No trip to Juneau for Comics Camp in 2020 (and, from the looks of it, none in 2021 either), but we did gather in April and January for two truly lovely online…hangouts? Digital-councils? Un-tele-conferences? Whatever they were I liked them.
During the most recent one I tried leading a Creative Wayfinding Workshop based on my recent talk for Jolabokaflod PDX. At one point I had folks in the room populate a spreadsheet with the faces of people they admire.
Sitting alone in my room watching these little cells fill up filled my heart up, too. Hearing people talk about who they’d chosen and why, doubly so. Seeing people include the faces of their peers and fellow campers alongside Nobel laureates and pop stars and politicians?
It pays to remember that people aren’t just looking up to people they’ve never met—people who are famous or dead or both. Chances are good they’re looking up to their friends, too. The ones who are kind. The ones who fight for what they believe in. The ones who know how to say no and make it feel like a gift.
It pays to remember to tell those people we look up to them, when we can.
Those of you who were here for my last Year in Review post will recall that I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked to in 2014. So, spurred on by Austin Kleon’s excellent “How to Read More” list, I set out to read…
Good News: I’m currently at 63, and will probably have knocked out a couple more before January 1st officially rolls around, so I’m calling this initiative a roaring success.
I plowed through nonfiction, fiction, comics, memoirs, short stories, plays, and poetry. I tried books randomly off shelves, I tackled stories I’d been meaning to read for years, and I followed up on many recommendations from friends.
My beloved housemate Zina joined me in my quest, and to help ourselves stay accountable we kept long lists outside our bedrooms, marking off titles and making suggestions as we went. This was a really useful way to keep track of everything, notice trends, and direct my choices a little more deliberately.
When Austin came to Portland to promote his new book (the excellent Steal Like an Artist Journal) back in October, we took our lists along to share and grabbed a photo:
It feels great to have stuck with this through the year, and I’m glad to see that my voracious appetite for reading is back in full force.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share a selection of my favorite picks from the past year. I haven’t been taking extensive notes along the way, but these are some impressions to whet your appetite.
I started strong this year by finally going after Moby-Dick [#8], which I can’t believe I’d taken so long to get to. It was dense and lengthy, as I’d been warned, but also immersive, expansive, and utterly engrossing. Melville’s bombastic prose was such a delight that I couldn’t stop myself reading it aloud to anyone in earshot—a book with excellent mouthfeel. Going on the recommendation of my pal Justin Hocking, who knows a thing or two about Moby-Dick, I purchased the Modern Library Classics edition because it also features Rockwell Kent’s stunning woodcut illustrations for the book—a must-have component.
Railsea  by China Miéville was part of my broader push to try more Miéville, since he’s been recommended to me maaany times and after reading The City and The City last year I still wasn’t quite convinced. BOY HOWDY DID THIS CHANGE MY MIND. One of the perks of having read Moby-Dick is now twigging to every Moby-Dick reference everywhere, which is no small thing because Western Civ really likes its Giant Whale Book References, but Miéville has really run with it to make something grand here. I loved, in no particular order: the fictitious terminology, the gender parity, the adventure, the imaginative universe, the twists and turns, and all the little tics and nods that brought the reader of both texts into cahoots with the authors.
Basically, for a good time read these two back-to-back.
I’ve been thinking a lot about wandering this year, so it felt apt to pair these two nonfiction titles. Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost and John Fowles’s The Tree  were both surprises, in a way. I thought I’d read all of Fowles’s books when I was younger, but this recent re-release of his essay on wilderness and domestication brought my attention to a gap in the canon.
The Tree is a rambling text that explores Fowles’s thoughts on huamnkind’s relationship to nature. The early part of the narrative contrasts Fowles’s affection for untamed spaces with his father’s nigh-Linnaean orchard, but it was the last third of the book that really brought it home for me. The text also highlights the absolute best of Fowles’s prodigious vocabulary (tor, wisht, tachist, clitter, Laocoön, polypodies, bulbul, brassards, fumitory, and lucubration, to name a few—thanks, Jason, for picking these!), while ranging across natural history, personal narrative, and scientific musing.
Solnit, meanwhile, is a writer whose work I’ve seen more and more often on the lists of people I admire, so I chose a collection at random and dove in. A Field Guide to Getting Lost could be in direct conversation with the final section of The Tree, in which Fowles revisits a stunning, desolate patch of woodland in Dartmoor like somewhere from a dream. It echoes throughout this passage from Field Guide:
Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. […] you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it.
