Labels are like teeth- modern man has more than he needs.
I literally live and die by my rather intricately crafted personal philosophy, a strong part of which entails that I consider myself a nontheist, which I interpret as life offering nothing to believe in short of its participants proactively defining the world around us ourselves, individually. I think spirituality at its core is synonymous for a lack of responsibility. I also believe that one of the worst grievances a person can make is to seek to control or manage others, which is in my mind the most extreme form of selfishness. Equally however, I think to be controlled or governed is just as negative, as selflessness denies the individual. If we live entirely for the sake of others, then what’s the point to it all? This is precisely why so many collectives, be they religious or political or industrious in nature or dogma, falsely teach the needs of sacrifice. In my years I have found valid requirements for constant sacrifice however, but such occurrences, unless wrongly constructed for the benefit of others, can only possibly result from the individual’s need for growth and enlightenment or they lose all applicable meaning. There has to be a middle ground between slavery and slave-master, and that is what I keep searching for, and yet there has got to be a difference between neutrality and indecision regardless of how easily the two concepts might be mistaken for one another in today’s grim and bare it world.
A particular theme has struck my mind on occasion, that while I have long recognized that lessons in humility are never-ending, I have also come to acknowledge that the act of letting go is an ongoing thing. The indulgence of writing was a hobby all the while growing up for me, after realizing at an early age that too many words are rendered hollow in the practice of others. I wanted to find the means to change that, and I had to wait til I accumulated intelligence/wisdom enough to formulate my ideals properly. As an adult, writing has unarguably been my one and only passion in life. All of this is related.
I have been a self-taught freelance writer and editor since the Fall of 2000. I have been a comic book hack journo since January of 2007, which has proven to be a love/hate thing, introducing me to my truest friends and greatest enemies all in the doing. Initially comics journalism was for shite and giggles, but a year or so later the girl I was seeing maliciously destroyed the box containing the surviving copies of my ancient mini-comix series (the midwife, exactly 100 issues which I self-published from Worcester, MA over the course of 1997 and 1998, though never more than 2 or 3 dozen copies printed of each issue and most of which long since given away). Such an act compelled me to apply myself that much more into the niche media, as comic books meant a great deal to me for as long as I can remember, bastard of a creative medium though it is.
I actually learned how to read before kindergarten on my dad’s few old comic books, particularly his battered and tattered copy of the Classics Illustrated-published The Last of the Mohicans from the 1960s, which I still own. When I was a school-age kid growing up in Texas in the 1980s, most of my comic books were bought at various grocery stores, book stores and gas stations and yard sales, but not comic shops in particular until I was in my preteens, although the Direct Market was growing precisely as I began reading them regularly. I was a fan of the medium for many years before I was ever in a position to really read any specific title regularly, which may have inadvertently broadened my palette, having to always settle for what was available.
My first real introduction to the idea of comic book news was more than likely in the freebie newspaper Comic Shop News, at the very start of the 1990s. I began reading the “TV Guide” of comics, Wizard magazine (though never regularly), right around the time that their issue numbering was just entering double digits. My family moved around a lot, going wherever the jobs were, so depending on the areas I lived in I would pick up the Comic Buyers Guide newspaper and Comic Scene magazine whenever I could. Later on I was also into Hero Illustrated magazine, at least for the first few issues. I actually have a weird collection of indie newsletters and mags focused exclusively on comic books, acquired throughout the 1990s. Many of these never ran for more than a few issues, but lots of the names of those involved have since found modest careers in the comic book industry proper at one time or another. I was also into the assorted news periodicals put out by the publishers themselves, such as Marvel’s Marvel Age (and its retailers-only thing, Sales to Astonish), DC’s Direct Currents, Dark Horse’s Dark Horse Insider, Malibu’s Malibu Sun, VALIANT’s VALIANT Voice, etc. I can easily look back through my life seeing my younger self being every bit as fascinated with the behind the scenes stuff as I was by the actual printed funny books. In the late 1980s, before access to actual news channels, eleven year old me even wrote to then Marvel Editor in Chief Tom DeFalco over the cancellation of the Speedball series, and I still have his snail mail response in my collection.
