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It gets better

That's what they tell you when you're having a rough go of it: It'll get better.

To be certain, when I started penciling Dante, I was having a rough go of it. I had told everyone for years that I would one day make a comic. Sure. Easy as that. I just hadn't, y'know. Because I didn't have the time, I'd say. But, truth. I had not, to that point, ever penciled a single issue of a comic. I had barely completed any pages at all. I had read every book there is on how to make comics, in preparation for if one day ever showed up. But mostly that had showed me how other people made comics. I still had no idea how I would pencil and ink my own.

That's a safe spot to be. Imagining that you can do something if not for these pesky outside forces (work, time, lack of money, not the right equipment), that ... grrr ... just won't cooperate. But when I did start Dante, some three years ago I found the task monumentally more difficult than I could ever imagine. My aspirations far exceeded my skills. It didn't feel safe anymore, and I felt very much exposed. I couldn't rely on excuses anymore.

I wasn't as good at this thing that I thought defined me as I thought I was.

Where I found myself was every day I fell short. And that's a tough spot to be in mentally. A little failure every day. That's what it felt like at least.

My wife and I would take these long walks, and I'd break down a little, almost daily. And she'd prop me back up. But the next day I would try again. And usually fail again. I was Charlie Brown kicking the football. I would have quit pretty early on if it weren't for Margaret.

But guess what. It got better. I got better.

A very early sketch of Sid from issue 1.

Incrementally. Where I wanted to be skill-wise, what had been a thousand miles away the day before, was now 999 miles, then 998. I'd have days where the clouds parted and I'd do something really nice. Something special. I'd had have a good day inking. My hands would finally cooperate. On those days I would meet Margaret at the door as she came home from work (I didn't have a regular job at the time, so it was an especially scary time, btw). And I'd make her look. "Look! Look! See! I can do this." We'd have a happy walk. A mini celebration. Then sure enough the next day, I'd struggle again. My hands just wouldn't show up for work. But that was the cycle.

There's a point to all this. I'm not just trying to be a downer. All those instances where I was butting my head against the ceiling of what I could do on that day, I was improving. I may not have seen it at the time, but I was moving the goal posts. And I'd love to say skill eventually catches up with aspirations, but not really. Not for me. Aspirations always outpace skill. It's the carrot you're always chasing. If you want to get better at something you'll find yourself often, hopefully, right there at the precipice. The difference is now, I understand that.

That's the lesson here. If you're doing something hard, try not despair when it's rough. That's when you're learning.

So it does get better. You will get better. That's your mantra.

And that brings me back to issue 1 of Count Dante. I'm going to level with you. It's not the best book in the series. I'm proud of it. I think we all are on the creative team. The story is great. I think we paced it well. That was something we figured out how to do pretty early on. And I think if you read it you'll be hooked. But I wasn't where I wanted to be with my skills. Where I am now. Believe me when I say issue 2 is better. And issue 3 is better than that, so on and so forth.

That's not how comics usually work. Usually issue 1 of a comic can be great, because that sets up the whole premise. And sometimes (often, actually) issue 2 is a little less great because the newness wears off. But that's not how ours is built. Each issue is a little better than the last. That's because we were learning. Especially me.

This week I'm putting the finishing touches on the conclusion, issue 6. It's everything I hoped it would be when I began. It's been a long road. And I can't say too much about the ending, but when you get there, if you make it there (and I really hope you will), you're really in for something.

A panel featuring Sid in issue 6.

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