by Darryl Ayo
Years ago, I worked at a cafe and had a good enough time doing it. At one point, we had two kinds of muffins. We had plain muffins and blueberry muffins. One day, we switched pastry vendors and ended up getting shipments of muffins like you wouldn’t believe. It was a cornucopia of muffins. Every kind of muffin you could imagine. Customers’ faces would light up and they’d ask us what the different kinds of muffins were. And halfway through listing them all, the light would fade from their faces and it was obvious: the person was not going to be buying a muffin.
Desire can be a fickle thing. It can be based on direct need (ie, customer is hungry) or perception of a need (So many muffins! There’s bound to be one specifically for ME!). If the customer is specifically hungry and requires a muffin, increased variety can either help the customer make a wonderful decision or have no effect at all. But for the many customers who don’t have a direct need, too many choices can have the reverse effect of causing the customers to question their own desire. “I’ve been thinking about these muffins for quite some time and there’s a line behind me…do I even really WANT a muffin? I guess not.” RESULT: NO SALE OF MUFFINS TO CUSTOMER.
I tell people about the muffins very often. I learned an important business lesson in this scenario. There is such a thing as too much choice and there is such a thing as counterproductive diversity. When I was a kid, I used to go to a comic store in which comic books came in about four flavors: Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse. More of the former two than the latter two. Making decisions was very easy. As I grew older and became gradually exposed to different flavors of comics (mostly through reading Wizard Magazine, contrary to popular belief), the simple choices of my youth became clouded with promises of more exciting flavors. Eventually, the comics that I had always enjoyed weren’t interesting as the potential of comics not yet seen. Eventually, my menu of comics broadened and I suddenly I couldn’t find anything that looked good. It wasn’t plain or blueberry any more. There were banana-nut, coconut, things with frosting, things with fillings and with my imagination sparked, no tangible selection seemed perfect enough.
I love mixing metaphors. Let’s mix it up a little bit more:
I don’t just read comics, I’m also a cartoonist. When I was young, the options seemed simpler and the implications larger. My goal was to draw comic books for companies and clients until I built up enough of a reputation to strike out on my own and create independent comic books. The Image Comics career path, if you will. As I got older and more knowledgeable of the field, I learned about independent comics creators who had no roots in corporate comics or work-for-hire. They started out on their own and stayed independent. I learned about Japanese comics in which the entire system is based around the idea of large publishers dealing in creator-owned works. Older still, I learned about minicomics, the American grassroots style of handmade and personally-distributed comic books. Then, webcomics, comics that aren’t even sold to people! There were original graphic novels, downloadable digital comics apps, and that just about brings us up to the present day. There are more ways to make, distribute and publish your own comics than there are hours in the day to take advantage of them all. And cousin, I wanted to do them ALL.
I really like the way comics make me feel as a reader and I like the different ways that exist to experience comics. However my self-sabotaging creative compulsion wants to take part in every possible outlet. If only there were more hours in the day, if only I could focus more intently in the few hours that I do have available to me. If only I could constantly be writing and drawing comics at every waking (and sleeping) minute as though I were a living river of outpouring information. If only.
Days go by, and I find myself drawn more and more toward the simpler options. Comics take a long time to create. Any one of these options has the potential to take up all of the creator’s time and energy. For that reason, it isn’t healthy to have a large amount of regret for what cannot be accomplished in this short life. Better to lunge forward into what CAN be accomplished. Better to choose a path and charge brazenly forth, ignoring the siren call of “other/better options.” FUCK ‘EM ALL.
But every day, my mind screams out in agony because I still want to do it all. Every possible bit of it. Every time that I put my foot down and decide “THIS IS HOW MY COMICS SHALL BE DONE,” my eyes glance across my notes for something else and I think “BUT THERE COULD STILL BE TIME! I COULD SOMEHOW SQUEEZE THIS IN AS WELL!” It’s a never ending cycle. Maybe I should go to a therapist for my comics problem like Alec Longstreth did. In the meantime, I’m trying to refocus my energies towards the type of comics that work for me as a creator; and away from the type that distract me from having a pure vision. It’s an identity crisis. Every single day, I stall as I ignore the previous day’s work for my notes for work from the day prior to that. I scribble notes on scraps of paper and in notebooks, and in my phone and find them all unsatisfactory the next time I look at them–and then perfectly exciting the time after that. The woman standing behind me in line reads the menu above, even though she has already made up her mind. The woman behind her checks her wristwatch. The man behind her sighs just enough to be audible. The guy behind him decides to get out of the line. I am standing in front of the register, frozen. I can’t decide on which muffin to buy.
The moral of this story is: comics are food; if you don’t buy them, you will starve to death.
(c) Marvel, DC, Darryl.