Transcript: Episode 623: Joshua Cotter

We're experimenting with the addition of episode transcriptions. Note: the audio is transcribed with AI, via Otter. 

Joshua Cotter  0:12  
Well, that's the thing I noticed I noticed about cons as I get older is there are fewer and fewer of the folks. I mean, I was used to seeing, you know, it's a seems to be me, I guess it was at the time, too. It's just a younger audience, it's easier for younger people to get out, get the table, make the flights, do the hotel do do all that. Folk, you know, folks get older, they have more obligations, family more difficult to travel, how whatever, you know, so it's it's definitely not the SPX it was, say, in 2009, but it's still, you know, very interesting thing. It's just,

Brian Heater  0:49  
you've got a lot more energy to do. Comics on the side when you're younger.

Joshua Cotter  0:54  
Yeah. And that's the thing, too. Yeah. Yeah, a lot. A lot of a lot of people have to know, you have to have a job in this in this. You know, most people have to have work anyway. And it's not as you get older, you don't have the energy for both. And you know, and so it's it's it's comics is comics, making comics is pretty, pretty rough. It's tough. There's, there's no, there's very little income in it. You know, for most people there, it's, it's, you have to do it because you love it. And even even if you do love it, sometimes you just don't have the time or energy for it.

Brian Heater  1:31  
I had Dan Klaus on the show recently. And he's obviously you know, about as on the top of one's game as one can possibly be. And he's still, he still needs to do illustration, I think I think he told me at one point, I don't think I don't know if it was it's probably an interview that I did a while back, but that the most of his income comes from selling original pages.

Joshua Cotter  1:54  
Really, I think, from what I know, it's similar with where those guys they're able to sell their pages for, they tend to do okay with, I'm the same, but I'm not able to sell my pages for Klaus ware levels. But I a lot of my income besides freelance comes from being able to sell original art. And a lot of I've been asked why, why I don't give digital art try. And while I have I personally have nothing against digital art. One that's, you know, it would take I would have to relearn how to do everything, a lot of aspects of drawing, but in the end, I wouldn't have a physical piece to show for my efforts that I'd be able to sell. You know,

Brian Heater  2:39  
yeah, I was reading through your blog. Very, very candid. Which, which I appreciate. And you. You know, one of the things you had said is, there was a point in your life when you really consciously made the decision that this was the thing that you were going to do full time. How long ago was that?

Joshua Cotter  3:01  
Well, I've always wanted it. Just Sure, yeah. But it became possible when I left Chicago, we my my wife and I met in Chicago. And we were kind of at a crossroads where we could either move back to Japan where she was from or moved back to where I was from where we could focus on being you know, Jesus, we're emesis so we both wanted to focus on our art. And I grew up in northwest Missouri and here now it's, you know, we My family has land, farm land, they know not a lot but we were able to take a corner of it and build a house and we I tried like teaching for a while I decided to keep having a job and I just the older I get the more I realized I just wasn't capable of holding down a regular job because of neuro divergence and I was like well I one thing I feel that is a strength of mine is making comics as far as like from my perspective and I just been determined to make it work all of my life and about I say 11 years ago was the last time I had a job like a a will go into you know deal with loss kind of job and I've been trying to make it work ever since it's been much more difficult these last few years with the pandemic and and everything else that's been going on socio politically it's freelance work is more difficult to come by and ways of making it work are more difficult to come by so you know, I have to like many artists I have to turn I have to turn towards asking for help which you know, I've I've set up a fun go like a GoFundMe type thing just to help making comics for now while I get what freelance work I can done you know, there's ups and downs I fingers crossed, things get better for artists but anytime anytime there's an economic economic downturn, art sorry about the first thing to go cuz it's in. In our country, it's viewed as frivolous, frivolous, apparently.

Brian Heater  5:07  
And you know this as well as anybody but you don't do yourself any favor by focusing on these really long form books that take you years to No, not

Joshua Cotter  5:17  
at all I knew going into it, it was what I was getting into it was it was gonna hurt. But yeah, it just, I guess with a long form book, it was a way it's like I'm getting older, I do better when I'm able to work on it continue working on a project. I noticed after finishing skyscrapers in the Midwest, I hit a wall. And there wasn't just because I finished the book. But there were other complications in my life, but and it resulted in driven by limits. But I noticed that if I have a project I can keep working on I don't hit that, you know, it's like a post. I've never given birth to a child, obviously. But it's a it's a, like a postpartum depression type thing. It's out and it's, I have trouble picking myself back up. So I was like, Well, if I do a really long, really long series, I won't have to worry about that, which isn't true at all. I've had all sorts of walls. But you find ways to keep yourself fooled and keep going. And you know,

Brian Heater  6:14  
one of the ways that you were describing it again, in the post was that you wanted to finish the current series before you basically lost the ability to draw through all day. Yeah. Which I assume like is a little bit maybe jokey or hyperbole, but then there's also some truth to it.

