on your way out.
And what of the great and powerful WWE? Well, according to their careers page, you must have 5-10 years experience writing for TV before you can even come knocking on the front gate. So how might one get into writing for TV? Well, step one would be not living in Chicago. The simple truth is tinsel town isn’t looking beyond its borders for the next big thing. Why? Because they don’t have to. The next big thing is serving them a latte, parking their car, or telling them jokes in a dive-bar on a Thursday night.
There’s often that illusion that one might be able to make it in their own town – grow a brand, and fan base, and then let the big boys find you – but that in and of itself is a house of cards. Take it from the indie guy whose been doing it long enough to know; there’s plenty of other great talents working shoulder to shoulder with you right where you are, sharing the exact same hopes and dreams. In short, it’s not always going to be the sweat on your brow, or the meticulously crafted prose you spout that will find you your meal ticket. “It’s more about who you know than what you know.”
You can see the rabbit hole now a bit better, can’t you? The fact is that life gets in the way of our dreams. And even those living the dream might be the first to tell you that it’s not all sunshine and roses. As far as I can tell, even those who are making those DC and Marvel comics aren’t exactly raking in fat salaries with benefits. Aside from what is likely the top 5-10% of the industry (my best guess that could easily be fixed by Mike Gold, or others here on this site), the freelance work-for-hire creators are working in a revolving door system that is built to chew them up and spit them out. Unless you’re topping the charts with that issue of Voodoo this month, you’re likely back in artist alley with that copy of Idiosyncratic Youth you’re hocking next to the Voodoo sketch cover variants. And over in the WWE… well, let’s just say that I actually knew a writer who worked for them, and he was pretty clear that it was a quaint stop for any aspiring writer who wanted to be told “no” from old guard at every corner.
Top that with the fact that I have a wife, an adorable three year-old, a mortgage, and a need for health insurance. Natch.
Now, let me make it clear: beyond any specific employer I may covet a position with, I’m doing what I love. I draw a salary for being creative. It’s something I do not take for granted given that my two studio mates have not shared in that luxury. The fact is that with Unshaven Comics, I’m not banking a living wage (or really enough money to do more than print more books and attend more cons), but I’m still tangentially living the dream. Even if pixel pushing keeps my lights on, I’ve accepted that my creative endeavors outside of 9-5 can remain my forever lotto ticket. Whether my number gets called is really up to chance. But if it does, at least I’ll be ready for it. And when that jackpot runs out, well, I’ll still be well employed elsewhere. And security to me is just as dreamy as those scantily clad heroes and babes.