If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you make a living from producing art. And there’s also a good chance you struggle to make an honest living doing what you love.
James Sturm’s new graphic novel Market Day, on the surface, is about a eastern European Jewish craftsman at the dawn of the industrial revolution, struggling to make ends meet and provide for his family the only way he knows how — weaving hand-crafted artisan rugs.
It’s a heartbreaking tale, made even more heartbreaking by its relevance to today’s shrinking markets for craftspeople, artists, illustrators, and of course, cartoonists. The dying newspaper and magazine industries that once made celebrities out of cartoonists, are certainly represented here as the stores and marketplace sellers who can no longer afford to buy and sell handmade goods. To be sure, the book is dedicated in part “to all my fellow cartoonists”.
That Sturm can offer such a seemingly bleak outlook on the state of art vs. commerce, and at the same time usher in a new wave of young cartoonists each year through his school, The Center for Cartoon Studies, seems somewhat of a contradiction. “Here’s your diploma. Oh by the way, read this story I wrote about how you won’t be able to feed your family.”
But the ray of light here, is that Sturm is a true believer in craft, skill, and dedication to one’s life’s work. Market Day suggests that there has always been a struggle between artists and the economies that threaten how they make a living. And more than that, it suggests that perseverance and purpose are qualities that can’t be understated.