The Payoff for Doing What You Love

The Payoff for Doing What You Love

My friend Weldon recently got his perfect job: cataloging and grading comic books and comic art for a large auction house. In recent weeks, he’s held the original artwork for the first appearance of Wolverine and the original art from a page of The Killing Joke (the page where Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon…yes, he got to hold an original Brian Bolland page). He also held the first Batman comic book and Action Comics #1.

Millions of dollars worth of art and comic books have passed through his hands in recent weeks. Some say he’s lucky; others have asked how they can get a job like that.

The answer is simple: by doing what you love, without expectation of anything more than the love of the thing — and creating opportunities for yourself that might one day pay off.

That’s how Weldon got his recent job.

“Lucky” Friends

I’m fortunate to be friends with a lot of “lucky” people. By lucky, I mean the perception that some people have regarding how friends came to illustrate comic books and book covers; how they came to write novels and record the voices for well-known cartoons; how they became people who spend their days doing exactly what they love.

I’ve heard people say those who do what they want for a living are lucky. While luck (or some kind of break) often factors in after years of hard work, if it’s luck — it’s luck they made for themselves.

What many people never saw in these friends are the years of hard work behind the scenes. People staying home on Friday nights in their 20s because they were at an art desk. Using vacation time to work on their thing, instead of going to a beach and relaxing. Taking the lowest job in a creative company and working their way up. The effort of it all can be exhausting. Years of working alongside “nobodies” while others clamored for the attention of those who could help — the hope of a shortcut to fame. Eventually, those “nobodies” bubbled up and connections were made…and a hand of help was extended.

Hey, I’ve been doing art for this publisher — let me put you in touch with them…

Luck has little to do with it.

How Do You Get to Do What You Love All the Time?

I still have a day job, so take this next bit for what it’s worth. It is, however, based on what I’ve seen happen in the lives of more than a few people I know.

How do you get that dream job? By doing what you love with no expectation other than doing the thing you enjoy doing. Do it first and foremost because you love it — not because you want a huge following.

Mel Brooks once said:

I don’t really do anything for the audience ever. I do it for me, and most of the time the audience joins me.

Live by that. Do what you love because you love it — not because you want to be a brand. Do what you love because you love it — not because you want a big audience. Do what you love because you love it — not because you want fame.

If you do what you love because you love doing it, maybe one day what you love will become the bulk of what you do.

But if it doesn’t, you’ve still won.

Back to Weldon

Weldon once made six figures selling software, but Weldon has always been happiest when he’s worked around comic books. From his early days of working in comic books stores to eventually editing and marketing comic books, it’s a field that often didn’t bring in tons of money for him, but it’s always made him happier than selling something solely for a paycheck.

There are decades of struggling for what Weldon loves, in much the same way artists struggle until their love pays off.

So the answer to “How do I get that cool job?” is to do what you love.

Independent travel writers aren’t born overnight. People making a living with their YouTube channels didn’t just build it and watch the audience roll in like the tide. Most successful novelists wrote 1-5 books before ever being published (and then wrote another 1-5 novels before they saw decent money (and even more never even see that)).

What looks like an overnight success rarely is.

There Are No Shortcuts to Great Work

One doesn’t sit down to write fiction for the first time and create a masterpiece. No one has sat with a cello and done something like this from the start. Canvases and brushes don’t guide an artist’s hand; decades of hard work do.

The friends I have who make a living doing what they love didn’t go all in and hope for the best — it was never a gamble because they just did what they loved for no other reason than they loved it and always pushed themselves to get better. There have been times in Weldon’s life that it might have seemed to those who look only at numbers that he was painting himself into a corner.

Clearly, he wasn’t:

Original Alex Ross and Steve Rude art.

Oh, just some original Alex Ross and Steve Rude art on Weldon’s desk…

Original art for the first appearance of Wolverine. (And the first Frank Miller Wolverine sketch.)

Holding the original art for the first appearance of Wolverine. And to make the image cooler? Why not bring in the first Frank Miller Wolvie sketch…from Weldon’s personal collection.

Batman: Killing Joke. Original page - the shooting of Barbara Gordon.

