May 8th, 2014
Swearing Warning - Not a huge deal, but as I’m not normally a big ‘swearing’ guy, let’s just mention it for the sake of caution. Just for this post, it happens. Lots.
Seemingly Theatrical, Negative Emotion - Flailing Warning – At times in this post, I’m pissed off. I’m also humiliated, terrified, nervous and all sorts of other shit and it’s going to appear awkward and undignified to some and even offensive to others.
Bizarre Method Of Explanation Warning – I’ve discovered that the most comfortable way for me to explain myself here, has been to personify certain emotions, thoughts and reactions into fictional characters or “comical” situations. It’s a little odd at times and might seem as though I’m trying to make a joke out of some serious subject matter. But for me, it’s really just the best way I know to convey my feelings to you.
You’re giving us too much info! - What I’m giving you is less than a quarter of the details. The really messed up stuff, I’m leaving out. Even still, I realise that this is a big dump truck of personal info that’s going to make some folks cringe.
Let me clarify right away that the title of this blog does not mean that I have quit drawing my webcomic, Goblins. Although this is a letter of resignation. I know, I know… bear with me.
At one point, I had written three versions of this thing and couldn’t decide if I wanted to post version two or three, so I scrapped them all and wrote a fourth version. All that did was add to the frustration by giving me one extra version to choose from. I eventually decided to combine them all into one perfect blog post. The problem was that there were a lot of details that were repeated in multiple versions, so I spent some time editing it and fixing it up. Man, was I pissed off when I’d realised that all I’d done was write a fifth version. Finally, I wrote the sixth version, promising myself that it was absolutely the last one.
You’re reading version twelve.
The TL;DR (too long didn’t read) Edit
Now this thing is long and I know a lot of you would just like to know what happened to the comic and what’s going to happen, but really don’t care about all the awkward details. I totally get that. I’ve broken this up into clearly titled chunks, so you can scan around and just glance at whatever you like, but for those of you who are in a hurry and just want the ‘Bart Allen’ version of what’s happened, here’s word-for-word, ‘version one’ of this blog post…
Goblins stopped updating for a while due to a private situation. Nobody is dead, dying or divorced. We’re back now. Apologies. ~Thunt
That was originally all I’d planned on saying publicly, but as one week became two and then three, the embarrassment of what I was doing/experiencing started to be overshadowed by an understanding that I was going to have to explain what had happened.
But there ya go. I promise you, you now know enough to keep reading Goblins if you choose to. There’s nothing else in this blog post that you have to know, in order to follow the comic.
Okay… are the TL;DR people gone? Okay… okay, good. Let’s talk about them behind their backs. What a bunch of assholes, eh? I hate those guys. And when I said “I totally get that” about them not reading my blog? I totally didn’t get it! I lied to their asses! Why the hell wouldn’t they read my blog?! And you know what else? There is stuff later on in this post that they’ll need to know! Stuff about the schedule an’ stuff! So fuck them! And there’s some funny stuff too. Like this joke right here. It’s all meta and shit. But they missed it. Gods, I hate their, um… shoes.
So about two months ago, I just kind of… disappeared from the internet as well as any place that wasn’t the inside of Little Smial (my tiny cabin in the forest). The comic, for the first time in its nine year run, just stopped updating without a word. So what happened? Well those of you who follow me on Twitter already have the general idea that I had some sort of a breakdown.
While that is apparently true, there are other details that I think the readers have a right to know about. Let’s be honest here, walking away from my responsibilities for weeks, without a word to anybody, is pretty damn selfish. And then sauntering back into work with the audacity to hope that I can simply continue on with my job is… I mean, how many people can just do something like that? So if I want to keep doing this job, I had damn well better swallow my pride and explain myself. “But Thunt,” I hear you saying, “you said this was some kind of resignation letter. How can that be the case, if you want to keep doing that job?” Because shut-up, it makes sense later.
The Inevitable Negative Reactions Are Why This Blog Post Is Hard To Write
If you were to take a look at the character sheet for ‘Thunt’, you might notice… well firstly, you’d notice me scowling at you for looking at my character sheet. I mean come on, that’s just bad form. But after that, you’d be able to see that over the last eight or nine years, I’ve put a lot of points into the skill ‘Know What Happens When You Say Really Dumb Shit To Thousands Of People’. And this blog post… well it’s a bit of a balancing act.
Y’see, if I downplay what’s been going on by leaving out too many details (something I’m immediately tempted to do for the sake of my pride), people might react with…
“Really? THAT’S why you haven’t been working for all this time? Because you were kind of stressed or something? We’re all stressed, asshole. You’re what we call lazy.”
But if I go too far in the other direction and tell too much, I’m likely to get…
“Okay, we get it! Wah, wah, poor you! Stop trying to suck pity and attention from the internet by listing in graphic detail, every panic attack you had. Just tell us you’re back and move on.”
Then there’s the importance of tone. Too much seriousness or dryness about my experiences and it’s ‘pity-me o’clock’.
“What happened, Thunt? Did you lose your spine in a bet and try to replace it with exaggerated, theatrical, attention-seeking bullshit?”
