Monday, March 21, 2022

Twenty Years of Terror

Book cover

Howdy, folks! Would you believe it’s been twenty years this Spring since my first appearance in the pages of The Comics Journal? And eighteen years this last January since the debut of The Hurting? Time flies! To that point, this was supposed to be wrapped by the middle of January. Sadly this is not January! That is a testament both to how jammed my days have been and how much unexpected work has gone into the volume below. 

Today I am proud to announce the release of The Portable Hurting, a (near) comprehensive accounting of my career in comics writing to date, featuring highlights from last two decades. It comes with over twenty thousand words of new material, in the form of two new Introductions. The first Introduction is the story of my career to date, from my first published piece in 2002 right up to the present moment. It also serves as a (belated) anniversary post for this website, and you can read it below if you scroll down. The second Introduction consists of longform annotations to my actual career, as represented herein. That’s where you’ll find my worst takes, selected passages of (obscure, jaundiced) industry history, and whatever lukewarm tea I can manage to brew at this late date. 

The Portable Hurting is available through my Patreon, and for the moment it’s free. Yes. As in, you can download it right here and right now. Will it remain free forever? Almost certainly not! Frankly I ended up putting more work into the compilation than I expected, so I can’t imagine I won’t be replacing it as a giveaway with something a bit more slimmed-down. At some point medium-soonish this volume will be placed behind the paywall. Incentive for you to download now, yes? For the moment, though, consider it an anniversary present.


You hold in your virtual hands twenty years of my life.

Twenty years of the work. Hopefully not the end of it, but for the moment - a summing up of what has come before. An outline, a stab towards tidying up a very unwieldy corpus. A foundation stone on which to build whatever follows. 

The hardest thing about being a writer with any kind of longevity, even in a small field such as comics writing, is figuring out how to keep your name in front of new peoples’ eyes. This volume is intended to serve as an introduction to what is in terms of organization across a handful of websites over multiple decades a giant plate of spaghetti strewn across the wall. Not precisely welcoming should any interested unwary reader stumble across my online haunts! Organizing the back catalog has been a significant chore, which should hopefully serve as a personal lesson to myself, going forward. It almost certainly will not.

Twenty years ago my first professional review ran in issue #242 of The Comics Journal, dated April 2002. I was living in Oklahoma with my wife (now ex). It wasn’t the first piece I wrote with the intention of sending the magazine but I believe it was the first I actually did. Funny thing, the review had already been spiked! The editor at that time, a woman named Anne Elizabeth Moore, politely rejected my review of Wendell All Together. Wendell was a comic strip that ran in The Advocate during the 1980s, drawn by a man named Howard Cruse who I would later meet in passing at a meeting of western Massachusetts comics people. One of my very few opportunities to mingle with other comics people in any capacity. I believe I also said something rude to Denis Kitchen.

In hindsight it sticks out that my first ambition in the direction of writing about comics came not from the Journal but from my love of The Jack Kirby Collector. My first issue was #9, which I found soon after release in early ‘96. From then through the turn of the century that was my favorite magazine. Every issue was an event. I lost track when it switched to a treasury format - the articles seemed thinner, shipping got erratic, and they jacked the price. After buying everything they had published to then I parted ways with TwoMorrows when they started to put out more magazines, stuff like Comic Book Artist and Alter Ego. Both of which were good and also filled with stuff I wanted, but neither of which I ever found the time to actually read. So I stopped buying altogether. 

I started buying the Journal in ‘99 - my first issue was #210, which I purchased at the Tower Records in Berkeley, CA, no longer extant by a long stretch. As I believe I’ve written before, that one issue was perhaps the crucial catalyst for my development as a writer. Now here, finally, thought I, was real writing - and it only took me, what, a decade to outgrow that aesthetic? It’s a comfortable house style. There’s a reason I responded to it, also a reason I needed to let it go. I wonder if Gary Groth - to say nothing of Tom Spurgeon! - ever found it bizarre to see their own voices reflected back in so many other writers, second or third or fourth hand photocopies. Still never had a single exchange with the magazine’s founder, by the by. (“Avoid the boss” isn’t just a good idea it’s a way of life.) 

As mentioned, Moore originally rejected my review of Wendell. I thought the piece was pretty good but there was nothing to be done. Time to slink away to lick my wounds. Already by then (late 2001?) I had become accustomed to the iron law of the rejection letter through the process of sending out short fiction to such magazines as still bought it, to say nothing of spec plots sent to Big Two editors throughout my teenage years. (None of that fiction was printed, for which I am grateful. However, I have still never sold a single piece of fiction, a situation about which I am significantly less sanguine.) Imagine my surprise when The Comics Journal issue #242 arrived in the mail - I didn’t subscribe so it wasn’t expected. Turns out the circumstances of that publication may have been incidental to another drama (one to which I was not privy and so cannot speculate), involving the turnover between editorial regimes of the aforementioned Moore and her successor, Milo George. I believe #242 was either her last or his first issue on the masthead. (I don’t actually have a hard copy in front of me to check, it’s in a storage locker two hours away.) The cover feature that issue was a fifteen page conversation between Noel Sickles and Gil Kane but the meat of the magazine was thirty pages of reviews, and as such I have always assumed my piece just happened to be in the right place at the right time to fill a page in a transitional issue. Emptying the drawer in anticipation of a new regime. 

But it did not matter because my foot was in the door! From that point on I was a frequent presence in Milo’s inbox. From what I recall I sent him lists of whatever I had got my hands on that might be interesting and he told me what he wanted. While he wasn’t a particularly hands-on editor with revisions or edits - at least not with me - I learned a great deal from him, probably more than any other editor. That education came in the form of of my finished pieces, when they appeared. Milo made something readable out of whatever I sent him so I studied what he cut and fixed and stopped doing those things. You don’t want to get called out for the same error twice. Not if you want to get better and keep getting hired. 

Anyway. That’s how I became a steady presence in the magazine for much of the last sixty issues of its original run. The “Cousin Oliver” of the classic Journal, if you will. This was still before I had ever heard of a “blog,” mind you. My first online influences were Jon Morris’ website Gone & Forgotten and Abhay Khosla’s Title Bout column, the latter of which ran on the late, lamented Movie Poop Shoot dot com. (Yes, that was the name of the site. I believe the person to whom you need to complain is Kevin Smith.) It, and Chris Ryall specifically, ran my first piece of online writing, an obituary of Warren Zevon that proved very popular. Enough so that I continued to receive letters on the subject of Zevon for a good decade after. Ended up getting a whole pile of Zevon bootlegs from a fan mailing list as a result of that association. Ryall published a few pieces of mine, despite himself. 

