Nightlight and my Dad
Nightlight is wrapped up now and for those who have no idea what’s going on, I posted a breakdown in the forum.
When my Dad and I were at the Child’s Play golf tournament he saw me have a conversation with Kiko and Dabe about Nightlight. It was before I left for my vacation and I was really struggling to figure out what the monsters in this world would be like. The three of us were bouncing around ideas and my Dad just sat there and listened. We talked about the particular child’s fears informing each monster design. Dabe had the idea of getting real kids to draw monsters and then using those as reference. We talked about the color pallette and what the color choices should mean. When my Dad and I got back in the car he told me that he thought our conversation had been really interesting to listen to. We were talking about “make believe” stuff but we were doing it very seriously. He had never really seen anything like that.
My Dad worked for the Sears service department for pretty much his entire working life. By the time he retired he was managing multiple service centers all over the northwest and Alaska. He went to an office every day and they fixed things. People brought them their broken shit and my Dad (or eventually the people who worked for my Dad) fixed it and gave it back. In contrast I spend my days playing in imaginary worlds. I work very very hard on things that I think for most of his life he would have called a waste of time.
I don’t really talk about my “job” with other people in my life. Family members often want to hear about my work but I have a very hard time talking about it. I know my wife’s Father is often frustrated by how little I share about what I actually do all day. This is a man who served as an investigator for the military and then when he retired started his own P.I. firm. How do I sit at the dinner table and tell him I spent all day thinking about magical girls who grow flowers in their hair? How I tell him that I decided each girls flower would be unique and tie into her personal story? How do I tell him that one of the pretend girls I made up has forget-me-not flowers in her hair because she left her father alone and she’s scared he will forget her? I tend to hide what I do from what I think of as “muggles” for lack of a better term.
So now I’m in this car and my Dad is telling me he thought the talk I had with Kiko and Dabe was interesting. I tried to explain why I love what I do to him and why I work so hard at it.
When I was a kid I didn’t have a great time. My Dad kept getting promoted but he also kept getting moved. I did 1st grade through high school in four different schools across three states. School was pretty brutal for me. I hated the real world and so I retreated into books, comics, movies and video games. Stuff like the X-men, Star Wars, Ender’s Game, Zelda, they all lit my imagination on fire. All I wanted to do was live in these other places and be these other people. I explained to my Dad that the thing I love most about what I do now is giving that to other people. When I see fans dressed as Lookouts, or read someone’s Thornwatch fan-fiction I feel incredible. I have given them a place they want to be in. A place that sparks their imagination.
I know our stories and worlds tend to start out very loose and believe me I understand when you tell me you have know idea what the fuck is going on. The truth is we’re figuring this stuff out in front of you all. The story is loose partially because we don’t know all the details yet either. We came up with the idea of Dad’s who could see and fight monsters. That was really it. Then we thought that’s awesome but what if the Dad can’t or won’t do it? Someone in each family has to be the protector. What about families without a Dad or as one awesome commenter I saw put it:
“I wanna see an orphanage in this world and meet those nuns. Those very badass nuns”
Suddenly Tycho and were talking about how that would work. A huge room full of beds! Nuns fighting monsters! YES!
I know Nightlight doesn’t look like it but this is the most personal story I have ever told. I struggle with the idea of being my home’s protector. I don’t have the spirit for it. I am not a traditional Dad in that sense. When my first son was born I saw a little mirror image of myself. Gabe and I are so similar it’s scary. He told me he doesn’t like playing with some of the other boys because they get “too rowdy”. He would rather read or play video games. Then my son Noah came along and I met a new person. I met a boy who loves to wrestle and play with bugs. He wants to climb everything he can just so he can try and jump off. He is legitimately good at sports already and the kid is only five. The only people I ever knew like my son Noah before were the bullies who made my life a living hell during school. It was inconceivable to me that these traits could exist in a person who I would love more than I can describe. The thing I see in Noah that I couldn’t or often times probably wouldn’t see in the kids I knew like him growing up is sweetness. Noah wants to tackle me as hard as he can playing football, but he also wants to sit on my lap and cuddle while we talk about Ninja Turtles. During a camping trip my Dad took me aside and told me I’d have the same problem with Noah that he had with me. We are so different and I won’t always understand him. I nodded, it was already becoming a struggle. So yeah, Noah is Grace. This is my way of trying to honor that spirit. She goes into that room and fights that monster for her Dad because that’s what Noah would do.
It’s very interesting to make someone who is better than you.
What we like to do with these worlds is come up with the hook.Fantasy boy scouts, cowboy messiah, What if prohibition was for robots not alcohol, A kid keeps changing schools but they are on different planets. These are places for us to play in as much as you guys. I told my Dad that I was struggling with the monsters in NightLight because it meant defining something in the world. When you start with an idea like this, there are no limits. Then you have to start pinning down the details. What is a Nightlight? Where are these monsters coming from? What is their end goal? What happens if a Nightlight fails? What do these Monsters actually look like? Each time you make a decision like this you are closing a door. You’re saying this is the way it works and it cannot work this other way. Sometimes when you close a door and define something it’s rad world building: There are always two Sith, a master and an apprentice. Sometimes it fucking sucks: The force is the result of midichlorians in someone’s blood. Shutting doors is tricky.
But that’s the work I love to do and my Dad had finally seen me do it. I think it was interesting to him because it’s so far removed from his experience. It is very hard to believe sometimes that what I do has afforded me the life it has. Certainly there are many people who spend their lives daydreaming and don’t get to make a career out of it. I feel very fortunate and that’s part of why I take my make believe worlds so seriously. Not everyone of these ideas will resonate with all our readers and that’s why I always apologize for interrupting the normal strip. The only thing they all have in common is that they came from Tycho and I. All we hope for is that someone will see the world we made and become interested/inspired. The real world can be a pretty shitty place sometimes, but there’s no reason we have to spend all our time here.