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!

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…

Let the Inktober adventure begin!

Back in January I set the goal to plan & participate in a proper “Inktober” project … and I am! While I don’t have as many drawings banked as I would like, I did improvise a little story around this year’s list of prompts, and am diving right in! I plan to do at least one drawing a day, which I’ll post to my Twitter and/or Instagram accounts; follow my progress there if you’d like!

[November 2019 UPDATE: my Inktober drawings have been collected in Ramble; get more details here.}

I have a question for you…

… if you already read my Watusi the Talking Dog comic online– or maybe especially if you DON’T– what kind of information did/would you like to know before you dive/d into a new body of work? After nearly 10 years and more than that many different storylines, I feel the need to provide an easy introduction for new readers … so I’m assembling a webcomic primer issue of Watusi to serve that function. While I try to make work that is accessible to new readers, I’m often too involved in the process to see things from the reader’s POV. I would love to quench your thirst for understanding (& give you a better reading experience)!

Chime in below & feel free to share …

A clean slate for 2019

Another year has come & gone, which means it’s that time when I like to plan out what I want to accomplish in the new year, and check in with my goals from last time. This year has been slow to get going since my holiday market ran past X-mas & into the New Year, leaving me without the time or brainpower to vision my upcoming year. Fortunately, this past weekend finally gave me time and the right mindset to think about 2019. But first, what about my goals from 2018? I wanted to focus on a few (mostly) attitudinal adjustments…

1. Wear my business hat less, my artist hat more! Even though I wore my business had less, I spent too much of my time & energy promoting a group I’ve been part of, and not enough time building up my own work. I am confident that will change (for the better) in 2019…

2. Put comics aside for a couple of days each week and give myself dedicated time focused on “art”, including paintings and prints. While I didn’t make as many paintings as I had set out to do, I had a pretty good year making & selling prints (some Memphis-themed) in 2018. Now I just need to make some Memphis-themed comics & see if that will get people around here to actually purchase reading material…

3. Draw more spontaneously. While I’m still not as loose as I’d like to be, I consciously spent more time just drawing, and that helped. My inking is becoming looser & more natural, too; sometimes I’ve even liked the inked drawing as much as the penciled one! If you’re interested in my pencil drawings, you can get a taste of them on my Instagram account, where I regularly post them (plus, they’re for sale, and that gives you first crack at buying ’em)…

4. Celebrate the Year of the Dog with more Watusi comics than I did in 2006. While it may have taken most of the lunar year to do so, I did manage to finish the Year of the Dog Watusi issue! Plus, last summer’s big Watusi in the Emerald City of Oz collection & the weekly Watusi webcomic added up to a pretty dog-friendly year!

All of which gives me a solid footing to build on for 2019! I have a tendency to overload my “to-do” list with things I hope to accomplish, which can often be an overwhelming amount of unfinished idea debt (as Jessica Abel would say). This year, I’m literally starting with a clean slate, which I can use for highlighting my accomplishments, not leaving them buried in the weeds of what I still want to do. Basically, it’s an offshoot of the “done” part of my Kanban board that will let me see what I have accomplished, something I too often ignore as I move on to my next project. Expect to see a fuller version of this post’s graphic by the end of the year!

So, this year I’m looking to build on the good habits I’ve developed to make more (and more substantial) finished work. Specific concrete goals include:

1. Find a store to carry my work year-round. While I had pretty good success doing festivals last year, I need to move beyond handselling my work at outdoor events. This year I want to try & find a location that can carry my work– not just the comics (which are a hard sell in this town), but also my prints & notecards (which seem to connect better with customers)– all year long. If you happen to run such a venue, get in touch with me at the address on the bottom of this page.

2. Attend book events and literary festivals. Most festivals around here are pretty focused on music & drinking which, while fun, doesn’t always connect me with my target audience of readers. There are a few events from last year that are worth doing again, but I can’t fall into the trap of doing shows just because I’ve done them in the past. This is likely to mean booking events further afield, which is a daunting prospect, but will be worth it if it pays off…

3. Get back to “making” on a regular schedule. While being so focused on prints turned out to be fairly lucrative, it was not as satisfying as making comics. I’ve been really happy with the quality of my published print comics, and now it’s time to make more of them. Like Dave Sim wrote, “first you get good, then you get fast, then you get good and fast”– I’m ready to get faster. They may not come out every month (depending on my schedule & bundling orders for my printer), but the concrete goal is 12 new comics in 2019.