Tho’ Movie Poop Shoot is no more, that early piece is included in the ‘Rarities’ section of The Hurting Reliquary, available behind the paywall on the Patreon. Ryall did pretty well for himself, from what I understand. Morris and Khosla are both still around and they’re both still funnier than me. I’ve interviewed both men over the last decade, I think the only interviews I’ve done in that time. Together they set an early high bar for goofing on writing about comic books on the pre-blogosphere internet. Gone & Forgotten is still around and still updating. In recent years Morris has written three excellent and highly recommended books on the subject matter of goofy comic book characters, with one volume each for Regrettable Superheroes, Sidekicks, and Supervillains. Abhay is also still around, also still funnier than me. If you’ve never read his Dracula you really should, it’s only probably the best vampire comic book ever made. He is a fearless writer, sometimes to a fault. He is also a lawyer which means he can smell your fear. 

Due to a long and weird chain of events leading into the fall of 2003 my then-wife and our four dogs wound up living in central Massachusetts during one of the coldest winters of recent memory. It was a bitter and stressful time, and The Hurting was a product of that time. The name is taken from a 90s cartoon named Eek! the Cat. It ran on Fox Saturday mornings before X-Men. I’ve never seen it in repeats so if you weren’t around then you’ve most likely never seen it. The show was co-created by “Savage” Steve Holland, who also directed 80s comedy staples One Crazy Summer and Better Off Dead, neither of which I saw until decades after loving Eek! Reportedly he left the movie industry because John Cusack was a giant dick, which is how he ended up making such endearingly weird Saturday morning cartoons. 

Anyway, the reason why Eek! stood out to me at the time and in memory was the show’s permeating mood of general sadism. The main character is a hapless purple cat who somehow manages to keep his cheery attitude despite an endless run of bad luck. The catchphrase in question however actually appeared in the backup feature, Terrible Thunderlizards, about a group of dinosaur commandos on a mission to kill the first two human beings. (A few small liberties may have been taken with the paleontological record.) One of those cavemen, the choleric Bill, was even more unlucky than Eek. His constant moaning refrain, every time he was sat upon or blown up or thrown off a cliff: “When does the hurting stop?”

I am certain I spent no more time thinking about the title to my blog than a few minutes, if that - but perhaps that was for the best. Obviously no clue I was picking a brand to follow me for decades and would probably have choked if I had. I am aware it is also the name of a famous 80s band’s first album. No, I did not know that at the time. Yes, I figured it out from Google very soon thereafter. In my defense its a common word! I did get into Songs from the Big Chair a while later after that. It’s pretty fire. 

The same year the blog began I also started writing for a website called Popmatters, for which I haven’t written in well over a decade. I burnt that bridge down to a smoldering pile of ashes. Not my finest moment. That same period of personal and professional nadir also saw a similar process of professional immolation with the Journal, though I’d later be welcomed back. Hopefully I’ve made it worth their time? 

But I’m getting ahead of myself! Although it was a dark period in my life 2004 was nonetheless an extraordinarily productive period - a pattern that would recur with later depressive episodes. I produced steady work for my blog, Popmatters, and the print Journal simultaneously for a few good years, spanning the last months of my marriage through to my single and shiftless years in Worcester and my school daze in Holyoke and Amherst. In that time I went from being an ignorant whiny shithead who spent way too much time feeling sorry for themself to a slightly less ignorant and slightly less whiny shithead who still spent way too much time feeling sorry for themself. The trick was always to act like I knew more than I did and paper over the difference with bellicosity. Ideally, or so my thinking went, I would find time to figure it out and catch up later. Still waiting to catch up, hoping nobody notices!

If that sounds like I’m being hard on myself, well, yes. I may well be. Going back I have sometimes - not always but sometimes - been surprised at my past facility. However, I still maintain I was incapable of articulating a proper opinion until at least the age of thirty, formed and deformed as I still was by early influences I wasn’t old enough to shake. Maybe I liked good things, maybe I liked bad things, I sure didn’t know how to express the difference in a way that mattered. At least to start with. The Journal editors who printed my work in the 2000s were doing me a kindness. But I kept at it! Dirk Deppey succeeded Milo George and proved slightly more hands-on, but by then I was turning in much cleaner prose and most of what I wrote was finding the page. 

Milo deserves special attention in any recounting of my early career. He thought I was good enough to keep publishing and he thought my blog was funny enough to support. After he left the Journal we kept at the correspondence - he sent me a wedding announcement a few years ago, in case you were wondering what he’d been up to. Remember the suicidal monkey fumetti? Why, of course, how could I ever forget! He helped promote a handful of emergency fundraisers during very tight periods in the blog’s earliest days. I know at least a few people who contributed to my emergency grocery funds back in 2004 are still reading today.   

The first comic book blogger was Neilalien. He helped out with my blog a number of times during those early years when I didn’t know what I was doing. (I still don’t know what I’m doing but Blogger makes it easier to get along now. Would have been nice to have that functionality in 2004, people!) I don’t think I was the only person in that early blogosphere he so aided. If you add all that work up at twenty years’ remove, that’s a fair bit of influence over a wide patch of online comics discourse. He was a good friend during a period where I didn’t have many. May his amulet never tarnish. 

Dirk’s Journalista! blog was perhaps the single inciting incident of the comics blogosphere - before he started there really wasn’t any center of gravity, let along community. His page organized, curated, and thereby nurtured what had been on a large and ill-defined countryside dotted with dozens upon dozens of separate fiefdoms. He patronage was crucial in the early years of the blog.

After Neil and Dirk, respectively, I’d argue the third pillar of the classic blogosphere was and still to this day remains Mike Sterling. He sets the example. He started his blog about a month or so before I started mine and has remained a consistent presence on the comics internet for the last eighteen years. Every single time I have fallen behind - gone unfortunate amounts of time between writing or posting - I think of Mike, still plugging away, still as essential as ever. An extraordinarily clear and lucid prose stylist, as I have more than once recommended to younger writers for study. Born the same day but having started blogging a little later, Andrew Weiss was perhaps the best writer among our classic group of comics bloggers. If you like anything I have ever done that combines pop culture writing with memoir, he’s the guy from whom I stole all my moves. He’s better at it, though.

