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This week we’ve got Melbourne-based Frank Candiloro, an award-winning comics creator publishing his comics under the FrankenComics label. Invading the local comic scene since 2009, Frank has over 22 comics under his belt, and is currently working on Prince Transylforia, to be released in 2018.
Going on Hiatus
A while ago, I made comics.
From 2009 onwards, I wrote, illustrated and published 20+ comics under my self-publishing label FrankenComics.
From an outsider’s point of view, sales were good, the feedback was positive, and I even got an award for one of my comics! For someone making comics out of their own pocket, it was more than I could ask for.
Then 2016 happened.
Not to engage with hyperbole but 2016 was probably the worst year in the history of mankind, or at least for me it was. To sum it up concisely: several issues and concerns that have plagued me for the last 16 years reached a tipping point, and with my career, friendships and identity falling apart before my eyes, I decided, to paraphrase a certain web-slinging teenager, that I would “make comics no more”. Speaking candidly, I was unhappy with where my comics sat in relation to others in the Australian Comics scene, feeling like Fredo Corleone (your parents will get the reference, kids, ask them) amongst my peers in terms of the kind of stories I told and my, shall we say, “unique” approach to illustration.
That’s not to say I didn’t do anything creative at all during 2016 – I decided to do a Russell Crowe and fulfill my musical passions; in my case, it was becoming a DJ. This filled the void that comics left, but as much as I enjoyed beat juggling and scratching, it couldn’t quite compare. The frustration and angst only grew as 2016 marched on, ending with my relationship with my partner at the time ending and falling into a depressive, sometimes suicidal spiral (it’ll get more cheerful folks, I promise!).
2017 was a year that was devoted to recovery – after moving back in with my parents, I spent most of it finishing my Masters, working part-time at a library, finding a new partner but also getting back into the things that got me started doing art in the first place – comics, horror movies and video games. I felt the urge to make comics coming back, and so I began work on a 60 page comic “Prince Transylforia”, which I am currently still working on. You would think my troubles would end there, but just like listening to a Limp Bizkit album, the irritation would only increase.
If you went back 6 years ago, I could pop out a 60 page comic in 3 months. Now that I was in my thirties, and juggling several past-times at once, I’d be lucky if I could get one page done in a week. The comics process was going too slowly for me, and the old frustrations kept crawling back. My enjoyment was limited. I would see other, younger creators make cool work and wonder if my time in the comics spotlight was up, feeling like the proverbial W.Axl Rose amongst Soundgarden and Alice in Chains (I like pop-culture metaphors, okay?). Was there any point in me coming back? Especially after burning certain bridges with other comic creators and the community not feeling as tight-knit as it once was, I honestly didn’t see the point. Nobody was holding their breath for another FrankenComic, or at least, that’s how it felt at the time.
2018 arrived. With the Festival of the Photocopier Zine fair coming up, I decided to make a short comic, “Worse Things” to launch at the event. It was a simple and fairly enjoyable comic to make, and when I printed it out, it felt good to finally have a comic out, even one as short as 5 pages. With much dread and apprehension, I exhibited at the zine fair for the first time in 2 years, wondering if I was doing the right thing. Much to my pleasant surprise, the punters at the event reacted positively to the new comic as well as my presence at the fair, with several old familiar faces and loyal fans happy to see that I was giving the comics thing another shot. I was fortunate to have my fears and misconceptions about myself proven wrong in such a way. It felt like what I was doing was important, even if it was small in comparison to others.
What I’ve Learned.
It’s 2018. At the time of this writing, I feel more confident and comfortable with where I am in comics, and at the very least I’m enjoying making comics again. If there is one lesson I took away from this whole experience, it would be thus:
How to cope (or even embrace) not being in the spotlight when it comes to your comics.
Needless to say, this is hard as shit.
You’ll hear most creators say they do this because they love it, and they’re not wrong, but at some point in our lives we’ve all had the desire for our work to be universally adored and talked about, and there’s nothing wrong with that; recognition is a need all humans deserve. Of course, thanks to factors outside of our control, we don’t always, if ever, achieve this, regardless of how much effort we put into our work.
To make matters even worse is the prevalent force in our lives that is social media (and no this isn’t a diatribe about the evils of technology – I’m not Charlie Brooker!) in that we feel pressured to perform to an imagined audience, depicting a life that’s not quite our own, all the while comparing ourselves to hugely popular individuals that everyone unconditionally loves who seem to get accolades for everything under the sun. Of course, we may not all feel this way, but there seems to be this unsaid belief that the amount of followers and post likes you get is in direct correlation with your worth as a human being, and going against this results in that unfathomable horror that only gets uttered in whispers: getting left behind.
