In 1994, post-graduation, my then-wife and I were living in a very nice apartment that we couldn’t afford, and I was trying to get serious about writing, per the agreement the Mrs. and I had that I would devote a year to writing while we lived off of her meager income as a Manager at McDonald’s.
Well, kind of. I thought that was the deal we had, but apparently she had never agreed to those terms, so rather than getting serious about writing, I was getting semi-serious about writing and semi-serious about finding a job.
What I was getting really serious about, however, was becoming depressed. Many people think that my depression – and descent into alcoholism – were the result of my marriage ending a year later. That certainly didn’t help matters any, but it wasn’t really the cause so much as the catalyst.
And even the end of the marriage was not, in and of itself, the catalyst. There was a lot more going on, and it wasn’t so much losing her that really pushed me into the abyss – it didn’t take long, after all, to realize that, despite our eight years together, I wasn’t really losing much, which may seem cruel and smack of bitterness, but the truth is the truth – but rather, it was the very concept of losing, and, by extension, of being a loser.
That is not, however, the point of this rambling narrative, and I will now attempt to get back on course.
So. 1994. College graduate. Nice apartment.
At that time, my friend Joel was a frequent guest in said nice apartment, as he had a girlfriend – whom he’d met through my wife – who lived in Marquette, so he would regularly make the 100-mile trek to visit us, or rather, to drop off his stuff and crash on our couch.
One afternoon while our respective significant others were at work, Joel and I were sitting around watching the 10,000th rebroadcast of the latest episode of MTV’s The Real World. This was the season that featured the likes of the late Pedro Zamora, the disgusting and irritating Puck, and a young aspiring cartoonist named Judd.
This particular episode had a focus on Judd, with the cameras following him as he pounded the pavement with his portfolio of work in tow, meeting with editors and publishers in a dogged attempt to get paying work.
Joel had turned to me and said something like, “That’s what you should be doing.”
I pointed out that it didn’t actually seem to be working out so well for Judd, and that even if I had an actual portfolio beyond a few unfinished, poorly-drawn pages of a Fontaine comic, and my other mostly-unfinished sketches and doodles – most of which consisted of scenes and character designs from the various unfinished stories I had been writing – I wasn’t certain where it was he thought I should be showing it off. The mean streets of Marquette, Michigan, didn’t, so far as I knew, contain any sort of publishing district.
(It’s worth noting that Judd did, in fact, break into the world of publishing, though primarily as a writer rather than as an artist. He’s something of a polarizing figure, and I myself find his work to be of varying quality, but he’s generated a lot of sales for DC Comics over the years, and remains a major figure in the “New 52.”)
In the real world that I lived in, I didn’t have anything to show off, and there was nowhere for me to show it anyway.
And every day I was faced with the growing belief that the reality was that my dreams would never come to pass, and it became harder and harder to muster up the energy to even pretend to try.
As much as I didn’t want to, I recognized every time I struggled to force myself to pick up a pencil, it was time for me to – to borrow a phrase – start getting real.