4. Plan and participate in a proper “Inktober” project. While I’ve played around with Inktober a bit in the past, I’ve never gone all in on this event because I create inked art all the time. But after being in awe of some of the successful themed projects by Chris Samnee and JB Winter, I should step up my game for the month! I’m open to suggestions, by the way…

That’s what I’ve got in mind; any creative goals for 2019 you wish to share?

Looking forward to 2018 (and back at 2017)

It’s that time of year again, when I plan out what I’d like to accomplish in the new year, and check in with my goals from last year to see how I did on them. I’m not sure how I latched onto this New Year’s Resolution cliche, but at least it gets me to do a little self-evaluation at least once a year!

2017 sticks in mind as a year marked by too many household disasters (for me) and too much underlying chaos and stress (for everybody), so my weekly visits to Oz to write & draw my “Watusi in Oz” strip was a nice escape from the stresses of daily life. Still, I at least tried to address the goals I set at the start of that year. Here’s how that went…

1. Set up a Patreon account. Even if I’ve had a hard time attracting people to my Patreon account— and not showing up in their search for “comics” doesn’t help any– I did get this up and running. I’ve even got a carrot in the works to attract more readers to it…

2. Begin a “Human Spring” webcomic. While it’s not quite ready for publication, I did make headway on the first “issue” of it! I hope to release it soon…

3. Find a better way to promote and get more eyeballs on my work. I’m still pretty much handselling my work. I haven’t come up with a proper marketing plan yet.

4. Finish and publish old projects. While I did manage to publish Doghouse Funhouse #2, the other projects were not as far along as I remembered them being. Something to keep working at for 2018…

5. Undertake a general website/logo refreshening. While I have been consistently presenting myself as “Dale Martin, cartoonist” at shows, my efforts at a new logo got derailed, as did a website revamp. I’ll actually probably just stick with what I have for the most part, at least until I can find time to integrate this blog and my webcomic(s) into one interface, which is a bigger project than I’ll attempt on my own.

6. Make more “fine” art. I did better on this front than I have in recent years, highlighted by my contribution to Crosstown Arts’ “Potluck” exhibition in August!

All in all, I at least made headway of a sort on all those areas, which I can feel okay about. As for 2018…

Despite my ever-present laundry list of projects to finish, I really want to focus on a few (mostly) attitudinal adjustments…

1. Wear my business hat less, my artist hat more! I’ve taken lots of workshops to help to get better at that side of things over the last few years (even though I’m naturally introverted and am still not good at self-promotion), but it’s time to use the right side of my brain more in the coming year!

2. Put comics aside for a couple of days each week and give myself dedicated time focused on “art”, including paintings and prints. Simply put, my Memphis market is not as interested in literary product as other places I’ve exhibited. I’m making more sales from my visual output, and I want– and need— to make work that people want to buy.

3. Draw more spontaneously. I really labor over my drawings more than I need to, and I want to make doing them more fun!

4. Celebrate the Year of the Dog with more Watusi comics than I did in 2006. Which should be easy given how that year turned out…

So, any creative goals for 2018 you wish to share?

Where to go from here

This new year again offers me a bounty of creative possibilities, a too-long list which needs trimming down to a feasible workload. There are only 335 days left in the year, after all! Fortunately, my reader survey gave me food for thought which has been useful in narrowing my focus not only to work I will enjoy doing, but work that my readers will enjoy, too. In fact, my four word New Year’s resolution pretty much sums things up:

With that in mind, here are my priorities for 2017: Continue reading “Where to go from here”

Asking the people what they want

After all, I can’t very well give the people what they want if I don’t even know what it is, can I? With that spirit in mind, I undertook a survey of my readers at the end of 2016 to better understand their comic reading (and purchasing) habits and tastes. While the answers confirmed much of what I already suspected, I was a bit surprised by some of it, too…

Rather than present the survey results as just a series of pie charts, I also want to share what I was trying to find out with the questions I asked. The first section was gauging reader knowledge of my online comic. Not surprisingly, most everyone who responded (91.3%) already knew I published a FREE weekly comic online. I was more interested in their reading habits, and was pleased to find out how many read my comic every week, and that they tend to stick around once they do:

surveychartc-d

82.6% of readers read the text blurb following my comic, too, so I’ll keep using that to plug upcoming shows and comic releases. I also like it as a way to provide context or commentary on the strip.

My next question was really a backdoor invitation to get readers to sign up for my e-mail list, follow me on Twitter, or friend Watusi’s Facebook page, just in case they weren’t aware of those options already: Continue reading “Asking the people what they want”