The day has finally arrived: I have inflicted myself upon the literary landscape with an officially published story. MY FIRST COMIC IS OUT!
“Where can I get what is surely to be a mind-altering journey into brilliance,” you ask? We can get People Skills, the 5-page bundle of inspiration about a robot and a cat told through amazing art by Micheal Evans, RIGHT HERE in the digital comics anthology, Make Out (Volume 2).
And for just $3 (more if you’re feeling generous), there’s no reason not to support your local organic, free range comic creators. But that’s not all! There are 60-pages of comic brilliance to enjoy, stories forged from the finest mind-steel for as far afield as France! That’s right: you get to make me feel wanted and appreciated by purchasing my story AND you can make a whole lot of other people’s day. What an amazing deal! It’s a no-brainer.
And the fact that my first published story is a comic, a form that has done so much for me in the last couple years, is especially meaningful to me. Because I’m not exaggerating when I say that comics saved my life.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: that’s some schmalzy, baroquely emotional bullshit. And you’d be right. But it’s also true.
Three years ago, when I was at the tail end of my PhD and wading through the venomous morass of the revision process and tenured professors’ fragile egos, I was suffering from what I can only describe as profound spiritual decay. I had been a good soldier-monk for five years, writing, researching, and attending what was expected of me, but my heart wasn’t in it, and looking back at it, I suppose it never had been, or at least not enough. That’s not to say that my academic work never excited me, or that I never enjoyed it, but I couldn’t shake a feeling of alienation, a chronic disconnect between the expectations of academia – that it’s a world populated by insightful people jacking themselves into a blazing world of ideas like a cyberpunk data jockey after his last big score – and what I felt: that it was a temple of exactitudes and inflexible dictates that prized conformity over insight. It was a cold place with a cold religion. And I was good at it, too – I knew all the right incantations, the words of power, and the kind of incense that pleased the gods – but I also knew I didn’t care about it, that I didn’t believe in it. To me, an airtight academic argument smelled like what Werner Herzog calls “the truth of accountants,” where all the facts are right, where the plot is perfect, but where there’s no story, no imagination.
And I missed my imagination. Weaving complex intellectual arguments has its appeal, but if I’m going to be honest, if I had to choose between a nuanced encounter with [insert author/philosopher here] through an application of [insert critical lens here] and any story about a dragon, I’ll take the wyrm. I tried to convince myself otherwise, that I could funnel my love of stories into research, but like most things born of thin ambition, it was a lie. The truth was that I had, somehow, talked myself into joining the Big Bang Theory fan club while deep down I thought that Sheldon was an abusive asshole. It might be someone’s idea of a good time, but I just didn’t get it, and after five years of pretending, I was a bitter, angry, little man. I drank too much, had no hobbies to speak of, and I harbored a deep resentment toward a system that, as I experienced it, was allergic to fun and contemptuous of play. I had to find a way out, or, I knew, it would eventually kill me.
I came to this realization in the most clichéd way possible: one morning, fresh out of the shower, I stared at my reflection – blurred by steam and my bad eyesight – in the bathroom mirror, and said, “what am I doing?” If I had had a red pen, I would have struck through the experience for its triteness alone, but I knew I was right. I was completely lost, and the only thing I really knew was that if I stayed where I was and assumed a role that would allow no time for dragons, pirates, and space ships, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
So I did what everyone who likes to write does when they’re looking for ideas: I procrastinated. And I read. Or at least I tried to, because every time I sat down to read, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t physically do it. In a cruel twist of fate, the medieval dental visit that is a PhD program had robbed me of the very thing that had gotten me to the tip of the educational pyramid: my love of books. After reading unknown thousands of pages for my dissertation, and thousands more in course work, I couldn’t stand to look at a page of words: my eyes would swim, my heart would begin to race, and a wave of nausea would roll over me and submerge any enthusiasm I had managed to dredge up. Like Henry Bemis, I stood in the furnace of apocalypse, undone by irony as my glasses shattered on the ground. But then I remembered: hadn’t I gotten a copy of The Infinity Gauntlet, Marvel Comics’ insane space opera masterpiece, on a whim about a year before? That has pictures. Lots of them. Why not try that? So I pulled it off the shelf, poured myself a beer, and KRAKA-DOOM! it cracked me in the jaw and knocked me through the curtain of space-time into another universe.
The wild art and uninhibited, bonkers imagination were the opposite of the lawyerly bet-hedging and preemptive shadow-boxing with an adversarial reader that I grown accustomed to in graduate school. The book was what it was and it made no apologies for itself. It was like someone had plugged my brain into a neon sign – it made me feel better. I devoured it, and when that was gone, I moved on and sucked the marrow out of another book. And then another. And another, until I had read nearly 5,000 pages. When I wasn’t at work or spending time with friends, who endured my festering angst with divine patience, reading comics is what I thought about, it’s what I did.
And then one day, while we were poring over the intricacies of Marvel’s Secret Wars event – which included, but were not limited to, bolt-throwing barbarians, journeys of vengeance through Hulk-infested wastelands, and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Enlightenment Cannon (yes, that’s a real thing) – my friend Ben, in a moment of simple clarity, said, “you should write comics.” Half a second later, in an even simpler moment of resolution, I thought: “yeah, I should. I will. I am.” And so I did, with no idea of what I was doing, but as soon as I started, I knew I couldn’t stop. Comics were the wild west: I didn’t know any of the rules, but it didn’t matter. I felt a rush – a real physical high – every time I sat down to write or to scribble ideas onto a pad, or to consult and conspire with Ben about ideas for high octane adventures. Because for the first time in a long time, I had something I wanted to learn and to throw myself into. I cared, and as unabashedly cheesy as it sounds – because I know how it sounds – I knew that comics wouldn’t turn me away if I did.
If a person’s life is a book, comics have given me something I never thought I’d have again: a story I want to read. I hope I can do the same for you.