The COVID-19 health crisis is a difficult time for many independent comic creatives. The existing challenges of their demanding and competitive industry coupled with the uncertainty of a pandemic is leading to stalled projects, nebulous timelines, creative blocks, and a lot of justifiable anxiety about the future. There’s a constant balancing act between wanting to inspire and entertain dedicated readers and making sure their own lives are stable.
How are they handling the coronavirus crisis? Nerdist spoke to four independent comic creatives to dive into their pre-pandemic lives, current work challenges, and how a global crisis affects their creativity and brand.
“My journey began with me loving and reading comics like my life depended on it,” said freelance writer and Parenthood Activate! webcomic comic creator Stephanie Williams. As a kid, she picked up an X-Men issue, fell in love with the unique storytelling style of comics, and never looked back. “From there, Archie Comics like Josie and the Pussycats became my thing. I really loved the sitcom style of the Archie Digest that I would get at the grocery story. So, that is probably why I tweet about comics the way I do on Twitter. I do it so that I’m trying to make these characters relatable the way I found them relatable.”
Stephanie Williams/Sarah Macklin
Stephanie built a sizable Twitter following with her funny anecdotes and commentary about comic panels. She also created But What If Though?, a webcomic remix of Marvel’s “What If?” series with characters from DC Comics and her favorite entertainment mediums. Her witty takes led to a successful Kickstarter for Living Heroes, a Marvel fancomic following Misty Knight, Ororo Munroe, Monica Rambeau, and She-Hulk. Like in the Living Single comic series, the heroines navigate life and friendship together with a lot of humor along the way.
Illustrator and writer Reimena Yee’s original plan was for a “practical science career,” but her love for drawing and telling stories took her life in a new direction. “As I grew up through exams and university, I gradually lost faith in my aspirations of a future in academia or science and fell into a quarter-life crisis around the same time I was making my webcomic The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya (TCM).”
Yee’s 15-plus-year journey is likely #careergoals for many aspiring independent creators. She has Eisner-nominated work, book deals, and a steadily growing career with clients like BOOM! and Image Comics. But she has tweeted extensively about the amount of research, time, and effort it takes to produce works like Alexander, The Servant & The Water of Life, a historical fiction comic. The Malaysian creator also co-founded Unnamed, a collective for Southeast Asian comics.
“I started drawing weekly webcomics about my male-to-female (MtF) transition in 2014 under the name TransGirlNextDoor on Tumblr,” said writer and artist Kylie Wu. “I always loved drawing and doodling as a kid—very cliché and common origin story. My sense of humor is very poop emoji, vulgar, dark and twisted, shock jock, and of course sexual.” Her comic series NoFap deeply reflects her personal path as a person working through sex/porn addiction and towards sobriety.
Kylie Summer Wu
John Robinson IV, also known as Sceritz, made his official debut with 2018’s Scorpio. The mystical urban fantasy comic follows wielders of zodiac mystical relics. An avid Star Wars fan, reader, and entertainment critic, he dived into the field in 2016 to test his comic creating luck.
“I just wanted to try this medium out because I was already a huge comic head,” Robinson said. “I’m like, ‘I’m a writer and I’m a comic fan so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be trying to write comics.” He also hosts Beyond the IVWall of Writing Podcast and co-founded Comics Horizon!, an inclusive community for comic lovers.
The Turning Point
This year started off with a bang for Reimena with two graphic novels in the works. However, she found herself in a difficult creative space when the coronavirus pandemic hit. “I’ve been feeling more fatigued and unproductive since the last couple months,” she said. “Every time I think, ‘I should start work,’ I immediately space out on the interwebs or nod off to sleep. I was meant to finalize the script for the aforementioned second graphic novel in early March, but the pandemic stress has severely affected my ability and motivation to create.”
She had to quickly adjust her normal creative process to accommodate writer’s (and artist’s) block while still striving towards her final deadline. Thankfully, Reimena is still working from home as a webcomics editor and has savings to help her get through—something that many struggling creatives don’t have right now. Low wages, layoffs, and furloughs were a glaring reality for many writers and artists before the pandemic, and it’s definitely not any better right now.
Stephanie was experiencing the emotional high of her successful Living Heroes Kickstarter and was actively working on the script when COVID-19 caused her life to shift. She began working from home and homeschooling her preschool aged son—the inspiration behind her Parenthood Activated! adventures.
