Man plans, and God laughs

I can’t help but think about that Yiddish aphorism “MAN PLANS, AND GOD LAUGHS” whenever I look back at 2020. Coming off of a successful year in 2019, I had some goals that sounded within my reach, but needless to say, my year turned out nothing like what I expected. All my IRL events were canceled, which kind of bummed me out in April … not so much come November, when the situation had gotten even worse. I’m blessed with a roof over my head and a partner who didn’t get sick & tired of me during months and months of living like hermits, so I focused on staying as productively creative as I could, even on the many days when I struggled to keep the real world at bay enough to undertake the deep imagining my work draws from …

SILVER LINING! I was able to collaborate with a number of artists in similar situations. While not all of those collaborations were successful or have reached fruition yet, strengthening those connections was valuable in its own right, especially in a year like 2020. Still, I did manage to work at my goals set early last year, even if they weren’t fully or successfully completed, either…

GOAL 1! Revamping my website was one of those goals, and I pretty much accomplished what I set out to do on that front, as you can see right here. Not sure it’s necessarily connected with readers as much as I’d hoped, tho, as my stats have continued their downward trend of the past few years. Of course, I didn’t post as much as I have in the past, either. My WATUSI webcomic saw a slight uptick in visitors and views per visitor, which is surprising (and gratifying!) considering that strip is in the final episodes of a years-long epic!

GOAL 2! Kind of a subset of that goal, I wanted to better stock and promote my online stores. Still not doing a bang-up job with promotion, but I did set up an online SQUARE STORE that features prints, printed comics, and original art. That’s in addition to my SELZ SITE for downloadable comics (never a big seller for me; I may work to integrate them into my SQUARE store), and my TEEPUBLIC SHOP for t-shirts & other merch.

GOAL 3! I had wanted to do more short comics for anthologies in 2020, and while I missed out on the deadline for one of them, I was able to use my pages in CARTOON LOONACY and the MSCA project THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SKETCHY to get some short stories & other art completed and shared with readers. Actually, 2020 turned out to be one of my better recent years for finishing comic stories; in addition to my weekly WATUSI webcomic, three SMEARY SOAPBOX PRESS-ENTS minicomics, an issue of DOUBLE DIP, and editing four issues of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SKETCHY, I finished another 35 pages, plus more that I just need to finish adding grayscale tones to…

GOAL 4! Not as successfully, I still had no luck finding a store to carry my work year-round, tho I had an even better year at MONSTER MARKET, the one (virtual) pop-up shop I was involved with in 2020.

GOAL 5! My search for a literary agent kept getting put on the back burner, especially when I had a hard time focusing for so much of this past year of disruptions. Still something for me to work at…

A REALIZATION! I’m often slow on the uptake, but I noticed that over the past few years my “creative” goals have really tended to be “business” goals. And they really should be more than just that, shouldn’t they? With that– and the experience of having my 2020 plans so easily sidelined– in mind, I thought I’d try a less list-like set of goals for this year, and focus more on the “why” I want to do things instead of just a list of things to do…

GIVING UP ON COMICS? Comics have been a dwindling proportion of my sales (again with the business, but it comes around to creativity, honest) over the last few years. And they take considerably more time than single-image prints, which seem to connect better with my audience, anyway. Since that’s what people gravitate to, it only makes sense to give them more of what they want, doesn’t it?

NOT GIVING UP ON COMICS! Of course, I don’t think I will fully eliminate comics from my plate, as they’re a key part of my public persona as “DALE MARTIN, CARTOONIST”. So while I plan to flop my focus from “comics, then art/prints as time allows” to “art/prints first, then comics as time allows”, it won’t be an easy change for me to make, since “cartoonist” is also a key part of my own internal persona as an artist…

WANT MORE COMICS? Of course, there’s a simple way to keep me making comics a more frequent part of my creative mix: BUY THEM. They’re available in stores locally, from my website, or via regular PATREON patronage. If they become a larger part of what my audience invests in, I’ll happily invest a larger part of MY time and focus in them, too!

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING? While I happily incorporate NOSTALGIC ELEMENTS into both my cartooning and my publication design (as evidenced by the layout of this very post, for those who notice such things), if TWITTER user (and fellow CARTOON LOON) @MJacobAlvarez is right, I may be leaning TOO heavily into them! My cover to THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SKETCHY #5 reminded him of a DELL comic, a comic publisher that predated my own comic reading habit (and with no conscious effort to do so on my part, either)!

