Let me try to explain this. I have been to two conventions in three weeks and have been left with a strange assortment of emotions about them. They include, but are not limited to: frustration, joy, excitement, anger, contempt, cynicism, and inspiration. For AWP, I was expecting this.
But it didn’t happen. On the contrary, I had a wonderful time at AWP. I even had a friend pull me aside and explain exactly why I should be immovably depressed, but all I could feel was a general sort of enthusiastic curiosity and the gentle feeling of adrenaline that comes from riding the very edge of a wave, or watching a natural disaster from a safe distance.
At SPACE I felt increasingly frustrated with the state of things around the room. I saw the things my friend had warned me about at AWP. For every intelligent conversation I had 10 banal ones. Those who were producing the old slop, (short skirts, tight shirts, super heroes, zombies, cliché dialogue, and shallow themes), were doing great, while people with genuinely brilliant ideas testing the edge of the genre were ignored.
I had one experience where I was holding a book about three big-busted girls who fought crime from a convertible in LA. They were apparently cheerleaders. They held pistols. The writer was making a valiant attempt to sell me the idea and, I assume, my unbridled rage must have begun to show on my face because his artist chimed in, “But there’s also a love story for you!”
Oh Snap. Them's fightin words.
The two experiences were different for a very simple reason. At SPACE, I was involved. I am an amateur poet at best. I am wallowing in obscurity. No one cares about me or what I have done and I am certainly no where near ready to join their ranks. I could play the happy observer. I could make popcorn and sit back and take notes. Someday soon I will be desperately filtering through the crowds for publications and jobs, but not yet.
On the other hand, at SPACE, I had a stack of things to sell. People were walking away from my table with my work in their hands. I wanted it to be good. I wanted everyone to be good. I didn’t feel so powerless to change the ebb and flow of the genre. There! There was my input on that flow. It was bound with three staples and was 25 pages long. I was really gorram proud of it.
Let me try to explain this, mostly to my fellow comic artists. When you spread your tablecloths over the folding tables, when you set up your printed books, when people stop by and buy them, (Even ten people. Even five), when people stop by and say offhandedly that they rather liked your last work, when someone stops by and says they hate it, when you are compared to the person sitting next to you, when you joke about it, when you are recognized if even by the one person who bought your book last time you have reached what will be the zenith of my career as a poet.
No. Really. My friend was right. There is no job in this. You have to love it. You have to want to do something good with it. Not just good, but –if you can manage it at all- beautiful. That is the only thing to strive for.
It pisses me off when a lot of artist/writers screw around instead.
In the end I find myself with a sort of battered determination and four hours of sleep. I bought a lot of books. I met some truly fantastic people. There was a hot tub and muffins and truly talented artists and writers sharing their time with me. I came home excited to get started again, which is pretty much the best place to be.
(PS: I didn't punch the guy. It was close, though)