My webcomic, Negative One, hit 500 issues on Friday.
That’s a lot of issues.
Sometimes people ask me why I put so much time into a webcomic if I’m not trying to “go” anywhere with it professionally. I am indeed under no illusions that I am or will ever be a professional-level artist, and that’s not something I’m saying to take shots at my abilities so much as I’m saying I am not willing to put the time and effort into learning that craft to the extent necessary to do it as a career. It’s not something I’d ever want to do for money, even if someone handed me the opportunity without me having to ask for it; I draw as a hobby, and that’s all I ever want it to be. Most of the time, my art is mediocre, and I’m satisfied with that because it’s a vehicle for the text. Occasionally I feel like spending a little more time on a drawing and one of the frames comes out especially nice, but it’s pretty rare.
The answer is that Negative One is what happened when I realized a story I loved wasn’t publishable and never would be. I spent my college years and some time after devoted to writing a series of fantasy novels called The House That Ivy Built, and for the most part these stories were plotless (or nearly so). They were essentially about one unusual teenage girl trying to find her place in the world and come to terms with certain very difficult aspects of her identity (including superpowers), and when I developed a mature understanding of what sells to publishers, I knew without a doubt that the stories I’d written wouldn’t make the cut. Some folks would probably deal with that by, say, transplanting their beloved characters into a better story, but I didn’t want to graft other events onto this character’s life. I just wanted it to stay the way it was, even if that meant I couldn’t sell it as a fantasy series.
What Negative One represents for me is, essentially, indulgence. See, I have read my share of webcomics and saw that most of the popular ones–like most popular writing–are concise, funny, and in touch with mainstream tastes, and I figured I was way too long-winded to ever feel comfortable telling a story in those claustrophobic talk bubbles, but I have also happened upon a few that used unconventional storytelling and utilized the most versatile aspects of the digital medium to make their stories sing. I realized I could actually get away with telling a story in a visual format as long as I found a way to include my characters’ internal monologue, and it worked out great for me.
Negative One is where I get to relax a little. Tell a story without worrying that I’m doing it too slowly, or that my pacing isn’t right, or that the characters are too introspective, or that there isn’t enough action. I’ve come to realize I need a place like that. Where I’m not making the story or the art according to other people’s tastes and whims, but according to mine. It’s like a chance to blow off steam, but unlike in a journal or personal sketch diary, it’s not private. Other people can choose to include themselves to the extent they wish to, and there happen to be some readers out there who appreciate that the comic isn’t much like everything else.
It’s for sharing my characters, continuing to experience them and watch them grow, watching them interact, and making something that bucks tradition. It’s for fun, and for nostalgia, and for keeping my pencil from getting rusty. And since I have a hard time justifying carving out time for other projects or time-consuming activities that are just for my own enjoyment, I like that this occupies an inalienable niche in my life that I always work around and post faithfully every week. It’s kind of like announcing that regardless of what else is going on, I can still prioritize something that is for me.
And if it also happens to be for you, welcome to my weird little world.