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.
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…
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.
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