But if I get too comical or try to keep it all too light with the wrong kinds of jokes, I might be Mayor of Ableism-ville.
“Hey Thunt, I really enjoyed your hilarious blog that repeatedly mocked people with mental disabilities. Classy move, douchebag.”
I’ve gotten a tiny amount of flack after mentioning some of the details on Twitter, so I’m definitely going to get some grief for this blog. And while I’m okay with that, I want to point out the difference between self pity and moral propriety. I’m a big believer in people taking responsibility for their own wrongdoings, weaknesses and mistakes and I need to do a bunch of that these days. Sure, there’s a bit of self pity going on during all of this, but honestly, you guys won’t ever see me showing it. For me, self pity is like trying to sing that Whitney Houston version of the song ‘I Will Always Love You’. It’s off key, painful to witness, only my closest friends and family will ever see me do it and I’ll probably be drunk at the time.
The Inevitable Positive Reactions Are Why This Blog Post Is Hard To Write
When I started explaining myself on Twitter, I was amazed at the support I was getting. Not only did it seem like 99% of the reaction was positive, but it was really positive! An army of understanding people emailing and tweeting to me to say the most amazing things! It was (and is) incredibly moving and helpful and made my frontal lobe smell like hot chocolate. A lot of the weirdness I was going through, slowed down or even stopped, purely because of that support. Here are some of my responding tweets (spliced together)…
“After Twittering with you guys, I slept for 7 hours. I haven’t slept that much in one go for 2 or 3 weeks. I’ve also started getting an appetite. It feels kind of humiliating to be celebrating such simple tasks, but I ate most of a sandwich today. I squeed. I have no doubt that it’s because of you. Our Twitter “talks” have been the most social thing I’ve done in a month and a half. I know “friends” isn’t the most realistic word to describe most of you, since honestly, I don’t know many or your faces or names. But “fans” is such a crap term too. You helped me with the down payment to buy my house. You helped me become a better artist/writer and now you’ve played no small part in helping me through… whatever you call this. You’ve literally saved my mind, if not my life. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m getting all weird and gooey. :P I’ll get more into this in the blog, but basically you’re amazing and I’m even more in your debt now. Thank you.”
As amazing as all of this felt, I couldn’t help but feel like I really didn’t deserve it at that level. Of course we should all get emotional support when we need it, but… wow! This was massive. I started wondering if people with jobs that actually had terrifying levels of stress got support like this. Firefighters, police officers, soldiers… people who endanger themselves for the well being of others. They have every understandable right to curl into a ball and cry. And if they did, would they get the tsunami of support that I got? Let’s keep things in perspective here. My job involves working from home, sitting in a comfortable chair, listening to music and sipping tea.
I wouldn’t dare to devalue or disrespect the quality and scope of the support I’ve received. It was a rare privilege that many people don’t get to experience. I have absolutely accepted it and used it as the big, huggable, smiling band-aid that it is. I just want to be open about the fact that neither my situation nor my actions have given me any kind of entitlement to that kind of support. I’m just really, really lucky and there’s no fucking way I’m going to take that for granted.
What I Experienced 1.0
(Alright, are you ready for some emotion flailing? Buckle your emo-belts and put on some Coldplay, cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!)
I’m one of those stressy people that’s always worried about something. I also have a problem with guilt. The volume knob on my sense of guilt is turned way up. Due to this, there are two things that have caused this whole situation for me. This basic thought…
“I’m missing another deadline. What a fucking joke. If I slow down the updating schedule or lower the art quality, I’ll lose readers and won’t be able to keep this going as a career. But these missed deadlines are way past unprofessional.”
And a second thought, which after discussing it with some Goblins readers, I’ve decided to keep to myself (thanks for that advice and help, guys).
I love drawing Goblins. I’d have to, to be able to draw 8-18 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. If I’m being honest about it, it’s really an easy job. It’s not hard work, just long hours. I’m not saying that every webcomic author has an easy job, just like I’m not saying that every webcomic author works long hours. Only that this is the nature of my personal situation.
Those readers who used to hang out with me in the live feed while I drew, could confirm that the schedule I’m explaining isn’t exaggerated. But they could also confirm that I don’t work quickly. I get distracted and take moments to joke with my wife, Danielle or play fight with my dog or something, and my drawing is just excruciatingly slow. I can spend hours drawing a pair of eyes or days/weeks on one panel. But with that guilty doubt always duct taped to the backs of my eyeballs, I’ve always felt like an asshole while working. Like I’m screwing up on such a massive scale but for some reason, I’m still here. I feel like a fraud and a liar. And who the fuck do I think I am, trying to wedge myself in next to the pros?
And hey! Guess what that ongoing frame of mind does to my guilt knob! No, that… that is not some kind of penis euphemism. I’m referring to the symbolic volume control on my overactive sense of guilt. That’s right! My guilt turns bad ass! It puts on Darth Vader armour made of silvery, gleaming adamantium and starts unhygienically drinking milk straight from the carton while giving the middle finger to any who dare suggest he use a glass!
