I never thought I'D be the one to say that there is still hope.

Tutorial / 12 January 2021

Well, 2020 was something wasn't it? I know the roots of my 2020 were set back in 2019, and further. 

In 2019, I felt that I was stagnating at a professional crossroads. I had to admit some hard truths. The one on the forefront of my mind was that too much of my time had been taken away from what I love, managing so many other concerns, and teaching. No I also love teaching too, but it was also something I was maybe spending too much time doing. As I said, this was tough to admit because I had to take a long-hard look at myself and admit that although I had learned and taught many new skills over the last decade, that the overall quality of my artwork was slipping and I could tell by looking at it myself that it had degraded over time. 

It's not that I didn't love art anymore, it was that I had really fallen in love with writing and developed and strengthened my skills in that arena, while also falling in love with teaching and enjoying that, and publishing and mentoring and social media presence and so-on. I was hiring other artists to create art for projects that I had created and written, because I was no longer confident in the quality of my art. Although I knew all of the ways in which a person could create and publish a comic, video game and more and taught them, I lost confidence in my art skills, which with everything else in life, just fell by the wayside. Stress and life and bills always seemed to push art out of my life. 

Too be fair, at times I feel like I have a special brew of circumstances that makes letting those skills slip almost acceptable, and at first, I told myself the comfortable lie ; that was the case. A comforting excuse, but still an excuse.

Not to belabor or bemoan my own problems, but the mix of severe head injury from an accident in my teens, lifelong issues with anxiety, alcoholism through most of my late teens, 20s and early thirties, lifelong weight yo-yoing, work injuries to hands and arms and a plethora of other things that I've experienced in life, I should technically have enough nerve damage to barely hold a pencil. So it really shouldn't shock me that the quality of my work was slipping, right? Wrong. Everyone has those stories. Sure, their stories might be different, the details may vary, but everyone in the world has just as many tragic stories, and excuses, not to try. Of course I am not exceptional, just lucky, someone else in the same boat may try and fail. What's important is that they tried. 

Thankfully I realized fairly quickly that I wasn't pushing myself as hard as I could. I was letting the acceptance of those things in my past be an excuse not to push harder. It can be very easy and equally dangerous to let your past be your excuse not to try, and a lot of people do it every day. 

The difference was that I knew that if I continued to let things slip, if I let this slide, it would be that much easier to let the next thing slide. One of the things I teach new comic artists is digital illustration and production. The skills for the software alone change every 6-12 months. I simply couldn't let my skills continue to slide and I needed to focus on at least getting my art skills back up to acceptable standards. If I couldn't do that I wouldn't be much use to my students, and I would likely lose my job or, even worse, force them to endure a hopelessly out of date and out of touch class. I respect myself and fellow artists too much to do that. 

So, I wound down my teaching duties and stepped away from several teaching positions. I planned ahead. By the end of 2019 I had wound down my teaching work and was looking ahead to 2020 being the year I spent focusing on my own skills and self-improvement. To learn new skills and techniques and get to the point where I enjoyed looking at my art again.

And coincidentally another very lucrative offer came up...in teaching. It was a new school and new class I hadn't taught before with more hours and more money. It was just good enough at the right time, that I was planning for the future, and it was local, minutes from my home, which was a BIG factor. 

Though a little apprehensive, it turned out to be an enjoyable experience. The students appreciated the work I did in class and extra work I did for the course. I found ways to adapt my learning and working on art skills both outside and inside class. At many times I introduced new concepts and software that had the students and I learning together, which was really cool.

Even after the VID shut down the school we continued online, up until July when I was laid off due to online classes being merged with another instructor. I can't blame anyone for that situation it was business, no worries. I had EI and I could also look at the positive side, I'd get more time to devote to learning and improving my skills and getting my art back to a place where I felt confident in it's quality again. 

6+ months later I can say that I've accomplished my goals. My art isn't perfect mind you. No one's is. There will always be new and old techniques I'm tweaking and practicing. Every artist should be making progress in their art throughout their life. 

Along the way my 2020 has been tumultuous, just like everyone else's. I extended that journey of improvement into facing and admitting more of my own faults, flaws and issues, and beginning to blog publicly about my struggles with anxiety. I had to ask a publisher to back out of my creator owned mini-series half-way in, because the craziness of the real world suddenly conflicted and went far beyond what I had intended to do with that comic and the concept of the story kind of got blown apart by real-life events. 

