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.