Solnit has a mind for nonfiction that I find endlessly fascinating. Her writing is both poetic and critical in the wide-ranging way I love most, and her thoughts on the value of the unknown in the creative process spoke to a lot of what I’d been thinking about this year. I’m looking forward to devouring the rest of her books in 2016. (If you’d like a more extensive taste, there’s a lovely write-up of the collection on Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings.)
I’ll level with you: I was going to buy a self-bettering business book on essentialism during a recent visit to Powell’s and instead I said “Fuck it” on my way out and grabbedThe Folly of the World  at random off a shelf in the Gold Room because—you guessed it—there was a boat on the cover. I’d never heard of Jesse Bullington, but within three pages I knew this was going to be an unnervingly enjoyable read. The book is foul and visceral and well-researched and vivid and unsettling. It did exactly what I wanted and several things I didn’t anticipate. Curious to pick up more of his stuff.
So now, the Big Ones. The favorites. I read a lot of enjoyable fiction (and nonfiction) this year, but there were some books that were so direct and so human and so brave that I just couldn’t put them down. They stuck with me longer than the rest, and I know they’ve already appeared on many people’s lists, but that’s probably because they’re just splendid, so here they are on mine.
Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking  was an inevitable must-read because I’m a huge crowdfunding enthusiast and I feel like my entire career has been made possible by the kind of reciprocal relationship Palmer describes in this book. Furthermore, I relate a great deal to her exploration of how we can become comfortable with asking for help from fans or fellow professionals with our work, but remain completely incompetent when asking for help with the more foundational, emotional needs of our lives from the people we love the most.
From what I’ve seen of her writing elsewhere (full disclosure, I didn’t have much prior Amanda Palmer exposure, musical or otherwise) I think the text really benefitted from having an editor or a more coherent publishing structure, because it retains all of Palmer’s trademark vulnerability and irreverence without getting too discursive. Crucial for artists looking to build a familial bond with their audience, equally crucial for humans of any profession looking to build a nurturing bond with one another.
Daring Greatly  by Brené Brown was also an obvious choice, because I’ve been on a vulnerability kick and after her smash hit TEDtalks Brown is pretty much the go-to source on the subject. Daring Greatly was simple, as a read, and less emotionally raw than The Art of Asking, but it still resonated with me a great deal. There’s an element of preaching to the choir, but I still loved quietly saying “yes, Yes, YES” under my breath as I agreed with things on every page. Straightforward, practical, excellent.
Okay. Deep breath. Tiny Beautiful Things  is firmly fixed on my Top Books of Forever list right now. It was like a drug. I couldn’t stop myself from reading “just one more column” every time I picked it up, even though each section felt like something to be held and savored and dissolved on the tongue. I hadn’t read any of Cheryl Strayed’s other work—though I have seen her speak on a couple occasions in Portland—so this book came out of nowhere for me. The selection of experiences is so far-reaching, yet familiar in an incredibly intimate way.
If Daring Greatly is a manual for empathy, Tiny Beautiful Things is the truth of it in practice. Watching Strayed begin her answers—all her answers—by validating the experiences of the people who have made themselves vulnerable to her is potent in and of itself. Her association of narratives from her personal life with the stories readers send her way is intimate, insightful, and healing. All of it felt perfect. I recorded chapters and sent them to lovers, I read them aloud to Zina in the bath, I cried over them on the floor of the kitchen, sitting next to the heating vent drinking tea in the morning.
It was only when I followed this up with a theoretically similar book (The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz ) that I was struck by how meaningful it is to have the original letters printed alongside Strayed’s answers. Grosz’s accounts as a psychoanalyst (even with personal anecdotes in tow) come off as clinical and removed. He seems to be making pronouncements on anonymized patients, rather than entering into a deeply personal dialogue that somehow becomes universal in the telling. If this experience was anything to go by, I should be reading more advice columns. (Heather Havrilesky’s Ask Polly is my go-to favorite at present.)
So there you have it! Eight favorites from a very busy year. Thanks for reading along, and if you’re game to join me in 2016, why not make your own list? I want to hear all about it.
In previous years I’ve been really inspired by my studiomate Natalie Nourigat‘s year-end wrap-up posts, so I thought I’d do one of my own for 2014/2015! I spent most of December in California with my family—my first trip home in a whole year—getting some much-needed perspective on 2014 and hashing out some concrete plans for 2015. Also jumping into very cold swimming holes.
Taken as a whole? 2014 was a Really Good Year. I became an official member at Periscope, I found a dream housing situation, I got asked to document and sail aboard the last wooden whaling ship in the world, I tabled at shows in Canada, England, and both coasts of the US, I did work that I was proud of…but even with all of that in the bag I still felt like 2014 was a year of reacting to things as they were flung at me. Everything was extremely loud and incredibly close. More often than not I was finishing projects in massive work gluts in between flying around all over the place for conventions and work opportunities. I had at least one trip every month, if not two, and the toll showed in my over-all page count for the year and my general health and sanity.
