The Art of Getting Rich

I was speaking with a friend yesterday who aspired to see his cartoon ideas on television, since there is a current crop of badly drawn, average concepts on the air. If people can doodle stick figures and make money, he wondered why he couldn't do the same.

Inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes you'll look at some creative endeavor and think, “I wish I could do something like that", while other times you might think, “I could do something better than that." Reality presents some difficulties, and I remember when I was in college, longer ago than it feels, when I had an energy born of naive dreams of drawing comic books, getting rich, and being revered by millions. Very few people get rich in a creative field though, and very few wind up doing exactly what they thought they would be doing. People who aren't creative might assume creative people burst with ideas constantly, but that's not the case, and the dry spells are frustrating.

I suggested some rare examples of internet success to my friend, because I've often thought how great it would be to make a living off of a web comic or a Flash cartoon. It'd be nice to make money blogging, but I don't know if my 30-50 readers would ever pay for my ramblings. And in most cases, it isn't the content of the site that makes money; it's merchandising.

When Jeph Jacques started writing and drawing Questionable Content, the artwork was crude and it was a hobby he entertained a few days a week. Then he quit his day job, started writing and drawing 5 days a week and, most importantly, started selling t-shirts. He built an audience of fans first, and found that they'd be willing to buy products that his characters wore, even if it was something as simple as a shirt with “teh" written on it. And the crude artwork with practice has evolved immensely; it's been great to see his progress since he was able to become dedicated to the site.

The Brothers Chaps are well known for their collection of Flash animation at Homestarrunner.com, most notoriously for the nigh weekly Strong Bad e-mails. Simplistic doodles born of boredom and a notion that “anybody can do this" led first to a children's book, then the web site. The character designs have evolved, but many are still based on simple geometric shapes. Their store features t-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, DVDs, and even action figures, all based on their cartoons. They too make money with their art.

Stories like these are rare. In a bookstore last weekend I saw a Penny Arcade book, a published collection of yet another web comic. When Matt Stone and Trey Parker conceived of an irreverent cartoon made from rough paper cutouts, did they expect the success that South Park would enjoy a decade later? Mike Judge began his successful career with a pair of characters who initially almost always were shown facing the same directions with only their mouths moving. And I think we all remember what Matt Groening's Simpsons looked like when they debuted on The Tracey Ullman Show.

I do get bored, and I do get ideas from time to time, but inspiration fades and laziness sets in. Even coming up with something to write every day gets challenging sometimes, and we wind up with nonsense posts. I wish my creativity was something that I could maintain, and not a surge that fades before I did anything with it. I find I can't multitask as well as my friends, who find time to do all the things I do like work, watch movies, and play games, but also have families, take care of a home and entertain their own creative endeavors. Last night I watched Lawrence of Arabia, which is a great movie, but after nearly four hours I opted to go to sleep rather than write the words I'm only getting to now today. Some people can write and watch a movie at the same time, but I find I need to focus on one thing. There aren't enough hours in the day for my narrow world view though, and I probably won't get rich from my art.

In a similar discussion recently about the gap between wealth and creativity, Rey cited Caravaggio, an Italian painter: "He
started off with a sorta sucky apprenticeship, spent most of his
career going from stinky job to stinky job. Later on in his life he
started getting some work and apparently put some of his anger into
his paintings (like showing John get beheaded and putting his own head
on the platter), he was chased out of town and eventually died poor
and alone. So what this super talented guy taught me was ‘no matter
how good you are, or how much of the creative arts is your calling,
you'll likely die hungry and become big after you die.'"

I burn out too quickly. I once had a reader propose a web comic to me, but found my drawing skills too rusty, and that I couldn't take on another regular project. People do make money in their lifetime doing something they enjoy though, and there are plenty of success stories out there. Would anyone out there proudly sport a “Nexus of Improbability" t-shirt? I doubt it. I'm sure none of the success stories I've cited today include protagonists who started out thinking, “I'm going to make money with this". When you have ideas, write them down immediately, save them, and try them if they still interest you even after time has passed. In the end, I guess you never really know when a roll of the dice will come up in your favor.


Blogger b13 said...

Maybe not a NOI shirt but maybe an MCF with a ? behind it...

1/06/2007 7:22 PM  
Blogger Scott Roche said...

The advice I've always given is do what you enjoy and if you work hard enough you can find someone to pay you for it. It's the workiong hard part that stops most folks.

1/08/2007 10:12 AM  

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