I had to try to describe the comics business to someone today, to someone who was a fan, but was not an artist, who had no inclinations to be an artist, and would likely never have to work with an editor. And it was difficult. Not because he wasn’t an intelligent individual, but because almost didn’t want to disabuse him of the notion of how comics were created.
I almost wanted to enable him to live in the fantasy.
After all that’s why we read comics, right? To be able to live in the fantasy world for a while, to imagine that we’re Iron Man or Captain Marvel or Thor or whoever, and try to make the same good choices that they’ve made.
In the end, however, I asked him what he did for a living. He was a chemist he said. I asked him if, once he got in the job, it was filled with the same stupid office politics that all jobs had. He shook his head yes. And I replied, yeah, comics are like that too.
And it makes me sad, to see how many people of my generation have been hurt by comics, by a business that spits people out like a meat grinder on “high”. I’m thinking of multiple suicides over the last decade, so many lost along the highway, and all for a four color printed fantasy that seems to take over our minds somehow when we’re young and won’t release us as we get older.
I used to feel sad when I realized that the vast majority of the people around me didn’t know what they wanted to do when they “grew up”. How could they not have the interest, the passion in something? How could the not be consumed by the overwhelming love of something, that something that they could carry forward into the world, into their life in a way? Do what you love the money will come is the bumper stick philosophy, but sometimes trite becomes true.
Now I wonder if I had it backwards. If that passion is an addiction or an obsession that rules us, making us make choices against our best judgment. After all, no one would trust a drug addict to make that best choices in their own lives, perhaps its time to admit that we dreamers (as Will Eisner called us) live for too long with our head in the clouds, and that we’re not always the best advocates for being released on our own recognizance.
I’ve been reading “Woodwork”, the hardcover Wally Wood exhibition book that does such a brilliant job of showcasing the work of one of the most brilliant shooting stars in American illustration of the last century, and making the case that we simply don’t, in any way, value the work, dedication, vision that it takes to produce work of that quality. And so, it asks us, in its own between the lines kind of way, why would any of us want to dedicate ourselves to that sort of life? To learning that kind of skill and spending the hours that it would take to perfect that level of craft? Because it seems, when all is said and done (and there has been a lot of ink spilled over the rise and fall of comics prodigal son, a man of such skill in every area that he, like Jack Cole, could excel in literally every arena in which he was asked to work) that there is little or no reward until you’re over the rainbow. Woody would never see it in his lifetime. And yet, the work endures. People who see it full size continue to be blown away by what Wally did with a brush and some duo-tone board.
Is the work enough?
For the vast majority of us, yes, the work has to be enough.