only the good old days


(I typically try to write a “year in review” sort-of post every year I’ve kept a long-form blog, but since a lot of stuff happened this year, I’ve decided to split it into multiple ramblings. Enjoy.)

2016. Hooooofa doofa.

After I wrote my big ol’ MBMBaM post, I kind of lost steam on my 2016 reflections. I mainly hadn’t realized how much of this year and the good things that happened in it were as a result of the things I did and the opportunities I got because of everything surrounding that podcast and community. Well, I mean, I did those things, credit to the tools and all but more credit to the carpenter, I guess. But after all that outpouring of love, fatigue hit me like a sack of bricks.

It’s been difficult the last few weeks trying to remind myself that there was good that came out of this year, especially with all the loss we’ve been bombarded with in the last few days alone. But I’ll try my best:

I held three separate jobs throughout this year, and am currently in one I actually really like. The people I work with care about me; I feel like part of a team, for once.

In March I sat on a tiny bridge in the middle of a resort in Orlando, in darkness, listening to a cover of Wish You Were Here and decided to make my next big comic project. And I finished it. When someone bought a copy of it from me at Matsuricon in August, they asked me to sign it. I almost cried. (In addition: I did my first three-day con! And didn’t die! Which would have been impossible without Alex there to help me and find ginger ale for me when I was a shambling husk of a human at one point.)

I used to be terrified of driving: this year alone I road-tripped with my best friends in the world to both Indiana and West Virginia. I found solace in the peaceful drives back from Alex’s apartment, listening to a podcast, one of the few cars on the turnpike.

My music taste broadened, and new songs became my anthems, my shields. This seems silly to list, but there’s nothing more blissful than hopping into my car after a crummy day of work and hearing those first few chords of Run Away With Me wash over me.

I mean, heck, even the last month along was bizarre and surreal! I did a design commission for one of my favorite podcasts! There aren’t words to describe how honored I feel to do that, to help contribute to something that has helped me make decisions in my life that have lead to me being happier and healthier.

I made new friends, who have–in such a short span of time–changed my life. I’ve become more confident. I’ve become stronger.

There was a moment, the morning of November 9th, where I was absolutely devastated. I almost couldn’t drag myself out of bed. The fear of what the future might bring was a weight on my chest that was crushing me more than ever.

That weight and fear is still there. But I’m ready to fight. I’m the type of person to wear my heart on my sleeve, and that’s who I am, and I’m not letting hateful people change that.

So get ready, 2017. I’m not holding back.

(Also hey, I made a short end-of-the-year playlist, if that’s a thing you’re into. It’s stereotypically me. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.)

take a chance


(I typically try to write a “year in review” sort-of post every year I’ve kept a long-form blog, but since a lot of stuff happened this year, I’ve decided to split it into multiple ramblings. Enjoy.)

“The McElroy brothers are not experts, and their advice should never be followed…”

It was late March 2016 and after a brief period of unemployment (after leaving a job that was basically draining the life out of me), I landed another freelance gig through the same agency—this time at a marketing firm. The work had a little more variety than the previous corporate “design” slog I had dealt with since last August, but it wasn’t long until the days started to drag on: I would wait for feedback, wait for emails, wait for more work after I had quickly finished up whatever was on my plate, wait wait wait. With all of the free time I seemingly had, I decided to make good on a recommendation from a friend of mine, and found myself typing “my brother my brother and me” into my browser search bar.

Onsta really likes this podcast, I thought. And like, she’s got good taste. So maybe I’ll like it too.

Onsta and I had become fast friends through collaboration on some previous Game Grumps fan projects, and MBMBaM often made its way onto my Twitter dashboard through her retweets before I got into it proper. With a little bit of hesitation, I loaded up a recent episode, and threw caution into the wind.

It took less than that episode to drag me in (I think it was MaxFunDrive season at the time, so I want to say it was 295? Honestly, it was probably the Very Tall Wife bit that absolutely sold me). I was hooked. I quickly found myself having to stifle my laughter at my desk for fear of passersby judging me as the podcast became a part of my daily work routine. I backtracked through the archive, bounced around in years, and found precious comfort these three dudes who seemingly struck my sense of humor perfectly. The podcast became something that kept me company during both my day job and my own (and at this time, often lonely) art endeavors.

The freelance design job didn’t last long: I was unceremoniously dropped from it after they had run out of things for me to do in mid-May. Even while I was there, I didn’t feel welcome, despite their appreciation for the quality and timeliness of my work. I remember looking up from my computer—after slogging away for hours at some inconsequential corporate whitepaper design, a MBMBaM episode the only thing keeping me sane—to find the entire office empty, except for me. They were down the hall, having a party in the conference room. I want to say it was for Cinco de Mayo, but I can’t quite remember. I wouldn’t have even known where they had gone had I not walked down the hall to grab my lunch from the break room.

A frame from Hometown Ghosts.
A frame from Hometown Ghosts.

The work at my first freelance position might have been shit, but at least the people were kind and made me feel welcome. Here, it was obvious I was the hired gun, and the exclusion hurt. I found myself back at square one, again. The difference was that—at this time—I had started working on a short comic project, Hometown Ghosts, and so the mornings became job hunting, and the evenings became comic work and podcasts. Here began my love of The Adventure Zone, as I listened to episode after episode while I penciled and inked huge comic pages. It’s probably one of the reasons Hometown Ghosts ended like it did, with a promise of hope, of continuing effort. My initial drafts were…dire, to say the least. I needed something to shake me out of the creative and emotional pit I was digging for myself, and as goofy as it sounds, the adventures of Taako, Magnus, Merle, and the captivating cast of supporting characters were the ladder I needed to pull myself out.

