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When I Burned Out

Burnout is insidious. I’m on the mend, and doing well now that I successfully have diagnosed the problem and begun to address it in earnest. I’ll explain.

For 19 years I did freelance illustration work. I did all sorts of nifty art for lots of nifty products, but I was really focused on being a comic book artist. At the time that seemed important to me, although now I can’t really see why. I admired my comic artist heroes so much, greats like John Buscema, Gil Kane, John Byrne, and John Romita Jr. What I didn’t see was the excessive hours of work, no days off, no vacations, no health care, poor page rates, etc. I always got the prices I charged, and customers kept coming back for more, but it was a punishing career choice. I never broke in with Marvel or DC, but the situation there would have probably been similar.

Around 2004, I got fed up with drawing other people’s properties, so I dreamed up Johnny Saturn. For the most part, an exciting decade followed, I garnered a lot of attention in the comic world, made a lot of fans, did a lot of conventions, and really opened up to my inner salesman and promoter. It was a heady time, and I don’t regret it, but It didn’t end all that well.

By 2012, I was producing the Johnny Saturn webcomic twice weekly, and penciling, inking, and coloring two pages a week for a vampire comic for another publisher. The vampire job paid decent, the owner was easy to work with, and it kept us afloat financially. But, burnout was building.

First, I blew out my wrist and needed carpal tunnel surgery. Then, my thumb wore out, and my right shoulder. Spending hours and hours on a computer every day was taking its toll, and it became excruciating at points. Probably because of the pain I was developing a serious hate for making digital art, and that’s not a good thing for an illustrator, I can assure you. I’m sure that my avoidance issues was due to pain and long-term, serious exhaustion.

To alleviate the issue, I began hiring different digital colorists to lesson my burden. I had talented people from all over the world working for me, even some Marvel comics colorists, and at one point I had seven different creators working for me. I probably could have leveraged this into an illustration agency of some sort, but managing that group of willful creatives was a full-time job in its own right.

I limped through 2012, trying my best to work through the pain, but by 2014 I was done. I ended Johnny Saturn, ended working for other publishers, and ended my punishing schedule of doing anything and everything I could dream up to promote my work. Promotion had become frantic and exhausting in its own right, and I easily could have kept a full-time promoter busy. Like I said, in 2014 I was done. I still did book covers for publisher/writer friends, but I already hated digital art, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Be sure to come back for the next post, the Aftermath. Happily, the story does turn around for the better.

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