GETTING OFF THE TREADMILL! I’ve been thinking for some time that I should take a break from my weekly webcomic, and plan to do so in the next few months. While I’ve enjoyed doing it, the reader interaction of its earlier years has dropped off considerably over time. More than that, though, I’d like to get away from such rigid deadlines to be able to take a deeper dive into processes (get into a solid penciling groove for a whole story– plus some of my landmark prints– before moving on to do the same with inking, for instance) or content (I’ve had a hard time making time to research my next MEMPHIS history comic). Since I was planning for shorter comics following WATUSI IN OZ anyway, this feels like the right time for that…

SO NO LIST OF GOALS FOR 2021? I’m just gonna cool it with my annual laundry list o’ goals & play things more as they come. After last year, I’m only going to look ahead a few months at a time!

CHEERS! To a better (it’s gotta be better,right?) new year!

Walking in a winter wonderland…

While it’s not really winter yet (not that it ever is here in the MidSouth), once I dust off my holiday CDs for their annual spins I can’t help but think about winter & snow & the like. Fortunately, the members of the Mid-South Cartoonists Association are feeling that way, too, in the latest issue of The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy! It features comics & art by Jason Negen, Jim Palmer, Lin Workman, Kevin L. Williams, and me. I even did the cover for this one, featuring my take on some of the characters appearing inside! The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy #5 is a 20-page black & white digest w/ full-color cover, and is available at comic shops all around Memphis ( 901 Comics, The Cellar, Comics and Collectibles) as well as by mail via my Square store for $4.00 postpaid in the US.

Thankful for collaborators (and for comics)

Like for most artists, this pandemic year has been a challenge for me. With all my IRL events for the year canceled, I’ve been working on a number of collaborations with other artists in a similar situation. While I love collaborating with others, I’m especially thankful for it during this year. And even though most of these projects have not reached fruition yet, one of them sees print in a new collection released this month…

Take a walk on the wild side in the animal-themed fourth issue of the Mid-South Cartoonists Association’s The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy; it’s led off with a Watusi/Muley crossover by Kevin L. Williams and me. For years now, I’ve wanted to work on a story with another artist where we could both draw our own characters on the same physical page, and at long last I’ve been able to do so! I think it turned out pretty good, too! Other comics & art in the issue provided by Jim Palmer (who also drew the cover), Jason Negen, Jack Cassady, Kevin Thorn, and Lin Workman; co-edited by Jason & me. The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy #4 is a 24-page black & white digest w/ full-color cover, and is available at comic shops all around Memphis ( 901 Comics, The Cellar, Comics and Collectibles) as well as by mail via my Square store for $4.00 postpaid in the US.

Also newly published is Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #20, another arty collection of my daily Instagram drawings, a more or less real? fictitious? document of my hair during our month of shelter in place. Can’t help but feel there are more sheltering hairstyles in my future, tho… This full color (my first!) 8-page minicomic is available from my Square store or from me by mail, postpaid for just $2.00 … or by becoming one of my Patreon patrons during November or December 2020 at the Correspondent or Art Lover level … plus, joining (at any level) gives you immediate access to other online bonus comics, including a full-color Human Spring adventure!

I hope you all have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Going back to print…

While this pandemic rages on, I and some of my cartoonist compatriots have stopped waiting for things to return to “normal,” and have resumed publishing material in the printed form! These two comics are a modest step in that direction for me … but it’s still a step in that direction! If things go as planned (by no means a sure thing in 2020!), I hope to have a couple more new print comics by the end of the year. But for now, there are at least these two…

The “magic”-themed third issue of the Mid-South Cartoonists Association’s The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy! has just hit shelves of all the Memphis area comic shops ( 901 Comics, The Cellar, Comics and Collectibles) as well as through the mail via my Square store. This issue, co-edited by Jason Negen & me, features all-new comics & art from Jason, Kevin L. Williams, Jim Palmer, and Lin Workman, along with a jam page drawn at our MSCA meetings (back when we were able to meet IRL), & cover art from Greg Cravens. My contribution is a pair of Tarot illustrations. Someday I’ll finish drawing the whole deck… The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy #3 is a 20-page black & white digest w/full-color cover, $4.00 postpaid in the US.

