Feb 24 2016

In Which Something Must Be Done

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So last Friday, Business Guy put together a running tally of income vs. expenses for last year, in preparation for tax time. The results were, in a word, bleak.

My gross income for 2015 (not counting a brief spurt of Starbucks salary) was somewhere around $5,000. The good news is that this is up from 2014… the bad news is that it’s only up by $300. This was feasible when Mrs. Gneech was making enough money for the both of us, but with the disintegration of her job as well, this has left us in an uncomfortable spot.

We are not in any immediate danger of being out on the street, thanks to savings and other resources held aside for such things, but financially speaking we are currently at 5,000 feet in a plane with no engine. My artistic pursuits, at least as I practice them, are not making me a living. If I want to avoid returning to the days of hand-to-mouth, I need to make a serious change.

One possibility is returning to a “day job,” and I am currently investigating options. My previous career shunted me down a blind alley into dead-end technology and left me burned out in the process… so even if I wanted to get back into that particular grind (which I don’t especially) there isn’t any work to be found there anyway. In fact most of my professional experience (word processing, graphic design/desktop publishing, web page design) is in stuff that was cutting edge from 1995-2005 and is woefully out of date now.

At this stage, I have little idea what is actually useful in the world, and no real idea how to effectively look for work in 2016. Once upon a time I would sign up with a handful of temp agencies and that would be my doorway into the professional arena, but even temp agencies don’t seem to exist in any appreciable way any more. To that end, I have signed up for The Oxford Program and am currently going through it in an attempt to reboot my career, but it’s not a short-term fix.

I have also been brainstorming on creating a “brand,” with the intention of using my creative talents to build a franchise, such as name designers or the Life Is Good guys. I’ve done some stuff along those lines with Snerks’N’Quirks but it’s very much a sideline right now. The hard part of this kind of thing for me is that while it does use my creative skills, it doesn’t hold my interest. Coming up with buttons just for the money is not that different from putting together webpages just for the money (or doing anything else just for the money). I have to find some way to make it vital or it will be just a different sort of grind.

I keep thinking of people like Steve Jobs, who set out with a mission and sorta got rich on the side, and that’s what I want out of life myself. But for the moment at least, I don’t know what that mission is, besides drawing Suburban Jungle and writing the occasional book… which is sorely lacking in that “get rich on the side” element.

But I have to do something different from what I’m doing right now, before the plane crashes.

-The Gneech

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Oct 02 2015

What’s Going On Here?

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(Modified from a post on my Patreon page.)

As you’ve probably noticed, there hasn’t been much art activity here for a bit, so I think you’re due for an update.

There reason there hasn’t been much to see here in the way of comics and such is that I’ve spent the past few months writing a novel instead. Getting Rough Housing up and running has been a much more arduous process than I thought it would be, and while it has had some success, it doesn’t seem to be making the kind of impact I’d hoped it would. So, while I’m not ready to just can the project, I am looking for other things I can do that will get more bang for the buck, so to speak, and writing is one of those. The fact that I wrote a 70,000 word first draft in a month and a half probably gives you an idea of how much more facile I am with writing than with comics, even though I love them both.

In the meantime, there has been another wrinkle, which is that the company where Mrs. Gneech worked for the past 20 years is rapidly shutting down, taking her job with it. We have some savings to live on, but they will rapidly get burned up, so starting some time next week I will be returning to the life of a barista in order to bring in reliable income, at least until Mrs. Gneech finds herself something new. That will probably put the kibosh on putting out comics reliably any time soon in any case, as it takes me so long to draw them.

What does that mean for my Patreon? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. One thing I will definitely start doing is posting story previews, character sketches, sample chapters and other such things there. That said, I know it may not be what you signed on for, so while I’d hate to see anyone go, I won’t take it personally if folks reduce or discontinue their patronage.

But for those who are staying (Thank you! ^.^) I’m very open to suggestions as to what you’d like to see! I’m going to retool the whole Goals and Pledge Rewards structure, and I was thinking of shifting from the “per month” model to a “per creation” model as well, but I’d love to hear what you have to say on the topic.

So let me know! And seriously, thank you everyone for the support you’ve provided over the years and into the future. It means a lot to me!

-John “The Gneech” Robey

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Aug 27 2015

The Most Steampunk Song Ever Written

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“Hymn to Breaking Strain” by Julia Ecklar and Leslie Fish

The careful textbooks measure: “Let all who build beware!
The load, the shock, the pressure material can bear.”
So when the buckled girder lets down the grinding span
The blame of loss or murder, is laid upon the man
Not on the steel– the man!

