One of the things I love about the worldbuilding in the Legend of Zelda games is how gorgeously Gothic it is. Monsters and captive princesses and buried secrets, oh my! This comic isn’t just about castle spires and demon lovers and enchanted princesses, however; I also wanted to explore the troubled gender and racial politics of the Zelda series and make a statement about how the exclusionary prejudices that create monsters and damsels are hidden but ever-present in the legends that make heroes.
In 2018 I commissioned 52 comics and illustrations, which turns out to be one piece of art for every week of the year. This seems like kind of a lot, in retrospect.
Aside from a few ongoing projects, like a series of illustrations for a fanfic novel and my first real attempts to collaborate with artists on comics I’ve written, a lot of these were “emergency commissions” for people who needed money. Most of these artists were asking for almost no money at all for their work, and my general strategy was to give them twice what they asked upfront and then the full amount again when they sent me the artwork. I was very poor for most of my life, and I feel like I want to give people the sort of small financial and emotional boost I could have used when I was younger. That being said, I wish we lived in a world where “emergency commissions” aren’t necessary to help cover things like transportation and basic healthcare.
Some of these commissions were never completed, which I totally understand. If someone is struggling with health issues, you give them a free pass, you know? In fact, I go into all commissions fully expecting that they will never be finished, and I’m pleasantly surprised when they are – which they almost always are, because most artists are good people. On the other hand, a few artists completed my commissions but never posted their work and asked that I not post it myself. I don’t understand this quite so well, to be honest, but I think I’ve figured out enough of a pattern to avoid this type of person in the future.
I always try to be clear and concise in my communication with artists, but I’ve started to take special care to make it clear that part of what I’m commissioning is an opportunity for mutual self-promotion. Of course I want to support artists (and honestly, I would financially support writers too if the culture of fandom had gone in that direction), and of course I want there to be more art and positive representation in the world. Still, there’s often real money changing hands, and I’m not paying artists – especially professional artists – entirely out of the goodness and generosity of my heart.
I am a serious writer who wants to work with serious artists. My end goal, such as it is, is to gain the skills and experience to collaborate on creative projects that will break out of my own small circles of fandom and attract the attention of a larger audience. Just as a lot of professional artists gain a following in fandom before achieving the critical mass necessary to break into the industry, I want to do be able to do the same as a writer.
Unfortunately, there are barriers. The first is that I have a full-time job that demands most of my emotional and creative energy, and my employment situation is still precarious. The second is that I am not wealthy, which limits the number of creative projects I can fund. The third is that I’m an introvert who is very shy about approaching people, and I really can’t perform the sort of hustle necessary to place myself a position where I might conceivably start attracting attention by being visible and outspoken. The fourth is that I’m still deeply scarred by all the harassment I’ve dealt with on Tumblr, which has had the added effect of shutting me out of communities that would otherwise support me and help promote the specific type of work I’m doing. The fifth is gender, an issue that manages to be nuanced and complicated yet also entirely self-explanatory.
(Seriously though. Why are almost all comic writers male? I know that female comic writers exist, obviously, but I say this as someone who attends half a dozen comic conventions and reads hundreds of large-press, small-press, and self-published comics every year.)
But I’m putting in the work, and Lord knows I’m putting in the time and money. This year I threw a lot of ideas and projects into the air just to see where they landed, and I think I learned a few things from the process. Next year I’m going to try to be more strategic and efficient regarding what I commission. I still want to support artists and create art, but I’m also going to need to focus on projects that have a higher level of professional potential and impact, both for myself and for the artists who are kind enough to work with me.
And I know this is going to sound mercenary, but I prefer to think of it as recentering my sense of balance – I need to stop devoting so many resources to supporting a creative community and start devoting more resources to creating a community that will support me.