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What Comics Taught Me About Parenting

We have a guest post today from former comic book editor Nicole Boose. She contacted GeekMom about writing for us and I promptly took her up on the offer.

Boose worked on the editorial staff of Marvel Comics for five years, beginning as an Assistant Editor and departing as an Editor. She’s now a freelancer and stay-at-home mom.marvel-editor-475x356

What Comics Taught Me About Parenting

It must have been a good four years ago already, the night that my coworker and I were talking over drinks about where we thought work might take us in the long term. We were editors at Marvel Comics.

“One thing I keep coming back to,” I said, “is that I’d like to have kids before too long. And I don’t know how it’s possible to do this with kids.” He nodded knowingly.

For a whole list of reasons, my life at the time seemed completely incompatible with parenting. I woke up early, traveled a long way to get to work, stayed at work a long time, traveled back home and basically collapsed. Child care options were limited, and none of them really matched my schedule—nor would I want them to. Logistics aside, there were my own and my husband’s feelings to consider. For us, having one of us at home was the preferred option. And since I had the boobs and the lower-paying job, that person would probably be me.

Fast forward: our awesome daughter was born in 2008, and I eventually decided to step down from editing comics full time. Since then, I’ve supplemented stay-at-home motherhood with occasional freelance assignments and part time work, and this, combined with my husband’s efforts, has given us enough flexibility to relocate to a wonderful new city and enjoy more time together, all of us.

And although my prediction turned out to be pretty accurate—the way I worked then would not have been compatible with the way I parent now—I wouldn’t have it any other way. Initially it was an adjustment, and being a homemaker felt like a completely different life from the professional world I used to occupy. But over time, I’ve also started to notice the similarities between the demands of the professional world and the demands of domestic life (there’s actually a good book about this called Motherhood is the New MBA, by Shari Storm). And there are some lessons I took from the comic book industry in particular that have been helpful to have in my back pocket. With a work history that includes toiling long hours, emotional exhaustion and lots and lots of ego management, a life in comics has made me uniquely prepared to be a mom.

So in honor of geek parents of every stripe and profession, here are a few things that I’ve learned about how life as a comic book editor translates to raising a little one.

Embrace your own authority, even when you secretly feel like an idiot.

One of the tasks new editors dread the most is portfolio reviews. This is when an editor sits down with beginning or aspiring artists, usually at a convention, looks at samples of their artwork, and provides constructive feedback. Our day-to-day work doesn’t give us a lot of preparation for this, and it’s always unnerving to sit across from someone you’ve just met, who may or may not be talented, indignant and/or creepy, and tell him or her—but usually him—how to be a better artist. Most new editors are a little put off by this, and there is just no way to get good at it other than to put on a confident face and just go. After some practice, hopefully the confidence part starts to come on its own. As one established artist once told me, it’s scary enough for an artist to be in front of an editor evaluating your work. It’s scarier still to be a geeky guy artist having a female editor evaluating your work. In short, we already have a head start when it comes to being viewed as an authority.

But being an authority is intimidating too, and I think we’ve all felt this same feeling as new moms. For the first several months of my daughter’s life, I questioned every move I made. Even when I knew everything was fine, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that anything I did might have been a lost opportunity to do something else, something that would have been better. What really changed things for me was befriending a group of local moms and seeing them in action. Once I saw that other moms seemed comfortable with whatever it was they were doing, I stopped questioning my own actions so much.

Life gives many of us the impression that parents, even at their most flawed, know what they’re doing. But to paraphrase the paragon of wisdom that is TV’s Modern Family, we get there ourselves and eventually it dawns on us that we’re all just making it up as we go. So did our parents, and theirs. So we carry on, do our best, and trust that experience will lead to confidence. And if we’re lucky, one day we’ll recognize that we’re not actually bluffing anymore.

Be patient about things you cannot control.

