Sunday, September 4, 2011

ESSAY 6: BALANCING FAMILY AND COMICS: The Life of a Freelance Illustrator

Family. You want one, or you don't. If you don't, that doesn't mean you won't end up with one. That's how life is. You think you are heading down a path. Hopefully one you have had a hand in choosing the course of said path. But usually, and I DO mean usually, it ends up veering off in directions you couldn't hope to know about, or understand. In my case, in my 20's, I didn't have a clue what I wanted.

All I knew was that I fell into Comics, I loved what I had fallen into, and that's all I wanted to do. ALL. I literally ONLY did that. Comics all day and all night. I joined up as a founding Member of GAIJIN STUDIOS at the outset of my Career. I count myself lucky to have fallen in with that lot. Good guys. Some with REPS and experience, some without( which is the category I fell into). But a good mix all the same. But I digress. I had no family at that point. Except the one I grew up with. My Mom and Dad, Brother and Sister. So these guys were Family, at least my Day-to-Day family. And like all Families there are good times and bad. We had our share of all of that. I spent a year there, walking away with a mixed bag of contacts, friends, on the job experience, memories( good and bad), lessons learned, direction and my LIFE in a couple of Bags thrown in the back of a shitty, white, oil burning Ford Thunderbird.

Then I left. I had to start over. Try to find a NEW LIFE. So I went back from whence I came. Where I knew, and was known. My comfort zone. I stayed with some friends because there was no way I was gonna ask to go back home to my folks. Pride and all that. So while I rebuilt myself I subsequently LOST every contact I had in the Industry.

Meanwhile, I lived. I ate, I slept, I laughed, I painted, I drew, I hung out and remembered how to be a person. During that time, there was this girl. Her name was Stacie and she lived in the apartment upstairs from the one I stayed in with my friends. She was friends with them too, so she around a lot. My hosts were popular among the local Art scene so there was always a group of people hanging out. We got to know each other during that time and it was clear there was an attraction. Time passed and I ended up moving in with Stacie into her apartment upstairs. Things were great, and we left there shortly and rented our first house together. A year later we were married and living in our first home that we owned.

During all of this, I reconnected with my Comic book World, and landed Starman. My first monthly Comic. Things were simple then. No kids, just me and Stacie living, and getting through the life that we were building together. My studio was in our home so I was there all the time while Stacie went to school to finish her Engineering degree.Then we got pregnant.Everything changed. For the good and bad. See, when little ones come into the mix it's inevitable. So we adapted, we changed our lives to deal with the eminent birth of my NOW 16 year old son, Enzo. I was okay at first, balancing work, and Family while Stacie was pregnant. but we quickly realized that in our starter home, there wasn't enough room for Enzo, and my Studio.

So we decided that I should move the work out of the house. We would have a healthy separation of Family, and The Job. So I connected with some guys that were in or wanted to be into the Comics Industry locally, and we decided to rent a space downtown from where we lived. Rent was cheap as it was a rundown older building, and we got the entire 3rd floor of a building right in the heart of Downtown Macon GA. I was the ONLY full time comic Artist in the group at the time, so I was there all day by myself pretty much. There was no AC, so there were days when I was literally sitting in my Boxer Shorts with a Box fan set between my legs underneath my desk dripping sweat on the STARMAN pages as i drew them.
Meanwhile, Stacie finished her degree, and quit working for a bit to raise our Son. Then she went out back into the work force and landed a great job on the Air force Base near us. So my son had to go into Daycare. Stacie was working so we had to rotate and juggle who would drop him off and pick him up. This was the first hurdle I had to work into my schedule ( and Stacie into hers). I think Stacie dealt with it much better than I did. I am easily distracted, and the work disrupted by just about anything. So I didn't fair well. During this period my studio( JOLLY ROGER STUDIOS) was whittled down to 2 people, and we decided to move and upgrade our working environment to a place that had heating and AIR! We did and it was a gargantuan effort. We settled in and got back to work and things were fine. Then Stacie changed jobs into the private sector as an Engineer for a consulting firm. Closer to home, but the same problems. Her Job, my job, daycare and everything else that comes with LIFE. The I got the bright Idea that I wanted to expand the Studio, and invite in a buncha new guys, and become a Production House. A ONE stop shop, with pencillers, inkers, colorists. The Lot. And we did it. It worked for a time and It was good. But at the price of my Family. As the Studio grew and Jobs came in, and we built a reputation, things were falling apart at home. My wife had too much on her with our child, our financials, her Job. And selfishly, I focused on one thing. Comics. I have always been Driven, especially when it comes to my work, but I let it get away from me and it damaged my Family. Shame on me. I should have been more a part of how my Family operated and lived in those days. But I kept telling myself I was building something. That it was gonna pay off in the long run.