So for 2015 I want more intention. I want some control. I want the stability of a routine that supports my health, my creative habits, and my heart. I also want to draw a ton of comics. But before we get to that let’s talk about 2014. My goals (personal and professional) were:
1. Find a place to live.
Boy this one panned out really, really well. At the start of 2014 I was long-term housesitting for my studiomates Paul and Anina with most of my belongings in storage in a nearby basement. I didn’t really know where I was going when they got back. Everything was uncertain. Then, in exchange for helping my dear friend Zina by giving her a place to crash while she looked for new housing, we somehow ended up playing grown-up and working with an awesome realtor to help her parents buy a house in Portland. A house that we then got to move into. Words can’t really express what a difference this has made in my life. We live right smack dab in the middle of a lovely neighborhood, the house is just the right size for the two of us, and we cohabit like fucking champs. Looking back on 2014, this is definitely the Best Thing That Happened to Me. Here’s to happy homes.
2. Table at lots of new conventions.
This is really a continuation of last year’s goal to try and figure out what the best shows are for me to prioritize each year. This year was a great mix of new shows and old favorites. I tabled at…
Wizard World (Portland)
Emerald City (Seattle)
Rose City (Portland)
Thought Bubble (Leeds!)
Beyond conventions I also did a ton of traveling for work projects like Down to the Seas Again, plus I had my first two bookstore events! By a rough estimate I traveled 26,370 miles this year. HOLY HELL.
3. Draw more than I drew in 2013.
Victory! I drew 91 pages of comics in 2014, over 82 pages in 2013. Granted, I was hoping to hit 100, but some things just don’t work out the way we want. It’s an okay number given how much I traveled in 2014. The breakdown went as follows:
“Bandette” Guest Short: 3 pages
“Oh Joy, Sex Toy” Guest Comic #2: 5 pages
Cartozia Issue 4: 4 pages
Cartozia Issue 4 Extra: 1 Page
“Greening Islam” story for Symbolia: 11 Pages
“Flip the Switch” Float comic for The Nib: 6 Pages
Girls With Slingshots Guest Comics: 5 Pages
Cartozia Tales #5: 3 Pages
Cartozia Tales #6: 4 pages
Down to the Seas Again: 18 pages
“Pacific Passages” with Jim Mockford: 12 pages
“Yeah Maybe, No” documentary: 17 pages
Lube Comic: 2 pages
I also colored 35 pages of a longer nonfiction comic for a studiomate. It was my first gig as a colorist and I had a ton of fun, but I won’t count it towards my year total since it wasn’t “big picture” drawing work.
You’ll notice that a lot of those projects are for other people, which is great! Collaboration is aces. But I also want to be working on more of my own projects. I think I use freelance comics jobs or collaborations to get around my own fears about owning my material, which is silly and should stop forthwith.
4. Bring in more money than I did in 2013.
So I know there’s been a lot of brouhaha recently about artists sharing their financial figures, but this stuff is important to me so I’m gonna level with you: I was thrilled in 2013 because I brought in about $22,900 over the course of the year (before all my business and living expenses, of course), which wasn’t gads of money but it was enough! I was making it! And this year it’s looking like I’ll have brought in about $3,600 more than last year. Lemme tell you, that feels amazing. It may not be 130k a year for software development, but that’s not my passion. My passion is the thing that I’m stretching and saving to make possible, and if it grows a little bit each year (even a tiny bit!) it’ll put me closer to building a sustainable life off of it.
In addition to the freelance work I was chugging through, I bit the bullet and started a Patreon page, which continues to motivate and humble me every month.
It’s a little over $500 a month right now, and that money is an absolute godsend. It keeps me focused on bringing more of my work into the world rather than chasing down commercial gigs, and I’m so grateful for it.
Of course, most of the new income from 2014 has gone straight back into tabling at more shows, printing new comics, and traveling to do research for future projects, but more money, more problems, right?
In 2015 I start paying for health insurance on my own. I’m also becoming a fully-paying member at Periscope. I’m really scared about the addition of any new expenses because right now keeping everything in balance feels doable, but incredibly tenuous. I’m taking it easy on the travel front. Instead of flying to eight conventions (two of them cross-country, one of them international), I’ll be keeping it local in the Pacific Northwest. Instead of self-publishing expensive color minicomics, I’m going to focus on producing content online with an eye to creating a book.
