In his book “The Dilbert Principle,” cartoonist Scott Adams shares some wisdom that resonates with those in pursuit of an artistic life: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
Pursuing success in creative fields comes with more than an abundance of failures, mistakes, and anxiety-ridden expectations of the artistic self. Often, we mask these apparent missteps in an attempt to appear as infallible masters of our craft.
In efforts to stay focused and productive, Sioux Falls comic artist Dylan Jacobson presents his nerves and creative bloopers directly to his viewers through vlogging, blogging, and the very work that he creates. Dylan’s honesty about the hardships of creating brings a sense of humanity and approachability to the artistic career. ~Jordan
I guess I will start with college… admittedly, I picked Dakota State because they give you a laptop, and that was kind of rare in 2006.
Anyway, I went to Dakota State and started as an animation major, and I was driven by my interest in cartoons. I thought that they would teach traditional 2-D animation, and they didn’t because they are a technology school, a laptop school. So, everything was 3-D, and I fell out of love with that, but I knew I still wanted to do storytelling stuff, and then making the film led me to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for one year to study film.
I didn’t even know if I was in yet when I signed my exit paperwork. I was like, “I’m going to MCAD. There’s no way they’re not accepting me. Look at me! Look how cool I am.” It worked. I got in.
The very first one [film] I worked on, I worked with a guy named Charlie, and he had me do some of the early storyboards. Doing storyboards for that, and working on some of the films with him, kind of led me to storyboarding for three or four other projects. I was doing that in the comic studio, because Charlie was a comics major who was taking film class for an elective or whatever. I started realizing that the storyboards were basically comic books. They’re super similar, except they had camera direction and stuff on them. It began to sink in that I can just do comics. Comics were movies that I could make by myself.
So, I went back to Dakota State for a lot of reasons, like MCAD is ridiculously expensive, and I was paying for a very expensive apartment with no job, and I had no money. I focused a lot on drawing and filmmaking. I didn’t know what I wanted to do exactly. I took an entire class on storyboarding, and did a lot more of that. Then, in my last year of college… second to last year of college…I decided I was going to make a comic, because I was watching a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time ever.
I had taken a class called “The literary evolution of vampires,” and really early on the professor is like, “We’re going to watch one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I really recommend everyone watch the full season, because it will help us identify some of the major points in American History, and started changing the vampire from a monster to a hero, into a love interest thing and yada yada yada…” I couldn’t escape, and I haven’t been able to. So, I guess, here I am. I’m wearing a Buffy t-shirt right now.
I decided I wanted to pay homage to all the things I liked. I think I’ve always been kind of doing that with everything I’ve done. Like, the movies I made, a lot of them were highly derivative, referential material, where you only got it if you’d seen the 17 things I related to. I didn’t know how to make an approachable story for a long time. My first comic came out in 2011. Gah, that’s forever ago.
Little Alice, which is terrible. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever made.
I started to realize that I needed to leave college, because I was turning into a forever student. I wasn’t completing anything, and I was starting to spend more time working on my comic than going to class. College was no longer a priority. So I had to finish, and I got the hell out of there, and I got into the real world.
I went to a call center and stayed there for two years.
In January of 2014, I thought I was getting a different job at a video editing place here in town. I was pretty convinced I was getting it. I had two interviews and a walk through the building, so I just quit the call center. ‘Cause I’ve done this before, I just quit Dakota State and went to MCAD, you know, and it worked! It just works if you jump in and you don’t even know if you’re going to make it!
No, I didn’t. [laughter] So, I was unemployed for like 6…8 months. But I was like, I guess I have time to work on stuff. Since I began my unemployment in the winter, I just stayed in my apartment and drew a comic page every day. I drew like 20 more pages of that comic.
But near the end of 2014, after I had discovered Coffea and I was in here all of the time, I was working on other things. Then, I realized at the end of 2014 that I hadn’t been actually caring about that web comic. So, I made a grown-up decision, and I made an announcement on its website, that like the comic is not going to happen anymore. It is done. And I put the script up for the rest of the book, ‘cause I was going to do it in books. So, I put the whole script up, and was like, “If you actually care, you can read I the script. There you go.” I wasn’t making comics anymore. It was just drawing. Like every day, I was either here or at Coffea or at Caribou on Minnesota. I pumped out an illustration every day for most of the year.
…I then got into my second web comic, which is currently on hiatus so I can get [Champions] done.
What was that one called?
