Today is the 5 year anniversary of The Experiment. That means HijiNKS ENSUE has been my full time job for the last 5 years. That also means it’s the longest job I’ve ever held. What I’d like to say is, “Thanks for sticking with me and making it possible for me to do what I love for a living. Without your support I would still be in some soul-sucking, creatively bankrupt job, but instead I get to do exactly what I want to for a living. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and I’m humbled and honored that I get to share it with you.” And while those statements are EXACTLY true, they are not the whole truth.
I started The Experiment with the goal of being extremely transparent about the successes and failures of trying to turn my passion into my job in the hopes that someone else would read about my experiences, be inspired to do their own thing and hopefully not have to make all of the same mistakes I’ve made. Over the last 5 years I’ve heard from at least a dozen people that started “experimenting” for themselves after following along with my adventure in self employment/ dream fulfillment. Other than being a father, I think that is probably the most important thing I will ever do. If even one person allows themselves to lead a full life of risk and passion and reward and danger and all of the things that are the antithesis of punching the clock, being miserable and constantly waiting for things to get better because of something I wrote or said or did, then I’ve left the world a little bit better than I found it.
If you are a fan of The Experiment and would like to see it continue, please consider making a donation, buying something from the HE Store or Sharksplode or checking out my Amazon Wishlist. I am quite literally 100% dependent on the kindness of strangers. It’s a weird job, I know.
If you want a ZERO DOLLAR way to support HijiNKS ENSUE, please post a few of your favorite HE comics to your site, blog or social media outlet of choice with a few words as to why you think your friends might enjoy reading HE as well.
Hearing from other “experimenters” is certainly one of the most positive outcomes of this whole ordeal. But transparency isn’t just about sharing the positivity. It’s also about sharing the hardships, and the uncertainty. Partly so other experimenters know they aren’t alone if they are having similar feelings and partly just to get it off my chest. When I wrote about the 4 year Experimentiversary a year ago, I also wrote about how I was feeling creatively stifled and that I had done all I felt I could with one-off pop culture references as my only subject matter. I expressed my desire to grow as a writer and take the comic in a different direction utilizing more continuity and story lines and character development. I thought it would be fair to share my feelings on that aspect of The Experiment one year later.
Sometimes I feel like I’m getting a better handle on what I want to do with this comic. The writing is certainly easier whenI get to dance around the same topic for 4 or 5 consecutive strips. Other times I feel like I really have no idea what I’m doing and HE is just too unfocused and the subject matter is too specific to really reach a wider audience. I wrestle with the desire to get more into my characters’ heads and develop their personalities versus my total lack of desire to write anything about jobs or relationships. I’ve always been the kind of artist that second guesses my every decision. I often spend more time worrying about what kind of comics I should be making than I do actually making comics. Of course this is a terrible plan of (in)action, because the types of comics I REALLY need to be making is MORE comics.
It’s hard to gauge the reaction (or lack their of) to changes in the comic’s direction or art style since I rarely get any kind of feedback. My audience (if statistics are to be trusted) plateaued a few years ago and has declined slowly ever since. It’s holding steady at roughly 2/3 to 1/2 of what it was at its peak. It’s still a sizable group (nothing to scoff at), but it’s difficult not to get disheartened when you feel like the quality of your art and writing is improving steadily, yet your reach isn’t. I’ve been more excited about making comics over the last couple of weeks (with this HBO story line) than I have in at least a year. I feel like my art has leveled up since I changed up the panel layout, and my writing has improved along with it. I think an art career isn’t measured in minute improvement over time, but rather a series of unexpected jumps in output, talent or some combination of the two. I honestly feel like the comics I’ve been making recently will count as one of those jumps when I look back on this period of my career. The most complicated part of this feeling of accomplishment is the idea that I’m totally alone in feeling this way. It’s hard not to take pride in your work when you enjoy the entire process of creating and smile at it when it’s finished. But, as with any art that is intended to be appreciated by others, there is a fear in releasing it into the world and finding out that it’s nowhere near as good as you thought.
I’m not fishing for compliments and I’m certainly not depressed or upset about the state of my art or my career. I guess I’m sharing these feelings because I know there are some of you that wish you were doing what I was doing. I know there are some of you that are actively working towards having exactly what I have. And I KNOW there are those of you who already feel these same insecurities about your art, your audience and your place in your perceived community of peers. I suppose my point, or my message (if there is one) is if the demons and fears and insecurities don’t just magically go away after 5 years (or 10 or 20) of putting your all into your work… they probably never will. So fuck ’em. Just don’t worry about it. Just keep making/doing/sharing/going/going/going. Fear will keep you in the job you hate and fear will make you hate doing the thing you love the most. Fear is a thief. It steals time and happiness and almost everyone doesn’t have enough of either to spare.
I often worry about whether or not I am making the right choices. And I am always concerned about where the money for next month’s mortgage is going to come from. I even spend a fair amount of time wondering what I’m going to do if the way I make my living (online ads, t-shirts and comic conventions) just isn’t a thing any more in a few years. Despite those nagging concerns and insecurities, after 5 years of living this impossible dream I can honestly say I am not afraid. Cautious? Sure. Trepidatious? Probably. Uncertain about… almost every aspect of this job? Almost definitely. But, afraid? No. Not any more. Five years of making the best thing I know how to make and sharing it with kind and generous people has taught me the worthlessness of fear. Five years of traveling around America (and beyond) with my chosen family of artists, writers, actors, comedians and other talented, compassionate weirdos has taught me the pointlessness of fear. Thirteen years with my wife and 6 years with our daughter has taught me the complete and total irrelevance of fear. My readers, my friends and my family have been my safety net, my support group, and my reason to not give up more times than I can recall since this experiment started.
I don’t regret a single moment, mistake or hard lesson learned of the last five years, I do not fear the next five and neither should you. Whatever your thing is; that thing that you love doing that you wish was your job, MAKE THAT THING YOUR JOB. Stop whatever you’re doing and go figure out what the very next step is that you need to take in order to make your thing your job, then TAKE THAT STEP. When that step is complete, do the next one and keep taking steps and making progress every single day until your passion, your art, your whatever is your job. You don’t need permission (if you feel like you do, then I’m giving it to you), you don’t have much time and every day that you aren’t totally happy is a wasted one. Chase happiness, forget the fear and DO YOUR THING.
Unless your thing is murder, or genocide or destroying the legacy of a beloved sci-fi franchise. Then, maybe find a different thing.
Godspeed, You Fancy Bastards!