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10 Year Anniversary

The business license from the Commonwealth of Virginia came in the mail February 2003. I celebrate a decade of business this month with my 32nd title and a pile of thankfulness to the friends and family who have supported me every step of the way. Chester and I have survived some missteps, hundreds of miles of travel to conferences, and a Great Recession that hit our main target audience (public schools) particularly hard. Why did I keep going?

Most of the people who start their own business fail. A savvy friend who loaned Chester Comix LLC money at the very beginning noted that this was my “Defending Your Life” moment. Check out the movie sometime — it’s a funny look at how important it is to be brave in the face of the conventional wisdom to play it safe and keep your crayons within the lines. And her reference to that movie was a huge compliment that kept me going through some scary times.

They were scary times because I couldn’t see around the corner, not because I was unsure of my own footsteps and the direction I was walking. I believe to my core that I was put on this planet to do Chester Comix. I’ve been doing it the best I can — first as a newspaper cartoonist from 1995 to 2004 and then as my own publisher from 2003 until now. I often think what a weird set of skills it takes to do this work — and marvel at how my life has included training for those skills — how the pieces all brought me to this life I have now . . .

* CARTOONING. I didn’t study art as a major in college — I’ve studied it my whole life. I taught myself to draw by copying Peanuts out of the newspaper. My dad was an art professor, and my parents took me to a lot of art museums as I grew up. Art was not an oddball career choice. It was accepted and encouraged. You’d be amazed at how important that is. When I started to draw my own superhero comix in elementary school, my dad got them copied so I could sell them to my friends. Chester Comix LLC is just a more elaborate form of that work I was doing in 4th grade.

* WRITING. Schools make all of us practice writing all the time, of course. But I went further. I started keeping a journal in 5th grade and was on the school newspaper in elementary, middle and high school and then in college. That’s where I got encouragement to write for a public audience — a big barrier for many people. I picked newspapering because it allowed a broad range of creativity and seemed to have a lot of job security (every town has a newspaper, right?). The Internet crushed that — but not before newspapers taught me to brave enough to write publicly and write well on deadline.

* PUBLIC SPEAKING. I did debate in high school because my friend Amy did. But in the process I found a family of friends there and learned to face a big audience and think on my feet to speak extemporaneously. I think about that training every time I talk about my work in front of 350 kids in a school cafeteria. (And it’s fantastic when kids tell me that I’m much more interesting than other authors who get up and drone on; it’s all due to my debate training at Brookings High School with the incomparable Judy Kroll. Well, that and my love of Steve Martin.)

* RESEARCH. Majoring in History and Literature at Harvard University was a great excuse to buy the books I wanted to read anyway and take time to dig for details in the papers I wrote. My work-study job for four years was inside the school’s rare books library. That love of reading and research is the starting point for every story I tell at Chester Comix. Chances are, over my morning cereal I’m reading a historic academic journal I found in a used bookstore.

* MARKETING. This is an off-shoot of the newspaper work. When Chester ran in the Daily Press of Newport News, VA, I was just as involved in the marketing of the feature as I was in writing and drawing it. I’m comfortable in social media and thankful for all the tools I can wield myself to promote the business now (many of which didn’t exist in 2003!).

* STUBBORNNESS. The key. I spent the summer after my high school graduation working for my father’s weekly newspaper in Ohio. When the staff floundered a few months later, I took a leave of absence from my freshman year at college to keep the paper running until my father’s permanent return to Ohio in the summer of 1986. In that experience I learned hard and valuable lessons about being a small business owner. No one will ever care about your business as much as you do. No one will be addressing samples letters on a Friday night with you. But if it’s what you believe in, you do it gladly.

I believe in Chester Comix. Thank you for all your support over the past decade. I look forward to more storytelling and more success in the next one!

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 3rd, 2013 at 11:19 am and is filed under Author's Purpose, Comix Creation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Chester crab comics