"Do not correct a fool, or he will hate you. Correct a wise man, and he will appreciate you."
Every time I flew to New York, I came with a tourist visa, which allowed me to stay in the US for three months each time. After those three months were up, I had to leave the country for at least one day, or I'd be an illegal immigrant.
After I completed my mandatory civil service in Germany, I had no reason to fly back anymore. But after I stayed with Donna for almost three months, my visa was about to expire, and if I got caught overstaying my legal welcome, I could be deported and banned from re-entering the States.
So something needed to be done. I figured the easiest thing would be, if I fly back to Germany for a few days and come right back. Then I'd have a fresh three month tourist visa. But Donna was afraid I wouldn't come back, so she didn't want me to go. She told me if I fly back to Germany, for even just one day, it's over.
But what else could we do? She suggested we get married, because once I'm married to a US citizen, I could apply for a green card and they wouldn't be able to deport me, no matter how long the paperwork would take.
Even though we had known each other for well over a year at this point, we had only lived together for about 3 months, and I really didn't want to get married so quickly. I was only 20. I told her I wasn't ready to get married, and flew back to Germany. I told her I'd be back soon, but she was so upset, she said she never wanted to talk to me again. We didn't talk to each other for two weeks or so. I was miserable. I kept trying to call her from Germany, but she wouldn't answer. I wrote her a letter. Finally she called me, and asked me to come back.
When I arrived in New York the next day, I saw that she had fresh scars on her wrists. She had tried to kill herself after I left. Now she tried to trivialize it and said that she was only playing around and accidentally cut deeper than she meant to.
I felt so bad for her, I agreed to marry her. And it really didn't seem like such a terrible idea. We did love each other, and hey, if it didn't work out, I could always get a divorce later.
But in the meantime, every nice day together would be a gift that nobody could ever take away from me afterwards. And how fucking awesome is it that some little computer geek from Germany is marrying this hot woman in New York? I felt like one of those two kids in that 80s movie Weird Science, who created the perfect woman on their computer and then brought her to life.
A few days later, on February 6th 1993, Donna and I ended up getting married. In the living room. By now the money I had made producing video games was running out. I needed to find a job, but while my green card application was being processed, I was technically an illegal alien fresh off the banana boat. Legally I was not allowed to work, because I didn't even have a social security card yet.
In school, I had always drawn silly little pictures, cartoons and comics, to pass the time when I got bored. Donna knew I could draw pretty well, so she asked me to draw her a picture of a knight fighting a dragon. It came out pretty good, and she suggested that I should try to make a living drawing cartoons or comics.
That seemed like a pretty cool idea. After all, if Mikey Mouse and Bugs Bunny can make billions of dollars, I should be able to make at least a little bit of money with my own cartoons. It was worth a shot. I had no idea at the time how tough it is to break into that business.
I drew a batch of ten single panel gag cartoons, similar to Gary Larson's The Far Side. Since everything in Europe is a lot more liberal than in the States, they have a much darker, edgier sense of humor as well. I was used to the uncensored cartoons in German humor magazines like Titanic, which often included nudity and very bad taste, like graphic dead baby jokes. Not the kind of stuff any American magazine or newspaper would ever publish.
I sent my first batch of cartoons to King Features Syndicate, the largest distributor of newspaper comics. They supply thousands of papers across the country with daily comic strips. I was so oblivious, I had no idea how remote my chances were of actually selling a cartoon to King Features. It's kinda like a kid writing a movie script with crayons and then sending it to Universal Studios, hoping to get a movie deal. It just doesn't happen.
And then it happened anyway. King Features bought one of the cartoons from the very first batch of cartoons I ever drew and published it in thousands of newspapers. I thought, "Hey, that was easy. Fame and fortune, here I come!"
It wasn't until a few months later, that I found out how lucky I had been. It was almost like winning the lottery. I was told that every year, over 3000 new artists submit their cartoons to King Features, hoping to make a sale and get their cartoons syndicated in thousands of newspapers. And from what I was told, only about three or four new artists get lucky each year. And here I was, selling a cartoon to King Features at my very first try. Woah!
I figured, making a living as a cartoonist would be a piece of cake. But after that first lucky sale, I didn't sell anything for a while, because my sense of humor was just way too dark for American magazines. It took me a while to understand the different sense of humor in America.
In the meantime I had also submitted a manuscript for a cartoon book to a German comic publishing house. The editor there wrote me a personalized rejection letter and politely explained that my cartoons were amateurish crap. He told me that a pretty famous German cartoonist, who had dozens of books published, just so happened to be living in New York at the time as well. He gave me that famous cartoonist's phone number and suggested I give him a call and get some professional advice from him.
Mr. Famous Cartoonist Guy was nice enough to meet up with me at his house. He looked at my German cartoon book manuscript and told me the same thing the editor at the publishing house had told me: "Kid, this is crap." Then he gave me a lot of good tips that really did improve my work a lot. He knew I wasn't making enough money as freelance cartoonist to survive, so he told me about a German language newspaper on 72nd Street in Manhattan, which was always looking for people in New York who could speak German.
I met the head honcho at that newspaper and he hired me on the spot. He asked me if I knew how to use the desktop publishing software they were using at the newspaper. I lied and said that I did. I figured since I had grown up around computers, I should be able to learn the software on the fly. I was right. From one day to the next, I had a job in the graphic department of a newspaper in New York.
The boss liked my work and made me art director after just two or three weeks. I got to put some of my cartoons in the paper each week, and my boss told me he had always dreamed of being a book publisher, not just a newspaper publisher. He was just looking for the right kind of manuscript for his first book release. I told him I had a manuscript for a cartoon book ready to go. I really didn't. The book was going to be published in America, so my crappy German cartoon manuscript was useless. But I figured if he bites, I'd wing it and quickly throw together a bunch of new cartoons for a book.
He went for it. So now I had to come up with about 100 cartoons in a matter of a week. I drew cartoons every waking minute at home. Those hastily drawn cartoons were shit. Well, each new cartoon was a little bit better than the one before, but honestly, the book was crap. But now I had my first book published. Yayy! I felt like a real artist. I felt like I should be wearing black turtleneck sweaters and a beret.
Working at a newspaper is very stressful, and it wasn't really what I wanted to do, so I quit and decided to live off my book earnings and my cartoon sales as freelance artist. Well, there were no book earnings. I think I sold like three copies of that book. (By the way, thank you for buying THIS book. You rock.)