A Decade Begins…

I’ve finally reached a decade in comedy.  The fact that it was 4/20 was just a coincidence but maybe that helped people laugh at my first set.  It was a Wednesday night at the West End Theater in Dallas.  I almost didn’t go in but I worked up the nerve and signed up.

People always ask me, “Why did you get into stand up?”  Truthfully, I don’t know.  I do know that I wanted to perform something somehow. I do know that Last Comic Standing was already on air and maybe had some influence on me.  I do know that I was thinking about it for almost two years prior to that day but didn’t know what the steps were.  I remember talking to friends about it and they told me they had done an open mic two weeks after I talked about it but forgot to invite me.  I remember watching stand up but stand up wasn’t huge in my house or even in my town or even in the entire area of where I lived growing up.  The list can go on and on…

So instead of that, I’ll tell you where I say it started:  Comic strips – Calvin & Hobbes probably being the first major influence.  Then webcomics, the three main ones being PvP, Penny Arcade and a picture webcomic I loved but don’t remember the name (Jesus something).  The last one used real pictures of a group of friends and became a major influence for me later.

I went crazy reading webcomics.  Most of the focused on video games since webcomics are kind of nerd culture.  And thanks to the massive archives these comics had, I spent weeks going through them all.  I took note of all the changes a webcomic went through.  The drawings became better.  The artists started producing the comics on a schedule after about 3 years in. 

I remember talking to a co-worker at AMC in Arlington.  Lets call him Andy.  He was also in love with webcomics and was about to start his own.  I told him I would love to help him out.  He said, “Nah, I’m kind of a greedy guy and if this blows up I want all the money to myself.”  Fair.  So I started my own. 

I called it Confused Lines (I was all about confusion and the mystery of life and deep shit like that).  It centered around three friends that just did stuff.  The first comic was 4 panels and it was about the guys going to karaoke, singing the wrong song and getting in trouble with the Yakuza.  That’s how it started.  My girlfriend at the time was all about Livejournal and, lucky me, Livejournal had a webcomic group.  So I posted my webcomic on there and the first comment I got was, “THIS IS TOO FUCKING HUGE!! SHRINK THE PHOTO!!” 

So I taught myself how to shrink photos in MS Paint and kept going.  I kept going with this for quite a while.  I produced story line after story line.  I drew comic strips that had nothing to do with the story and more about pop culture (One comic strip was about Dr. Dre, 50 Cent and Eminem playing 7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon).  I really got into it.  Andy was also really into his comic which was called IH8U.  We even joined a website called Top Web Comics to start a ranking to watch our comics grow in popularity.  That’s where I discovered even crazier amounts of webcomics.  The top 10 were always prominently displayed.  I think one time I got close to the Top 100. 

I learned all I could about webcomics.  I downloaded fonts.  I changed the look of the characters.  I kept reading all my favorite comics.  One webcomic artist would only produce a new comic strip if his fans contributed enough money so he could take a day off of work to do it.  I guess it worked because he kept producing comic strips.  The massive webcomics had enough fans to receive free products from major tech companies just to try out and post up a review.  WHAT!! That’s so insane!!

Then one day I heard about 24 Hour Webcomic Day.  The idea was to create 24 webcomics in 24 hours or something like that.  And, lucky me, a comic book shop in Arlington, TX was going to host a group drawing event.  And, even luckier me, one of my favorite webcomic creators was going to be there because he lived in Arlington, TX.  “WAIT, SOMEONE SEMI-FAMOUS LIVED IN ARLINGTON, TX!!!”  Not sure if that was the first thought I had but for some reason I didn’t believe you could live near someone famous.

So I went to the shop.  All the “artists” were in the back and in the main corner, behind a very professional drawing desk was the creator of PvP!  I guess I was starstruck.  I got really nervous because I didn’t know what to do.  “Where do I go?  Where do I sit?  Do you just start drawing?  Look at all these really good artists.  What am I doing here?”  I guess I was staring at the famous guy a little too much because he looked up from his drawing and said, “What!  With that, I turned around and walked out.  It was too much for me.  I didn’t know how to be in this world.  I went back home and just decided not to do the 24 comic thing.  Just do a regular comic.  It was an interesting feeling being around a group of people that you thought were professionals all engaging in the same activity.  Unfortunately, it was drawing with comic nerds, not the most socially inviting group activity.

Some time later, Andy informed me that he had bought a booth at a comic convention where he was going to set up shop and sell printed books of his comic strip.  He made tiny books and was planning on selling them at $15 each.  He asked me if I wanted to join him just for kicks.  “Yes!”  I had nothing to sell except for actual drawing of the comic strip but Andy told me that I should just draw while sitting there and people will buy that artwork.  Challenge accepted.

