By Dan Goldman
T hey warned me before I left — my industry friends, my former business partner, even my father — that my “global digital dream” of living abroad while still making the New York Money via laptop wasn’t as airtight a plan as I hoped. That was something I’d been working towards forever, watching as the hardware/software/culture started to catch up to my vision of The Future Writer I had when I was writing short stories in Manhattan diners the late nineties on a Palm Pilot and a folding portable keyboard. I watched an inspiring new friend of mine in the mobile apps biz constantly circling the planet for business and pleasure, the distinction between the two a thing he just laughed at. Watching him flowing effortlessly between New York City, game developer hives in Poland, organic farms on the West Coast, tech conferences in London, shamanic retreats in the Andes, I was sickly-green with envy, having sat on my own dream for years while painting my brand with gunpowder and flicking matches at it angrily from a tiny apartment in Brooklyn.
One of those matches finally caught and boom, I’d done it now: I’d leapt out of the Matrix with a year-long contract with a major US publisher to produce my dream comics project. I’d also been fielding (sometimes even turning away) a good amount of illustration work for magazines, hot deadlines landing in my lap with the worst possible timing, though I always managed to get everything done. And so there was the plan, for now and forever: say yes to all the work, sock away the money like a real adult, produce the best work of my life in an easy-breezy environment, and publish it back out to the world regardless of whereever my physical body happened to be.
What I didn’t account for was the United States’ economy crashing right around the time we get off the plane at Guarulhos Airport. Or that Brazil’s economy, with their lesser reliance on Chinese and Saudi credit to keep them afloat, would suddenly be standing tall as the rest of the world burned. And with the Brazilian real at its strongest point in history and inflation raising the cost of living for all Brazilians significantly, that fancy New York Money was now worth half of what it was when I visited Brazil a few years before, while life here cost twice as much in local currency. We’d left the States to catch our breath and improve our quality of life after living years as gristle in the Grind… but the Grind followed us down here.
Early in my first year in São Paulo, digital book distribution on the Kindle, Nook and the iPad had blown holes in the publishing industry’s business model, industry vets clung together for dear life while advising us authors and creators in confidence to rely on social media and self-publishing for forge our own paths. My comic that was a “sure sell” six months ago was getting passed over now in a weary, over-cautious market. My literary agent stopped taking his clients’ calls because there was no good news for anyone, you could hear it in his voice… if you could catch him. The “graphic novel bubble” had popped and all of publishing was going down with it.
Neither one of these shifts represented anything apocalyptic, but combining the decline of print with the crashing economy, I definitely started to feel the burn down here in my life. All of a sudden, there was less work coming in, clients stopped answering emails, and when there was illustration work, it came in at once-insulting (now quite grateful) pay rates. Every magazine was replacing their illustrations with photos, citing budget problems, circulation drop-offs, digital piracy. Woe o woe to the good ol’ American artists!
But still, I had work… for awhile. In my first year down here, I write and drew two hundred pages of comics and created a pile of artwork for magazines, design clients, festivals. Through the same screen I’m typing into now, I was able to get my graphic novel featured on blogs and newspapers, keeping the buzz moving all by myself as I serialized the story in chapters from that tiny kitchenete in São Paulo. It was a dream to finally realize this beast I’d been working on for nearly a decade… and I was doing it with the security of contract work, so no matter how bad things got stateside, I at least had locked in steady paychecks for the duration of its run.
The real danger though, the one I had been warned about, was the lack of face time. “Out of sight, out of mind” was repeated at me by a chorus of stern floating heads… and when the contract ended and it was time to look for the next gig, that’s when it came to bite me in the ass. With my still-toddling Portuguese language skills, no working papers and zero publishing contacts here in-country, angling for my next big gig here in Brazil wasn’t gonna happen. And with the US market still soft, my literary agent couldn’t close a print deal for me, which was supposed to be “payout #2” that would keep us afloat after the serialized contract ended. I thought I’d thought of everything but those roses never came up. Lil and I had gone full-monty into this move; we’d gotten rid of everything we owned, given up the Brooklyn apartment with the leaky ceiling and the view of the Empire State Building; there was no fall-back plan, no home to go home to. Our life had reduced to a quickly-shrinking bank account of way-devalued dollars and a rent-free kitchenete in a dangerous city where I knew no-one… and now we were gonna have to find a way to make this work.
Looking out at the grey blocky city from our tiny standing-room-for-one patio, I heard horrible groaning noises above the clouds like dying gods, the grand machinery of my rusting digital dreams slooooowly grinding to halt. Millions of invisible panic-ants started crawling all over my skin under my clothes, biting me everywhere at once, an all-over pain telegraphing to me that — despite my noblest intentions — I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake.
Next time: “Visa Red Alert”
Previously in TOUCANNUÍ:
Part 00: Intro: Dead Yorkie, a dead dog and mission statement of sorts
Part 01: A Month by the Sea, in which the journey begins in a red minivan
Part 02: Bem-Vindo, mostly airplane and airport
Part 03: Tanta Chuva, about a rainy first day in-country
Part 04: The View from São Joaquim, meet the new joint
Part 05: The Fruits of Feirinha, a greenmarket odyssey
Part 06: Ser Estrangeiro, on being a foreigner
Part 07: Nova Express, the brain’s first language level-up
Part 08: Bonito, Part I, the family Christmas trip to the wild begins
Part 09: Bonito, Part II, bacon-flavored fish & piranha soup
Part 10: Bonito, Part III [fim], river magic and bye-bye
Part 11: This Will Be Our Year, a new year, a clean slate, grandparents
Part 12: Velorio, a funeral with animal spirits
Part 13: Post-Dictatorship Spending Disorder, urban Brazilians & their money