I was propped up through these early years by the kind patronage of a number of publishers and creators who sent me books over this period. Very soon after launching the site Larry Young at AiT/ Planet Lar sent me, I believe, just about everything his company ever published. God help me I wrote about much of it. Oni also deserves a great deal of credit for supporting The Hurting in its early years, and we can single out James Lucas Jones specifically for that because I went back and checked. They and he took me seriously and kept me on their comp list for a long time, and I certainly appreciate that. I owe a great debt of gratitude to everyone who sent me books over the years: it was practice and I needed the material for teething. I hope you got some good feedback. 

Giving productive feedback is a hard task and something I don’t feel I fully grasped until I was a teacher, many years after I had already been blogging and editing. My first exposure to more than a few cartoonists of note was through my inbox, via requests for reviews from unknown talent reaching out to someone who was more or less on the same rung of the ladder, laterally speaking. I tried my best to do well by work I liked and creators I respected, especially those who respected me enough to reach out.

Perhaps the most significant event of that journeyman period of my writing as a critic was the advent of Jog and his Blog, AKA Joe McCulloch. Now coediting the Journal with Tucker, who also introduced himself to me sometime around then if memory serves. I have only one time in my life felt the visceral whoosh of being lapped on the field, but in truth it was a freeing sensation. Whatever pressure I felt in those first few years of writing lifted - that ambition to be and become, for lack of a better phrase, A Prominent Voice in comics. That competition is futile because there’s always going to be someone who writes better and knows more just around the corner. The only competition that matters is yourself. Anyway. Not so bad to be the Salieri of comics critics. Turns out Salieri wasn’t such a bad guy after all. He didn’t get Yo-kai Watch either.

And of course Tucker. Based on his earliest blog output I would not necessarily have guessed he’d end up being Editor at the Journal. But, hell, it certainly wasn’t going to be me! Might as well give it to someone who knows how to get up in the morning and goes out of his way to make sure I always have something to do. He’s the person who checks in on me when no one else does. Maxwell Perkins to my Hollywood Fitzgerald. He once set a copy of the first Claremont X-Men Omnibus on fire. I think about him trying to burn that surprisingly flame-resistant book more than just about any other piece of comics criticism I read in that period. If he did that today he’d probably have to flush his social media and go into hiding.

While I am hardly the first or even the hundredth writer from whom to ever take career advice, I have nevertheless picked up a few bits of wisdom from two decades of receiving (very small amounts of) money in exchange for writing. The key to maintaining a career is to recognize the ancient wisdom that there are three cardinal virtues to which every freelancer must adhere, artist or writer alike: you must be fast, you must be good, and you must be easy to work with. Editors want nothing more and nothing less than those three things. But the rub is, you only get to pick two. I’m not, have never been particularly dependable in terms of deadlines, I freely admit. But I apologize profusely as I turn in my late but very clean copy. So I persist.

During the first decade of my career I wrote many hundreds of reviews, of which the handful that saw print in the Journal were only the tip of a very large iceberg. For Popmatters I wrote endless reams of music reviews, with some movie, book, and TV reviews poking in around the sides as well. Even a couple comics pieces, such as my panning of Black Hole. What can I say? At the time my reach exceeded my grasp. (I’d still say those gorgeous pools of black ink are only about an inch deep, if you know what I mean. But I’d find a more elliptical way of saying it, as I just did.) Somewhere along the line I also became an editor for the site, which in practice meant copy editor. I never had time to actually work with writers or develop articles, but I did copy edit hundreds upon hundreds of other peoples’ reviews. This turned out to be great practice for teaching, as a matter of fact. For my own blog I pushed onward with loads more comic book reviews, as well as any number of extended blog essays. A massive amount of writing by any measure.

In 2007 I returned to school to finish my undergraduate degree. Dropping out of UC Berkeley in order to wash up at UMass Amherst many years later may seem a strange progression but the latter turned out far more my speed. One of many events that predicated the decision to return to school was my resounding failure as a writer of fiction, a vocation I had kept at steadily for almost a decade. It was a demoralizing, brutal process that ended in definitive failure and pushed me away from writing any more fiction for a clean decade. In hindsight it’s a blessing none of that early fiction was actually published, as it was mostly terrible, reflected poorly on the person who wrote it, and would have probably ensured a short and painful career had I inexplicably succeeded. 

That was, as you can imagine, a giant bitter horse pill to swallow, but swallow I did. Hindsight, she is a bitch. Around that time I was also starting to notice that many of the people who had started blogging around the time I started blogging had matriculated to actual careers of some kind - those that wanted them, at least, seemed to be finding purchase in the world of paying work. I struggled likewise with the fact that I knew full well why I wasn’t offered those opportunities - scabrous reputation was only a small part of it, I certainly wasn’t the only asshole roaming the plains of the early blogosphere. The problem was actually, simply, that I didn’t know how to network, and certainly not how to ask for work. Still do not know or understand these things. It’s easy to blame anyone but yourself, but who else was to blame? I’m the person who flamed out from both Popmatters and the Journal around the same time, no one put a gun to my head and made me be depressed for years on end. At that time in my life I couldn’t maintain the freelance gigs I had, let alone seek out more remunerative pastures. Hard cheese, old bean!

So the lessons of my first full decade as a writer was that being a writer was hard, I wasn’t anywhere near good enough, and I had a child’s understanding of self-promotion. Academia seemed a feasible Plan B, at the time. I was good at it, or at least, could be good when I overcome the brain fog and attention problems that plagued my academic career (probably due to the same undiagnosed ADHD that most everyone my age seems to have had all along). The writing I did for school over that decade was not fun. It was never not effortful. I could do it, sure. I became adept at doing it very quickly. At my peak, during coursework for graduate school I could do four 20-25 page seminar papers in the space of eight or nine days. They maybe wouldn’t be the most original works of scholarship, but they read well and that’s not nothing in academia. Communicating complex ideas through straightforward prose isn’t easy. It was hard to a large degree because I knew I was writing material that would only be read by one person. It felt like a retreat. 

As far as my blog I made a conscious decision around the time I returned to California from Massachusetts to never again give a shit about making money writing. Trying to make money had never worked for me and only estranged me from my actual constituency. Even during my most productive periods I’ve never made enough for anything more than the occasional splurge at the comic shop. But my blog kept a following even as general blog readership declined and my posting became increasingly intermittent. Somewhere along the line many of those other internet venues at which my putative blogging peers found some remunerative purchase started to die off, victim of a number of different factors in the consolidating churn of early teens. Much of whatever money there had been in the larger ecosystem of culture writing online dried up. All that was left were the lifers.  

