Under the shadow of hyperbole

I started this comic fairly spontaneously in September, 2011 although I had been mulling over the idea some time before. But the start was spontaneous, a bad day was had and the next day two new depression comix appeared. The initial response from the small group of people who were following my thinhline blog was positive, so I continued it in addition to my thinhline comic. Depression comix quickly became more popular than the thinhline comic (it was only a couple of months before the numbers of followers for depcom had surpassed thinhline; a couple of months later still the numbers were double that of thinhline). This prompted me to dedicate myself more to depcom, partly because it had more readers and partly was it was different enough from Sexy Losers or Thin H Line that it was much more interesting to do.

Things were going well but later that year, I hit a serious speedbump in the form of Hyperbole and a Half.

I hadn’t heard of the comic before then. Suddenly, I was nearly drowned in mails saying I should check out this blog, which I did. Because I was maintaining a page on depression-related comics naturally I was interested. So I read it, added it to the list, and went on creating comics about depression.

Of course, being out of touch with the scene for so long I didn’t realize what a news event the Hyperbole post was. It generated a number of articles and interest in the role of depression in webcomics. Occasionally depcom was included, but it rarely appeared without Hyperbole. Depcom seemed to get attention as a sort of afterthought in articles directed at Hyperbole.

When the second Hyperbole post appeared a year later, this didn’t help matters at all. In fact, I remember bracing myself for the impact, knowing that all I was going to hear for the next little while was about Hyperbole. I adjusted many of my ideas to avoid overlap, in fear that my comic would appear derivative of Hyperbole. I was doing depcom under the shadow of that blog, and I knew it. I had to resign myself to the fact that when people talk about depression and comics, depcom would not be the first name that would be dropped despite its focus.

Recently it has forced me to think about my own comic and what makes it different, and try to consider how to make those differences into stengths.

Allie Brosh’s work is truly wonderful. It’s a personal description of depression written with lucid and striking prose, and with art that is disarming because of its simplicity. She removes the heaviness through her wit and charm, making it easy to read and digest.

Thankfully, I started depcom from the idea that I wouldn’t be describing my own situation. I planned to draw a number of different characters with depression, to try to make it more about depression than a story with some characters. I think this approach helped in making it unique and relatable; it’s not about anyone in particular. It could be about anyone.

But another area where depcom departs is that Brosh’s depiction, like her regular blog entries, is done through a sense of childlike wonder. It doesn’t go into the darker territories of depression, such as how depression destroys relationships and drives one to suicide. Her story sticks with lack of energy and motivation, the self-hate, and anhedonia. The majority of those who suffer depression deal with this, and there are those like myself who go further down towards the destruction of all personal relationships and finally the destruction of oneself. To me, this is where I really want to communicate, as a sufferer, about why this path is so seductive and my own thought processes got so twisted up that I believed removing myself from the planet was the best thing I could do for it.

But also recently I’ve seen the comic as a way to help other people. To inform people of current research, to help people who have depressed people they love, and to help people who are depressed themselves. Recently I’ve added a page for those who need help, and have connected to Five Cups of Tea, a 24 hour chat support site with trained listeners. This is just a start, Iplan to do more.

But what I really want is to try to get out from under the shadow of Hyperbole. To be a site that not only informs but helps. This is the direction I plan to go in, and I hope I have your feedback to guide me.

Recently…

I haven’t posted recently, but I’ve been doing a few things that I’m a little proud of. The biggest one is that I wrote my first plugin for WordPress. You can see this plugin in action on the www.depressioncomix.com site if you look at any of the individual posts. On the right hand side bar, there will be a widget with post information, including some simple navigation where you can go to the next post or previous post with a thumbnail of the corresponding comic. Nothing earth-shattering, but WordPress is not exactly suited for comics, especially a vertical comic. I plan to make more plugins to increase the functionality of the site. It’s also a good excuse to learn php and css, and eventually I would like to create my own theme for the site.

