It’s been a little over one year since I launched my website Hard Coal Studios A lot had preceded that moment and a lot has followed since.
For years I’d wanted to make comics and do other projects as well, but with comics the biggest obstacle was I’m not able to draw. Many times over the years I’d met people and had the old “Let’s make a comic book” conversation and it never went anywhere (with the exception of one time I met someone who I did a mini comic with back in 2005).
Long story short but I ended up teaching in Korea in 2006, and after staying there a few years realized that someday when I come home to America I’d have some money saved up and would maybe be able to get some projects done. This got my gears turning and I started making plans. Almost every year I was there I thought next year I’d be coming home. During the spring of 2009 I started working on a poetry manuscript that I assumed I’d be publishing soon.
Over the years I’d always written more poetry than prose, but after re-reading the Frankenstein novel I had an idea for my own Frankenstein story. I started working at that, but sometimes it was coming slow. One problem I often had was trying to do too many things at once. It was fall of 2010, a few months prior I discovered an MMA gym near my home and I was excited that they had a cage. I’d been going there a bit strictly for fitness, and before class I’d go to a PC room to attempt some writing. I was able to write a bit, but this schedule wasn’t working for me. The year was coming to a close and I figured I’d only be in Korea another year and a half or so. My goal was to finish this story before the end of the year, but something had to give. I realized I needed to give up the gym and just go home and write every night. (Plus let’s face it I’m not going to be a cage fighter. That ship has sailed lol)
Lots of people talk about writing and being a writer but one of the hardest things is actually writing every single day. It was a moment of clarity to realize that this really is what it takes. Coming home every single day after work and writing for hours, reading, revising, not goofing off, etc. And this was just for a seventy-some page story. But the year came to a close and my story was done (along with another project or two actually). It was one of the most satisfying experiences of my creative life.
At the end of the year I realized I would in fact be leaving Korea in about 9 months. I had my prose and poetry done, but what about my comics? I’d written various comic scripts/ideas over the last few years, and had another occasion or two of “Let’s make a comic” that went no where. So I still needed a comic. A few years prior I’d heard about Andy Schmidt, former editor at Marvel Comics and IDW, who also once taught college. He started classes in New York City specifically for writing for comic books. There’s tons of writing classes but nothing like this was ever done. I’d actually planned to take these courses but then realized they were now offered online. Spring of 2011 I took the intro course, (Comics Experience btw) occasionally my students would see me on my computer watching the class and were excited to see and wave to people on the other side of the world.
After getting a few sites recommended to me I placed an ad online for a comic book artist. I literally got over 100 responses. I wanted to be professional and responded to all of them. Many great artists contacted me but I could only pick one. I contacted my choice and emailed the others thanking them for their submission. One memorable response was something like “Well I guess you don’t want cool art and cool storytelling.” I wrote back reminding them to be nice to the people they see on the way up, because they’ll be seeing them on the way down.
In October of 2011 I left Korea. The week after I got back I went to the New York Comic-con, one of the bigger shows around. If I really wanted to I could have sold my book here, but I really wanted to attend this as a fan. I’d never been to a show this size. I finally got to meet and shake hands with Stan Lee, along with many other creators I liked. It was a blast. Even aside from the show I was just thrilled to be back in New York City. I also made contacts with some podcast people, and met Andy and others from the class.
One thing I hadn’t given thought to was web-comics. I always wanted to have a web-comic but again it was the same old. In NYC I attended a panel to pair up writers and artists. It was here I met Sarah. I told her about my comic, which was in the style of the old monster movies. She also liked those and we really hit it off. Thus Shock Value, a humorous monster strip, was accidentally created. My website now had a web-comic.
Another panel I attended was the standard “How to Break Into Comics” panel hosted by the head guys at Marvel Comics. The short of it was self publish, do the convention circuit, give it ten years and maybe you have a chance. That advice wasn’t discouraging on the surface, but what was discouraging was hearing this in 2011 at the age of 34, and remembering 11 years ago asking someone to make a web-comic with me to no avail. We can’t live backwards, but we also can’t help taking a moment to wonder what could have been.
Back home I started bringing it all together. One day in late 2011 my comic was finally printed. Many people suggest for writers to start out with small 5 page stories and/or something online. Maybe it’s because of my age and not growing up with web-comics, but I just needed to have a regular comic book in my hand that had my name in it. And now it was finally done.
Another ad and another 100 submissions to find an artist for the cover of my Frankenstein book. The first submission was the best one. Soon Frankenstein and my poems were also in my hands. Surprisingly enough just before Christmas a friend from Korea whom I’d had one of those “Let’s make a web-comic” conversations with emailed me out of the blue with a complete set of a finite web comic series we’d talked about years ago. Synchronicity again.
Everything was set and one day soon after the new year I officially launched the site and put the link on my facebook. That spring I would have four weekends in a row doing signings. I did shows in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and MOCCA in New York, where someone from the Poet’s House took a copy of my poetry book for one of their exhibitions. The weekend after that was Free Comic Book Day at my local comic shop Legendary Comics and Tea Room. That June I did Heroes World in Charlotte, before being featured reader at my old poetry group in PA, and doing hitting a poetry club in Charlotte I used to go to. Along the way I was also interviewed a few times on podcasts and youtube shows, they were lots of fun.
All in all I was happy to finally be doing this, but the truth is it can be really brutal. Indy art is a tough game. At shows I made a point to not leave my table much and to stand as much as possible and talk to everyone I could. Still it’s long hours with stretches of time where nothing is happening for you. It’s a real endurance test. Can you take it, can you maintain this? Can you do this for ten years to maybe have a chance of getting something bigger?
I didn’t make any plans for myself after Charlotte because I didn’t know what I’d be doing with myself job wise. Another long story but I reluctantly headed back to Korea almost exactly a year after I’d left. There’s so many people that talk about doing something and never do, and then there’s people that do it once and disappear. I was no longer a talker, but I was afraid of disappearing. Fortunately I’m still able to put another comic book this year, and some other writing projects are coming along as well.
It is too bad that I couldn’t have started this ten-thirteen years ago, but we are here today. The internet is a better tool now than it was back then with social media and the like, and print on demand is a godsend to the indy artist. However, since it is easier per say to make your own media, it is even harder to stick out. The thing is you have to try. That is my personal philosophy. I can live with not “making it.” I can’t live with not trying, I have to try. It’s like the Rocky thing, the point of my favorite movie, is that we don’t have the right to succeed, but we have the right to try. As I said, it is absolutely brutal, but, as another favorite movie of mine says, “Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing.”