There are some things we can get our kids to do, even when there’s a price to pay. My daughter doesn’t want to leave the library? Well, I can encourage her gently and hope for the best. I can compromise and agree to stay longer. Or I can physically carry her away, knowing that it might cause a scene. Bottom line, I know my options. But some things we just physically can’t enforce, like eating a particular food or using the potty.

Working with comic book creators is a little bit like trying to tell a toddler when to poop.

Once I was assigned to work with an artist who was notorious for blowing his deadlines. I saw it as an opportunity to revolutionize the delicate art of schedule enforcement. I wanted to become known as the editor who transformed this pathological procrastinator into a punctual, reliable guy. I would approach with patience, heart and firm discipline. If that didn’t work, I would be mean. I tried all of those things, and I failed miserably.

Parenting and editing both ask you to be in control, in situations where control is quite literally impossible. In fact, part of both jobs is knowing how to exercise control without losing it, and when to relinquish it gracefully in favor of authoritative guidance. I can’t make an artist finish an assignment on time, but I can try to figure out what’s holding him up and help him work through it. I can’t make my daughter stop crying, but I can come up with some things that might make her laugh instead.

And in learning to subtly influence what you can’t control outright, another important skill emerges…

Diplomacy

Many of the comic book projects I managed were custom publications, meaning that other companies and organizations would commission us to create a comic for their own business or cause. In many of those cases, I received multiple, contradicting sets of instructions. Oftentimes, clients’ demands would fly in the face of everything I knew to be plausible. You want a 22-page comic written, penciled, inked, colored, lettered and printed in one week? You want the plot tied into an upcoming movie? You want your child to appear as a character in the comic? And you want Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee to write it?

I learned very quickly that people will turn difficult when you tell them no, even when their request is wildly unreasonable. So when I eventually had to hand over these projects to another editor, the first suggestion I offered my replacement was to avoid saying “no” at all costs.

That doesn’t mean you have to agree to the requests, it just means that you lay out the facts and let the other party reach their own conclusions. To wit: Yes, you can have it in one week, but it will suck. Yes, we’ll tie it to a movie if you can exceed your budget. Yes, your child can be in it if you’ll sign a release form, send a picture, and wait an extra week. Yes, we can ask Stan Lee to write it, if you’re comfortable being rejected by Stan Lee. In the end, people would usually be eager to work something out, no conflict necessary.

After I became a mom, I started reading all kinds of articles about how to turn down your kids’ requests in positive terms. Not to shield them from all negativity, just to repackage it a little. Yes, you may have a cookie… after you finish dinner. Yes, I will stop the car and remove that sock that so deeply offends you… after we reach our destination. Yes, we can go play outside in subzero temperatures… but ooh look, Play-Doh!

When I read that kind of advice, I think, Ha. I knew that already. I was a comic book editor.

Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. Content Director of GeekMom and fiction author of six novels of superhero and alternate history romances that can be found at www.corrina-lawson.com

10 Comments
philipp82

April 8, 2011 9:57 am Reply

“Yes, comics artists and writers are to be treated like little children.”

We may have been reading a different article, because the one that I read never even implied this. Basically, what the article is saying to me is that the principles of any ‘management’ type of job (and yes, editor is basically a management position, even if you might not see it in the pay) teaches you interesting lessons for raising children, and vice versa.

Sam

April 8, 2011 10:03 am Reply

I disagree.

If an artist is known for blowing deadlines, why is that artist getting the job? Even a busboy gets fired for doing his job poorly. There are dozens of other artists, just as talented, or better, who would be happy for the opportunity and able to hit their deadline.

Also, editors SHOULD question their ability to critique artwork. Most of them are not artists and have had no art training. Without that background, their knowledge of what makes good comics is deeply in question.

Some certainly have a good eye, but many (probably most) do not.

scott (the other one)

April 8, 2011 10:18 am Reply

“There are dozens of other artists, just as talented, or better, who would be happy for the opportunity and able to hit their deadline.”