My very first regular paying job was in the summer after my tenth birthday, weekly cleaning the car inside and out for one of the tenants of an apartment complex my parents were managing. The guy was a real estate agent and presentation meant a great deal to him. I “finished” school early, dropping out as a 14 year old junior in high school in 1992, one year short of graduation. I left home shortly after turning 17, and spent most of the following year in the Franklin, North Carolina facility for the federal government-run trade school called Job Corps (the first and oldest Job Corps center, actually, and the smallest, equaling very tight leashes kept). There I earned my GED, attained a fleet drivers license, and completed the Building and Maintenance program at the top level. Job Corps is a two-year program, but I completed everything in nine months. Then too many years flew by, living in Kentucky and Massachusetts (where I took a world of college classes off the books, mostly Philosophy) and Kentucky and Texas and Kentucky and Connecticut, working a variety of blue collar jobs and incidentally drinking as heavily as the next kid. I worked a large variety of restaurant-related jobs, from flipping fast food burgers to playing Special Projects Supervisor for a university’s food services department, worked as a convenience store clerk for a number of locations, and dabbled in trade work such as the framing and painting of houses. I went where the adventure was, and tried my damnedest to learn from any and every environment exposed to. And in September of 2000 my elder sister was murdered, which had a profound effect on me.
She and I had really connected over our shared desire to be writers, although she was far, far more passionate about it. I made the decision to follow that path then, as she had been barred for life so cruelly. We were of the autodidact school of thought shepherded by Charles Bukowski and Tom Waits and Henry Miller. Write what you know. I knew I had already seen and experienced more sides of this country than most of its citizens ever would, so I focused on amateur journalism, finding gigs in a wide range of underground newspapers and the kind of high-minded webzines that mostly dealt with Geo-politics or alternative religions and had diehard cult-followings of maybe 2 or 3 non-contributors. In my 20s I worked an average of 100+ hours per week at whatever working class roles I could talk my way into, often balancing multiple jobs simultaneously, from washing dishes to scrubbing toilets to playing security guard to literally digging graves, while the writing generally had to stay in the realms of hobby. I wrote a lot of poetry especially, but aside from 23 pages of material appearing in The Flesh from Bat City Press in late 2000 (a book I also co-designed) I had the sense to keep most of my poems and lyrics and short stories to myself. Creative writing for me was never really intended for any audience other than my own amusement. But the non-fiction however, was a slow crawl of agonizing trial and error, learning my way and finding my voice while very very very rarely seeing any financial compensation for the efforts. Only in the last few years have I truly given up on the idea of day jobs as a means for survival per se, as perhaps ironically what little money I have seen since 2010 came from writing endeavors. To my credit I have never been in debt, and even when it meant having nothing left aside for food I still pay my bills on time or in advance, always. My parents were not poor because they were idiots. And the longer I keep at whatever brand of journalism, the more I see it as a way to really try to make some difference in the world. We really do have the power to pick and choose our battles, and I chose mine. In my early adulthood I harbored a thoroughly genuine thirst for knowledge, particularly regarding politics, religion, and philosophy. I was always a voracious reader. The contrast of educating myself with the world around me, where the black sheep, underdogs and scapegoats were openly and freely castigated into mockery and constant belittling, denied opportunities while expected to smile at the constant taste of booted heel, and all the while the lack of such virtues as imagination, intelligence, individuality, initiative, and integrity, are taken as subjects of praise and worship- this is the dragon that must be slayed, the menace to be conquered, the bottle to not leave unfinished.
