Wednesday, September 25, 2019

# comic books # Dulce

Wordsmith Wednesday: On Being a Failure

Comics were easy when I was a kid.  I’d put my pencil to the paper and make it up as I went along.  No planning, they just happened.  After a few days of nonstop drawing, I’d entertain my family with stories of dinosaurs eating cavemen and pooping them back out.  I’d set out to do something and it’d be a success.

This method got me through high school, albeit with more mature story ideas...usually.

I was in college before I gained enough knowledge to entertain the idea of putting together a proper “professional style” comic book.  A good friend of mine, Eric Myers, was pretty well embedded in the early webcomic community and we teamed up to develop an idea that we had discussed about 10 years prior when we attended high school together.

We settled on a format that would be a quarterly comic book with a biweekly companion webcomic strip.  We’d split art duties and write together.  It wasn’t a terribly unrealistic goal and we got off to a good start.

In all of our excitement we announced our work to the world with some previews and synopses.  During production I got an itch to resurrect the comic I’d made famous at my high school as a kid, "Adhesive Man."  I decided Adhesive Man would also be quarterly and I announced the return of my hero.  Eric Myers also began working on a comic strip called "SMS" around the same time.

Not long after, I was talking to a friend of my sister’s at a party and some ideas started forming about another property.  We started plotting and scripting this idea and, predictably, we announced it to the world.  This one was coming soon with no frequency decided.

In no time I was drawing books, writing books, and even developing spinoff books for books I hadn’t even produced a single issue of.  Basically, it would be about 9 books a year.  I was living the dream of being a creator.

One day I made a post on LiveJournal that had updates on my various projects and announced another in the works.  That is where reality hit me like a freight train.  A regular commenter asked a simple question: “Will any of this actually be released?  You make more announcements than comics.”

He was right.  I hadn’t put out a single comic.  By that point I’d put out a handful of comic strips with my buddy and a handful of Adhesive Man comic strips.  But ultimately I’d failed them by moving on to new things.  It’s one of the curses of being a creative: Having more ideas than you have time for.

I ended up dropping everything and focusing on Adhesive Man, which ran for a few issues before I stopped to work on something new.  Despite ending sooner than I had hoped, 2009’s "Adhesive Man" was a success for me.  I had finally finished something and had something to show for the work I’d done.

I’d also learned my lesson when it came to announcing projects.  I would no longer announce projects going into development.  I’d announce projects as they came out of development.  It was a great time of growth for me.

Even though I recognize the importance of that failure, I still feel the pain of that LiveJournal comment to this day.  But as Lance Armstrong said, “Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”  And I had no intention of quitting.

After eventually producing an Adhesive Man trade paperback, I turned my sights toward continuing the series in an anthology comic, this time with Myers joining me, and my oldest friend, Darren Fitzpatrick, on board.

Kickstarter was all the rage among creators and our product seemed viable, so we pitched it on that platform.  Our goal was modest.  Most of our cost was in printing and shipping, as we produced the book ourselves.  The campaign was a success!  It was followed up with another successful campaign.

In 2016 I wrote a novella called “Blister: A Punk Rock Memoir.”  It was well received and I was encouraged to bring Blister into the comic world.  I also thought it was time to up my Kickstarter game and I asked for double the goal of my previous campaigns.  It too was a success!

A year later I was riding high on some great successes.  I was playing things smart and getting things done.  I teamed up with a newer friend, Gene Hoyle, to write a story I’d had on the back burner (and knew not to announce).  We assembled one hell of a team of indie comic creators and we launched "Dulce: The New Guy" on Kickstarter.

Dulce Base is one of the crazier conspiracy stories I’d stumbled upon, thanks to some crazy television viewing habits. It revolves around a joint operation between humans and extraterrestrials in the New Mexico desert.   A million ideas ran through my head as I processed what life in this place might be like for a new recruit.  Hence, the character of Marcus came into existence.

The idea seemed sound and people seemed to like it.  The expanded art team required a considerably higher campaign goal, and it took every last minute to raise the funds, but we did it.  The Kickstarter was one more success under my belt.

That success was nice, but the reality was that my personal life was not going very well.  After 12 years of marriage, my wife and I were filing for divorce and it was devastating.  Of any failure I have ever endured, this was the most important.  The repercussions of this failure will haunt me the rest of my existence.

Art has always been a positive emotional outlet for me.  As had happened many times in my life, art became my security blanket.  I worked through a script with Gene and we sent it off to our team.  While managing the production of "Dulce: Tour of Duty," I worked on a second Blister comic.  "Blister: Hot for Teacher" was the follow up to "Blister: Angela."

The Blister comic was released low key.  I sold it at shows and on the website, but the cost of producing it was not great enough that it warranted the torture of a Kickstarter campaign on top of everything else I was dealing with.

"Dulce: Tour of Duty" was different though.  So we funded the product out of pocket, with plans to recoup the cost with a Kickstarter.

The premise of the story was that Marcus has been working at the alien base for a short time now.  It picks up with an investigative reporter hunting him down and hijinx ensuing as we spend some time showing off the operations of the base and reveal a new “big bad.”  It was an insanely entertaining ride and we were proud to put it out on Kickstarter.  It would be an awesome return to comics and while it certainly wouldn’t do much to reconcile the greatest failure of my life, silently I envisioned a bit of a phoenix moment.  Rising from the ashes and all that dramatic nonsense.

Unfortunately, I was so eager to release the book that I didn’t consider promotion too much.  Despite the great success the year before, the second issue Kickstarter launched to the sound of crickets.

That failure hit me hard.  I’d only had successes on Kickstarter prior to that.  Four of them.  I hadn’t even considered failure as a possible outcome.  It was easy in the moments following the “Unfortunately, your project, New Dulce Base Comic Book! Dulce: Tour of Duty, was not successfully funded.” email to feel like a massive failure, and I did.

I put on a front, like since I knew why it failed, it didn’t matter and I’d just try again.  But that sucked.  I was beginning a  failure streak.  While it might not match my early failures in quantity, the quality of these failures dwarfed any others.

But, again, pain is temporary, but quitting lasts forever.  Quitting is just not an option.  In the time since the divorce I had pulled my personal life back together.  I was proud of what I had accomplished there.  I was not about to let Dulce die.  I don’t require a dramatic phoenix moment, but those characters deserve a second shot and my team worked too hard for Dulce to be a failure. 

The truth is that failing and being a failure are two different things.  I’ve demonstrated here several times I’ve failed.  But I am not a failure.  And I’m excited by the progress that Dulce has made in its current Kickstarter campaign.  It is tracking to be a success. 

I am certain that you have felt failure in your life.  Maybe a lot of it.  Maybe you’re lucky and have had very little failure.  Regardless of all that, you are not a failure if you don’t quit.  Take some time to learn the lessons of that moment and you can go on to that great success that you deserve.  I know I needed to hear that myself in recent history, and I hope that message catches somebody else at the right time.


Eric Cockrell is an Aster Award-winning video producer, comic book creator, author, and a co-host and producer of the web video series "Strange Tales Weekly." He is best known for the comic book adaptation of his book "Blister" which follows a group of punk rock kids in their formative years and is very loosely based on actual people and events.  His comic book “Dulce” has it’s second issue running on Kickstarter right now!

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