add to your reading list: the book that killed bortner

by joebortner

Hello–I’m Joe Bortner. If you know me, you might know that I can come off as a bit of a work addict. I love working! They should make some kind of word for people like me. In part, this is because a lot of my work has to do with my (fortunately semi-successful) business as a freelance artist. I can’t legally tell you what I do for my REAL day job, but it pays me a LOT of heavily-taxed money.

It was with this semblance of minor financial security that I leapt into the creative process that would go on to nearly ruin my life this summer: I was going to make a 36-page comic book or literally die trying.

Some context: Every year, the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo happens in late October. I had already been accepted to table at the event in May, and I had promised them a brand-new book in time for the show. One problem: I had almost nothing; just a script and 3 finished pages. Printing time takes any- where from two weeks to a month, so I needed the book done in September. With some haste, I began the physically-and-emotionally intensive process of drawing my comic book.

The thing about comics is that they’re a bunch of little drawings, making up bigger drawings. Over the course of the summer, I drew exactly 441 little drawings. These little drawings are, thankfully, universally great–because I’m a perfectionist. When you factor in about 12-14 hours per page, that’s about 442 hours of completely unpaid labor! Some people would call this “worker exploitation”, and I call it a “self-inflicted great time”, buddy.

As the weeks passed, my deadline loomed increasingly large. No matter how hard I worked, I was falling behind. I forgot why I even liked what I was making. “Does anybody even want to read a book about teen detectives?”, I asked myself. I was working in a genre that was defined by comparisons to Scooby Doo, and it was beginning to take a toll. Nonetheless, I stayed the course. By late August, I was even beginning to like my work again.

Around the same time, I moved away from Boston and back to Burlington for the start of the school year. This was hard for me. To be honest, most of my friends live in Boston. It’s where I grew up. It’s where I chose to set virtually ALL of my comic books, one after another. The summer is an important time for me, and the end of each summer prompts vital self-reflection. I realized that I had just lived what might be the final authentic summer of my life–after all, I graduate in two months. So: this time, I reflected a lot.

I saw a lot of my favorite movies in special theatrical releases this summer: Kiki’s Delivery Service, Speed Racer, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Josie and the Pussycats. To me, each of these films represents a different aspect of the ideal summer vacation. More importantly, I got to see each of them with my best friends. I saw Mitski AND The Beths in concert–I loved it! I went to a lot of parties–I loved it! I watched Thor: Love And Thunder on opening night–I hated it! If there’s an ideal way to live a Joe Bortner summer vacation, I had lived it.

On September 19th, I finished my comic book and sent it to print. This summer had been the greatest summer of my life. (You can buy digital copies of my new comic book at, or physical copies at MICE in Boston on October 22nd and 23rd.)

Categories: joe bortner, oct 11, trash

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