It turns out one of the gentleman was a professional comic book illustrator, taking his talents freelance from company to company, doing the projects assigned to him for money, and using whatever spare time to pad his wallet at conventions, selling prints and doing sketchbooks. Sounds pretty familiar. He confided in me that my theories about the name-recognition in contemporary comic art were true, and that as he put it, the era of the "rockstar comic artist" was pretty much over. The only place you'll find that kind of name worship these days is in small fandoms and circles of people who share a similar taste within a larger genre, expressing a like for those who manage to catch their eye in a unique way, either with their coloring, their design, writing, or unique execution of plotline. The times had changed from when I was a high school freshman reading contemporary hero comic titles. For artists and illustrators, it was no longer good enough to just be able to draw.
I saw it coming when I was younger. I'd read magazines like the Comic Collector's Pricing Guide, and Wizard Magazine, reading over all the contests held by individual creators and companies, encouraging and then harvesting fresh talent from ranks of teen youths eager for the thrill of publication. I saw a lot of talent, knowing that every sample page, every submission that made you go "wow, a sixteen year old drew that", indicated a larger pool of talent seething out there that was either yet unmotivated, or yet just waiting to reach publishable potential after enough prodding, inspiration, and practice. The talent level was now huge, as children learned that with some application and investment, their parents sure and hell wouldn't mind if they spent a few hours in the room drawing comic book pages, instead of slashing car tires and smoking cigarettes behind the local gas station, and they could become close to those they admired by participating in the world those legendary names helped create. It was similar to a dashing stunt pilot at an airshow landing his plane and inviting a wide-eyed young man from the crowd to take the front seat and "take her for a spin". The temptation to pump out one free piece of work after another for the thrill of publication attracted hordes of young illustrators, and we're seeing just how much talent is actually out there. It's a lot. It's pervasive. And in order to become noticed, you have to cultivate something in addition to just the ability to draw well if you're to become anything other than another in the herd.
My customer acknowledged that this had lead to a groundswell of talent that pretty much saturated the comic book market with skilled illustrators with styles derived from the likes of Lee, McFarlane, and Leifield, all young and with more enthusiasm for publication than profit. Suddenly the idea of hiring a single person to illustrate a series for x-number of thousands of dollars per year seemed absurd when young, enthusiastic talent could be hired on a negotiated commission/contract basis. Every contest, every extra feature in a magazine that taught you how to "draw like ____" had ensured that the styles became closer and closer together, to the point where changing contracts to carry on a series meant less of an upheaval in artistic style, layout, and general quality. Retaining someone who would only ask for raises and benefits every so often seemed like a bad idea from the standpoint of business. I understand it completely. In the world of internet entertainment and awesome video game technology, the idea of going into an actual brick and mortar building and laying down actual bills (often four or five of them!) for 26 to 32 pages of printed, unanimated entertainment, seems somewhat lackluster... dare I say, archaic? Comic books entered a dark period about the time I grew out of them and stopped collecting. This was about the time the Image comic glitter had faded and started to become old-hat, worn, and their recycled themes overdone. Like MTV telling you how different, rebellious, and uNdErGrOuNd they were every damned day, each Image comic put another nail into the coffin of my enthusiasm to buy another, as suddenly what was "different" became status quo. Comic sales slumped, and the continuing series line no longer hoped to keep their audience into advanced teenage years, but meerly worked on supporting the trademark and it's more public spin-off products, movies, novels, games, in an endless vortex of fresh, pre-teen consumers, old, jaded collectors, and public nostalgia all swirling together endlessly and recycling in on itself forever and ever. How many people who no longer read Spiderman comics are likely going to be interested in the new movie, glitzed to the hilt with the latest special effects? Probably every damned one of them.