My core readership stuck through all this, lifers among the lifers. So I plugged at it. My readers knew if they checked in periodically I would usually have something substantial, at least every week or two. My core readers, blessed be thy names, kept coming back through the years when I was trying to hawk my terrible fiction and through the years where I was depressed and angry at everything for no reason and through the years where I thought my bad Photoshop cartoons were funny. Of course I wasn’t going to let them down. 

Did I resent the fact that more people still showed up to see me eviscerate random superhero crossovers than anything else? Sure, but I talked about it and talked through it. After many years of fighting against the obvious I came around to the idea that having a specialty isn’t the same as being typecast. It’s good to have a niche. People like me writing about crossovers and yelling at Brian Michael Bendis. Just so long as it’s not the only thing I have to do, I’m OK playing “Freebird” once in a while. 

Still, the process of getting there was long and occasionally bitter. I was sick of writing reviews and resented to a degree the fact that I still needed to keep at the format to keep a readership. But, you know, it is a comic book blog. If I didn’t want to write about comic books why would I still have it? So I kept at it, but also gave free reign to my spleen and tried to steer clear of anything that resembled review format - 4-6 paragraphs running 500-1000 words, more or less. A straightjacket I spent years ripping to shreds. Check out “Justice League Shitburgers” for an example, but please don’t be surprised by the choleric tone. I was angry, for many reasons, only a few of which I understood. I’m glad I grew out of the mood but I’m also glad I refused to walk away. As I said, I was angry. I needed the grounding.

Without that grounding, who knows where I could have ended? A lot of people were angry online in the early 2010s. The worst I ever got was posting self-indulgent semi-edgelord bullshit on my comics blog. 

From roughly 2010-2014 The Hurting was my only outlet, save for a handful of appearances on Tucker’s blog and his column on the Journal’s website (which is how I snuck back in the back door after flaming out in the final months of the print Journal’s existence). No editor, no expectations, just my general guilt over not posting and desire to not abandon my audience. This period coincided with coursework for my graduate program - customarily two to three years of classes and seminar papers in preparation for moving onto exams and dissertations. I learned an immense amount during this period, as you might expect, and perhaps the most important skill was working under tight inflexible deadlines. Writing seminar papers is the least fun writing chore imaginable, so I became adept at writing them fast. Turns out that’s a good skill to cultivate. 

Nevertheless around 2013 I began to peter out. In the buildup to my exams I made the conscious decision to more or less retire as a writer. I had a blog and I’d probably keep doing that but I needed to stop kidding myself that it was ever going to turn into anything else. More to the point, I needed to focus my attention on school. That was my future, or at least a believed for a solid few months sometime around 2013 or ‘14. But then fate intervened, in the form of Oliver Sava, representing the Onion’s AV Club. Turned out the comics review feature needed a strong second and he was hosting tryouts. Somehow or other my name came up. 

I surprised myself at the time with how much I cared. At the time, and frankly to a large degree today, my reputation was opaque. Who remembered me? Someone did. After years of wanting some kind of stable gig working for an established outlet and being unable to bridge that gap through my own initiative, just such a position appeared at the precise moment I gave up the (admittedly desultory) hunt. After a brief try-out period he gave the go-ahead and I dove right in. For the first few months he had to tell me, more than once, to pull back on the throttle and write less. I was just happy for the venue, and to feel remembered. At this remove I don’t recall the precise order of events, but eventually we were joined by Shea Hennum and Caitlin Rosberg. For a good couple years we had the best comics coverage going, and we know this because we won the Eisner for that in 2017. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Writing reviews for the AV Club felt like taking off leg weights after a period of studied and labor-intensive antagonism against the form. Inasmuch as I know how to do anything at this point in my life I think I know how to write comic book reviews. There’s a part of my brain more or less permanently devoted to trying to figure out how to talk about comics in a perceptive way. Whether I wish it or no. It’s not easy, and in fact, I’d argue gets harder the more you’ve done it - unless you revert to formula. For me it’s about reinventing the wheel every time I sit down. Not because I want to but because I’ve done the formula and it’s not conducive to good writing. I can’t repeat myself so every piece has to be new. 

It wasn’t just reviews at the AV Club. There were a handful of roundtable discussions and interviews, as well as a small pile of features. I had a great deal of fun writing a series of articles which were more or less potted histories of characters and concepts appearing in contemporaneous movies - an Ant-Man article the week before the Ant-Man movie, an introduction to the Iron Man / Captain America feud the week prior to Civil War, etc. They required a good deal of work and research, in the form of reading piles of old comics, the act of which provided needed enjoyment during an otherwise sallow period of my life. First time sitting down to read the Ostrander Suicide Squad cover to cover, after nibbling at some highlights over the years. (Don’t tell Fiffe - the original run almost precisely coincided with the “DC is icky” phase of my childhood.) People seemed to like them, in any event. I enjoyed writing more accessible histories and wouldn’t mind the opportunity to do more like that in the future. It’s nice to not always complain. 

Otherwise, there was sadly a lot of room for complaints. Even as I enjoyed writing about comics comics were having problems. The later part of my tenure at the AV Club coincided with an ugly downturn at both of the Big 2. I’ve written about this at length elsewhere, so allow me merely to allude to that fact that ca. 2016 represented at least from the perspective of this critic a nadir for Marvel, coming hot on the heels of another similar cratering on the part of DC a few years previous. Rebirth was underway by then but hit about eighteen months too late to engage me. By then everything felt tired. Maybe it was just me? I needed time away. I had lost my eye, among many other things. 

My years at the AV Club also coincided with an inauspicious period in my personal life. Writing about comics was just about the only highlight of a dark period that ultimately saw me bottoming out in the Spring of 2016. Turns out I was unhappy with a few things. It is necessary at this time to allude to an essay written that year, “One Hundred and Sixty Four Days.” If you haven’t read it, you should probably just go do that. Turned out the act of writing an essay to recount a myriad of changes and developments in my life also significantly changed my life. No spoilers. After hitting rock bottom - a harrowing process described in that thrilling essay! - I resolved to remake my life in every way I could. But it took me a while to figure out what that would mean in terms of career and direction. Initially I assumed that would entail knuckling down with my academic career, actually finishing the work for the doctorate and going from there. “One Hundred and Sixty Four Days” was, if you can believe it, intended as a kind of swan song. In the throes of tremendous life changes I had a lot of things to say to my friends and fans and supporters, the people who had stuck with me across the decades. If you had asked me the day before I published it, even given the positive reaction of a handful of advance readers (literally the only time in twenty years I’ve ever solicited comment before publishing an essay), I would have had a hard time believing more than five hundred people - tops, lifetime - would ever read the whole thing.

