A beginning is an ending, always.
That quote is from the short story Satan’s Children, by Spider Robinson. It is, in fact, the very first line, and possibly the best first line ever written. I mention this because I got to tell Spider that, the very first time we met, and that was the beginning of a thirty-year (so far) friendship.
I love that line, not just for its elegance, but for the sheer truth of it. The thing is, there’s often a transition period between the two states when pain makes it hard to tell much of anything. Birth and death both hurt like hell.
So. Beginnings, and endings.
Two and a half years or so ago, my marriage ended. Nobody cheated, there was no abuse of any kind–it mostly had to do with my fibromyalgia getting worse, and making me hard to live with as a result. There was other stuff–there always is–but ultimately the bond between us just wasn’t strong enough to take the strain of the forces pulling us apart. The marriage came to an end, as they sometimes do.
I’ve had relationships end before. This was different. We’d been together longer than either of us had previously experienced. We had a home. We had a child. We had a life.
And it ended–except it didn’t.
If I could have just walked away and started over, I could have handled it. But you don’t walk away from being a parent, not ever. And my love for my son is bigger than anything, including my own pain.
So I didn’t get a clean ending. I got a long, protracted, messy one. She kept the house. I got memories that ambushed me every time I went there to pick my son up or drop him off. I couldn’t walk down the street where I’d lived, or talk to the neighbours I’d come to know, or visit the restaurant we used to eat in–not without an overwhelming sense of loss. I was trapped in that feeling–an ending that never ended. An amputation is far preferable to slowly having a limb ripped off.
But at the same time I was experiencing that constant ending, I was also beginning.
I’ve been a novelist for most of my life–and while I’ve never gotten rich, I’ve had a decent career. Twenty-four published novels over thirty years, a few short stories, essays and plays, a brief stint as a magazine columnist.
But here’s the thing: did you know Babe Ruth–one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history– wanted to be a pitcher?
I’m no Babe Ruth. But even though I’ve done fairly well as a paperback writer, there’s something else I’ve always wanted to do: comics. Even managed to sell a few scripts to Marvel back in the nineties, just before the big crash in the comics market. The line I was writing for–a cyberpunk version of superheroes–died. I still got paid, but my work never saw print.
I tried to break back into the market for years, but never managed it. I eventually gave up, realizing that the comics world was too competitive, too corporate, and too cliquey for me. I made my peace with it.
But I still wanted to make comics.
Interesting thing about fibromyalgia: one of the symptoms is called “fibro fog”, and it basically destroys your ability to concentrate. When this happened to me, I couldn’t write. For my entire career, I’d prided myself on never missing a deadline; I used to be able to write a 100,000 word book in four months and I was never late.
That streak ended when my fibro worsened. My last book was months overdue, and I was forced to stop work on the one after that only a few chapters in.
But I’d come up with an idea a few years before, one I’d never had time to work on before. While constantly exhausted and spending most of my time in bed, I discovered that I still had enough brain-power left to surf the web and do some research. Maybe I couldn’t string words together into coherent sentences anymore, but my imagination still worked.
And slowly, over many months, I figured out how I could make a webcomic. While large parts of my life were about to end, here was a beginning.
To make a comic, you need to have someone to write it and someone to draw it. These can be the same person, but I have zero drawing ability. I had to rely on collaborating with other artists, and that was one of the bottlenecks that make breaking into comics really difficult. You have to find someone willing to work with you with zero money upfront, on projects that will require a sizeable time commitment on their part–art takes a long time to do and a huge amount of work. Plus, you have to find someone whose stuff meets the standards of high-quality work already being published, but who hasn’t broken in yet themselves–because as soon as they do, they’re swamped with paying work and you no longer have a collaborator. A tricky needle to thread.
So I made myself into something new: an artist.
Technology made it all possible. Apps that adapt pictures into comic-book format. Filters that transform photos into art. And a wealth of public-domain online imagery, from Creative Commons photos to museum, art gallery and library archives all over the world that made their content freely available to anyone to use, alter, or sell.
I’m more of a DJ than a musician, but I’m okay with that. And I discovered that manipulating images uses a different part of my brain, one that requires less focus and more repetitive tasking. It’s still time-consuming, but far less so than drawing would be.
And it’s all under my control. Which, when you find yourself trapped in a situation that makes you feel powerless, is a life-saver.
My webcomic is called THE CROSSOVER. It’s set in a multiversal bar where fugitives, mercenaries, smugglers and thieves meet on neutral ground to make deals. My heroine is a version of Alice, one who grew up to become a universe-hopping sorceress who specializes in stealing artificts–items from alternate fictional realities.
Almost anyone, from any universe, can show up in the Crossover bar. I’m using not just public domain art, but images of cool stuff other artists have made–stuffies, jewelry, costumes–and putting up links to their pages below the comic panel so I can promote their creations at the same time. All done with their permission, of course, and they retain all rights. If you’ve got something neat you’d like to show off, let me take a pic of it and stick it in my comic. Heck, you can even have one of your characters drop by for a drink. And if you’re a Spider Robinson fan–like me!–I have it on good authority that a certain Mike Callahan sometimes tends bar there, as a favor to an old friend.
Oh, and Spider’s story Satan’s Children also gets my vote for best final line, too:
An ending is a beginning, always.
DD writes under four different pseudonyms. As Don DeBrandt he’s written several science fictions novels (THE QUICKSILVER SCREEN, STEELDRIVER, TIMBERJAK, V.I.,) numerous pop-culture essays for Smartpop Books, and the Buffyverse media tie-in SHAKEDOWN (an ANGEL novel).
As Donn Cortez he’s written five CSI: Miami novels, two CSI: Vegas novels, a murder mystery set at Burning Man (THE MAN BURNS TONIGHT) and a thriller (THE CLOSER) which became a bestseller in Germany. (The sequel, REMOTE, is available as an e-book in English).
As DD Barant he’s best known for his Bloodhound Files series: DYING BITES, DEATH BLOWS, KILLING ROCKS, BETTER OFF UNDEAD, BACK FROM THE UNDEAD and UNDEAD TO THE WORLD. As Dixie Lyle, he’s written the Whiskey, Tango and Foxtrot Mysteries: TO DIE FUR, A TASTE FUR MURDER, MARKED FUR MURDER and A DEADLY TAIL.