One of my favourite shows of all time was (and is, I suppose) Freaks and Geeks.
I caught the series right as it was chocking out its last breath on the television. One of the local stations was filling it’s Saturday scheduling, and I managed to catch the episode where Sam (one of the titular geeks) had to dump the girl of his dreams because they didn’t quite fit together. I was hooked immediately by this premise – one that gave into the idea of happily ever after kismet, only to temper the subsequent events with a dose of reality. It was completely unlike television, more true to life than probably anything I had seen on the TV up until that point – and it was all ending just as my love had began. Thankfully, years later, Shout! put the series on DVD so I could properly experience the series as a whole.
If you’ve never watched Freaks and Geeks, I would highly recommend the experience. While some of its plots veer slightly away from what you would call normality, there’s an unflinching and painful truth that informs each and every scene. For every touch of wish fulfillment, there’s a reaction that veers sharply into reality. The scene that always immediately comes to mind, when I try to explain this odd balance, is an opening that sees the character Nick (played by a young Jason Segel) playinsg along with Rush on his drumset. In his mind, and during the initial presentation, he is a god. He sounds amazing. He’s hitting all the right set pieces, in the right times, at the right places.
And then the track gives away to reality, and you actually hear Nick play – and he’s terrible. This is a thing that he loves more than anything. This is the thing he wants to do with his life – and he just doesn’t have the talent.
It’s a cruel fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless – sometimes, you just don’t have what it takes. Sometimes, dreams don’t come true.
Earlier this week, I received a missive from a person very near and dear to me that contained the words “maybe you should put your dream on hold and join the real world”. This, in reference to my life as a comic shop manager and an aspiring professional writer. Even landlocked between long rows of context, the phrase hit me pretty hard. Am I one of the doomed? Am I destined to fail? Are others seeing this clearer than I am?
Maybe. Possibly. Absolutely, yes.
But shit, if I were being rational, then I wouldn’t have chosen a life in comics, now would I?
“Field of Dreams”
The comic book medium was built by dreamers. The platform and the means might have come from somewhat dubious businesses and business practices, but the form, the style, the actual guts of it all came from dreamers.
As history will show, time and time again, many of these dreamers were not savvy at business. Despite the fact that he fashioned universes from whole cloth, Jack Kirby died nearly penniless. Bill Finger suffered a similar fate. Them and countless others have been ground under the wheel of those more unscrupulous than they could ever dream of being. And these are the guys who helped come up with Dr. Doom and the Joker.
Fact is, there is no money in comics. Not real money anyway. Sure, there was a time where having a strip in the newspaper could set you up for life, but for the most part? You can’t make good money in comics. Not when you compare it to the kind of coin that can be made in other mediums. A person who chooses comics for a living, from creators to editors to retailers, is a special kind of breed, one that needs or even requires a basic amount of creativity to allow for a modicum of happiness. Money can’t be the only driving force, because there are far easier and more lucrative ways to get money than to willingly participate in the comic book medium – which is where I veer this topic selfishly back towards myself.
Several years ago, I quit college. I was going in to be a teacher, majoring in English. I made it through my first year with abysmal marks and was asked by the establishment to either smarten up, or quit… and so I quit. This decision didn’t go over to well. After all, before college, my marks were pretty great. I had the potential to do great things. Become a doctor or a pharmacist or, yes, a teacher. Something. Instead, I dropped out to focus on my writing, and got a job at a book store. And then a comic shop.
Now, years later, I’m the store’s manager, and I’m doing quite well. I get paid quite a bit (for a retail job). I have health benefits and a fair bit of dental coverage, neither of which come out of my pay cheque. I have a phone that the shop pays for. That’s not to shabby. Also, I run this site alongside James, and it’s doing quite well. In just over a year, we’ve managed to talk to some of the people who make the books we enjoy so much, and have received largely positive feedback from various creators and fans. To me, this is all quite fulfilling. But to the untrained eye, it wouldn’t appear to be so.
I’m not a very rich person – and truth be told, I might never be a very rich person. While I will occasionally display bouts of confidence and describe the ludicrous things I will do once I get paid Harry Potter Money, I will probably never be that lucky. In my brighter moments, I might admit to having a modicum of talent (despite copious amounts of evidence to the contrary) but I don’t think that writing will be a thing that I can do without a bit of help from a job that pays actual cash dollars.
But I’ve spent time contemplating what my life would be like had I taken some different paths. I experience it inside the walls of the comic shop on a nearly daily basis, and I felt it when I was still in college and working at some other jobs before landing the comic shop gig. Sure, I could have more money. Sure, I could have a more comfortable money cushion in my savings. But those roads also have heaps of regret attached. If I do the things that will make me money, then creation goes out the window. Then dreams get pushed aside in deference to mindlessness, to drudgery, to painful, soul aching boredom.
Isn’t life too short to waste it on shit that’ll make you miserable? I could earn all the money in the world and still want to hang myself after a day of work. And then when I did hang myself, that money is meaningless. Or I could fill my life with dreams, with things that make me happy. I can go to my job, the one that I love and that I’m good at, and I can make enough to get by with a little bit left over for the crazier things in life. I can fill my days with joy and when I die I can remain content, a life filled with meaning.
Right now, I’m living a dream. Or at least a part of it. I sell comics. I seem to be pretty good at it to, as our sales continue to climb in a supposedly down market. In a perfect world, I could do a bit of that, and get paid for a bit of writing. Will that ever happen? Maybe. Maybe not. I could only be good at selling the damn things, and nothing more.
But dammit, that’s not going to stop me from trying, never going to stop me from trying.
This medium, this industry – it can’t subside without the dreamers. It never has, it never will, and I am damn proud to be a part of it.