A lot of people ask me how long I've been an artist, but rarely am I ever asked how I became an artist. I'm glad they haven't, because it's kind of a sad story. But you know, I figure if it can help one person, just one, who could be in a similar position, then I can deal.
Basically, I've been drawing since I was about five years old. After watching Adam West Batman on Channel 11 one day, I took one of my grandma's notepads, and tried to draw Batman with a pen. The next day, I traced Spider-Man from one of my dad's comics, and began freestyling. I would show them to my grandma, and she was amazed at how a five year old could DO that. (Admittedly, they were kind of good for five.)
Soon after, everyone knew I could draw. And by 'everyone', I do mean everyone. People genuinely enjoyed what I did, and it made me happy. But happy doesn't last too long in my world, and sure enough, people picked on me because I was now a smart AND talented kid and it made them jealous. They would never admit it, but my aptitude got me a lot of attention, as in, it took the attention away from them. Whether in school, or at home, everyone ganged up on me to the point where I wasn't happy anymore.
As smart as I was, I was still a kid, and most people seemed not to realize that. I was an only child living in a project apartment with a bunch of siblings, so I was already an outcast, and it only got worse when everyone else took their frustrations out on me. So all I wanted to do was escape. I did that in two ways: Playing videogames, and that other thing, the drawing.
As covered in my birthday post, my uncle took notice of this and encouraged me to stick with it. So I did. Drawing was that thing I did when everyone left me out of their games. That thing I did when the girls treated me like shit. That thing I did when everyone made fun of me for crying. It was reactionary. I never did it just because I wanted to. I've always had a hyperactive imagination so expressing myself was never a problem, but it felt like I had to bring something to life on paper in order to keep my sanity - a concept a kid shouldn't really be contending with.
With my mom out working all the time, my dad being Q from Third Strike, and my cousins doing everything without me, I spent a lot of time alone drawing. School was no different, because while I had my few friends, life goes on and they'd turn on me to join the populars, so I'd be left alone to draw again. I got better at it only because I had the time to do it.
The true turning point for me and art came in March '96. It's been stated that was the month I created the Rocket comic, but the day I actually did it was the day after my "girlfriend" dumped me for a thug boy in the most extravagant and embarrassing way possible. I didn't DO anything to deserve that, but you know, kids are mean. I've stated many times Rocket was kind of a super-take on myself; That was part of the story. The whole story however, is that I made Rocket to feel good about myself.
Problem here, is that I knew I wasn't a good artist at this point. So I hatched this amazing plan to sell my Rocket comics. If people bought them, I knew I wasn't that bad. And people did, for 25 cents. Quarters, which I would go to the arcade and just play on my own. Being from a lower-class family meant I wasn't seeing a Playstation or a 64 anytime soon, so the video store arcade machine was where I would go at every chance. I didn't just play the games, I absorbed them. Poetry in motion, they taught me colors, clothes, and so much more that a comic couldn't.
After much practice, I began to develop my own style, and my work improved. However, that only emboldened everyone around me to continue picking on me, and this time they went as far as to scribble over my work (Rocket #1), crumple it (Zero #1), or tear it up (Rockets #13-19). At that point, I had to draw in secret, subsequentially hiding the results. So I couldn't find solace in drawing anymore, and I got angrier. I couldn't hide how much I hated everyone, and it was the start of me carrying that rage everywhere I went.
I didn't make a single drawing for a nearly year, but naturally no one noticed except my uncle and grandma. I was mentally through with trying, and in their own ways, they reversed it by reminding me that it was something I loved doing and I let the terrorists win. They were right. Taking that into consideration, I started drawing again a month before my LaGuardia test, and after being accepted, full-time.
I've had my ups and downs since then, but I still draw. I don't take requests, I don't do fanart for established characters, and I never wanted to be a professional illustrator. I draw because it keeps me sane. It's still my escape from people and situations that make me unhappy, which have increased tenfold since the old days. There wasn't a day in college where I didn't have my sketchbook beside my notebook, because productivity is how I deal with well...everything.
The damage people have done to my life has long passed the point of unacceptableness. I'm actually self-conscious enough to know that I tend to expect the worst of all my personal endeavors and I have an extremely low tolerance for stupid people. It causes worry whenever my amazing mental inhibitors look like they're crashing - which is understandable because I don't expect anyone to handle stress to the capacity that I can. But, I think the day anyone should find the time to worry about me is the day I stop illustrating.
The lesson here is. If you like doing something special, then keep doing it. Because when the chips are down, it's your tether to the existence that beget your passion, and it's strength is invaluable.