The Tide that Returns. I drew a bunch of people for it. It spun out of my frustration with myself, which is something I’m always concerned with – being a good person or a better person than I think I am, you know? I’m not saying that I dislike myself, but I’m always hyper aware if I could’ve done that better or I should have been nicer to that person or I should have like held that door. You know, just little things. It was… Amy [Jarding] put it a good way, ‘cause I talked to her about it once… she said it’s like an act of penance. I was like, I guess it is. [laughter]
Can you tell us a little bit about Patreon?
I got in like right after the website was in beta, which is why my link is “Dylan,” it’s nothing else. It’s just Patreon.com/Dylan. I got in super early. When it started, I was making $7 a month, because I was pushing it real hard… I didn’t have a lot of content, and I didn’t really have anybody who cared, and I wasn’t updating my one web comic.
Patreon is the… just going to be incredibly biased… it is the best crowdfunding technique for people who want to make regular money. I can’t promise you it’s going to be your paycheck. It is some people’s paychecks. It is a way for your audience that genuinely cares about your work to contribute. Like right now, I’m at about $80 a month.
So, you can go on there and support people who make things?
Right. You’re selling people you; with your vision, your goals. So, they’re contributing, literally, to help you keep being the you you want to be. They’re not there to get a free thing. You are going to offer them something, they do have rewards, but it’s not about shoveling rewards into them to get cash out of their pocket, it’s- The best way I’ve heard it referred to is, pretend you’re a street guitar player and it’s like your hat or your guitar case that people throw money in, and these are the people who put a dollar in there every day, ‘cause they can.
I had it really early, and it dropped down from $7 to $0, ‘cause I wasn’t doing anything. I forgot all about it. Then, I took a class at JAM, the business coaching class, which actually kind of rooted me. Got me drawing caricatures. And, I remembered I had a Patreon, and I’ve got people who care a little. I started pushing it, and it went from $0 to $10. I was like wow $10, that’s more than I have ever made. It’s a slow crawl, but you have to update it. You have to keep people posted that you are alive, otherwise they quit caring. Now I am at $80 from all of the things I’ve been able to work on. Part of it is vlogging.
In 2013, I was making that first web comic, Little Alice. I was at that call center that I hated so very, very much. In the end of my career there, because I left in January 2014, they brought in a life coach. The life coach was supposed to help us get better jobs and make us happy. They even said if it requires you leaving, that’s okay. I emailed her, and I was like, I don’t trust you, but I want to have a meeting. When are you available? She didn’t comment on the trust thing, and let me come see her.
She read my comic, and said, well, it’s not very good. I was like, I know, it’s not very good. I asked her to be really honest. She was like, well, who is it for? I was like, I think it’s for 16 to 25-year-olds. She’s like, well, how do you get a hold of those people?
So, I told the life coach, hey, I’m going to go talk about my comic at this club I was in back in high school. If I recall, almost her exact words were, so you’re just going to go brag? Going to a school you should probably teach them something… I was like, well I’ve actually been learning about storytelling and I know all the flaws of my comic, I know why it’s a failure. I will use my comic and the things I’m changing about it as grounds to teach these kids about storytelling. We made a whole bunch of stories together… two weeks later I got a letter in the mail that I still have that all of them signed, wrote little things on, thanking me for being there. I was like, oh my god, I did a good thing, and I need to repeat that somehow.
I lost the call center job in 2014…So, I started vlogging every morning about what I’m going to do today, and how I succeeded or failed yesterday. I did it every day for a long time.
I worked at a place that sold tropical fish, for one day. A taxi for two weeks. I worked at Lifescape for two months and then I got a full-time job. That was a big deal, because I walked into a job that put me back in touch with people who I went to college with, who had all kind of like settled into “grown-up” jobs, and weren’t doing anything anymore. One of them is Travis Bentley, my long-haired guy I do a lot of stuff with.
He wasn’t doing anything, except he was a graphic designer, a web design company. I got to know Marc Wagner. I’m going to flashback.
Hold on. February 2015, I’m going to Florida for a business meeting.
Is this how you meet Mark Wagner?
No, this is important to the structure of my life right now. I’m going to Florida for a business meeting. Monday before I leave we have a big fire that affects our business tremendously. I come back to a company in disarray.
There was very little to do at work, so I spent- this is the first time I’ll say this on record…I spent a lot of time using that job to make my artistic life better. I was using the scanner every morning. I was using it to perfect my website; to make my personal site better, to make The Tide that Returns better. Did all my editing there. I didn’t need to use my Photoshop at home. I had better stuff at work. I just focused hardcore on that. I knew I wasn’t going to be at that job forever, because things were dwindling.
Did that company make it?
Far as I know, they’re still around with at least one employee. I was one of two when I was let go.