I think it was Weldon who introduced me to Camelot 3000 back in the 80s. So I’m not TOO jealous that he got to hold an original Brian Bolland page…from a great one-shot comic book. (Batman: Killing Joke.)

 

Weldon Adams holding Batman #1 and Action Comics #1.

Just another day at the office: Weldon holding Batman #1 and Action Comics #1.

 

The Power of Generosity

The Power of Generosity

During the heyday of the independent comic book boom in the late 80s through the mid 90s, the Dallas Fantasy Fair (DFF) was third to only Comic-Con International in San Diego and the old Chicago Comicon. What set the DFF apart from other conventions was the support for independent creators by the person behind the show, Larry Lankford. Lankford didn’t care if you only had an ashcan preview and a dream to be published — if you made comic books on some level and you presented yourself even reasonably well, he gave you a table.

For free!

That’s a huge thing. Beyond that, though…if you made comic books and were given space, you were treated no differently than the big names bringing in guests: there was no waiting to get in, the provided space was always generous, and there was access to the pro suite, where you could chat with the people comic book geeks and pop culture fans only dreamed about paying to see at other conventions.

While rubbing elbows with one’s heroes was always cool, there was something even better about the shows…

Friendships Forged

I was fortunate to have met so many friends at the old DFF conventions; I’m still friends with many of the people I met back then. More than a handful have gone on to making a living in the industry, some now the very names people go to shows to see and meet.

The Dallas Fantasy Fair brought us all together. For many of us, the shows taught us to be serious about our dreams. While I no longer do anything with independent comic books, I carry so many lessons learned at those shows in my early 20s, all because Lankford was generous enough to let us in as guests.

Today, a good friend met at a DFF show in the early 90s told many other friends that Larry Lankford recently died. I had limited contact with Lankford, mainly just always thanking him for allowing my punk ass in for free so I could make connections and share my enthusiasm for the medium with other creators on my level and above.

The Last Show

The last DFF I attended was with my wife. We were in the process of working together on a book of our own, and while the venue had changed from Dallas Market Center to a hotel with far less room, Lankford still gave us a table. It wasn’t a table shoved off in a corner, but a spot in one of the busiest sections of the show. (It didn’t hurt that he seated us right next to Adam Hughes, one of my wife’s favorite artists.)

As the show went on, it was clear the lack of space was an issue. Lankford needed our table for a much bigger guest, and it was evident his decision to ask us to move was not an easy one for him. When the guest (Mark Waid) saw that we were leaving to give the entire table to him, he insisted on cramming the three of us behind the table. There was no way we were going to do that, even though it would have meant the chance to show Waid what we were doing. The show was tight on space, and we gladly gave up our spot, knowing how fortunate we were to be there at all.

Given a Shot

It’s easy to look back and say that Larry was ahead of others, realizing there were independent fans…so why not let independent creators in for free to draw those fans? Savvy marketers get that, now, but even today, the thought of even a well known independent creator being allowed into a large convention for free is crazy talk. It never seemed like a move to get more fans in with Lankford, though — he really seemed to take serious creating a place where all creators, regardless of where they were in their careers, had a shot.

That’s all any of us can really ask for in life: a shot. Lankford gave a shot to people like me, who never made it in comics…and he gave a shot to many who have lived the dreams we all talked about in our early 20s at Lankford’s Dallas Fantasy Fairs.

The Power of Generosity

If there’s a sad tone to this, it’s not intended. As I mentioned, I was not friends with Larry Lankford…just one of many acquaintances he gave a chance. If there’s any sense of melancholy behind all this, it’s that I’m a bit nostalgic as I think about how many great friendships and careers began at Dallas Fantasy Fairs. They were a lot of fun, a break from working in hot warehouses and believing, if only for a weekend, that something more was possible.

Most of us, on some level, have affected the lives of others in positive ways we may never know. I can name so many people who were affected by Lankford’s generosity. It was a little gesture, but I hope giving up our table when he needed it at one of his last shows was seen as the thank you it was meant to be.

We were all given a shot — and while dreams of making it writing comic books never happened for me, the friendships made because of one person’s generosity are far better than 23-year-old me could have ever imagined. More than that, I hope Lankford’s generosity — something I’m not sure many of us even realized was as big and rare as it was at the time — lives on in those he helped make their dreams a way of life.