The gentleman I was speaking with did let me know that he was, like this, enthusiastic about his first few assignments, and every title that he became involved with, titles he read as a teen and suddenly was participating in as an adult. The enthusiasm wore out quickly. The thrill of meer publication died after about the first six or seven pages and the grind of "work" started to set in. I asked him if he every worked on any side projects, things of his own creation that he did for fun and for sale to help him pad the wallet. His answer of "no time" made the hair on the back of my neck stand up in horror. Free time is something I cherish, and I can't imagine pouring it into someone else's creative urge and not my own.
Enter the Internet.
A lot of the talent moved onto the internet where it resided in varying states of prosperity. Web comics became both creative outlet, easy publication, advertising, and offered an instant ability to build a professional face without the need for endless submissions, portfolios, shipping, cover letters, rejection letters, waiting on the mail, etc... Everything was there at your fingertips for immediate exposure if you had the drive to build it. The only trick was finding a way to make money off of it, and people who developed business sense, or teamed up with those who had, found it possible. I've always found the internet to be a double-edged sword in the field of creativity. On the one hand, you can find things as free thinking, unique, and fresh that might make publishers gag. Yet it exists there, for those who enjoy it, no matter how large or small the fanbase, for the paltry price of hosting, you can be self-published on the web and display comics that are finished in any fashion you please. If you don't want to color it, so what? If you don't even want to ink it, who cares as long as it looks nice? You want a strip every day, or a page every week, or a bunch of pages once a month, or just whenever you damned well please, that's fine. No one's going to strip you of your ability to publish online because you missed a deadline, or didn't set more strenuous goals. What if you don't want to only draw a strip? What if you want a whole page to express yourself? Sure, no problem. Whatever you feel like. You can cover nearly any subject on any level, without fear of losing newspaper affiliates and distribution. The reader can go about and find every kind of comic to suit their taste and desire, no matter how milktoast or depraved. With all this talent bubbling up, to get a "name" suddenly involved offering more than the ability to draw. There's so much talent that you have to take market share and readership by offering 1> writing, subject matter, or execution, 2> marketting ability, 3> reliability, or 4> all of the above.
With all this freedom comes the internet's great pitfalls. Anyone can get a website. Where in the old days of publication companies deciding who was worthy of being displayed for public consumption, there was at least some assurance that someone was standing guard against unleashing the untrained monkeys from the cage, those derived works, the poorly rendered material, the ghastly unbelievable or unentertaining, the deplorably boring, and the childishly insipid. The internet is completely unregulated. A person of my normally free-market beliefs would presume the market would regulate itself in this case, however, one doesn't have to look far in the "furry" fandom to find those who aren't quite ready for display (to be put nicely) being heaped with praise, verbal fallatio, and assorted requests for further material. I suppose praise is its own kind of currency. The internet isn't a bell curve of quality, but a big downward slope.
I'm going to be perusing some local conventions, investigating some of the local Anime goings-on and eyeing the other markets for talent and seeing where I might find a niche to penetrate and make a little more on what I'm already doing. It's something I've always wanted to do, but time's been such an inhibiting factor. I feel... sullied? I'm not sure... maybe soiled... by a lot of my past work. I've not really done myself any favors by concentrating on pornography for the first few years of public exposure. I don't think I'll ever abandon it all together, but it's not something I want to be known exclusively for. I'd like to be known for other creations, not necessarily needing the assurance that my work is most entertaining with a greasy fist. To me, pornography for its own sake has become a crutch. Even if I produce a work of pornography, I'd like to be unique or interesting, story-wise. But I don't need to produce pornography to be unique and interesting story-wise. I think Better Days has been a good first step in being creative and entertaining without being obscene, and to offer a wider variety of work will open more opportunities for me in the future. There are furry elements that are just embarassing, and I'll admit I haven't done myself a great service by plunging head-first into them by catering to many of their more reclusive, slippyfisted fantasies. But it's something I'd like to get my work to grow out of so I can say I'm more of an illustrator and a cartoonist, than a "Furry Artist", looking at the winces and creeped out expressions of pre-conceived notion melt slowly over the features of my fellow conversationalists. The extreme elements sort of did it to themselves, and to everyone else. I'm now content to just set a calm example, have fun, and expand into other experimental realms.