On the Great Mistake … Part II

Rereading what I wrote, I was pretty harsh. That’s even after I edited it twice to get some of the harshness out. But truth is harsh.

I understand a lot of people enjoyed the series. It was one of the more popular webcomics at the time, and although I couldn’t translate it to any kind of personal success, I respect that there are people with fond memories and stuff.  But the post is not about those people — it’s all about myself, and how I could not make it work for me.

However, I invested a lot into it and I found it difficult to leave it and go on to do something else. This was very apparent when I tried to revive it on Tumblr with the Thin H Line series. Although there were one or two strips that had enough social consciousness to get reblogs, for the most part, it was still something people were reluctant to follow or share.

This is not the fault of anyone but myself. I didn’t see the writing on the wall when it was there. When I met my old friend Bryan O’Malley in 2004 he brought with him a copy of Lost At Sea. We were all part of the same group way back in Toronto in 1999, and through his tremendous effort and dedication to his craft, as well as an uncanny sense of how to connect to the audience, he became a respected comic book creator whose work became a cult-classic movie. That should have been a kick in the ass, but no, I just got him to draw me another panel for Sexy Losers.

So you see, I only have myself to blame. And that’s what’s so bittersweet about this, is all the work that has added up to so little personal success. The dedication I had to the content, the personal assurance that this was not all in vain, kept me producing a comic that was providing diminshing returns.

And oh yeah, the friends I lost along the way. Bryan, up there, for example. The other OFU folk. Space Coyote. The OCAD group. The people on Keenspace. A lot of people I miss. Most of these people have work that appears in Sexy Losers, and it’s sad to see it sometimes. There were better days and good laughs.

But if you enjoyed it, that’s good. I’m only looking at this from a personal and professional perspective and what it’s done for me as creator of the strip.

On the Great Mistake that was Sexy Losers

EDIT: There are still people reading this post, so I thought I’d edit it a bit to be clear on some points. Edits appear in bold except for the paragraph headings.

People still ask me to continue Sexy Losers. Some are kind of nice about it, other people are just rude. In response to this, I will lay out why doing Sexy Losers was a huge failure both personally and professionally.

1) The strip can be used against me.

This is ancient history but back in 2001, I had dated a woman who knew about the comic back when it was the Thin H Line. We broke up, but she decided it would be fun to try and get me fired from my job, enlisting people anonymously on the web to harass me and my employer. Included in the information she gave people was my personal phone number, address, and the Thin H Line website. When I discovered this I took down the website and gave it a new name (Sexy Losers) but in the end I realized I needed a lot of personal distance between myself and the website lest it should ever be used against me again. The best way to do this was to not ever tell people in my personal life that I did this strip, and kept it a secret.

I guess I kind of gotten so tired of telling this story that I was too brief. I didn’t get fired, but she did get me investigated. They figured it out for themselves it was from a vengeful ex, but yeah, it was a horrible paranoia inducing experience.

Back home in Canada, a couple of people in my group of friends started spreading rumours about me, pointing to the comic as evidence for me being a terrible person, because a good person would not make a comic like that. When I came back to Canada, very few of my old friends would meet me, and would not tell me why exactly, but the comic did come up.

This was another horrible experience where people would tell me outright they hated me on public forums, telling me “you know what you did.” When I asked what it was that I did that was so terrible, I got “I have promised not to tell” responses, odd since if I did this thing I would know anyways. But instead of fighting it out, I backed off because it was just making me miserable. To this day I still don’t know, and in the end I had to turn my back on the last group of real life friends I had.

I guess in the end you could say that the comic, because of its content, was definitely much more of a personal liability than any kind of accomplishment.

2) It was difficult to advance professionally because of it.

