Monday, May 10, 2010

The opposite of regret

I don't have many regrets. Not because I haven't done anything dumb - far from that. But regrets by definition involve looking backward, and my attention span is so bad that it's all I can do to scan the future.

But I do have a few (we will pause while my wife and anyone who shares her trademark attention-span issues breaks into a few bars of Frank Sinatra), and one of them is being lifted today.

The Grand Rapids Press is starting to run Frazz today. The Press is probably the paper I most identify as "my" paper. My parents subscribed to it while I was growing up, and it was a really good paper. It's the paper that made me want to draw for newspapers. And while it's not the first paper I did draw pictures for - that would be the Big Rapids Pioneer, one of the other papers I consider "mine" - it's the first one I drew for to make an actual facsimile of a living. I left college - nursing school - to work for them as a full-time freelancer, a move that could easily have turned out to be a regret but turned out quite well.

Things didn't go well with the editor there.

Now, just so you know, that's as harshly as I'm going to badmouth the editor. Sorry. That sort of thing is entertaining, but about as long-term healthy and satisfying as half an orange marshmallow circus peanut. This is about my regrets. If he has any, he can write them in his own blog.
Actually, it was worse than that. Things did go well, and then they didn't, which I'm sure gave it the taste of betrayal. It also gave me the knowledge that he did, indeed, have a sense of humor, the confidence to try to patch things up with humor, and the hubris to try to match his style of humor. That third one, I think, was the one that did it. He seemed to prefer a certain kind of elbow-in-the-ribs type of teasing, but apparently it was more fun in outgoing form. Or maybe I was just that ham-fisted. I nudged -- elbowed -- him and his paper in an episode of the strip, which, to my knowledge, remains the one and only cameo that didn't make everybody involved happy, and boom. Not only did I anger someone I was trying to patch things up with, but I did so with someone powerful enough to ban my strip from "my" paper. Regret.

The sick thing is, it worked well for me. When you're starting a comic strip, you don't quit your day job for a while. The money comes in slowly, and most strips fail. So I worked a lot of long, long weeks in a row with no break. I did a lot of drawing tired. Really tired. Tired enough to affect intrapersonal-relationships judgment, we've learned. Tired enough to feel really wronged by the outcome - and mad enough to make sure I did everything right from there on in, because the only way I was going to make sure he didn't have the satisfaction of thinking he contributed to my downfall was not to fall down. That anger fueled me through a lot of late work nights.

I'm still here. He's not there. The new editor is superb. I've known him almost as long as that first editor and known of him even longer, and I have thought the world of him the whole time. I still do, and he's brought Frazz into yet another one of his papers. This is the opposite of regret, but not the opposite of motivation. If there's one thing you want to do more than make your enemies look dumb, it's make sure your allies look brilliant.

So, yeah. I sure hope the first Frazz that happens to run in his paper isn't a juvenile bathroom joke or anything …


veloben said...

OK I'm totally confused. What could you/Frazz have said about anyone (without stepping totally out of character)that would flip a business decision as big as banning a strip that brings in readers from a newspaper?

And how does an editor survive wiht such a thin skin or not understand the concept of 'in the spirit intended' (regardless of how dumb the execution)?

Granted 'my' paper has never run comics, aah sequential art, ever and is published some 900 miles away.

Bes said...

Way cool, Jef! My favorite strips are of the "Caulfield question" genre, and knowing the backstory of today's strip makes it all the more satisfying.

Really glad things turned out the way they did!

Jef Mallett said...

Okay, Veloben. Fair questions, and relevant. The offending strip involved a baseball fundraiser car wash; the question "does everybody have a bucket and a rag?"; the statement "Caulfield, the Grand Rapids Press is NOT a rag;" and the reply "until it runs my favorite comic strip, I say it is."

Ham-fisted? Even dumb? In retrospect, yes. Ill-intended? Quite the opposite. Out of character? Perhaps the bulk of the problem. Frazz ain't "Pearls Before Swine" (which is a terrific strip; I don't mean it that way).

Thin skinned? I said I wouldn't comment on the editor. I will say that the strip was originally conceived to read "The New York Times is not a rag," and I'm guessing if I'd stuck with that, and it had made its way to the editor's office there, the reaction would have been a bit different. Though they wouldn't have started running Frazz, either.