The Pram In The Hall
Cyril Connolly was a British literary critic who lived-
Ah. Excuse me. Yes?
"What do you think?"
"Of these rough layouts."
Well, I'm not exactly sure that's Molly, isn't it?
"It's the bit with the guitar. On the corner. Remember? So. What do you think?"
It looks good.
"You're just saying that."
No, really. I like the, uh. The thing, there. I can't wait to see it finished. Now, I need to get back to
"Oh, right. The article. Okay."
Now then. Where was I? Ah.
Cyril Connolly was a British literary critic who lived and wrote through the first three quarters of the 20th century
Excuse me. Yes?
"Could you just hold your right hand up? Like that? No, twist it a little - good! Now. Look up toward the ceiling - no, just your eyes, like that - good! Now, hold that for just a second..."
You're sketching this? You can't just snap a digital photo?
"I need it for this panel I'm drawing. I'm almost done. Wait... wait... no, don't move... wait... There!"
Ow. Okay. Cyril Connolly. Critic. Founded a literary magazine and wrote scintillating reviews for The New Statesman and the Sunday Times (London); he was also melancholic, wittily bitter, and a terrible, slothful slobâ€”
"Can you come take a look at the dialogue before I flatten the page?"
I'm in the middle of this essay
"It'll just take a second. Please?"
Okay. Um - standalone" is one word, and otherwise, well, I think you should change the emphasis here
"That's how Griffen would say it."
It's just it sounds a little weird, to me
"Yeah, but that's how she'd say it."
Um. Okay. Otherwise, it looks great. Now. I need to get back to my essay. Okay. Cyril Connolly. Married three times, he had two kids, a reputation for whiplash turns of phrase and depth-charge bons mots, and a nasty habit of blaming his wife (ex- or not) or his kids or his slovenly, uproarious circumstances or, every great once in a while, his own self, for his inability to ever get out onto the page the great masterwork bubbling in his brain - one of Connolly's most famous quotes, commenting with his usual acidity on domesticity, and artists and their wives (for he was a creature of his age), was this:
She will know that there is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway.
"Kip! Could you come take a look at this page and tell me if it's any good, or if I need to scrap it and start all over again?"
* * *
Me, I'm starting to think the most somber enemy of finishing this essay is being married to a webcartoonist.
So I went and asked Ivy McCloud what she thought about Cyril Connolly's pram in the hall. "What a load of crap!" she said. "Let me tell you where Scott was when we first started dating. He was living in a dark apartment with all the shades drawn doing nothing but drawing Zot! He had this formula for what he'd eat for lunch and dinner every day of the week, so he could go to the supermarket and just get the same stuff every time and get back to drawing. Sometimes I think if we hadn't gotten married he'd still be there to this day, eating the same stuff, with a big bushy beard because he never got around to shaving. The somber enemy of art? Please!" Ivy laughs. "You can't draw anything if you don't know what's out there!"
But what about your daughters, I ask her, taking the "pram" of Connolly's quote seriously for the moment.
"Oh, they can make his life miserable," says Ivy. "Sometimes he has to run away to the library so he can do his layouts. But they'll pose for him whenever he needs it. When he was working on the most recent Morning Improv story, 'Somnivore,' and he got to the first panel with the girl, there was Winter right there in the studio. So he said, 'Here's a pillow. Pretend you're sleeping,' and an hour later she was online."
So there are some benefits to having a pram in the hallway?
"Oh, sure. When the market was so bad for a while there, and it seemed like no one was reading anything, I think the girls really boosted his confidence. Because they love to read comics. And seeing that gave Scott hope - at least the artform wasn't dead."
Mark Hernandez, on the other hand, is not so quick to denigrate Connolly's wisdom. "The pram in the hall," he says. "There's some truth to that. A lot of what I do to help her out sometimes is keep the kids at bay. Lea's a night-owl, so I make sure I'm home by a certain time to see to the kids" â€“ a son and a daughter. "She's in her studio working away until three or four in the morning, then, so she's usually coming to bed as I'm getting up to get the kids ready for school."
But that's the extent of the demands placed on you as the spouse of a webcartoonist?
"Oh, no," he says. "She'll ask me to pose, sometimes. 'Hold your hand like this,' she'll say, you know."
Oh, I know, I say.
"And she'll call me into her studio to show me her sketches. She'll ask me what I think about what she's doing, but sometimes it's just a bunch of squiggles. 'Can't you tell what's going on?' she'll ask."
