Gen-X artist wants to save more for retirement, but ...

Billy Martinez, a Generation X artist and comic-book publisher, understands why saving for retirement is imperative. But through the years, financial demands forced him to raid his individual retirement account.

Martinez, 40, opened his first IRA when he was in his early twenties, but a divorce years ago prompted him to drain his retirement cache to keep his condo in La Mesa, Calif. Having eventually remarried, he's been replenishing what are now his-and-her IRA accounts. But he finds it a herculean task.

A tattooed entrepreneur with shoulder-length hair, Martinez spends his days creating characters with such names as Kickass Girl and Wildflower for his comic books and churning out stylized merchandise from skateboards to T-shirts. He also drives a station wagon and typically watches after his four children — ages 16 months to 15 — at his art studio most afternoons.

His strong family ties, Martinez says, are important to him. So is his desire to avoid the work-a-day rut of cubicles, office politics and Dilbert characters. To keep afloat financially, he and his wife, Catherine, 35, find themselves always hustling.

"It can be a bit overwhelming," the soft-spoken Martinez acknowledges. "There are times when I'm very tired."

It's no wonder. Martinez, whose father once worked as a drummer for singer Barbara Mandrell, works six to seven days a week to sustain his business, Neko Press. On weeks when Martinez is invited to "perform" his art at a gallery, a coffee house or lounge, he typically finds himself working into the night. On those occasions, he cranks up the music and works furiously to paint a 4-foot-high canvas of one of his signature characters.

Until this spring, Catherine, who holds an accounting degree, worked as a financial assistant. Unhappy, she quit her job and would like to join a non-profit, preferably one focused on environmental issues. In the meantime, she expects to find a waitressing job to help pay the bills.

The couple's first financial priority each month is setting aside about $3,400 for the mortgage on their two-bedroom condo and rent on the art studio. Like lots of other Gen Xers, Billy Martinez has turned to the Internet to build a wider audience and increase his income.

He created a website, www.nekopresscomics.com, that sells his merchandise, along with commissioned works. In the afternoons, he teaches art classes in manga, a Japanese style of cartooning, to children and teenagers in his colorful but cramped art studio.

For now, the couple's IRA funds are in ultra-safe investments in a credit union. "I grew up in a Mexican household where you did things safer and simpler," Martinez says. "Being an artist is enough of a gamble."

As for their retirement prospects, they're trying to save as much as they can while they juggle the household's competing financial demands. Ultimately, what will help him, Martinez hopes, will be his love of art.

"I enjoy doing my art, and I will probably slow down," he says. "But I don't see myself walking away from drawing or painting. I will probably die with a pen or paintbrush in my hands."

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