Achieve even a modicum of success in the field of writing comics — a solitary prideparticle of Published Material; a lonely tick on your comicography; a flicker of sperm-frothed spandex on the ledger of your self-respect — and thanks to the teeming mob of journalists, bloggers, rumour-mongers, noisemakers and sideways promoters which populates our bonsai business, you will be interviewed about the gig. And, among the shivering pleasures and pains of Justifiable Self Obsession, you will be asked two very particular things.
The first is, “where do you get your ideas?”, which is such a retarded question that when it’s not cluttering-up your inbox it occupies its time building squat little piles of its own shit in a field, then fucking them like a horny gopher while chanting verses from the bible and grunting with every shred of its diseased cancer-riddled strength.
The second is “how did you get your Big Break?”, which I’m almost certain is every bit as bugeyed-hillbilly-humping Dumb as Question #1, but can’t easily articulate why. Weirder, given the tone of apology with which most interviewers present it, I have to assume that they, you, we, everyone, agrees: it’s a Bad Question. It’s a dreary little turdnugget of a question. Answering this question is a Stupid Pointless Exercise. But nobody can explain why, and we all gamely attempt to answer it anyway. So.
Being as I am a Hero of Vital Enquiry, I have manfully shouldered this problem on your behalf. I will now chase down its inner truth like an ever-so-slightly-bored Hound of Hell, and I wish to begin by stumptupping the question down to its component parts and re-focusing it thus:
Is there such a thing as a “big break”?
Notebooks at the ready.
Most people assume your First Professional Gig is synonymous with your Big Break. And, because of the way our inbred little industry works right now, what most people really mean, when they say that, is that your First Superhero Gig is synonymous with your Big Break. Under a particular light that’s even kind of true, or at least true enough. Under a different light it’s like making the assumption that your, say, First Ever Sexual Experience With Someone With A Tattoo, is solely, uniquely and entirely responsible for the length of your firstborn child’s hair on their 21st birthday. You could argue that, yes, it’s definitely a step on the road — a road which presumably leads via Subsequent Sexual Experiences, some sort of selection process, gloopy fluids, eventual impregnation, birth, years of parenthood, rebellion, influence, counter-influence, the child’s discovery of style, the child’s discovery of scissors, the advent of the Crimping Iron, and so on… but you’d be hard pressed to draw a direct line of straightforward consequence and reaction between the two things.
So it is with your First Superhero Gig. It’s potentially a move in the right direction, yes yes yes, towards some ill-defined point of Career Triumph… but it’s not exactly a Roman Road, and there may well be a bypass.
And, hey, sticking with that unctuous little analogy: Those 15 seconds of shivering nervous thrusting and grunting which marked the horror and ickiness of your First Time In The Sack — followed by the stuttering stickiness of shame and sudden disappointment, and the mumbled assurances that This Has Never Happened To Me Before — is nothing alongside the terror of the first time you see your work in print… and realise that it’s not only shit, it’s not only been bludgeoned to death by an overzealous sub-editor, it’s not only surrounded by other stories 1 billion times better… But it’s been about as useful at “Getting A Foot In The Door” as if you’d simply mailed the Editor In Chief photocopies of your anal-pocket covered in brief love poems. Which would probably have been more entertaining too.
Getting That Second Gig, you see, is just as hard — harder, even — than the first. “The Door” is on a spring, and comes complete with whirring blade-encrusted anti-foot ordnance.
So, yeah. The quest continues: for everyone, all the time. The Big Break turns out to be less explosive, more tectonic. Less a flash flood, more an endlessly delayed monsoon. Less a Terrible Analogy, more This Here Example:
Last time I was in New York, preparing for a meeting with one of The Big Two, I was pulled aside by a Supremely Successful Writer Of My Acquaintance and told to expect Big Things. My pulse quickened. My skin trembled. My foot, I knew, ahahahaha, was Wedged In The Door; a proverbial fishing-hook in a proverbial duck’s arse. The Break Had Finally Happened; oh frabjous day, calloh callay. The momentum was behind me, the wind was in my sails. Verily I Went Forth Unto The Elevator, expecting glory.