So, I met Marc Wagner last summer. Marc was like, have you ever thought about doing an actual comic book? I was like, yeah, someday when I’m grown up I ‘ll do that. He was like, well, you’ve done web comics and stuff, and your stuff looks pretty good. You should try it. Maybe do a zine. I was like, I don’t know, you’re more grown up than I am. I have a severe case of imposter syndrome, where like I’m not sure if I’m as good as everyone thinks I am.
He was like, just go talk to Rainbow, see if they’ll carry a zine even if they have to give it out for free. I went down to Rainbow in like the middle of July-ish… I brought all of The Tide Returns and some sketches and stuff. I was like, I want to make a zine, do you think you’d carry it? They were like, you don’t want to make a zine. Looking at your work, you want to make a comic book. I was like, oh. And he says go away and make a comic book. I got on the horn with the programmer from the web design job who had left, Chad, and then Travis. I was like, I guess were making a comic book. I started pitching them ideas, and we started spitballing stuff. So, I did have a creative team help me make the story.
I moved downtown in April of that year. Downtown is the best place to live, in my opinion. I spent all this time walking around, generating ideas and generating characters. Sitting at this bar I created Danny, the first character you meet. It was the first time I’ve ever inked with a brush, it’s the first portrait I ever did of him. I was like, that looks okay, maybe I’ll use brushes from now on.
October I lose my job at the web design company. And I lose access to an immediately free scanner. I struggled. I need to be able to be like…oh, crap, this needs to be scanned this second, and be able to do it. So, that was the first inkling that I needed to put The Tide that Returns on hiatus. So, I just focused entirely on Champions. I was like, this is coming out on print.
I was making “The Good Fight,” too. My vlog was called The Good Fight, so I just turned it into a comic where I can be more metaphorical, because there was just a lot of crap going on in my life that I was trying to deal with. Then I was like, I’m going to slow down this comic, because Champions is the thing. Now that I’m drawing Champions, Patreon patrons get to see pages before anyone else. So, each of these pages were on there as they were being made. Like, I would finish one and put it on Patreon, and be like, look at this! It’s done! Thank god, they released an app at the same time.
I took all of January off from subbing, and spent every single day putting 8 to 12 hours into each of these pages.
I made a vlog at the end. I vlogged every few hours during the last page. Where I was like, I don’t know if I’m going to make it…I hurt so much… this is my second page today… it needs to be done today. And then, at the end, I was just like oh my god I made it. It’s done.
I posted the whole thing. So, the vlog didn’t get posted until it was done, but you got to see the whole day of me being like, I think I’m not going to make it. I think those are some of the things that got people actually interested in my Patreon, because I’m never afraid to show where I’m failing.
You are very open about that. Is that something you had to force yourself to do? Or is that something you just do and that’s how you work through it?
I think I had to force myself when I started vlogging, because I was dieting. I would be like, god, I ate one piece of cheese. The world is ending. Because I was super strict for two years, and then it became so routine…it’s like, I’ve eaten broccoli for six months, I don’t remember what real food tastes like. I’m on fire. So, I had gotten used to admitting my shortcomings. I think people like that, because I’m human.
We can relate to you.
I would love to help put together an art show of artists around here called “…Dammit” and it has to be all of the things we’ve failed on. I pitch it to some people, and they’re like, I don’t want to show the things I failed on. And I’m like, you’ve got to! It’s cool, like look at the crap I suck at.
What’s your colorists name?
Galacia Barton. She’s technically a Sioux Falls resident, but she’s living in Madison right now as her fiancé finishes his degree. She’s going like mad. And I’ve got two other artists doing covers. I’ve got Marc Wagner doing a cover and Travis Bentley doing a cover. Everyone’s on schedule.
So, here we are. Right now.
Was that all the first question?
Sure. When comics started, there’s an artist named Doug Tennapel. He created Earthworm Jim. He worked in video games and cartoons in the 90s, and then decided to draw a comic book. It went wildly out of control and he draws graphic novels. And it’s kind of happening, so… I really like that. I’ve always admired his style, because it’s not super tight. It’s not incredibly realistic. But he’s a lot further down the road that I am, so he has honed his craft.
I found out he had a Facebook. I’m like, we’re going to be friends. That was a mission for a while. We became Facebook friends, then I started just like tagging him in anything. And was like, well, it’s pretty much terrible right now, but you’re going to get better, so don’t stop. That was Little Alice days, where it’s clearly derivative and doesn’t make sense to anybody but you. It isn’t that great. Good luck. You’ll get there. Just don’t stop. I needed that. So, I can’t say he was a mentor on the level that I send him a comic and he gives me help, but-
He’s somebody whose work you look to as an aspiration for yourself.