There's been plenty of time for me to delve into personal things that I had been ignoring and let fester for a long time, and face the personal demons that were holding me back and led to the point where I had to admit that I needed time away from all of it to renew my skills and passions. 

Anxiety is a very funny thing, as it can convince you that you are protecting yourself or playing it safe, when you are really selling yourself short. I think that's been my biggest lesson of 2020. 

In a few weeks I'll be back to teaching and also producing fun new content with the skills I have practiced in the last year. 

I'm looking forward to it. And so should you. 

It sucks that we're all essentially locked in for the second time, but I do believe that we can, must and will find new ways of doing things that will be better that what we did before. I truly believe that if enough people look at the world and accept the reality of what it is, not what they want it to be, that people will propel the movement to improve the way we live and work for everyone. 

It's my sincere hope that we as a society can move beyond money being the central focus of life, and I am doing my best to lead by example. Being the change I want to see. Exploring all of my crazy ideas with new content and media and sharing these with people on a non-profit basis. 

I think it's apparent that there were holes in the system we didn't see until a worldwide emergency happened. I also think it's fairly plain for most people to see that corruption isn't something that exists in a country half-a-world away, corruption is right here and it is in every country. The main proof of this corruption is that whoever has the most money gets to be leader, regardless of whether they have any vision, leadership skills or redeeming qualities. And I'm not just talking about you-know-who. It's evident of many other world leaders as well. When money determines the outcome, regardless of competency, that is corruption. When everyone is swayed by dollars and can make deals and compromises for cash, our system falls apart due to ineptitude.

It can be really hard not to get stuck in a very negative outlook on life when you start to see these things. My blog is proof. I admit, at times I get stuck in a generally very negative outlook on humanity. I do. I have very little faith, if any, in most institutions, businesses and people. 

And somehow yet, I have hope and optimism. Hope that people of all ages, races, lifestyles and religions will see through all of the ridiculous agendas that have been pushed to profit from the division they create. If we stop buying into the bullshit artists with the most money, I sincerely hope and believe that we can and will move forward. 

We've seen what the alternative is, right? Did anyone like that? Is anyone enjoying it? So why go back to that?

I know that we can move forward and embrace a future where we help and respect each other, instead of nitpicking each other or fighting with strangers on Facebook over the minutiae of a recent film, when there are so many more worthy things to focus your attention and time on.

I hope and believe that when can get past the shit show of the last 12 months as well as the decades before it and build a new system and society that is based on helping each other. I hope my work helps further and inspire that, even if it is just the smallest tiniest way. Even if it only inspires one person. 

Is that person you? Can you inspire the next?

Thanks for reading,

Mike

THIS right here

General / 11 January 2021


The Bittersweetness of $4 Graphic Novels

Article / 07 January 2021

When I was a kid, I loved comics. You could buy a whole stack at a flea market or a yard sale. Comic shops had a 25¢ bin. You could buy a bag of random back issues at local department stores for $4.99. Brand new issues sold on the spinner rack of your local convenience store for $1.25.

Those were the days. It's no wonder that I amassed a collection of thousands comics in my childhood. I could have rolled in comics the way a lot of you pervs imagine Bettie Page rolling in cash. Rolling, endlessly rolling, riding crop swinging in the air... Anyway, try to keep focused on the main point here: happiness.

They were folded, stapled, four-color or black and white happiness in small doses of 24-32 pages, that any kid could afford by the mitt full.

They were so affordable, you could buy loose boxes of comics in almost every Christmas catalog that was published. It was my favorite part of Christmas. Still is, in memory at least.

Nevermind that kids today would never believe that massive catalogs of hundreds or thousands of pages, one from each retailer, were just dropped off for free on EVERYONE'S doorstep, or the fact that most of those retailers no longer exist, or the fact that I sold most of that massive collection over the last 20 years to finance my own comics projects with middling to nil success.

Comics were fun. And they were affordable. And then, they weren't. Cover price increases have far exceeded the rate of inflation multiple times over, making comics something kids and parents of kids, can no longer afford to get into as a hobby. That's a problem, because the entire monthly comics industry is built on kids and parents being able to afford making it a habit. You know? An affordable hobby? And one comic at a time doesn't do it. Reading a comic once a month doesn't do it. They've got to be able to buy a few at a time, every week or two, to make it a habit. They have to get into the adventures of Clark Kent AND Peter Parker and many others. At $5 each, that's no longer realistic, which is bad for an industry built on that.

