Falling Short; Falling Up

It just occurred to me that the above is a nice pun if you write it between September and November. Yet here we are in February of 2018. A little over four months ago, I was part of something that had me on pins and needles. Despite great community support from readers, backers, and creators, and an amazing push by my tireless publisher, the Kickstarter campaign for Comicker Press’s second season of books fell about $6000 short of its goal. (This post is thusly four months late, btw.)

The first volume of Waking Life was slated to be funded as part of that line, but as of the end of September, it looked like I was going to have to be content to have it be a digital-only comic for just a little while longer.

That said, I did learn a few things from the Kickstarter process:

  • Community is valuable. Throughout the campaign, a few of the creators and I regularly texted and communicated on social media to brainstorm, process, and share ideas. That led to stronger connections with fellow Comicker creators, which considering the creator-owned nature of the brand, was a really cool thing.
  • Likewise, a readership is part of your comic’s community, and cultivating that is part of the process. I haven’t quite hacked this aspect yet, though I’m chalking some of that down to bandwidth. My priorities outside of my family, my students, and my church community are pretty much writing, penciling, digitally inking, coloring, and lettering my comic. That leaves little space for an outreach effort– or at least one that hasn’t been thought through and designed. I love the act of discussing comics just about as much as making them, and I’m not alone in that. I think this summer will be a valuable time to intentionally find and connect with others who have the same mindset.
  • Identity does not equal activity. I’ve been cartooning since I was a college sophomore, circa 2005. I’ve illustrated one graphic novel, and wrote and illustrated several short comics stories before embarking on Waking Life. And I am owed precisely what from this? Not a blessed thing. There’s more work yet to be done. And my comfort is in the fact that cartooning is a thing that I do, and a thing I can constantly improve upon. My sense of self and worth aren’t to be bound up in it– it’s to flow out of who I am. I’m satisfied intellectually that my locus of identity comes from my connection to Jesus of Nazareth. Practically, that’s harder on a day-to-day level. But finding out that I didn’t have enough people in my orbit who wanted to pre-order a book didn’t wreck who I was. There was no pity party, no lengthy mope-fest for Christin to have to put up with. I got to keep working. And I got to remember why.

One of the things I’ve loved about the Preemptive Love Coalition –a non-profit doing humanitarian work in Iraq, Syria, and post-Harvey Houston– is their old tradition of  annual failure reports. They’ve loved to process in public what they tried, what didn’t work, and how they’ll apply those lessons going forward. It’s not a bad thing to learn from.

In 2016, I created a new comics story, based on the life and work of one of my cartooning heroes. In 2017, I invited people to help me bring it onto bookshelves. In the process of falling short, I learned a few things that will pay dividends in the future.

And while I’m not quite allowed to talk about it yet, there have been a few interesting developments behind the scenes since. We knew from the beginning that even if the Kickstarter fell short, Comicker would still find a way to bring all of our books to press in some shape, form, or fashion. I think I can safely say that’s going to come to fruition in the near future. Cagey enough?

Keep your eyes peeled is all I can say…

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I Solved an Age-Old Debate For My Students

a-star-wars-vs-star-trek-guide

Image from Fansided’s “Dork Side of the Force” section.

Dear heavens. It’s nearly Thanksgiving Break, and I’ve decided to torture my students by making them write research papers. Is it sheer agony for them? Not quite– they’re writing on a topic related to social media, which at least offers them some choice– but very few people outside of a university office tend to love combing through databases to serve up some MLA-formatted argumentation.

I figure, if I’m making the students do it, I should do it– and give them a good example to work from in the process. But then I modified that second thought and decided to do a research paper on if Star Trek is better than Star Wars instead. It’s written with all of the enthusiasm and logic that a 15-year old version of me would muster, and it’s by no means conclusive. At the very least, it’ll give my students a chance to unpack how you make points, then quote and cite info to support them– all while laughing at my nerdy tics.

If you’d like to burn five minutes on it, it’s a thing of hideous beauty. Check it out here!

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The Week Behind; The Week Ahead: Sept 18

Phew. There’s a whirlwind going on, y’all. We are in the last few days of a major Kickstarter campaign run by my publisher, Comicker Press, to bring five different graphic novels from digital into print. The first volume of Waking Life is among them, and at 2/3 funding with five days to go, I am figuratively on pins and needles!

Capture

(I say figuratively because, folks, I’m an English teacher, and I just spent the past few weeks of school reinforcing for my kids that figurative language isn’t literal. And I literally want to be the best role model possible for my students. )

Last week was the start of the whirlwind. My brother in comics– Tyler Ellis— and I spent the weekend of the 9th at Staple in Austin. It’s the best indie comics show in the southern U.S., and a real highlight of the year. Getting time to meet new faces and reconnect with previous acquaintances was a real treat.

