I remember back in those dark days of staring at a computer screen filled with endless vehicle identification numbers and thinking, "I wish I was at home all day so that I could draw comics." I had a temp job at Freightliner working on extended coverage last year. It made decent money and the job was easy enough, but I don't really care about trucks! I'm sure everyone's dream is to be able to do what they love all day and have that be enough to survive. For me, this is not trucks. I longed for my dream career as a cartoonist. When the time came to finally pursue it, I never knew that it would be more stressful than any job I've ever had — and I've worked in a call center for GM customer assistance!
I had a schedule all worked out last year. I would work my day job with the trucks, go home and eat dinner, then draw until bedtime. It worked out pretty well. I had drawn a page a day for over a year for EmiTown and at that time I was excited to see it in print. Then, in the cold days of December 2010, I received the news that I had been laid off from my day job. Heartbreak. Fear. Panic. Luckily at that time I was working on a guest story for Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth, a comic published by DC Vertigo, and had a check on the way that would rescue me for the month of December and January.
It was a crazy time. I wasn't sure what to do. Should I immediately find another entry level desk job or try to survive as a freelancing cartoonist? For some reason, the latter sounded more fun. I mean, dreams are meant to be chased right? Why else live? To quote Eminem, "You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. Opportunity comes once in a lifetime, YO."
I managed to pick up a few jobs by networking and with the help of my dearest friends. EmiTown was released and I made some decent money off sales at local comic book conventions. Maybe this will all work out?
One of the things I found to be challenging as a freelancer was budgeting my time during the day. How easy it is to sleep in and watch TV all day or to leave for hikes, socializing, and beers. Most of the time these activities were a form of escapism from my new-found stress. I am getting better at it, but I still struggle with this today. With this added pressure to draw to make dollars, I've found myself frozen in anxiety and stress. The fear of failure paralyzes me to the point that I'm too afraid to move forward. Life was easier when I worked at a day job that I didn't care about. Don't get me wrong, I worked hard then, but the fear of failure, being fired, or messing up was never something that would be detrimental to my mental well-being. I have grown three gray hairs (at the tender age of 27) since the lay off, had two acne breakouts, and experienced weeks of nightmares.
I guess I should never expect dream chasing to be easy. I've survived this long without a day job, but I am returning to the grind soon. There is some comfort in a regular check and hopefully fewer gray hairs! I am still chasing the dream, just part time. I do not regret jumping off the cliff and trying it out, and I still feel I am jumping off a cliff. I also realize that this level of stress is because being a cartoonist is something I really care strongly about. It should be used as fuel not as a weight.
Maybe someday I will be able to advise my children, "Hey, children. I know it's hard sometimes to follow your dreams, but seriously, it's worth pushing through."
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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