Cartoonist Brian Gordon, creator of the mega-popular Fowl Language comic, is one of those brave people who puts his life out there for everyone to see. The former writer and illustrator for Hallmark draws inspiration for his work from his own two kids and lovingly writes of the joys and challenges of raising a family. We sat down with Gordon to talk about Fowl Language, his writing process, and his parenting tactics.
Q: You have young kids, but Fowl Language speaks to parents with kids of all ages. How do you achieve that universality?
Gordon: One thing I learned at Hallmark was when I would have to write from grandmother to son-in-law. I’m not a grandmother, but I had to put myself in her shoes. So you learn how to have a tuned sense of empathy. You know what concerns people. I wrote a cartoon about the witching hour and how babies cry at the end of the day, and that was directly from friends’ Facebook posts.
Q: You just seem to really get parents, which is impressive.
Gordon: I hear that a lot, you know: “How are you spying on me?” But these things are way more universal than I ever thought they would be. I would discover that my kid is weird and unique in this way and you kind of bottle it up. And then if you complain about it out loud, everybody is kind of like, “My kid does this, too.” We all think our kid is unique in their horrible behavior, but this is a universal thing.
Q: When did you first realize you were into comics?
Gordon: I spent a lot of time being a very indoorsy kid. All the kids were out playing baseball, and I was pulling comics out of the paper. I could copy pictures of Snoopy pretty well, and somehow I learned the term “syndicated cartoonist,” which is like, “Oh, I get to draw all the funnies.” Some kids wanted to be astronauts; I wanted to be a cartoonist. So, I’ve been plugging away and making cartoons ever since.
Q: Were your parents supportive of it?
Gordon: I was the third of three kids, and my parents were all parented out. So a lot of the way I was raised was like being in a bed and breakfast where they’re just like, “Here’s your bed, food is downstairs, try not to get arrested, keep it down, and good luck.” They were just very hands off, so I was like, “I’m going to draw cartoons,” and my parents were like, “Great! Can you do that quietly?” and they just left me to my own devices.
Q: What has it been like having kids of your own?
Gordon: When my wife brought home our baby, we realized that you can’t teach a newborn how to do anything. They can’t even open their eyes, so I put the books away for a while. And when my son was like 5 or 6, I was like, “Hey you got the motor skills finally, maybe it’s time to start teaching you how to be a doctor or something.” And for better or for worse, both of my kids are drawing machines, and I’m very supportive of that, but there’s a part of me that’s like, “Maybe you should learn math, or something as a good back-up.”
Q: Is your wife similarly artistic?
Gordon: She’s fairly creative as well, but she’s definitely the one who makes sure the bills get paid on time and that we get to soccer practice at the proper time. I’m the more left side of the brain, the artsy cartoonist, that’s definitely me, and she’s more of the critical thinker.
Q: Do you ever worry that Fowl Language will be taken the wrong way?
Gordon: Yes. Every time. I’ve gotten less nervous, but, it occasionally comes back to bite me on the butt. I did this comic about lying to your kids, telling them that McDonald’s is closed for the weekend so they can’t go there. The tagline is “Remember they are only this dumb once.” And this woman was like, “This is child abuse” and just ranted and wrote 12 paragraphs on why I was the devil.
I responded to it, and I tried to do it without being too touchy, and “Let me give you the author’s intent here.” I love my kids, and if you read the greater context of the strip, I adore my children and I’m joking about them. I thought she would have this moment of realization. Quite the contrary—her fans just freaked out, and I was compared to Jim Crow era racism, Nazi Germany. I was like, “You’re joking; do you people hear what you’re saying?”
Q: Do you ever include your wife in your comics?
Gordon: No, I never make fun of her. If I’m making fun of somebody, it’s my kids or myself. I try to post more of my inadequacies as a parent or the big things my kids do versus making fun of her. I did a thing about dropping off and picking up your kids from daycare and how much of a pain that is. And my wife said, “Oh, so you wrote about me this week.” It’s like when people ask, “How do you research your comics?” Well, I just listen to the one thing that keeps getting yelled in my ear. For the most part, my wife gets a kick out of it.
Q: Do you ever feel like you’re throwing your kids under the bus?
Gordon: When my first kid was born, someone at work had a daughter a month after my kid, and I remember this contest of sorts where it was like, “Oh your kid is just sitting up now. Wow, that’s a shame. My kid has been sitting up since the month they were born.” And it just became this great big deal, this kind of contest of who is better and who is developing quicker. It depressed me.
I was like, “Gosh maybe our kid isn’t as smart, or maybe we should bring him to somebody, or maybe there’s something we’re not doing.” And it’s the sort of thing with my comics now where I’m like, “Hey instead of pretending our kids are better than somebody else’s, let’s all take a moment and share the fact that all our kids are annoying and irritating and do all this crazy stuff.” Raising kids is a struggle, and that’s more fun to talk about than trying to make other parents feel lesser because their kids aren’t as awesome or smart as our kids.