The GoComics "Meet Your Creator" series brings you firsthand insight into the lives and careers of your favorite cartoonists. Each week, we hand over the keys to one of our talented creators, who share their inspirations, achievements, creative processes, studios and more! Read on to hear from this week's featured cartoonist: Georgia Dunn of Breaking Cat News
People ask me if I've always wanted to be a cartoonist. Seven years ago, I was a banker. In between customers, I'd pull open the top drawer of my desk and draw comic strips on a stash of index cards. Whenever I was interrupted, I slid a professional-looking folder covered in papers, Post-it notes and various office supplies over my work. My desk was beside a big, beautiful window, and sometimes, I imagined what might happen if one of the company bigwigs happened to visit my office and catch me drawing comics before I could hide them. He or she would look over my cartoons with a snarl, offer a reproachful scowl and ask, "Georgia, what do you want to do with your life?" I'd sweep the loan applications off my desk and cry out, "I WANNA ROCK!" Then Dee Snider would smash through the window and the entire lobby would explode into a Twisted Sister music video ...
Everyone needs a dream."¬
Twenty-seven years ago, I was in first grade. I lived for Thursdays and our mid-morning, once-a-week "Writer's Workshop." While many of the kids were writing about a new baby brother or trips to Disney World, I spent each week diligently penning (er, crayoning) the continuing chronicles of Marmalade the Cat. I'd borrowed the character from a series by Cindy Wheeler about a farm tabby. Early in the school year, Marmalade still lived on the farm, but as the weeks went on, Marmalade became your typical cowboy doctor millionaire space warrior spy, defending the barn and all life as we know it from alien dogs. I dashed up to the front of the room every Thursday afternoon, eager to share the next action-packed installment. Soon, kids were asking me what would happen next. In time, they had me going first. The opening act of Writer's Workshop! At home, my parents were getting divorced and my Mom was trying to figure out how she was going to pay the mortgage to keep our little home. At school, I was the funny kid who wrote stories about a heroic cat. I'd had my first taste of an audience, and I kept writing."¬
Mom returned to work as a librarian, and on Friday nights, we'd go out to eat at a local diner called the Newport Creamery. After ordering two hot dogs, fries and Cokes, she'd pull out the newspaper to read local politics and hand me the comics. I read with the zeal of a devotee. Garfield was my life. The Far Side sent me into giggling fits (and made me look up bug names). However, it was a relatively new comic that gave me a child companion on the page. One feeling as out of place in the real world and at home in their imagination as I did. It was called Calvin and Hobbes, and Mom and I began to check piles of compendiums out of her library. Come Christmas, Santa left me my own copies under the tree. I pored over them, studying each page and panel for instructions. How do I do this?"¬
In a year or so, Mom was hired as a research librarian at the local university. She picked me up from the babysitter and told me how the school gave all its employees free tuition. "You can go to college now," she said proudly."¬
In middle school, I started drawing and writing stories every night. I measured out 3 to 4 panel strips and wrote a comic about a cat named Edmund who solved mysteries. I wrote stories about dragons, knights and outlaws with my friends. Mom was elected to the town council, and during meetings, I sat in the back with a sketchbook, a notebook and 2 to 3 pencils. I read comic books. I traced favorite artists and tried to recreate faces from their lines on my own. I took an old tarot deck and every night I redrew one of the cards. I wasn't very good at first, but we couldn't afford art lessons and I was determined to learn how to draw. I practiced, I pushed through. By high school, I was the kid who could draw you something. By junior year, I was trading study halls in for extra art classes and doubling up on my studies. Senior year, I was voted most creative. My friend and I were writing a comic about a post-apocalyptic prison/asylum (funnier than it sounds, I promise). Kids would borrow the only copy from us between classes. Sometimes we had to track it down. It felt incredible that people loved reading what we wrote as much as we loved writing it."¬
Twelve years ago, I was in college, about to graduate into the worst economy since the Depression. One afternoon a professor addressed us: "If you want to make it commercially as an artist, get a graduate degree in business. If you can't afford a grad degree ... apply to work at a bank for a few years."
Cut back to adulthood. Unable to find work in art, I fell into banking as a day job. All I had ever enjoyed was storytelling; drawing pictures, writing a narrative. And now I spent my days opening checking accounts, taking loan applications. I loved my co-workers and even many of the customers, but on paper, I'd failed my degree. Mom offered words of encouragement, but I felt like I had let her down, too. Four years studying Fine Art and here I was crunching numbers. I was not working in art - but I pushed through. Every evening, I came home to my little apartment and scanned the index cards I'd scribbled on during the day. I'd make dinner for myself and my Siamese cat, Elvis. He'd curl up at my side while I edited my comic and posted it online. My first webcomic had a loyal audience of 300 to 400 readers. There was no paycheck, but it felt good. I was learning through trial by fire. I saw quickly what made for a good joke and what was dead weight. I created deadlines and I stuck to them. Three times a week, every week, I posted a new strip. At work, I was a banker. At home, I was a local cartoonist who was even sometimes recognized when out with friends. Everyone needs a dream, and my first two webcomics kept my creative, hopeful fires stoked.
