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Behind the Comics: Half a Decade of (in)Experience

by Alex Schumacher

In an age when climate devastation and civil unrest is burning the world to the ground and a pandemic is poised to blink out humanity (if class disparity doesn’t do the job first) it feels somewhat obtuse to celebrate accomplishments. Considering the odds of making any kind of name for oneself in the vast ocean of content online, I suppose for me the importance stems from the realization that nothing I've achieved in the comics industry has been without its fair share of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Nepotism wasn’t at my disposal. My family had zero connections to the field in our Rolodex. A vast network of online resources to assist in my navigation of the visual storytelling world had yet to be compiled. Scrimping and saving to get by as it was, my family couldn't afford the steep price tag for art school either. Even if the funds had been available to us, comics-centric courses were all but nonexistent in the early aughts. The conversation surrounding cartooning as a profession consisted mostly of condescension. Graphic novels as a venerable form of literature was still a laughable prospect and superdude floppies continued their disappointing stranglehold on the North American readership.

In spite of the debilitatingly low probability of longevity, Decades of (in)Experience reached a milestone 200th episode on February 21, 2020. The webcomic, birthed in the fall of 2015, has followed the exploits of perennial slacker cum responsible-ish adult Luke Carlin. Luke’s misadventures are loosely semi-autobiographical with plenty of incidents played up for comedic effect and/or entirely fictionalized to protect the guilty. Over the past four and a half years the webcomic has stockpiled a handful of glowing reviews from such outlets as Bleeding Cool and a small but loyal following. Said enthusiasts have been graciously vocal in their appreciation which serves to bolster my efforts with the series’ publisher Antix Press.

“Schumacher’s writing is poetic. Every line packs a punch. The dry wit paired with brutal introspection leaves Luke with a personality of optimistic hopelessness.” — AARON IARA, Effective Nerd

As hinted at above, my long and winding road to creating such an episodic ongoing work was plagued with booby traps, false starts, and detours. By 2012 I had tried my hand at several genre projects and pitches, as editors tend to clamor for such nerd lures as fantasy, magical realism or paranormal. I found my own offerings in said realms to be hollow and disingenuous. Forays into other mediums such as the children’s literature market and the animation industry proved just as futile. I made the decision to focus solely on comics and seriously pursue the art form as a career in 2015. All pretenses of giving a shit what the gatekeepers thought had been dropped, and I was determined to return to the personal work of my formative ink-slinging years. Cards on the table, I was at a loss on just how to proceed. Enter Francis Lombard. Francis was introduced by a mutual contact and had his own storied history with editing, including his work with the famed Humanoids Publishing, Inc.

Francis Lombard: After leaving Humanoids, establishing a writing career in animation, and launching the first version of Antix Press that featured fan favorite, Dr. Grave created by EdVis, everything crapped out with the Great Recession. However, I truly felt that comedy could be successful in comic book publishing and really wanted to relaunch Antix as some kind of entity. Alex, who was a complete stranger, was open to taking a shot at it and doing a ton of work.

Francis and I got along like gangbusters right off the bat. He inherently understood my provocations and frustrations with the industrial complex of the direct market. We decided on the joint venture of a slice-of-life webcomic and Decades of (in)Experience launched on October 30th, 2015. Initially, the series was presented in a format more akin to illustrated flash fiction. The tone of those first couple of years has garnered comparisons to Bukowski and other dudebro ghosts of middling literature past. Though I understand the parallels, my objective from the beginning was always to expand Luke’s horizons and challenge his world views. Did Hank Chinaski ever evolve? I think not. Now in its fifth year, those new to Decades of (in)Experience would almost do well to begin the saga with year three and use the first two years as a prequel or prologue of sorts.

Decades of (in)Experience is not a bit of light reading before bed but it is an introspective narrative full of sociopolitical commentary, hierarchy questioning and wanderlust. I loved it.” — CJ PENDRAGON, Sirens of Sequentials

Subsequent years also saw my abilities as an illustrator challenged and sharpened. This can partially be credited to Francis’ encouragement in pushing the limits of my draftsmanship. An equally integral factor has been the production of numerous literary magazines' graphic narratives (collected in the 2017 compendium Defiling the Literati) along with my ongoing monthly satirical title, Mr. Butterchips, which launched in 2016 through Drunk Monkeys Magazine.

One of the main revelations since 2015 has been the fact that I simply wasn’t manufacturing enough work before then to register as a blip on anyone’s radar. The comics industry laughed in my face before double-locking its door and I was genuinely questioning my life’s direction. Decades of (in)Experience turned this series of unfortunate events around and has been the catalyst for a great many number of incremental career advancements, not the least of which was signing with my literary agent in April of 2019. Had Francis not been present to urge me to explore and expand the boundaries of my own capabilities, and truly examine the work that I was, and continue, producing I can’t guarantee that I would have found the gumption or motivation to continue this pursuit.

Certainly not in any capacity necessary for a fulltime career.

Francis Lombard: From the get-go there was a plan to showcase Luke Carlin’s growth and development. With a weekly comic page, Alex has a huge canvas to show that growth. I keep that in mind every time I edit a script. Is Luke changing in some way? Will he be different at the end of this month, six months, and at the end of the year? Even if the story has him backslide that’s a change.
As an editor, I think it’s my job to be the best possible first reader for Alex and to be hyper-sensitive to moments when he needs support to deliver a story. With the pace he’s producing the Muse isn’t always there for him so I have to be its stand-in. Otherwise, Alex is a machine. He has maintained a level of production and quality that I have never tried or even think I am even capable of.

An interesting development to witness as Decades of (in)Experience progressed was the detonation of a golden age for comics and graphic novels in which we are currently entrenched. Trade publishers have played no small role in the medium’s ascension though, in my opinion, they continue to propagate the fallacious opinion that comics are merely entertainment for children or some sort of rickety bridge to “real” reading. But I digress. America finally appears to be catching up with the rest of the civilized literate world in understanding the depth and breadth of material the funny book universe has to offer.

Since I was not privy to the benefits of the aforementioned explosion early in my career, the hardscrabble trail I’ve endured can be mined for a few nuggets of wisdom. If creating comics is an interest of yours, just know this industry can beat you to a bloody pulp one day and wrap you in its loving embrace the next. The propensity to be continually rejected and ignored is high. However, there are those that are celebrated and held aloft by the perceived arbiters of nine-panel greatness. I may never be one of the golden calves, but no one will be allowed to take a jackhammer to my resolve or convince me that I don’t belong in this world again. I’ve been close to extricating myself from such a masochistic relationship on innumerable occasions. Unwavering tenacity alone may not ensure my legacy in the comic book biz, but neither does throwing in the fucking towel.

In closing, I’ll never truly be able to express just how grateful I am for every single person who supports and appreciate my labors. To paraphrase Margaret Mead, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed fans to change your world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” As long as there remains a small, committed group to read my stories, I’ll continue telling them.

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