We are about the reach the terrifying point in the lifetime of Amphibimen Comics: We’re going to release art into the wild. In the next month, you’ll be able to buy a 32-page comic book, a variety of t-shirts that will make you more attractive (to someone, even if it’s just our merchant bank), stickers, and some original art. It’s the point at which art crosses over into a business, and it’s something Erik and I have talked about since July.
Fear #1 is that it becomes a job, and like all jobs, it has various elements of suck to it. It has to be fun; you have to wake up in the morning and want to do it, or day dream about doing it when you’re at your real job. Kevin Carroll completely changed my view of work one snowy March day seven years ago when he talked about his red rubber ball (read the book). If you can think of something you love doing, and would do it for free, that’s your perfect job. For me, it’s playing with technology, tinkering with digital content, and writing ultra-convoluted self-referential humor with a healthy splash of geekdom — I spend a few hours each week doing it because it’s fun, and I most definitely do it for free. Erik’s been drawing for as long as I’ve known him, and he does it because he loves it. We’re watching that motivational meter; if it tips from “wants to” over to “has to” then it’s time to dial back on the business side. That’s why you won’t see a ton of products from us.
Fear #2 is that we’ll do our first product suite and end up with a basement full of nicely bound but unread comics weighing down the nicely screened but unloved t-shirts. Forget the American Apparel models; I live in dread that I’ll see an Amphibiman t-shirt on a homeless guy near Times Square (a former manager forbade me from donating company-logo shirts to the Salvation Army because he saw a homeless man wearing one of ours in New York; the situation worsening when I pointed out it was the only advertising we could afford at the time). What if we build a brand and nobody likes it? Subtract out our friends and family that are morall obligated to support us, and what if there’s no there there?
Taken together, these two fears are tantamount to finding out that nobody likes what we’ve done. What if our art, rather than our day jobs, has all of the elements of suck to it? There’s a definite possibility that we’ll show up at MoCCA 2011 in New York with eight boxes of shirts and leave with eight plus a bag of the stuff we bought. It’s a possibility, but in my opinion, it’s more likely MoCCA will be disrupted by a Godzilla sighting or an incendiary incident involving that cosplay guy who shows up in the bear head each year.
Why am I so sure? First of all, I like our stuff. It’s quirky, it’s fun, it’s different. It’s art. If I like it, all I need to do is find a few hundred other people who like it as well, and the fear resolves. Here’s where the definition of “wild” is a tremendous asset. Historically, you needed a publisher, distributor and retail partners to find those similarly twisted minds. Most of the “mainstream media” simply doesn’t get the long tail effect of word of mouth, social network, and recommendation marketing of a new idea, which is why amazing artists like Meredith Gran don’t produce the book sales results the large publishers want. When you have to pay those distributors, retailers and marketroids, then art becomes a job. And the suck quotient approaches the limit of (N-1)/N, for N large (ok, for non math people, that means that only one thing doesn’t suck out of the N things you do). When it’s not a job, and you have access to a literal world of people who might be looking for a t-shirt with a toad holding a beaker, and you can make a few of them happy, it’s a huge win. The opposite of fear is doing something you love, and the best part of that is seeing someone else smile because of the effort.