but a faint gust of hope

Well, hey, 2017 is over. Or, almost over. You know what that means: your regularly scheduled year-in-review post where I get sappy and introspective and all that junk.

This year felt like five years jammed into one: impossibly long and arduous and stressful, so much so that it feels like events that happened in February and March were experienced by a different person entirely. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe my past self would not have been able to weather the storm that was this year.

As a whole, I’m tired. I can barely keep my thoughts straight to write this, because whenever I hit that point of “well, I think I’ve covered everything!”, I remember something else that invariablely did happen in this whirlwind of a year. I know time is an arbitrary measurement, but a new year at least still brings the promise of a new start and that is desperately needed right now. I want to put a cap on everything that fits under the umbrella of 2017. I’m exhausted by it. It was good and bad and a seemingly endless string of stress on a national and global level that I felt myself buckle under the weight of. I can only do so much.

But it was good, too. That’s the weird thing about it. It feels strange to write about all the good things because there’s so much garbage. But maybe that makes it all the more important to celebrate the good.

Anyway, in no particular order, some points:

  1. Adventure and friendship.

I mean, ok, technically we started playing Dungeons and Dragons in 2016, but we really got into the thick of it this year, so I’m counting it now. It was a challenge, for sure: trying to coordinate four peoples’ schedules to find a single day to play fantasy characters and roll some dice is often an impossible feat. But we did it. Time and time again, no matter how hard, no matter how many times we said “ok, how’s next month look then”, we all made the effort because it was important to us. Being able to carve out a day, or a weekend, and sit around a table with three of my best friends in the world and make up some goofy fantasy world where a dwarf throws his teammate at any chance and flirts with literally every single enemy, or where an elf who was meant to be a mythical hero accidentally became a babysitter for her other two party members, or where a child is adventuring with aforementioned dwarf and elf and stealing everything she can get her hands on, where all the while I’m building the sets that they help shape and interact with…it was terrifying, at the start. I didn’t want to let my friends down: after we had finished the pre-packaged adventure, I was writing all of the campaign, all of the encounters, all of the story, often running on fumes trying to finish prep with my busy schedule, and my number one priority was always that they had fun. It’s what I think the most important part of being a dungeon master is. But the late nights, the worry, the self-imposed pressure–it was all worth it to spend time with my friends, to see them get into the world, to get invested in the story and in the characters I presented and to do things I would have never expected in a million years. I look exasperated in these moments, sure, but I love them so much, and I love them so much. It means everything to me to get to build a story with my favorite people on Earth.

It’s silly, sure, to place something like this at the top tier of importance. Maybe someone would argue that it doesn’t mean anything, all things considered. But I think these moments of joy are a rebellion, especially this year. Especially this year.

We didn’t get to road trip as much, which was a bummer, but the ones we did were precious and special: in February everyone loaded into my car to drive down to Cincinnati to see an Interrobang live show, which pretty much everyone only knew of by my explanation of it. It was an incredible evening, filled with laughter and love and tears (the good kind), and I still hold in me that feeling I had as we walked back to our hotel, down the streets of downtown Cincinnati, the chill in the air that was cold but still too warm for a late February night. It was just purely in the moment, with people I love, sharing the things that I love, and it was electrifying. I can only hope that 2017 brings more of those moments.

  1. Got my first Big freelance job.

“Emily, when are you gonna stop talking about that time you did a poster for a My Brother, My Brother and Me live show?” Never, because a) it still baffles me even though I literally have a proof I made of that poster hanging in my cubicle at work and b) I can’t believe that was this year because it feels like AGES AGO (which just goes to show how harrowing this year has been, hoofa doofa.)

Doing a project this big and this important to me was a lot of weight on my shoulders, and though there were some hiccups along the way, I learned a hell of a lot doing it, and it was all worth it: there is something so incredibly touching and humbling about the thought that someone picked up a print of your art and for them, it will be a reminder of an amazing night they had, an incredible show. A tiny part of me got to be a part of that, and I could not be more grateful for that, or for the McElroys for giving me the opportunity. All I want to do with my art is spread joy. And I got to do that.

Plus like, someone took a picture of my poster with a haunted doll, and that’s the coolest thing ever? That’s incredible?

  1. Dealt with a pretty severe anxiety spiral that lasted for months.

Well, they can’t all be good, you know.

