The Day It All Changed

Today, March 5, is the eighth anniversary of one of the most important days of my life. It was 1999, and I was working at Borders here in Richmond, having moved here about four months earlier from NC. It was a pretty miserable time...I was doing my mini-comic From the Curve at the time, and while I'd sent out a few feelers looking for freelance work, but I wasn't having much success. And, as anyone with a 40-hour-per-week retail gig knows, that kind of work doesn't leave you much energy for extracarricular job searching. I was trying hard to resign myself to the realistic possibility of working retail for the rest of my days.

Then, out of the blue, I received a phone call soon after starting my shift that morning at the bookstore. It was Griffin, a friend of my pal Jessica, who was now working at McGraw-Hill in NY. He'd seen my comics work and liked it. Now, there was a series of children's science books they were doing, and they needed dozens of full-color illustrations and they needed them fast! And the pay rate, while far from spectacular, was significantly higher than I'd make in an entire year at Borders. Could I do it, he asked, even with the ridiculously tight deadline? Absolutely, I said, even though I didn't own a computer, and barely even knew how to turn one on. He said to send in some samples for official approval, but the job was pretty much mine.

Stunned, I was barely able to get through the day for all the excitement I felt at the prospect of quitting my hourly job to be my own boss. I was also slightly petrified, what with the knowledge that I needed to not only somehow buy a $1500 computer but also learn to use it proficiently in just under a month. That night, I went to see RUSHMORE, but I could barely concentrate on the film. What was I thinking? Could I pull this off? Could I actually, somehow pull this off? Fuck yes I could. I had to.

Monday, I faxed in some samples, and landed the gig. I borrowed some cash from my parents and bought a one of the first iMacs, and recieved it on St. Patrick's Day. I got a crash course in Photoshop from my pal Eric, and jumped right in to the project. Even though the work schedule for the books lightened up as it went along, it was still a pretty madcap year, and I worked my ass off. I remember one stretch in particular about a week before Christmas that year...My roommate Sarah was in Egypt, and our landlord forgot to pay the water bill just as I had a crushing amount of pages about to be due. I was locked in the house, unable to take a shower or flush the toilet, staying up til 4 am inking, coloring and correcting pages. It was a tremendous learning experience.

So, here are a few pages from the books...I haven't looked at them in years, and to be honest, I'm a little embarrassed by how bad they are...not so much because they're bad (as most children's books of this type I see seem to look pretty bad), but because I know how hard I worked on them only to have them look this bad!

Anyhow, hope you enjoyed my little walk down memory lane. I'm gonna go fix myself a drink!


Christopher said...

Rob, thanks for sharing the story -- it's always nice to hear a "big break" tale. And as I can barely doodle, I'd be grateful to be able to do stuff even this good.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's life. The pics are not that bad, you just think it is because you're more skilled and can do better now. Can I link to your blog from mine? I like your art.

Unknown said...

That's a great story, Rob. Thanks for sharing. I remember a similar panic (though not quite as extreme) when I got my first freelance job. It was for Popular Woodworking magazine, which I didn't remember sending a postcard to (I had sent it to their parent company, F + W Publications) and the woman's email address was "something at popwood.com" which I thought had to be a joke.