But in our daily dealing with stone and steel, we find
the gods have no such feeling of justice toward mankind!
To no such gauge they make us, for no laid course prepare.
In time they overtake us with loads we cannot bear
Too merciless to bear

The prudent textbooks give it in tables at the end:
The stress that shears a rivet, or makes a tie-bar bend
What traffic wrecks macadam, what concrete should endure
But we poor sons of Adam, have no such literature
To warn us or make sure

We hold all Earth to plunder, all time and space as well
Too wonder-stale to wonder at each new miracle
’til in the mid-illusion of Godhood ‘neath our hand
Falls multiple confusion on all we did or planned
The mighty works we planned

We only in creation! How much luckier the bridge and rail!
Abide the twin damnation: to fail, and know we’ve failed!
Yet we– by which sole token we know we once were gods–
Take shame in being broken, however great the odds!
The burden or the odds

Oh, Veiled and Secret Power Whose Paths We Seek in Vain,
Be with us in our hour of overthrow and pain!
That we– by which sure token we know Thy ways are true–
In spite of being broken
–Or because of being broken?–
Rise up and build anew!
Stand up and build anew!

-The Gneech

EDIT: It has since been pointed out to me that Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem that comprise the lyrics of this! Which, as someone with a degree in English and who actually, y’know, studied some Kipling, makes me feel like a bit of a nimrod. ^.^’ What I said about it being the most steampunk song ever written still applies, tho!

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May 14 2015

What’s Up With You, Gneech???

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It’s no secret that I have been dealing with dysthymia since childhood; the same way some people have a bad back or a trick knee, I have recurring low-grade depression. It’s further no secret that I have had a bad few years. I lost both parents, a favorite aunt, and literally half of my circle of closest friends, all since late 2010. Put shifting to self-employment, an extremely difficult short-sale of our house, and recurring worries about Laurie’s job situation on top of all of that, and I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m still riding a psychological roller coaster.

Nevertheless, it continues to surprise me. My emotional center is completely broken and seems to be governed at the moment by a random number generator. I get ridiculously angry at nothing; when I find myself screaming at the top of my lungs at the phone to quit ringing all the goddamn time and physically restraining myself from throwing it across the room, I know I’ve entered the land of disproportionate response. But I also can’t seem to figure out anything to do about it.

My mood right now seems to have three basic settings, depending on my energy level. If my energy level is high, my mood is either edge-of-rage angry (bad day), or crazy manic productive (good day). If my energy level is low, my mood is lonesome, self-loathing, edge-of-tears despair (every day starting around 3:30 p.m.). There doesn’t seem to be “good day” version of low energy.

I am in counseling, and we have addressed this somewhat, but frankly I am such a basket case it’s taking a long time to get around to it. But if you have observed my behavior being erratic, this is why. Thanks for being patient. I am trying to broaden my emotional repertoire: I’d like to think “quietly productive and content” is an option and I just need to find the right buttons to push to get there.

-The Gneech

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Mar 02 2015

What I Want to Do When I Grow Up

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A while back I posted to my LiveJournal, “I left my day job with the plan of doing all these things I didn’t have the time to do before… so why am I still spending so much time not doing them?” As I’ve been exploring the issue further, I have come to the conclusion that drawing comics all day, writing short stories etc., while it’s fun and I love it, is not really what I want to do with forever.

It is, essentially, a selfish pursuit. The best metaphor I can think of, is that it’s as if I was being paid (not very much) to play Solitaire all day… enjoyable, but when it’s done, what will it have achieved? With the original Suburban Jungle Starring Tiffany Tiger, I felt like I had something to say to the world, at least. Currently I have no real message, just a series of entertaining vignettes that give me an excuse to draw pretty pictures.

I came to the conclusion yesterday, that it’s time to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. The only problem is, at the moment at least, I have no idea what that is. All of the jobs I’ve had, even if they were Srs Bzness Jobs, were not really grown up. They were what I cruised into and what was available. I’ve never really seriously studied anything but art and literature, so I’m pretty short on real-world skills. I became a graphic designer because it was kinda-sorta like doing art for a living. I became a web designer because it was like being a graphic designer except with prestige (at the time).

Right now the only ideas I’ve got are pretty nebulous and kinda random. I’ve worked the floor at a bookstore and enjoyed it, but that doesn’t pay a living wage in the long term. I have a pipe dream of owning a coffeehouse on the beach somewhere, but having worked as a barista I’m pretty sure that’s something that should stay a fantasy.