It's no surprise that in an ever tightening, ever competitive, consumer-driven system would see the graphic novel replace the comic book. If A kid can't afford to follow everything, and one comic isn't enough, a graphic novel is the next logical purchase decision. If you can't follow them all, then at least you can focus on one character at a time and get one complete storyline. Demand and budget restrictions dictate that some collectors will continue to follow the single issues, some frustrated that the store is always sold out before they get there will switch to graphic novels or drop the title altogether. And yet some, those on a tight budget, which these days is most of us, will stop buying the floppies and willingly keep themselves 6-12 months behind the monthly storyline in order to save about 30% of the cost of this collectibles hobby. Roughly speaking, $30 worth of monthly comics are reprinted as a $20 graphic novel. 

With a graphic novel being a bigger dose, a kid can get into the hobby and read a $20 graphic novel per month, where they wouldn't perhaps be able to buy multiple monthly comics every week or two.

It's a much narrower opportunity to pick up new fans, and a far cry from the affordability when I got into the hobby.

The closest thing in recent times is the advent of graphic novels being added to the shelves of dollar store chains, something that became prevalent in 2019. 

See, in the book store industry, the have "returns". Unlike comic shops, book stores can return unsold books to the distributor for a full or partial credit. These books are then returned to the publisher, who must reimburse the distributor for any money they have been paid for the books that are returned. This leaves the publisher with X number of books that they can't essentially sell as new. Even if they are in pristine condition, the books are essentially considered "seconds" and no longer sellable as new product. 

The publisher can't just sit on a warehouse full of returned books that could accumulate quickly if the publisher has multiple titles, so the publisher then sells their returned books to a discount distributor. Regardless of how much the book was originally priced for, discount distributors pay roughly $1 per book. This dollar usually goes straight to the publisher without any percentage going to the creators, something often worked into the contract, and these $1 sales do not generate any royalties for anyone involved in producing the book. The books purchased by a discount book distributor are then sold to department stores and other retail outlets to fill discount bargain bins where most books sell for roughly $5.

So, it can be assumed that since the rise of popularity of graphic novels in books stores, there must also be an equal increase in returns and a proportional number of graphic novels now available through discount distributors, such as dollar store chains who now carry graphic novels in the $3-4 range. Books that are selling for $30-$40 on shelves in book stores and hobby shops are also sitting on the shelves of your local dollar store for $3-$4.

It's not the 25 cent bin, but when you consider that a graphic novel gives you much more comic bang for your buck, and that the dollar store offers the same graphic novels as the hobby shop and book store, at a lower price than a single floppy comic, it's plain to see that this is how the kids of this generation are going to get into comics and reading. 

So, as I do every year, I bought a little something for myself for Christmas, as a kind of reward for the year. This year I bought myself a whack of random graphic novels and when I opened them, it was like re-living a small sliver of that Christmas joy as a kid. opening a box of comics and being amazed at the variety of characters, stories, art and imagination. 

I also sent a box to each of my nieces and nephews, in the hopes that they would experience the same thrill and joy that I did on Christmas. I think it was successful.

It's not a box of comics from a Christmas catalog, but the dollar store is what kids who are going to get into comics have today. 

It sure does give me mixed feelings. I don't like to promote or give free advertising to large corporate retail entities, that's why I'm not mentioning any specific chains. You will find that different chains do have different selections, likely because they deal with different distributors and those distributors deal with different publishers, but if you are diligent and willing to put in the work, you can find comics from across all publishers, age groups and genres.

I have to assume that hobby shops and retailers won't like this kind of news getting out one bit, but it's already out there and the retail dynamics are not the fault of the consumer. The simple fact is comic shops got strong-armed into unfavorable no-returns policies because they agreed to buy comics from one distributor who controls flow and access to product. If comic distributors accepted returns, the retail environment would be much healthier for hobby shops.

Currently, the same book that your dollar store pays $1.50-$2 for and sells for $4, sells to your local hobby shop for $20 and retails for $40. It's no way to compete in a consumer driven economy and doesn't help the shrinking number of comics and hobby shops who are struggling to stay open during COVID. 

At the same time, I'm not sure we can rally around comic shop owners to demand change, when it is us, their very customer base who cannot afford to entertain ourselves with the $40 books they have on offer, and if we or our kids want to enjoy an affordable and entertaining hobby, have to go with the cheaper alternative. If I have to choose between the health of one industry, as much as I love it, over the financial well-being and stability of EVERYONE who is currently struggling, I choose what is good for everyone. (It also helps that my local dollar stores have a wider range of publishers and genres than some of my local comic shops.)