Okay, um… okay, these are not… well they’re not perfect metaphors.
So aside from being wound a little tight, I’ve always been okay. So I’ve carried some anxieties around. Who hasn’t? I’ve still fallen face first into an amazingly lucky life. I get to draw and travel to conventions. I’ve gotten to meet and even become friends with a lot of my childhood idols! When I nervously shook hands with Steve Jackson and introduced myself, he smiled and said, “Yeah, I know who you are. I like your comic”. I must have blacked out from squee overload after that, because when I ‘came to’, three days later, I was dangling from a highway traffic light in a Batman costume and screaming into the sky, “COME AT ME, EDGAR ALLAN POE! I’M READY!”.
Okay, maybe I’m making up the part about blacking out, but my point is that I’m too lucky to complain with any legitimacy. And then, when you consider my two sons and my wife, Danielle… well lucky doesn’t really cover it anymore. And unlike my job, my marriage creates no feelings of guilt or of being a fraud or a liar, because despite whatever other flaws I have, I’m kind of a kickass husband. Knowing this, creates a sort of guilt-free/stress-free sanctuary in a Princess Bride, “twew wuv” kind of way. It’s all very cheesy and wonderful.
So with all of this awesomeness going on, I couldn’t understand why, in mid February, my usual anxieties seemed to be evolving like some pissed off, nightmarish Pokemon. At first, it just seemed as though I was having a bad couple of days. A bit more stressed, a bit more grumpy… meh. It happens to the best of us, right? But as I was drawing, I gradually noticed that I wasn’t just stressed, I kinda felt… scared. My tendency to worry a bit too much, actually felt more like fear. I knew this was an unreasonable, anxiety thing and decided to just push through it. After all, the page of the comic that I was drawing, was particularly time consuming and I was going to be even later than normal.
“Oh, that’s what it is!” I thought, “This is a really important part of the story and a lot of the readers are anxious to see the next page. Since it’s going to take longer than usual to finish, I’m just more stressed than usual, knowing that folks will be angrier than usual.”
(Okay, let me just ‘Hadoken’ an important point across the screen and into the middle of this blog. Everything I’ve done and felt through this situation, is something I’ve done to myself through my own actions and decisions. No outside person did this. I’m not victimised, bullied or oppressed. Okay, I’m sorry for the interruption and I’m especially sorry for phrasing it as a poorly constructed Street Fighter metaphor. Let’s get back to the blog. Round Two… FIGHT!)
So once a deadline wooshes past me, I tend to stay away from the internet until after I’ve posted the overdue page. If I take in the readers’ frustration and anger while I’m still working on that late page, the adamantium-clad, ‘Guilt Vader’ shows up with the Predator’s Shoulder Cannon as an upgrade. Plus, he’s still got a milk mustache. You really shouldn’t drink from the carton, you guys.
But in February, I started to feel too scared to go online at all. Like… really unreasonably scared. The kind of fear usually reserved for actual danger. For a while, I still nervously checked my email and tweeted out my goofy jokes. And for that while, the jokes actually made me feel better. I really wanted to shake off that bizarre fear and the tweets were a way to stand up to Guilt Vader and defiantly say, “That’s right, sucka! You may have your milk mustache and your plasma shoulder cannon, but I still just tweeted…
Today I punched Paul McCartney in the face. When he looked at me in confusion I said “THAT’S for making Eleanor Rigby only 2 minutes long!”
…whatcha gonna do?!”
So between my victorious tweets of “bravery” and my Guilt Free Sanctuary with Danielle, I was doing an okay job at keeping Guilt Vader at bay. But for some reason, that damn fear kept getting worse. While I worked, I couldn’t even play my internet radio or Netflix without a swelling sense of nauseous panic. So I worked in silence. And boy, does Guilt Vader love silence! It gives him all sorts of time to troll me.
~“Still drawing that same page, eh Tarol? I wonder if any other webcomic authors take this long.”~
“Shut-up, Guilt Vader. And get your feet off of my coffee table.”
~“Hey don’t be like that, kiddo. You like the boots though? Adamantium.”~
“Leave me alone.”
~“Aw, why? Oh! Because you’re working, right?”~
“Yes, that’s right.”
~“And good for you. Look, you’re working as hard as you can. As long as you do that, you have no reason to feel guilty. Hey, you want a Pocky? There’s no way I can finish this whole box.”~
“I work every damn day.”
~“Why do I always get the pink ones? I mean how does this taste anything like strawberries?”~
“Nobody else has to work seven days a week, and I do that. So piss off.”
~“Absolutely Tarol, you do work every day, it’s true. I mean, look at you drawing away right now. It’s commendable. You’re a professional and you treat this like a serious job.”~
~“Oh, I forgot to ask, how was that nap you took today?”~
~“What was that, like an hour and a half?”~
~“I wonder how many other professionals get to take hour and a half long naps during their serious jobs.”~
~“Tarol, I’m gonna lean in really close to your ear now. Like… creepy weird close. And I’m doing this for two reasons. Firstly, because I want you to listen closely to what I’m about to say. Not ‘just’ with your ears, but with that part deep inside you that hears the sounds your dreams make while you’re sleeping. And secondly, because check out my bad ass milk mustache. It’s fucking awesome.”~
“I hate you.”