“I actually put some stuff on hold. I didn’t want to force anything or try to write anything. I didn’t want to write anything that has to do with the coronavirus because we’re going to get enough of that when the time comes. So what I ended up doing is reverting back to what I did when I was going through postpartum depression—just watch stuff, revisit shows I love to find [Living Heroes] inspiration for later.
I wanted to give myself the space to not doing anything and not feel like I had to create. It wasn’t fair to call it “writers block” because it’s not writer’s block—we are in a pandemic…The overall goal was to pause everything and, when I felt like I could, get back to writing.”
Stephanie admits that there was pressure to keep providing content for her followers. But she reminds herself that she’s not content machine, but a person going through a global crisis like everyone else.
Social media has been both a blessing and a curse during COVID -19. It’s a way for isolated people to stay connected with family and friends and to get a few laughs and joy in the midst of anxious times. But, there’s also unreasonable expectations (and a sense of entitlement by consumers) that push creatives to be “productive” with all their “extra free time”—a sentiment that is simply insensitive and unrealistic for many people.
John Robinson IV
Robinson addressed this mindset by acknowledging how it affects him personally as well as the world at large:
“For myself personally I’m like ‘Man I need to be doing whatever and knocking things out. But, at the same time, when I do look at the news and what’s going on and people trying to open up the government and the economy versus safety, that’s stressful in itself. Sometimes, I don’t feel like [creating] and then I want to beat myself up for not feeling it when I am at the house with time.
But, at the same time, it’s like no—humans don’t work like a computer. There’s no “Oh, I’m going to work on this project from one to five everyday period. It just doesn’t work like that. You’re going to be sleepy, stressed, the kids are going to be doing whatever, there’s a lot going on. To expect people to function like a robot because they “have time now” is just asinine.”
Viviana Spinelli/Sean Hill
There may be people who have more free time for goals, but many people are working harder than ever as they try to find some emotional, mental, and financial peace. Kylie knows this challenge all too well. Producing NoFap daily issues brings stability and routine into her life, but trying to maintain her sobriety is an arduous affair.
“This crisis hasn’t affected the technical side of my comic-making process, but definitely the content. Isolation was very hard for me in the beginning, [because] I’d only been 5 months sober at that point. And isolation is the number-one danger zone for porn addiction. I didn’t have enough sober days in my bag to face such a sudden change, so I started edging a lot to deal with the stress, including financial.”
Kylie’s Patreon page helps to ease the financial strife by allowing fans or anyone who wants to support an LGBTQIA+ artist to enjoy her work in exchange for a donation.
The Next Chapter
Like many creatives, Kylie doesn’t know what her creative future will hold. It’s all about focusing on the present, maintaining sobriety, and continuing to produce comics to keep herself encouraged. John is pushing forward with his next issue of Scorpio as well as his upcoming venture Kamikaze, a comic about a post apocalyptic world. He’s in a space where he can make time to write but also set boundaries while keeping his momentum steady.
Stephanie’s experience during the coronavirus has reminded her to continue to be flexible and to have patience with herself.
“If anything, this time has shown me that there are other ways to get things done. The creative process doesn’t have to be this big, beautiful thing. For me, it never was – it was really just random ideas and ‘let me go and try to figure this out.’ So during the pandemic its been about utilizing the technology you have, jotting things down, and saving them for later.
If you don’t get to it today, that’s okay… it’s reminded me that I’m at my best when I just kind of let things flow. I’m giving myself more space to let things be and flow. The pandemic has reiterated that sense of patience and patience with yourself.”
Reimena isn’t concerned about the coronavirus impacting her artistic brand. Her pursuits outside of art are uncertain, however she’s hopeful about the future.
“.I mourn the loss of opportunities to develop my career outside of creating art. I am not sure if I’ll still be able to revive or get back those same opportunities in the next two years. But I have to believe so. Or at least, I have to trust that my future projects will lead me to maybe similar, maybe different, maybe better opportunities. We will see.”
The coronavirus pandemic continues to cause a shift in the lives of creatives across the world. Some are fortunate to still have the capacity to create while others are putting projects on hold. Making comics is a pursuit of passion, grace, and, most of all, an avenue of hope in the midst of dark times.
Featured Image: Scarlet Leigh