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My Comic Life Column 013: A Very Personal Message Part 1
Bear with me, this week and next are going to be very different than my standard Sunday fare. Seeing as how this post falls on Christmas Day and the beginning of Hanukkah and next week’s on New Year’s Day – well, how could I help but not get a little more introspective?
Before my comic life, I spent twenty-five years in ministry and outreach – working for a variety of Churches and social service programs. On the ministry side, I am an ordained clergy and worked as Christian Education Director, Youth Director, and Pastor on various levels in various congregations. On social services, I worked in crisis response and management, including a long stint at a teen crisis shelter I eventually ran for two years and an even longer one running an agency I founded and managed for ten years. Needless to say my life was very different then.
I think anyone in that line of work, as well as anyone who pursues a creative life can identify with the concept of a calling, even if we don’t all see it as coming from the same source. For me, it came in my high school years. Like most, that time was a dramatic time for me – lots of change, difficulty fitting in, sometimes feeling the world was against me. Things got bad at times, even once to the point of being ready to give up. When I was in my darkest time is when that calling came and changed my life. It opened me to see those same struggles I had in others, often including those whose lives had far more real challenges than my own.
It first centered around an invitation to teach Sunday school, despite being a naive sixteen and eventually getting shanghaied into taking on a small Junior High Class of four boys. Each of those guys came out of broken homes, had lived through things no kid ever should and yet still showed up every week. Two of the boys were brothers, being raised by their grandmother, and I will never forget the day when she, in tears, asked for my help with them.
That was when I began mentoring, the single most important outreach I ever did. The opportunity and the chance to help them, be there for them suddenly seemed far more important than my own issues. Even though I was not much older than they, we became inseparable on all fronts. I spent most evenings at one home or another helping with homework, spent weekends taking them out to events, attended school, sports, and concert activities, and every time they messed up or needed help, I got the call.
I went on to mentor over forty young people through that chapter of my life, some in limited programs for a few months, others were part of my life for decades. I mentored kids who were dealing with abuse in the home, substance abuse issues, problems in school, kids who lost their parents to suicide and violence, kids with disabilities and many who society was in the process of giving up on.
Through my mentoring and other ministry work, I stood with so many people at the absolute best and worst moments of their lives. I had a chance to witness miracles and more than a few times ended up walking through Hell with someone to see them through to the other side. My time at the teen crisis shelter, my work at my own outreach center, the various youth groups, they all formed a tapestry of a truly wonderful life in many ways, a truly challenging one in others.
Then in 2006 one of those first young men I mentored, Danny, one who had in so many ways been a brother and a son to me, died. He committed suicide after years of struggling with his own personal demons. He had been in my life for decades, our relationship sometimes his safe haven, sometimes strained. He would disappear, sometimes for a year or more, and then out of the blue call when he hit bottom and wanted to come home. When I got the call from his grandmother, that same one who originally invited me into his life, I fully expected her to tell me he needed help and to ask if I could go to him. Instead, she told me he was gone.
My life changed again. There had been other challenges, other losses, and together with Danny’s death something inside broke. I took a six-month sabbatical from most of my responsibilities, although I found myself still often getting called in for one situation or another. I finally realized the only way to truly step back was to step away – completely. I chose to move to the other side of the country and decided now was the time to focus on my fledgling studio. Charlie Hall and I had launched Visionary around that time, but it was always a side gig as long as my other life was central, so it seemed as good a time as any to then focus on it fully and completely.
The next few years opened a new life to me, one I also found rewarding, but I was also still very much a lesser man – much of the time I was angry, depressed, withdrawn. I pulled away from just about everyone and everything other than my work. Over the years, though I didn’t realize it fully at the time, I shut myself off from so many and so much.
Over the years I’ve done a lot of healing and built a life that has truly been a joy in its own way as much as my previous life. But there has always been those missing pieces, ones I often tried hard not to think about because inevitably it would lead me to feeling the loss. Holidays especially became challenging because there had been so many great memories surrounding those.
Most of those missing pieces are people who in the time since have been lost to my life. That happens, people come and go in your life. But there were many, especially among those mentored and youth group members, and good friends in various places I served, I had hoped to have in my life forever, and if things had been different, may well have still been part of my life today.
Now, part of the joy of my current life is that I have made many friends through my years with the studio. I am very fortunate to work with a great group of people and count a number of my colleagues, my staff, and my peers as good friends. This past year, like for many of us, was an especially difficult one. There were many reasons, most critical of all for me was a brutal reminder of the fragility of life when I stood with my cousin as he held his three-year-old son while he died after being removed from life support after a tragic accident.
But through that what spoke to me most was the support from all sides, for him, for his family, even for me – from clients and colleagues, from staff and friends, even at times from total strangers. Oddly enough, coming out of this year and loss what I’ve found is that it has once more awakened a part of me I thought gone. I’ll talk more about that next time.
For today, whatever tradition you celebrate, beyond the glitter and the gifts, after the food and drinks, the laughter and celebration – remember the most important thing about these holidays – the people surrounding you. The ones you fight with, laugh with, cry with, the ones who drive you nuts at times, and the ones you’re nuts about. Hold tight to the ones surrounding you now, remember the ones you’ve lost who still surround you in your heart, and spare some compassion for those you haven’t even met who still share this spinning blue dot we call home.
For beyond today, to my readers, remember no life is just about one thing. Be a creator, pursue it with all the passion you can muster, but keep that balance, keep in touch with those around you, continue to be part of the larger world we all live in. Many of us on the creative side tend to be introverts, we sometimes get lost in our work, our worlds, and don’t come up nearly often enough to be present with others. Sometimes it may be an intentional escape, sometimes it may sneak up on us, but it’s always harder to get out of then to slide into. Remember, for all its drama, for all its ups and downs, it’s those parts of our life that we live outside our studio, our office, our neverending work that fuel our creative energy, that gives us raw material to process in our art and stories. Simply put, our life? It’s our story, make it a work of art.
To all my friends and family near and far, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Kwanza, happy holidays whatever they may be. Thank you for all you do, for your presence in my life and others, may I be worthy of it every day.
In closing, I need to put out an invitation. I’m not always good at apologizing, or explaining stuff going on deep inside. I’ve always been a much better listener than talker. But today, today I’m also thinking a lot about the people who made my life special in years gone by. Mentees, former youth, friends, all of you. I miss those of you who over the last several years have slipped out of my life. For some, you may have reached out at a time when I wasn’t ready to reconnect and I may have not been welcoming then. I hope you can forgive me. For others, things just seemed to slip away. For a few, there were issues that seemed to throw a wall between us. I don’t want that to be the way things continue. Know I love you all, always have, always will, I think about most of you on a regular basis and if any are so inclined, I’d really love to hear from you, to catch up, to reconnect, to reflect on old memories, and start making some new ones. That would be the best gift ever, one I may not deserve, but would nevertheless treasure.
Sorry for the deeply personal, but, I did say this column would cover every aspect of a freelancer and creative life and I know many out there who struggle with the same things even if not for the same reasons, hope this helps.
Some profound (for me at least) New Year’s resolutions, and then I absolutely promise, back to the creative stuff.
If you want to follow more personal stuff I post regularly on my personal Facebook page and will be relaunching my blog first of the year. You can also always check out my Patreon which will be building up this week and after the new year.
What’s your story? Share if you like, post here or email me anytime at [email protected].
About C. Edward Sellner
A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Creative Services, one of the best-known production studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycreativeservices.com!