I did not have a mid-life crisis when I turned forty, no, instead my gal Serena and I packed up our stuff and hauled off to Mexico for half a year. We traveled the country from the culture rich highlands to the fabulous beaches. I wrote and drew Jonk!, a graphic novella in my BugHouse saga. I picked up enough Spanish to get by. A very good time indeed was had by both of us.
To some, this will sound like the classic solution to the mid life crisis, running off on a grand adventure, but I was doing what I always did anyway: Writing and drawing comics. To say someone is having a mid-life crisis presupposes that they are desperate, melancholy, psychotic or otherwise in some dire straights. None of these conditions had befallen me at the moment of my fortieth birthday, I was a moderately happy camper getting a bit happier, a self realized individual continually following his bliss, as per the recommendations of the late Joseph Campbell.
Gotta admit things feel a bit different as my train pulls into the station marked FIFTY.
I still work for myself and I still create comics, both are fulfilling endeavors where I execute a portion of my dreams in real time. I have two children now and I love being a dad and all that implies. Serena and I are still a unit; I must have won the relationship lottery—all the ways our love has helped both of us grow into ourselves and each other has me convinced I’m the luckiest of men.
There are platitudes about middle age. One of them is “Life Begins at Forty”. It sort of did for me, I finally was in a great relationship. I finally figured out that bliss was not to be found at the bottom of a bottle of beer (let alone nine rapidly consumed beers). I found the success that comes to the self-employed by being too dogged to give up, give in or otherwise submit to the LIVING DEATH known as “a steady job”. Hell, I even bought real estate the moment before it got trendy, and I’m embarrassed to tell how well that worked out for me.
Another platitude about middle age is this: “Fifty is the New Forty”. Now what the fuck does that mean? It begs the question, what was the “Old Forty” like??? Did one walk to the mirror on their Fortieth birthday to see deep lines written in their slack face, the grim reaper peering over their shoulder? Or does it mean I am to try for eternal youth, deny middle age, and try to be young and fresh forever?
In my case, as I near the big birthday, here are some facts. Note that these are tied to ego, and youthful dreams.
- I still do not make a living drawing comics.
- I can no longer run a mile under five minutes, something I’ve been able to do since I was sixteen.
When I graduated college in December ’79, more than anything I was burning to make comics. All day, every day, I was literally consumed with the mission to sling ink and publish at all costs. That is literally what I have done since, always staying true to my vision, making no compromise to the concerns of commercial publishing. While I am thrilled to have chosen this path, have made some decent money along the way, and have near 100,000 comics and graphic novels in print, the basic fact remains: It has been necessary to maintain my T Shirt printing business in order to make a living. This hurts a lot, and there is no way to pretend it doesn’t.
The running thing, hell, it’s an illustration of the survival of my adolescent ego. I still want to conquer the world with my strength, my brute enthusiasm for life, while manifesting the joy of movement. At Forty, the aging athlete can still put it together; think of Kareem, of Robert Parish in the NBA finals, of Eamon Coughlan breaking four minutes in the mile at age forty.
Nobody plays in the NBA finals at fifty! Nor do they run the mile under four minutes. Thus it is incumbent upon me to accept my diminished physical powers, my softer middle age corporeal personage.
Where do I go from here? Do I amend my youthful dreams? Run off to Mexico again? (Hey, that sounds pretty good!). I’ll answer with my own near platitudes. It is necessary to keep growing and keep learning. It is necessary be eternally curious, and to embrace new experience. I will fan the flames of new creative endeavors.
As far a the model of continuously pumping out comic books and graphic novels in hopes that I hit the zeitgeist or otherwise catch on, it’s simply time for a new model. I sustained the old one for a long time because it was fun. If I am having fun I am doing something right. I’ve always been a process oriented artist. The process of creating my Bughouse comics was insanely fun, and then some. I’m not possessed of that burning passion to create comics come hell or high water at present.
If I was to continue pumping out comics under the same model, I then should not be surprised if the same modest, tepid response is the result. If you keep playing an out of tune guitar, don’t be surprised if it sounds off key! Time to tune that sucker up!
So I’m in search of fun. What will float my boat? What will work for me as an artist, an entrepreneur, a human being? I’ll be sure to report back on that.