YES YES YES YES FUCK YES!
The past six months have been amazing, beautiful, challenging in all the right ways, and I've become a sentimental creature because of it. I was drinking beer at a Missoula brewery with my best friend, Bill, in October, telling him how unbelievably enjoyable working on SHUTTER with Joe has been. I said that I felt extremely lucky to have the job of my dreams. Bill said, "Luck? Luck has little to do with this. After all those years of hard work, you fucking earned this, Leila." I took another swig of beer while my eyes started to tear up. Because he was right, and the weight that I had shouldered during my artistic struggles was finally lifting, and it felt GOOD.
I have been working towards this single goal my whole life. I started drawing from before I remember, and in middle school I tried to draw my first comic and failed miserably. I was so frustrated that I couldn't draw anything I wanted that I went to art school to make it so I could. There, the drive to do comics was strong, but I got discouraged after a couple instructors warned that it wasn't as viable a career as being an illustrator. Graduating with an illustration degree and a portfolio full of oil paintings, the struggle to find a job out of college began. We all know how horrible that is, and I began to doubt that I wanted to paint illustrations for other people for the rest of my life.
Soon after graduating, I met Zach Howard (WILD BLUE YONDER) and he told me he made a decent living off of doing comics. That sparked the long-repressed urge and I decided to start pencilling and inking to create a portfolio of comic book art. Of course Zach gave his usual speech about how hard the struggle could be, that I would have to draw every day, that I would have to sacrifice my social life, and that I would have to put in 12 hour days. I was like, "Pshaw, Zach. That don't scare me," and I went ahead with it.
I never significantly sacrificed my social life, nor did I draw every day (though I probably should have), and I never put in 12 hour work days. It was slow progress building up the technical skills, I took bad jobs for no pay, and then when I did start getting work it never fully represented me artistically and ideologically, nor did these jobs pay a comfortable living rate. Having a day job and trying to do art on the side was exhausting and unsatisfying. And yes, all of this would have been easier had I not been a fearful artist, second-guessing my decisions and beating myself up when everything didn't click.
Five years after beginning the comic art journey, I was at NYC Comic Con 2012. I was tired of trying, tired of rudely butting into conversations with name writers and publishers just to get my work looked at, then rejected. I didn't like how desperate I felt, and after so much of my optimism being crushed over the years, I was extremely jaded. I decided to give up trying to draw comics professionally.
Then I met Joe.
And he said he loved my art and that he wanted to work with me. And then he was like, here's some free wine I got, and we struggled to get the bottle open and broke his friend's swiss army knife in the process. And we bonded over our childish attempts to break into what became cork-infested wine. One year after that, we're announcing SHUTTER and I'm feeling liberated and loved.
Being at Image Expo last week was the single most validating experience of my life. I already knew that Joe had the utmost trust and respect in my abilities, but having complete strangers come up to me and tell me they were as excited about SHUTTER as I was... I'll just say I bawled my eyes out the night of January 9th. Wept like a fucking baby.
Many thanks to the Image Comics crew! You treated me so well last week and I'm extremely honored to be working with all of you.
To my family, thanks for always encouraging me to follow my artistic dreams.
To the Denver Drink and Draw creators, many thanks for the good laughs, ridiculous memories, the creative feedback, and the years of inspiration I've gleaned from your talented asses!
Infinite thanks to Amy Reeder for supporting me over the years and encouraging me to keep going to cons. She is such a good friend, and if she hadn't let me stay with her during NYCC 2012, I would have never met Joe. Amy, you're a damn brilliant pal and an amazing artist and you continually inspire me as an artist and as an individual.
Lastly, Joe Keatinge...thanks for taking a chance on me, for having such an unbelievably amazing imagination, for being unflinchingly supportive, and driving me to create the best work I've ever done. You have inspired me like no other and I hope to be working with you, my friend, for a long, long time.
I'm excited to see where things go from this point. Will people adore our book as much as I do? Will other publishers like my art? As I've come to understand it, "getting in to comics" isn't so much as a break, but constant work to keep striving and proving one's self. I don't think I'd have it any other way, since I like a good challenge! But I hope you'll keep sharing the experience with me.
Let's raise a glass to a promising 2014, and to the hope that we all find success in our lives, even if it's just for a fleeting moment. As the Klingon's say, Kaplah!