~“Aw, I’ve upset you. I’m sorry kiddo. Look, I’ll just whisper this one important thing to you and then I’ll leave ya alone for a bit, kay?”~
~“Tarol… I know you ‘think’ you’re this fantastic husband to Danielle, but I’m going to need you to let me into the Guilt Free Sanctuary you have with her.”~
“You are never getting in there.”
~“If you say so, kiddo. But y’know, if I ‘were’ to get in there… heh. You are so fucked. Anyways, I’m gonna go look through my upgrade catalogue. I’ll see ya later. … Seriously though, the pink ones are like bland toothpaste on a twig, I don’t understand why I keep getting these.”~
What I Experienced 2.0
So there I was, drawing without music or movies playing in the background and keeping my growing sense of confusion-flavoured panic to myself. Even though Danielle knew something very bad was going on with me, I dreaded to tell her exactly what, as it… probably wouldn’t be a very happy conversation.
“Honey, great news! You’ll never guess what kind of a coward I’ve just become!”
“Hooray, you did guess!”
Now usually, the only time I worked without music, etc. was when I had a headache or when I was broadcasting on the live feed. So during the second day of this silent drawing, Danielle glided up to me and quietly placed a tea, two aspirin and a damp cloth for my forehead on the desk.
Since I was feeling bunches of shame for my new terror-based difficulties, and seeing an easy path to hiding it, I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before. I lied to Danielle. I told her that yes, I had a bad headache and that was why I was working in silence and giving off grumpy vibes.
Now, of course, there are certain untruths that Danielle and I will tell each other, but that’s different. Lying to trick the other person into getting the last “something” is well within the rules of our marriage.
“Danielle, you want a Coke?”
“Nono, there’s only one left and I’ve had most of them. That one is yours.”
“No, there’s two left and I’m grabbing one for myself now, anyways.”
“Oh, okay. Sure!”
For us, those sorts of lies are not only acceptable, but regarded as an adventurous, even competitive way of showing our love for each other.
But this was something new and as soon I had said it, my marriage felt a little bit different. I had just lied to my wife. I didn’t feel like a kickass husband. I felt like a fraud. I felt like a liar.
~“Hey Tarol! Over here, kiddo! I’m in the Guilt Free Sanctuary! Well… I guess it’s just the Free Sanctuary now, eh? Hang on, lemme just get a quick selfie in here… Aw yeah, that’s a good one. One sec, I just gotta tweet this pic out… hashtag ‘ItsNiceInHere’, hashtag ‘ImDrinkingRedWineButWillBeCarefulAroundYourWhiteCarpet’, hashtag ‘OopsFuckSorryAboutYourCarpet’. And check out this new upgrade I got, Tarol! Voila! The ZF-1 from ‘The Fifth Element‘“~
~” It’s light. Handle’s adjustable for easy carrying, good for righties and lefties. Breaks down into four parts, undetectable by x-ray, ideal for quick, discreet interventions. Oldman Impression> I fucking LOVE Gary Oldman, don’t you? They gave him the lamest haircut ever, in ‘The Fifth Element’ and he still looked like a bad ass motherfucker!“~
~”Oh, stop lookin’ at me like you wanna punch me in the milk mustache, kiddo. You’re no warrior. That’s okay, though. I don’t like warriors. Too narrow-minded, no subtlety. And worse, they fight for hopeless causes. Honor? Ha! Honor’s killed millions of people, it hasn’t saved a single one. Tell you what I do like though. A killer. A dyed-in-the-wool killer. Cold-blooded, clean, methodical and thorough. Now a real killer, when he picked up the ZF-1, he would have immediately asked about the little red button on… Oldman Impression> Hey, where ya goin’ Tarol? Aw c’mon, hang out with me. I’m gonna torch the sanctuary with the ZF-1 and do Gary Oldman impressions, it’s gonna be awesome! We’ll order pizza or something! Seriously? You’re just gonna sulk and walk awa… alright then, I guess. I’ll find ya later okay, kiddo? And I mean that, because there’s literally nowhere you can go that I can’t find you now!“~
~”Oh, Tarol! Tarol, WAIT! One more thing! It’s important! Thank you. Thank you for turning around. Listen kiddo, I know that you don’t like me and you think that I don’t like you. I know you’re upset that I’m about to torch the Guilt Free Sanctuary for you and Danielle. But believe it or not, I do care about you. And since I know how much this sanctuary meant to you, I’m gonna tell you about another place that you can go to, to relieve this growing stress, kay?“~
~”It’s… a hotel of a thousand and one follies, lollies and lickemollies. A magic fountain flow of non stop wine, women and COOCHIE COOCHIE COOOOOO! All Night Looooong! Tucker Impression>
What, you don’t like Ruby Rhod?! Tarol, come back!”~
In the days that followed, the sense of fear and panic I felt from looking at or thinking about the internet, expanded outward until I felt that way when looking at, thinking about or drawing my own comic, Goblins.
