with David Branstetter creator of Straw Man
Name: David Branstetter
Comics: Straw Man & Winter of ‘89
Websites: strawmancomics.com, dimlightgraphics.com, davidbranstetter.com
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a cartoonist?
David – I think I was 8 or 9 & I felt conflicted that I couldn’t decide between a career in drawing or a career in writing. I had no idea that you could do both! But seriously I was drawing my own comics when I was 12 & kept doing that until I was about 17. The “real world” was looming ever closer & I felt that there was no future in the arts. This wasn’t the most levelheaded decision. I still thought there was a chance I could have a successful career as a musician! But when all that started to die down was around 2001 & I was 21. I decided that I was going to draw at least one comic before I moved on to other things. Turned out I liked it & quickly developed plans to create more.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your cartooning career?
David – A couple of things. I was one of the first contributors to Indie Comics Magazine & I actually got paid to make a comic. I really enjoyed collaborating with Mike & Blair Kitchen for certain parts of Straw Man #10. Afterwards I did a “You Ask Me One” session with Dave Sim. It’s amazing getting the attention of your favorite creator for a solid week. Then in early 2014 I was accepted into CBR’s The Line it is Drawn. It’s not quite the big leagues, but it’s a lot more exposure than a blog. One of my pieces ended up on my brothers favorite website & that was great seeing him get excited about my work. But far & away I’d have to say getting to work as a colorist with Frank Fosco in the back of Savage Dragon would be my proudest moment.
QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?
David – Real early. Like 14 or 15. I just knew I could be a better dad than my dad. I loved kids & I thought I could be a better nurturer.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your career?
David – “A prophet is without honor in his own country.” But I will say when I get a compliment from my parents or my brother it feels very sincere. My wife & kids are very supportive of what I do, so there’s never been an issue there. My wife was attracted to me because I appeared to have ambition (but looks can be deceiving!). They’ve gone with me to several conventions & have supported most of my comic book ambitions.
The only issue is that that family life makes you get a little soft. You start pulling away from the art because you’d rather not say “no” for the 10th time that day. However, if I just decided to lock myself in a room & work for 6 months, my wife wouldn’t say no. She would support any decision I make.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your career has had on your family?
David – Well, pursuing the arts in the competitive world of comics is a path of desolation. So you have to find a way to balance everything until your work can support you. The positives are that we get to spend a lot of time together & we’ve gotten closer as a family.
QRD – Has your daughter effected the comics you make &/or read?
David – It has affected the music that I listen to. I have to be very careful about what I put on & that effectively leaves out groups that I use to love. Music can fuel creation. The kids aren’t old enough to read so it’s mostly not a big deal there. Occasionally my daughter will ask me to read something like “Savage Dragon” & I have to tell her that it’s for adults only. That does make me a bit sad. I can’t show off my greatest achievement to my daughter.
QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from an artistic career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?
David – Absolutely. It’s funny, this year we committed to having my wife transition into staying at home. It was one of the scariest things we’ve ever done, but so far it’s worked out. Opportunities have popped up that I never considered & jobs have landed in my lap. I have to thank God for that.
QRD – Given the limitations having a family has on going on the convention circuit, would you have showed more earlier in life if you’d known?
David – I did more conventions with a 3 year old in tow than I’d ever done before hand. It’s not easier, but there’s a way to get things done. My wife is great at distracting my daughter & keeping her entertained. We also have a portable DVD player so that helps! She’s a film fanatic like her old man.
My aversion to doing conventions is that they eat up the little bit of money that I do make. So until last year I didn’t really have a plan for making money at cons. I wasn’t thinking of it as a business or as something that could be profitable. You just have to find a way to get that table paid for. If it means selling some niche item along with 4 copies of your comic, consider that a victory.
QRD – Do you think being a father or a cartoonist has a greater impact on your community?
David – I can’t draw an immediate correlation in my life. I will say that having children has made me more sensitive to the needs of others. Only recently did I realize that being a cartoonist can be a way of giving back & that what I do is worthwhile to people. So I can give of myself or my time & talent. It is refreshing.
QRD – Would you rather see your daughter eventually become a cartoonist or parent?
David – I want my daughter to be happy. I want her to have a happiness that comes from the inside. I want her to be able to do well at whatever she chooses to do. Part of being a cartoonist is learning to streamline & become more efficient, always improving. If she can apply that same work ethic to whatever she chooses to do, I’m sure she’ll be a success.
QRD – Both family & comics seem like things that will take up as much of your time as you’re willing to put in. How do you end up dividing your time?
David – When I was doing the coloring for Savage Dragon, it was taking up all my time & energy. This really was a breaking point for me. I was getting to the point that I just didn’t want to draw any more. So I looked into getting treated for ADHD & so far it’s helped tremendously. Now when I set my mind to do something, it doesn’t feel like I’m exhuming the dead corpse of my enthusiasm. That sounds a little grim, but I was in some dire straights. It’s hard to tell when you’re a kid if you’re drawing comics because you enjoy the art of drawing or because you can’t sit still. I got good enough to get attention & praise & that led to me doing more & more. So the more you create & the better you MUST get, the more difficult the work becomes & the more you must concentrate to push the art to higher levels. I find myself pushing so hard that it becomes painful. When anything becomes painful you want to do it less & less. So I had gotten to that point of, I think I hate this. I know it’s just “lines on paper”, but that mantra didn’t seem to help.
I run a business, Dim-Light Graphics, & that’s taking up most of my time. I do a lot of comic book like work as well as graphic design. When I can get caught up, I’ll be able to get back to comics. It’s been two years since the last Straw Man & I feel like I need to get a new one out as soon as possible.
QRD – What does your daughter think of your comics?
David – She’s not at the age to make that kind of judgment. She knows who Straw Man is & I think she’s proud that her daddy draws him.
QRD – Do you think you could ever do a comic project with your daughter?
David – Yeah, I think I’d love to do something like that. Ava has such an active imagination. She’s even made her own scribble books that she calls comics. (Stapled up the side, folded in the middle, scribbles all around.) She gets frustrated easily, so she needs to grow up a bit more before we can really think of a good story to work on.
QRD – Any words of advice to young people?
David – Work hard, learn self-control, & take time for kindness.