In March 2009, I was in a bar with a friend drinking and laughing, and I decided I was going to write a webcomic. The initial premise was simple: A badger, unable to read, is continually confronted with words, and in anger over his illiteracy, mauls the nearest human. The Illiterate Badger, Robot, Flower, and the rest were born that day. And after the original concept ran its course, quickly, the comic evolved into a wacky three-panel slice of life. Nearly seven years later, I’ve posted the 1000th, and final, new Illiterate Badger comic.
There’s a good chance that you never read it. It’s likely that you never even knew it existed. I believed at the start that I was emulating the amazing works at The Oatmeal, Questionable Content, xkcd, Penny Arcade, and others, but The Illiterate Badger never caught on. Still, stopping won’t be easy. It’s a sad day for me, in saying goodbye to characters I love. And my Tuesday-to-Thursday afternoons have been set aside for years, reserved for the creation of each week’s comics.
In 2010, when I started “getting serious” and posting on a schedule, it wasn’t easy. I had to come up with three jokes (I’m not saying they were all good!), then I had to make the images, via cut-and-paste with some original stuff each week, then I’d go back and rethink and revise those jokes. (Still not saying they were all good!) All told, it was about 3 hours per week, every week, for seven years.
That’s 1092 hours.
And the truth is, I’m astonished by that number. I really enjoyed every minute of making this comic. Even when no ideas would come and I’d be hunched over the computer trying to come up with something… anything!
The number one question people ask me is “How did you do it?”
The easy answer I can provide is that I fell in love with the work. I loved my characters and I enjoyed the opportunity to unite with them each week. But the better answer is that this comic was something I needed. When I started it, I was working customer service for a retail business, answering emails, addressing phone complaints, selling, and checking orders. As an English major with designs on writing stories and novels, the contrast that lay in the real world compared to my hopes and dreams was not-quite-soul-sucking-but-close.
I started the Illiterate Badger to distract myself from the slog of adulthood. To give myself a creative outlet.
And truly, the comic saved me. After college, stacks of rejection letters and unattained writing jobs had piled onto my creative spirit. I was close to letting the real world overtake my idealism about being a creative person. Then I made a webcomic, and it kept me accountable to my creativity.
Instead of just screwing around, watching television, drinking, smoking, getting bogged down in the all-too-common cycle of work-eat-sleep, I had something reminding me to be creative, and to trust myself, and my passion.
Last year, my first book was published. I don’t know if I’d have ever bothered to write it if I hadn’t fed my creativity in the years before. I recently launched a new collection of short stories — written by me and many other authors — and I probably wouldn’t have done it without the Illiterate Badger.
I deeply believe that none of this would have happened without the creative discipline, and more importantly, the creative self-esteem that I built up because of The Illiterate Badger. It was never a moneymaker. It was never that popular. But, it paid dividends in happiness — the true happiness and gratification that come through the creation of new things.
I encourage any of you out there who wants to work in a creative field, to make amazing things, to invent worlds, to charm and enchant others… You must develop a schedule for your passion. Don’t wait for inspiration to come to you. Don’t sit passively hoping that the muses will engage your heart and mind and hand at once. You must give your love of music, or words, or drawings, or whatever, a place. Make room for your creativity — make it a priority in your life — and it will grow. It can take as little as three hours per week. Maybe even less. And at the end, you’ll only be astounded that you — in a world where everyone is always too busy to do what they love — managed 1,000+ hours in seven years… or more.
If you’ve ever read my comic, thank you. If you have your own, please let me know. I’d love to meet your work.