Now, I just want to take a moment to point out the absurd irony of this. I, Tarol Hunt/Stephens… creator, writer and artist of the webcomic, Goblins… was terrified to the point of visually obvious panic… by Goblins. Just let that soak in for a second.
Once I stopped drawing, things got worse. I was losing my temper at nothing and was afraid of everything. Eventually I found myself just… blocking everything out. As someone who’s always worrying over details, I was surprised at how easy it was to just not think about any of this. I retreated into a weird numbness.
I have copies of the old ElfQuest graphic novels from when I was a kid and I ended up spending most of my time just reading them. Just… over and over.
For the following weeks, trying to eat food reminded me of the people I’d seen doing the ‘cinnamon challenge’ on Youtube. I ended up losing somewhere around 40 pounds, which wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t happened to have dieted away 20 pounds just before all of this started. Irony. My sleeping schedule became 1 to 3 hour naps and I commonly and easily went 48 hours without sleeping at all.
Danielle seemed to keep trying to talk to me in hopes of finding out what was going on. When that failed, she seemed to keep trying to support me with a lot of tea, hugs and patience. Then, when the only responses I could give her were a lot of yelling, fueled by fear and anger, she seemed to… stop trying.
I never yelled at her, but I did a lot of yelling to her. I remember watching her eyes well up and seeing how scared she was as she realised that her husband had completely lost the ability to make sense.
I remember thinking that I was using the right words and saying them in the right order, but speed, tone and inflection were a foreign language to me. If, as a teen, you’ve ever tried to act sober in front of your parents when you weren’t, you’ll know what it’s like to suddenly be considering every mundane gesture and idiosyncrasy with awkward confusion. Something as common as, ‘what to do with your hands while talking’ feels as difficult as trying to crack open a combination bank vault. With tweezers. While wearing boxing gloves.
For the next few days, Danielle and I avoided each other. She had her part of Little Smial and I had mine. This was completely alien to us and as much as I wanted to go talk to her, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it without going all… Super Saiyan.
The Turning Point
(As I mentioned at the top of this post, I’m using imagery like Guilt Vader to convey my feelings and make it easier for me to explain a personally humiliating situation. Guilt Vader does not represent any hallucinations or symptoms on that level. And while he is obviously fictional, the reactions and emotions I show with him are factual and accurate. I hope you don’t find this deceptive at all. It’s just a comfortable way for me to let you know how I’m feeling.
Remember in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, when they used music to communicate with the aliens? Well it’s like that, except I’m using a writer’s tool to communicate with you. And yes, just like in ‘Close Encounters’, I’m going to put Richard Dreyfuss in a orange jumpsuit and kick him off the planet.
Because ‘Krippendorf’s Tribe’ was fucking awful.*)
I’m going to deliberately gloss over the bulk of the worst of what happened. There may have been the teeniest confusion about reality for like, the briefest of nanoseconds. I also may have sorta, maybe had a tiniest, blip of memory loss, maybe.
So I’m mentioning these details, because I want it to be understood by those whose opinions I value, that this was kind of a serious thing. But I’m being glossier than a brand new suit of stormtrooper armour and I’m down playing more than the second level of Battletoads (think about it) because it’s embarrassing.
So the point that this whole… whatever you want to call it, was at it’s absolute worst, was when Danielle had just finished trying yet again to communicate with me. And again, what I’d given her was not really communication, but more panicky confusion. As she quietly walked away in familiar defeat, I turned back to my Elfquest graphic novel.
I tried to not think about what I was doing to Danielle. How much I was scaring her. How I had taken a situation that I couldn’t handle and made it into a situation that we couldn’t handle.
Before I knew what I was doing, I’d angrily ripped my book apart (my apologies to Wendy and Richard Pini and the Wolfriders). While I sat quietly, looking at the shredded Elfquest pages on my livingroom floor, Guilt Vader made his final appearance. And he was riding a mount.
~“Hey Tarol, how’s it goHOLY…! You like look shit, kiddo.”~
“ … “
~“Damn, what’d you do to your Elfquest book? Was that the one from when you were a kid? Yikes, that’s an expensive tantrum. But hey, check out my new mount! It’s my latest upgrade! I took Skeletor and Slenderman, put ‘em on their hands and knees, duct taped ‘em together into one, terrifying, nightmarish beast and slapped a saddle on the whole thing! I call this magnificent animal, Slendeletor!”~
“ … “
~“I know, I know… it’s a little extravagant, but hear me out. (A) He’s a lot faster than you’d think. (B) Both Slenderman and Skeletor are not really undead, but they’re not quite living, either. So I don’t have to feed him! At least… I don’t think I have to feed him. Do I have to feed him? Aw, fuck it. I just won’t feed him, we’ll see what happens. And (C) He’s fucking SCARY, dude! Just check out Slenderman’s long, skinny arms flailin’ about! And Look at Skeletor’s face! I know he wasn’t really scary in the cartoon, but now that he’s here? Daaaamn!”~
“Look… I… I can’t do this. I… “
~“Oh, I almost forgot! I pimped my ride! Check it out! See? On Skeletor’s butt? Winnie the Pooh stickers! I had to customize, otherwise how am I gonna stand out from everyone else riding evil, fictional icons, duct taped together?”~
“ …sniff “
~“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Tarol. So you shredded Elfquest, deal with it.”~
“That’s not why I’m upset.”
