Howdy folks, my name is Drew Edwards, I’m a thirty-seven year old resident of the fine city of Austin, who spends most of his days as a not-so mild mannered sales representative in the vast grocery store industry. You could live in my city for years, walk past me hundreds of times, and not give me a second thought. I would probably lump into the mass of faces that make up your ritualistic visits to the grocery store.
Like most people, I’m more than just my job. I have special abilities and a secret identity that sets me apart from most other folks. For fifteen plus years I’ve been toiling away, writing an independent comic book called (cue theme music) HALLOWEEN MAN! It’s just your typical weird adventure series starring an undead superhero, and his “pinup-y” super-scientist girlfriend.
On top of that, I work as a talent booker in the Austin music scene, and run a production company with my wife, Jamie, a wonderfully talented musician I’m also an avid podcaster and blogger. I enjoy my life and like to keep really, really, busy.
For the purposes of this piece, I’m going to lay the hammer down, and tell brutal truths of what it’s like to be a working creative person in early 21st century America. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll clear up a few misconceptions about the oh so glamorous comic book industry.
First, let me paint you a scene. You’re going about your work, minding your own business in what seems like a pretty normal day. Next thing you know, you have a person or persons heckling you or calling you a liar. Believe it or not, this has happened to me countless times over the last several years. Why you ask? People’s expectations is the short answer, but let’s back this up for a second.
“Heeeeeeey, I know you, you do that comic, Halloween Man!” he yells at the top of his lungs. I nodded “yes,” but noticed he seemed weirded out by my presence here. “So, what are you like, doing here, man?”
I’ve been publishing Halloween Man since my early 20’s. It’s my life’s work. Through those years I’ve been lucky enough to work with many talented artists, inkers, colorists, and graphic designers. Some of them have gone on to great success with major publishers like DC and Marvel. I’ve had a small degree of success myself, becoming something of an underground comics staple. I’ve worked with various different small publishers over the years. That includes Image, the publisher of the comic books Walking Dead and Spawn.
I’ve been fortunate to build up a small, SMALL amount of celebrity for myself and my comic. At conventions, I’ve built a persona around myself. I’m a barrel chested, lantern jawed guy, with a loud booming voice. I enhance that by dressing flamboyantly, usually in a loud suit. I’m both a ham, and a non-conformist at heart. I like to stand out. No harm in that. It helps sell the comic if nothing else. But because of this, people remember me, and that’s where expectations start to come in.
Comic book culture is everywhere these days. Movies based on comics gross billions of dollars on a regular basis. Shows like the Walking Dead bring in millions of viewers. It’s easy for people to imagine that everyone involved with what my dad always calls ” the funnybooks,” has it made. But for most people following their four color dreams, that’s not the case.
Despite the fact that Hollywood seems to be cranking out comic book films and TV shows, the reality is that the actual comic book industry is a tough place to carve out a living. For one, it’s extremely competitive. Pretty much everyone who is a hardcore comic book fan has tried their hand at breaking into the business. Secondly, while comics based properties are huge, this is mostly stuff from the Big Three publishers, (DC/Marvel/Image) and not underground creators like myself.
Between bills and paying the creative team, most months we barely scrape by. I’ve yet to receive my ticket on the same gravy train as say, Robert Kirkman, creator of Walking Dead. The bottom line is that I have to keep a day job, and most of the time I work that job SIX days out of the week. That’s not even counting the additional odd jobs I do here and there to help fund my dreams. Putting a comic book together isn’t easy. It’s hard work. Of course my normal paycheck job and my creative job rarely collide, but….
It seemed like a normal day at the paycheck job. I was putting on my apron when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a hipster-ish guy in his mid-thirties wearing a “Howard the Duck for President” t-shirt. I was planning on complimenting the gentlemen on his fine taste in Marvel superheroes, but as I was eyeballing his shirt, he started looking at me. You could almost see a cartoon light bulb appear over his head.
“Heeeeeeey, I know you, you do that comic, Halloween Man!” he yells at the top of his lungs. I nodded “yes,” but noticed he seemed weirded out by my presence here. “So, what are you like, doing here, man?” he adds in his best mid-70’s Tommy Chong stoner voice.
“When I’m not doing the comic, I’m a sales rep for this company,” I replied, pointing to the embroidered feral looking boar on my chest.
“Howard the Hipster” proceeded to play with his bushy beard and look very troubled. After a moment or two, he finally sounded off. “So, you’ve been lying to your fans then?”
It took me a moment to understand what Howard was getting at. Without losing my cool, I explained I was both a professional writer AND a meat salesman. That to keep a roof over my head, I needed the income a steady paycheck provides. I only get a royalty check from my publisher four times out of the year, all of which goes right back into the comic. Howard wasn’t having it, and started ranting loudly that I was a phony. He had pirated all of my comics anyway. Finally, the deli manager asked him to leave.
This guy forced me to look at my day job in really negative terms. I felt compelled to explain small details of my life that were none of his business or concern. For several days after the incident, I felt low, crushed even. I’d like to say this kind of thing was a one time only event, but unfortunately that’s not true.
Periodically, this kind of thing happens to me. A few Mondays back, I had two college kids telling me I was a loser because I’ve never worked for DC or Marvel. While I’m not the kind of person who gets hung up on other people’s narrow view of what my life should be, by the fourth go-around, I started to get frustrated.
The common thread here is they all think I’ve set myself up as some kind of big shot. That I’ve put out an image of success, and that I shouldn’t be out mixing with “the help.” I live in an exciting city, have a beautiful wife and a comic that more than ten people have heard of. They think I must be rolling in that comic book money, and never have to put my nose to the grindstone. All of this is based on incorrect assumptions about me, either by reading interviews on some niche comic sites or maybe meeting me at a convention. But whatever acclaim I might have received in this life, it doesn’t equal a ton of money in the bank.
The truth is this; many people who are professionally creative, work other jobs to pay the bills. This is true of writers, artists, musicians, actors and so on. The economics of 21st Century America aren’t quite as easy as we’d all like them to be. Sure, I’d love to just roll out of bed every morning, open up my laptop, and spend the day scripting Halloween Man adventures. But presently, that’s just not the case, and frankly, I don’t find anything shameful there. In my ideal world, Halloween Man would be my full time job, but that might never happen, and that’s okay. I still have a pretty cool outlet telling a story that some folks seem to enjoy.
When I first dreamed up the concept for this piece, I wanted to open people’s eyes a little bit. I hope I’ve done that. If you see someone whose creative work you admire out in public, doing what might appear to be a mundane job, talk to them just as you would anyone else. Tell them how much you like what they’re doing. It will probably make their day. If you can’t do that, just carry on. Most of us don’t think we’re rock stars or above regular folks, because most of the time we are average Joes and Jills, just like the rest of you. Just doing what we can to get by in a tough economy. Take that with you, think on it, and I’ll see you out in the real world. And please feel free to say “Howdy!”