My first and thus far longest comics media gig was with the belated comicnews.info, where I literally began employ during the first week of 2007. Initially I contributed as a reporter and occasional comic reviewer, but I would grow to become the lead interviewer, and the author of my very own kinda long-running column the Lottery Party, all while reviewing literally hundreds of comics, books and films for the webzine. For a few months in that first year I was also a retail clerk at the short-lived Secret Identity Comics shoppe in Louisville, Kentucky, owned and operated by a young lady who turned out to be engaged to professional artist Jay Leisten. Eventually, after the mini-comix destruction and my starting to take comics journalism more seriously, I would be promoted to Managing Editor of comicnews.info, second in command over a strikeforce of eleven contributors, some of whom I recruited myself as we slowly built up the site from the 3 or 4 writers at the time I began. In addition to my regular duties I would also consult and research for our team, packaging articles for fully half of our writers, from lining up reviews and interviews for others to clearing pics to digging up appropriate links. I also did quite a bit of grassroots marketing and promotions for the site, as in those years I was becoming highly active on certain online social networks. Through the dealings I came to know more than a few industry insiders, and on occasion would be tempted with signing on to whatever project, but I always declined. I sincerely saw playing both sides of the fence as being a direct conflict of interest. I was so faithful in the first couple of years in fact, that even when my friend Rob Patey, better known as Optimous Douche at AintItCoolNews, invited me to work for his site I politely refused, thereby possibly becoming the only person to have ever turned down the chance to work for them, as far as I know. To the point, many comic journalists specifically use their positions as a means to get a foot in the door on the creative side of the business. This is so common in fact, that my turning down the few offers that came my way actually made certain persons respect me all the more, considerably so. Unfortunately with comicnews.info, as I took on more and more obligations many of the contributors eventually dragged their knuckles over being expected to follow through with their own. Everybody wanted in, but nobody did much more than talk about how they were going to do this or going to do that. Lesson learned: every grouping tasked with a singular agenda, from relationships to business endeavors, needs at least one productive contributor to stay active, but with no more than one productive contributor eventually everything implodes.
In the final year of my time with comicnews.info, I sought out non-conflicting side-gigs (mostly unpaid, but the desire for productivity was strong, as at that time I was pulling long hours as a gravedigger and honestly needed the mental release) and began writing for a few other websites: ComicBookReviewers, which aimed to be the imdb of comics; VampireTimes, which originally purported to be an appreciation of Gothic subcultures; PWNGreenland, a webzine of humorously fake news; and Popthought, a cultural commentary portal which was the largest and most esteemed of the sites, though all of these websites met premature and untimely ends due to spamming phishers and their Trojan toys. Alex Ness, who was a co-owner of Popthought, had already taken me under his wing and invited me to contribute to his Poplitiko blog group, where I stayed off and on from late 2008 to mid-2010. On 09.09.09 I left comicnews.info, due largely to the Editor in Chief of the site being unwilling to back me up in an exposé against BlueWater Productions involving at the time over two dozen creators owed money. Said owner of the site, despite the pages and pages of irrefutable proof I had (such as contracts where the wording was clearly self-contradictory), feared retaliation over potential claims of slander or libel, wrongly so. He removed my two-part article series, where I had publicly invited BlueWater top dog Darren Davis to an interview to give his side, over a weekend, and so I was compelled to give my immediate resignation. Davis actually became the only person to have ever turned down an interview offer from me (although sadly there have been a few since to flake out mid-stream). Wanting an outlet for the many creators who had been wronged by the man, I gave all of my notes to Rich Johnston, who runs Bleeding Cool, and he went with it. Davis agreed to an interview with him, not expecting what was coming, and was royally embarrassed into later settling at least two of the incidents out of court. This was a huge story for me, but it all began just as Disney announced their ownership of Marvel Entertainment, so my weeks and weeks of long-distance phone calls and obscenely long email chains went under a lot of radars. Ah well. The Fall when this happened I was also helping out as an extra assistant of artist Jay Leisten, who showed me how to cut boards and fill in blacks and erase graphite marks on products for the two largest comic book publishers in North America. Prior to those months I had generally dealt more with small pressers and self-publishers (I did after all previously coin the phrase, “More Mom and Pop, Less Uncle Tom”), so the chance to see first-hand exactly what a busy mainstream creator goes through was incredibly eye-opening, in good ways and bad. Where regards comic news.info, in the final months we were averaging 6 or 7 articles per day, no press releases. In the month after I left the site averaged 4 or 5 articles per week, half of which were press releases. Lesson learned: I am a sadomasochist, and every ship has an anchor for a reason.
