The year was 1997, and I was working a deadline shift in the graphics department of the Akron Beacon Journal. My nighttime co-worker Dennis, an old-school comics guy with significant connections to comic-book, comic-strip and political-cartoon creators, was looking at some prototype strips for something that would one day become “Greystone Inn.”
He didn’t like the main character, a gargoyle. He didn’t like the character; didn’t think it looked like a gargoyle; didn’t think people would relate to a gargoyle. He, very gently, asked me: “This gargoyle… are you sure…?”
My response could be best described as indignant. After all, wasn’t the comics page crammed with enough talking cats and talking dogs?! A gargoyle is different! What if Berke Breathed had shied away from using a penguin due to this same logic? And of course it looked like a gargoyle. And besides, I’d refer to him as such and people would just understand that that is what a gargoyle looked like in my universe. And of course they would relate to him. How could they not?! He’s a classic archetype. What’s not to love about this goddammed gargoyle?!?
And besides… the common rules didn’t apply to me. Heck, I broke the rules… on purpose! I was a visionary… a renegade! Goddammit, I was special. My mother even said so!
My diatribe lasted for a good twenty minutes.
I addressed his advice from every angle but one — what if he was right?
He smiled. He was a father of three. This was a well-practiced smile:
Two words. Gently said.
“I’ll show him,” I said to myself. Me and my gargoyle. We’ll show ’em all.
In 2000, I launched my comic-strip-about-a-comic-strip-starring-a-gargoyle. And in 2005, after four-and-a-half years of trying to get traction with it, I brought it to a close — using what little momentum I had built to launch Evil Inc, which eclipsed Greystone’s traffic in less than a year.
I’ve discussed this before, but I really wish I would have had the creative maturity to listen to intelligent advice back then. The time I spent on Greystone was well-spent, mind you, but I always wonder if I wouldn’t be a little further along today if I had started smarter back then.
And part of that would have included listening to good advice when it was offered.
Nope. Not me. Not then.
I’d get my back up against the wall and insist that I was right I was right I was right. And if you didn’t agree, then clearly you were missing my genius. I was just that confident.
Confidence is an integral part of creativity. You can’t do what we do without confidence. At some point you say: “This is worth sharing” and you foist it upon the world daring the world to frown back at you. Without that confidence, you fade away.
Part of creative excellence is the ability to temper that confidence with humility. Without that, you’ll never be able to take advantage of some key moments in your development as an artist.