My husband came to the rescue around that time. We'd been friends for years. We had both studied art, and he had even found work in his field. He loved my work, and when we suddenly found ourselves in love and he asked me to move to the West Coast with him, one of his only stipulations was that I leave banking to concentrate on art full time. He was doing well and could support us both. It was all I'd ever wanted, but it was scary to actually take the leap into "full-time artist." Even armed with a college degree, I had no idea where to start. I leaned into illustrating, selling prints of my work on Etsy. As it turned out, my professor had been right "с the business experience I gained while working at the bank was crucial to running my own small business at home. "¬
We married and set up a little apartment of our own. Elvis was an only cat no longer. We adopted a black cat with three legs named Puck and a white deaf cat named Lupin. Our trio of good boys got along well, and made for a happy home. I spent my days making art and caring for kitties. My husband was collecting promotions, I was selling prints all over the world, life couldn't get better."¬
Four years ago, my husband's company laid everyone off two weeks after we bought our first house. It was right before Christmas, and I was six months pregnant with our first child. Everything, save our love for each other and our little family, fell apart. Just crashed and burned. We lost our savings and then our retirement scrambling to keep up while looking for work. Finally, months ahead of inevitable foreclosure, we made the hard decision to sell our home in Seattle and move 3,000 miles back to our home town in Rhode Island."¬
Life became packing all we'd worked for into boxes and giving away everything that couldn't fit. My husband did what freelance work he could, preparing for a contract waiting in Rhode Island. I took care of our baby boy during the day. At night we all slept in one bedroom, kitties and all, to keep the house clean for Realtors to show to potential buyers.
One night while we were hunkered down in the bedroom, Lupin knocked everything off a shelf. When Puck and Elvis rushed over to let us know, I joked that they were cat reporters and started speaking for them in old-timey, hard-boiled reporter voices. It made my husband and me laugh. It felt good to laugh and it stuck with me. I took out some leftover card stock from a packed box. During the day our world was unraveling, but at night, I stayed up to draw a cat newscast; husband, cats, and baby all dozing around me. I couldn't sleep anyway, with so much on my mind, and it made me happy. We began to make guest appearances. Our cats didn't see the looming financial crisis, only disasters like an empty food bowl and a bee in the bathroom. They worked hard to get the latest scoop while my son napped. Like my parents' divorce or the disappointment of life after college, I could fall apart, or I could make comics. I could concentrate on everything going wrong, or I could try to think up punchlines.
In your worst moments, you need a dream the most."¬
I scanned what I had drawn and shared it for family and friends. Almost immediately, the comic took off. At the most inconvenient time possible, I checked if the domain "Breaking Cat News" was available online. When it was, against any sense, I set up a website and started sharing the strips I'd painted. I committed to posting twice a week. Strangers began sharing the link and leaving words of encouragement. When the house sold, I was honest with readers and told them I'd have to take a break from the comic to move our family across the country. Readers promised to wait for me. "¬
My husband and I kissed goodbye at the airport. He got into our car and over the next few days would drive across the country with our cats. I boarded the plane with our son and anxiously held him while he slept fitfully in the air. When I landed in Rhode Island and turned on my phone, notifications flooded the screen. Think Geek had tweeted a link to the comic. Thousands of people were reading Breaking Cat News for the first time. Two weeks later, I began painting strips at night again. I posted the first one nervously, only to find that the readers had kept their promise. I'd made it to the other side and they were right there with me."¬
While so much around us changed, every night I worked on Breaking Cat News. During the day, we adjusted to life in a small town after city life in Seattle. At night, whatever had happened, whatever I was feeling, I had to put it aside and focus on the funny. I had to look for a lighthearted headline in a sea of struggle. It kept my spirits up. I wrote it for me as much as I wrote it for the readers, and whatever was going on in all of our lives, we all had a place we could visit twice a week for a laugh. I had an audience and it was growing. My editor at GoComics contacted me a few months after our move. The comic was syndicated and launched on GoComics six months after we sold our house. One day, my editor called me to ask what I thought about trying to get the comic into print, like the old traditional comics, but as a brand-new strip for newspapers. At home, we were working hard and regaining our footing. At work, I was signing a book deal and getting the comic ready to pitch to newspapers. My days and nights were beginning to align."¬
Tonight, I'm surrounded by boxes in Southern California. A new job brought my husband back West, and us with him, of course. Ourselves, the cats, our son, and now our baby daughter all traveled across the county, this time toward a new opportunity instead of an uncertain retreat. Again, I was honest with my readers, and again, they came with us. I am incredibly lucky to have somehow attracted some of the kindest people on the Internet to this little corner of it, and I am grateful for them every day."¬
Comics have been the constant in my life. Reading or writing, they provided an escape; comfort, coping, celebration, consistency in chaos. And I know I'm not alone. I know that's why many of us open the comics every day to check in on our old friends while we all chase our dreams or watch everything crash around us or take a moment to pause and rebuild. I hear people say all the time that print comics are old-fashioned or on their way out, but there are first-graders sending me the stories they write with characters they've borrowed from my cartoon, and they're going to take up this torch next. There is just this impossible, unstoppable magic between pictures and words that always welcomes us. It makes us feel like we grew up with Calvin, Jason Fox and Charlie Brown, because in a way, a lot of us really did."¬
People ask me if I've always wanted to be a cartoonist; that's the long answer. The short answer is, "Yeah ... Pretty much." "¬