“The aim was to keep the book’s messages accessible and easy to digest by mixing them up with story and humour” Richy K Chandler on When Are You Going To Get A Proper Job? and the perils of being a creative parent

Richy K. Chandlers’ When Are You Going To Get A Proper Job, the tale of a comic artists dad struggling to balance freelance life and fatherhood, was a title that really resonated with us, as it was very close to home. So we caught up with Richy to find out more about what inspired him to share his experiences with the world and how those experience have made him a better artist and parent.
Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for creating When Are You Going To Get A Proper Job? How did you come up with the idea and did the concept evolve as you worked through the story?

Richy K. Chandler: The starting point was simply my own day to day life as a dad, struggling to achieve creative goals, while earning money and looking after my son. Once the theme started to develop, through research and chatting with other people who have both children and creative ambitions, I realised there were a lot of parents experiencing similar, but not identical issues. This broadened the scope of the narrative a great deal.

We love how you mix auto-bio elements with almost self help style sections, was it important to make the book about more than just the struggles of an artist with a family? Did you design the book and story around these or did they evolve with the story?

RC: Thanks very much! There’s definitely a constant back and forth in the creative process, developing the narrative and filling the book with information and useful ideas. I didn’t want the self-help elements to be too dense and stop the flow of the story. The aim was to keep the book’s messages accessible and easy to digest by mixing them up with story and humour, keeping all of these plates spinning satisfactorily throughout the book.

We also love the mix of styles you use, from your standard cartoony style to the more pen and ink styles for the infographic elements – was it important to mix up the styles to tell the story more distinctively? And which style comes most naturally to you?

RC: I generally like to mix up styles within all comics I work on. My comic strip Lucy the Octopus had a fair bit of this. It can help make a point or joke stronger, or change the mood at an appropriate point. As long as it serves the story I’m happy to do that. It can also work as a visual refreshment during longer stories, for both the reader and creator!

In the case of When Are You Going To Get A Proper Job?, there was an obvious opportunity to show a different style whenever we see what our protagonist, the artist Tariq has been doodling. I found the images in Tariq’s typical style of drawing with dip pen and ink, much more my comfort zone than the general pencil artwork that the rest of the book is in. I enjoy both techniques and others though, and love contrasting different styles on the page.

It’s something I’ve enjoyed seeing comic artist David Mack (Kabuki) and children’s book creator Lauren Child (Charlie and Lola) do a lot.

We think the story will really resonate with all creatives not just comic artists, but were you ever concerned it might be too niche a story to get the audience it deserves?

RC: As I did my research, I realised that the niche wasn’t quite as unique to me as I’d first thought, so that was a good starting point for a readership. As with all my ideas for comics, I’ve tried to develop it into something that is entertaining and engaging for as large a range of people as possible, not just people who can already relate to the themes of the strip – I don’t want to just preach to the converted.

So even if you’re not a comic artist with a young daughter, the story should still appeal to you if you have understanding of struggling for decent work / life balance, or the struggle to reach artistic goals, or dealing with having kids and other responsibilities or if you like humorous stories with yellow fiery creatures.

I’m also conscious to offer a broad mix of characters, in terms of age, race, gender, sexuality and in the case, the types of art they are involved in. That’s an important aim across my body of work.

Singing Dragon seems like a perfect fit for this kind of book, did you pitch it to them or did they approach you to publish it?

RC: Ha! I had a man on the inside! My friend, comic creator Mike Medaglia (One Year Wiser) who is now setting up is own company, Liminal 11, was working at Singing Dragon at the time. I had an idea for a different kind of graphic novel about parenting and creativity, which I knew probably wasn’t a good fit there, but Mike suggested I might try a different approach to the theme and gear an idea towards a range of comics that Singing Dragon were developing at the time. Mike helped guide my pitch, which meant I wasn’t working blind and that got me in the door! The book evolved a lot since then but that was the starting point.

What was the most important thing you learned about balancing work and family life while putting together the book?

RC: To see your life, as a whole. By that I mean, there may be times when you are more focussed on being a parent, times you need to bring money in and times you need to focus on your creativity sometimes with zero guarantee of financial reward. You can’t always connect with these different parts of yourself everyday but you should certainly aim to keep these things in balance over a longer period of time.

Has the production of the book taught you new tips and tricks on balancing your life that you would like to have mentioned in the book? Or did you manage to squeeze it all in and now live a zen like perfect existence? Or is there more extra stuff for a follow up?!

RC: Sure, researching the book certainly helped keep things in check for me. A lot of that is knowing when to go easy on yourself and when to push yourself. Listening to the experiences of the creative parents has helped me focus on setting goals, acknowledging what limitations there are in my life and adapting my world to stretch and break through them!

I love the idea of reaching a zen like nirvana state, but that’s a work in progress! Don’t sweat the small things, don’t expect things to change without taking action, and don’t imagine things can be solved all at once, so you should make sure you’re enjoying the journey – that’s a good start!

I think there’s certainly more that could be said on the theme and different angles you could take. It’s a rich area. I aimed for my story to me a strong foundation, covering the topic though.

And finally what’s next from you? And if people like your work what other books can they check out from you?

RC: Well, I’ve recently finished a picture book for adults called What the Hell Just Happened?! That will be out in August and is a kind of philosophical comfort book for folk who’ve had a big shock in their life or are going through hard times. That will be out through JKP who have also just released Lucy the Octopus, my comic strip collection, focussing on bullying and prejudice that I wrote and drew over 5 years. It’s about the life of unpopular teenage octopus, who finds escape from her troubles by playing guitar, then uses those musical skills to try to make changes in her world. Like When Are You Going to Get a Proper Job?, the narrative uses elements of my own life but plays with them in a more fantastical setting.

You can purchase When Are You Going To Get A Real Job? for £11.99 from Singing Dragon Books and you can find out more about Richy’s work via his website.