It did in a way. I carved a niche for myself in Comics. Made a name for myself and secured my place. But my home life had gotten away from me. I hadn't noticed that my wife had sacrificed so much for me, and for MY career that her hopes and dreams were slipping away. But that's what I was talking about earlier. That LIFE has a way of slipping past you and deciding your direction if you get distracted by this thing, or that. Don't get me wrong, Stacie doesn't regret me, or our children. not in the slightest. But she saw things differently, in regards to her LIFE .

So we had our second child, a girl named Mina. More complications. LIFE is hard. But anything worth doing is. It's not worth it otherwise.

Meantime, my Studio was falling apart as well. Things got complicated and It was clear that there were opposing sides in regards to politics and Direction. You know, the Old, " Creative differences" thing. Half the group decided behind closed doors that they were gonna go off on their own and start their own Studio. And that's just what they did. That was one of the worst days of my life. Not only did I lose my guys, "That" version of Jolly roger Studios, but friends. People I trusted beyond all else.

But in hindsight, I think It was the best thing to ever happen to me regarding my Career. So I moved home. After 10 years of having studios big and small in and around Downtown Macon GA. I packed it all up and I came home.

We had moved into a new house by then and I took over the front Living room as my Studio. One of the guys from JRS moved a desk in there too and we continued to work together for a time. But again, that kind of time spent in the Studio, at home, took it's toll. things were no better at "Home". The line between Family and Work was further blurred and put a tremendous strain on us. But we survived. I sought help for myself and my Studio partner left. Things returned to Normal at home. And they got better. i learned by being home how to better balance things between the 2 and become productive again.

Then we became pregnant again with our 3rd child, Lucy. It was clear very quickly that they wasn't going to be room for me to work at home. So after she was born, It was Stacie that said, " You need to get outta here and get a studio." She saw that me being home was a strain on the Creative process. So I took a Studio 3 doors down from the house.

Ilanded Ex Machina during this time. my second monthly Comic in 23 years of being in the Biz. Moving out of the House was the best thing for my work. I spent 6 of my most productive years in Comics working on Ex Machina. And I also learned how to be a better husband( still have a lot to go though), and a better Father.

Things are great now. It's always gonna be a tug of war though. The Job requires a lot of your time. Period. But Stacie has always understood that. That's what makes her special. That's what makes her the Saint that she is. Her understanding knows NO bounds and I count myself lucky to have been thrown in with her Lot. She is my Family, and my Job and my Work are possible because of her. I LOVE you Stacie. Thank you.

TONY HARRIS
MACON GA 2011

6 comments:

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  2. Carlos-

    Thanks a bunch. I started doing these for just this reason. That I WISH I had someone with insight, beyond my Mentors, to give me a LOOK behind the "Curtain" as it were. ya know?

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  4. Tony - I think these essays are a great peak behind that curtain and help to remind us outside the biz that you guys are just as human as the rest of us. By sharing these bits and pieces of you behind the artistic curtain my appreciation of your work grows exponentially and I can add these to the pile of reasons I cite when people ask who my favourite comic artist is. I have signed comics and signed prints, a cover prelim for Starman so when I do finally get the chance to meet you all I will need is to shake your hand.

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  5. You sappy bastard! Been lovin' reading these essays (not to be confused with ese), Capt'n. Looking forward to more.

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  6. I hear ya! I'm going through pretty much the same thing. You think other families are fine, but all have their own problems.

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