Right. Then, I would have to say there are film writers. I’m a big fan of Kevin Smith, partly because he’s super approachable. Like I can tweet him and he might get back to me. I admire that. So that helps to see somebody who makes things that aren’t necessarily mainstream, and they can make it.
I got into smaller musicians, like Mark Mulcahy who is the lead singer of Polaris, Miracle Legion, and he’s the visual inspiration for Muggy.
Didn’t they put your face on…
They put my face on a CD, because I’m way too ecstatic on the Internet and way too ecstatic at concerts. God, that was crazy. Someone wrote an article on him and said that he is the type of person that gets beat, but is never beaten. I was like, holy crap, that’s the kind of person I want to be. You don’t give up no matter how hard it gets.
Then, there is a female musician named Alex Johnson, who Alex in the comic is modeled after, who has gone through ups and downs with record labels and has officially been dropped from everything, and now relies solely on Kickstarter to make her career happen. That’s really inspiring and really terrifying. I can’t imagine she gets any sleep, but go her.
Locally, I’d say maybe my dad, because he owns a business. And I’m not sure he’s heard me say it, but I feel it gives me an inferiority complex in a good way. Not only do I have to build something that’s my own, but I’m capable of it because he did it. He’s often credited me as a teenager who inspired him to do it, because I told him to quit his job, because I was a stupid teenager. The guy who just quits school before he’s signed on to another one. The guy who quits a job before he’s gotten the other one.
Chad Thorson, the programmer. He’s seven or eight years older than me, so he’s got a little more life experience, but he’s very subtly wise about things. So, anytime I’m not sure about something, I run it by him.
I don’t know if Travis is a mentor, but he’s like the healthiest rival anyone could ever have, because we’re actually friends. But in college… He was the only one trying, so I was like I have to be better than Travis all the time. We still support each other, we still refer each other to clients.
You see each other pushing yourselves, and that pushes you to work harder.
Absolutely. Mentors other than that, maybe Solomon [Carlson]. I knew him as a teenager. He kind of babysat me, because I lived at Game Stop. He’s not super direct, but he’s definitely there enough to keep me on task and help me out when I need it. Just the Sioux Falls art scene has been crazy good. I thought it was going to be competitive. I thought it was going to be fish trying to eat each other, and it’s totally not.
You need a giant group of people that’s like, we’re good at this.
Right. Because assuming my life transitions happened the way they did, and I didn’t have that day that Chad was like, have you heard about JAM… I was like, no. He was like, go check it out someday.
I’ll never forget it, because I talked to Jess a little bit. I was getting ready to leave and she was like, do I know you? I was like nope, never seen you before in my life. And she’s like, what high school did you go to? I was like, Washington, but it was a long time ago. She graduated in 2005. I graduated in 2006.
She was like, we’re doing a class, you should take it. Because otherwise I was just some guy browsing the shop, and she was just treating me as a patron or whatever. That was a super important moment. I had every opportunity to be like, nah, that’s money. I don’t want to do it. I was at the point in my life where no reason to say no to anything. I was like, okay, I’ll do it. It was insanely beneficial. So, I have told so many people, go do that class. It’s the best thing you’ll ever do.
What are you doing with the South Dakota Arts Council?
I’m eligible to work in schools and nonprofits as an artist who is teaching comics and storytelling. My pitch was super simple: imagine if you will, a world in which I go to a school, and we make a comic book and the library gets to keep one, and we do this for 20 years.
Coming to Coffea was an accident. I asked my roommate, as summer showed up, if he’d just drive me downtown, because he worked in the area. I would just hang out downtown for eight hours and ride home with him.
I came in here. I was like, I have three bucks, I can buy something. I bought a drink and I sat down at the bar. I started drawing and it was Cameron working and he didn’t kick me out. I was here for three hours.
They still have your drawings.
I know! They brought it out at the reception and I almost cried.
I think the first person to ask for one was Darin. I figured he’d thrown it away after a while. Some of them I just left behind. Like I would draw, and then just leave and leave it there.
The winter hours weren’t super conducive for my working here when I got a day job.
So you went to Caribou.
They’re going to carry the comic, too, I guess.
So, do you have any last words?
I’m really excited about this whole thing. I don’t know how else to say that. Not just my comic, but about this interview, this year, the whole thing.
I’m also mutually terrified.
[Since this interview, “Champions” successfully raised $4,361 with 64 backers on Kickstarter. You can now get your own awesome copy!]