~“Of course it is! (sigh) Look, I’ll explain it to you. Goblins was a good webcomic. Really good. You have a shelf full of awards, right there. You reached levels of success that most webcomics don’t. And all I heard from you for years was, ‘WAH WAH, Goblins isn’t good enough, it’s going to fail!’. You didn’t think that way when you first put Goblins online! You thought it was good back then, remember? Otherwise, you’d never have posted it! You thought Goblins should succeed, so it succeeded! It wasn’t until you were a success, that you started feeling like a fraud and thinking that Goblins wasn’t good enough! And guess what, you thought it should fail, so eventually it failed! I hate to be the one to break this to you asshole, but you’ve been in complete control of your career, this WHOLE TIME!”~
“ … “
~“You shredded Goblins. And then when you were done, you shredded Elfquest. A comic like yours, but better in just about every way.”~
“ … “
~“You don’t see where I’m going with this? (sigh) Okay. Tarol, you shredded your own life. And then, when you were done, you shredded Danielle. A person like you, but better in just about every way. Y’see, it lines up. It’s like synchronized swimming, but instead of water, you’re wading through chlorinated angst. But now it’s done, kiddo. You haven’t drawn it in weeks and you’re too terrified to get back to it, now.”~
“I just need…”
~“‘…a few more days’. Yeah, Tarol, I know. Look, this fear isn’t going away. This is just the beginning! Dude, I don’t think you get it. This is who you are now.”~
~“AHAHA! Are you fucking KIDDING me?! Naw kiddo. We are way past you having enough strength to tell me to go away. You’ve got nothing left and no one willing to…”
“Go away, Guilt Vader.“
~“Wait. Danielle? Wh… what? That doesn’t make any sense. You can’t even see me. How…”~
“Do you honestly think there’s anything that one of us can feel, that the other can’t see?”
~“No way, Danielle… I mean… No. You’re talking about abstract emotional concepts. I’m a specific, fictional representation of certain feelings. It makes absolutely no sense for you to be able to see me and…”~
“Leave now, and never come back.”
~“Oh give me a fucking break, Danielle. You can’t go all Smeagol and quote ‘The Two Towers’ at me and call it some sort of therapeutic victory. Do you have any idea how many layers of psychological infiltration I’ve managed to…”~
“Leave now, and never come back!”
~“Oh, fuck you! Tolkien was a linguist, not a therapist! And besides, that scene never even happened in the books! I’m a hell of a lot stronger than some movie dialogue! I hardly think…”~
“LEAVE! NOW! and NEVER come back!”
~“FINE! WHATEVER! I’m leaving! I don’t have to take this shit, I have a plasma shoulder cannon and a ZF-1 so fuck you! Slendeletor and I are outta here!”~
“Danielle, I thought…”
“You thought you’d scared me away? Come on, you have to know that our relationship isn’t that fragile and neither am I.”
“You really thought I was that easily spooked, eh? When we’re through this, remind me to bite you. Hard.”
“Well, we’ve never been through anything like this. I’m… weird.”
“Yes. Yes you are. But nothing in this world is scary enough to make me leave you. Not even you.”
“But you’ve been hiding for the last…”
“Hiding? I’ve been researching your symptoms online and making phone calls, you dummy. Now, I…”
~“Adamantium boots, baby!”~
“Huh? I thought I told him to leave.”
“You did. He’s sulking on his way out, to show how my own insecurities have been reflected onto him.”
~”Respect the milk mustache, bitches!”~
“It’s part of his job as the incarnate manifestation of my guilt. It’s all very meta.”
“Meta? How do you mean?”
~”Me and Slendeletor are gonna go be in our OWN webcomic! Better than Goblins!”~
“Oh, yeah. That is meta.”
That was when Danielle sat me down in front of my tablet and placed my drawing stylus in my hand.
“Danielle, I can’t…”
“Not Goblins. Not something for the comic or the website. Just draw what you’re feeling.”
The Creepy Picture
So a lot of you have already seen the picture. The thing I drew when my brain had more shaky cam than Man of Steel. Drawing this was a huge help at the time, since communicating just… wasn’t something I could do and I needed to express myself in some way. I honestly think things would have been a lot worse, had Danielle not told me to draw “what you’re feeling”. Since this picture was not a business decision, I’m applying an open license to it, so… do whatever you like with it. Make posters, t-shirts, crop circles… anything you like.
So… what does it mean? Mostly, I don’t know. I think the doll is supposed to represent me? I’m not sure. I just started drawing this image of a broken doll and the rest of the picture grew out from that. She’s got heavy make-up on the right side of her face and no pupil in her right eye. Why? I don’t know.
