For those of you that ask: “How did Go Media get started?” Well, here is the story. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think I’m crazy! You’ll also see some cool artwork and learn a little too I hope.
I spent my entire childhood drawing. I had a huge box of crayons. Actually it was an entire drawer from a small dresser. I would pull it out, set it on the ground next to my paper, lay down and draw for hours. I did this just about every day. For some reason I had it in my mind that all children all around the world were doing the exact same thing. What else was there? I didn’t realize that I had artistic parents that went out of their way to encourage my involvement in art. I guess it was just good genes that made me actually ENJOY drawing.
While I was still extremely young, my mom enrolled me in art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art. She told me that I cried and clung to her leg the first day that she dropped me off at class. Later that day when she picked me up I also cried, except this time I had to be dragged from the classroom. I guess I just loved art and drawing.
By the time I was in middle school I was well known as the “kid that could draw.” This only reinforces your skills because everyone would ask me to draw them something. And of course, any time I was bored in class I would be doodling something. It’s also middle school years when I became obsessed with comic books and comic book illustration. To this day I regard professional comic book illustrators to be the most talented and prolific artists in the world. When you look back at Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel it looks like a giant comic book!
I always had a sketch book with me. I would fill pages and pages with rough sketches of human anatomy like this one.
I also had an early passion for business and making money. There was a game on the Apple II (yes, I’m THAT old) called Lemonade Stand. The only purpose of this game was to maximize profits by adjusting the price of your lemonade based on the weather conditions. I loved this game. I had no business education, but I started several businesses even at this early stage of my life. I started a little landscaping business. Basically I was just mowing my neighbor’s lawns, but they were regular accounts and I would be paid $7 per mow – which I would do once a week even if they didn’t need it. Silly now that I think back on it. I also would buy candy in bulk and sell it at a profit to my friends. Unfortunately I usually ate my profits.
As soon as I turned 16 I got a job and stayed employed non-stop all the way through college. I was frequently put into management positions. I think this helped me further develop my business skills. One final significant business I started before opening my first design studio was Beachy Blacktop. One summer during college I was desperately trying to find a day job so I would have my evenings free to spend with my girlfriend. Unfortunately I could only find nighttime service industry jobs. The solution; make my own job! I designed a little flyer that offered my service: seal coating asphalt driveways. This is a tedious and messy job that most homeowners do not want to deal with. I went around my neighborhood passing out fliers. Within one day I had booked 3 jobs! Within 3 weeks I was earning $200 – $600 a day! It was awesome. Sure, I was covered in red welts from the toxic tar that I had to spread. I also itched constantly, but I was really making more money than I ever had in my life. That was my first taste of business success.
I attended the Ohio State University from 1992 – 1997. I majored in Industrial Design. I already had a good handle on drawing and their design program gave me the computer skills I was seriously lacking. I thought it was a fantastic program and I feel very lucky to have fallen into that school. At the time I enrolled in college I only chose Ohio State because that was the big school in my state and that’s where my friends were going. I didn’t realize that their design program was ranked second in the nation. They only accepted 60 students per year! I can still remember how nervous I felt waiting to find out if I was accepted. While the program was fairly technical, I would work comic book style art into every project. And of course, my senior thesis project was… you guessed it – a comic book! I want to note that those first two years on the computer, learning the software, were miserable. Learning new software is not fun. But these days it’s critical to success, so don’t give up!
When I graduated college I had only one goal: become a comic book illustrator. I didn’t look for a regular 9-5 job. Instead I moved back in with my dad to save money. I only took a part-time job waiting tables at night and spent my days drawing. I would create characters, write story lines, illustrate 5-10 pages of my story and then use my design skills to put together a beautiful presentation. I would mail these elaborate packages to every major comic book company and a few small ones too.
Here is a character I made called The Machine. He wore a bio-mechanical suit of living-armour that was powered by his body’s own electrical signals. I illustrated 7 pages of a storyline, had a complete back-story, designed him a logo, etc.
This is one of a series of pages I drew that had Spider-Man and Batman fighting. Sometimes the companies want to see you illustrate their characters and these were my two favorites.
For a year and a half I was showered with praise but never offered a job. The industry was in a bit of a down turn. And perhaps I was not as good an illustrator as I needed to be. Whatever the case, I was frustrated. I was still in debt from school, living with my dad and couldn’t land my dream job. The obvious answer is to go get a real design job – right? Wrong. The obvious answer to me was: start your own comic book company! Publish your own comic books.
I knew the key to success in the comic book industry was Diamond Distributors. They’re the company that actually advertises and sells all the comics in the entire industry to all the individual comic book stores all over the world. If I could get Diamond Distributors to carry my book in their catalog – I would be golden! I proceeded to write and illustrate Dreams: Chronicles of the Undead. It was a comic about the metaphysical effects of a near death experience, that and one bad-ass hit-man.
I completed the first issues and fronted $5,000 to print 2,000 copies. This was a fairly huge deal at the time because I was still in debt from college. Once again I put together an elaborate presentation and sent it off with my book to Diamond Distributors… It was rejected. I thought perhaps they got lots of up-start material and needed me to prove my “staying power.” I finished issue two, put together another presentation and sent it off again. Rejected. I finished issue 3, sent it in… rejected. There was only one thing to do: I hit the road to sell my comics directly to the consumer. I attending every comic book convention I could. I would pay for a booth, set up an elaborate display, bring artwork and sell my comics. After 6 months of effort I had sold less than 100 comic books ($300) and had probably spent more than $800 in the process. At just about this time my girlfriend decided to leave me. This was the final straw. I was absolutely depressed. I was deeply in debt. I was still living with my dad, jobless, girlfriendless and all my dreams of becoming a world famous comic book artist were dashed. I had to make a change.