I know I can do it, and I know there will be plenty of work to go around, but I also don’t want to end up with tunnel vision as often as I did in 2014. As it stands, I feel like I’m making progress towards crafting a sustainable career, which is the Big Goal. Hooray!
SO THAT’S ENOUGH OF 2014.
What’s going to be different about 2015? WELL LEMME TELL YOU:
The basic goals will always be the same: draw more comics, make more money. If I can keep upping those numbers every year then I feel like I’m making progress towards success.
1. Draw more than 100 pages in 2015.
On the note of not doing so many projects for other people, I’ll be pitching a bunch of shorter comics to The Nib this year. It’s a great platform and supports a lot of the nonfiction/adventure work I love doing. It’ll also help get me over the hump of worrying about pitching my own ideas. I have a handful of stories already bubbling away, including a longer Baggywrinkles installment about the history of scurvy and the culinary arts of the sea, all of which I want to run on Patreon on a monthly basis in addition to putting them on The Nib. My patrons are all rockstars, and I want to treat them as such.
The elephant in the room is A Longer Project, which I have a few ideas about. Not saying too much until I know more, but the desire for it came up a lot this year so I’d like to start moving in the direction.
Earlier this year I joined a couple of my studiomates in a monthly practice where we discuss our accomplishments and challenges from the previous month and our goals for the upcoming month. GAME-CHANGING. I strongly encourage any of you reading this to start a check-in group of with some friends or colleagues—”accountabilibuddies”, if you will. It keeps me focused and forces me to admit that I’ve accomplished things when I feel like I’m drowning in work. It also stops me from procrastination on Big Picture projects that might otherwise fall by the wayside.
However: I want to keep that specificity and intention going in other parts of my life. I am terrible at asking for things. Asking myself what I really want and need on a regular basis, asking for help when things get to be too much—I’m just not great at doing that kind of work. After playing around with some of the prompts in this year-end workbook, I decided that my challenge to myself for 2015 will be to ask more. This includes checking in about my goals and whether I’m pursuing them to best of my ability, checking in with my friends and loves to figure out what they need and how I can best support them, and ruthlessly jettisoning anything that doesn’t fit into those two pictures.
3. Read 50 books.
I’ve finally gotten over my post-undergrad reading phobia, which means getting serious about devouring more books. Zina and I are putting up a giant list between our rooms where we can record the titles of books we read this year and I’m super excited. I want more fuel in the brain tank. Currently I’m about a third of the way into Moby Dick and just starting Blue Latitudes by Tony Horowitz. On the other “various stages of completion” nightstand there’s Sex From Scratch (by my rad hometown friend Sarah Mirk), The Power of Habit, Show Your Work, Welcome to the Monkey House, and a few others I can’t think of right now. Lots to choose from. I go fast when I get going, so the goal now is just making time.
4. Create an ideal day/week.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of changing days rather than years. Resolutions never work so well for me, and with so much upheaval in 2014 I really just yearned for a consistent week-to-week schedule that could keep me grounded. The days when I go to bed thinking “Man, that was a Good Day” generally include waking up early (6:45-7-30ish), creative time first thing in the morning, the completion of small, concrete tasks, exercise (dancing, riding my bike, yoga), recuperation (knitting, writing letters, reading, TV), home-cooked food, socialization of some sort, and early bed. With that in mind, here are some things I’ll be trying out:
Not looking at my phone for at least the first hour of every day. This means getting an analog alarm clock and charging my phone downstairs instead of beside my bed so I don’t wake up to tweets and emails.
Writing a page in my journal every morning rather than waiting for “enough” time to do a proper entry. Anything further is frosting.
Going to yoga once a week. Just once. Anything further is also frosting.
Devoting the first three hours of the workday to brain-heavy creative tasks (scripting, thumbnails, pencils).
Devoting two hours post-lunch to admin work (filling orders, writing blog posts, categorizing finances, promoting stuff on social media).
Making time for 30 minutes of reading before bed so I can fulfill my goal of finishing 50 books this year.
Doing a proper weekly shop on Sundays and cooking two meals that I can dole out for lunch when I don’t have time to cook throughout the week.
5. Keep developing my sketching practice.
I did a lot of sketchbook work this year, which felt fantastic. In 2015 I’d like to be finishing sketchbooks every six months or faster, which means taking time to draw out in the world, doing studies when I get the chance, and committing to figure drawing (at least) once a month. That last one will feel really good if I can do it consistently.
So that’s it!
If you made it all the way through this: CONGRATULATIONS! You are like this noble capybara—a champion among mammals. Bask in the adoration of your monkeys.