I have no idea why her right hand is smashed and why there are a bazillion fingers. I just kept drawing fingers. When you’re going through a thing like this, you tend to latch onto ANYTHING that isn’t panic inducing and repeat it over and over to avoid the things that are terrifying (which is why I wound up reading Elfquest non-stop). I did this with the fingers. For some reason, I felt less freaked out when drawing the fingers, so I just… kept drawing them.
Is the monster Mr. Fingers? I’m not sure. I didn’t plan on drawing him, I just drew without thinking and that’s what came out. And what happened to his squished ‘foot’? I have no idea. The plushie/doll that the monster is coming out of is the doll that Fumbles tried to return to the elf child in Goblins. I do know that. And the monster’s neck, is a tongue wrapped in thick wire.
The green bit on the light bulb is my wedding ring. I have no memory of drawing that part. There are a few parts of the picture I don’t remember drawing, but what really pisses me off, is the knife.
I drew a beautiful knife on the floor. It’s what was meant to have been used to scratch up the back wall. I remember drawing it. Danielle remembers seeing it. But at some point, I erased it and drew in the floorboards where it had once been. I don’t remember doing this and it bothers me, because I liked that knife. It looked awesome. Why the hell did I erase it? Grrrr.
The Goblins pages in the picture are all pages where someone dies. This was done with more conscious thought than the rest of the picture, as I had to go through the archives and find each of those pages.
Now let’s talk for a minute about what the picture ISN’T. For the love of all that’s wireless, it isn’t sexual. Honest. I was amazed to see how many people online attributed the picture to some kind of sexual fetish. I mean… as provocative as I am… Sweet Starscream, there is nothing sexual in that picture. And yet…
“Could Thunt’s amputation fetish be any more obvious?”
“Okay Thunt, you have a cannibal fetish, we get it.”
“…obviously Thunt’s gore fetish.”
“…his rape fetish…”
Notice how each, different fetish is the one and only, obvious fetish that is clearly portrayed in the rorschach test… er… I mean, the picture that I drew.
Another theory some people have, is that I identify as a female, since I’ve drawn the character representing me as a female doll. While this isn’t at all offensive to me, it is interesting, because I’m now accused of being transphobic and transgendered by the internet. Not a lot of people can unlock that achievement!
The truth is that my inner gender matches my physical gender and I’m quite comfortable as a heterosexual dude. However, I’m also comfortable enough to draw my emotions symbolised in a some type of female form if that’s what I feel like doing, because forced gender roles can kiss my butt. If you want to call me transgendered, go right ahead. It’s untrue, but it’s cool with me. If you think I’m mocking transgendered individuals and you want to call me transphobic, that’s also untrue and much less cool, but I can’t stop you.
From the very beginning, I’ve treated my readers as my bosses. After all, that’s where my income originates from, right? And when I’m late, it’s you the readers who are tapping your watches disapprovingly. And in a way, you could fire me simply by not reading my comic anymore. The relationship fits! And for years, it’s felt as though I’d be disrespecting my readers if I were to treat the relationship any other way. But there’s been a problem with this dynamic.
Y’see, if you’re my bosses, your opinions default to having more value than my own. That’s one of the reasons why we have bosses. They’re in charge because they tend to hold more experience or expertise. Sure, bosses can make bone-headed decisions and should listen to their employees, but their opinions should default to the starting point of having more value than the other employees.
But while this can work in a lot of business situations, it’s downright destructive in the reader/webcomic author relationship. I mean… let’s be honest, the internet is not an air-tight bastion of complete, unwavering good advice. There are some bad ideas floating around out there.
Until now, I’ve treated each and every comment, email, tweet, criticism and praise as though it were coming from my boss. My superior. This undeservedly fueled the compliments and insults and had me meeting my “critics” in chatrooms so I could nod and smile as they tore me to pieces for everything from not “using better pacing”, to “relying too much on dialogue”. And all the while, I thought I was required to continue this frame of mind as a sign of respect to my readers.
But this was wrong. It is entirely possible to respect my readers and not consider our relationship in a way that has me working under them. And so, this is what I mean by “I quit”. I mean that I no longer work for any of you. I’ll no longer create Goblins with a fear of failure looming over me. Any opinions about me or my work will default to the starting position of “somebody on the internet says…” rather than “your boss says…”.
While I’ll carefully consider the opinions, criticism and praise as it comes in, I’ll do so with an understanding that it’s an outside opinion and could be… well… stupid. I’ll reserve the right to not finish reading the email that starts with “HAY ASSHOLE U SUKK!” or to say “no” when someone demands that I listen to their point by point set of reasons why I’m failing as a webcomic author.
I’m also going to stop being sorry for being late all the time with my updates. I obviously have a huge problem with meeting deadlines. It’s a problem I’ve had for almost a decade and clearly it’s something I can’t fix. So here’s the deal…
I work hard on my artwork. I don’t cut corners and I always try to improve my abilities. I also put everything I have into my writing, trying to get better and I take the craft as seriously as I can. But along with these points, is the ongoing truth that I’m late. Like… a lot. You can think it’s because I work hard, but draw slowly or because I’m just a lazy asshole. But whatever your opinion, this is the nature of my work. I’ve been late a scwillion times and I will be late a scwillion more.