Joshua Cotter  6:30  
Well, yeah, there's, there's, I'm prone to hyperbole, but I do have carpal tunnel now. And it's getting, it's getting harder to hold on to a pen. So I'm kind of joking about it. But you know, it's, the reality is, I have to, I don't know how long I'll be able to hold a pen if you know, right, if I do it, I won't be able to draw the same detail I did when I was younger. So I'd like to, you know, be able to finish not away before it's just kind of me holding, holding a pin leaking 10 in my right clock, right. You know, it becomes a claw and I just I don't know, I don't know what's in the future for my body because it's, as you probably know, age ages and exactly, kind. Unfortunately, my eyes were hidden in my back. It's

Brian Heater  7:19  
I have a herniated disc right now and sciatica. So I'm in my apartment. Terrible. Yeah. And you get hunched over. Like, I bought a cane. And I'm just like, oh, yeah, I guess like, if I didn't know that I was old before. Like, it's reminding me now.

Joshua Cotter  7:37  
Yeah. Yeah, the sitting at a desk because it's given me all sorts of for, you know, a few decades has it, my body's reminding me what I've done.

Brian Heater  7:54  
Was it difficult to ask for help initially?

Joshua Cotter  7:57  
Yeah, it's, it goes against me. That goes against my nature. I'd rather I grew up like you know, that Puritan work ethic I grew up in farmland around Midwesterners. So I haven't built into me that you know, that fierce independence that's causing a few problems these days. I know where that comes from. So so to ask for help, isn't doesn't come naturally, at least to a person from rural Missouri. But like I said, I'm determined to work and I know did make comics work. And I know the comics community, I've been a part of it long enough that I know, they care. And we help each other out, you know, and if there's a crowd funder I can help out with I do I do so as well, but I know there are people out there who want to read not away, it's not an enormous audience, but I find that they're willing to help me out. So I can continue with the work. And But initially, I was I, it goes against my nature to do anything like that,

Brian Heater  8:58  
you know, we've known each other for a long time. I've been familiar with your work for a long time. And I think there's a degree to which when somebody's around making things for a while you start to take him for granted. You know, you take for granted that they're gonna make another book you take for granted that you're gonna have another on my end another opportunity to have a conversation with them. But I think what you did, whether, and I don't know how intentional it was, but you you kind of reminded people that that you're here that you're making work. Yeah, it

Joshua Cotter  9:29  
wasn't my intention to draw. I'm also I'm strange about drawing attention to myself. I'm not I'm not great at self promotion, and social media doesn't really work for me because I'm not I'm not able to, I guess I'm not able to sell my work. I don't have a salesman in me that I know of. So, you know, Fanta they they did what they could but sales and there was a lot going on in the world of course, and I wasn't I wasn't You know, it wasn't ignorant of, you know, everything that's happened in the past three or four years. But I also, you know, I spent a few 1000 hours on a book, I needed to find a way to reach my audience. So I just put that out there because of all the I've, I've lost teeth from stress these past few years and stuff and anytime and other is that true? I've lost 14 from Grant from Grant from grinding at night, I finally where I finally wizened up and got a mouth, a mouth brace. But when you tell my last one, I would I would get on, you know, Instagram or something. And I'd say, hey, I need help. And people always stepped up, you know? And it's, it's always been that way.

Brian Heater  10:39  
You can't do that 28 times. So

Joshua Cotter  10:41  
yeah, but with the Fanta thing, I was just, I knew my audience was there from past experience from past sales and such that I just didn't feel I was getting through to them. So I just mentioned it. You know, it was a it was kind of a low for me right at that point, because I was just like, you know, I gotta keep this going. But I can't figure out how

Brian Heater  11:02  
and it was a public low, which is the worst kind of low.

Joshua Cotter  11:05  
Yeah, the one you read the one you kind of regret later on. But what happened happened, and it turned out to be to my benefit, because, you know, people people stepped up and helped. It's not easy, I guess, just in the society ask for help. We're expected to be individuals. But I think like I mentioned earlier, a great thing about the comics community is at least the independent comics community, I can I can speak for other communities. They tend to take care of

Brian Heater  11:33  
each other. Yeah. And one of the other things that really resonated with people and you wrote about this a little bit was, and I know that I know that this is this has since been adjusted. And you had a conversation with fan graphics. But there's a reason why the numbers are what people latched on to, because I think that, you know, I'm somebody who's covered the industry for a long time. I have a lot of cartoonists friends, but I never I rarely think about things in terms of the number of units that are sold. So when people can recognize that, you know, I mean, you know, Fantagraphics isn't random house, but they're a huge international corporation. And when a book can sell, I think the number was adjusted to like, maybe 120, or something. Yeah,

Joshua Cotter  12:15  
it was more than three or four, that was just me going by a counting sheet that gave me and I got, I got like, you know, 35 bucks for the year or something like that. And in my head, I just lent this many, this many books, this many book one, you know, but uh, yeah, it ended up being a little over 100. But there was some return issues that cancel other things out. So, yeah, it

Brian Heater  12:38  
doesn't matter if it's, if it's more than 100 if you're getting $35 At the end of the day, you know?

Joshua Cotter  12:45  
Well, yeah. And that's kind of where I was, I was like, you know, it's like, I just, publishing doesn't seem to be working for me anymore. I, for me, I don't know how it works for other people. i Some people were doing fine with comics or but maybe it's the same time we don't know what numbers people are doing. Maybe maybe, you know, it's like, we don't talk about income. We don't talk about numbers because it's considered impolite, I guess, but I tend to be a little more forthright, and, and maybe a lot of people out there that I've always assumed were successful that are, you know, at my age now, I mean, I'm assuming a lot of cartoons I've always looked up to or just, you know, dealing with the same struggles, every other cartoonists is dealing with trying trying to make it work. You know, it's, but I

Brian Heater  13:30  
also think that there's a big difference between the amount of people the amount of books people sell, sold in the 90s. And the amount of books that people sell today. Sure,

Joshua Cotter  13:40  
yeah, that's changing. I try to be optimistic about it. But people just, you know, with digital, it's just not as common and with digital, I definitely, I've never made anything from comics, you know, I think I think my comics do okay on Comixology and stuff, but you know, I get pennies from it. So it really means nothing to the artist. And I think I guess it's the same thing, the actors and stuff we're dealing with today, when it comes to digital, they just, they're, you know, they're cut out. And Spotify is a perfect example. Spotify is a great example of musicians not not, you know, getting what's due to them for their efforts. Not not to say that I would do well, if I was to get all the stuff I was supposed to get from digital. It's just it's the nature of independent comics and independent anything. It's, you don't have a huge PR machine behind you. So it's much more challenging to find your audience, especially in this day and age when there are so many excellent artists, cartoonists, musicians, whatever the have worked to offer. So I don't want to call it noise. Because what there's so much of it, I think people have difficulty distinguishing between you know, one, one product or Next product or work of art or whatever, it's all when they're, when it's flying by on their screen, it's all kind of one thing anymore. And that's why I decided to step away from Fana is like, well, publishing isn't working for me for me and I don't really understand publishing right now, I don't know my place in publishing right now, I know I want to do this book with a series. So I'm just going to continue working on it not a way. You know, if an opportunity I want to I'm, I'm planning on self publishing, and then if I get enough of it, of the book done, and people start showing interest, then maybe I would talk to a publisher, but I'm just going to return to self publishing right now. Because I don't think anything else makes sense for me at the moment,

Brian Heater  15:44  
you probably knew this, to certain extent at the time, but it's been come very clear to you in hindsight that you got really lucky, you had something really special with Chris, and was just not quite, it was quite literally too beautiful to live, you know,

Joshua Cotter  16:00  
I really can't, I can't say I took it for granted, because I've always appreciated Chris, but I think even how much he does for you. For the artists, I just didn't understand. And I didn't assume everybody did it. And I know, like, with Fanta, like someone like Eric Reynolds, Eric's very passionate about the work he puts out. And he cared very much for my books and leaving Fantagraphics actually, you know, talking to Eric about it was the most difficult part of the aspect. But, Chris, the special thing about that house is you just put out a few things a year, he would focus on those few things, and he would sell the hell out of it and promote the hell out of it. And he knew how to do it without annoying people. He knew he could he could communicate to people that he loved what he was presenting, and that it was special to him, and he wanted to share it with other people. And you can see in the production efforts he put into his work and how he was at a table, you know, and I spent many, many hours with Chris, tables and just never going to be another one. You know, you had cuyama, which was similar in its way because Annie is Annie is a very special person too. But she had to step away too. Yeah, it's so after a few years, you have to admit to yourself that this is, you know, these are passion projects. They're not they're not. They're not realistic. When it comes to finances, and I don't Chris, her and Chris, or any or, you know, a lot of people don't, don't concern themselves with that. But you know, there's a limit to how much effort you can put into something. And you know, there's only limited amounts of energy and Chris, Chris, and Annie and Eric Reynolds are all very good people for what they do for cartoonists.

Brian Heater  17:41  
What makes it doubly difficult is that by signing to Fantagraphics, you've had to achieve this, like lifelong dream.

Joshua Cotter  17:50  
Yeah. Well, yeah, it's, it was it was my, it was basically what I wanted to achieve. And as far as publishing goes, eventually, I always wanted to get something published by Fantagraphics. Because in the 90s, it just when I was reading, reading comics, most of them were Fantagraphics comics. And I think, you know, that goes for the same of anybody of our generation that that likes the they liked these kinds of comics. So to be published by them was, yeah, thrilling. It's very, very, very exciting. So it's not just Fantagraphics problem, these, I've been with them since 2016. And a lot a lot of a lot of has happened in the world in the past seven years. You know, it's just the timing wasn't right. I guess

Brian Heater  18:33  
I understand the push to self published from a financial standpoint that aren't you effectively just taking on a ton more work?

Joshua Cotter  18:42  
Yes, I am. And it's not I'm not going to sell as many books. At this way. It's just I'm basically receding. Just going to focus on this have a small audience. So a few books, and I feel it gets to the point that I can't handle it. But yeah, I you know, like I said, down the road, depending on how not a week goes. Because right now it's it's a bit of a struggle. But I'm still intent on finishing it. And I really, the future is pretty much wide open for me right now. And self publishing is just like, Okay, I'm going to do this for now until I figure out what net what's next. Do you retain the rights to the older books with the Fantagraphics? Yeah, yeah, I talked, I talked to Eric I an AI signing the contract. And I when I finally made the decision to part ways I told him, I was like, you know, I say this fully understanding that I'm under contract. So if you guys legally have to keep publishing. I understand. But he said, he said he wasn't going to hold me to the contract and that where we you know, we broke that we agreed to break the contract. And basically, they're gonna they're gonna finish selling the first two volumes. And he said, If I ever changed my mind, the door is open. So it's That's there's that.

Brian Heater  20:02  
It's like one of those relationships and you break up with somebody and you're like, yeah, no, I don't hate you, you know, just didn't quite work out. Yeah,

Joshua Cotter  20:10  
it didn't. It didn't work out. And it was just hard because I liked a lot of people that Fantagraphics. You know, a lot of great individuals there. I know. But I don't I don't, I don't think they're, you know, there's no animosity. And I don't think there are any hard feelings, I think I think I was clear enough about my frustrations and what was going on that everybody understood,

Brian Heater  20:29  
what does self publishing entail? One criticism I

Joshua Cotter  20:33  
received over the past few years only being able to release a book every you know, every four or five years was that it just doesn't come out with great enough frequency. And the issue is, for me, is Fantagraphics or chase, not a way? Not a way isn't. It's a long book that not really in small chapters. So I never planned on releasing it in smaller pieces. And serializing it just because I'm not writing it that way. You know, but I've started thinking that what I'm, what my current idea is, it's still rolling around in my head, but I haven't, I haven't. The plans aren't in stone or anything. But my plan is to once a year, release the pages that I've done for not a way, maybe say one year, I do 40 pages next year, I do 30 pages, 60 pages, whatever, then I release that. And in the meantime, and along with that release, I'm thinking about doing like a one man, a one person anthology type thing, where I collect older work, some things I've done over the year, like short, like anthology pieces, illustration, stuff like that, and then just release a book yearly. And then when I get enough to release a volume, figure things out from there, but that way, at least annually, I would have something new coming out rather than radio silence for five years and then you know, just throw it throw the workout to the void. I have to find another way to to do it. Yeah, Craig

Brian Heater  22:00  
Thompson has been doing that with his latest. I don't know if you follow that at all. I think he can make it through on civilizing.

Joshua Cotter  22:06  
It's thrilling civilize. I haven't I haven't read it. No, but yeah, it's I you know, when I was in, like, going to Moca and all that stuff, and like, someone would come by the table at that house, and like, it was seven Oh, wait, we would try to hand them floppies. And, like, can people floppies if they were like reviewers or something like Chris, but he would he would he want to get the book reviewed. And it got to the point where nobody would take they said we don't take staples, you know, so anything with staples in it, they wouldn't review. So at that point, people started moving towards, you know, releasing these sticker books, these these graphic novels. And now it seems people want smaller, smaller quantities at once, you know, so it's just, I can't keep up with market stuff very well. So maybe it's not the right time for an 1800 page. Sci Fi comic you know, that's the boat I'm in.

Brian Heater  23:03  
Yeah, I think the days of was a dunk in the Wonder Dog over here at this point. Yeah, dunked

Joshua Cotter  23:08  
on the Wonder dogs a good example. But I'm, I'm determined. I don't know if it's gonna happen. But I'm determined to finish this comic.

Brian Heater  23:16  
How mapped out is the thing at this point, I've

Joshua Cotter  23:18  
written everything, I just have to draw it. That's the problem, the drawing takes much longer than because I knew it was going to be long when I started it. And I wanted to make sure it had an ending worth working towards. So in order to do that, I had to write it. I mean, of course, like say, when I start working on volume four, it's not like I know all the dialogue and stuff. I still have to write all that but I know the basic store struggle story structure. And when I worked for HBO, they needed a Bible. So I actually took the opportunity to type it up ended up being like a 60 page document the whole story, and I was really nervous giving that to them, because I knew it'd be another 20 some years before I even got to the final book, you know, like writing the final not away. So it's a it's only the information is only out there in one place, but it is it is written out. It's just, you know, drawing comics, the way I draw comics takes a long time.

Brian Heater  24:14  
Sorry, what was the HBO deal?

Joshua Cotter  24:15  
Oh, back back in 16, or 17. They contacted me wanting to adapt not away. They contact me directly rather than doing a you know, through a production company or something. Maybe they were trying something out with one of their executives. But anyway, that for about two and a half years, I worked with HBO and working on what they sent me with a showrunner which I don't know if I can legally talk about who they were, but it was a filmmaker I had I had a lot of respect for but they were it was a very frustrating two and a half years and the project fell apart. Which was fine by me. By the time I was before before my time was even done. I was to the point where I was like, you know, like, I'm stepping back. I really do. don't want to be part of this anymore. I just there wasn't going in the right direction for me and I was uncomfortable with it

Brian Heater  25:05  
sounds like the experience afforded you a lot. As far as you know, mapping it out and like getting paid effectively to work on the store. It

Joshua Cotter  25:13  
was a great, it was a great opportunity. And I don't regret doing it. But I've also learned that I, if, if anybody should come, you know, with an option again, I'll be sure to draw some boundaries beforehand. But as far as like a learning experience, and yeah, it was it was invaluable. It was it was worth uh, I just it was I'm glad it's in the past,

Brian Heater  25:39  
I think a deal like that you have to either a understand that, like, nobody. Nobody gets full freedom. Yeah. Over over that, you know. Yeah. And if you can be, you know, if you can be Zen about it, and just appreciate that it's maybe a paycheck that won't come along. But I also understand why you, you have a lot invested in this thing that you've been working Yeah,

Joshua Cotter  26:05  
I'm pretty protective of it. And they knew it from the beginning. But, or I expressed it from the beginning. I'm not sure how much of what I say gets through sometimes, but being on the spectrum, beans and about it, unfortunately, ended up being not possible. And that was the problem because they kept, you know, stepping on my toes,

Brian Heater  26:27  
thinking about like, driven by lemons, in particular, I have a copy of somewhere, but I reread some of it through your blog, and you know, it's pages and pages of text scrawl and when you go back and look at some of your work, like knowing this thing about yourself now. Does it make more sense for you?

Joshua Cotter  26:46  
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Because reevaluated the bozkurt skyscrapers is about growing up autistic and driven by lemons is about having an autistic meltdowns. And I didn't know what was happening at the time, I just knew I was experiencing something that was not necessarily unique, but affecting me very much, you know. And those two books were my way of just that's how I use art. That's how I use comics is a means of figuring things out. Infinite comic, I don't know if you read that, as I was really struggling with what's been happening the past couple years with the pandemic, and the insurrection and everything and the only I wanted to work on Nottoway. But the only way I could move forward was get this out of my system. So but yes, I certainly have considered going back and even like they're out of print now skyscrapers and lemons. And I've considered not annotating. But noting that I wrote these about autism without knowing what was wrong with me, I was just trying to figure it out. And both were crucial to me, finally, getting to the point where I understood what it was it was all part of the process. And if I didn't have if I didn't have art, I don't know what I would do, because that's the only way I think things out.

Brian Heater  28:02  
I think there's a lot of value in talking about this. And I think you've taken some good first steps again, with the the, the work that you're doing on the blog, but honestly, there's a way here to appeal to a lot more people I don't know, I don't know, quite hard to connect the dots there. But the fact that you that it is this experience that you had, that a lot of people have, and that a lot of people for, you know, I mean, when we were younger, it wasn't diagnosed as much as it is now it's it's definitely it's never really been diagnosed that much and women like you know, all sorts of

Joshua Cotter  28:38  
there's just so much more understanding, I'm sure you've read up on it, but also

Brian Heater  28:40  
it's like, you know, as you know, very difficult to get diagnosed later in life.

Joshua Cotter  28:46  
It is the diagnosis itself. I when I was still trying to figure things out and after a couple of years after I had diagnosed self diagnosed I because they'd say it's okay, so I don't go around telling people I'm autistic but like I'm pretty sure I'm autistic. Yeah. They got to the point where I wanted to get diagnosed because I needed some people in there close to me to believe me because one of the problems of being an adult is autistic because you've been masking and getting along for functioning. Your height. Yeah, so they don't see that you're actually you know, it's quite a struggle and all the depression and stuff and anxiety I experienced it and other people on the spectrum experiences is from not being able to conform. So, I finally I finally decided to get the diagnosis and I read how difficult it was and how you had to go through so many stages and it was so expensive because they primarily they primarily just help white rich kids specifically boys like you were saying

Brian Heater  29:47  
the generally it's easier to get covered as a kid than as an adult. I would Yeah, sure.

Joshua Cotter  29:53  
There's that too. So, you know, but here in the middle of rural Missouri or a there's there's there is not even a psychiatrist within 100 miles, you know, a therapist. So I was like, Well, what do I do? Who do I talk to? So I remember growing up my next girlfriend, her brother was autistic. And I always enjoyed being around him. And he I remember he lived in a community about 30 miles from here with other neurodivergent mentally disabled people. So I was like, well, maybe there's someone out there and I looked up there, and there was a person that's qualified to diagnose. And I just sat down with her for a couple hours, my wife and I, and she asked me a bunch of, and she, you know, we met a few times and everything, and she ended up diagnosing me, but I didn't have to go through all the rigmarole. I was

Brian Heater  30:45  
recently formally diagnosed with OCD. There's a lot of overlap between the two.

Joshua Cotter  30:52  
Sure, yes, comorbidities. Yeah, it was it is difficult. I don't

Brian Heater  30:56  
know how much you know about OCD. But I mostly do. I don't have to explain it to you. But when people think of OCD, they think of the C in OCD, they think of the compulsions, they think of like flipping light switches on and off, and all these things, and that's all accurate, but the OH is the, the really scary part about it. And that I think, is a has been a very valuable thing to me of realizing that having, you know, I mean, it sounds really silly saying it out loud, but just having a thought doesn't make you a terrible person.

Joshua Cotter  31:25  
I don't think it's silly, because I agree. Because, you know, those those words, OCD, autism, they, they can only define so much, but to have that word, you can look at what's behind the problem of what's creating it, and it helps, it can really, really help to understand that it's not your fault. You know, it's it, because that's one of the things that's bothered me all my life is like, you know, it's like, everybody tells me, I'm okay, but so so I must be doing something wrong myself. And you tend to start internalizing and blaming yourself for things that are, you know, physiologically out of your control. So I understand that completely.

Brian Heater  32:08  
Not an astrology person, I don't, you know, if people are into astrology, that's great. I don't have any issues with it. I'm not personally but I liken it to, like, one day, just getting the most accurate horoscope of your life, where, like, you read down the list, and you're like, Oh, if I had known this 20 years ago, things would be different. My life

Joshua Cotter  32:31  
would be completely different if I would have received some diagnosis in my teens, but you know, I always my, I'm sure my parents feel some guilt for, you know, not being able to help me when I was younger, but the information wasn't there, you know, it's still not here, I had to bring it, I had to figure it out myself, you know, and that's what a lot of us are doing is figuring it out for ourselves. But yeah, just just to have a name for it. And to think, Okay, this is something that's out of my control. Let me worry about the things I can control. You know, and and things might balance out a little bit better.

Brian Heater  33:08  
You had said that the valuable thing for diagnosis for you was that there were people in your life who wouldn't believe it without it when you when when you were able to sort of show them this you know, when you when you're I guess validated, whatever, whatever the right word is. Were they surprised?

Joshua Cotter  33:28  
Some some people close to me still don't believe it. It's been a difficult time. As far as that goes, but but but yes, they, they just were unsure until I was like, this. This paper is a piece of papers right? Signed says I'm autistic level one, you know, it's like, I swear to you, I'm not making this shit up. And yeah, they were there was surprised. It's like I was right. You know, it's like, there's no vindication and I don't feel vindicated. I just I just want people I think everything I do is just working towards understanding. I've I've had difficulty with communicating people in my life like you and I are sitting here talking fine, but I can't I can't articulate exactly what I want to say. Typically,

Brian Heater  34:10  
you know, when we were talking about doing this a few months ago, you said I just I can't right now.

Joshua Cotter  34:15  
Yeah, I have to draw I have to be able to tell people and some people don't take it kindly they get upset if I say I can't do this. Some people don't like to be told no. But I've it's something I've learned and especially since I've been diagnosed I was like okay, I know I am this whatever this term actually means I am not wrong. So I can I can draw boundaries more easily knowing that I'm in the right by saying my mind can't handle this right now. You know, it's and it's important for everybody to do that. I think we just we aren't people get offended if you if you do it and it's it's it shouldn't really be that way. We should be able to listen to each other and say, Okay, let's try again later. So and yeah, it's just back back then. I had I had a couple people reach out to me about interviews just you know, because everything that was happening, it was very frustrating because I'm talking about I need, I need to reach a bigger audience or my audience, but I can't. My body and mind won't cooperate. And it's so dang frustrating,

Brian Heater  35:13  
even like making a conscious decision to get off social media is not a thing that everybody does.

Joshua Cotter  35:21  
I don't want to get too grim. But I've been pretty low in my life. And driven my limits is about, you know, pulling myself out from these depths where I well, I mean, I, I want to be straightforward. So I'll say I deal with suicidal ideation if I get low enough. And it's not when I when I say that people think I think people have a cartoony movie idea of what suicide, suicidal ideation is, it's because it's not something I want in my head. It's a it's a compulsion. It's related to OCD, I believe where it's like, it's just like, Okay, well, you, you probably have to do this, you got to take care of this. It's an obsessive thought. It's, yeah, it's an obsessive thought it's casual. And I, you know, it feels separate from me. And that's what makes you feel crazy.

Brian Heater  36:07  
I think that this is all super useful. Well, you know, helpful for people who, especially for people who like don't have that word for it,

Joshua Cotter  36:16  
I want to help their I mean, I want to help people i Because I, that's what's helped me realize, or once, once having the diagnosis has helped me realize so many things. I can see in the comics industry, how many? How many of us? How many of us are on the spectrum and how you can serve kidding. Yeah, right, exactly. I mean, in the creative art career in the arts at all, you're gonna find, you know, far more,

Brian Heater  36:42  
yeah, but there's, there's something about comics as a solitary act.

Joshua Cotter  36:51  
Yeah, it's, it's a solitary act that you can do all day, you never get tired of it. And you get, you get to organize information. And that's, that's a great feeling for people on the spectrum. And I've realized that I'm drawn to comics, because it's my natural way of organizing information. These past few years, I've just gotten so heavy that, you know, I just this stuff has triggered me over and over again. And it's just from scrolling.

Brian Heater  37:16  
Creating and consuming are two different things. But obviously, they're they're linked, you just made it one day, you just decided this just needs to stop for a while. And I just need to not log into.

Joshua Cotter  37:30  
Like what I was going back to earlier, it's like before, I wasn't able to draw lines for myself, I just keep going. But I realized like I am a person that needs lines drawn, and I have to say social media is making me sick right now I need to step away from it, you know, it's like, I don't need I don't need suicidal ideation from looking at a tablet or a cell phone. It's not it's it's silly to put myself in a situation to just constantly feel like I'm being hit, you know, by especially on those some of those bad news days from the past couple of years. And it's not I'm high, I'm not hiding from it, I but I have to protect myself from it, because I can't function at all, if it keeps hitting me, you know. So my distancing from social media is just I can't I love seeing other people's work. It makes me so happy to be around, see other artists and everything but, but when it comes to the socio political aspect, the dominance of white supremacy and fascism, the retorque anyway, on social media is incredibly disturbing for me. And I, I can't, I want to change it, and there's nothing I can do to change it. But staying on there is making me feel sick, you know, I just I can't do it, I have to step away, even if

Brian Heater  38:45  
you want to get away from it. And while you're on there, the algorithm won't let you the algorithm man

Joshua Cotter  38:49  
that it gets me it knows it's it's just punishing. I just I can't I can't if it's not going to be responsible. I'm not going to get involved. You know,

Brian Heater  38:58  
everybody experience not everybody. Maybe everybody, most people experience some form of

Joshua Cotter  39:04  
these last few years, people haven't experienced burnout. And I don't know how,

Brian Heater  39:08  
yeah, certainly everybody's experienced that at some point in life. But I have this sense that autistic burnout and like neurotypical burnout are not the same thing. But I don't know what the distinction is.

Joshua Cotter  39:22  
I'd have to think about it. I would say that they're very similar. It's just autistic, takes it to a point where you begin to begin to shut down emotionally or psychologically and physically. You're tired, you're exhausted, it keeps happening. You can't step away. Everybody has their threshold. I just, I guess maybe a threshold where you're able,

Brian Heater  39:45  
well, you're talking about the difference between being able to function and not being able to function. It's a matter

Joshua Cotter  39:50  
I mean, I think a lot of people experiencing burnout, these fears they're still able to push through and, and deal with the burnout. autistic burnout is to the point where you can't function anymore, and it's dangerous because you can get to the point of a meltdown. And a meltdown is when a burnout has gone so on so long that your body's like, Okay, well, if you're not going to take care of this I'm going to and the meltdowns are, are the worst. Burnout leads to meltdown. And that's what driven by LeMans was about and I had another meltdown while I was creating an infinite cook. Infinite cock I know is like, you know, it's a, it's a humorous satire, but I was, I was really, you know, really low when I made that comic. And I had a meltdown while I was making it. And but I would say that's the main distinction is typical burnout doesn't hospitalized you. Whereas neurodivergent, burnout, if you don't monitor it, and take care of it. You could wind up in danger. You learn the basically, you lose complete control over your mind, and body. It's terrible

Brian Heater  41:02  
throughout any of this. Did you ever consider leaving comics for at least you know, an extended hiatus?

Joshua Cotter  41:12  
Yes. So I was doing pretty well. After gripped by lemons, I was feeling a lot better. I met my wife and we were we, she's an artist. And I found that having a relationship with another artist was a very healthy thing for me, because they understand the time you need, the mental time, the studio time, everything else. So it was a healthy relationship. And I was doing well. And I was getting knocked away to a point where I was actually going to start writing it, I started writing it back in Oh, eight. And I was gonna start like writing dialogue and breaking things down. And we had a fire in Chicago, my apartment fire, we got caught fire. And we basically Long story short, we, we without a home for a few months, we, you know, couch surfed and we finally made it back to here in Missouri where we built a house. But that was even a few months, a few months later. During that time, I seriously, I was already kind of seriously considering stepping away because I was frustrated with, you know, comics, it's frustrating. You can't make a living at it. And you know, the there's a vocal population that hates your work online. And it's just, why am I doing this? What's the purpose? may as well just be creating for myself. But I after the fire. We were building the house, there was a period of two years there where I just had no routine and not making comics felt pretty good. And the longer it went on is like, you know, it's like, do I need to return to this? Or do I want to do I want to keep doing this to myself. And after my son was born after that two year period, we finished building the house, my son was born a week later. And I was like, Okay, well, I better do something, I guess. And I was like, if I'm going to make this art thing work, I could either, you know, do painting, which is difficult. Or I could do comics, which I've been doing for a long time. And it's difficult, but I do love it, you know, and my love brought me back around to make it not aware. But there was a couple of years there where I considered not doing not coming back to doing anything.

Brian Heater  43:24  
Ultimately, there was a little bit of I mean, it's, it's funny to say but like, there, there was some like financial incentive in it.

Joshua Cotter  43:33  
Well, I was either that or since we moved back here, I would have to work at a factory full time, you know, because that's about all there is around here is factories and farms. So I was like, do I want to spend all my energy in a factory and then draw afterwards? Or do I make this work and it's like, I can't say I'm making it after that was about the decision to the time where I told you I haven't worked since 2012, like a regular job, but it's like, I can either do this factory thing or I can I can draw and I was like I have to make comics work because I don't know how to do anything else. So, you know, besides besides cleaning up grease traps or stock groceries, which you know, it's like everybody skills. Yeah, I've done it before but and I'd rather not anymore. So I'm doing still doing my best to make this work. You know,

Brian Heater  44:20  
I can think of one obvious downside of you know, not not being able to attend shows like you used to, but how much does location actually matter when you do what you do?

Joshua Cotter  44:31  
I don't I'm not so sure it matters. It's hard to say because I don't know. There's so many factors that have changed my relationship to the comics industry quote unquote, these past few years. So it's hard for me to say but I felt those first few years especially working on not away I was I could be anywhere doing that and that's one of the reasons why I moved home and moved back to this area. And my my wife my my partner was willing to because you're able to live in Chicago, I'd have I rent expensive, you know, and I have to I have to work full time just to have an apartment where I may have some energy left over to make comics. And that's where I was in 2010 or so I was like, you know, like, I'm getting older, I'm in my, I'm in my, at that point, early, mid 30s. And I was like, I at that point, even I started noticing I wasn't having as much energy. I couldn't pull all nighters, like I used to, you know, I couldn't do stuff, like, and I was like, Okay, I have to, I have to find a different way. So that's the reason primarily, we moved back here. So we were able to, we built our own house, my wife and I to save money, and just we did whatever, we couldn't save money. And once we have this house in this studio space, then we can pay property taxes, no one will bother us. And we can just stay here and work on our stuff, you know. So one of the one of the ways we're able to make it work is we don't have to pay rent and stuff. But we're in a very privileged position where my family, you know, bought land 100 years ago here, and it's, you know, not everybody can move to the country and build a house. And I'm fully aware of that. But since we were in a unique position to do so we decided to, and that's one of the ways I'm able to make it work is I don't have a lot of very cheap living here is one of the benefits of saving versus living in Chicago, I have to have a job or two in Chicago, whereas here I can get by without one,

Brian Heater  46:29  
you mentioned that there aren't any therapists nearby, is there any kind of artistic community that you're able to participate in?

Joshua Cotter  46:39  
There's nothing I have no community here, all community I have is through keeping in touch with people online. I have. I lived in Kansas City for many years, and it's south of here about 70 miles. So once every so often, we go down there, and I have old friends there that are still part of the art community. So I consider them my art community. And I consider the comics community, my community, but I, it's one of the reasons why I do want to get to shows occasionally, because it's the only way I can really get around other like minded people. It's it's isolating here, but comics, and being an artist is an isolating thing, and we're raising kids, so we wouldn't be doing much socially anyway. So it's working out fine right now. But I'd say I'd say the primary deficiency we have is lack of any sense of community.

Brian Heater  47:28  
What an absolute, modern nightmare it is that social media is the cause of you know, so much. So much burnout, and so many terrible feelings, but it's also this lifeline that you've had,

Joshua Cotter  47:46  
yeah, well, that's the only way I have to stay in touch with people and that's why it's, I hate to say love hate because I don't really love it. But I want to be in touch with with these people in my community. But and really, social media is the only way. And I think the most frustrating thing about social media or the internet in general is we have the capacity now to achieve so much and we have so much available to us. And we default squander on hate and arguing and it drives me nuts. It's like it's we have everything we need at this point to progress. If true progress is possible as a civil war. And we're squandering it and that's, that's what kills me right now is just it makes me very, really sad that you feel powerless as you see this happen. I don't know. I just I hope I hope, I hope we learn a little online maturity and how we we deal with each other online and civility because there's very little civility in what in what we do. Not you and I of course, but just you know, in general, we all get we have our moments on Twitter. Yeah, we have our individual moments, of course. But it's to realize the potential and actually utilize the potential of having not infinite, but it's going to feel like it to a human infinite information in your pocket. You know, it's I don't know, maybe, maybe, maybe we need to be more grateful for what we actually have. And I think it's easy to take to take all this for granted. It says

Brian Heater  49:15  
working on this book does making comics is that still a source of excitement for you?

Joshua Cotter  49:20  
Very much. It's, it's, I do everything I can to make it so I can sit here at this chair every day because it's what I really want to do. And this year has been very frustrating. I've only gotten about five pages and not a way down because I've had to pick up so many freelance projects. It's just, you know, it's like, I know my project is there. I want to work on it, but I have to make ends meet. First it's, it's I don't want to relegate it to the to Hobby level. But I don't, I don't feel I have a choice. You know, as a as an adult, as a father as a partner. I might have to hold up my end and make sure that's taken care of before I do something as frivolous as make comics because apparently it's frivolous to do this, I just, you know, in an ideal world I'd be able to make sit down, make comics every day and make a living but we we live very far from an ideal world and at least in my eyes