The content of the strip was either a love-it or hate-it affair, and many people had strong feelings against it. Way back the comic was on Keenspace, and became the most popular comic on it (it had 15% of the traffic on it). There was also KeenSpot, which was a place where one could get more exposure, get paid for ads, and generally start to see some income and rise to professionalism. Sexy Losers did not graduate to KeenSpot despite its popularity, it was declined for the content. The content definitely made it difficult to find hosting and support.

This was uglier than it sounds. The emails that discussed why Sexy Losers was not accepted into Keenspot were leaked and I got to read what some of my peers candidly thought of me and my comic. It was not very kind about either the work or the kind of person who would make such a work. After reading that, well, I gave up all hope after that, and I had to leave Keenspace, the last online community I belonged to. So you can kind of see I was growing more and more isolated as time went on.

3) It was very unprofitable.

I don’t do this for the money, but because I want to live in society I have to do things for money, like have a job. Now wouldn’t it be great if I could draw comics and not have to worry about having an unrelated job (or two) to pay the bills? I could never cross this barrier with Sexy Losers. All the ads on the site barely paid for the hosting let alone enough money to think about quitting my job. I couldn’t merchandise or anything, because no one would have anything to do with it because of the content.

At one point, PayPal decided to close my account without a warning, citing the content of my website as the reason. I realized that because of this I was now cut off from a lot of ways to make income from the site, including selling artwork or merchandise. PayPal donations were cut off as well. Certainly there’s an argument that there are a number of alternatives to PayPal, but the problem is no one uses them. PayPal is the Visa/Mastercard/American Express of the internet and if one doesn’t have access to it, one is severely penalized for making transactions on the internet. For a budding artist, not being able to use PayPal will make it very difficult to create any income.

That’s not to say it wasn’t completely unprofitable. A number of people made money by putting ads on the site so I could get hosting. Just not me.

Ergh. Yeah, me doing the comic made some people fairly decent cash, while they insisted at the time that the hosting was barely breaking even. I found out later this was not the case. I was told that the ads from the comic helped one person who hosted me to pay for college. I really have myself to blame for being taken advantage of but it still hurt to know how naive I was.

4) It was depressing.

A big part of why I stopped updating regularly was depression. Not that Sexy Losers was the cause, but it contributed, for many of the reasons stated above. Finding the will to draw another strip for a comic that seemed more and more pointless as time went on became harder and harder.

Not to mention how isolating it had become. At first I was drawing the strip with real life friends, soon, sharing the strips in chat rooms, then just between a few friends on Aim, then finally, no one at all. Some of these were my choices but some were made for me. In 2007, after drawing a few strips that seemed to go by unnoticed, I decided to pack it in, first with the comic, then my life. And as I seen my friends slip away from me repeatedly, I honestly thought no one would even notice. This is how isolation can kill you… By making you believe that you are already gone.

The reason why depression comix is so easy to do now is because I don’t have the content problem to worry about. Regardless of its themes that include self-harm and suicide, it is much easier to progress because of it. I can have PayPal without fear of losing the account, and that’s a big thing. People are more likely to share my work now. And maybe at some point, I’ll be okay with telling people in my real life about it. I won’t have to hide in the dark like I did with Sexy Losers.

So when people say I should get back to Sexy Losers, I cannot see a reason why. There is no personal advantage in doing a comic like Sexy Losers. It has been slowly dawning on me that it was a great personal failure and one that has derailed my dream of becoming a professional comic artist, a mistake I am trying to fix now (but is probably too late).

(As a side note, although I did lose a number of friends during that time I gained a few too and for that I am happy. Making those friends was not a mistake, but I wish there was a better way of meeting your acquaintance.)

A lot of people have told me since this post that they did enjoy the series. But this post is not about that. It’s about what I was going through. And if people enjoyed it, it was a world removed from where I was, friendless and broke. It’s great that people enjoyed the comic, but unfortunate that nothing positive came out of that.

