So You Wanna Be a Webcartoonist? #4

Chapter 4: SCIENCE!

I realized there might be a way to have the stress of a real job without feeling like I was wasting my time: COLLEGE!

But first, let’s back up a minute.

I was still working my closed-captioning job. Something about the vapidness of most of the TV shows I was working on really started to get under my skin. Even the most underresearched documentaries felt like Shakespeare. As I may have mentioned earlier, I got myself in the habit of listening to lectures and books while drawing. But, there’s a limit on what you can do with audio. Audio is awesome for most fiction, some history, and just about any survey course that doesn’t involve math. That is, you can get a lot of breadth of knowledge, but not a lot of depth.

So, I went to the USC bookstore and got myself a big book of Neurology. At the time, I was really interested in the chemistry of memory and learning. Partially this is because it’s just really fucking interesting, but I suspect there’s a psychological element to it. After I started my career as a wannabe autodidact, I really began to grasp the scope of my nescience. I became like an information vacuum – both in the sense of the emptiness and in the rapid uptake. I honestly started asking myself “if your goal were to learning everything there is, what would be the essential area to work in?”

Think about that for a second. If your goal were to know literally everything, what problems would you have to solve.

Pretty quickly, you probably realize that it’s not just one area. Here are a few areas of study that looked important to me: neurochemistry (for rapid learning and memory storage), longevity (you have to live long enough to learn all that or to see the advent of enhanced learning), computing (the answer to these questions may not be biological). You can extend that out in a lot of directions though. For example, finding a so-called “universal medicine” would perhaps solve more than one of these problems. Or, if you could invent a cheap form of energy, that’d probably speed the development of all of the above.

These are heady speculation, and I of course didn’t believe I personally could solve any of these problems. But hey, if you plan to throw thousands and thousands of hours of your life at a topic, it might as well be underpinned by a big crazy goal, right? Why would you ever temper a dream?

In any case, I gravitated toward neurochemistry.

Unfortunately, I found I really was not equipped to read this book. In order to properly understand it, I needed a lot more background in chemistry. In retrospect, I also would’ve benefited from knowing more neurology, anatomy, endocrinology. I also would’ve benefited from knowing how to read a science textbook. But, suffice it to say, I was really frustrated by the notion that there could be a book I couldn’t read.

Then the idea occurred to me – why not go back to college? I’ll get all the stress I need, tons of new experiences, and learn a lot. It was an idea that seemed so crazy at the time I had to ask myself if I weren’t being stupid. Then, I got some good advice from Mom.

I still remember driving on the 405 and talking to Mom about going to college. I was calling her on the phone to tell her I thought I might go to college some time next year. Her response was awesomely Mom-like: She asked why I wasn’t going sooner!

It’s always interesting when the sane people in life tell you you’re being too conservative. It’s the kind of thing I find really motivating. My Mom is smart, but I don’t think of her as a risk taker. So, when she was telling ME that my stupid idea was a no-brainer, I basically had to do it.

About three months later, I found myself surrounded by 18 year olds taking classes at SJSU in Chemistry, Physics, Calculus, and Biology. I had taken out some small student loans and reluctantly gotten some money from the parents, but comics were paying for my rent, food, and books. It was one of the most exciting times in my life.

And, best of all, the plan worked. I’ll post the numbers next time, but I credit my brief time at SJSU as a major part of my subsequent success. Between early 2007 and now, my traffic went up about 20x, and an important part of that was my newfound ability to to interact with the geek universe.

That’s all for now. The next chapter will be a bit more comics-centric :)

NEXT CHAPTER: College and Comics

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5 Responses to So You Wanna Be a Webcartoonist? #4

  1. JRM says:

    First off, many of us now hate you slightly less now that you updated. Thanks for that. In return, I will act entitled to get answers to my questions – if I don’t, I expect a full refund of my blog subscription fees.

    You cite a brief time at SJSU; how long were you there? Did your social life change significantly? How did you cope with the young ‘uns?



    • ZachWeiner says:

      I’ll try to work some of that into the next chunk. But, I wanna try to steer more toward webcomics, since I suspect that’s what most people are curious about :)

      I was at SJSU (I think) from mid-late 2006 till the end of 2007. 3 semesters. I would’ve done summer school, but budget cuts killed most of the math and science summer offerings.

      • Steven says:

        I’d also be interested in hearing more on what it was like to go back into college life. I’m close to 30 years old, have been able to make a living through the web, and am considering using the flexibility I have in my working hours to do a math or physics course for fun.

  2. Tom Sexton says:

    I just read through the last 4 of these and I have to say its a really interesting path you’ve taken to make a livable income from comics.

    It’s weirdly encouraging to hear that it takes some struggling before hitting it “big.” It helps make the struggling a little more meaningful when you haven’t gotten there yet.

    Thanks for sharing all of this. I’m looking forward to the next update.

  3. Very ambitious! I’m a big fan of SMBC, which a friend turned me on to a few months back. Haha, some reactions to your blog post: one area of learning for the would-be omniscient human would necessarily be the myths with hubris as their main theme. I wonder if these would mean anything to such a person? Once those had been added to the omniscient human’s repertoire, learning linguistic scripts other than the English phonetic alphabet would become necessary. Quite a hurdle for the adult brain! And once all human knowledge in all fields was captured, how big a beam would that even cast onto cosmological reality? Humans can’t even get into the moon at present: some omniscience! Acquiring all human knowledge is the task of a hamster running in a wheel until it can’t any longer, when it should have just been eating, drinking, and having sex, as it was designed to! Keep up the good work sir!

    By the way, here’s one scientist who is trying to discover a means of immortality; I saw an interesting doc on him:

    By by the way, I have a web comic as well, and would be delighted if you had a peep – feel free to delete this post if you feel I’m proselytizing –

    Take it easy, and keep the great comics coming!

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