They are both darkness: they are both lights.

(All these quotes are from A Handbook of Disappointed Fate, Boyer’s collection of essays on poetry, illness, avant-garde creative movements, mutual aid, reading, and crushes.)

After I got sick in late summer 2014, I followed U.S. poetry only from afar, as if walking by a shop window and glancing at it through a glass, even the most necessary uproar too expensive to my health for me to even think of buying […]

This rang so true to how these last two years have changed my relationship to the comics industry—a space I never felt particularly enmeshed in to begin with. Every discussion of online drama or publishing upset or new technology costs far more than I have capacity or inclination to spend. A relief, in some ways, to have that decision taken away from me.

My time in the time of illness has been unmeasurable or ir-measured or a-measured. Yet despite how this time can no longer steadily or predictably submit itself to clocks and calendars, for survival’s sake I still have to try to measure it.

Underlined this because I’m doing my annual workbook on the couch right now, surrounded by a corona of calendar pages and journals and sketchbooks, trying to piece together the fragments of a lost year.

The harm can be studied like anything, every wept tear a textbook, every minute of shallow breathing a monograph, seven hours and fourteen minutes of a sleepless night a textbook a tedious-to-read but potentially useful dissertation on having existed.

It is not as if what is true, right, urgent, and necessary is a light, and what is harm is the darkness. They are both darkness: they are both lights.

yes yes yes yes

15. There will be a lot of sewing last year’s fragments with this year’s threads.

And also:

Poetry is revenge porn against the self by the self.

And finally:

As grim as reading has been for me, reading is not only the private amplification of the human worst. Reading is not merely escapism and militant solitude and everything shirked–that is, reading is not an act exclusive to words and books–and a person can also read the patterns of migrating birds or the lines in a soon-to-be-lover’s palm or the buds of oak trees or the damaged look in an eye or the danger headed this way or the people amassed in the streets. The world existed before books, and it always exists outside of them, and how a person should read is how a person must read, which is at least in duplicate, both always in this world and looking for another.


Relative Pricing

Robin and I were texting about Arion Press yesterday, drooling over their edition of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales. I mean, just look at this thing:

A photograph of two fine press editions of The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde by Arion Press. Both are exquisitely bound in sage bookcloth with understated type and illustrations.



A screen shot of a conversation between Robin and Lucy. Robin says "Agh. Oh sorry, I was not scared by the themes of the book, but by the effing price tag. If I wince at the price of a book, you done fucked up." Lucy says "I mean it takes an unbelievable amount of time to typeset a book by hand. I get that. It's an interesting conundrum. Kind of like what would happen if...Oh! Oh! I have an idea." Robin says "Here we go. Let er rip. Get em."


Creative work is often priced on a bafflingly subjective scale of value—one which can deviate wildly from the amount of time invested in the piece depending on a variety of other factors (edition size, physical scale, desirability, intended audience).

With commercial art, the equation is often simpler—although of course we’re all raising our rates over time to compensate for increased skill and swiftness in execution (right?). We often bill more like tradespeople than “fine artists”.

But with a fine press book, there are two vectors: the status associated with the object itself, yes, but also the sheer enormity of time required to typeset an entire book by hand. This is the first example that’s really resonated in my head as a decent point of comparison for how long graphic novels take to produce.

It’s a lot.

I’m tracking my time on Seacritters! because a) I love data and want to understand exactly how long it’s taking me to do everything and b) I think it’s going to be really valuable (read: sobering) to sit with the reality of how long it takes to make a graphic novel relative to the money involved.

I’ve only roughed in 73 pages of a book that will likely clock in around 350 and it’s already taken 63 hours of labor. For roughs. There are still refined pencils, inks, and colors left to go. My guess is that it’ll be about five hours of work per page at least, which means we’re looking at 1,750 hours just to complete the art itself—not including time spent fielding notes from the editor or anything aside from pure drawing. (The average American fulltime (i.e., benefitted) employee works 1,801 hours per year.)

If I were to apply a freelance rate of $90/hr to that time estimate, I’d clock in at $157,500 per book. I’m guessing at an overall timeline of 2 years per book, so that shakes out to $78,750 a year. The publishing industry isn’t currently paying artists that kind of money, so where would it need to come from?

The fine press book market feels like one potential answer to this thought experiment.

What would it really take for cartoonists to be paid fairly for the work they do? What happens to the accessibility of my work if I’m paid what I’m worth? Would the cost be passed on to the consumer or shouldered by the publisher? Who could afford the resulting product?

I really believe that art is meant to be shared. I want to make things that people can afford. When I was just starting to learn about the world of fine presses and letterpress and Artists’ Books in college, I remember being deeply frustrated by the fact that these creators—many of whom were working with themes of tactility, interaction, and accessibility—were making work that got sold for hundreds of dollars to private institutions, who then kept it in small rooms known only to a small subset of people.

It all felt so prohibitive.

(Something I’ve always loved about McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern is that they publish some truly batshit Artist Book-like objects, but they’re generally under $30 a pop. That’s accessibility.)

But wait.

A line drawing of setting type by hand. Right right hand holds an individual piece of type, the left holds a composing tray full of letters.

Do I really know how long it takes to typeset a page by hand? I text Glenn, because one should always have a letterpress nerd on speed-dial. He sets me straight: maybe a little over 2 hours per page by hand, but 5-10x faster by machine (Monotype). I dig a little deeper and find that the Arion Press edition is set in Monotype with some bits done by hand.

So maybe it’s not quite the same.

Still, this was useful.