I have enjoyed drawing since I was a tot and have been a top student in every art class I've attended from kindergarten on. However, I wasn't such a top student when I attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, as I failed within the first year. This led to me high-tailing it back to Portland and not having any idea as to what I wanted to do. I put aside art for what seemed to be a safe career in the auto business in call centers and as an analyst.
It wasn't until I had one of those moments in life that usually occurs after a huge emotional trauma (in my case, a break-up) that I buckled down and really thought about what I wanted. It occurred to me that working in the semi-truck industry wasn't something that made me feel proud every night. I knew nine-year-old me would be shocked and disappointed. I thought about the things that made me happy: drawing and comics. So, while at work, I researched comics in Portland. That's when Google showed me that there was a HUGE comics community right under my nose!
I didn't even realize Portland was known to be a huge hub for cartoonists. It seemed like my best bet to get in was to intern for Top Shelf Productions, a local comics publisher, and for Periscope Studio, a collection of comics artists and writers, both while working a 40-hour day job in semi-trucks. My focus became very clear. I knew what I wanted to do.
It was also around that post-traumatic time that I began a sketch diary. I drew a page a day of the things I wanted to remember. It could be about a run-in I had with a homeless person or the miracle of breakfast burritos. I carried the sketchbook around with me everywhere I went. The folks at Top Shelf and Periscope would steal a peak and encourage me to put the pages online, but fear of strangers reading and possibly judging my life swallowed my thoughts. Even still, I decided to put it online (www.emitown.com), and soon after I tabled at my first comics convention, the 2010 Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle.
It was there I met the publisher Eric Stephenson of Image Comics. I later found out that he was interested in publishing my daily scribbles as a trade paperback. This was the most amazing thing I had ever dreamed of. I had no idea it was even possible. The comic was published in December of 2010.
This somehow led to where I am now — blogging on Powell's website. Keep in mind this is a store I would get lost in as a kid. As in, actually lost, even as a teenager. I always loved browsing the comics section in hopes of finding a used copy of the comic I sought for my collection.
Just a couple months ago I saw my book on the shelf. This was completely surreal proof of several things. First, I actually achieved a piece of my dream. Second, being a cartoonist is doable, and the first and hardest step of getting published is done! Finally, working hard really does pay off! They don't teach you that in after-school specials for nothing.
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Emi Lenox has dreamed of becoming a cartoonist since she was a little girl reading the manga her Japanese mother provided. She spent her early 20s getting inspiration from the works of Jeff Smith, Adrian Tomine, and Craig Thompson, doodling in her sketchbook, and interning in Portland's comics community. With the release of EmiTown, her first published work, it's finally her turn.
Books mentioned in this post
Emi Lenox is the author of EmiTown