with John Steventon of HappyGlyphs Comics
Name: John Steventon, HappyGlyphs Comics
Comics: The Inquiring Minds, Knight and Day, John’s Shorts
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a cartoonist?
John – I was six when I first starting thinking of cartooning as a career. Something about the Sunday Funnies in the newspaper really called to me. I used to try to draw many of the characters, & realized then that it was not as easy as it looked. The challenge made cartooning even more attractive.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your cartooning career?
John – I just celebrated one year with the National Cartoonists Society. Getting in was a dream come true for someone who has loved comic strips his entire life. I’ve had a cartoon chosen to be in an 8th Grade literature textbook & another in a book on the Underground Railroad, both of which are pretty exciting. I’ve also seen some of my freelance work go above & beyond its original use, in particular safety comics & posters that I have created. Seeing them make a difference in the world & being used as teaching tools worldwide is pretty special.
QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?
John – Decide? Well, I probably always assumed I would be a father, but didn’t actually think about it until I got married. Even then, fatherhood is just a concept until that first child arrives & your entire life changes. It’s an amazing experience, meeting this little person for the first time & yet feeling like they’ve always been a part of your life, like you’ve always known them, & were just waiting for them to show up. It’s indescribable, really & then it happens again & you just can’t believe it.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your career?
John – On the plus side, your family can supply lots of ideas for your work. On the negative side, they don’t always like the way they’re portrayed in cartoons. Feedback is a big plus, though. When you show something for the first time & you can tell that they really like it, that’s great. If they don’t respond exuberantly, then you know you have to work a bit harder.
The most negative, though, is when you are between projects, or pitching a project, & you’re working really hard, but you’re in that odd space where there’s no immediate return; no money, no contract, & just a bit too much uncertainty. When things are tight, that can strain things, which is not conducive to creativity at all.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your career has had on your family?
John – Being a freelancer & a self-publisher looking to be published takes a lot of time. This is not a 9 to 5 job & so there is always a compromise. My work is who I am, so it carries into every aspect of my life. Your friends & family do not want to hear about every detail of your job all of the time & they do get tired of you saying how much “work” you have to do & you not being available every evening or weekend.
At the same time, you want to spend time with them, so feel guilty when you leave the work for later. Either way, you feel like you’re neglecting someone or something & looking at some guilt.
QRD – Have your children effected the comics you make &/or read?
John – Certainly. My family strip Knight and Day is slice-of-life, & currently dealing with parenting. Lots of things, from making lunches to family vacations end up in that strip. My all-ages series The Inquiring Minds is about three adventurous kids & so lots of daily life becomes ideas for those stories. Recently I helped out with a Girl Scout outing & actually learned some stuff that was just what I needed for the plot of a script that I am writing. Bonus!
QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from an artistic career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?
John – Absolutely & I know I’m not the only one. There are times when there is so much work & you’re so busy & yet the money just doesn’t seem to be enough for all that. Worse, there are times when there is not enough paying work & when you’re not sure when the next paycheck is coming. Things can get really stressful.
& it’s not just money, but time. Most people understand the normal job stuff; writing a résumé, sending it out, & hoping to get an interview. That’s hard enough, but as a cartoonist, a proposal to a publisher or someplace can be a ton of work with no guaranteed return on that investment of time. Writing & drawing will always help you develop your skills, but spending three weeks on a proposal & getting no response, does not put food on the table.
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?
John – Yes, yes, & yes. Getting out there is very important to your career & I wish I had started doing conventions earlier. There is always an excuse not to do shows & when the family comes along, the list of excuses grows. Your time is not always your own when you have kids & neither are your finances, so it can make attending conventions difficult to say the least.
I could do shows on my own, I guess, but choose to bring the family along when I can. This is more costly, but it’s nice to have some help & fun to share that side of my world with them. The kids love going to cons & enjoy meeting other artists & writers, being exposed to different kinds of comics, getting lots of swag, learning the art of making a sale, etc. I took them to Comic-con International a few years back & it was mind-blowing for the kids to have that experience.
QRD – Do you think being a father or a cartoonist has a greater impact on your community?
John – Probably a father, but again, both sides of my life are intertwined. Raising my kids to be decent human beings will ultimately be better for the community, but as a member of the National Cartoonists Society I had a chance to have the kids help me run a toy drive for kids in need. That was a win-win for everyone. My job (& colleagues) helped the community, my kids learned that giving can be as rewarding as getting, & some kids in need got some presents at Christmas. It was wonderful to have it all come together like that.
QRD – Would you rather see your children eventually become cartoonists or parents?
John – They can be both, of course, & I wouldn’t want them to have to choose. Cartooning can be a challenging career path, & unsteady, but if they choose to go that way they will be more prepared than I ever was. They will have a distinct advantage, since I can share with them all of the lessons that I was forced to learn the hard way.
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?
John – The kids come first, for me. I figure they’re only little once & I am really lucky to be home for them & so I spend the time that I can with them. I get up early, work out, then breakfasts & lunches & bus-stops, then finally check my email, & get started on my day. Then I take the lunch to school that one kid forgot or attend a band concert or school party, then work some more. Then it’s dinner & off to soccer practice, where I always get a lot of writing done. If the evening is free, I get more work done. If I have a deadline, I can be up working late, which can then throw off the normal schedule. It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun, but I chose this life & mixing the two can be fun. Volunteering to speak to classes about cartooning is always a blast. Kids get very excited about cartooning & have millions of great questions & once they know you can draw Rocket & Groot, it’s all good. Seeing your kid beaming at you from her seat, while her friends cheer you on, makes it all worth it.
QRD – What do your kids think of your comics?
John – Excellent question! Sometimes they act like my work doesn’t exist & other times they fawn all over it. I try not to smother them with it, but my work is who I am, so they get a lot of exposure. From the work itself, I think they are learning to make better artistic choices in their own creations. Just as important, I think they are learning the business side of things & that you really need to do your best work to compete. They see the ups & downs of working from home & I think they realize just how much work cartooning can be. I wish some adults would have that realization, because this is work that we do, no matter how much fun it can be. It’s a good life lesson for the kids.
QRD – Do you think you could ever do a comic project with your children?
John – Absolutely! I think it would be wonderful & we’ve talked about it. When the right time comes, I’m sure it will happen. For a long time I didn’t interfere with their art & left them to develop that precious spontaneity that kids have when they create. Now I’m finally stepping in & giving pointers. A collaboration would be wonderful. In a way, we are warming up for it. My youngest & I recently submitted art to the same magazine, with the same subject. It will be awesome if we both get published simultaneously.
QRD – Any words of advice to young people?
John – Explore the world & its wonders & find what you are passionate about. Once you find it, pursue it with gusto. Doing what you love for a career is the ultimate.