Full Praise For My Better Half
You might have noticed there was no column from me last week, despite that being the usual schedule. Part of it was due to workload: putting the next issue of "Witchblade" to bed, getting the "Skylanders" comics off the ground for IDW, writing the next issue of an as-yet unannounced series, working on a custom comic project, and making sure the latest strips of "The Mucker" and "Korak the Killer" were ready to go for the Edgar Rice Burroughs website.
But beyond that, I was flying solo at home, as my wife Kirsten and our oldest son were on a week-long trip to visit her aunt in Florida. So it was me and our other two kids at home, doing... everything. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, feeding the horses, dogs and guinea pigs, dropping off and picking up at swim practice, coaching Little League games. I didn't finish anywhere near the amount of work I usually do in a week. Those five days were a stark reminder of the necessity of having a spouse or partner who supports your creative life.
Living a freelance life can be tough going. Not as much when you're young and single, of course, with nobody else depending upon you. That's when your responsibilities are few, and a regular diet of ramen noodles doesn't seem like the worst idea in the world. But once you're older, perhaps with a family, it's a far more demanding undertaking.
When Kirsten was pregnant with our first child, she left her job as a newspaper reporter, because we came to the conclusion that her being around the sort of chemicals you find at a newspaper plant was not a great idea. She didn't go back to the job, as we thought it was more important for her to be a full-time mom, and dedicate as much time and attention as possible to our family. That continued with our daughter and other son, both of whom were born in Florida when I worked for CrossGen.
We decided I would be the bread-winner, while Kirsten devoted her time to the kids. We didn't feel like chasing an extra paycheck was worth putting our children into someone else's care for any amount of time. No daycare, no after-school care. I know that many parents don't have the option; there's no choice but to depend on daycare or relatives while the parents are out of the house working. But we had that choice.
We're pretty happy with how our kids are turning out. Actually, that's not true... we're delighted with how our kids are turning out. So we feel like we made the right decision. That doesn't mean it's always been easy. Certainly, there have been struggles, but I don't think we'd change anything.
Depending on one freelance income can be a dicey thing. You have to make sure there's always enough work lined up, and you have to pay attention to who pays when. Some clients pay two weeks after the work is turned in. Some pay a month after the work is completed. Some pay two months after the work is completed. A rare few pay immediately. There's a balancing act to managing it all.
You also have to hope the checks (direct deposit still isn't overly common in comics) show up when expected, which is not always the case. Vouchers are lost, checks disappear in the mail, the accounting department is overburdened, things slip through the cracks. It can be frustrating. Going out to the mailbox expecting a check, and coming back empty-handed, is the Walk of Shame that every freelancer knows.
But even with all that, we've managed to make it work. For the majority of our marriage, Kirsten has done the bulk of the cooking and the cleaning and the errands, so I could devote the necessary time to my work. She facilitates what I do. In a lot of ways, she makes my career possible.
A freelance schedule can be all-consuming, and the almighty deadline is king. Having someone else to depend upon makes that reality easier to deal with. There's someone else who can run the kids to practice, or school dances, or help with homework if I'm not available. There's someone to pay the bills and balance the checkbook and deal with the real world, while my head is submerged in some made-up world.
Beyond all that, though, my wife also helps with the actual work. Fairly often, I'll break down a story on paper -- the panel beats, first-draft dialogue -- and then dictate it to Kirsten as she types, usually while I ride a stationary bike. It gets me some exercise, which is usually in short supply with so many hours at the desk.
It's a huge time-saver, because Kirsten's typing is a hell of a lot faster and more accurate than mine. I'm also not distracted by a barrage of e-mails and instant messages and Skype conversations when the work has to get done. My wife also proofreads most of my scripts and even PDFs of completed issues, providing an invaluable fresh eye in the process.
In the years since our kids were born, my wife has done a bit of work outside the house. She's done some horse training and even equine massage, mostly on thoroughbreds at Saratoga racetrack. She worked for a season at a horse farm, helping with the breeding and foaling out. The year that Kirsten worked at the farm was an adjustment for everyone, an education in how so many working families get along.
I think that experience is also the norm for quite a few married creators: a freelance income balanced by the steady check of a "straight" job. One of the great allures to CrossGen was being paid a salary to do creative work. Every two weeks, a direct deposit hit in my account. For writers and artists used to the instability of freelance income, it was glorious. It was also ultimately fleeting.
Our children are little older now. Both of our youngest will be in Middle School in September. The kids are still our focus, but they're inevitably getting more independent as they grow up. So last year Kirsten went back to school for paralegal studies. We figured there's not much future in journalism in this media age, so returning to that career path seemed like a dead end.
Kirsten likes the law (she's a former police reporter) and politics, so it turned out to be a good fit. She's done with the program now, so if the right job comes along, she'll go back into the work force. It will change the dynamic in our house quite a bit. I'll certainly miss having a typist to transcribe my ramblings, and a proofreader to catch my mistakes.
But more than that, I'll miss having my wife around during the day. She's my partner and my best friend. I couldn't have done any of this without her.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Witchblade" and the graphic novel series "Ravine" for Top Cow, "The Protectors" for Athlitacomics, his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.