Back in March 2003 I left my job as an in-house software engineer for a magazine publishing company to follow my dream of being an illustrator and comic artist. More than 11 years later, in what seems to me more than a lifetime now, I can confidently say that I've become a professional illustrator and comic artist. Hooray!
Yet, for more than a year now, I've been waking up about an hour earlier than needed, before 6 am, to work on an App for iOS before leaving for work. Just as Michael Corleone on The Godfather III1, I feel I'm being pulled back to my dark past, although it wasn't that dark, really. In retrospect, my career change was a mistake, a mistake I had to make. There's some people that need a slap on the face to come out of an altered state, I needed a 10 year long slap to realize the mistake I made.
The most obvious reason to consider that move as an error is the income. It's so obvious that it was already pretty clear to me at the time that I'd probably be making less money. That wasn't a problem because I'd be living The Dream, the error was not seeing what that dream would really be like. When one embarks in that kind of journey one tends to imagine either a complete success or a raving failure, when there's a worse destiny lurking in the corner: just getting by.
This is what has happened to me, I've managed to get by all this years without making any real progress in my illustrator career besides the fact that I've been able to pay my bills, and those have had to be pretty modest anyway. About five years after leaving technology I was also on the verge of quitting illustration due to a late payment from a big client that reduced my savings to practically zero, but that time I thought of it as a temporal fix until I recovered myself financially. In the end there was no need to because I was lucky enough to get a job at Estudio Fénix, and the late payment finally arrived some months after that. I started working for the studio early 2008, just as the financial crisis erupted big time in Spain, so I saw it as an opportunity to avoid the ups and downs of freelancing for a couple of years while the crisis hit hardest.
Five years later I was still working for the studio even though my position was always in danger of disappearing at any moment, due to a shrinking publishing industry that isn't able to adapt to the challenges of this digital era, and the decline of sales due to the still going crisis. Because of the job insecurity I never dared to move close to work, which is what I should have done considering I worked there for more than six years, so I had to cope with a commute of 1 h 20 m each way for just 30 km that added to a lot of hours every month. It was 2013 but this time something was different, my daughter was born, that sure made me reconsider my career.
It was going nowhere fast, most of the time I wasn't doing the kind of work I enjoy, my income suffered due to inflation and a frozen salary, I was burned by the long commute and I didn't even have job security… I had to do something. As every artist does, I fantasized about working in my own projects, either webcomics or traditional ones or even trying to move to the gaming industry. But the option of working on my projects is too much of a bet for me with a small child and moving to the gaming industry seems like a lateral move instead of an upward one.
So the decision was easy, I have a diploma in computer software and it would be silly not to use it. I don't think I'm a better developer than I am an illustrator, I also don't think the other way around it's true, but the average developer certainly has a brighter future than the average illustrator. Now that I've been on both sides of the fence I realize that work is just work, whatever you do there are some times you enjoy it and sometimes you'd rather be doing anything else, very few people love what they do all the time. Chasing a concrete idea of the perfect job can only lead to deception. No one is born to do any one thing, better suited for it, sure, but not born for it. I now believe that adaptation is a better path to happiness, certainly it's better than stubbornness.
There's the small detail of not having worked in the industry for a long time, although I had dabbled with Objective-C for a while a couple of years ago with an idea I had. Thus I decided to create an App for iOS to prove I still have some value as a developer. The plan was to work on it before leaving for work and look for a job after launching it in the App Store, so I'd have something to prove to potential employers that I can still work as a developer.
Or maybe it would be a tremendous success, one day I'd wake up rich and I could buy a mansion and that BMW I like (or perhaps its little brother). Thankfully, there are some developers out there that publish real numbers for a moderately successful App. After that blog post by Jared Sinclair and the different responses it got I've assumed that I won't be a rich indy developer. However, the idea that failing with your project means you'll just have to take consulting jobs or go work for a company for a decent salary doesn't look that bad to a starving artist.
Fast forward to last September, after a talk with my former employer, it's decided, I'm getting fired on September 30. This obviously rearranges my priorities, from that day on I've been working on the App when I'm not taking care of my daughter, polishing it way more than what I expected to. I've got unemployment benefits for a while but I still want to release it as soon as possible to see if it has any traction. It's very unlikely because it's an App for a very specific niche, but I'm not worried too much about it because since day one the job to be done for that App is to get me more work, if it makes any money, all the better.
So that's it, I'm not an artist anymore, I'm a developer again. If I'm successful in my quest I hope sometime in the future I'll have some time for myself free of dire financial worries. Then, perhaps I'll pick up a pencil and start working on those comics I've got in the back of my head.
Yes, I know this scene is not from The Godfather III, but any scene from The Sopranos is as good or better as The Godfather III. ↩