Webcomics and… Fatherhood?
I received a question earlier this week that seemed somewhat appropriate with Father’s Day approaching this weekend, so I wanted to take an opportunity to go into the subject in greater detail. Here was the question:
Is it doable for the father of a newborn to keep cartooning at night (3 strips a week) if he has a day job? (Wife’s due any day now.) And do you think that temporarily updating less frequently (less than 3/week) will hurt a comic’s readership long-term?
I, of course, told him that it was extremely doable — as long as he was willing to exercise his time-management skills. And, as far as the update schedule goes, I didn’t have any personal experience there, Kris Straub recently backed his schedule down to three-times-a-week and has suffered little is any traffic loss. Of course, Kris had worked very hard to build an audience for his work for about ten years prior to that, and that can’t be discounted.
But Fatherhood and webcomics. That got me reminiscing.
It was about eight years ago, and my wife was pregnant with our first baby. A baby shower was being thrown in Michigan, where my side of the family lives, and I was golfing with my dad and one of my younger brothers (who already had one kid).
“So… what am I in for?” I asked with a nervous chuckle.
The response I got, paraphrased, was that my life was over. My entire existence was about to be handed over to a responsibility that I could never fathom. And anything that wasn’t directly related to raising, caring for and providing for that little life was about to be jettisoned.
“And that comic strip of yours? Forget it.”
Needless to say, I was pretty distraught. I had been doing “Greystone Inn” for a couple years already, and it was beginning to build a decent readership. And, for me, doing a comic strip was a dream that I’d nurtured since kindergarten. It was beginning to take shape, and … now this.
I grieved for the rest of the weekend.
Returning to Philadelphia, I sat, morose, in the cafeteria of the Philadelphia Daily News with a friend of mine, a photographer, in his late-fifties, who had two kids — one in college the other in high school. He opened with “why the long face,” and all of my grief came tumbling out.
Then, he smiled. It was a smile that I didn’t understand. But today I do. He put a hand on my shoulder and he said words that I still remember as clearly as if I were still sitting in that cafeteria.
“Listen,” he said, “your life is going to change, and it’s going to change drastically. But having kids doesn’t mean that you stop doing the stuff you love to do. It just means that you find new ways to do them. You might find yourself doing your comic later at night or earlier in the morning, and I’ll guarantee that you’ll get better at getting more done in less time. You’ll stop doing the stuff that doesn’t matter so there’s more time for the stuff that does — like your family and your comic.
“And here’s the kicker… when he gets old enough for you to share comics with him, it’s going to make you see and appreciate the thing you love in an entirely new way. You’re going to take joy in his discovery, and it’s going to become fresh and new and exciting again just like it was when you first started reading comics yourself.”
And he was right.
I woke up earlier. I worked later. I found out I didn’t need as much sleep as I thought I did. I’ve drawn strips while holding an infant over my left shoulder. I’ve set up a playpen in my studio so my son could play as I worked. Today, both he and his little brother have extensive comic collections, their own Pull List at the comic shop, and get tons of reading practice on stuff like Mini Marvels, Pet Avengers, Super Friends, and other kid-friendly tomes.
And I enjoy comics tons more than I did before. I share their joy over jokes done well. I tie a bathroom towel around my neck and “fly” along with them. By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, I even made a homemade Dr. Strange costume for Halloween last year. And went Trick-or-Treating through my Philadelphia neighborhood. (Try that without having kids.) I’m more creative, more free, and more comfortable being silly than I ever was.
Don’t get me wrong. It can be challenging as hell. The schedules. The priorities. The balance.
But the payoff is so worth it. My life wasn’t over when my kids came into the world. It began.
You certainly can do a regularly updating webcomic and be a dad.
And you can love every minute of it.