One of the “Would you enjoy a task like this?” questions I came across on a Holland Code test was “mapping the ocean floor,” and I was surprised at how interesting that actually sounded. I enjoyed “earth science” in school and always got into things like National Geographic, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, or The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, and I think I might enjoy being a marine biologist or something along those lines. (That in particular would give me an added bonus of having a reason to live on a California beach somewhere. 😉 )

As I say, the ideas are still only half-baked, and I need to really work on honing in on them. To that end, since I am currently free of having a day job other than the comics, I’m going to find a career counseling program and start going through it. Right now the top contenders are The Oxford Program, which Laurie used with limited success, and the Rockport Institute/”The Pathfinder”, which my counselor recommended. Either one would be a fairly hefty investment, cash- and time-wise, but if it leads to a real career that earns me a good living, it’ll be more than worth it.

For the record: I will continue writing and creating comics. I can’t imagine that ever going away. But I am starting to think that’s something I should be doing as recreation, rather than as an obligation, because that seems to be sucking the joy and vitality out of it.

Wish me luck! If anyone has career (or other) suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

-The Gneech

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Mar 31 2014

Commissions and Workload

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If my records are correct, I still owe two people commissions from January; I can only apologize, offer an explanation, and let you know my current plans.

In November of 2012, my mother had a stroke while in the hospital for treatment of pneumonia. In the time since then, my sister, my wife, and I have been spending increasing amounts of our time tending to my mother’s health and affairs, first taking care of her at my sister’s home, then transitioning her to an assisted living situation and selling her house. And while my mother’s personality was altered by the stroke and her mobility was noticeably limited, she was until recently doing relatively well.

All of that changed in December, when my mother took a nasty fall and went into the hospital again. Although she initially seemed recovered from that and was fine at Christmas (except for a nasty bruise on her face), she had some bleeding on the brain that we were not aware of at the time. In late January, she fell again, and it was a fall she did not recover from. During the month of February, she was in a rehab center, where she eventually simply stopped eating and would not willingly take care of herself– and the staff of the rehab place would not push her. Laurie, my sister, and I did what we could to mitigate the situation, but Mom’s doctors were frustratingly unhelpful despite my sister’s best efforts and Laurie and I were up to our elbows in settling Mom’s house in order to make sure her assisted living stay would be paid for.

By the time we got Mom back to her home at the assisted living facility, she had lost too much weight, and her body began to shut down. For a few days it seemed like she might perk up, but it was like once she was back in her own room and knew her affairs were settled, her body just let go. She passed away in the early hours of last Tuesday, and her funeral was this past Friday.

I didn’t post about this much while it was going on, for various reasons. First, it seemed to happen so fast, and while we were in the middle of it all there was no way to know what was going to happen. Second, for the past several years, it seems my online persona has been a never-ending series of these situations, starting with my father and going on from there, and I simply didn’t want to subject my readers to any more. (And there’s no denying, my life has been a bumpy ride since 2007 or so. But after a while, even tragedy becomes “normal” if it never relents.) Finally, well, what free time I did have, I wanted to devote to doing productive things. My writing and art have to some extent a shield I’ve used to keep myself focused and running. (“Can’t spend the day screaming at Kaiser Permanente, I’ve got NaNoWriMo to do!”)

But this is why my January commissions in particular got stalled. Since January, my full-time job has pretty much been taking care of my mom or her affairs, and everything else has fallen increasingly by the wayside. I am amazed (and glad) that I’ve managed to actually launch Suburban Jungle and not miss any updates during all this– faltering right out of the starter gate would have been painful for everyone.

Of course, now my mom’s estate has to be settled, but compared to the day-to-day workload of caring for her, that seems a relatively easy task. So now I can turn my attention back to what is supposed to be my day job: writing and comics. So here is my plan:

The first half of April will be spent rebuilding the Suburban Jungle buffer by finishing off the first issue so it can be in print by AnthroCon. During the third week of April or when the first issue is done (whichever comes first) I will turn my exclusive attention to finishing off my outstanding commissions and getting rewards out to my Patreon subscribers. Laurie and I will also be at AwesomeCon in Washington D.C. April 19-20, but purely as attendees, I won’t have a table.

Where things go from there depends on how this plan works out. 😉 But as I’ve said before and I will surely say again, I am very grateful for everyone’s patience and wish to assure you that you will get your commissions as soon as I can make it happen. I haven’t forgotten!

-The Gneech

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