Significantly more than five hundred people read that essay. It went semi-viral, about as viral as a 10,000K longread about comics, Star Wars, and gender can go. Listed on Metafilter, even. The feedback was universally glowing - and I’m really kind of underselling it, I think. Go back and look at the comments sections yourself. Bluntly, people reacted to that essay in a way I had never imagined people could react to an essay. And not just generally supportive of my life changes. Think about it: people do not read 10,000 words in one sitting at their computers unless they like what they’re reading. Really like. There’s a recognized place in the internet ecosystem for #longreads but people are under no obligation to finish anything. Especially if they didn’t pay any money for a physical copy of a magazine. 

(The question remains: would I have divulged quite so many intense personal secrets if I had known in advance how many people would read it? A question for me to ponder as I lie awake in bed at night for the rest of my life!)

In one hot minute possibilities shifted. Prim and diaphanous ambitions to carry through with academia dissolved like dew in the face of real and genuine evidence to the extent that my talent and enthusiasm lay elsewhere than in writing cramped monographs for the delectation of none. (To say nothing of the fact that my academic fortunes were such that I was already by then pretty must destined for the life of the permanent adjunct, at best - not even counting the nervous breakdown that I got partly from the process of flunking my qualifying exam.) Perhaps this is an unusual dilemma for graduate students. I don’t like spending time writing anything that isn’t going to be read. Feels like wasting time to do anything else. I don’t even like taking notes for my own purposes so I almost never do. 

The only problem is, of course, it’s not like resolving to continue to write for a public audience meant opportunities suddenly materialized ex nihilo. Hah! Quite the opposite. Reinvigorated ambition without focus can be just as harmful to the body as boundless ambition welded to the purpose of mediocre work. All I knew to do, all I know how to do, was write. Did I have a plan to get that work to market? Nope Do I? Still working on it! Most important thing is always the work. 

My relationship with the AV Club was coming to its end by the middle of 2017. My life was such that I needed to step away, both for practical and spiritual reasons, from a consistent engagement with the comics industry. As I mentioned, I wasn’t enjoying anything by then. I wrote a series of disappointed reviews that Spring and faded away. Although I never formally left, I’m sure Oliver sensed I was growing impatient.

After posting “One Hundred and Sixty Four Days” on Tuesday the 11th of October - Coming Out Day - the response was so positive I needed to know it wasn’t a fluke. So I wrote a follow-up, “Gimme Some Truth,” over the course of only seven days, and it was pretty good. (It was about Spoon [the band], so no relation to comic books). It wasn’t enough to write one good thing, I had to be capable of writing many good things. So I just kept writing and that first essay eventually became a book called Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life. I wrote that book as I was preparing to wrap up my life in Davis, the career in academia, and my relationship. It’s a good book, I think. It was proof of concept, to myself if no one else. I knew how to write, for real. Not like before. OK, now do it again. 

Any old fool can write one review, but will they stick around to write three or four hundred? Lots of people write books. I wrote a few in my early 20s. It’s not hard! Can you keep coming back? Can you get up to do it again after the first book doesn’t move, after the second book doesn’t move, after the fourth or the eighth? Depending on how you count? Moving ultimately doesn’t matter. It’s about the work. Nothing is more important than the work.

The postscript to the Davis period came during the Summer of 2017, having dismantled my previous life and decamped to my parents’ front room. Practically shell-shocked for months. I found out we won the Eisner off Twitter, sitting in the living room. Surreal to have accomplished a lifelong goal more or less without even having processed so doing. The nomination and award preamble occurred during the eye of the storm of a traumatic life change, and as such the nomination barely registered before the ceremony had come and gone. The important lesson here was that I got what I most wanted after I got over myself and learned to work together as part of a larger team. What mattered was the work we did.

Yes, indeed - the real Eisner was the friends we made along the way.  

(Of course, worth noting: in the time it has taken to plan and compile and produce the present volume, the Onion’s AV Club - you know, that same august institution in whose name Oliver, Caitlin, Shea, and I won that Eisner - was dismantled and sold for parts by vulture capital. They will not be happy until we are dead.)

After finishing Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life my output for the remainder of 2017 was limited to one essay, the magisterial, draining, and distinctly non-comics related “Delaware.” Somewhere along the line Tucker became Editor at the Journal’s website, alongside Tim Hodler, and one of the first acts of their junta was to formally invite me to return from exile. I seem to recall I put him off for a few months (due to the aforementioned period of shell shock), but by the end of the year I had returned to regular reviews for the Journal and launched a new column. Technically my second column for the Journal but the first was awful so we shall not mention it.

2018 turned out to be the most productive year of my life. Although I didn’t quite manage weekly output for the Journal I did put out the better part of a book through my column, called “Ice Cream for Bedwetters.” The first volume of the column actually ran on - I put three pieces up there to have some articles with my name and links on them to bounce around their algorithm. I still get hits from those pieces so it wasn’t a waste of time. Now, once again, I want to stress that I really did think it was a good name for a column. It’s a memorable line from Logan, a popular comic book movie that also had the virtue of being pretty good. It made me laugh in the theater and it seemed like it would be a great name for a column. 

No one else had this thought. No one.

In addition to my work for the Journal I also wrote five fantasy novels over the course of that year and change. People like them. I’m still trying to move them. I have twenty more of them I need to write before I die, a whole saga in entirety, as of now only in my head. Could be my life’s work? (After writing about comics, that is.) The few people who have read it so far seem to think it’s “pretty good.” The series is called The Array and as of now it’s available at my Patreon. Hopefully available elsewhere sometime before I die? Fingers crossed!  

Anyway. I put out a lot of this work, my fiction as well as a few bits of non-Journal criticism, in the form of an ebook magazine called The Hurting Gazette. I had a great deal of fun making that. I put out sixteen or seventeen issues before the experiment died on the vine. I never received a single piece of feedback about anything I wrote in there. I know it was downloaded. I know giveaways were distributed. No indication that it was ever read by another human being. After a while I gave up and no one seemed to notice. As fun as fiction serialization seemed to me I couldn’t get one additional person on the face of the planet to care. I needed some kind of feedback, something to validate proof of concept before I could try to put it over on a wider scale. As no such feedback ever emerged the project wheezed to an end.  