In the end, I had a bad depressive day in 2011 and wondered, “what if I can draw this?” Now here I am drawing again, connected on Twitter, tumblr, and all these social networks and I’m not so isolated anymore. So this story does have a happy ending, I took my illness and made it into a strength. Recently I’ve been redoing some strips I did in 2011 and adding them to the sexy losers series, you can see these on my claycomix tumblr account. I’m up to #272 I think. Things have changed a bit. I’m still isolated, I have very few real life friends but I’m more connected. Who knows, you may see Mike, Shiunji, Mrs. Shibata, and that woman who always seems to get pregnant soon.

See all the love in the sky.

image

Working on new depcoms. These two will be #153 and #154. It’s been a while since the last update, but I have been working. I’ve been adding depcom to Pinterest and deviantART, and doing some infrastructure stuff on the site.

The deviantART site is the most work, but I’ve already gained a number of new readers because of it. Furthermore, I’ve also made the strips available as prints, postcards, greeting cards and fridge magnets. I stayed away from the mouse pads and mugs but I actually got requests for mugs, so starting with #51, mugs too (I’ll go back and add the rest later). The merchandise can be found here: http://depressioncomix.deviantart.com/prints/  If you buy, remember that you’re supporting an artist!

Anyways, just an update because I’ve been fairly silent lately. Go back to what you were doing.

Money making ventures

Lately I’ve been concerned about how to engage in activities that provide a bit of income. To be honest, my life here in Japan is comfortable. I have a full time job that pays the bills, and on evenings and weekends I do personal English tutoring. I’m not going to be rich or anything, but I’m doing okay.

BUT.

I bet a lot of you know how it is. You do a job that you’re kind of good at, you can do well, and it’s somewhat enjoyable. But there’s that gnawing part of you. That side of you that won’t shut up, and it’s telling you, “you KNOW that’s not what you REALLY want to do.”

And it’s right. Right now my passion is in drawing depression comix. But I want to draw more. I want to draw more Suicide Girl comics. I want to develop some illustrated short stories. And then there’s the Thin H Line, which got put on the backburner because depcom got unexpectedly more popular.

Basically what I want is to justify reducing my work load a little and focus more on the art, like I did in the good old days when I was drawing like five to ten pages a week. Sadly, when I was doing all that, I didn’t give a thought to how to promote myself or try to make money because I thought one day someone would come along and give me my break. This was a stupid, stupid thought and to nobody’s surprise no one came along. It may be too late but now I understand that I have to do it all myself. I have to give myself a future because no one else will. Life never gives you what you think you deserve. And not realizing that has held me back many wasted years and contributed heavily to my depression.

So now I gotta find some way to make this work. I WILL become professional. Somehow.

I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is but I know I didn’t always feel this… sedated. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.

— Lester Burnham, American Beauty.

One thing I’ve been working on is the depression comix account at Deviantart ( http://depressioncomix.deviantart.com ). Right now comix 1 to 15 are posted… a small beginning, I guess… but anyone can buy printed art there from high quality scans I made. Art prints, canvas, greeting cards, postcards and magnets. My cut is like between 15 and 20%, but it’s a start to make the work available for purchase. I am also highly considering putting scans of the comic up for sale for home printing, and the cost would be whatever one wanted to pay for it, a kind of gift-donation system. Then it’s on to other comics, perhaps pdf book versions of depcom and Sexy Losers under the same “pay what you want” system. I have other stuff I’m working on too, like t-shirts.

Of course I’m always listening to ideas. Being in Japan doesn’t help admittedly. I can’t attend cons or print stuff locally without asking for mammoth sums for shipping. But I will find a way to become professional. My dream is back, and this time I’m not going to let depression stop me.

My Mess On the Web

Currently I’m managing a lot of sites right now. It’s become a bit of a maze right now. This is what happens when you let things get out of hand.

Content is mainly on three WordPress blogs that I run:

  1. depression comix – this is where depression comix is posted and maintained.
  2. Clay Comix – this is where I put art both old and new. Depression comix also appears here but I also add commentary to the strips, describing where they come from.
  3. “trust me I need this” (Clay Comix blog) – this is where I post things such as news, in progress art and introspections.

