Dad Interview with Brian John Mitchell
May 28, 2019
Name: Brian John Mitchell
Bands: Remora, Small Life Form, Vlor, Muscle Mass, a few others over the years
Comics: Lost Kisses, XO, REH, Worms, Just A Man, a lot more
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a musician?
Brian – When I was 14 my friend Sam convinced me that I was a good enough writer & that the singers in bands we liked were bad enough that I could get away with it. But it took a few years to get that position in a band & everyone else figured out that you didn’t have to be good, so I had to start playing guitar just like everyone else.
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a cartoonist?
Brian – I was a fan of comics growing up & basically quit them when I was 18 or so. When I was 25 there was a comic shop near my girlfriend’s work that has some zine style comics & I’d been doing zines for several years at that point & it kind of opened the door for me doing some comics.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your musical career?
Brian – Recording a few records that I still like years later. Being able to collaborate or be in bands with people I admire. Being able to see a lot of the world on tour.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your cartooning career?
Brian – Collaborating with people much better than me. Having people like the work that I admire. Folks specifically I would have quit without include Dave Sim, Melissa Spence, Jason Young, Chuck Moore, & Bob Corby.
QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?
Brian – Probably 16 or so, which was also a point in my life where I was sure I’d be dead by 23. But my daughter wasn’t born until I was 40.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your careers?
Brian – The negative of lack of time &/or energy is obvious, but part of the magic of that is you actually end up much more productive with the time you do have available. It does make it so I can’t do as many conventions for comics or live shows for music, but it’s also an excuse to not do those things when they seem like they are more trouble when they are worth so you can spin that positive too. I do feel like having a family adds a depth of emotion that you can mine for your work & keeps me from taking the art too seriously.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your careers have had on your family?
Brian – My daughter thinks making comics & music & art in general is a normal part of life & I hope the creative outlet will serve her well. I do know that there is a problem that when I do put off my artistic work for too long I start to get angry easily & that is a pretty horrible trait that I am trying to tame.
QRD – Has your daughter effected the music/comics you make &/or consume?
Brian – She’s had a pretty big impact in a lot of ways. My comics are pretty stream of consciousness oriented & a lot of them are based on dreams & she’s a big part of my daily life & makes a lot of appearances in those. Also I have a comic that may or may not ever come out called “Small Town Tales” about my observations in the town where I live which is often about me taking her to the park or library or whatever. The impact she’s had on the music I make is that we jam around together on her kid toys sometimes & a lot of them don’t have the sharp keys, so things are probably more melodic because of that. As far as what I listen to, I listen to a lot of music that she’s into that I wouldn’t hear otherwise. She’s really into Katy Perry whom I was virtually unaware of & I guess I ended up liking from hearing it so much, but she also likes Daft Punk & Kraftwerk & The Runaways so I can’t complain too much. For comics I read, I keep trying to get kid comics for her & they are almost all awful. Fonts are too small, panel designs are non-intuitive or they just aren’t good in general. To me the stories & music shouldn’t be too dumbed down for kids & they should be good & it seems hard to find a comic she can get into even though she’s into the characters of Batman & Hulk & Teen Titans. As she gets a bit older (she’s 3.5) it may get easier for me to find her stuff she can sit through reading.
QRD – Do you think being involved in music/comics has made your daughter different than her piers?
Brian – Not precisely. As I said earlier she probably has a bigger relationship with art than other kids her age, but I think a lot of that is how she was born & has nothing to do with me. Though she is the only 3 year old I know of whose gotten a plaque for a comic she’s made, so she has that going for her & I did a lot of the grunt work for making her comics happen.
QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from an artistic career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?
Brian – Unquestionably. It’s frustrating. I grew up in a generation that was told, “You do what you love & the money will follow,” which is not true but was pretty hardwired into my brain & it’s given me a really twisted relationship with art. The bigger problem for me personally is that I was satisfied living a pretty monastic & minimalist lifestyle on my own as a sacrifice for being able to do more work on my art & I can’t subject that on my family. I’m fine getting by on a can of beans & a bowl of cereal & wearing 20 year old clothes with holes in them, but I don’t want my wife & kid to have to do that. So wanting better for them has actually forced my quality of life to improve.
QRD – Given the limitations having a family has on being a touring musician & doing comic conventions, would you have toured more earlier in life if you’d known?
Brian – I toured a lot & I maybe should have more in the 1990s, but didn’t have the self-confidence or finances or know how to do it at the time. I do wish I had done more with getting residencies as I only had two & they really did help me level up & validate my work for me personally. I think I had kind of aged to a point where I wasn’t capable of doing the road dog thing anymore, though I do still kind of miss it. My comics haven’t ever done too well at conventions so I’m fine not having done too many more.
QRD – Would you rather see your daughter eventually become an artist or parent?
Brian – I don’t know. I’d like her to be a decent & happy human being & I think with her personality & interests the art outlet is going to be a thing that happens & I hope she can have a healthier relationship to art than I do.
QRD – Both family & art 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?
Brian – Poorly. I don’t really have a good set-up for working on comics or music & often times the amount of time I have to work goes towards getting ready to work rather than actually working. But when I don’t work on art at all I start to get pretty grouchy & I’m lucky enough to have a wife who calls me on it & kinda forces me to work on art so that I’m a better dad/husband. I have found that I am able to get more done in less hours than the old days. My wife got me a fancy paper cutter a couple years ago that has made assembling my comics easier. & a lot of these problems I ran into previously when I was taking care of my elderly grandmother, so it’s not new & I’ve been trying to balance the family/art thing for almost 20 years.
QRD – What does your daughter think of your music & comics?
Brian – Some of my music she likes fine. I don’t really try out any of the teeth rattling drone stuff on her though. She doesn’t ever ask me to play known songs & just wants to jam & play with pedal knobs or whatever & that’s fine. She seems to like my comics better than a lot she’s tried to read, but I think it’s because a lot of comics are hard to read or boring. We’ll see what she says when her tastes become more discerning.
QRD – Do you think you could ever do collaborations with your daughter?
Brian – Already have. She has two comics that she wrote that I lined up the artists for & did the editing & layout & assembly. For the music we jam sometimes. She sang this song about an airplane crash a couple weeks ago that I managed to hit the record button for & should work on more seriously. I have a collection of a lot of recordings of her doing drum bits & such that I want to use as loops & play guitar over at some point & if it’s any good let people hear. We’ll see. I know at some point I won’t be cool anymore so I’m happy to have it at all to work with in the future.
QRD – Any words of advice to young people?
Brian – Every year you put off doing something, it’s going to be harder to do it the next year. Just do stuff, if you feel you need permission from some one to make a comic or an album or whatever I am giving you that permission now. It doesn’t matter if it sucks. There’s a saying in comics that everyone has 2000 bad comic pages in them, so you may as well get them out now so you can get to the good ones & it’s pretty much true with all art. At the same time you should do stuff & not worry about if it’s good or not, you don’t need to unleash the bad stuff onto the world & it’s hard to tell good from bad.
QRD – Anything else?
Brian – You have a limited time on this world. Figure out who/what is worth spending it on & don’t worry too much about what other people think about it.