I recently attempted to contact a number of the different artists who I have really admired over the years, to ask them if they could share their personal take on that dreaded heartbreaker “rejection” with readers of the one and only Neptune City-Saturn Town blog. It was my hope that professional perspectives on this harsh-reality-of-art would give the rest of us some needed hope, encouragement, and inspiration.
The first response comes from Evan Dorkin, the amazingly talented creator behind hilarious comic books like “Milk and Cheese” and “Dork” (where the infamous and wonderful “Eltingville Comic-Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing Club” strips first debuted. I have never looked at a Twilight Zone marathon the same way again); and animated classics such as Cartoon Network game changer “Space Ghost:Coast to Coast” and “Superman: The Animated Series” (both of which he collaborated on with his wife Sarah Dyer). It is a real privilege to post such an honest, uplifting, and encouraging response from such a respected artist!!!
Regarding rejection — anyone who’s submitted creative work has faced rejection, beyond that you face rejection from readers, peers, even friends. Everyone’s got an opinion, but the opinion of the gatekeepers — editors, publishers, etc — is the one that matters most when it comes to getting your work out there. Unless you’re self-publishing, or posting work to the web, and then you face the rejection of the audience, or maybe even worse, no one even notices you’re out there. Rejection at least lets you know you exist.
You have to deal with it, just like approaching an employer or a potential romantic partner, rejection is always a possibility. Life is a history of acceptance and rejection from others, and while we can’t really control how others react to us, we can control how we react to those reactions. If you let rejection bury you, or let it eat at you, you’ll find it harder to work and live and relax. The opinion of others is just that, an opinion. Some opinions are knee-jerk, some are reactionary, some are wrong and some are nuanced and come from a more expert point of view. You can learn from the latter. You have to learn to reject the bullsh#t people fling to sound cool or funny or even cruel, and take away any lessons you can from actual constructive criticism. And you have to understand that you can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t even try. You need to do the work you need to do and want to do, the way you choose to do it. That choice should be considered and shouldn’t bend to what other people say if it doesn’t speak to you. If you want to draw people with cat heads, readers might say “WTF?”, but if that’s what you want to do, go with it. Just understand it might not be accepted by a lot of folks. Otherwise, you’re here to make your work, not make work for acceptance (not counting actual commissioned work — if they want a drawing of a truck, you don’t draw a ferret). Bowing to pressure will make you as miserable as being rejected might. Steer your own course and stay the course. You have to throw your work out there and see what happens. Your main audience is yourself. You might adjust to what you hear — maybe cat heads is a weird choice and will limit you commercially and even artistically in the long run. But it’s a loser’s game trying to please everyone, to try to defeat or avoid criticism, to follow trends or be a clone of another artist that’s popular to try and follow suit.
You have to remember that everyone is rejected, even the most popular creator is unpopular with someone. Comics are unpopular with most of the planet, you’re off on a tough career choice and life just by picking comics. But you go where your heart and head tells you to go. And if you pick something oddball like comics or animation, you ‘re already inviting rejection. So do what you want in comics, or whatever. Creating stuff takes you outside mundane life which always tells you what to do and what not to do. Why deal with unnecessary bullsh#t in your own created world? Again, criticism can be valid. It can also be bullsh#t you don’t need to pay any attention to, especially anything you read online on a comments section or message board.
You have opinions and you reject stuff and people and work every day. We all do it. It’s part of life. It isn’t the end of life, it isn’t about you as a person, it doesn’t change who you are unless you let it. You can’t stop people from having opinions, even nasty opinions, of your work. They might get personal. The rejection might build up. It happens. Screw it. I have stuff shot down all the time, ideas, pitches, I can’t sell anything to Mad Magazine that I try to write, even though ten years ago they brought me in to write. I ended up drawing for them, but even so my gags always get shot down. It drives me crazy but I send some more out when I can. I think I’ve sold one. The ones they reject I use in my own comics. Every story pitch we sent to the producers of the Superman cartoon we worked were rejected. We used some rejected material to make some Superman comics. I’ve had pitches turned down, series cancelled, artwork rejected, scenes cut, I’ve been personally insulted by people I’ve worked for, mistreated, had my artwork vandalized by people I worked for, I’ve been fired and I’ve failed and I’ve screwed up. It all sucks, but you move on. The more you do the more you’ll face rejection, the more you put out there the more chances you have of being turned down. Concentrate on what gets accepted, by gate-keepers or employers or readers or whoever matters to you most. How much you freeze up and get beaten down by rejection depends on you, not the people who reject you. And I say this as someone whose early work was awful and faced a lot of rejection, as someone who fears rejection, who lets rejection work on me and get to me pretty often. But you have to swing the bat again, get back on the horse, all that crap people say to get you to keep at it, because there’s no other way to get to where you want to be — which is making stuff you want people to see. Unless you want to make the stuff for yourself, you’re going to have to show it off, put it out there. There’s no two ways about it.
And there’s no end to rejection. Even the most popular creators still face it, even if it seems some folks can spit on the ground and get it optioned for a movie and get paid for it and have people say they’re brilliant. And if you’re not popular, if you’re not in the professional ranks, rejection can become stifling. But you can’t let it beat you. Some people who have been rejected all their life keep at it and finally break through. Some don’t, but they stay in the game because you have to stay in to get anywhere. If you stay in and keep going, you have a chance. If you stop, you’re dead. Nickelodeon rejected Adventure Time — they’re probably still burning over that. Rejection isn’t always “right” and it isn’t necessarily valid. Good work might not be right for a certain publisher or studio. The point is — move on. Take what you can as a lesson from the situation, get back to work, send out more pitches. If you stop, you die. If rejection hurts, okay, I know it hurts, I have two projects pitched out there right now and I’m dying a little inside thinking they won’t get accepted. I don’t have the best work habits and my will power sucks, but I keep going. Rejection isn’t usually personal, and if it is personal, it isn’t professional. Reject rejection. Don’t let it stop you.
Because if you stop, you die.