I can honestly say I have felt all this in every single step of the comics journey I have taken since 2009; in the early days of my career I was still finding my voice and deciding what stories I wanted to tell, all the while being surrounded by incredible comic work by local artists that were treated like gods. You can imagine what this did for my self-esteem, but it wasn’t just me that was doing all the comparisons – several voices in the local community were doing it too. It’s safe to say that Australian Comics does not have the best reputation for some, and whenever these seminal works were reviewed, it was not uncommon to hear backhanded compliments such as “Why can’t all Australian comics be this good?” or “It’s so nice that an Australian comic is of this kind of quality” or “Frank you’re a lovely person but it’s okay if not everyone likes The Dark Knight Rises, let it go.” The (unsaid) message was clear – it wasn’t enough to make a good comic, or even a great comic, you had to make comics that “contributed something” to the local comics narrative in order to help its reputation, lest you be accused of “getting complacent with making art and zines” (another choice phrase I’d hear – I never forget!).
So if you’re a comic artist and feel like what you have to say is considered “irrelevant” by some unspoken authority figure, let me cheer you right up by saying that all of this is bullshit. It’s honestly not your fault if your work doesn’t fit into the wider conversation that’s sailing around comics at the moment or at any other time. Nor do you have any obligation to contribute to it because you happen to come from the land Down Under. What you are going through is what every artist, regardless of their background or talent level, goes through at some stage in their lives: their art being ignored.
I certainly don’t fault comic readers/other comic creators that are unaware of a comic, nor do I blame creators for “not pushing their work enough” (I’ve learned that no matter how hard your promote your comic it will just not reach everyone), it’s more likely to do with the fact that it’s human nature to be distracted by things; these don’t necessarily have to be other comics – we just tend to be wrapped up in our own lives that everything around us falls by the wayside, not to mention the various pop-culture obsessions we all have such as the latest blockbuster movies, music, YouTube, lion-taming, video games etc. It’s just hard to check out new comics when we’re juggling several things at once, not to mention we don’t all have limitless bank accounts and disposable income to throw away at will, forcing us to make hard decisions when it comes to investing in sequential art.
When it comes to being distracted by other comics on the racks, it’s important to remember that any kind of spotlight shown upon a piece of work has less to do with the work itself and more to do with external factors surrounding it: it might fit within a trend currently happening in pop culture, it may be a young creator’s first comic (if I see one more “30 under 30” list on the internet I’m going to scream), the art might stand out in comparison to other comics (whether the art itself is good or bad) or maybe it just fulfills a reader’s need whereas other comics may not do so. If this sounds disheartening to you, don’t worry, it does to me too. If you or your comics don’t fit into any of the aforementioned factors, it can seem like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, and it’s also upsetting to think that people are liking or disliking your book for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the book itself. So before you get too down about this, remember that even the most celebrated of creators have little to no control over these factors.
Almost every artist I’ve talked to that’s had phenomenal success with their work have all said the same thing – when it happened, it was unexpected and surprising. There’s no guarantee for success, and the spotlight does not last very long on one creator before shining on another. I’ve lost count of the number of comic creators I’ve seen get huge acclaim starting out, only for everyone to ignore them years later for whatever reason.
It is for this reason that not only do you have to be okay with the spotlight ignoring you, but you have to ignore the spotlight yourself and continue to create.
If it seems like certain creators have just stopped making art after the spotlight dies out, this is absolutely not true – they are still going on, creating work that speaks to them on a personal level without worrying about whether it fits current trends or not. “So what about those creators that never leave the spotlight?”, you might ask? Well, the truth is that the spotlight on them comes and goes, you just don’t notice it because they’re busy with creating stuff. But I’m sure they notice it quite a bit, and I would hope they wouldn’t let it get to them, but we are only human after all, and we will inevitably question why we even do this if no one is bothering to pay attention.
The reason is this: because ultimately, the work you put out is what you have control over, and nothing else. You can’t expect your comic to be universally loved by everyone, but you also can’t force it to be like other comics that are popular at the moment. You just have to accept that not everything is within your control, and you don’t have to be like other creators, even if they appear more successful than you. I believe it was Winston Churchill that once said: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” and I think that speaks true here as well. If this sounds eerily like a meme your mum would share on Facebook and you’re struggling to believe it, then here’s another piece of advice I wish someone had told me back in 2016: don’t let this external bullshit make you hate yourself.
Whether you’re basking in fame and glory for your art or if you’re quietly doing it for the love of it, you exist and you matter, and you’re giving it the good ol’ college try, and that is ultimately all we can do. Failure for others to notice what you’re doing is not a failure on you or the art that you make, and anyone who tells you otherwise is hiding some insecurity that are struggling with; pay them no mind, they just need to sort their own shit out. The right people will notice what you do and appreciate it, and seeing even one person express joy over your work will mean a lot more than a million likes and retweets combined.
Anyway, back to work!