Instead I was given a nice tour of the office, a pleasant chat, and a free cup of coffee.
And really, with hindsight, that’s fine. That’s okay. Because — listen — if there is such a thing as a Big Break, the one thing you can be absolutely certain of is that if you think you deserve it, if you’re bubbling with bitterness and overconfidence, if you catch yourself thinking things like “But This Just Isn’t Fair“,then — sorry — It. Won’t. Happen.
Nobody’s entitled to instant success — wankers least of all.
Besides, it’s almost an academic worry. Here’s the truth. Ready?
There is no Big Break. No Such Thing. No.
The truth is, there’s a succession of minor breaks, like grains of snow trickling down a ski-slope. You stand up there on Mount Spandex, up to your ankles in whitestuff, flicking one flake at a time and hoping to start an avalanche. And that first grain you nudged, your First Contact, naturally it seems more important than the rest. But — really — it’s not. You’re still up there, still bent over, long after it’s gone. Flicking snow, flicking snow. Frostbite and chattering teeth. Give it a year, give it two, give it ten. Urine javelins and Kendall mint cakes. Flick flick flick. Worn gloves, frozen snot and altitude sickness.
And then somehow, sooner or later, you glance down and happen to realise that the quaint little Alpine Town you’d noticed a thousand feet below, all picturesque pointy roofs and inappropriate saunas — whoops — is smeared down the mountainside and swarming with helicopters and Rescue Teams. Further down there’s a million tonnes of snow and ice thundering off like a racist apocalypse — wiping out trees, ski-runs, sophisticated Tibetan Civilisations and the Last Surviving SnowLeopard Ever — and high above it all you finally dance the Success Dance, howl the SmugSong into the boiling air, and count yourself “Big”. Nothing, now, can stop you!
(At least, that’s how I imagine it feels. I’m still flicking, flicking, flicking, personally, and I fucking hate heights.)
But where and when, while you were up there, did the Big Break happen? Was it snowflake 5,438,992? Or 5,438,993? These things, apparently, Matter.
What’s really interesting — to me — is that the Big Cascade isn’t something that can continue indefinitely. In the fragile early stages it’s so easily derailed that it’s a miracle it ever begins at all. Like the confidence of the first-time shagger, momentum is readily lost and only slowly regained; strewn at every step with the perils of cuckholdage (your Champion Sub-Editor, passionate about building your career, fucks off to work for someone else), the heartbreak of Paranoid Poor Performance (they’ve given the gig to someone else), and the Ever Terrible S.T.D. of the legendary Blacklist. In those first days your proto-avalanche can be aborted by every fir-tree, porno-set chalet and conscientious yeti it passes. And even if it does get up speed, even if you’re Daddy LongPockets with a 20-year-career and a screaming flailing unbeatable momentum…it’s only going to peter-out at some stage. For every mountain a valley; for every snowflake an unseasonably hot summer; for every avalanche a Hollywood Producer who can still make you feel like you’re a noddy nobody who shouldn’t’ve bothered in the first place. There’s always another village to try and bury.
There arises, in fact, a sinister sense of defeatism. Why, you start to wonder, spend all that time up on Mount Spandex — flicking snowflakes like a frostbitten fuckwit — when you can amuse yourself standing in the valley below with a whacking great cannon marked NO CAPES, MOTHERFUCKER, shooting twisted little nuggets of hate up at the summit. It’s a lot fucking harder to start an avalanche, but at least it’s warm.
I don’t know which is better — honestly. Go ask Kirkman. But I can tell you for an ironbound FAKT that neither route has such a thing as a Big Break — not one that you could define in rubbish interviews and encourage earnest-faced readers to emulate, anyway — and the more obsessed you get about Achieving One, the less snow you’ve got to play with.
File this under “cruel and unusual overextensions of metaphors”, stick it in your pipe; smoke it.
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C/O William Christensen,
515 N. Century Blvd.Rantoul, IL 61866
(Disclaimer: Secretly, I’m nice.)
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