So for the time being, I will spread the word about dollar store graphic novels, to help others cope with the quarantine, even though I know that none of the money from those book sales go to those, like myself, who create them professionally. Those that are buying the $3 graphic novel today are the potential future comic collectors that will come into hobby shops in the future. To be honest, dollar store graphic novels are probably the best advertising that these comic publishers and retailers have had in years. No dollar store has the complete set or run of any series, so those hard core fans who want to fill in the gaps will have to go to a retailer eventually. My partially completed set of Eagle Moss Star Trek graphic novels is proof. 

So, it may not be the situation we want, but it's the situation we live in. Maybe if people stop trying to defend and protect their own interests, those involved in this chain can work together to improve it, not just for their own benefit, but more importantly, for the comic buying and loving public. 

As a man nearing his 40s, this topic makes me surprisingly and unexpectedly giddy. I'm constantly suppressing the excited school boy inside of me because I want others to discover the same love for comics that I have. I even thought of approaching some of these chains to see if I could work out a sponsorship deal to do youtube videos of my dollar store finds. I hesitate though, mostly because I don't want to compromise the content that I create with advertiser influence. 

BTW it took me many hours over multiple days to write this. I'm thinking about doing these longer blog posts as videos or even animated explainer videos. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below. 

BTW here is some of my recent art:


Thanks for reading, 

Mike



Happy Public Domain Day!

News / 01 January 2021

I hereby commit my original mixed media art piece, entitled "2 Wings, Same Bird" to the Creative Commons and Public domain under A limited Creative Commons Copyright. This means that other artists are now allowed to use, reuse, alter or change this piece of art for their own purposes for private, non-profit or commercial use IF their re-publication or re-interpretation also includes proper credit to the original artist, myself, Mike Gagnon. For full details on allowable use or re-use visit the link attached to the image. 




This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

If you do use this piece for your project, I'd love to see it! You can send links or details via the contact page.

Thanks for reading,

Mike

My 2020 "Stats" ;)

Work In Progress / 24 December 2020



Some artistic inspiration and great skill observation

Tutorial / 22 December 2020


Never too late to recognize your flaws and improve.

Tutorial / 21 December 2020


Crapping on others, does not make what you do better.

Tutorial / 16 December 2020

Something that there is no shortage of is people complaining. One of the more popular things for people to complain about, is the creative work of others.

It's a strange cultural development that we pick apart the people who create our "favorite" art, as if we know their jobs and objectives better than they do.

What I have observed as particularly troubling is the trend in my college age students of the last few years, to use the mutual hatred or ridicule of someone as a way to fit in. Often, if pressed, most students can't really verbalize or articulate the reasons for their group hate on something or someone, with the discourse falling apart with a trailer off sentence that leaves the unsaid very clearly. Hating on a mutual subject was a way of fitting in with their peer group.

Our own pop culture and media can influence this as well. When something reaches a critical tipping point where a certain percentage of the population deems something "not good", the pressure to change your opinion and also dislike that thing seems to come from every direction; television, radio, internet, and even peers.

What? You're an adult over 30 and you like the Star Wars prequel movies? Surely, you must at least hate Jarjar Binks!?!

There are plenty of other example I could used, some are specific and individually targeted artists. I won't expand and give more examples because I choose not to take part in the behavior of singling out others and don't want to draw attention to actions that I myself do not want to perpetuate.

I can't help but find this trend most egregious when I see it in a group of art students.

There is no group in the world more ready and willing to stand up and call out any type of bullying in real life and on the web, and then they can turn around in the next second and take part in the same behavior that they just condemned, secure in the feeling that the targeting that they are doing is justified. Their friends and favorite website and Facebook wouldn't have lied to them, right?

That is why I make sure to devote at least one lecture for each class to point out that bashing other people's art doesn't Ake your art any better. This can be applied to all manner of creative ventures.

Sure, cutting down someone else who you perceive to be more accomplished and successful makes you feel good about yourself, but that feeling is artificial and fleeting. That ego boost is temporary because at the end of the day, pointing out the flaws of others doesn't do anything to make your life or work better. It doesn't I crease your achievements or make any achievements you may have earned on your own shine brighter. When it comes down to it, that person you are criticizing is probably more accomplished and well-known than you are. That's why you're talking about them. In your subconscious you know there's big gap between your and their achievement. This is dangerous because when you ego boost runs out, it doesn't just go away, but leaves you feeling more empty than you did before. 