Also newly published is Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #19, another remastered Giant Jack Halloween comic from decades past! This was a gross-out little comic nugget, and was fun to revisit, even if I basically just tidied up the lettering & drew a new cover based on the original… You can get a copy of Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #19 (an 8-page minicomic) from me by mail, postpaid for just $1.00 … or by becoming one of my Patreon patrons during October or November 2020 at the Correspondent or Art Lover level … plus, joining (at any level) gives you immediate access to other online bonus comics, including a full-color Human Spring adventure!

New comics for a pandemic springtime

It’s been a helluva spring, hasn’t it? With all my face-to-face events cancelled and all my other outlets closed for the foreseeable future, it’s been difficult for me to stay motivated about publishing new comics …

But, before pandemic-mania affected my part of the world & weighed heavily on my mind most hours of most days, I did manage to finish a pair of new comics!

First up is the second issue of the Mid-South Cartoonists Association’s The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy! This sci-fi themed issue, edited by Jason Negen and me, features all-new comics & art from Jason, Kevin L. Williams, Jim Palmer, Lin Workman, Michael Irby, and me, along with an “Out of This World!” jam page drawn at our MSCA meetings. My contribution is “The Fantastical Order of Foofthusiasts!”, a peek at the 26th-century legacy of my shape-changing hero FooF! The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy #2 is a 24-page black & white digest w/full-color cover. It’s available for pickup from all Memphis area comic shops ( 901 Comics, The Cellar, Comics and Collectibles — call for their specific situation, of course) as well as through the mail from my Square store. With online sales providing my only source of income, your purchase would be much appreciated (& highly motivating).

Also newly published is Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #18, an 8-page minicomic collecting some of my favorite pencil drawings from 2019. You can get your own copy from me by mail, postpaid for just $1.00 (address on the Contact page). I’ll also include a copy with any purchase of physical content from my Square store during the months of April & May 2020 …

You can also socially-distance score a copy of both of these comics by becoming one of my Patreon patrons during April or May 2020 at the Correspondent or Art Lover level … plus, joining (at any level) gives you immediate access to other online bonus comics, including a full-color Human Spring adventure!

A rediscovered gem

… well, “gem” might be too strong of a word….

Since I self-publish many of my comics, I usually find a spot for them (more or less) when I draw them. While digging up reference for a project (more on that in a bit), I ran across this page I drew for what would have been the second issue of a FooF comic that never quite got off the ground. Each issue featured the hero’s mad scientist foe floundering with his projects until (surprise!) one succeeded & led to a confrontation between them. Before I could get that issue fleshed out, though, a couple of other projects derailed it, projects that were ultimately more satisfying creatively: first was my alt-weekly “Continuity and Vine” strip, followed shortly by the Watusi jam comics.

But I’ve learned never to say never when it comes to dredging up old characters in new forms. One of the “anthology-like” venues I mentioned in my 2020 goals is my participation in Cartoon Loonacy, a quarterly APA. Figuring that two pages of content an issue there will equal an eight-page story by the end of the year, I’m picking up where one of those failed attempts left off to tell the shocking saga of FOOFENSTEIN! When done, I can include that tale (along with some others I already have in the works) in a FooF-themed comic. I even feel pretty confident it won’t suffer the same fate as the FOOF #2 of twenty years ago…

(Want to follow along with FOOFENSTEIN in real time? Since Cartoon Loonacy (like most APAs) is only available to contributors, I’m also posting the strips for my Patreon patrons. Not currently part of that club? You can join here for as little as $1/month!)

2020 vision

It’s taken me a while to home in on what my creative priorities for the year are, but I think I’ve arrived at them. With an overarching goal of trying to reach a larger audience– ideally one so big that I haven’t hand sold to each of them, but leveraging retail partners and online outreach to help my work reach them. Promotion has never been a strong suit for me, so it will require stepping out of my comfort zone more than I usually do. Some steps that I think will help me get there include:

1. Revamp my website: it’s been a while since I’ve done that, and my current theme has a few limitations that aren’t serving me well. I still really like the functionality that WordPress offers, so I’m not ready to ditch it for a self-run site. I think I’ve settled on a theme that will work better for me, and I’ve already begun some behind-the-scenes work to make that transition…

