Saturday, February 6, 2010

Working Through Life

A lot of people talk about what a bad year 2009 was. For me, it wasn't a bad year...not a good just was. I've certainly had worst and of course, better. But one thing that becomes apparent as you get older is how much everything blends in together. When I look back at my "career", I can't really look at it in terms of years but rather periods. And the reason I put career in quotation marks is because the term career just doesn't seem to fit. I guess I never figured what I was doing at the time was going to grow into a career.

The idea of working has been with me as long as I can remember. Even as a little kid, my dad worked odd jobs and he would bring me and my brothers along to clean up. We even got paid. I remember in the 7th grade, I walked to businesses and asked if I could sweep floors or something after school. So, my first real job was sweeper at Fresh's Auto Parts. Of course as kids, my brothers and I would cut lawns during the summer, rake leaves in the fall, and shovel snow in the winter. Allowances were something we didn't get from my parents so if we wanted money, we had to get our own. The bonanza came when my dad landed a midnight job remodeling a supermarket chain around the Detroit area. My brothers and I took turns working and we'd go in at 10:00 at night and work until 6:00 in the morning and then head off to school. It made for some tough days at school but we didn't care. The money was good. That lasted most of my junior high and high school years. As I said, we didn't care too much about school as about half the people didn't graduate anyway. There were too many jobs in factories that would pay big money (this was Detroit's auto factories still running strong). Most of us were applying for jobs while still in high school. If no openings, well, then you remained in school and waited. I remember standing in long lines to get the premiere jobs at the factories but luckily, I never got hired.

So, I was one of the those who finished high school---of the five brothers , only two of us did. The idea of college was never really considered until the 12th grade. College seemed like such an odd idea but obviously, it had some appeal. I remember enrolling at a community college, and to me, that was college- the big time. I was put on probation. Looking back now, I wonder who gets put on probation at a community college? It was an intimidating experience at first as I expected everyone at college to be incredibly intelligent, worldly about all affairs, and have this sense of elitism. Of course, I found out college is just an avenue of opportunities, it doesn't magically transform people into cultured sophisticates.

Going to school, I worked a number of jobs. Landscaper, bank teller, vacuum cleaner salesmen, drapery hanger, carpet installer, alarm systems, tearing down houses, just about anything. I got married right when I turned 21, which turned out to be the best thing I ever did, and the two of us struggled to get through school. My wife was a good student in high school and had always planned to go to college which was something different as virtually all of her friends hadn't even graduated high school much less contemplated college. She got into University of Michigan (she was a smart kid) and so we moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor. That was quite a culture shock. I worked during the day at various jobs and went to school at night while she was a full time student and she would fit in teaching piano to earn money. It was during this time that I made a decision which seemed very small at the time, yet would take me into a completely new direction.

I opened a used book store. It was never a dream of mine or anything but I was always an avid reader....most of my family was. The library was a constant hangout for me. In Ann Arbor, I discovered so many used book shops and I thought they were the coolest places. With a little research, I found avenues where you could buy books in bulk and I figured that it wouldn't take much to operate a store. I opened it in a suburb of Detroit and when kids came in asking for comics, I decided to add comics and that brought me into a whole new world.

While still a student and earning my Master's Degree in Biology, I ended up opening a total of four stores and they'd all eventually become comic shops rather than bookstores. That was sort of my first career, that of a book store owner. Then I got involved in publishing and started up Caliber and that would become my second career. I never looked at either as a "forever" path, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The only "real" job I had during all this time is when I helped start Todd McFarlane's toy company as I, through a partner I teamed up with, was tied in with Todd as the toy company launched. I became the Executive Vice President and I handled the national TV advertising, hiring many of the employees for staffing, other promotional aspects, etc. It was a three year period where I had regular hours that I was expected to adhere to. I still had my stores and I still had Caliber so it was a hectic three years.

I sold off the stores and then years later, I closed off Caliber. At that time, I started evaluating what the future was in that direction. The comics field, which had looked so promising, now looked like a continuous cycle of superhero exploits. The expansion of hopeful directions on the heels of Watchmen, Maus, From Hell, Sandmen, etc. faded quickly. The "business" side seemed to swallow up the experimental side. Printers had knocked Caliber down with their mistakes which were a financial burden I still feel the ramifications from and even winning lawsuits didn't help. I decided to try teaching biology. I had my degree and the opportunity came.

So, that started my “third career”, that of being a teacher. I am an instructor at community colleges teaching courses in General Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Evolution, and others. I enjoy it immensely and it has given me a sense of normalcy as far as hours and schedules go. But with each step into a different direction, it doesn’t mean that the rest goes away. I still am a publisher although Transfuzion is on a much smaller scale than Caliber was. I continue to write, something I started at Caliber, and have written for Desperado, Penguin, Image, and other areas including a video game scenario, role playing games, and more.

Right now, I am transitioning into other avenues of writing. That doesn’t mean that I’m moving out of comics, whether as a writer or publisher, and I certainly am not going to get away from teaching. I currently am immersed in two novels that I’m writing plus a number of books dealing with biology. Whether it all actually leads into a “fourth career”, I have no idea but again, it just seems like the path to follow.

The beauty of today’s world is there are so many opportunities to express oneself creatively. The digital explosion, which may not have actually exploded yet, and the idea of print on demand and the avenues available there (such as Amazon) allow excursions into a lot of areas that were closed off to most people just a decade ago. That doesn’t mean, however, that everyone can make money off of it. That’s the hard part.

Yes, 2009 was a bad year for a lot of people but people in “our” business of creating ideas have a lot of avenues to explore. The growth there was a positive area. Whether it is a creative outlet that pays the bills is still open to question but at least the creative side can be sated. I’m noticing for a lot of people in the world of comics, that seems to be enough.

The days of running a comic shop seem so long ago, as does the time of Caliber. The Caliber days, though, have constant reminders because of all the people I worked with that I stay in touch with and the re-visitation of the comics created, whether it’s for reprint books, Hollywood activity, or preparing them for digital exploitation.

I’m not sure what the point of me going through all the above was exactly…I guess that one should constantly be looking for ways of expression…of creativity, and sometimes that has a merit all its own. The rest, if it comes, is extra.

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