Still, it would be churlish to complain overly. Although it didn’t last as long as I’d wish the 2018-19 period was, as I said, the most prolific of my life. In addition to my work for the Journal -  including the book-length run of Volume 2 of  “Ice Cream for Bedwetters” - there were the five fantasy novels, as well as an additional volume of critical memoir, Galaxy of Zeroes. The latter was the “proper” sequel to Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life, focused on Star Wars and the tumultuous circumstances of my first year after leaving Davis. It’s a dark ride! 

(Technically speaking the proper reading order would place the collected “Ice Cream” as the middle volume. That volume, titled Salting the Wounds, hasn’t been collected yet. It’s all done, more or less, and still available on the Journal’s website. It’s only a matter of finding the time to do one last round of line-editing for [what is now] four-year-old material. It hasn’t felt a pressing chore. It’s all there if you want to read it right this second.)

Anyway. In 2018 the Journal site was nominated for the Eisner in the same category that the AV Club had won the year previous. As I recall Tucker didn’t rate his chances much but I never had any doubt. He wasn’t the only editor at the time but his voice was immediately audible in the mix. The site was hitting on all the cylinders and had begun a process of rejuvenation that continues apace to this day. Still only sporadically recognized by people who believe the magazine’s internal chronometer remains perpetually set to 1987, but whatevs.

The period in question for the award covers the publication of some of my very best pieces - “Jerk City, USA” and my review of Love & Rockets #5, to name two included herein. I’m as proud of the work I did for the magazine that year as any I’ve ever done. That was also my most consistent period as a Journal contributor in two decades, for what it’s worth. The takeaway for me was: two years in a row, when the greats of the industry assembled to judge the finest achievements in the fields of comics - or, at least, the admittedly niche category of Best Comics-Related Periodical / Journalism - I was counted among that august number. As a writer I was a measurable asset to the editors and publications that hired me. A critic can aspire to naught else. 

Consider the fact that, prior to this strange twofer, I had more or less resolved to leave the field - twice over. 

While I wish I could say that I was able to immediately pivot from that annus mirabilis onto bigger and better things, life intervened. Living with my parents has proven eventful. No restful convalescence. They’re both retired and disabled and money has more than often been very tight. We live on fixed incomes. Almost since the moment I arrived either my mom or dad has needed pressing medical care, a tendency climaxing with these last two years of my father’s decline due to advanced Parkinson’s. That this period of enforced familial seclusion almost precisely coincided with the advent of Covid-19 has provided a strange degree of solidarity through an isolating period. There are few circumstances in which being stuck on a farmhouse with my parents in the empty rural countryside of Northern California would represent the ideal arrangement, but the last two years as of this writing have presented just such a set of circumstances. 

Providing round-the-clock care for my dad has sapped most of the free time and energy that would be otherwise devoted to writing. Work on The Array ceased after the burst of enthusiasm that parented the first five volumes - fiction is difficult writing relative to anything else and can’t be done piecemeal in the same way as criticism. I can’t dip in and out of doing it. Even given that, I produced only a handful of reviews for the whole of 2020. As 2021 dawned I resolved to correct the downward trend at the risk of forfeiting either my self-respect or my audience.

Said audience has grown steadily these last few years despite my dilatory schedule. I recognize bursts of unregulated manic output followed by long fallow stretches where life intervenes is really not a good business model or career path. Even though I’ve been around for a while I have had neither the resources nor the stability to do any editing or publishing myself, god forbid. (Although I would very much like to do so in the future.) But here’s the funny thing: I’ve done that a number of times now, more or less, the whole break-and-return cycle - probably four depending on how you count? The last decade or so of my career. And each time, instead of having to fight to regain my audience, I have found a few more people waiting for me. 

That’s not how this is supposed to work! I’m a comic book critic who writes excessively long essays about the politics of Batman. I shouldn’t have any kind of following, and yet I do. If that sounds like I’m bragging you should know there have been many times in my life where the fact of that following has been all I’ve had to buoy myself against vicissitudes. A not insubstantial number of people would notice if The Hurting never again updated or the Journal never again ran a review. How many people? 

Well . . . maybe enough to fill a small gymnasium? Around there. 

A few of those people care enough to subsidize my endless summer of bohemian persistence, through the Patreon. That especially has been a source of great consolation. The concrete proof of that financial support pushes me forward when nothing else does. With that spirit in 2021 I commenced the “Summer of Tegan,” a season dedicated to my hitting the keyboard as hard as I possibly could, for the express edification of the people who’d been with me the longest. Only comics work. That’s the foundation. I hadn’t updated The Hurting in a long time and needed to do so, for my own aforementioned self-respect if nothing else. So I commenced a new project on the subject of the X-Men and fandom, the details of which are described below. The most accessible material I could think of to write about, and because of that at least partially pitched to readers who don’t already know my work. After a couple substantial posts on the subject of Rogue I set about to produce a great deal for the Journal. I also popped up on Shelfdust, too, with a piece called “Shako in America.” It’s a great essay and it would most certainly be here, but for the fact that I gave it to Steve as an exclusive and will honor that gift for a while yet. You should go read it! 

All told the 2021 “Summer of Tegan” produced approximately 80,000 words. Much of it was good. Much of it seemed popular. My editor voiced not a single complaint when I plopped 15K about 90s Batman in his lap for the Summer season. It felt good to do that, just - flex, a bit. I needed a win, folks. I needed a streak. If nothing else, to reassure the people who had stuck by me after all these years and all these nonproductive troughs, that I was good for it, and that I was always going to be good for it.

Tom Spurgeon died in 2019. I wouldn’t be writing these words today if it weren’t for words he wrote decades ago. We didn’t know each other well - in fact, we barely spoke, and in fact stopped speaking for years because of some sparky exchange or other. I do not remember what it could have been, not in the least at this remove. From what I am given to understand he was like that with a lot of people, and a lot of people persisted and forged relationships anyway. At the time we corresponded I wasn’t of the mindset for that kind of prickly relationship, even less so now. I avoid conflict, most especially online, and extra most especially within my field. I did that already for almost a decade and it wasn’t fun. I didn’t like the person my reputation reflected. Trivial controversy seemed less important then. I like to think I got it out of my system before stakes arrived. But I’m wrong. The stakes were always there, I was just stupid. 

I don’t there’s a single person with whom I ever had any kind of cross words, online over comics or any other nerd ephemera, with whom I wouldn’t sit down with today for a drink. If there’s anyone reading this today who still feels strongly about it, I’m sorry. Sincerely. I also apologize for any of my earlier reviews for which apologies might be needed. I know I was needlessly antagonistic on multiple occasions. I thought it was my job, as silly as that sounds. I was severely depressed for years and took it out on the world around me - also about as silly as that sounds. But I think we’ve all learned some lessons in recents years on the subject of being performatively adversarial in public. It doesn’t do anything for anyone and only cheapens those who indulge. Hurts the work immensely. Hurts you as a writer and a person.

So I will apologize to Charles Burns as I acknowledge woeful but studied underwriting to be not quite the cardinal sin I believed as a young pedant. And I will most certainly apologize to Brian Lee O’Malley. You seem a chill dude. Chiller than me on the best day of my life. I still don’t like your book but I don’t really think Scott Pilgrim causes spontaneous illiteracy. That was probably crossing a line but it has proven a teaching moment. Pitchfork recently publicly redid some old reviews to reflect hindsight, maybe the Journal should likewise be afforded a do-over here. I will however not apologize to Scott McCloud. You earned your “L” with that one, dude, but good on you for still lining up to get your lumps with the rest of the chumps. And I will never, for so long as I live, apologize to Brian Michael Bendis. For anything. You should draw more! You had some chops, kid. Could have done something with that.

It’s about the work, yes. But it’s also about being read. Being heard - feeling connected to the world. Something I haven’t often felt in my actual life. Due to circumstances owing to nothing more than geography I didn’t live near any comic books stores growing up (and not a lot of other kids, either). I never had problems getting to shops, mind. We did lots of traveling around the state, lots of visiting of grandparents and shopping trips in bigger cities. Still, when I finally managed a pull list it was at a store an hour and a half away which I visited precisely once a month. Even if I had access to comics I never really had any community around comics. Not until the internet, and still only that since with the exception of a brief stint as a “regular” at my shop in Oklahoma. Shoutout to Mike at the Comic Empire, if you’re still there, sorry I fell off correspondence, it was a very rough time.

In school I was the only person I knew who read comics. I didn’t get any shit for it, actually, never experienced that kind of bullying - this was the 80s and 90s, comics weren’t uncool. Kids generally liked having someone around who could pass around the one where Batman gets his back broken, or who knew how to draw Wolverine’s costume right. (But which costume, I would ask?) In high school I made some friends to whom I literally loaned out longboxes worth of comics, just to have someone to share with. That was quite fun, though a hell of a lot of work to establish a little high school reading group built around discussing post-Crisis DC continuity. So, uh. I’ve always wanted more conversation than I ever had. 

I talked comics with my mom more than anyone else, because she was in the car. Also bought Spawn for years longer than advisable because she liked it. Honestly, when I was a kid I thought Todd McFarlane was “just OK,” it was actually my mom who saw that guy’s work and realized he was the one to follow. She was still flipping through Spawn when I was trying to get her to read Starman, which I don’t think she ever read at all - in hindsight, who had the better eye? Perishability often surprises. She just mentioned to me in passing she read the first run of Heavy Metal in the 70s, which somehow never came up before. Clearly she’s a lot smarter than me. 

Anyway. The conversation I have sought has too often been one-sided. The peak era of the comics blogosphere was really less than a decade, give or take, spanning from Neilalian and Journalista! through the salad days of Dick Hyacinth and Fanboy Rampage. I held onto that spark for as long as I could but the fact is that sticking around those venues, even if they still had people in them, meant a more respectful and one-sided conversation. No one reads the comments anymore! Soon the entire world would be the comments section. 

I pine for that feedback. Through long periods of shattering isolation across my adult life it has felt like the only real communication I’ve had. My method was simple, for years: every day I’d post something and then sit back and wait for people in the comments to complain. That always pissed me off, never failed to infuriate me. The problem wasn’t however that my serial complainers were wrong. No! The problem is that, on balance, the folks who chimed in during the first years of the blog’s existence had good and productive criticism. And I hated it, of course, not because they were schmucks but because they were right. So I’d read the critique and internalize it and set about, as ruthlessly possible, to correct whatever the problems were. Maybe I kicked a bit. 

But mostly, I just got up and did it all over again the next day. Walk directly and fearlessly towards whatever isn’t working. Try to say something that doesn’t get cut to pieces, come home covered in scars. Rinse and repeat for, oh, five or six years, however long it was until comments started to die off. Just like the origin of Doomsday in Superman / Doomsday : Hunter / Prey #2! Turns out half a decade of having hundreds of people pore over your essays looking for errors in style, fact, argument, and attitude is great for weeding out negative tendencies. Really good for learning to focus on exactly what you want to say and nothing else. It sucks to put up a huge post about something or other you’ve put a lot of work into only to find all the comments are about a silly overstatement in the next-to-last paragraph, or whatever. You learn from those lessons or you don’t get better. This is what I taught my students years later, teaching writing for undergraduates. Attack your own work with dispassionate ruthlessness. You’re not attacking yourself, you’re attacking error. You need to talk directly to the reader. Errors are distractions from that. Fix the problem, stab that error in the heart and never do it again. 

I miss that feedback. No one really cares to talk back anymore, and honestly the way people talk back in 2022 doesn’t seem quite so constructive as what I’m describing from the Golden Age of the Blogosphere. Now, I’ve been doing this for a long time and as much as I value the fans who have been with me since as far back since 2002, I can’t write like I used to. Not if I want to be read by anyone under the age of forty. I want to be read by whoever is talking about comics today. That means I have to keep at it, work hard to stay relevant. Change. Keep my edge or someone will slit my throat as I rest fat and sassy upon a bed of laurels. I live on a farm. I know how to get to the glue factory, thank you. 

Because it does not matter if I ever make any real money from writing. I fully intend to keep at it, don’t get me wrong. What you don’t see, what no one ever sees, are the reams and reams of rejection letters. Through much of the preceding history my writing activity was punctuated by a steady and consistent drop of rejection notices from agents and editors. Excepting the college interregnum I have been trying to ingratiate myself to the publishing industry for well over a decade, albeit split down the middle and beginning at the turn of the century. I was getting rejection notices from agents before 9-11 and am still getting rejection notices from agents during the Biden administration. Persistence or delusion? U-Decide!

