FROM THE VAULT #5: 2006: ESSEX COUNTY PT.1

Hello everyone! Just a heads up I am trying a new feature within Substack, where I can share a preview of my exclusive (paywall) posts to all subscribers. So if you are confused where my other FROM THE VAULT posts are, feel free to subscribe and enjoy tons more content.

Okay, where was I? So, I was coming out of the one-year post-grad illustration course at Sheridan College, I was starting to get my first few paying gigs making comics, and had just printed / distributed Lost Dogs. I was definitely taking steps in making some sort of career within comics, but it wasn’t enough to quit my day job. I was still working in the kitchen at La Ha, but the paying jobs like UR Magazine let me cut down to only two shifts a week. And the extra time I had off was, naturally, filled by spending more time at my drawing desk.

My drawing desk…whenever I think of the time drawing Essex County I think of the work space I had back then. It was really small and compact, but man I loved drawing there. Lesley-Anne and I were renting the main floor of a house in Toronto’s west end, and as I mentioned in the last entry, we shared this small area at the back of the house as our joint work spaces. I was tucked in beside the sliding glass doors so it had incredible indirect light. There was literally only just enough space to squeeze my drawing desk between the glass doors and wall and I had one bookshelf over it with my ever-growing collection of comics on it.

I really wish I has pictures of this space now. Compared to the studio I have now it wasn’t much, but it makes me happy to think back to that workspace. And that’s mostly how I felt drawing Essex County…happy. For the first time in my adult life here was finally a sense of calm and happiness running under my life. Looking back now with perspective I can see that a few things contributed to this. First off I was finally starting to have some success with comics. And by success I guess I mean that I was no longer working all alone, with no feedback, and no validation. I was no longer hoping and praying that what I was doing had some value. I had gotten the Xeric Grant, I was proud of Lost Dogs and felt like it was a leap forward creatively. My time at Sheridan, and the success I felt in that program, had empowered me to keep going. And a few paying gigs, as small as they were, didn’t hurt my confidence either.

Secondly, my personal life was growing more and more stable. I didn’t have to work at the restaurant as much, and that freed me to live even more of a creative life.  I was also finally on medication for my depression and anxiety. I know that medication is not the answer for everyone, but for me it really changed everything. My art hero, David Lynch, says that “negativity is the enemy of creativity” and I truly believe this. The idea of the tortured artist is a bunch of bullshit in my opinion. When I was tortured I was just tortured and mostly couldn’t think straight, let alone be creative. The more confidence I got with my work, and. the more content I felt in my life, the more it freed me up to be creative and to make more comics. And this is where Essex County came from. A new calm and perspective.

Lost Dogs was a step forward in that I finished a longer form work and told a complete story that felt cohesive. Lost Dogs had a lot of emotion and energy. But It was also very dark. Most of the comics I had made since 1999 had been some version of dark, horror-edged stories. I had a longing to do something calmer, quieter and more personal. Creating more personal work, means looking at your real life and telling honest stories. Instead of trying to create new worlds, I decided to look back on my life, my childhood, and on the place I came from.

I was really inspired by the Canadian cartoonist Seth. His book, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken was a revelation to me.

This post is for paid subscribers