In the olden days this would have been more than sufficient. I had a similar setup way back, with the thin h line or sexy losers sites for those comics, a separate site for everything else (it was clayb.com, a domain I’ve lost over the years, then became the backend of the unfinished uwakimono site), and a blog which is hosted at livejournal (still there, get to that in a second). But the web has gotten a lot more social, and instead of hunting down content and visiting a multitude of sites the content can now come to your favorite social network hub. Because of this, my blogs are mirrored on most social hubs so you never actually have to visit the primary blogs.

Deviantart

  • depression comix on deviantart: some comics are here but I will delete them all now that I have top quality scans. The idea was to use deviant art as a small source of income from people who wanted to buy prints of the comics. But will people do this? Are there better options?

Dreamwidth

  • depression comix on dreamwidth: blog #1 is mirrored here, although the blog itself has 0 followers. This is updated automatically, but it’s on the chopping block. Do people actually use dreamwidth?

Facebook

Google+

  • depression comix on Google+: blog #1 is mirrored here, kind of.
  • Clay Comix has a page set aside for it, but Google+ is such a tempermental pain in the ass I haven’t actually started it, and currently wondering if it is worth it.

Livejournal

  • yep, I’m still here: blogs #2 and #3 are mirrored here. This is a journal from the olden days and once I figured out how to automatically send posts here I made it active again. After years of inactivity, I was happy to see that there are people still using this.

Twitter

Tumblr

  • depression comix on tumblr: blog #1 is mirrored here, and this is actually the place the comic started. But it can be an unfriendly place, so to give myself from mental distance from tumblr it is now just a mirror.
  • Clay Comix on tumblr: blogs #2 and #3 are mirrored here.

So these are the links that are currently maintained. Most of these — Livejournal, Dreamwidth, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook are automatically updated so maintenance is dead simple. I plan to redo the Sexy Losers site with WordPress at some point too.

So if you are reading this not on your favorite social network, please add me there, or if it’s not listed, give me a ring and I’ll see if I can make it happen. God knows I love making this mess even messier.

Various updates

I started some things that I talked about in the last update. One, I’ve begun to add gallery and slideshows to the site. I’ve created four so far of groups of twenty strips, however, the advanced settings were incompatible with the theme I was using, so I had to change themes. It’s not as atmospheric as the last one, which is kinda too bad. But this one does have a cool carousel thingie and allows me to have widgets on the main page.

Another thing I’ve done is imported the depcom primer from the WordPress site. It’s quite old and rusty but it I think it will do for the time being. I hope to refine it and add some pretty pictures to make it more visually appealing.

And finally, the rescans and search functions for all depcoms are nearly completed, and will probably be polished off on the weekend.

I know none of this matters to anyone, but I do want to improve the site in a big way. All suggestions welcome. Thank you.

Not much to say, but I’ll say it anyways

Just doing some work on the depression comix site. Rescans have been done up until #118, although only up to #100 appears on the site. Once the rescans are done I’ll be going on to the problem of making the site more accessible to beginners. There are a couple of options here I’d like to try.

One is to come up with a set of consistent tags. I was doing this on the WordPress.com mirror but keeping them consistent was a problem because I hadn’t planned them from the beginning. Now that I have nearly 150 comics to look at, choosing a set and applying it will be easier than making them up as I go along.

A second is the navigation problem. To solve this, I’m thinking of creating slideshows, so that people can read a bunch of strips without much clicking or scrolling involved.

Third, I’ve been thinking of creating a kind of “primer” in comic strip format. Here is a sketch of a sample, although it’s pretty rough:

image

Obviously I have to work on this idea more but the idea is to create a series that look at depression from a more clinical perspective, which would be a starting point for those who want to read the series.

I guess the problem is now that there are too many strips and the organization is random. It needs a starting place, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to give it one.