Dealing With Depression and Writing Comics
One of the most well regarded creators in the comics industry is Jack Kirby (to say the least) and he had an interesting quote when it came to comics.
‘Kid, comics…they’ll break your heart’.
I’ve dealt with depression from a young age, it was something I think happened to me due to many personal reasons I won’t discuss here. For the majority of this time, I lived in denial or the hope that I could simply battle it on my own. I didn’t tell anyone about it and I fed into it a lot by making poor choices.
I would imagine that everyone’s experience with depression is different but mine is like dealing with a hungry monster who specializes in finding ways to feed itself. It makes you make decisions that are sometimes against your better judgment because it leads to you feeling worse which feeds into it, which makes it stronger and then it has more influence over your choices and the cycle continues.
Several years ago, something happened where I basically fell to pieces. I had been working at a small print company that I believed very much in, had a lot of people I trusted work for and invested quite a bit of money in. The founder of the company often called me ‘crazy’ for investing the money but I believed in the company because I didn’t see it for what it was becoming over time.
I won’t go over that here because it’s not what I’m here to discuss but one day, I decided to part ways with the company and broke off a lot of relationships I had depended on for years. Were they healthy relationships? Absolutely not and this is part of the reason why I decided to cut ties with only a few people who I thought were genuinely, my friends. I wanted to stop feeding the monster even though, at the time I was petrified if I did stop feeding it that I would be left destroyed.
I broke down quite a bit that day and my ever supportive and lovely wife basically picked up all my pieces and tried to reassemble me. I decided to get help through councelling and medication. Although these solutions won’t suit everyone, I found medication incredibly helpful. It was like waking up from a long nightmare and people that knew me commented on a noticeable improvement in my overall mood after only a matter of weeks.
I used to get sad about everything and now…I simply don’t. I put a lot of onus on myself to accomplish an ever moving goal, please everyone, do everything and try to schedule myself into ‘fun’ related activities. Has all of that gone away? Not entirely but I’m certainly more casual about it and much happier as a result.
My wife, friends, and family have been a great source of help to me and the birth of my son last September causes a bright light in my life for me to remain grounded. I can’t be self-destructive as I used to be because he depends on me and because I love him so much, I don’t want to ever let him down.
Yet the monster remains. Never fully going away and the part of me it really likes to chip away at is my desire to create comics. I’ve read comics as far back as I can remember, starting with the weekly installments of British comics like the Beano, Dandy, and Buster. I’ve wanted to write them since I was about 11-13 when I first read Kraven’s Last Hunt.
It’s something that sadly doesn’t come easy. Working in comics takes skill, financial means, connections and luck among many other aspects to try and even get a toe in the door. Why I depended on the aforementioned company I alluded to earlier is because they published my work and I wanted to stay on their good side because I was worried that no one else would want me.
My stories told there got good external praise and I was given a good amount of opportunities, some I took and others I didn’t. Most of them sadly didn’t amount to much but I created a respectable resume of well-drawn stories I could carry forward to say ‘look, I can do this kinda/sorta’.
I’ve worked for other companies like Uproar, Alterna, Nemesis Studios, and Outre Press. The stories I’ve done with all them have gotten good reviews from both inside and outside the companies themselves but still, I desire more. Not as much as I used to but the one thing I can’t get past in my mind is how much I love comics and how much I adore creating them.
I love crafting stories, I adore setting up plots and building characters just to see people’s reactions or hear what they think. My wife would often describe me as a sharer, if I watch or read something I really enjoy I want others to experience it too so they can maybe get something out of it as well.
Sometimes I come across as pestering when I really am trying to plug something I enjoy but it really is done with the best intentions. My work is an extension of that, I’m not saying that it’s perhaps as good as other work I’ve experienced by others but I just want to create and share. Do I want to get rich off comics? Not necessarily but I want to be able to earn enough so I can immerse myself in the worlds I’ve created and perhaps even some day…the worlds that others have.
Here’s where having depression and having a burning desire to work in an industry that everyone struggles to make a mark in can be hard. To get noticed in comics, you have to produce comics and that can take money…a lot of money. You can get people to work for you for free, sure. You have to look and maybe compromise on quality but they’re out there but sadly in my experience, it’s never worked out well. Even when paying people it can be a rocky road as often I have worked with people whose passion does not match my own.
Money is not plentiful for me. I do okay but I invested a lot in the company I alluded to before and didn’t get anything back (I sadly wasn’t the only one) while a lot of money I invested in a co-writing project got killed by the other writer.
Comics sadly for something that are called ‘funny books’ is not always a barrel of laughs. So I do what I can and I often ask myself ‘is it enough?’ I pitch to things like the annual Millar World competition and am waiting for word on the DC Talent Workshop while keeping an eye out for things that will try and advance me to where I wish to be.
I pay artists for short projects where I can afford it and love these stories. I am really grateful for Peter Simeti, one of the most daring and innovative publishers out there for making me a part of his Alterna comics by including what I have to offer in his annual IF anthologies. Still, there’s so much more I want to do.
Several years ago I published the first issue of a mini titled Living With Death and a one shot named Sparks. Only one issue of both ever was released due to various reasons I won’t go into here. Their continued ‘lets pause this for a moment’ status crosses my mind nearly every day and for someone with depression who wants to share his stories…that can be hard.
I’ve tried Kickstarter for Living With Death but didn’t achieve my goal. Even if I had, I would have only been able to produce the first two issues. It’s ultimately not fair on the series, myself or the people that have enjoyed it. Perhaps I need to just learn patience but there are times when I wonder what will change.
Unless I win the lottery (which is difficult as I don’t play) or get lucky with an editor seeing a short story I wrote, I am in a state of comic limbo. I do have other things I do I enjoy like working on the Rabbitt Stew Podcast (plug, plug) or the By The Numbers articles on this very website (plug, plug). I would like to have more time to get back to articles about the industry but with writing, baby raising, working, spending time with families, friends and some time for recreation somewhere…it can be hard. I’ll try to get back to them though…eventually…promise!
I know it’s something that can’t happen right now but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t upset me. I suppose all I can do is be grateful for the things I do have that I adore (like the things mentioned above) and try to remember that often times, some of the greatest writers/artists or whoever went undiscovered for decades.
Am I anywhere near their quality? It’s not for me to judge. I just thought this morning that perhaps, I’m not the only one out there. Dealing with depression and looking into any creative prospect can be a dangerous mix. You (or at least I) can put yourself under a lot of pressure to succeed (whatever that means ultimately) and even the slightest set back or disappointment can be devastating.
I just do what I can, be proud of my work and hope that maybe…just maybe I can bring to life some of what I have to share. I’m hoping I have a long life ahead of me and I have the rest of that to try and make this work.
It’s not always easy…but is anything worth having?
I hope in this article, I don’t come across as the helpless victim. A big part of dealing with depression is knowing your main advisory is just a version of yourself. I have often played the part of the villain in my little play and it’s not something I’m proud of. There are a few people I have regrets with how things ended and I’m just glad I didn’t push away the people I still have in my life.
If you’re reading this and want to write comics, draw comics, make movies, make games or even find the strength to get out of bed in the morning, I wish I had a magic solution. Times are hard, life can be frustrating but ultimately…know that in a way, I think if you can manage to work at it…even a little, life can also surprise you.
I’m about to go spend time with my son, who will greet me with the biggest smile like I’m the most important person in the world. To him, in some ways I am and it’s things like that when I stop and remember how fortunate in some ways I really am.
I may not get to write comics as much as I would like but I know that I have responsibilities and that even though it may seem like a dark tunnel is surrounding you that ultimately at the end of it, light in one form or another will guide your way.