To some extent, it felt like the first third of 2017 was front-loaded with good vibes. I was going on cool trips with friends, I was hopeful for advancement in my day job, I was landing pretty cool freelance work. I felt like I had finally grown comfortable with myself and who I was, and then that armor of self-confidence took blow after blow after blow from my own self-doubt. I forced myself through it for months, still tried to make comics and other work to try to distract myself from it, but it took a toll on me. I started to convince myself that any previous success was unearned, or given out of pity. “You’re an annoying weirdo, they’re letting you do this so you’ll shut up,” my anxiety constantly shouted at me, and despite my logic producing evidence to the contrary time and time again, it ate me up inside. I started to distance myself from the things that brought me joy because of the fear that I was somehow “imposing” in someway. Hell, I’m still doing this now, with new things I’m getting into, because suddenly this fear kicks in that I’m “too much.” Too much what, I have no idea. Anxiety is fun that way.

For some reason, the “who cares if I’m too much, I’m me” attitude I had built last year was shattered. I’m slowly putting it back together, piece by piece, a little differently than last time, hopefully stronger. The struggle I went through this year is motivating me to take better care of myself in 2018: physically and mentally. I’m going to try to give myself more breaks, to cut myself way more slack, recognize when I’m spiraling and try to stop it instead of letting it fester and grow. Little steps.

  1. Made a lot of comics that I’m really proud of.

I didn’t really realize how much I had made this year until I was sitting down and doing that 2017 Summary of Art thing and struggling to pick out a piece for each month but: man I made a lot of comics this year. A lot of comics that I really, truly dig. I could write about them all but instead, check this Twitter thread I made with some of my favorite ones. I think it’s better to let them speak for themselves.

As a whole, I’ve always felt weirdly outside of the “comics world”, because my main project lately has been short-form auto-bio, but I’m becoming more comfortable with my voice. Sure, I make ham-fisted self-insert comics that talk about the merits of storytelling and celebrate the things I love, but if I’m not gonna do that, then who is?

  1. Got my art shared by some really cool people.

Oops, this one is just a humblebrag section, but one of my resolutions for the oncoming year is to not feel guilty when I talk about things that happen to me that I think are really cool and there’s no time like the present!

Like hey, my art got shared by Joel Hodgson of MST3K on the official Kickstarter blog? (MST3K staff asked me if it was cool before this happened and I said yes, which was sweet of them.) What? What?

And double hey, my comic got shared on the Hello from the Magic Tavern Facebook page? And retweeted by a bunch of people? And I might have cried seeing people resonate with it and understand what I was trying to say about storytelling with it? A MYSTERY THAT WILL NEVER BE SOLVED (I did cry.)

  1. Did a bunch of stuff I would have been too afraid to do before.

Like, yo, I solo-tabled at an expo this year! I went to a live show in a different city by myself! (Granted that one was subsequently sullied by my garbage anxiety brain, but I still did the dang thing!) I went to MaxFunCon East again and met a bunch of new people, and stood in front of them and talked about my anxieties and self-doubt, and made a bunch of friends! I went to a TWRP concert and met a friend I’ve known online for years in person for the first time! Even though I struggled harder than I have in a while with a lot of things, I’m proud that I took these steps, despite the fact that they absolutely terrified me. I only hope that 2018 brings more opportunities for that! Twenty-serpentine can be every year if you keep zaggin’ on ‘em.

  1. Helped to organize three charity zines that raised thousands of dollars for incredible causes and strengthened friendships.

In a year that has been so shitty on the grand scheme of things, the moments where I could do something to help became precious. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to work on Super Zine Bros, Kirby’s Zine Land, and Scary Zine Squad with the incredible teams who worked their butts off to get them off the ground, artists who made amazing work that made these books possible, and the people who gave their blessing for us to do these projects. We’ve been able to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association, Meals on Wheels, and Make-a-Wish, and I’ve also been able to get to know so many lovely people and become closer friends with the people behind the organization of these projects. The power of these communities moved me again and again this year, and when things seemed especially bleak, I found strength in the good we were able to do all together.

  1. Made new friends, found new communities, kept going.

This was a year of a lot of loss and frustration. For one reason or another, I abandoned a lot of the places I would turn to for creative inspiration and comfort. In the end, it’s for the better, but that sort of thing still stings, and makes it hard to find those spaces again because I doubt my judgement more and more after being hurt like that. But going to MaxFunCon East in September and feeling completely at home among everyone there, meeting up with old friends and getting to know new ones, or joining an artist Discord where people support each other, not just professionally, but as people…it’s a precious feeling that I’m going to hold onto in the new year. It reminded me that it’s ok to let my guard down again. It’s ok to find enjoyment in art, especially when you can share that enjoyment with others. Even just in the last month, getting into Hello From the Magic Tavern, I’ve made new friends through a shared love of a goofy fantasy improv podcast. Twitter and the internet in general sucks a lot of the time, but it’s nice in this one specific way where it doesn’t quite suck.

Through thick and thin, we’ll stick together. We’ll surge forward into 2018, into the great unknown, but at least we’ll have each other by our sides. And we’re not going anywhere, at least not without a fight.

So here’s to you, 2018. May we fight for you to be better than the last.

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