Eight weeks ago a bunch of my Studiomates, some soon-to-be-very-good-friends and I jumped into a 13-person church van that Jessi Arrington and Creighton Mershon had rented and we left Brooklyn, Mid-West bound, to head towards Cleveland.
We didn't know that we would get a few hours out before promptly blowing a tire, stranded on the side of the road while Jeremy Perez-Cruz and Jonny Gotham used their experience and general manliness to get us back in shape. After lots of grunt work, greasy hands, and getting side-swiped by an RV that took off our driver's side mirror, the guys got the spare on. We coasted to the nearest tire place, which happened to be in the middle of the Poconos, Pennsylvania, and then took a walk. Our trip so far, even with the bad luck circumstances we had met already, was drenched in the kind of strange optimism and good humor that I value so much in my friends. We set out in search of lunch, and the tire guy directed us around the corner.
We ended up in Leon's Fireside Cafe which I can only describe as being out of the Twin Peaks universe. As a crew of 13 Brooklynites opened the door, the three locals drinking there at 1:30 on a Friday turned and gawked. A big white dog greeted us as we quickly made friends with the residents, picked up some billiards cues, and ordered as many sandwiches as possible. Leon, who was in the back, made the pickles himself, I was told, and people come by just for them, apparently. The locals included Deborah, who was Leon's sister, Johnny, a local schoolbus driver, and the mysterious dog's owner. The dog was named Raindog, and his mullet-clad owner never said a word.
In the hour or so that we spent at Leon's waiting for our tire to be fixed, time seemed to stand still in an odd way. It was a world so unlike our own, yet we felt right at home. As we left, Deborah came around the bar and kissed me on the cheek like an aunt would. There in the parking lot awaited our van, that we had already developed such an odd relationship with. Our champion, our steed, our crippled hero.
We made it the rest of the way to Cleveland hours later as the sun set. We pulled up to what looked like a movie theatre and the doors slid open. We all jumped out and dusted the oddly magical roadtrip feeling out of our eyes, took a deep breath, and went in.
The next three days I was surrounded with all sorts of creative people at the Weapons of Mass Creation Festival. At first it was exciting, but as I began to realize that almost every single person there was doing some iteration of what I do (hand lettering as illustration), I became intimidated and felt strange. Is there room for this many people in my industry?
WMC prides itself on being a more raw conference experience and they addressed that this year by talking about failure and fear. It's important to discuss these things in our industry so that we don't all just end up patting each other on the back for mediocre work. Failure is an important issue but to me it's not the most prominent one for us now. I mean, let's be real here: so much of hand-lettering is popular now because of just that: it's popular now. Read: it's a trend. I am fully aware of that and sometimes it can be crushing for my own work. I try my hardest to focus on things that separate me from the "herd" and being there at WMCFest was slightly terrifying. Am I actually being successful in this attempt?
I found myself "running away" from certain talks with Frank and Jeremy and Meg Lewis.
I didn't meet everyone there (I probably didn't meet a quarter of the people that I could have), but the people I met challenged me and made me think. I came home from WMCFest thinking, reconsidering my past, and ready to work differently. Which is important. But.
If you find yourself paralyzed with fear and nihilism, that doesn't necessarily mean that you will then make better work. At a certain point, you need to leave that at the door so that you can continue to do what you are compelled to do...even if it's "trendy."
For that reason I will continue to seek the happy optimism and strange humor that lets a group of 13 people still have an amazing time while stranded in the middle of the Poconos.
Asking myself "WHY AM I DOING THIS? What's the point..." is important for me and my work. Once in awhile. Just not right now. I have a Raindog to play with and certain questions just ruin the magic.