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The Aging Artist

Most people seem to agree that we live in a youth-driven culture, and this perception spills over into nearly every aspect of it, including comics, and by default, webcomics. But since I don't honestly know what the demographic age is for today's webcartoonist, I'll resort to writing about the aging artist in general. Before I do that, though, I have to let everyone know that I'm technically reaching 'middle-age' status. I'll be 37 years old in July, so I guess that means I'm writing with a bias. Let me tell you, it's a bizarre notion to me, in knowing that I'm 'middle-aged.' I don't feel old. I may not even look that old, although that's probably just a combination of wishful thinking, stubborn egotism and an unwavering conviction that I stopped having birthdays when I turned 29.

While t.v and film continues to exploit the youth culture (or help manipulate it, depending on your level of distrust of the media), our planet population continues to live longer. So there's some strange dichotomy happening around us, where our society is growing older, and yet we glorify youth. And I'm stuck in the middle of it. I've read on forums here and there about the frustrations of cartoonists that are approaching the 40-year mark and cry that they haven't reached certain goals in their careers. Or worse, they have no career in comics yet, and are desperately looking for a way to speed up the development of their talents. And if that's not bad enough, there might be a common perception amongst publishers and editors that innovation must come from the young cartoonist, as opposed to the grizzled veteran whose Windsor Newton brushes are older than the average person in line at a convention portfolio review.

The question comes up time and again, 'When is it too late to break into comics', or 'When does a creator reach his/her prime?' As with most things, every situation is different. There are plenty of examples where comic creators made their mark earlier or later in life. Many of the Image Comics founders were in their early twenties, If I recall, bringing with them only a combined decade or so of experience in the field. Jim Shooter was writing for DC when he was 13 years old. Can you imagine when his friends asked him to come over to play ball? 'Sorry guys. I've got this Legion Of Super Heroes deadline looming. Maybe next time.' Hal Foster, famous illustrator for Prince Valiant and Tarzan, was, according to stories I've read, 40 when he was 'discovered'. Jack Kirby was in his 50's when he was producing his most popular and groundbreaking work for Marvel, although the King already had decades of successful comic's credits under his belt. Regardless of that, here was a guy nearing AARP status, and he decides to co-create the Marvel Universe.

Beyond the comics arena, artists in general can reach their creative peak in their 40's or even later. That Picasso guy? Some of his final work, when he was well into his 70's, represents his most colorful and expressive efforts, as he discovered neo-expressionistic art well before the rest of the world was ready for it. The Beatles may have peaked when they were in their twenties, but The Rolling Stones, despite the ageism jokes, still manage to produce relevant, top selling albums, and record breaking tours every few years. Come to think of it, most of my favorite actors are also middle-aged or older. Clint Eastwood, for instance, still entertains audiences as an actor and director. His most important film work has been produced in the last 15 years or so. He's almost 80. So regardless of the tools (or of their superstar status), these are all artists who share the same planet as you and I. If you're a cartoonist or web cartoonist, you can still reasonably count yourself among this crowd.

There is no set rule that forces anyone to give up his or her dreams at a certain age, or come to the conclusion that their best work is behind them. True, the older you get, the more life seems to compete with your ambitions. It does get harder as we get older, both physically and otherwise. But with age comes wisdom.

Or so I've heard.

Scott Reed
www.websbestcomics.com

not getting any younger

geoff grogan's picture

Thanks for this thread!It's a topic dear to my heart!

I'm 47 as well-and publishing on Modern Tales:

http://www.moderntales.com/comics/nicework.php

So much great stuff is done by artists over forty---Matisse, Picasso-Rembrandt's late work--or look to music--my strip deals with Sinatra (in a tangential way)--and his greatest music was done between the ages of 40 and 50.Or--for an example in comics-- check out Miriam Katin's book We Are All Alone -out last year from D & Q.-

Most of the comics I read these days are by people my age or older--simply because they're speaking to concerns that extend beyond the purview of the young. So I'd rather read Gilbert Hernandez than Jeffrey Brown-just because Hernandez is writing about the whole range of human experience -and not the rather narrow confines of youthful experience and perception(not to take away from Mr. Brown or his work-some of which I've enjoyed.)

Youth has its virtues--hey, I'd love to have hair where this bald spot is--or have held onto the idealism I once had--and as a teacher-I learn from young people all the time( just the whole webcomics world is one example)--and I know the world renews itself through them--but on the other hand, there's no compensating for the richness of experience.(aw-who am I kidding? Give me my hair back!)

I'm 53; and I'm enjoying

Al Schroeder's picture

I'm 53; and I'm enjoying doing my webcomic immensely!

 

Al Schroeder III of MINDMISTRESS---think the superhero genre is mined out? Think there are no new superhero ideas? Think again.

 Al Schroeder III of MINDMISTRESS---think the superhero genre is mined out? Think there are no new superhero ideas? Think again.