Except that sometimes, there AREN’T dozens of artists better than a given artist. Sometimes the artist with whom you’re working is so good—and/or so popular—that a replacement of equal value just isn’t possible.

Sam

April 8, 2011 1:36 pm Reply

I think there would be very few artists that fall into that category, Scott. And even so, they have no business missing their deadlines on such a regular basis that they are “known” for it.

Treat a bad employee not like a child, but a grown up person who must take responsibility for their own actions. Losing enough jobs would undoubtedly urge such an individual to fulfill their responsibilities.

scott (the other one)

April 8, 2011 2:34 pm Reply

Sam, honestly, the current business model under which comics operates is one in which the top few dozen artists (and the top half dozen writers) have a remarkable amount of hand, as Seinfeld would put it. Comics are solicited so far in advance that you often don’t realize you’re screwed schedule-wise until it’s too late to do anything about it, at which point it becomes a lady-or-the-tiger situation: catch hell for shipping late, or catch hell for changing the previously-announced artist. And for many comics, the major factor involved in whether or not it’ll be profitable is the artist. Not to mention: it’s a piece of art—commercial art, yes—and switching artists halfway through a story means it’s not going to be as successful a work, artistically.

Obviously, as with almost anything, there are far more factors involved, and you’re absolutely right about the way things *should* work. They just so rarely do.

Sam

April 8, 2011 4:48 pm Reply

Scott, how can things change if we simply accept the status quo?

You point out huge problems in the marketing of comics that should be addressed. The deep lead time, the “star” system of booking creative teams, etc.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that an artist be changed mid-stream, I’m suggesting that if they’ve missed deadlines in the past they should never have been offered the job to begin with.

A talented professional who does his job well SHOULD have a remarkable amount of hand. However, if they are unreliable they shouldn’t. I constantly see the work of incredibly talented people who could take those jobs and do the work on time.

A little industriousness on the part of editors would help facilitate that kind of change.

Scott Sackett

April 8, 2011 8:41 pm Reply

Nichole reviewed my portfolio once or twice and she was always encouraging and helpful. Never hired me, but that’s my fault. I was disappointed to see her leave Marvel, but it sounds like she made a good choice.

Nicole

April 9, 2011 3:16 pm Reply

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. The questions surrounding artist deadlines is a topic that editors will probably always contend with, and one that provides plenty of room for interesting debate. As editors, we would use our best judgment and accept responsibility for the outcome.

Scott, I remember you and thank you for your kind words! I hope all is well and that you continue to enjoy creating art.

Iris Arenson-Fuller

April 10, 2011 9:56 am Reply

How right you are! There are many lessons from life that we can take into parenting and try to apply, but basically it IS making it up as you go along. There used to be a very awful and scary term thrown about years ago in psychology circles. The first kid was called “the throwaway kid” and while that is distasteful, I kind of get it. Life itself is about trial and error and also about negotiation as we can’t expect to get everything we want. There are conditions to every single thing, so diplomacy is indeed a great parenting skill, as you indicate. Couldn’t agree more.

Then there’s the reality that when your kids get to be teens and young adults they will take the revisionist view of history and will accuse you of being the worst parent in the world and even of cooking and forcing them to eat horrendous foods that you know you never, ever made, like squash pancakes(Mmmm, sounds good to me). So Mom and Dad, you might as well just relax and not waste a lot of energy trying to be perfect.

However, there is always hope that when they grow up to be adults, history will once again undergo a revision and your name will be cleared, except at Thanksgiving and other family occasions when they band together and revise history all over again.

One of the best things I THINK I may have done for my kids, although I am not sure they know it, is to teach them that their parents are just human and have feet of clay. I think it helps them out there in the world.

Judy
Judy

April 10, 2011 11:30 am Reply

Great post! I really enjoyed it and even laughed along the way (thankful that I’m done with preschoolers in our house!).

Judy

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