So we sat at this table.  He had his merch everywhere and I had a stack of original sketches and blank paper.  I started to draw.  People walked by.  They talked to Andy and bought some books.  He had original drawings of comic book characters (which were just different versions of his characters in certain heroes outfits)… (You know I should probably also explain that Andy was a terrible artist and he had changed his pricing to $10 for black & white drawings, $20 for color)… (I was also not that great).  Some people talked to me and wanted to buy some of my original comic strip drawings.  I sold two comic strips for $10 and hated myself for it.  “That was an original.  I’ll never get that back.”  So I decided only to sell whatever I drew on the spot.  I drew a picture of Superman with a Spiderman mask and captioned it “Because even Superman has a favorite superhero.”  I drew my style of characters in a mock Evil Dead poster cutting up a loaf of bread with a bread cutter and captioned it “Evil Bread”.  That drawing got a chuckle but it’s still in my closet somewhere. 

Then I started drawing people in the line near us.  I think the voice of the Crypt Keeper was there.  I saw a dad with his son just standing around and decided to draw the kid in a podracer.  I colored it.  They started to walk away.  I stopped the dad and handed him the drawing and told him to keep it.  He thought that was really cool and his son really liked it but in that weird “kid too shy to say thank you” way.  Then his dad asked me if I could autograph it and put his kid’s name on the podracer.  I did.  He handed me money which I didn’t take at first but he insisted.  He handed his son the drawing and his son hated the fact that his name was on it now.  Oh well, you can’t please them all.

So Andy made $150 on terrible drawings and I made $15.  First time I had ever been to any type of convention, other than a school job fair.  It was fun but I still didn’t understand how it all worked out.  I just went back to drawing for Livejournal.

I started to get fans.  Not many but enough to keep my going.  I kept asking them to help vote my comic to the top of the webcomic list.  One day, for like 30 minutes, my webcomic hit 98 on the list.  Mostly because they had to reset the monthly count and the more popular comics didn’t come out yet.  But man, did it feel good to see that.  Andy noticed it too but not sure if he was as excited about it as me (Wow, jealousy already).

I loved my webcomic.  It was so great to put out something that made people laugh.  I started to actually produce them on a schedule.  I was writing an entire storyline parodying the remake of “Dawn of the Dead” (the storyline went on for weeks longer than the movie’s theater run).  And right before I got to the climatic ending where Michael Jackson was about to take over the world with his army of zombies, my computer caught a virus and stopped working properly.  It would just shut down after awhile.  I couldn’t afford another computer right away so I announced I was going to take a little hiatus.  During that time, I researched stand up more.  I learned about open mics.  I had all these little jokes in my storylines just sitting around so I decided to take them onstage.

I was a fan of a nice amount of comedians.  I won’t say many.  My top favorites were Richard Pryor, George Carlin, John Leguizamo, Chris Rock and Richard Jeni.  Of course I saw others but these were the ones at the time.  So I wrote a whole stand up routine based on the word melancholy.  I guess I was trying to emulate Carlin and his love of words with that bit.  I gave every real world example of the word melancholy that I could.  Here’s one, “When you get in your car and realize it was unlocked all day and no one stole anything. ‘Yay, my car is officially a piece of shit.’ Melancholy.”  I thought it was fun.  The other comics really didn’t and they never let me forget it still.  But it was enough to keep me going.

So I started going to the Wednesday night open mics.  Eventually, my computer started working long enough again for a few more comic strips (I actually did a 4 panel version of my melancholy joke).  I remember telling Andy that I started to do open mics and he offered to write some jokes for me for money.

I made friends with comics close to my level and talked to them about starting up a picture webcomic.  I described to them how I could edit these comic strips and put us in all kinds of crazy places, post them online and just.. you know… get stuff out there.  The first two comics I talked to about this didn’t really say yes or no, they just kind of quit comedy for a bit.  Then I talked to my buddy Dustin Ybarra about it and he was all about it.  We got together at my apartment with our other buddy Anthony Perez and shot our first comic strip.  We called the comic strip Sucker Punch Comedy, uploaded the first few on Myspace and went on to make about 80 comic strips.  We included all our friends and even convinced comedians coming through Dallas to do a few with us.  Pablo Francisco became our most famous supporter.  The webcomic really did jumpstart my comedy career in Dallas because it just became a thing amongst the comics.  We even had a website donated to us because we were broke comics.  I learned HTML coding just to put the strip up myself.  I designed our website over and over.  Each comic strip took at least 6 hours to edit and post.  We started doing live sketches onstage and put together a few Sucker Punch Comedy stand up shows.  But everyone got busier and busier.  Eventually, the webcomic just stopped.  At least by then, I was living in California and supporting myself with comedy.

But yeah… that’s the story.  I still want to do webcomics.  Ha ha.  Maybe one day.

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