Are you an aluminum-siding salesperson?
Rodney Dangerfield was one of the greatest “second acts” in entertainment history. His first attempt at comedy was so bad that he later quipped, “at the time I quit, I was the only one who knew I quit.” But what happened next holds an important lesson for the rest of us who are struggling to build a career in the creative arts.
After leaving stand-up comedy in the fifties, Dangerfield became an aluminum-siding salesperson to help support his family. Over the next several years, he sold aluminum siding from door to door. He doubtlessly felt like a failure. He battled clinical depression at this time and his first marriage fell apart.
Ten years later, he took another shot at comedy. And this time, he launched a career that would make him one of the top names in stand-up comedy. It turns out, selling aluminum siding is great practice for a comedian. After all, to succeed as a door-to-door salesperson you have to connect with your audience — and fast. And it helps to throw in a few jokes. Otherwise, the homeowner is going to slam the door in your face. All of that experience Rodney was building in sales was also honing his skills as a comedian.
So what about you? Are you selling aluminum siding today? Maybe you, like Dangerfield, think of yourself as a failure as a result. But consider this — maybe what you’re doing today is preparing you for the next phase of your life. And knowing that, what are you going to do today to make it count?
Don’t quit your day job
So let’s talk about day jobs. There are two types of day job — and the both have pros and cons for a person who wants to someday becomes a full-time cartoonist.
- Punch-in / Punch-out: This is a job that you take to simply pay the bills. Menial and uninspiring, it’s the perfect way to earn money and benefits without feeling as if you’re wasting your creative energy. Best of all, when it’s time to punch out, you leave all of your responsibilities behind to focus on comics.
- Creative outlet: This is a job that enables you to put your creativity to good use on the job. You can use your skills as an artist to climb the ladder — and you’ll probably earn a much better wage. But be careful — this can be draining. Furthermore, it’s very easy to become sidetracked and lose sight of your goals as a cartoonist completely.
Making the transition to full-time
Every cartoonist dreams of quitting her day job and posting the announcement for her readers to celebrate: “Today, I am a full-time webcartoonist!” But when is it the right time to make that transition?
The answer is going to depend on the webcartoonist in question. (Is she supporting a family or is she young and single?) It also depends on the amount of money that the day job brings in — and the benefits associated with the job. The bigger the family and the better the day job, the harder it is to leave.
It comes down to a life choice — with no right answer. Some cartoonists will choose the option that makes them a full-time cartoonist, and others will decide it’s more prudent to split their time between the two (and reap the benefits from both).
One person who had made the transition to full-time freelance (which is very similar to full-time webcartoonist) described it to me as “hitting the wall.” At a certain point he knew that he couldn’t make his own business take off without spending more time on it — time that he had previously been spending on his day job.
Only by quitting that day job was he able to push his career to the point at which his own business was making money similar to what he had been making while working two jobs. And, I would imagine, there was an interim period during which he was making much, much less. Dave Kellett (sheldoncomics.com) has said on the Webcomics Weekly podcast (ww.libsyn.com) that before he took the leap to full-time cartooning, he and his wife had saved up enough money to cover living expenses for two years. This money was leap-of-faith insurance.
Once Dave was ready to leave his day job, this money was his safety net to allow his family to weather any unforeseen bumps in the road.
So, it’s not a question with a definitive answer. Each of us, if we’re good enough and work hard, will find ourselves staring at our own wall. And each of us will have to decide to either punch through or assimilate the wall into our lifes.
But understand this: Making the leap to full time isn’t the Finish Line. It’s the Starting Line. You’ll work harder than you ever worked holding down your day job and your comics job. On the bright side, you’ll probably enjoy it twice as much.