But I moved straight from that into a full week of classes, vocab, and test prep– the first full week of school since we began, thanks to Hurricane Harvey. Having spent a lot more time together, my students taught me a few things in the process:

A) Never arm-wrestle a student whose biceps are larger than your head

B) Roblox is… a thing. Potentially bigger than Harambe was to last year’s group. There’s a reason everyone’s saying OOF a lot.

C) A single misspelling can end up being more profound than a hundred sincerely meant words.

I also decided to try my hand at fan art– i.e., the practice of drawing already-existing characters. Part of this is because I need to up my illustration game; part of it’s because I’d like to improve at digital drawing as well. I feel a lot of personally-induced pressure when working on Waking Life to make my pages look awesome, but that eliminates a little bit of the sense of play and discovery. I need an outlet for that, and I figured drawing characters I’ve enjoyed from other areas in a casual way creates that opportunity. To wit:

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Tyrion and Bronn are one of my favorite unlikely buddy comedies duos of the moment

Geordi and Data: some of my favorite odd-couple bros in all of science fiction.

I also discovered the utility of Instagram’s Stories feature (thanks, Christin), so now I’m annoying people with mildly humorous videos several times a day. Being half as funny as you think you are is the job of a father, though, so I’m staying on brand. Also, it DID give me the opportunity to document a major mishap that happened last night:

 

Finally, I had a few rad opportunities to chat up media folks about Waking Life and our soon-to-finish campaign. The Baylor Lariat, where I did my first public cartooning work, was kind enough to offer me an interview, which should be dropping this week. Also, Tyler and I will be doing a live AMA with our Comicker crew tonight at 7:00 central— we’d love to have you drop in and ask a few Q’s, give a few comments, and talk shop.

More to come next week, so stay tuned. I’ll have a story about how the campaign finishes up, one way or another. Until then, here’s a taste of things to come:

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So What’s New, Ben?

Well, a good amount, I think.

The last time I updated this site with any regularity, I was the communications director for my church, freshly married– and I posted a good bit about my design projects and what I was learning in life. When I decided to really put my comics work out there, I moved my flag over to Tumblr (hey– it was 2012) and let this thing lay fallow.

Then last year, I put some contextless comics pages up here with a promise of more to come. They’re the initial pages of my current graphic novel project, Waking Life, and I was exploring serializing it as a webcomic on my own time. Fortunately, Comicker Press picked it up, and now they do the hard work of updating it and putting it out in the world four times a week.

I changed jobs a bit (doing communications for a local Christian foundation for two years), then a bit more, coming back around to my education background and taking a position with my local high school. All the while, I’d been teaching on a volunteer basis with youth and adults at my church. Now I’ve got 125 teenagers that have to put up with me on the reg. I make them write a fair amount. I also have them read a lot of graphic novels. 🙂

I now have TWO kids. I have a contract and a publisher. I’m wanting to make a mark in students’ lives, and in the lives of those who choose to read my work. I want to document that again. Analyze what’s good. Unpack the things I find that work, and the things that I’m running up against.

Blogging is so 2008. (I’m pretty sure I should just be doing a newsletter now, amirite?) But I drive a minivan now and maintain a Roth IRA. I’m considering a return to cargo shorts. Out of fashion is my brand.

So let’s get antiquated. Let’s get reacquainted. There are comics to make, students to mold, and things to learn.

Keep your eyes peeled.

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Hand on the Plow

Hi all,

This site… is back. And I’ve got some things to share. Here’s a taste:

Prologue-Page-1 Prologue-Page-2 Waking-Life-Page-1

More to come soon…

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Letting the Field… Lie Fallow.

Hey all!

It’s been a long string of weeks since I’ve posted any content up on Benjamite. Some of that’s due to a busy professional season; some of it’s due to increased commitments within my church and community. Neither of those are bad things, but they’ve refined my notion of what I want to post online and how.

This blog initially started as a home for thoughts and essays about my personal life, and was specifically targeted at college friends. (We actually started a nice little network of blogs so that we could make long updates and keep in touch.) Last year, I transitioned it into a home for my comics and design work, but the more I think about it, this blog takes some time and care to maintain– and there’s not much of a comics or design community on WordPress. At least, not right now.

So I’ve started a new blog– one that’s smack in the middle of a vibrant online space where lots of folks share the interests I’m trying to cultivate. And I’m inviting you to join me.

It’s called Hipogram, over at Tumblr, and it’s a comics-focused site where you’ll be able to find all of my current pen-and-ink type work (along with some short ideas on other comics I’m mulling over). It’s quick to update, easy to stay on top of, and it’s an area where, frankly, I can communicate the Gospel through my words and actions to a community that’s unfamiliar with it.

In the meantime, this blog will stay up as an archive. Nothing’s going to be hidden or shut down.

I’m excited for this new venue. Come check it out!

My Brand New Blog

-Ben

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Much as I love posting these Hutchmoot sketches, there’s someone else whose work you’ve got to see. Check out my friend Jonny Jimison’s blog, where he’s also adding original cartoons to the mix!

Harry and Ron

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September 27, 2012 · 6:46 pm