Being a creative person in the modern world is a difficult thing. I merely blog about the creative things that inspire and entertain me but I also have an interest in the people who make the comics and films and books and television shows I consume. I also have a partner who is a creative so, despite not having children, I can relate to this thoughtful and charming graphic novel about the daily struggles of a person working in the arts coping with a job that is not fully appreciated (financially or socially) while maintaining a healthy balance in life (relationships, physical and mental health, following a muse).
The book follows the day-to-day struggles of a comics creator called Tariq as he tries to create his art, make money to contribute to family life, be a husband to a busy working mother and be a father to his young daughter. We are introduced to Malcolm, Tariq’s muse (a golden shape-changing character that inspires him and also berates him for not working on his comics all the time), and listen in on their conversations about balancing real life with the day-to-day struggles of an artist. We see how the two of them cope when Tariq has to fit in art around picking up his daughter, Natasha, from school when she turns ill, and then has to be on active parent duty when his wife, Susan, has to stay late at work due to meetings. These are things most people can relate to, but the stresses are more acute for a creative person who suffers from creative block, anxiety and living in their own world all the time and doubting everything they make.
The breakthrough for Tariq comes in the form of conversations with other creative people who have to balance the same difficulties – making a living, being a parent who is there for their child, but still needing to have a creative outlet because to deny it would be to cut off part of their being, without being an arrogant artist who thinks that the creative muse is all and leaves the mundanity of life to their other half. (These sections were based on actual conversations with actors, musicians, writers that Chandler had, providing a wider context and more specific instances for people to understand, which gives the book a greater breadth and depth and allows for more experiences with which readers can identify.) Discussing the issues and then developing mechanisms with which creative people can strive to achieve that balance provides Tariq with an understanding of what he is doing and learning to create boundaries and rules for life that can envelop the artistic and parental roles.
Chandler has created a believable mouthpiece for his thoughts and ideas on the creative person’s struggles – he is a comics creator himself (among other things, he did the Lucy the Octopus webcomic), married and with a child – so it’s obviously from personal experience but there is more than that to the book. The conversations in the book sound like genuine conversations between like-minded people (and people who are not like-minded, who have a more old-fashioned view of the world, from grandmothers who think that her daughter should be focusing on looking after her own daughter instead of writing, to the man who works in an office and is fixed in the traditional world of the full-time job in a company with a pension and promotions and increasingly ludicrous job titles), and they build up the methods for coping with the difficulties achieving the balance between parenting and creating.
The artwork serves the purpose of being warm, friendly and accessible, so that the ideas can be easily grasped and easily conveyed. The style is towards the children’s book mode – simpler lines, no complex background, a regular rhythm to the panels that allow breakouts to explain important points; there are some times that Tariq’s muse reminds me of Woodstock from Peanuts, which seems an appropriate reference point. Chandler allows the combination of words and pictures to tell the story without resorting to flash or excessive complexity, breaking up the pages with sketches in Tariq’s book or the combination of the book’s art with that of Tariq and Natasha in their artistic adventures.
This book is warm and thoughtful, informative and charming – it perfectly relates the struggles of the balance of being creative and work/family that is understandable even if you don’t have children. There were phrases in this book that I recognise from having similar conversations with my partner about the same issues, so Chandler has struck a universal chord in a visually engaging manner. This book has a lot to say and it says it in an entertaining fashion, and it has something of value for anyone who makes art for a living and their families.
Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.