Following my comicnews.info departure, I wrote for the Self-Publishers Association’s SP! Nexus digital magazine (like a PDF mag), as well as for both the Zedura webzine and its own digital magazine incarnate. I also ran my own blog group throughout 2010, called the vomitoria, where we offended even ourselves. During this time I was informed of an opening at The Comics Journal, and after sending in my two cents was informed that my samples at the time (which included Sam Henderson’s first interview of several years) were “too Wizard”. Not to name names, but one month after that spiteful email, its author began reviewing Batman comics at Comixology on the side. I have never in my life reviewed a comic book from either Marvel or DC, mind you. This was when I began to get the impression that comics media is no more than a prolonged high school popularity contest. Regardless I have also contributed sporadically to Bleeding Cool myself on occasion since its inception, possibly being one of the first Americans in the mix, and possibly conducting their very first indie interview and their very first group interview. Through all of this, from early 2007 on, I maintained an insanely active blogger/blogspot of my own (named jalopy most of the while, and later renamed to maelstrom), which served as my online HQ inbetween steadier gigs. Also, in both 2009 and 2010 I assisted with online PR for the Wonder Woman Day charity auctions, founded by Andy Mangels (although it is now called Women of Wonder Day, as Paul Levitz is no longer of authority enough at DC to defend the non-profit work Mangels was doing). And in 2010 I proudly served on the final Board of Directors for the Friends of Lulu organization, under Val Gallaher. My interests were rapidly seeking ways beyond what I saw as comic book journalism to make a difference. In 2012 I co-edited a 100+ page graphic novel on behalf of the Naive Project, with all proceeds going to the Brain Aneurism Foundation.
Towards the end of 2011 was when I first seriously began looking into how to go about forming my own website. The idea was basically, that this way, running my own show, nobody else could take credit for my work, and equally nobody else could be blamed for my work. There were months of research on my part to make it happen, and I owe a lot to my good friend Nuno Teixeira, whose own short-lived Super Samurai magazine I also contributed to many years ago. Nuno helped me and continues to help me with anything and everything on the technical side, from butchering CSS coding to testing sites in every browser you can think of, to helping me keep my websites entirely clean of undesirables. My politics, my philosophy, all went into it. And it was a grand experiment, testing waters and seeing what does and does not work, fleshing my hyperactive website with news aggregation articles artfully woven together like the finest mix-tapes, and my essays and my interviews and obsessive reviewing. It was such a grand and aesthetically successful experiment that I decided to part from the small world of comic book journalism, even while knowing that the niche has been my buttered bread for quite a while.
I think sharing notes, sharing ideas, sharing stories, is far more constructive than selling products. Or buying products. I may be a very meager voice in the greater scheme of things, but even I can see how badly and how fastly Capitalism is completely devastating the entire world. Abiding by my own standards may not resolve the world’s issues anytime soon, but I like knowing I do not have to fool myself to get a good night’s sleep. Anybody can change the world, but everybody has to start somewhere. It is not my fault if the mass of comic media sites leave hundreds of creative talents feeling completely ignored. And at the same time, those creatives really need to consider what they themselves are hoping to accomplish from their own efforts. Wanting to be a writer or an artist, to create something interesting, is not the same as getting rich, or even just getting by financially for the troubles. Very few comic professionals get by wholly from their comics work, otherwise such charitable groups like the Hero Initiative would have no causes to fight for.
And as long as comic book media everywhere insists on consisting of persons with noses fully browned in hopes of getting into the industry or bitter over never getting their shot, and even worse- of targeting those two types as audiences exclusively, then ultimately they are not assisting anyone with anything, other than selling over-priced materials to the same dwindling crowds by way of completely predictable content. I have actually seen the other side, having recently been given a brief marketing gig that required me to write a couple of announcements for the press. As said stories did not involve products from the larger publishers they were generally ignored. I saw how smaller media sites often refuse to see a story as a story unless a larger site runs it first, but if a smaller site does try to break the story first then the larger sites will ignore it entirely out of righteous indignation over having been scooped. This is fucking insanity, and creates nothing but a totally homogenous spectrum. It is up to the individual voices to really keep the core spirit alive, the truest passion for a wonderful artform given to us by some of the most fascinating artisans the world may ever know. I am far from the first to bang on the independence drums, but I sure as holy hell hope I am not the last.
I’ve embraced the fact that I will never earn a living no matter what I do or who I placate. So theoretically there is nothing keeping me from doing specifically and exclusively what I want and only what I want. I would rather be unheard with my own voice than get any attention for mimicry. Don’t worry about watering your work down. Make it stand out all the more. Be proud of your hobby, your passions. Then at least you get something out of it, worst case scenario. All that I ever wanted to do with myself is write, and it may have taken 13 years but I finally learned that I do not necessarily need an audience to engage in such activities. It is possible to maintain your principles, even while sacrificing everything else along the way. I face my mortality, and it does scare me knowing there will never be comfort in my life, but no story is complete without an ending.