I started looking for my first “real” design job and quickly found one with a novelty toy distribution company; not a bad gig really. I moved out of my dad’s place and started paying off my debts. But I also knew that working for “the man” was not my thing. I still needed to have fun drawing and creating amazing artwork. I had heard of a local Cleveland artist that had gained national recognition by drawing flyers for a rock bar. His name is Derek Hess and he’s truly a great artist. You can see his work here: www.derekhess.com. I am a particularly big fan of his early poster art. I thought this was a fairly smart way to get recognition. Concert posters are printed, distributed and posted all over the city. And drawing stuff for rock bands would give me a LOT of flexibility on what I could draw. I could basically draw whatever I wanted and have someone else do the work of distributing them all over town! What a concept. I went to one of Cleveland’s top rock bars: The Grog Shop. I met with the owner and struck a deal: I would draw amazing flyers for free. In return she would let me tag each flier with a small advertisement. Also, if any one asked, she would tell them that she was paying me $100/flier. That was it. I would work my 9-5 job during the day, then came home and would draw till 2am, go to bed then do it all over again. I was doing about 2 flyers a week. I probably spent 10-20 hours on each flyer.
A flyer I did for the Twist-Offs. Twist, twister, makes sense right?
A flier of The Pretty Things
A flier for Hi-Fi.
The response to my flyers was immediate. I started getting calls from people that wanted my design services. When I called the local free press to inquire about doing some cover illustrations, the art director said he was just about to call me. His designers had my fliers all over his cubical. One of my friends was a rave promoter and he asked me to start designing rave fliers for him. This was another win-win marketing situation. Rave promoters would typically distribute 5,000+ flyers. I tagged each one with my advertisement.
Define The Vibe flier. This was one of my first rave fliers. Later I started throwing my own raves when I was short of cash.
Within 6 months I was swamped with work. One year after I landed my “real” 9-5 design job I went to my boss and told him I was leaving to start a firm. I asked him to outsource all the work I had been doing in-house to my new company. He agreed. He even agreed to continue to pay for my medical insurance! This was the start of what became Go Media; me in an apartment doing rave postcards, rock flyers and novelty toy catalogs.
The next three years went something like this: I was absolutely swamped with work, logged 15 hour days 6 days a week (plus 5-8 hours on Sunday) and was completely broke. My overhead was almost nothing, but so were the rates I was charging my customers. I was really learning my business lessons during these years. I made tons of mistakes, got burned by customers, tried to hire staff too quickly, etc. It was a real struggle. When finances got super tight I would throw a party at one of my client’s clubs. I would run around in the snow for 4 weeks putting postcards on cars in Cleveland’s club district. The night of the event, I would keep all the door money and the bar would keep all the alcohol sales. Twice during the first year I had to use credit cards to pay my rent and utilities. But with each little success I would reinvest the money I made back into the business. I hired a lawyer and accountant. I learned how to use Quickbooks. I started paying taxes, incorporated, added medical insurance and hired a payroll company.
It was also during these years that I met my future partner Chris Wilson. He was the only other young guy I saw in town truly hustling. He was a worker. He first hired me to illustrate some fliers for events he was throwing at clubs in Akron. Whenever I was running around passing out flyers, I would also see him out working. When I was at the printer picking up stuff for my clients, he was also picking up stuff for his clients. I knew I really needed a partner, so I started dropping hints whenever I would see him: “Some day we’re going to join forces and build a killer design firm!”
By the end of 2002 I was finally making enough money and had sufficient jobs booked to support 2 people (living meagerly). So, I asked Chris to merge his company with mine. He accepted and started commuting 1 hour every day from Akron to work with me. We continued to work 15 hour days 6 days a week (plus a few hours on Sunday) and slowly increased our rates. We continued to make mistakes and continued to plow every extra dollar back into the company. We calculated one day that we were paying ourselves about $4/hr during the years between 2003 and 2005. The rest of the money went into new equipment, staff, advertising and professional help. Our typical work day was 10am till 1am. We spent all day at our desks. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner sitting at our computers. We bartered design services for food. We made one great deal with a frozen meat distribution company that kept us eating steaks and crab legs for over a year. That was great.
By early 2006 we finally were making enough to support a real staff. We hired Oliver Barrett and Jeff Finley. They were the first two staff members to survive the ebb and flow of cash. It was a big accomplishment at that time to support a staff member for more than one year. They both still work for us – along with 8 more amazing staff members. This new group of guys we brought in really had a passion for illustration and rock-band art. They pushed the envelope and helped us land some amazing new clients.
2007 saw unprecedented growth for Go Media. It was literally an AMAZING year. All my wildest business goals were surpassed. The year was capped off with us purchasing a building for our company (we’re still working out of my cramped house.) But all this growth has really taken a toll on my art. When you’re managing a company of 12 people, it leaves little time to draw. For 2008 my goal is to spend more time drawing and creating amazing art. I’m looking forward to another awesome year.
Thanks to all our clients, staff and all my family and friends who helped me along the way. I truly appreciate how much you’ve helped me and how lucky I am.