You see, I always want… no, ‘want’ is not a strong enough word. I always need to add more to the page. If I have 3 days to draw a page, I’m going to feverishly try to squeeze 3.5 days of work into it. If I have 5 days, I’ll try get 6 days of work in there. I can’t help it.
I don’t know what’s dumber, the fact that there are long time readers who still email me to point out what a failure I am over this, or the fact that I still feel like a failure over this. Let’s all be smarter about this schedule thing. I’m always going to suck at being on time and either that’s something that you as a reader are okay with or it isn’t. But I can’t spend the rest of my career tearing myself apart with guilt and stress over it. I can’t keep living in fear of the whole thing coming to an end. I have no doubt that being late all the time hurts my career and limits my success to some degree. But obviously it’s not going to completely end my career, as this has been an issue for almost a decade. If sucking at making deadlines was going to destroy Goblins, it’d have done it by now.
So if you don’t want to read Goblins because of the unreliable update schedule, I completely understand and I’ll respect your decision to walk away. I won’t respect your angry emails, because I don’t work for you anymore. I quit.
I’m still creating Goblins and I’m still fully respecting those that deserve my respect. I’m still listening to advice and criticism and I’m still as interactive with my readers as I can be. The only difference is that I no longer consider any of you to be my boss and as a result, I now have a right to place my own opinions about myself and my work, above yours.
Thanks and Apologies
After the last two months, my wife had every reason to yell at me, demand time away from me or maybe even leave me. She didn’t so much as give me a dirty look, though. But even more amazing than her patience, is her strength. Yes, she uses that strength for good now, but if she ever goes Dark Phoenix Saga on us, we’re all dead.
Danielle, I Love you and every bit of safety and protection I give for the rest of our lives, is only possible because of the safety and protection you’ve given me.
I’m so sorry for what I’ve put you through and so thankful for the uninterrupted help you’ve given me.
Thank you for the phone calls and the corny jokes (and you know… raising me). I’m so sorry for disappearing for so long without contacting you.
Thanks, man. You know what for. It is not an exaggeration to say that you’ve done more for me, than any other man on Earth.
Thank you so much Dukey, for maintaining the site and continually offering help in various ways!
Eric and Shannon
Thanks for your patience, you two, and Eric… I’m so, so sorry I missed your surprise birthday party during this. I’ll make it up to you by, um… I guess… I’ll buy you, uh… a live ewok or something. A girl one. How do you tell the gender of those things?
Dixon and Kyriel
I’m sorry, boys. I’m sorry that after watching The Dark Knight, I broke a pool cue in half and made the two of you fight for the title of “favorite son”. I’m sorry that when you were toddlers, I sat you in front of a Youtube video of a building about to be demolished, told you it was live footage and said “I’ll be right back. You make sure nothing happens to that hospital.”, then I screamed “WHAT DID YOU DO?!” when I returned a minute later. I’m sorry that I had you convinced for the first 6 years of your life, that your midichlorian count was crazy high, and that was why supermarket doors just opened for you when you approached them.
But what I’m REALLY sorry for, is being unreachable for so long. I Love you guys.
Firstly, I owe every one of my readers a huge apology for the way I disappeared without a word. I later learned that some of you were making plans to contact my local police department to check on my safety. In reading the massive email and Twitter response, one sentiment stood above everything else. Concern for my well-being. More than the questions about the comic or the updates, there were questions asking if I was okay. There was genuine worry. And so I mean it when I say that I’m incredibly sorry for my disappearance. Should anything happen to me again, I’ll make informing all of you a very high priority.
And secondly, thank you. Thank you for the support, the love, the concern and the understanding. The day after I started talking to you on Twitter, I slept a full 7 hours and even started eating again. You remember how in Iron Man 1, Tony Stark was carrying around that filthy car battery that was keeping his heart alive? Well you guys are that. You’re my filthy car battery. And I gotta lug you around because Jeff Bridges is trying to kill me. Wait. No. You… well, you guys know what I mean. You keep my heart alive.
(Note: I refer to my male and female friends as “guys”.)
Wendy and Richard Pini
And thanks to the Pinis for creating Elfquest. Not just because it’s the work that inspired me to become what I am today, but because your art and writing became an anchor of safety for me during this… thing.
I’ve learned that during breakdowns like this, people often turn to things that make them feel safe or help to dull the pain/fear. These things are commonly repetitive and sometimes destructive. They can be drugs or alcohol or worse. I was lucky to have Elfquest as my anchor.
When I grew up, pretending to be Cutter and imagining that I was fighting trolls, battling humans and marrying Rainsong, I couldn’t have known that one day, those books would help me through the most messed up time of my life.
So thank you, Mrs. and Mr. Pini.If you like Goblins, but haven’t read Elfquest, you’re in luck! It’s like Goblins, but better! Go get it!
As always, thanks for reading.
*Richard Dreyfuss rocks