with Mike Dawson
Name: Mike Dawson
Comics: Troop 142, Angie Bongiolatti, comic essays at The Nib & elsewhere
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a cartoonist?
Mike – Pretty much as far back as I can remember.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your cartooning career?
Mike – I’ve published three full-length graphic novels (Freddie & Me, Troop 142, & Angie Bongiolatti), as well as many shorter pieces, some of which have been collected. In the past year or two I’ve been posting short comic essays about parenting & politics on my Tumblr & some of those strips have been published at The Comics Journal, The Nib, Slate, & UpWorthy.
QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?
Mike – Somewhere in my mid-30’s
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your career?
Mike – My kids have been hugely impactful on the content of the comics I’m writing. Ever since my daughter was born, my feelings & emotions about fatherhood & having children have made their way into my work. Troop 142 was essentially all about the fears I have about my kids dealing with having to grow-up & figure out how to exist socially. The strips I’ve been making online are explicitly about parenting.
The negatives are minimal. Obviously having children means sacrificing a lot of your time. There are probably other things that I don’t even think about that much - like, I couldn’t just uproot myself & go live in an artist residency for six months. But that has as much to do with maintaining a day-job as it does having kids. In a perfect world I’d like to go to grad school or the Center For Cartoon Studies & do nothing but make work for a few years, but I don’t think that’s in the cards for me anytime soon.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your career has had on your family?
Mike – Sometimes I worry about spending time away from my family to make comics, but I’ve mostly figured out ways to do that that don’t impact them too much. Finding a balance is always the issue & it’s never completely settled. It feels like a push & pull, both making art & being with my family have to remain a priority to me mentally.
QRD – Have your children effected the comics you make &/or read?
Mike – Like I said, definitely the comics I’m making. It’s a cliché, but they say having kids changes you & I definitely think that’s true. It’s tough to remember who I was before I became a parent. It’s hard to recall what, if anything, preoccupied me to such a level.
As for what I’m reading, truthfully I’ve found it tougher to be the same voracious reader of comics that I once was. I don’t know if it’s because I’m physically/mentally more tired at night when I get time to sit down with a book or if it’s all to do with having a smartphone that’s constantly demanding my attention, but reading can be a struggle. In part, the reason I host a book-club podcast is to force me to keep those reading muscles in shape. I do think reading is like a muscle. The more of it I do, the easier I find it. If I let my brain fall out of shape, it’s tougher to get going the next time.
That said, it helps to read engaging work. I recently read Michael DeForge’s Ant Colony, & loved it. He’s amazing. Other comics I’ve read recently include BORB by Jason Little & The Hospital Suite by John Porcellino.
QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from an artistic career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?
Mike – At the moment that aspect of life is reasonably well sorted. I have steady non-comics work that earns me a living. My wife is working as well. I earn practically nothing from making comics (though I have been getting paid some money from some of the online publishing outlets I’ve done work for recently), but I’ve always been trying to be OK with comics being something I do for myself & not for money. Often I think to myself that it’s got to be worth something to be an example to my kids that not everything has to be done for money. That there are other things in life that are valuable.
Again, that’s a constant push & pull. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish it was possible for me to earn enough from comics to support me making them more full-time. I just don’t know where the path towards that eventuality lies.
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?
Mike – From about 1998 to 2014 I tabled at shows very frequently. Always SPX & then always a sprinkling of other conventions depending on if I had new work out or not. TCAF, HeroesCon, APE, CAKE, SPACE, MIX, even the New York Comic-Cons once or twice. I have been tabling less the last year or so.
QRD – Do you think being a father or a cartoonist has a greater impact on your community?
Mike – In my personal community, being a father, for sure. I live in the suburbs of New Jersey, down near the beach. I love it, but there’s no cartooning community. I have a few friends who are also writers & artists, but for the most part I’m around people who have very little to do with comics.
QRD – Would you rather see your children eventually become cartoonists or parents?
Mike – Parents. It’s their choice, of course, but I’d love to have grandkids one day. I’d choose that over having grand-graphic novels.
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?
Mike – As I said, it’s a constant balance. Having school age kids helps. Being a night owl doesn’t hurt.
QRD – What do your kids think of your comics?
Mike – My daughter is six, so has only seen some of my work - definitely not the more adult-oriented material. She’s read Freddie & Me though & I think gets inspired sometimes to make her own comics. She has a good friend who also likes to draw & when they have playdates they make their own mini-comics. They seem to think I know some kind of secret code for getting their work published & into stores. They want me to help them get their comics available for sale in the local bookstore. I try to explain to them about ISBNs & distributors, but they don’t want to hear it.
QRD – Do you think you could ever do a comic project with your children?
Mike – Sure!
QRD – Any words of advice to young people?
Mike – It often feels like all the young people I know are doing better at this comics game than I am myself. I think there needs to be more advice to the older folks who haven’t ever figured out how to make comics into a pay-my-bills career & need encouragement to keep going despite that.