In connection with my winning the PNBA award, I wrote an essay for NW Book Lovers:
Sometimes a unicorn shows up in your life and makes everything better.
I wasn’t really expecting one. A few years ago, I had nearly realized an ambition I’ve had since age 12: I had scored a contract to develop a comic strip for newspaper syndication. I won that contract, in the Comic Strip Superstar contest, which was sort of an American Idol for aspiring comic strip artists (without the surrounding glamour, and mercifully free of Ryan Seacrest). I won with a comic strip called “Girl,” which starred a little girl who would eventually acquire the name Phoebe Howell. She ran around in the woods behind her house and hung out with talking animals.
I thought I’d just draw a bunch of “Girl” strips, and that would be that and I’d be syndicated and happy forever. What happened instead was, I would send my required 30 strips in every month, and I’d get back a lot of notes explaining to me why the work I was doing wasn’t good enough to launch in syndication.
My editor at the time, John Glynn, was blunt. “The work you’re doing is better than some currently syndicated strips,” he told me, “but in a market this tight, your work needs to be transcendent.”
I was, as far as I could tell, doing my best. If it wasn’t transcendent already, I didn’t have the faintest idea how to make it transcendent. I wasn’t even sure what I was being asked to do.
A year of my two-year development contract had passed. Despair began to set in. And that’s when the unicorn made her appearance.