I just got back from EPICon two hours ago. For four days, I hung around a hotel in Williamsburg, chatted with fellow writers and epublishers, ate delicious food, locked myself away in my room to write, and spent time doodling on my iPad. I think it was exactly what I needed. I attended very few panels, unlike previous EPICons. Frankly, I was very familiar with most of the topics being presented. I did sit in on an excellent panel on hostage negotiation, presented by Mike Woodcock and Angela Knight, and I was a panelist at a couple panels myself, but those were pretty much the only panels I showed up for. Honestly, I was just so burnt out from all the events of the previous few months that I preferred to hide in my room and write and cartoon in absolute peace, occasionally heading out to hit the fitness center or grabbing a meal when I felt the need. So I treated the entire weekend as more of a writer’s retreat than a conference.
And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact, I think that was the best thing I could have done with my weekend. I was away from home so I couldn’t deal with cookie stuff or commissioned work. The Hubster had the kids so I didn’t have to worry about keeping them occupied while I tried to work. Instead, I had enforced free time, and I spent that in the hotel room, writing and drawing.
When I left the room, I spent my time chatting with friends, fellow writers, publishers, etc. We talked about all sorts of things: how we’re all doing in the business of writing and publishing; how we all rarely have time to do the things we want to do any more; how we all have project lists as long as our arms and we can’t get to any of those projects because our time is being eaten up by other things. Are we making any money? How successful (or not) have our recent attempts at promo been? We talked about everything, except for one question on my mind which went unasked. Not because I didn’t want to ask it, but because I wasn’t aware that it should be asked. And that question was…
Am I really doing the things I want to be doing right now?
It’s an important question for anyone, but it’s been one that’s been subconsciously plaguing me for a while now. The query finally forced itself into my conscious mind during a panel I was on. The topic was marketing and promotion, and the issue of branding came up. What is a brand, and how do you create it? I immediately pointed to the horns I always wear when I’m at a con, the horns I draw on myself in every cartoon, and said “This is my brand. This is who I am. Everyone recognizes me when they see these horns and they immediately think of my cartoons. People actually complain if they see me at a convention without the horns!”
Then the discussion moved on to how the brand isn’t just about having a recognizable website or a logo or an avatar or even about wearing a pair of horns. It’s also the consistency between the artist and her work. It’s about the artist’s ability to create a such distinct presence or voice within the work that the work becomes synonymous with the artist’s name. In fact, the brand, when you really get down to it, is who the artist is.
And that’s when it struck me. Who was I, creatively speaking? Was I the writer of anyone’s favorite novel or short story? Could anyone at the convention even name one of my books?
Sadly, no. But what they could name, and were always quick to ask about, was the Cynical Woman cartoons. Even the people who didn’t know me immediately developed an interest in the cartoons when they talked to me. It became such a topic of conversation for me that I finally had to admit that all this time that I had been trying to sell myself as a writer, I had actually successfully sold myself as a cartoonist instead.
Who am I? What sort of work am I really best suited for? What’s my calling? Those questions bounced around in my brain the rest of the weekend and the words “cartoonist” and “artist” just kept coming up. The answer took on more and more clarity as I continued to talk to others at EPICon. When did I plan to publish a compilation of the Cynical Woman cartoons, people would ask? Was I going to sell any of the artwork I’d done on my iPad as prints? And did I know that next year, EPIC might be open to judging graphic novel ebooks?
That last question was the clincher for me. I love writing and podcasting. But I also love to draw, and I have never explored my drawing abilities to the same extent that I have my writing. I think that exploration is long overdue. For weeks now, ever since I started working with the iPad, I’ve had people tell me they would love to see more of that artwork, and that I could sell that artwork online and at conventions. And I’m starting to think that maybe they’re right. So I’m shifting gears. I will continue to write and podcast. I very much want to finish “The Little Death,” and I have plenty of other novel and short story ideas waiting to be written and podcasted after that, but now I have new goals in mind. I want to go from producing one webcomic a week to creating a graphic novel. This goal will not be accomplished immediately, of course. You may see a very gradual change here over the next couple years as I work toward that. Hell, you’ve probably noticed some small changes already with the WIP Wednesday and Freaky Friday posts. But now I’m publicly declaring that it’s time to do something different. I am a cartoonist and an artist. I’m recognized as one and I want to be one. It’s time to take up that calling and make it work.
The first steps toward this goal will be to finish up all current projects to make more room on my plate. And I will set aside regular drawing time in my schedule. You’ll see the results of that here. Hopefully, come this summer, I’ll be hard at work on my first comic/illustration projects. And by this time next year, maybe I’ll have that first graphic novel out, or at least be well on my way to making it happen. In any event, I’m looking forward to getting back to work now, and I think the burn-out phase may finally be over.