2. Better stock and promote my online stores: I have a few places where I sell my work online (e-comics at Selz, t-shirts & merch at TeePublic), but I want to beef up the number of items I offer that way. I also want to make it easier for remote readers to purchase my handcrafted print editions…

3. Create more short comics for anthologies: I’ve got a few anthology-like venues where I can produce stories without being so concerned with the publishing aspect. They’re a great space to make shorter comics (vs. my 200-page “Watusi in Oz” epic), so I should take advantage of the opportunity to do so…

4. Find a store to carry my work year-round: yes, this is a mulligan from last year. My local-themed artwork sells pretty consistently at festivals and markets (even when I’m not there to hand sell it), so I need to find a place where it can do that all year long…

5. Search for a literary agent: this may be a bigger step than I’m ready for, but I’ve got a pretty good track record of making comics and a pretty substantial body of work for an agent to see. Again, it’s stepping out of my comfort zone to risk failure & rejection. I think my comics are good and could connect with a larger audience than I’ve been able to reach on my own, so it’s time to see what professionals have to say about them…

Okay, that’s what I’m aiming for in 2020; I’ll report back with results in about a year…

Putting 2019 in the books

Another year is in the books, and even if I didn’t meet all my goals from 2019, it was still my most successful year as an artist yet– and I was able to do it while keeping comics front & center in my merchandise mix! I feel good about a lot of what I was able to accomplish last year (a gallery show with my friend Julie Nouwen, starting a new ongoing project with the Mid-South Cartoonists Association, stepping up my fine art game, & more) and it gives me a good base to move forward from into this new year. Last year’s “done” board worked really well to highlight my completed projects (as well as showing me where my actions as the year evolved didn’t align with my priorities at its start), and is an approach I’ll continue in 2020.

While I’m filing away 2019, tho, I figured I’d look back at my goals for that year. How’d I do? Well…

1. Find a store to carry my work year-round. I never pursued this as actively as I should have. But I did really well at most of the pop-up shows (including two month-long events) I participated in during 2019, so my work is able to connect with an audience that way. I generally feel like I’m a terrible salesman (tho you’re invited to prove me wrong by becoming one of my Patreon patrons; you’ll get free comics, including immediate access to over two dozen patron-exclusive posts!), but I need to step out of my comfort zone and address this if I ever hope to move beyond handselling my work at events.

2. Attend book events and literary festivals. In 2019 I appeared at Bookstock, the Memphis Public Library’s local author festival, tabled at Memphis Zine Fest V, and was shortlisted for a small press expo in St. Louis. I was proud to be able to have new titles for each of the literary shows I “booked”, but disappointed I connected worse with a comic-buying audience at these events than I did at my “art” events.

3. Get back to “making” on a regular schedule. While I could fudge a bit & say I met my concrete goal of 12 new comics in 2019 (seven new issues, six revised & reprinted, plus one more as editor), I didn’t feel like I was super productive. Of course, I’ve always felt like I don’t make as many comics as I think I should be able to. At least I was very proud of all the issues I did publish in 2019!

4. Plan and participate in a proper “Inktober” project. Boy did I ever– I finished ahead of schedule, and even got a new book out of it! It’s unlikely that I’ll attempt this as an annual project, but at least I didn’t get burned out on the daily deadline like I did the last time I tried it…

What do I have in mind for 2020? I’ll articulate those plans soon…

Holiday piece No. 32

Another year, another “Watusi in Oz”-themed holiday piece! As many of you know, at the end of every year I send out a holiday piece to friends and family who have had an impact on my life that year, but since my audience has grown to include readers (via my websites, FB, Twitter, & Instagram) I don’t know personally, I wanted to share the joy with my “virtual” friends as well. Thanks for taking the time to visit this blog or follow my weekly Watusi webcomic. It’s much appreciated!

This year’s piece gives a peek at some of the adventure that occurred in my Watusi comic in 2019. My Baum-length epic is entering its final phase, so check it out while you can (new episodes every Wednesday); I’d love to hear what you think about it, especially if you’re a fan of the original Oz books!

Besides that comic’s weekly presence in my schedule, I published seven other issues (including a collaboration with my friend Tom Cherry), helped kick off the Mid-South Cartoonist Association’s new ongoing comic series, made a dozen new prints, seven new paintings, and shared a gallery show with my friend Julie Nouwen. All in all, it was my most successful year as an artist yet!

Best wishes for a happy 2020!