Nobody warns you that one day this will all seem so ordinary.
I began pursuing a career in comics (well, in writing at large but with a heavy focus on comics) nearly a decade ago and remember every mile marker, every new Image #1 that made me feel like anything could happen in this medium and every time I stepped out on a convention showroom and saw a fully automated Optimus Prime cosplay and every creator I admired passing down valuable advice to me, advice that I intended to apply to what I hoped (and still hope) would be a lengthy tenure as a writer of comics. It’s what made it all the more painful a reckoning when I first found myself burnt out on comics not as a creator but as a reader. Nobody warns you that one day this will all seem so ordinary, but then again I don’t know if I’d have believed you if you told me back then.
Comics are, after all, a magical thing. Pure, distilled escapism, even at their most elevated. More than film, more than prose, you can read a thousand comics and still barely scratch the surface of what the medium has to show you. It’s a stark contrast to the first time you find yourself looking at a shelf of the week’s new releases and realize you don’t care about any of them.
If you want to make comics, this will happen. It may only be once, it may be for months, years even, but it will happen. You will find yourself burnt out on not just making but engaging with this creative field you love. And in most cases you will find yourself wholly unprepared.
Maybe it will be for a specific reason or maybe it will be an accumulation of small frustrations. You will realize that you can’t remember what happened in the last issue of the long-running creator owned title you’ve been reading since its first issue dropped. You will see the name of a creator you know isn’t a great person on the cover of a book featuring your favorite superhero. You will find yourself harder and harder to impress after years, decades of reading comics, your critical capital rising to increasingly hard-to-reach heights with more and more that may have impressed you had they come out years ago reading as middling now. You will read a debut issue written or drawn (or both!) by a close friend and come to the heartbreaking realization that you just don’t like it very much. Or perhaps it will be less tragic (but in a way that somehow makes it all the more tragic) – you will find that your friends are writing books that you love or characters you’ve been reading since you were a kid and that while you enjoy the work they’re doing, it is just that – work that you can see them doing. You will notice their voice and their tics and after a while you will only be able to see the work for their voice and tics, unable to fully suspend your disbelief and be overwhelmed by or escape into a comic you love for the first time in your life that you can recall.
The unfortunate reality of making a career out of escapism is that one day you will find that it is no longer an escape. It is your day-to-day, on good days your dream career and on bad days your 9-5 (if you’re lucky enough to maintain regular working hours). It’s hard to make your hobby your job and as such, a career in comics will affect the way you enjoy books as a fan. Nobody wants this. Nobody wants to be bored of the thing they love. But in my experience, the best way to work through these spells of boredom with the form is to start by not fighting it.
You can’t bulldoze your way through the lack of passion, so your first step is to allow yourself to not read comics for a little while. It can, after all, start to feel like homework for a while (and is, in fact, often a part of the job to begin with). Give yourself some time – a few days, a week, a month, whatever you feel is necessary – to not pick up comics, not worry about what will be on the shelves every Wednesday. If you have a box, keep it current and make sure to clean it out semi-regularly, but don’t feel pressured to read everything you’re subscribed to as it’s coming out.
The beauty of monthly comics is that they’re not going anywhere. There will always be new comics out on Wednesdays and when you decide you’re ready to dive back in they’ll be waiting for you (as will a pile of back-issues to binge when you feel excited by the opportunity to do so).
Did you guys know they also make books that don’t have pictures? Did you know you’re allowed to read them? Taking a break from comics doesn’t mean taking a break from fiction. In fact, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the world of comics that you neglect to let yourself experience storytelling in other forms with any regularity. Read a novel. Read a nonfiction book. Pick a director or cinematographer and make your way through their filmography. Find joy in the art of telling stories outside of the medium in which you make them. Take notes and apply those lessons to your craft when you’re ready to come back to making comics.
Speaking of which, there’s great rejuvenation to be found in revisiting some of your formative texts. I experienced (and am still working my way through) a period of disinterest earlier this year and began to remedy it by rewatching animated series that served as gateways to comics and manga as a kid (Yu Yu Hakusho and Batman Beyond). In doing so I was able to rediscover what I loved about comic storytelling outside of the medium.
While there’s no twelve-step program for figuring out how to navigate these phases, I tend to find it most helpful to, when I begin to feel excited about reading comics again, look again to those aforementioned formative texts. This isn’t to say I like, reread Watchmen or Fun Home every time I get bored with comics so much as it is that I try to read books I loved when I was first realizing I wanted to make comics but didn’t know how the proverbial sausage was made. Recently that meant picking up my old hardcover copy of Blackest Night by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis. It’s a comic that may not be good by conventional standards but is full of equal parts bombast and fond memories (it came out in the summer during which I realized I wanted to make comics) and as such exists as this pure piece of comics to me. Like Final Crisis, Batman: RIP, and Death Note (all of which are…probably objectively better pieces of art) I will always read it the same way I did at age 17: wide-eyed and awestruck, especially when that double-page spread of the heroes who are granted power rings by the various Corps hits.
Whatever that book is for you, find it. Read it. Remember why you’re here and remember that when you feel this way in the future – which you will; it’ll probably come back one of these days – it’s okay. It’s so easy to feel guilty for being burnt out on reading comics. It feels like a betrayal not only of yourself but of your friends, of the peers who have supported you along your journey and of the hours of work you’ve put into the medium as a creator and as a reader. It’s not. It can be hard to remember this in the dregs of comics burnout but it’s not. Everyone hits ruts. Everyone needs a recharge here and there. Absence does, after all, make the heart grow fonder.
Take a break. Unplug from the news cycle of comics. Read a book, watch a favorite TV show. Pull a comic you loved as a kid out of your longbox and remember how these stories made you feel before you even knew you wanted to tell them yourself.
When you’re ready, go forward and read more comics.