If you recall, I have spoken several times in this blog about my past life in academia, the quarter-life crisis that resulted from it (not the full story), and the occasional spasm of desiring institutional recognition.
I am willingly! voluntarily! going back through the gates of the ivory tower.
For the past few years now, I’ve been slowly crabwalking towards an administrative, organisational, educational/resource-providing, leadership-type role in my areas of work (comics, writing, illustration, commercial art).
I hinted about somewhat being sick of the physical and emotional investment of comics-making trapping me to the same four-walls. The 2-ish years of hard commitment that each graphic novel demands is something that I don’t mind doing, especially for a story I truly believe in. However, I cannot keep doing this consecutively. For two years, I keep having visions of myself in my late-fifties asking me, now, if this is all worth it: to devote all this time to make comics that people like, but to not have a life lived? I am thinking of those mangaka who spend all their time breathing eating knowing only comics, and then suddenly, dying with not much to show except their impressive body of work. Did they see enough of the world? Did they eat enough good food? Have they discovered all their non-comics passions? I certainly don’t want my ghost to ask the same questions when she sees my body.
In a way I’ve sort of outgrown that shine of comics as a full-time job: ironically, in my success at producing audience/market-friendly work in exchange for financial support, I do not have time at all to pursue experimental, personal play and art that truly speaks to me. I’m also facing the reality that, as much as I enjoy working in traditional publishing, I am running out of ideas. I only have 2 to 3 more stories left in me for young adult/middle grade graphic novels. After that? I don’t know…
(Unless the new graphic novel imprints are suddenly hungry for adult work. Because, boy, do I have ten billion ideas.)
Anyway, the situation is that the majority of the graphic novel space in traditional publishing is still cashing in on the boom for middle-grade/young adult stories, with no long-sighted consideration for catering to those readers who will eventually, definitely grow up into adults. Meanwhile, I am running out of kids stories and am desperate to make bloody, complicated work (the kind of stuff I was already making pre-success and am still making), and to disentangle the actual act of creating from income-making. Not in the sense that I don’t want money at all from my comics; just that I don’t want comics to be my primary source of income anymore. And personally… I just want more time to live and be offline.
So this is the emotional aspect that’s been motivating my crabwalking. Still, if that was not a factor, this was always going to be the natural progression of my career anyway.
Like, considering that I began my career as co-founder of a regional comics network and my life-long practice of creating resources, it’s not that surprising. Even when I formally officialised my career in 2018 as a Traditionally Published, Professional Comics Creator in the Mid-list, I was also engaging in the administrative with my dayjob at Hiveworks, in addition to the aforementioned regional comics network UNNAMED, and now, the Cartoonist Cooperative. I continually make resources and facilitate them. The dayjob is expanding to include even larger responsibilities (it’s not really company-related, just a consulting thing we’re doing with a giant entity).
Clearly, the horizontal pivoting has gotten to the point where that aspect is becoming the majority of my practice, into something that I actually want to form the bulk of my career and the foundation of my 30s era. It’s happening at the same time as my desire to withdraw from the cycle of commercial production to focus on what I call studio/residency work aka sketching and making my webcomics.
So yeah, I’ve decided to formalise the other half of what I am already doing, since in this universe one can’t get a job in corporate/NGO/NPO art administration without a degree – despite years of experience and evidence of extremely specialised skills that don’t exist in a university course but are valuable on the ground (do they teach comics crowdfunding and webcomics marketing/production in tertiary?). And I do intend to go somewhat corporate, even if it’s as someone who runs a literary festival or artist residency. Because I actually find pleasure in doing all that admin juggling. I like helping artists pursue their practice. It engages a side of my brain that is understimulated since I stopped academia.
I went to the Orientation session on Thursday. It had been exactly 8 years since I last did an Orientation for school; I am no longer a wide-eyed doe so the entire time I was barrelling through the throngs of baby undergraduates and sitting through the talks with laser-focused practicality (putting aside the nice-sounding speeches for the actual hard facts of where stuff is and who to contact; though the speeches were quite thoughtful).
I was also amused to see the type of people who would study and teach in an art school – all my life I am used to the schooling environment of STEM, law, accounting, medicine, and my adulthood is interactions with working creative professionals – people who already came out of the art school environment (or in a non-art school, in mine and many cases). Going back to a school that I never went to, especially going back to where most of the students would not be my age, is new to me. Fortunately there were a few “mature” students. And I like the vibes. So here’s hoping.
This is a long-winded post to break the Jinx and say I am officially pursuing my Masters in Arts Management. Two years of this. Who knows what may happen?
Hopefully I will come out with better experiences this round, since this would be the first time that I chose a course not out of anxiety for the unknown, but because I very much know what I want based on experience actually working in industry.
Congratulations! I so enjoy your comics and wish you the best on this expanding of your career. And just want to say that, even if publishing imprints seem focused on MG/YA comics, there’s still lots of room and opportunity for adult proposals. Send them out widely and see what happens! DUCKS by Kate Beaton getting so much attention last year was encouraging. I think any publisher who publishes for adults wouldn’t let a great proposal go.
Reimena, I’m so happy for you! You’re a powerhouse. Knock em dead!!
Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.
She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.
Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.
Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur