I don’t believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process. ~ Oprah Winfrey
Thank you Oprah! The above quote is a great way to start. I’m writing in response to a blogpost by a very intelligent and talented young man (I’m classified as an old head so I can say this) named Roye Okupe. I’ve never met him but I have read his works and several articles on his interesting journey. In his latest entry, Creating An AfricanSuperhero: Don’t be afraid to fail, Okupe shares trials many creative artists and individuals have experienced when reflecting on where they are in their artistry. After reading his perspectives, I found myself in agreement, saying my man is right, as he described personal revelations on his comic character and the market. If I had his phone number I would haveI would have texted him a quick been there-done that just to let him know he’s
not alone. I concurred with what he expressed but what bothered made me really sit back and ponder was the use of the word fail (or failure). Don’t get me wrong. Okupe used the word correctly, appropriately, and with clear and concise impact. Even his closing sentence, “I will always do my best not to allow fear dictate my future, because I would rather fail while chasing my dreams than look at myself as a failure 20 years down the road because I didn’t try”. I knew exactly what he was saying. I just think it is important for artists, especially those of color who desire to further their culture, to think differently about what failing means in relationship to their artistry.
One of the greatest challenges we have as artists is to realize that failure and success are concepts that have no authority over our work. To put it like this, failure is an artistic impossibility and success is an uncharted and unreachable destination. Our minds have been trained to respond to the extremes; winning, losing…failure, success…fame, obscurity. If we stay locked into these concepts we’ll continue to measure our work with incongruent scales. For example, if one team scores more than another, you have concrete values to work with. On the other hand, works of creativity are often judged by a standard defined by a momentary marketing-based appraisal.
This is not to say one should dismiss criticism, opinions, or sage advice. The acceptance of constructive criticism as a means to build on skill should be part of the tool kit of any artist. To deny your work and label it a failed effort based on someone else’s assessment is to deny your very essence.
When my brothers (Dawud Anyabwile and Jason Sims) and I developed Brotherman, many people told us straight to our faces: How y’all gonna make a black superhero and They’re not going to let you sell those in comic book stores or (one of my favorites) If it’s not blessed by Marvel or DC then it’s not going to make it. There were more statements, everything from how Brotherman looked, to being drawn in black and white, to having an all-black cast, to the size of the book. It would have been easy for us to give it up and go back to doing whatever we were doing back in ’89. Fortunately, our spirits and persistence was fortified by lessons taught by our parents. We stood firm in the knowledge that we had something to give to the world, not simply individuals or niche groups. We had something inside of us that needed to be expressed. Most of all, we knew that everything we did connected to the next link in the chain. Because of Brotherman we have met so many talented artists, new friends, and fans. We have had opportunities come our way unrelated to comic books. We work, not from the framework of success or failure, but through growth, impact, and the knowledge we can do more.
I really appreciated the part in Okupe’s piece where he shared how someone called his animation, not only rubbish but complete rubbish. Undaunted, he took the animation and used it to serve as the foundation which brought his book to fruition. Check it out here.
As artists, we have to believe that everything has its time and place…and we don’t have control over that. The book you produce that sells ten copies may one day find itself in the hands of someone you do not even know. They get inspired and one day they reference you as their motivation. Perhaps that’s what your book was supposed to do all along.
We are preparing to launch out latest work, the Brotherman: Revelation graphic novel.
No one can show how it will be received or how many will sell. What we do know is that once it is fully realized we will have impacted the world…a fact that transcends failure or success.
I am thoroughly impressed by the work of Bro. Okupe. I read his book, E.X.O: The Legend of Wale Williams with my youngest son who now has picked up pencils and paper to draw what’s on his heart and mind. I look forward to one day sitting down with Bro. Okupe to discuss the kinds of things that further what we are trying to do. From there, both of our universes will be expanded.
To me, that is the scale to measure our artistry by.
Guy A. Sims is the author of the forthcoming Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation. He is also the author of the romantically romance novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim. Contact or comment at guysims.com or @guysims6