When I started creating Schlock Mercenary it poured forth like a dam had broken. I was driven—whether by deep personal need, or demons from the deep, it doesn’t matter—to make comics, and I felt compelled to deliver them daily.
Then there was this thing, this sort of a watershed moment, just fifteen months after I started making comics, in September of 2001…
Lots of us in the webcartooning space sought to express our feelings—of grief, anger, patriotism, fear, it’s a long list— and I realized that my story-based comic strip just wouldn’t work well for that.
So I decided to keep telling the story I was telling.
The only change I made was to amp up the triumph and the funny a bit, because I had this epiphany (or at least this slow dawning of realization) that my job was to help people cope by letting them laugh and cheer. I was still writing social satire (a fact which the dawn of realization didn’t break over until 2008, which stands as strong anecdotal evidence that you can make a thing without knowing that thing’s name) but just because it’s got the word “social” in it doesn’t mean it can’t also have joy, with laughter and cheering. Kind of like how a really long paragraph can be comprehensible, but also have multiple parenthetical phrases slipped into it.
Parentheticals aside, here we are, 19 years after 9-11, and I’ve been doing this job pretty well—or at least very consistently—for that entire time.
But it is now entirely time for me to stop.
I need a break, and it’s the kind of break which, until I take it, I don’t know how long I’ll need it to be.
A break? REALLY? I look at the world around me. I know in my heart of hearts (or perhaps by the yammering of those 1st-paragraph demons) that the world needs joy and laughter and cheering and triumphs in their entertainment just as much now as they ever have.
How can I possibly LET myself stop?
And then I have a pair of epiphanies, which are kind of like dawning realizations, except on a very swiftly-spinning planet—no glow, no warning, just the instant awareness that it’s time to find shade and sunblock.
Epiphany the first: I cannot create enough joy to save the world. If I live a thousand lifetimes, and pack all the work of those lives into this moment, it still wouldn’t be enough.
Epiphany the second: The 20 years of Schlock Mercenary I’ve made won’t vanish just because I stopped making them. If I’m lucky, and the internet keeps furiously pumping words and pictures through tubes, maybe I CAN let myself stop. Maybe, when I take a break, people will still get enough joy to get by.
Because while I can’t do it all, and although what I’ve already done won’t be enough, that’s pretty much the whole human condition. That’s the story of all of us—not being able to do it all, and never being able to do enough.
So I’ll show my demons the door, and then try very, very hard to allow myself some contentment, some satisfaction, with what I have been able to do.
At least for a while.
That door won’t hold for long.
It’s trying to do the job of a dam, and it’s just a door. It won’t be enough.