Because, again, it ultimately does not matter one bit. What matters is the work. What matters is keeping at it. I intend to continue to write for a larger audience than I have. My fantasy novels have met an enthusiastic response from every single person who has read them, including people inside the publishing industry, but alas - not a single one of those people has been able to net me more than a form rejection from a relevant agent. It’s an impressive run of rejection notices, you must acknowledge, spanning multiple states, multiple decades, and multiple genres of writing.

For half a decade I taught the skill of writing query / cover / resume letters. A most common and necessary skill! Hundreds of college students from all walks of life learned this skill from someone who has themselves never written a successful query. All my gigs, at least since the very beginning, have been by invitation. No one ever says yes when I ask. Took me two years to get into grad school. Even my first published piece was technically a rejection. Why, I received a “no” in the e-mail earlier today! No joke. To this day every no burns like a molten ingot, a white hot ball of humiliation and despair that nestles down in the pit of the stomach.  

If you can’t take that numbing rage and hammer it, beat it flat, shape it into something new and better that you can put down on paper - you will falter. You will falter and it will eat you alive and make you strangle yourself with your own entrails. Because, again, it ultimately does not matter one bit. What matters is the work. It has to be about the work because in the end you can’t count on anything else to ever materialize. Ask yourself the question, are you OK doing this for the rest of your life if you never make another dollar? If you die penniless and forgotten? Whatever the hell else was I going to do? This is my home. I already have the terrible arthritis in both hands to prove it. Better hung for a wolf than a sheep!

If I want to write something I write it for myself with a clean conscience. However, if someone wants me to write for them all they have ever had to do was ask. Thankfully I lack sufficient financial stability to be unduly threatened by the injudicious application of scruple or self-regard. In a world where having enough money to live is an immoral act my hands remain squeaky clean! Helps in that regard that I don’t know how to pitch.

As a writer I don’t compete with anyone but myself. I think more people might like the opportunity to watch that competition. A rejection slip from the publishing industry at this point hurts their credibility more than mine. Maybe I’m delusional, perhaps. Probably! But that’s how you keep getting back up after being kicked over and over again, every hit square in the face another rung down the ladder that rises up and out of suffocating poverty . . . it’s about the work. My goal as a writer is to make enough money that I can go to McDonalds whenever I want. That’s the dream! I’m used to being poor and can live on very little. I have however discovered I cannot live without the work, and require subsidy in which to do that work. The faith in the work remains a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, as well as the audience without whom there would be no work. Fighting that for the better part of a decade almost killed me. Made me want to give up. 

The key to all that feedback over all those years - even all that teaching - was learning that the work was always about the audience. Even as, by all appearances, my work has become longer and more baroque and inarguably more self-indulgent - well, blame the people who’ve been reading and coming back for years. People who show up have a big influence on whatever follows, a lesson for life as well as writing. 

Comics show up, repeatedly, in my life. Whenever I have turned my back on comics, comics has come for me. I wrote a lot about music in the first decade of this century - even voted in the Pazz & Jop for the better part of a decade. But no one has ever come looking for the person who wrote all those hundreds of music reviews during the Bush years. If I stop writing about comic books? People come looking for me. That means something, right? As much as I’d like to sell my fantasy novels to Hollywood and become fantastically rich and renowned, to sell my criticism and win that fabled first Pulitzer for writing about comic books - comics themselves will never not be the foundation for everything that follows. 

What matters is the work. Tom Spurgeon died in 2019. I wouldn’t be writing these words today if it weren’t for words he wrote decades ago. What I learned from him is that if you do the work the right way the doing eventually becomes more important than the work. The doing becomes the glue that binds your life and your community. I am not shy about asserting that I want an audience, and that I’m always trying to expand that audience. (Certainly wouldn’t mind making money, if it ever came up.) That’s why I write different things, for different audiences and different purposes. If I’m not trying to make a connection to someone what’s the point of writing anything?

Now, the question remains: how do you get that audience? How do you keep that audience? Well, you can certainly try yelling and slinging insults. Get attention through making an ass of yourself. I tried that. It got people into the yard, sure. But it doesn’t keep anything and ends by corroding everything. The only way to actually earn and keep an audience, for real, is to show up and do the work. Find people who want to read your writing and write to them. That’s it. Write well. Get better. That’s it.

The most important thing is to stay hungry. I still wake up every day starving, and I hope I always do. 


PS - In addition to everyone mentioned above, I would like to extend my especial thanks to Kieron Gillen, Al Ewing, Michel Fiffe, and Abe Riesman for letting me use their names to sell my stuff. Extra special thanks to Abe for going above and beyond and doing his level best to advance my career, more than just about anyone ever. He put me in his book! Also, while we’re in the neighborhood, I’d like to single out Casey Lucas for making all this possible, literally, inasmuch as she was kind enough to take an hour out of her life in 2018 to explain how to make eBooks.

PPS - Can you believe in all this time no one has ever asked me to write a comic book???!!! Seriously, not once in twenty years. I’m right here! I am still technically trying to break into comics, is the thing. At 19 or 20, having figured out it was both impossible and inadvisable to make a frontal assault on the industry, I observed that the only sure-fire route to publication was prior experience in another field of writing. Not that different from now, actually! So I went into prose fiction. And when that didn’t move I eased into writing about comics, thinking at least the potential for some kind of lateral move into writing in comics might emerge, as it had for others. It did not emerge! And then I gave up the fiction and went into academia, with the idea in the back of my head that I knew multiple academics who had used the stability of their teaching careers to launch writing careers. And then of course once I broke into fiction that way then I could still get into comics. But that didn’t pay off, either, so after the interregnum in school I returned to writing nonfiction. The nonfiction got a really strong response but I couldn’t figure out how to package that enthusiasm in a way an agent could understand. So I started writing fantasy with the understanding that they only way I could be sure of getting my nonfiction into print would be as a successful fantasy writer. So, I have in the span of two decades gone from writing criticism as a sideline to keep me occupied while I worked on fiction to get into comics . . . to writing criticism as a mainline to keep me occupied while I worked on my fantasy writing, which I began for the purpose of selling the nonfiction, all of which is ultimately supposed to provide some kind of entry to the comics industry.

I’m right here. I’ve been waiting to sell out for years! No one has ever asked. I only ever grew a backbone because no one paid me not to. Come on, someone has to need something written . . . licensed cartoon book? Off-brand cheesecake book? Preventative Maintenance? Right here, folks. HMU. Grimm’s Fairy Tales: The Golden Bowl ain’t gonna write itself, people.

The Hurting Library