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LESSONS LEARNED #20

By Chris Gumprich. (Originally posted September 5, 2005)

Reality can be a harsh mistress, but one that no businessman can afford to ignore. And as a self-publisher, I had to face the Reality of my financial situation - after one comic, two mini-comics, and lackluster sales, I was broke. Going in, I set the personal expectation that I would lose every penny that I sunk into this venture, and that expectation had been met. This was good, in the sense that I had been prepared and thus wasn't going to lose my house. This was bad, because now I had a baby on the way, and finances would become that much more tight. What could I do?

The easiest option - to quit altogether - was never considered. While my little publishing operation had hardly set the world on fire, I was a lot farther along than I had been three years earlier. It would be foolish to walk away from that.

No, it was time to pull back, look over the lessons I had learned, and start over. And that is the other Important Point that I have wanted to make since column one: Every Project Is As Challenging As Your First.

If you've been a faithful reader (all three of you), you will have noticed some common themes repeating themselves week after week. The self-doubt. Difficulties connecting with retailers. Production mistakes. Each new project seemed to bring its own set of "insurmountable" hurdles - challenges that come out of nowhere, threatening to trip you up. Despite all the research, something unforeseen always seems to crop up.

In my case, I could no longer justify spending all of my spare cash on publishing - babies are expensive. My paycheque would have to go towards diapers and carseats instead of printers and advertisers.

But ideas are free.

Whether or not I published, I was still a writer. If I couldn't afford to publish things myself, I would have to find someone to publish for me. Yeah, that put me back on the same spot as thousands of other people trying to break in, but now I had something that a lot of them didn't - I had drive, the will to succeed, and a growing portfolio of published work.

This is not to say that I was turning my back on self-publishing. While I couldn't afford to produce another full-sized book, mini-comics are always affordable. I'm not in such dire straits that I can't come up with a few hundred dollars to print up a mini. I'm still doing the work. (Yeah, halfway through that paragraph I switched from past tense to present - the narrative has caught up with the reality.)

My point, these past twenty weeks, has been simple: you want to do comics, do it. Nobody's stopping you. Of course, there will be a lot of obstacles in your path. You aren't likely to achieve instant success. Hollywood won't be banging on your door. You may have an audience that can be measured in the singles instead of the millions. But, if you stay with it, if you overcome the insurmountable hurdles, if you remember how it feels to open a box from the printer and see a thousand copies of Your Comic. then you just might make it.

Making comics is hard work, harder than you can imagine. Throughout your career you will be paralyzed by self-doubt, questioning your sanity at every step, and maybe even making some colossal mistakes. But, as the man said, all you do is get up, dust yourself off, and keep on keeping on. If I've taught you anything, it's that the only way to fail is to give up.

That's my story. Thanks for listening.

Chris Gumprich writes comics and other stuff. ROUND FOUR, his new mini with art by Dennis Culver, will be released in October.