I made prints of the player characters (and Angus!) for the McElroys at MaxFunCon East: these are them! (Spoiler alert: I was very nervous but it was super cool.)

This would become a recurring theme throughout the year. In rough moments (and hoooo boy, there were a lot of them, lookin’ at you, November) I would find myself trying to quell my anxiety by taking a few deep breaths and listening to an episode of MBMBaM, or Sawbones, or Rose Buddies. (Rose Buddies in particular has been a healing salve of podcasts: I was on vacation in November during the election, and one of the few times I was able to stop myself from spiraling into an anxiety pit was when I turned on an episode and just buritto’d myself in blankets. Good times, November.)

In May, I started drawing fanart of both MBMBaM and Adventure Zone—comics of bits that I liked, character design tests for The Adventure Zone—because it was fun for me, a way to destress and relax. But here’s the thing: I was getting feedback. Like, a lot of it. Way more than I had ever gotten before, even in fanart measures. Retweets, replies, just this complete outpouring of love from strangers that knocked me off my feet every time. And here’s the kicker: they would then go on to read my original comics, or look at more of my work. That had never happened to me. It might be egotistical to say, but knowing I’ve brought someone happiness or just something good through my art is the best feeling, and I’ve gotten so much of that kindness from the community that has built itself around the McElroy family of products. They’ve brought me so much comfort, and being able to return some of that is the least I can do.

My favorite thing about drawing fanart for stuff like The Adventure Zone is watching my personal designs for the characters develop. Main changes: Magnus became more “Looks Like He’d Be Good at Hugs,” Merle became 150% more beard, and Taako…well, Taako now permanently has “Flip Wizard” on his hat, because I can (also it’s a Discworld goof).

(Ok, preemptive apology: this is gonna start getting a little braggy. I constantly live in a struggle where I am humble and don’t want attention but simultaneously want to stick my leg out and pose dramatically every time a cool thing happens.)

A frame from my comic, Steamed Veggies: The squad returns home from a June adventure, and I play MBMBaM the whole drive back, because I’m driving, and that’s my gosh darn right.

I genuinely can’t begin to properly quantify the amount of joy and love that has accumulated throughout this year as a result of these cool people and their work. I played some MBMBaM episodes for my friends Alex and LiZz in June when we went to IndyPopCon, and one tiny bit in the Candlenights 2015 live show became such a thing for us that LiZz made us keychains of it for Christmas. I’ve written at length about MaxFunCon East already (and, as my friends know, I still can’t shut up about it), but I really consider that weekend to be a personal level-up. Like, I left the Poconos and saw the little experience bar fill up with a satisfying ding! I still think about Justin’s benediction when I find myself at a low point, for whatever reason that might be.

One of various comics I did reflecting on my MaxFunCon East adventures. That is still the first thought I have whenever I pull up that photo.

Fast forward from there to the end of September, where a bunch of us from all over the Midwest and Northeast US who had become friends during that fateful MFCE weekend met up in Huntington, WV for the Candlenights live show (which is just an absolutely ridiculous sentence to type). The second I got in my car to drive home the day after the show, I burst into tears; full of so much emotion that I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

I finally started a Dungeons and Dragons group after kicking the can on it for 4+ years, mainly because of The Adventure Zone. I get to build an amazing story with some of my favorite people in the world, and this podcast lit the fire under my butt to get it going. Even the little things: I send my friends clips of the show when they remind me of them, my friends and I frequently sit down and watch new Monster Factory episodes when they drop, the discussions on Interrobang have lead me to finally take some control over the toxic relationships I kept fostering in my life, and have ultimately helped me be a happier person.

Candlenights! Candlenights! (Burgers! Burgers!) [Please note my good good fashion sense.]

In the bigger sense, I’ve felt validated as an artist through the conversations I’ve had with these rad people, which is something I’ve always struggled with. I was surprised when Justin mentioned the piece I wrote about MaxFunCon East to me at the Candlenights show. I’ve thought about that moment a lot and my reaction, whether it’s a self-esteem thing or what have you. I’m still not quite sure what the surprise says about me: maybe it’s just hard to step outside of myself and the things I make because, well, I’m me and I make them. So when someone takes the time to appreciate something I’ve made in response to their work, and say that…I can’t put into words how much that means to me, especially as someone who’s felt like they’ve been on outside of a lot of communities, both online and in real life, big and small.

What it comes down to is that for the first time in a really, really long time, I let myself have fun. I didn’t worry if it was “ok”, or if I deserved it, or if I could have been spending my time better by working on my portfolio or furthering my career or whatever. I just enjoyed the moment, and the people around me, and it’s good to find that again.

Let’s be real here: this year, in a lot of ways, in many “grand-scheme-of-things” ways, was horrible and terrifying. I’ve been hugging people a lot tighter lately. I’ve been looking at the future with steeled determination. But I know there’s good in the world, and these people—these podcasts, the opportunities I’ve had to grow because of them, the friendships I’ve formed and strengthened because we’ve rallied around something beautiful and kind in a world that sometimes feels so harsh—remind me of that fact.

I’ve said it on Twitter various times, I’ve said it in my art, and I’ve had the opportunity to say it in person, but it bares saying again, to the entire McElroy family: thank you. Thank you for your kindness, the genuine community that has been cultivated because of that kindness, and your commitment to giving us something to laugh about, especially when the going gets rough.