Disclaimer: This blog post has little to do with Bearmageddon or drawing comics.  Also, I feel like I risk sounding egotistical in some of the things I write below.  I am attempting to write about being a big brother, and that means to write about being looked up to.  I want to write honestly, with humility but not false modesty.  I’ve done my best, but you can be the judge.  Also, because this blog is about brothers, it is about boys.  I love my sisters dearly, and some of this applies to them as well, but I am speaking mainly from the experience of growing up in a house of brothers.  I also write a lot about the dark side of being a musician, and I do not mean to paint all musicians in this way, but only those who truly believe they are the super-humans fans make them out to be.

The character Louis is meant to embody not only my own three younger male siblings, but he is a nod to the young male fans that used to show up at my band’s rock concerts.  That is why he is wearing a Lunaractive hoodie, which was the name of my band.  A lot of the kids that came to our shows had that hairstyle, and even though it bears a resemblance to Malachai in some way, it was actually those kids who inspired it.  Much like being a big brother, being in a rock band tends to put you into a position in which, whether you like it or not, you are seen by some as a kind of super hero or mini god.  I do not attribute to myself these things in the least, but I can say it from the experience of being called a hero on more than one occasion, and in my own experience of how I viewed my own favorite rock stars (especially those in my own home town who were close enough to touch but still so far away I could never be “one of them”).

In fact one day at a concert I literally came upon a kid who looked identical to me at age 15 (I was 25 at the time) who walked up to me and asked if I was Ethan, and then told me I was his hero.  It was surreal, and eye opening.  It reminded me that those kids looking up to me were not fans, or others… they were me.

I don’t know if it is common for a guy in a popular rock band (and we were only popular in a small part of Oregon) to carry the weight of feeling like he has taken on a whole group of new siblings, but I think that all of us in the band felt that way.  We didn’t want to abuse our position, even if it was simply by ignoring it.  We always tried to make ourselves available, to step down from the pedestal kids put us on and let them know we really believed that the highest place we could be was not on a stage where in general only the most shallow and self-indulgent people spent their time, but down where the richness of people could really be experienced… off the high horse and at the same level as everyone else.

It is not an easy lesson to learn, and I don’t know that we fully learned it, because for all the talk I think we all still got a thrill from the experience of standing in the lights at a level higher than the rest of the room and being cheered harder than we had ever been cheered by our own family or close friends… and the simple reason for that is because they knew us very little in truth, and a whole lot in fantasy.  Nonetheless, the 65% cheer of a loved one means a world more than a 200% cheer from a stranger, but in the moment, the stranger’s cheer feels so much better, it just doesn’t last as long.  For if they are cheering you that hard, they are making no room for the possibility that you need correction in life, and the family member who loves you knows that if they put 100% into cheering for you, their will be no energy left to lift you up, and I do not mean to lift you up to a pedestal, but out of the pit you don’t yet realize you are in, and of which all your fans are willfully blind.

During my short time as a rocker I saw a lot of people who survived on the cheers of strangers.  It was like living on a strict diet of microwavable popcorn.  It was a fun, festive and cheap delight that was meant for a late night horror movie on occasion, not to sustain you day after day as a replacement for honest human interaction.  Why are so many rock stars quiet, reserved, hard to talk to and in their own world?  Because they live on that higher ground, the stage, where love comes easy, it costs nothing, and nobody thinks you need correcting.  On the floor, where the most burned out losers share foot space, you have to face the fact that you are just as susceptible to being a fool as any of the rest, and it’s terrifying.

I do have to say that I attribute my straying from the intoxication of the stage not only on the fact that there was never money in it (there isn’t much in comics either, and to be honest, not making money is not a big deterrent for most people addicted to the stage) I have to give credit where credit is due, and that is the church.  You may be the kind of person who is strong enough to find these truths in life without the teachings of humility that I would say saved my soul, but I am not.  I know what I am made of, within my own dark heart, and I know that in me is a guy who revels for the cheap praise of strangers like a dog at feeding time.  I must point outside myself for any explanation as to why I would not have committed my life to the microwavable popcorn of rock n’ roll, because I in my heart loved the attention.  I believed that I, like all people, have a higher calling than to be a great rock star… it is to be a great person, and it became very clear that being a great rock star was detrimental to my greater goal.  I needed to step down to a place where I was not only no longer looking down on others, but that I could look up to them.

From left: Ethan, Noah, & Isaiah Nicolle

I contrast the unearned praises of fans with the unearned praises of little brothers.  I have three and they all mean the world to me.  Most of you are very well acquainted with one aspect of my relationship with Malachai, but few of you know of my other two brothers, Noah who is 2 years younger than me, and Isaiah who is 6 years younger.  Noah and Isaiah share the same mother as I do, Malachai has a different mother.  Noah and Isaiah are the brothers I grew up with, went through the hell of transformation out of childhood with, and who know me better than most anyone else on this earth.  This blog is dedicated to all three brothers, but to these two the most, because they were with me from the days I was a child, and they knew me at my most horrifying stages of metamorphosis.

What is fascinating to me about my little brothers, is that even before I was any kind of hero to anyone else, I was a hero to them for no reason but because I was born first.  Just as by divine roulette I had been given an unquenchable desire to draw pictures without ever getting exhausted, and to eat food without ever looking down at my gut, I had been put in the position of big brother.  My Dad likes to say we are given a “package” in life and it contains some things that are their to make life easier, and some to make life harder… the things to make life easier may only be a vice in disguise.  For my Dad, his pursuit of fame as an Opera singer felt like a good part of his life package until he learned what he was truly meant to do with that thing is set it aside and step down from the Opera stage and unshield himself from the harshness of being small like the rest.  So, part of my package was to be a big brother, and with that package came the great honor of being looked up to… to be a hero without having earned it for one second.  Of course, with that honor came the responsibility to try to fulfill that roll, because much like a parent, in the position of big brother you are looked up to whether you want to be or not.

I say this because as I look back on my life, a lot of little things were instrumental in my journey as an artist and as a man.  Many things deserve credit including my faith, my parents, my friends… but few deserve quite as much credit as my little brothers, because they treated me like a hero before I ever could be even close to becoming one, and if I ever could deserve to be called a hero by anyone, it is because of that self-fulfilling prophecy that they proclaimed when they were only toddlers, they told me my future and believed it far before I ever could… not in the encouraging way of a friend, or the hopeful way of a parent, but in the never doubting faith that could only come from a child who believes wholeheartedly in insane things like Santa Clause, Dragons and Big Brothers.  So, when my brothers wonder how I became the guy I am, I have them to thank in large part.

I hope this doesn’t sound like I am lifting myself up too high, I am only trying to acknowledge that I am in a blessed position, and I know that it is due in part to luck, providence and drive.  Well, even the drive I can not take full credit for because I am saying that it came from the providence of little brothers saying I was awesome, and luck is always a term used out of ignorance of how the universe really works.  In other words: I consider my brothers a gift from God.

Proof that we actually started out this awesome.

Don’t let this fool you into thinking my brothers and I had a great relationship all our lives, especially Noah and I used to fight like cats and dogs.  In fact, my treatment of Noah as a child is one of the great regrets of my life because looking back I see that he looked up to me and I looked down on him.  Much later in my early 20’s, when I began to befriend my comic artist hero Doug TenNapel, I realized for the first time what it felt like to have a big brother.  I realized how inspiring it is, but I also realized how horrific it would be to have someone you hold in that high regard look down at you and berate you.  It took me 30 years of my brothers looking up to me, for me to finally look up to my little brothers and see that they are me heroes as much as I was ever theirs.

So if you have little brothers I hope you look up to them too.  And if you are aspiring for fame, I hope you see as clear as possible how cheap it is compared to the true heroism bestowed on you (and that you are called to) simply by being someone’s son, daughter, brother or sister… not to mention mother or father.  The stage is an incredibly lonely place.  It’s a lesson I thank God for every day.  Thanks for reading.

 

Ethan

 

P.S. for those of you who had wanted to buy my older comic series Chumble Spuzz from SLG at dirt cheap prices (under $4/book) they are now back in stock!  Also, if you live in So Cal come see me at Long Beach Comic Con this weekend!

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