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What’s On the Drawing Board

Yesterday I made a post about some changes in my schedule, including broadly stating that I was going to devote more time to cartooning and some personal projects. Since I’m doing my best to eliminate vague-booking in my social media, today I’m gonna spill the details. (Well, SOME of the details. I have to leave some kind of mystery to keep you all interested enough to come back for updates.)

First of All, Just Draw!
The most basic thing I’m going to do is set aside some time just to draw—to sketch and doodle without agenda. In high school and even college, this is something I did naturally. Because I was so good at active listening and recalling what I heard, I would doodle in my notebooks rather than take notes. This drove my teachers and parents crazy (not to mention any classmate who wanted to borrow my notebook), but since I was pulling a GPA over 3.75, no one could complain. Because I was consciously concentrating on the instructors, I was drawing only semi-consciously, and all sorts of ideas, proto-designs, story nuggets, and other bits of creative raw material just magically appeared on the pages. Later, I could sort through that material on the weekend or in the evening and actively develop it into usable material.

This whole process continued to work even into my professional career because of how the business world of the ‘80s and ‘90s LOVED long meetings. The more my job transferred from creator to manager, the more meetings I had to attend, and the more raw material I generated. I’m STILL pulling ideas for gag comics, short stories, and other creative projects from those old notebooks.

But in recent years, I’ve stopped having so many meetings. And the ones I do attend usually require my direct participation, so I can’t get into a doodling zone. Because of that, I’m just not generating new ideas much anymore, and THAT is a problem! So I’m going to set aside time once or twice a week for me to go to a café or restaurant or park and just draw.

I’m sure some of the material I generate, perhaps MOST of it, will show up on my Instagram feed as one of the “Today’s Doodle” series. But SOME of it will be good, high quality project seeds or comic gags. Some of it may be images worth developing for use as stickers, or pins, or other salable merch.

Closing Existing Accounts
Over the past year or so I’ve taken on a few drawing projects that have stalled for one reason or another. (Okay, the reason almost invariably has been my available time and energy.) One of the FIRST things I’m going to do is close those accounts. I’ve got two character designs I have to develop, and a story that needs to be illustrated. I’m going to get going on those projects BEFORE I start developing new ones for myself.

Comics! More Comics!
Several times in the past, I’ve done single-panel or strip-style comics regularly. And even though in my early 20s I consciously, purposefully steered my career AWAY from that medium, I find in my 50s that I’m definitely drawn toward it (pun intended). Now, I’ve had some fleeting success in the past couple of decades with the “Bolt & Quiver” strips I did for Dungeon Adventures and Kobold Quarterly magazines, and the “10’x10’ Toon” single panel comics I did for KQ and as a weekly webcomic. Admittedly, the success was “fleeting” mostly because I stopped producing new material, as opposed to the audience losing interest.

Lately, I’m feeling quite motivated to get back into doing comics, and so I’m going to be spending time this month developing a new comic project with an eye toward launching it over the summer. I’m also going to spend some time developing an idea that my friend and business partner Owen K.C. Stephens and I came up with a couple of years ago—and if that goes well, I may launch THAT comic sometime over the summer, too.

Finally, I’m going to take a leap into a new market that I never even considered in the past—I’m going to start developing and submitting comics to The New Yorker. There’s actually a pretty interesting story about how I came to the decision to give this a whirl, and I’ll spin it for your entertainment in another post some time.

Caricature Practice
I’ve never been a particularly good caricaturist. This despite the fact that from a very young age one of my strongest artistic influences was Al Hirschfeld. I can see the impact his line work and minimalist technique have had on my own style. And over the years I’ve tried my hand a caricature on many different occasions. The problem isn’t so much that I’m bad at it, it’s that I’m unpredictable. Sometimes I can really nail a person’s essence, first try, minimal lines. But other times, no matter how long I work, or how detailed a breakdown I use, I just can’t make my drawing look like the person I’m seeing. 

So I’m going to spend some of my time over the next few months practicing caricature. Not the least of this will be by attending a weekend-long caricaturing seminar given by MAD Magazine’s own Tom Richmond. In fact, I’m REALLY looking forward to that seminar! But then I’ll follow up by practicing caricatures of people in the news and actors/characters from newly released movies—something along the lines of the work that Hirschfeld himself did, only for geek culture rather than Broadway theater.

Truth be told, this caricature practice is the work I’m most likely NOT to share. At least, not unless I’m regularly producing images that I’m proud of. 

Step Three: PROFIT!
Since all this cartooning will be done in what’s essentially my “work time,” and since I can’t afford to keep paying myself for that time indefinitely, EVENTUALLY I’ll have to find a way to generate revenue from this work. To that end, I’ve got a few ideas.

FREELANCE: I’m buying my own time for the next couple of months, but after that I’m going to put that time back on the open market. That is, I’m going to make myself available for freelance work, and I’m going to put a PRIORITY on getting cartooning gigs. That might be big as in doing whole projects for game publishers, medium as in doing illustrations or comics for magazines and websites, or small as in taking on individual commissions. I’ll for sure post a price sheet when I’m ready to re-open that particular door.

MERCH: At the end of last year I explored producing a few different items that could be popular as general merchandising. Most notably, I’ve figured a way to produce very nice “fancy pins” of the type that are enjoying a lot of popularity among fandom lately. I’m now looking at what the best way is to bring them out and make them available for purchase. Etsy? Shopify? A completely boot-strapped online store? Anyway, once I figure that out, I can begin trying to build some kind of income stream from the books and other bits of merch I’ve already got—AND start creating more.

PATREON: Some of you will be familiar with Patreon.com. For you, this probably seems like a no-brainer. Of course I should set up a Patreon! But I bet that the majority of folks who enjoy my cartooning still have no idea what Patreon is, and that is something I’ll need to overcome before I can do one successfully.

Why am I being so cagey about it? Because THAT’S going to be the topic of my NEXT blog post, of course! C’mon back soon and learn the details of WHAT a Patreon campaign is, WHY it’s a good fit for me, and HOW I plan to make it happen.

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