Being a parent is hard. Super hard. Ridiculously hard. This was pretty much reinforced at a panel titled Fandom Panel: The Next Generation featuring Jim McQuarrie (Geekdad), Nell Minnow (The Movie Mom), surprise panelist Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D), and Jeffrey Brown (cartoonist and author of Darth Vadar and Son). Topics ranged from dealing with sarcasm at different development stage, different reactions children can have to your childhood movies to general feeling helplessness in the face of technology. It was a very sincere and honest trailer that presented the geek parents and geek non-parents (me) a really great insight into rearing a children. It can even leave a S.H.E.I.L.D. agent flabbergasted.
One of the unique voices on the panel was Jeffrey Brown. He had a great energy and was so honest about his experience that it piqued my curiosity on getting to know this author behind the cute illustrated children’s book. I was more than delighted when he was willing to answer some questions from me.
Toni Adams: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
Jeffrey Brown: I’m a cartoonist living in Chicago who started out drawing autobiographical comics about awkward everyday moments and failed relationships, alongside humorous parodies of superheroes and robots. More recently I’ve been drawing Star Wars books, including the Jedi Academy middle grade series as well as Darth Vader and Son and its sequels.
TA: What was the inspiration behind Darth Vader and Son?
JB: Google had asked if I could do some sketches for a potential Father’s day homepage doodle featuring an awkward everyday father-son moment between Luke and Vader. My son was four at the time, so I based Luke on him and put Vader in my shoes as a parent. Google opted for a different concept, but then I was able to take the idea and turn it into a whole book.
TA: How would you describe your style?
It can vary a little from project to project, but I think of it as fairly sketchy and expressionistic, very loose, and humorous. I don’t want to overwork the drawings and I want to let the emotions come through.
TA: You also directed a music video for “Death Cab for Cutie?!” Please tell us more.
JB: That was another right-place, right-time, right-people projects. I had met Aaron Stewart-Ahn, friend of comics fan Nick Harmer, and managed to get invited to submit a pitch for the Directions DVD, which had a video for each song by a different animator/director/artist.
They invited lots of people to pitch and chose their favorite pitch for each song, and they picked my idea for ‘Your Heart Is An Empty Room.’ My video is a semi-autobiographical tale about my wife and I, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out; considering I’d never had my comics turned into animation before. I’d been a fan of the band since Something About Airplanes, so it was really great to be part of the project.
TA: I see you like cats. I love cats too. Let’s talk cat.
JB: Cats are the best! Garfield was my favorite comic strip growing up and cats have a long history with both cartoonists and their comics. I wanted to make cat comics that didn’t anthropomorphize them, though, just showed how funny their behavior can be. I think of it as Youtube cat videos in comics form. Nothing deeply profound, just something to make you smile. Cats always make me smile.
TA: What are you future projects?
Right now I’m taking a break from Star Wars and going back into the past – first with a middle grade series about cavemen, Lucy & Andy Neanderthal, and also with a dinosaur picture book, something I’ve dreamed about making since I was a kid.
TA: What separates a “geeky”parent from a muggle parent?
JB: Less and less! Being a Star Wars fan is pretty mainstream at this point, and superhero movies aren’t blockbusters just because superfans are seeing them multiple times.
TA: Has being a geeky father granted you with special parenting power?
JB: Not yet. I think it’s one of those things where I need to have an industrial mutagen accident or something. So far I seem to have just normal parenting powers, like the ability to ignore a child repeating the words ‘mom, mom, mom’ or ‘dad, dad, dad’ over and over again.
TA: What has been the most enlightening aspect of parenting?
JB: I think it’s fascinating to watch a baby start out as this fleshy blob and then gradually become more and more of a person. Watching kids develop their personalities is pretty amazing.
TA: For those who were unable to attend the Geek Parent panel, what is your message for all the geeky parents out there?
JB: Be ready to let your kids find their own things – expect them to have horrible taste for a while, but be comforted with the knowledge that someday they’ll appreciate how awesome all the stuff you like really is.
TA: If you could have had a reset button in terms of parenting, what would it have been?
JB: I would’ve made more mistakes early on with our first son. That way the bar wouldn’t be set so high with the second…
TA: If you could speak to any fictional pop culture parent, who would it be and what would you talk about?
JB: Spark plug Witwicky from the Transformers. We could talk about fixing stuff, specifically, fixing our dryer which is making screechy noises lately. Also our dishwasher is leaking.
TA: Would you like to share any favorite stories in terms of being a geeky parent?
JB: I was really excited for my son to see Star Wars: A New Hope and maybe pushed him to see it too soon, because afterward he was quiet for a while, then got really upset and declared it was a horrible movie that should never have been made. I was confused, and worried – that was the exact opposite reaction I wanted! It turns out he was really bothered by Obi Wan Kenobi dying. Eventually he got over it, but it reminded me of something that I’d forgotten over the 100+ times I’d seen Star Wars, which is just how powerful the story is, how endearing the characters are, and how great of an actor Sir Alec Guinness was.
TA: How can people follow you on your journey?