The Man in the Arena

This is something I sent out to my email list a few weeks back and I thought it might be useful to post it up on my Tumblr as well. I hope you like it. 🙂

Alex here, the writer of Artifice and The Young Protectors. I’ve been making comics for a while, so I get a lot of emails from other comic creators. The most common question I get asked is how to get started with webcomics as a writer (which I’ve attempted to answer here and here.) But the second most common question I get is “How do I deal with criticism?”

In 2006, I set out to make comics that feature gay guys as heroes so, as you’d expect, I have some experience fielding strong opinions from random strangers. But as the Internet exposes more and more of our lives and our actions to public scrutiny, I think this is a question all of us need an answer for, whether we make art or not.

In terms of setting up a Web site, there are of course some basic technical things I recommend to everyone to keep the discussion respectful and constructive, such as disabling anonymous comments, and coming up with a clear comment policy. But I think it’s more important to know how to relate to criticism. And no one’s given better advice about that than Teddy Roosevelt in “The Man in the Arena”:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

It’s always easier to destroy than create

OK, so all those male pronouns are very 1910 (women didn’t even have the vote in the U.S. then, which is mind-blowing to think about), but looking past that, the message is very important: tearing things down is easy, making cool stuff is hard. It’s always easier to destroy than it is to create. And everyone has opinions (often strong opinions about things they have little experience with). But very few people dare to put themselves out in the world in an authentic way, and by doing that, you are a hero.

Success at anything requires risk (even if it’s just the risk of wasting your time). If you take on risk, sometimes you will fail. Failure and the ability (the choice!) to persist through failure is the price of success. There are a few dark souls who will try to tear you down for trying something new or different; there are a lot more well-meaning souls who will try to “protect you from yourself.” But I believe that the best path to a life well-lived is to follow your heart and your dreams. “Follow your bliss” as Joseph Campbell used to say. And anything that stops you from that pursuit is static that should be overcome.

But wait! What about constructive feedback?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do pay attention to constructive criticism, especially if it comes from a chorus of voices in my comments section vs., say, one or two cranky people. I look at the concern carefully, and if I decide it really will make an improvement to my story, I thank those who suggested it and make the change. But as many creators can tell you, negative criticisms and complaints can often feel like they have a ton more weight than pleased reactions and attaboys.Artifice has gotten a bunch of 5-star reviews on Amazon, but it’s the one 3-star review that I thought about for weeks after. It’s just human nature.

But it’s also a skewed view of reality, a form of delusion that’s baked into me through evolution (and perhaps some dark parts of my own childhood.) And it’s when I get those random cranky complaints (“You shouldn’t write about that, people will think you’re a bad person”, “You shouldn’t charge so much your work, you’re not worth it. Not yet.”, “You need more (or less) sex in your stories”, “I’m quitting you unless you do X”) whether it’s from a stranger or a friend—that’s when I go back and re-read “The Man in the Arena.”

Embrace passion

Good stories come from passion. The only heart you can be sure of is your own; trying to guess what’s going to please others is a losing game. You’re never, ever going to be able to please everyone. And if you could, the stories you told would be so bland, that no would ever feel passionately about them.

So I’ve decided that I’m just going to go ahead and tell the kinds of stories that turn me on, that make me feel engaged and alive. Sure, some people won’t like them. But those that do, they’ll be able to see themselves, and their own dreams clearly and powerfully, possibly for the first time. And helping people who are traditionally ignored and disparaged see themselves as the heroes of their own stories is a major reason I do what I do.

Be true to yourself

A lot of people never realize their dreams. A lot of us never even try. But a lot more of us could if we cared less about what other people thought and instead stayed true to ourselves and our goals. I believe the single most important factor behind success is persistence (also know as grit). And to have exceptional success necessarily involves taking the risks that other people won’t.

Sure, if something seems to be good advice, I’ll consider it; but ultimately it’s just me in that Arena. I say, strive valiantly, dare greatly!  While those cold and timid critics must satisfy themselves with the lament “If only…”, it will be those of us who dared failure, who will know the great enthusiasms, and perhaps even the high-achievements, of a life well-lived. And trust me, as you get older, you’ll have far more regrets about what you haven’t done, than what you have.

My advice? Listen to your own heart, and be the person trying to make the difference. The world needs fewer commentators, and more heroes. And not just in comics.


One of the ways I’m trying to realize my own dream of becoming a full-time comics creator is through Patreon. I set up my Patreon Page in the middle of January, and so far it’s been going great.

Over 490 of you are now Patrons, and are getting special sneak previews of the art, insider-information on the backstory of The Young Protectors’ characters, and that good feeling from knowing you’re helping to support comics that matters to you. In just five weeks, we’re already at $4186/month!

Last week, Patrons unlocked the first short prose (non-comic) story Milestone Goal about how fan-favorite character Spooky Jones got his special cap and why he wears it everywhere. Now all Patrons, including those who join right now, can read that story!

This is the first prose story I’ve created based on a character in my comics, so I was a bit nervous how it would be received. But here are some reactions so far from readers like you: “This is so much more than awesome that my deep, masculine and manly squeeing (which is being FORCED out of my inner being) implies.” “Sad and very touching. I’d expect nothing less from a Spooky story. I’m glad to be here to read it.” and “Basically this is a gem and I thank you for it.” This story has generated more Comments and Likes than anything else I’ve done so far on Patreon—and that makes me feel very happy.

Then yesterday, the Patrons blasted past the next Milestone Goal (at $4000/month) which means that Patrons who chose to receive the Special Digital Rewards will now have access to the fully nude, NSFW, Full Monty Kickstarter rewards, featuring the adult characters of The Young Protectors!  And so I just posted up the Sexy Height Chart of the Guys, which shows all the male members of The Young Protectors team lined up by height.

Curious how our boys measure up? If you become a Patron now, you’ll get a chance to find out! 🙂

(Oh, and unlike the other Patreon rewards, the NSFW rewards have an expiration date: I’m only keeping the NSFW rewards up on the Patreon Page for 60 days. So if this is something you think you’d like to see, please don’t wait too long!)

There are lots of great benefits to being a Patron, and you’d really be helping me out if you became one too. If you’re enjoying my work and would like to see it continue (and would like to get access to all kinds of special benefits!),

please take a moment to watch the video on my Patreon page and consider becoming a Patron.

Thank You

So, that’s what I sent out to my list. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts about “The Man in the Arena,” and that they help inspire you to follow your own dreams. I send out emails like this every week along with other cool stuff, so if you think you might like to get them, you can sign up to receive emails from me here.

Be good to yourself 🙂



Leave a Reply