Life Comes At You Fast

According to my Google Docs dictionary, adaptability is “the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions.” And this week, I was reminded how much adaptability is a requisite quality for any comic creator.


As the week was coming to a close, I was ahead of the game going into the weekend. I had a head start on the next week’s editorial cartoon, poking some fun at the President’s EO of “Patriotic History,” with the finish line in view well ahead of deadline. But then the tragic news of the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hit Friday night. Suddenly the almost-done cartoon on my drawing board no longer felt timely, especially after my state’s Republican senator soon walked back multiple previous statements about how he’d handle an empty SCOTUS seat in the President’s term’s last year. Calling out blatant hypocrisy is the drug of any editorial cartoonist. 


As I pivoted to the new, more important topic of the week (and hoped “Patriotic History” might still have some relevance the following week), I reflected on how this nimble nature was a feature across all my cartooning efforts, not just editorial cartoons. For example, earlier in the week, I’d been working on a page for my long-form sci-fi comic book tale, and the story itself took a turn I hadn’t anticipated. Rather, while the narrative was about the same, a couple of characters interjected to help tell the narrative more than I’d planned. The change was good, an improvement even, just not what I’d originally had in mind. But it ultimately felt more organic to the story and gave these characters more potential for development than I’d originally given them. You can stick to the script before you, but often the story you’re working on has another tale to tell. It’s all part of the creative process, keeping an eye out for these threads when they pop and deciding which to tug on. 


At a macro level, this concept of adaptability is key for surviving the industry as well. If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that nothing is a constant. The comic book direct market was hit hard by a number of factors, including Coronavirus shutdowns, DC Comics defecting from Diamond, and an economy struggling against high unemployment. But retailers responded in kind; for example, offering curbside pickup and building up online sales while their stores stayed closed to in-person shopping despite a lack of new products. Along that same notion, the comic book industry itself continues to evolve. Graphic novel sales are at a high. Kickstarter has quickly become a new marketplace to help fuel comic book creators and products for the direct market alike. Just as the direct market continues to find new ways to survive, comic book creators are likewise finding ways to support their efforts. In a lot of cases, it’s symbiotic, with creators expanding into new markets or channels to develop an audience to help drive into the direct market. 


Adaptability. One characteristic to continue to develop as a comic creator, and one to have in no short supply. As the pile of eraser shavings that line the floor can attest, nothing is constant, and few things go as planned.

Thoughts? Stories of your own rolling with the punches? Share them in the ShoutFyre forum!

Steve Stegelin

Editor, Artist, Letterer, Colorist Steve is the long-running cartoonist at the Charleston, SC alt-weekly Charleston City Paper, where he skewers politicians and criminals (and criminal politicians) alike with editorial cartoons and police blotter illustrations every issue. Steve was best known his indie comic book (and subsequent webcomic)  BOONDOGGLE