It can be very easy for a person to fall into this pattern of behavior and never get out. The artist who thinks he should be writing and drawing every comic book. The graphic designer who never stops talking about how others designers work is garbage, and so on. We all know someone like this in some context. These are people who found themselves feeling emptier than when they started and failed to recognize that the feeling was caused by their own actions. So, these people find someone else to rip apart, they feel better about themselves again, so they think it worked. When the euphoria wears off and that person finds them in an even deeper emotional hole than before, so they keep ripping people apart, thinking it's making them feel better until you end up with a negative, bitter, disgruntled person who trusts no one and thinks everyone has treated them unfairly.

The damage is double edged, because this bitterness will also push away people in your own support system, perhaps even those peers who you started the behavior to fit in with in the first place.

I don't want that for anyone, friend or enemy, which is why I decided to write about this.

It all boils down to this motto:

"At the end of the day, the time you spend hating others does nothing to help you or improve you life."

So, instead of throwing away your time in trying to ridicule others, take that time and devote it to something positive that you are passionate about.

Make a sculpture, film a movie, draw a comic, practice and perfect any skill. 

That time you would have spent hating others is much better invested in improving your own skills and accomplishments. It will leave you feeling much more accomplished and fulfilled than spending your days hating on others.

I spent my time writing this blog and making this art:


Thanks for reading,

Mike

Preview of Orlok plus some rambles of wisdomishness

Making Of / 08 December 2020


I want my phone to be a phone

Article / 03 December 2020

Smartphones can do a lot of things. They can tell you the weather, they can track health goals, they can keep your schedules and appointments and e-mails and photos and a million other things.

Know what I want my phone to be?

A phone.

Let's face it, the majority of functions, apps and uses for a smart phone relate to one of two (if not both) things: Work and social media. 

Do we really need to be taking work and social media with us in our pocket, wherever we go? Are we so badly in need of stimulation that we have to distract ourselves with e-mails that can wait until work hours the next day or photos of meals being eaten by acquaintances and strangers?

Is it even healthy to have constant connection with these things?

Doesn't the very act of taking these things with us everywhere break the work/life boundaries and give these things an elevated and false level of importance in our lives?

For those over 30, Do you remember a time when friends and family couldn't just connect with you on a whim at the faintest thought, and expect a response in a very short time frame? Remember when if someone wanted something from you, they had to call your home, and if they didn't reach you, they had to leave a message and hope you'd get back to them? Maybe in a couple days? You know, when you weren't busy and it was convenient? Now it doesn't seem to matter who it is. If someone needs something and you don't respond, expect 8 texts from that person in the next hour. 

Don't get me wrong, communication is good and valuable and something we need lots more of, but quality communication about real things. Somewhere along the way, with the advent of the technological age, society seems to have somehow altered the social contract that we all have and expect of each other, and now it seems perfectly normal to expect a response to a text in five minutes, e-mails are often expected to be responded to same-day or less. 

I don't think this level of expectation is healthy and think it causes more frustration and poor communication than facilitating real, useful communication. It seems to be the ultimate expression of self-importance. Most people are using this technology to push their priorities onto others that can help meet their goals, getting attention, help and action immediately, and although it sounds great, I think it devalues our personal relationships to the point where friends, family and acquaintances become one more contact point to push toward achieving our goals, but removes the personal connection, the humanity and the honest communication out of the way to achieve goals that you think are important now, but may not remember or care about 5 years, or even one year from now.

This isn't me chastising techies or vilifying the smartphone, just some food for thought that I think we should all consider if we want the advent of high-technology to be a positive thing that improves humanity, not in efficiency, but in clear, compassionate communication.

Failing to keep this in mind could see a day when the average person is nothing more than a fleshy robot drone completing tasks from a list assigned to their smartphone by a cold and indifferent employer. 

Personally, I'd like to get a new case for my smartphone, one that's bigger than a breadbox and bolted to the wall with the smart phone embedded in the middle. This case would be made of wood, and have a listening horn on one end and a mouth piece on a cord, just like an old antique phone. Of course, it would have more modern touch tone buttons, because no-one wants to go back to the rotary dial. Once or twice a day I might open the case to view any digital communications sent, but other than that, it would only ring when someone calls and I am under no obligation to answer every time it rings. 

That would be nice. I'd probably get a lot more actual work and art done. 

One can dream.

In the meantime, here's some art I did!


Thanks for reading,

Mike