2013 was a hell of a year. There were good things: I mentored a delightfully talented young summer intern! and Sounds and Seas Vol I was collected by the Library of Congress! and nominated for the 2013 LA Times Book Prize for Best Graphic Novel! and I got to do exciting work with Chicago Zine Fest and Saveur! and on and on, but looking back this feels like a year my mom (hi, mom!) would call a "FGO"--a fucking growth opportunity. They are painful and teeth-gritting; no one likes going through them, but you learn a lot on the other side. This was a year of quiet but consuming and difficult transitions in my personal life, and a professional/artistic/work life that felt like an endurance sport rather than a practice I had much control over. Like with any good FGO, I've learned a lot: these are my take-aways from 2013, good and bad.
1) The comics community is amazing. I didn't grow up in a religious home, but living in the south in my youth means fluency in a language steeped in religiosity. When I say I'm blessed to have met and befriended (even briefly) the artists I met this year, I mean it with deep and earnest affection. By the end of CAKE, my fourth show in as many months, I looked around the room and realized that I had seen the smiling faces of the other artists on the comics circuit more often than many of my closest Chicago friends. I felt, and continue to feel, deeply grateful for having found a tribe to call my own. Also, since June I have been privileged to join the tender-hearted & explosively-talented team of Edie, Neil, Grace, Jeff, Max and Ben every week or so to do the work of organizing CAKE, the best damned show in the midwest (nay, the world!). Amazing amazing amazing.
2) People who attend comics shows are the best. Every show it blew my mind: these good strangers woke up, ate some food, put on some clothes, and trekked out to some hotel ballroom or arts center or performance space to see a room full of bright-eyed weirdoes selling experimental, beautiful artist publications. When I started the year, I had 1000 copies of the Xeric-funded version of my book "In the Sounds and Seas;" now I'm down to less than 50, and am placing another order with my printer in January. With the exception of a modest order from Diamond Distribution at the beginning of 2013, a few consignment stores I try to keep stocked and a trickling of orders on Etsy, every one of those books left my possession person to person, with a conversation and a handshake, in the last 365 days. Again: amazing amazing amazing.
3) It is possible to over-extend. My goal going in to 2013 was to do more comic shows, vibrating off the wonderful time I had at CZF, CAKE and SPACE in 2012; my goal going in to 2014 is to do fewer. This year I tabled at CZF, SPACE, TCAF, CAKE, Autoptic and SPX. I work a full-time day job, which means that I spend the weekend before a show doing prep--binding extra minis, ordering extra prints, making sure I have sufficient packaging and business cards, packing my carry-on full of heavy paper goods, and all the little worry-work that comes with traveling--and the week after decompressing, unpacking, and getting my show loot in order.
As fun and inspiring as the shows are, I am an introvert and need a good amount of time to recover from the outpouring of energy at each show, and that means losing 3 full weekends on show months. The worst in this respect was SPX, which was in all accounts a spectacular show--I spent a lot of time with wonderful people, a record number of my books found new readers, and the crowd was delightfully friendly--but by happenstance, the show was sandwiched between two immensely stressful weeks in my personal life, so I was too distracted to really enjoy the joys of the show. Plus, somehow the decibel-level of the expo room (which didn't seem louder than any other) damaged my ears to the point that they still haven't quite recovered. (Hush hush, children. Off to the doctor.) It was a perfect storm of exhaustion, and I felt like I needed all of October to sit in a quiet room to regain composure...and because 2013 has been non-stop, that "rest" manifested in 2 exciting but, again, totally consuming October freelance projects. I look back on the year grateful for the people I met and the audience my book has found, but regretful that I didn't give myself the time to make as much new work as I intended.
4) I really need to insulate my studio. In February I moved to a new apartment with a sun room off the front, with 3 walls of windows. It's glorious in spring and fall, but makes the surface of Venus seem cool in the summer and it's straight-up Hoth in the winter. After years of working at a dining room table or a small desk in the corner of my living room, I revel in having space to work privately, but it needs to be functional. Too many could-have-been-work days were disrupted by unlivable temperatures. No more in 2014!
5) I need to practice better self-care, and be less moved by flattery and obligation. As 2013 steamrolled along, there emerged a growing gap between who I say I am and what I actually do with my time, and that gulf has nurtured a small and manageable but mean-spirited depression. I identify as an artist, but I have felt too exhausted to put pen to paper on more nights than not. I identify as an athlete, but have been too ground down to move off the couch or feed myself nourishing food. This isn't to say I wish I had said no to any opportunities that emerged from the ether: as an early-career artist, it is humbling, encouraging and genuinely surprising to be recognized for the work I put care and thought in to, but here it is at the end of 2013 with TCAF '14 just around the corner, and I am nowhere closer to being done with Sounds and Seas II than I was in August. This is a long game, and I need to pace myself better; I get distracted by the glitter and attention that comes with little projects, things that I can quickly share for which I get immediate gratification for sharing and pleasant pats on the back, but immediately afterward I wish I had spent the time on a bigger, more meaningful project. Time to finally take that to heart and focus on the long game in 2014.
And so, with 12 hours left of 2013, I say farewell and good riddance. Happy new year, everyone--here's to good health, good community, and good work.