To the Future and Back Again

I never thought I’d have to wait this long. But I did. When I was 11, I had a vision of the future… my future. It was like illumination. Enlightenment. It was an out of body experience that showed me, definitely, that I had control over my own destiny.
 
Soon after, a character came to me while having pizza with a friend. I drew him that very night. Soon other characters joined in, and I came up with other stories that I would combine into it. Spaceships. Suits. Mythical animals. Seers and wise men. Beautiful and powerful maidens. Maps. You get the picture…
 
So… I would make comics, no two ways about it.
 
“It’s taken me nearly thirty years and my entire family fortune to realize the vision of that day. My God, has it been that long? Things have certainly changed around here. I remember when this was all farmland as far as the eye could see! Old man [Marvel-DC] owned all of this! He had this crazy idea about breeding [work-for-hire clones].”*
 
Skip ahead to today… In a few short years, my opus will be complete. But good lord, man. Did it really have to take this long? Sure I’m smarter, now. Faster. Better. But even in my innocence I had some skill. Guess fate has a strange way of manifesting sometimes.
 
Back to 25 years ago… it was 1990. I was 13 years old. My first published comic appeared in a student anthology assembled by a reputable French Canadian publisher. I thought to myself, it won’t be long now. 4 years later I met a Marvel Comics artist who had done work at Image, got his break through Jim Lee in fact. What a strange world [only two years prior, Lee was Marvel’s top grossing hired gun, only to defect and co-create Image Comics]. This artist said I could get work at Marvel. All I had to do was contact him. I was 17, still in HS, and paralysed with ego. I wanted to make my own comics. The propaganda against corporate comics was in high gear. No one wanted to work for Marvel at that time. It was a different industry back then, where Image Comics was king, and I soaked it all up. In fact it remains with me, still. I may yet work in corporate comics as a credited creator, we’ll see, but it’s not on my bucket list per se. I’m indie – flesh, bone and soul. I love the idea that an original idea can trump the big guys. On the comics shelves. In book stores. At the movies. I believe.
 
2 years later, I went to San Diego. I was weak, looking for any kind of work at this point, work-for-hire work. I came back home with nothing, except a few very special encounters with fellow artists. Dave McKean told me to go to art school, so I accepted my invitation to Ontario College of Art. It was with a heavy heart that I went to Toronto and attended the newly renamed OCAD [Ontario College of Art & Design]. I went from a perfect line and crosshatching technique environment, into a world of abstraction, broad brush strokes, design fundamentals, basically the other side of the coin. From tight to loose, full stop. It was hell, and did not help my drawings until years later. It helped me experiment with style. God, I must have tried over a thousand different styles, and hundreds of mediums. It almost broke me. I worked on some big projects from 1998 to 2001. Comics projects, while still in art school. But they were un-credited, and so I was doomed to lie in the shadow of bigger named artists. It was hell. When I left, I could hardly draw anymore.
 
Each new drawing after that was a radical experiment. More cartoony. More realistic. Ink washes. Crosshatching. Watercolour. Gouache. Oil. Scenery. The fantastic. Superheroes. Anti-heroes. Projects with zero commercial appeal that moved my soul. I was lost. So lost.
 
I ended my gig as an editorial cartoonist for a prominent weekly paper, and moved back to Ottawa, where I started looking for work. Any work.
 
I started by trying to become a waiter. That didn’t work. I’m quiet, I’m shy, and nobody wanted me. I finally got a job in a fruit and vegetable grocery store as a cashier. In two days I’d redesigned the code sheet for all of the items. I gave my 2 week’s notice after my first week.
 
I was losing my mind with grief that I had not made it in comics yet.
 
The grocery store staff was grateful I did not just leave them there in the lurch. I worked another 2 weeks, came back home, and redoubled my focus. Luckily, a friend was leaving a post as production designer for a local paper. I just slid right in. After about a year I was given an opportunity at another paper, then finally started working for Industry Images Creative Studios’ Ottawa location. They were young, hungry, sexy even. They did great work. I started in production there, and eventually became a full-time designer for major liquor labels, restaurants, magazines and other things.
 
When I took up the 2006 24Hour Comic Book Day Challenge, ‘ii’ was right behind me and helped me print a limited edition of 240 copies of Like Never Before & Like Never Again. We had a party, comics were sold, music was played; those were the good old days. It was grand. I was offered a promotion soon after that, but I turned it down because I wanted to return to comics.

Within a year I left and started working on my own books. I had 8 panels of Ghost King done. The Bird Caller was all drawn. I had tight pencilled the final art for Treadwell. But they weren’t finished. They weren’t lettered or designed or ready to print. It was a mess. I assembled a book chronicling this mess – a sort of ‘me’ anthology of comic book sketches. Then I headed to Baltimore Comic Con.
 
In 2008, a professional colorist friend of mine introduced me to a publisher. He liked Ghost King. We developed it together. It was ready to go a few months later in 2009, then the economy tanked.
 
I was that close to my big break but it never happened. After almost 20 years I’d done work for so many other people, but my own books were getting nowhere.
 
Then I started Mirror Comics, circa 2010. Good lord, man – please – when you start – self publish!!! For the first time in my life I was free to create my own destiny. Had I known I’d have done this years before!!! I was my own boss and I was hungry. The first proposed project was a film adaptation… it came real close but it was vetoed by some of the actors. Then I started my own thing. Ghost King was done, I just had to tweak a few things. I released it online through a comics platform and waited for the money to roll in, but it never did. So I printed a few books and visited the inaugural Ottawa Comic Con in 2012. And there I found my audience.
 
The rest is very much history, as they say. I published over 650 pages of comics through Mirror Comics, more than two thirds of it my own artwork. I lettered and designed almost every book. It was great. But it also created a beautiful paradox – I wasn’t drawing anymore. I was publishing. Designing. Lettering. Promoting. Marketing. And that was unacceptable. Sales were fine. We’d found distribution. But I wasn’t a publishing beast in my heart and soul. I had done it as a necessary step to getting exposure. It was not… me.
 
In March of 2015, I wrapped up Mirror Comics. I killed the publisher. But the dream remained. My last graphic novel, Treadwell, drew two award nominations, an Aurora and a Shuster, two very high visibility national awards. I didn’t win, but it was like an eye wink, saying ‘hey kid, you’ve made it.’ Or something like that. I’m on the map now. And all it took was 25 years of getting lost and found again.
 
6 months ago I recycled the name Mirror Comics and added Studios at the end of it. I didn’t sell a thing. All I’ve done, towards this project, since January 2015, was to draw that saga I came up with as a kid. Lately I’ve visited smaller shows. CAN CON was my favourite. The writer community is so supportive. So engaged. It’s amazing. I’m on deck to appear on a few podcasts. People know who I am. It’s fun. It’s like I’ve arrived. I could say so, now. But I won’t concede to this victory until I’ve gone and finished this next project. Until then, nothing has ever come close.
 
It’s been almost a year since I started drawing this project, over 25 years since the original idea. I’ve told you about it. It is all I talk about, while at the same time I keep mum about its specific contents. It’s okay. As soon as I can I’ll let the whole world know. Right now I’m still pencilling. Soon I’ll be inking. Colouring. Lettering. Putting it all together. Then, a copasetic publisher and I will let you all know what all of the hype is all about. Just a few short years. I’m almost there. “One point twenty-one gigawatts!!!”**
 
*attributed to Doc Brown in ‘Back to the Future’ [1985].
**ibid.