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Brian Fies

I loved Sturm's comic (hit close to home) but think I interpreted it differently, if I'm reading you right. I don't see Casey's sponsor, Alan, dealing any hard discouraging truths, except maybe for the "good cartoonist" slip. What I got is that Alan's an old guy who doesn't realize how the business has changed, and his old pep talks don't work in the face of hot young things earning six figures in ways he doesn't understand. In the face of that, all he can do is throw up his hands. He can't help Casey anymore--doesn't know how to begin convincing him not to give up--and in fact is ready to give up himself.

I recently had an exchange with a Facebook friend who wants to illustrate children's books, as far as I can tell has the artistic chops to do it, but isn't getting anywhere. She wondered if she should just give up. Others were giving her boilerplate encouragement; my take (after promising bluntness) was maybe she should give up, or at least try a different angle. "Winners never quit and quitters never win" will only get you so far, and a lot of people keep banging their heads against brick walls that will never move. Don't spend the next 20 years frustrated and miserable. Only she could decide if the effort is worth it. I'm sure you've heard me mention an old interview I read with Angela Lansbury in which she said "Settling is underrated," meaning she'd seen a lot of wannabe actors waste their lives striving for stardom when they'd have been happier and more productive going back to Cedar Rapids and doing community theater.

So I dunno.

To the extent I "made it" (and I don't really feel I have), it only happened after 25 years of not making it but continuing to try. Meanwhile, I had a couple of careers and built a happy family. The balance worked for me.

And I don't understand this newfangled artistic economy either, and am envious of kiddies with (from my POV) little talent getting six-figure Kickstarter payouts, and wonder what's the point, too. So there you go.

Mike Peterson

It occurred to me later -- that is, while taking the dog to the park, by which point my rule is to let it stand -- that my own description of harsh counsel had overshadowed his character's encouragement. As I said, in order for the idea to work, there needs to be frankness and some patience with those who will get there but aren't there yet.

So what I'm seeing is that he's very encouraging, but then, at the end, his young protege goes off feeling okay and he is confronted with the suspicion that, if keeping at it were a good strategy, he wouldn't be sitting there at this stage of his career feeling like he'd missed the boat.

That's also why I pointed out that Sturm wisely leaves their actual talent open-ended. It's critical, if the cartoon is to leave a memorable hole in our souls, that we not know whether these are two genuinely talented guys simply bypassed by recognition, or whether they are bullshitting each other.

Which is essentially the question he's about to ask for help with at the end.

Brilliant stuff for just that reason. I will say that, in Maugham's book, the distribution of actual talent among the various characters is more clearly delineated, but their lack of discernment and the unfairness of the outcome is equally troubling.

Somewhat in contrast to Jake Barnes in "The Sun Also Rises," who runs into objectionable contemporaries in a bistro but, being a Hemingway doppelganger, is clearly, himself, among the genuinely talented.

Which is why the older I get, the more Jake and Brett and company begin to feel like characters in Seinfeld -- fascinating but unlikeable.

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