My Reflections on My Time as a Comic Strip Artist, Writing and Illustrating AFORD
Long, long ago in a lifetime far, far away I was a comic strip artist. Not many people know this about me nowadays as I have made a career in design, photography and illustration. But when I was young I had aspirations to be a full-time comic strip artist for my professional career.
When I was in grade school I idolized Jim Davis, the artist behind Garfield. I read every Garfield strip and watched every Garfield cartoon (I still love the Christmas Special!). This led me to create my own comic strip character, a turtle named Aford. I started drawing comic strips and assembling them into a home-made, stapled-together, best-that-I-could-do book that I would give to my parents for Christmas each year. This went on for as long as I can remember…and I am sure my mother still has the original comic strip books laying around her house somewhere. I dreamed of one day having my comic strip in my hometown newspaper, The Maryland Gazette…a local paper that came out every Wednesday and Saturday with a readership in the six digits.
As I grew up and entered college, I took the comic strip to the next level. The internet was just about to explode during this time (1998-2002) and I wanted to try to use this new media to promote my work. I tried to draw one or two comic strips a week and post them online. I spent many of my free hours scouring the internet looking for ways to promote Aford. I exchanged links with other comic strip websites, allowed reptile-related sites to display my comic strip for free on their site, and listed my website anywhere I could for free. Over time the popularity of the comic strip grew and grew until the point I started receiving fan mail by way of email from kids telling me how much they enjoyed my work. I still cherish those messages from aspiring artists.
Trying for Syndication
As Aford gained fans, I increased the output. I decided in 2002 to start drawing the comic strip more frequently…4-5 times a week. The ultimate goal of any comic strip artist is syndication. This means a distributor takes care of getting your comic strip into many newspapers and periodicals as possible…and you get paid. It really is a shot in the dark as there is limited space in the papers and so many talented artists out there trying to sell their own comic strips. I tried many times to get syndicated sending in packets by mail every few months. Time and time again I was rejected, as I expected…but I had a side plan. I decided to self-syndicate, which means I would approach the newspapers individually and sell them my strip.
I sent tons of emails, hundreds probably, to different newspaper editors. Many were received with no response, others with “not interested”, but I did gain the interest of a few. Over time I was able to get Aford in 8-10 newspapers across the country…including The Maryland Gazette (my childhood dream). I even received a very small payment from some of them. To me, it was not about the money though. It was about seeing my artwork in print and knowing many others were seeing and enjoying my work. There was great satisfaction in knowing I was entertaining a small audience and perhaps brightening their day in one way or another through Aford.
Ending the Strip
Well overtime my focus gradually began to shift to my full-time work. I started focusing on my job as a graphic / web designer and that pulled time away from the comic strip. I got married, had my first child, started up a profitable business with my brother and ultimately decided to end the comic strip in 2006. I still keep the website for the comic strip up and running (see below) and reflect fondly on all I accomplished with Aford. It helped refine my discipline and creativity as an artist and gave my unique sense of humor an outlet.
It even helped me get my first full-time job as a graphic designer.
In 2002, I graduated college and was looking for my first full-time job…a major milestone in any designer’s career. I had applied to Erickson (a very large national active retirement community developer) for a graphic design position. I went through a first round of interviews, and was invited in for a second with the VP of Marketing. I remember the last question he asked me…it was something like, “Being a designer for us, you will be creating daily publications and marketing materials with the same subject material…retirees and active senior living. How can you assure us you will be able to continually come up with new ideas and creative approaches?”. I thought for a moment, and answered, “Well sir, I have been authoring and drawing a weekly comic strip for years dealing with the same characters and I am always coming up with new ideas for them…so I am confident I will be able to do the same for Erickson.”
He smiled and said, “Good answer. Good answer.” I was offered the job the next day.