Alrighty, then. Something a might less incendiary this time around. Another selection from the WHERE THE HELL AM I? mailbag:
As an avid follower of your CBR column, you once said you’d get into what it’s like to juggle husbandly and fatherly duties while writing. You kinda glossed over it once in an earlier column, but if you get the time and the thought room, maybe you could give tips on self management, maybe give some other ideas on what others do, like how you did with dealing with bodyweight issues. I’m in the same boat as many others: on one hand, do I take the cruddy job just for the sake of breadwinning and give up on my passion? If so, does this teach my little 7 year old that it’s okay to not dream, to not try, to just do what the world tells her and surrender? I’m sure there are plenty of us out there who’d take any nuggets of wisdom to heart. Thanks, and keep pumpin’ ’em out:)
Good question, Brian. This is something I know a lot of creators struggle with. My youngest son was born around the same time my comic career started to get off the ground. I quit my last day job in order to stay home with him, since I wasn’t making enough money for it to make sense to keep working and pay for day care. As I’ve said before, I luckily have a very understanding wife who was willing and able to carry the financial load when I was barely making anything writing comics, so I never had to try and balance taking care of my son and breaking into comics along with working a day job. I know guys who have done that or are still doing it, though, so it is possible. But Jesus, talk about burning the candle at both ends. It’s gotta be tough.
It was difficult enough for me just trying to balance being a stay-at-home dad with getting a fledging writing career off the ground. I remember asking around to see how other creators handled it, and got some great advice from my friend Ande Parks, current writer of various Green Hornet goodness and the upcoming “Death of Zorro.” Ande said he had tried before to work while his kids were home, but that only led to the feeling that he was half-assing both jobs. So he would watch his kids during the day and then trade off with his wife when she came home from her 9 to 5 job. The big downside of that approach is that it makes it tough to spend much time with your wife during the week and necessitates that you make a real concerted effort to go on dates and share some adult time on the weekends.
I’ve learned that Ande is totally right. I was able to stay home with my son and get some writing done when he was very little and could be entertained by something as simple as a bouncy chair. But eventually kids learn to, you know, move around and talk and stuff, and my work schedule had to change. At first I, put my son in a Mother’s Day Out program (heh) where he’d go for about five hours a day. I’d scramble to do as much writing as I could during that time, but man, five hours goes by like nothing. I remember so many days back when I was working shitty day jobs that five hours seemed to just crawl by, but when suddenly it’s your own time, it’s gone in the blink of an eye. I initially put my son in the Mother’s Day Out program for one day a week, then upped it to two, then three, then four. This was when my comic career was first starting to take off. I was working on “Scalped” and getting my first gigs with Marvel, and there just never seemed to be enough time. I would write during the day and then try and grab some more time whenever I could at night. As someone who was still very much learning his craft, it wasn’t easy. I rarely had any long uninterrupted periods of time in which to write. It was just me doing a little bit here and there. I don’t recommend that for a writing schedule, but I know for a lot of creators that’s the only option.
One thing that did help a lot was that my son loved to go on walks. So I’d throw him in the stroller and off we’d go, wandering all around the neighborhood. I did a lot of my best thinking then. Working out the beats to an issue in my head. We’d pass moms out playing with their kids, and little did these smiling ladies realize that this quiet bald guy out walking his son was really thinking of ways to have the Punisher massacre criminals or Wolverine slice them all to bits.
Eventually my work schedule became so demanding that I had to find a different day care for my son, and for the last year or so now he’s gone to a program that’s a full day. So I work a regular 9 to 5 schedule each week, which has made a world of difference. I get so much more done, and then once my son’s home, I can just spend time with him and don’t have to worry about scrounging for more work time at night.
I love the flexibility of being able to work from home and I cherish the fact that I’ve been able to spend so much time with my son and watch him grow up, but still, if you’re gonna work in comics for a living, or any sort of creative endeavor really, you’ve still got to treat it like what it is: a real job. And that means developing some sort of set schedule. Even if it’s only three hours at night after your kids are in bed, it’s still something. You can’t rely on just working whenever the holy muse happens to inspire you or any sort of bullshit like that. If you want to do it for a living, then you’ve got to look at it as a job. And pretty much any job demands a regular work schedule.
But back to your question, Brian. You’re wondering whether taking a day job means giving up on your dream, and you’re worried about what sort of lesson that might teach your kid. First of all, I don’t think any parent should ever have to feel bad about doing whatever it takes to support their kid. If you gotta take the day job, then you gotta take the day job. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dream. Just means you maybe need to be a bit more practical about it. If you have a regular day job and kids to take care of, then you’re obviously not gonna have a lot of free time in which to write (Those of you out there without children, I implore you, cherish your free time. You have no idea how precious it truly is. No idea.). You can’t expect to be working on 8 different ideas and peppering every editor in comics with pitches. I’d suggest you focus on just one or two ideas.
Your best punch. The one idea you think gives you the best chance to get noticed. By someone, anyone. Find that idea and focus on it. Something small, preferably. If you spend months working on the ins and outs of a 50 issue series, your efforts are likely to end in frustration. Just come up with the best miniseries idea you can. Something original. Something that will make editors take notice. And then work on it whenever you can. Nail down the story beats until they’re rock solid. Know where the story is going and where it ends. Make it shine.
You don’t have to build your entire comic career in a night. All you have to do is get someone’s attention. To convince one editor that you’re worth taking a chance on.
That doesn’t have to be a job that requires 8 hours work a day.
You just need the passion and originality and then whatever time you can spare.
Good luck, Brian.
One last little note about being a dad who writes comics. My youngest son is five, and given the kind of stories I generally write, it’ll be a long, long time before he’s old enough to read any of them (unless I decide to perhaps raise him to be a deranged serial murderer). Which got me thinking recently about writing something he could read. Now I’m maybe not the first guy you’d think of to write children’s stories, but I’ve developed a real hunger for it. Thankfully Oni recently let me write a story based on the kids show “Yo Gabba Gabba,” which will hopefully see print soon. And I must say, one of the real joys of my entire comic career was getting to read my script to my son one night before bed time. He laughed and laughed.
It was the best review I’ve ever gotten.