I understand exactly, I say.
"I don't help so much with production anymore these days, now that she's doing most of her stuff on the computer. But when she did touch-ups on manga translations, I'd erase the original Japanese sound effects from the stats for her. And I'm her IT support guy, these days."
So not only might an artist draw moral support from domesticity - there are material and even commercial benefits, as well?
"Oh, but we love comics," Mark is quick to point out. "In fact, Lea and I originally got together because of comics. After all, it's better to marry someone who's going to understand you."
Thinking then of the pram in the hall as something that can support an artist, with love and understanding â€“ and the occasional spot of physical labor â€“ I ask Robin Chaplik how she supports webcartoonist Kris Dresen. "Oh, but you're making a big assumption there," she says.
Oh? I say.
"If anything, it's Kris who shirks her wifely duties. When I meet her after a hard day at the theater, there's no hot dinner on the table. She's off working on one of her freelance assignments, or drawing her comics."
So you're a theatrical director, I say. With two artists in a relationship, then, it's almost as if either of you could put a pram in the hallway for the other.
"I don't think that domesticity is a killer of the muse," says Robin. "There's this idea that you'll lose your edge, settle in. That you'll no longer want to make a statement. But I think we're both better as artists, living in the world with each other. It's not like you don't have to work at it, and actively make time for a relationship. But the good stuff outweighs the tribulations. And, of course, Kris and I can always meet in the middle over our vast menagerie of cats." She chuckles. "The last time we needed a break, we went to the pet store and just chilled out there for a couple of hours."
Is there a difference, then, in how you each deal with the different worlds of art you're each involved in?
"The art I do involves other people," says Robin. "Kris has an art that she does on her own. She can get very intense when she's working on a project. Very focused. I had to learn early on when she was in the zone, and when she was available to hang out. I have to work around that - if I puncture the zone, I know I'm going to pay for it later. When I first met her, I thought, her work is incredible, and I didn't want anything to keep her away from her drawing table. She has a full-time job, as an art director, and I thought that was a shame. But I've come to see how important it is for Kris to leave the house, to leave her table and get out somewhere with other people. Even if it is a job."
Ah, but what if both partners in the relationship are cartoonists? I asked Andrew Farago how he and Shaenon Garrity deal with the prams each can leave in the hallway for the other.
"We've been living together for a year and a half," he says, "and we're still learning how much space we require and what hours we keep. My days of being at the drawing table at three in the morning are over, you know? Neither of us wants to be the one keeping the other up."
Of course, the problem then becomes keeping up with Shaenon. "With print comics, you've got a deadline once a month, or maybe once or twice a week, at most. With the web, with Shaenon's strips, it's every day. She's hitting 500 deadlines a year, maybe more."
So there's some tension there? Print versus the web?
"Well, it's not like an East Coast, West Coast rivalry or anything," says Andrew. "In fact, she's helping me set up my own website. But I'd never heard of comics on the web before I met Shaenon - the second time I met her, in fact, she sort of hit on me by letting me know about her website. I thought it was this new form of self-publishing, that she'd invented the concept or something. She did nothing to disabuse me of this notion."
What can two cartoonists bring to the table for each other, then? "It's good to have a sounding board - someone who knows what you're capable of and wants to see you do your best work, someone to bounce ideas off of. And it's fun - I've made some off-the-cuff comment about a strip and inspired a whole storyline. I'm an insider fan. Every day, I come home and there's a new stack of stuff to look at. And you know - our apartment is filled with comics, I deal with comics and cartoons all day at the museum - sometimes I'm a little surprised we're not burned out on comics yet. But we've got the wedding coming up on Valentine's Day, and if we can think of wedding planning as just one more strip, I think we'll be okay."
If you wanted to, then, you could look at the pram in the hall as a somber enemy. But domesticity is order and support, it's a sounding board, a boost of confidence, it's a kick in the pants when you need it and a safe harbor against the chaos of the wider world. Cyril Connolly had his moments, but this wasn't one of them. As long as you follow Mike Hernandez' advice, and hitch up with someone who's going to understand you, there's no reason to fear the pram in the hallway.
Now. If you'll excuse me one last time. Jenn?
"What's up? I'm kind of in the middle of reworking the dialogue for next week's page."
Well, I finally got this essay finished. Could you look it over and let me know what you think? It'll only take a second...