Oh.. My.. Gosh.. I'm the

Scott Story's picture

Oh.. My.. Gosh.. I'm the third oldest in this thread! I'm used to be oldest.

 

Age brings so much depth to people. In my own case, I have a wider understanding of most things, and know so much more than I did when I was in my twenties. I enjoy this age.

 

http://www.graphicsmash.com/comics/johnnysaturn.php

I may not be

scarfman's picture

I may not be the target-audience or -subject of your article because I don't aspire to go pro any more, but that's because I'm 47 and I'm not about to give up the retirement benefits of having a day job. I was 44 when I started my webcomic, and I've committed to doing it daily for twenty-five years because that's how long the characters' story lasts. That's something I think hardly anyone, including me, could even think of doing when they're in their mid-20s, let alone commit to. You have to know your own strengths and weakenesses inside and out to make a commitment like that and keep it, which takes experience.

Of course, the downside is wondering whether you're going to live that long.

Paul Gadzikowski, paul@arthurkingoftimeandspace.com
Arthur, King of Time and Space New cartoons daily

We have a runner!

CalamityJon's picture

Gentlemen, if you'd be kind enough to enter the Carousel ...

I'm old enough to get the

Scott Story's picture

I'm old enough to get the reference. I have no intention of entering the carousel willingly, and my light has not changed color.

 

http://www.graphicsmash.com/comics/johnnysaturn.php

Carousel?

Scott Reed's picture

[quote=scottstory]

I'm old enough to get the reference. I have no intention of entering the carousel willingly, and my light has not changed color.

http://www.graphicsmash.com/comics/johnnysaturn.php

[/quote]

I'm not old enough to understand the reference! Yay!

Scott Reed
www.websbestcomics.com

Scott Reedhttp://www.websbestcomics.comhttp://www.theovermancomic.comhttp://www.myspace.com/scottreed01 

Logan's run, where everyone

Scott Story's picture

Logan's run, where everyone had lights on their hands. When the light changed they had reached maximum allowable age and had to step into an execution carousell. "Runners" were those who didn't voluntarily submit, and tried to escape.

 

http://www.graphicsmash.com/comics/johnnysaturn.php

I'm 42. I started doing

Scott Story's picture

I'm 42. I started doing Indy work when I was 30, and I've never done work for the big two. I haven't tried to break in for six or seven years now. I would rather make comics than spend time trying to get work. I still occassionaly do freelance comic work for others, but self-publishing has been creatively satisfying on many levels. I don't feel old.

http://www.graphicsmash.com/comics/johnnysaturn.php

One is never really too old

bobweiner's picture

One is never really too old to break into webcomics. What will get a comic noticed is the content - if it's solid, it's solid. One of the advantages of creating webcomics is that the barrier of entry is extremely low. You can fulfill that 'dream' to publish comics right from home. For what it's worth, I'll be 35 this year (though I feel like I'm in my 20's, go figure). I'm still paying my dues and working my tail off - because I love what I do. Even if I never make it 'BiG', I'll always feel satisfied that I've lived MY dream of being a cartoonist.

Krishna M. Sadasivam Cartoonist, "The PC Weenies" http://www.pcweenies.net

At 37 I finally got off my

DumokDuvalles's picture

At 37 I finally got off my ass and started to work on the comic Titled "A Call to Destiny" and Now I am producing three webcomics on a weekly basis. It took me time and Maturity to finally get down to fulfilling my dream and doing what I love the most.

A Call to Destiny an Adult Sci-Fi webcomic.

My Online Store At LuLu
Check out My Comics!!!.

Preach it, bruthu. Scott

Scott Reed's picture

Preach it, bruthu.

 

Scott Reed
www.websbestcomics.com

Scott Reedhttp://www.websbestcomics.comhttp://www.theovermancomic.comhttp://www.myspace.com/scottreed01 

I'm currently reading a

Coffman's picture

I'm currently reading a great book called EISNER/MILLER, which was an ongoing interview between Frank Miller and Will Eisner-- In it, Will makes a great point that the older you get, the more life experience you have, so even simple things like emotions on the characters, you can really fell them because the storyteller has been through those moments and know what it feels like.

Anyone that ever brings up age, I refer them to the fact that Jack Kirby was 44 when he drew (and wrote pretty much) Fantastic Four #1. He worked his ass off for over 2 decades before he REALLY hit his peak.

So, there's something to be said for hard work and determination, and just freelancing your ass off.

DJ Coffman- cartoonist

yirmumah.net - herobynight.com

I've read Eisner/Miller...

Fabricari's picture

I've read Eisner/Miller and can't recommend it enough. The discussions in that book will change any comic creator's life.

Also, to add, Sergio Aragones didn't draw the first issue of Groo until he was 40. (Of course, he had a massive career prior to that...)

Personally, I plan on dying at my art table.

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison