New York-based comedian and cartoonist Jason Chatfield skewers the little details that make up a parent's life in his latest hard-cover collection of full-colour cartoons. It's all part of a series where he mines the world around him for comic effect.
If you're a reader of The New Yorker, Variety or Wired, then chances are you might be familiar with the work of Australian cartoonist Jason Chatfield. His distinctive wit and illustrations have been bringing smiles to readers' faces for years, and in his new series of books, he seeks out the strange minutiae that underlie shared experiences.
Working within the framework that you're not a real teacher/ dog owner/ New Yorker (delete as applicable) until you can relate to the content of his cartoons, Jason's books will take everyday occurrences and shine a light on how funny they actually are when you take a step back.
"The idea came from a bit I've been doing on stage in my stand-up act for the past ten years," Jason tells Creative Boom. "As an Aussie immigrant, I've always marvelled at the varied responses my New Yorker friends give in response to the prompt, 'You're not a real New Yorker until…?' My writing partner saw me performing the bit at a club one night and said they'd make a pretty funny series of cartoons for the New Yorker.
"By the night's end, we'd written about 100. Then when we pitched them as a book to my agent, we expanded the idea to cover various topics. We have about 152 titles in the works. The series continues in the Spring of 2024 with Dog Owner."
For his first book in the series, You're Not a Real Parent Until..., Jason turned his comedic gaze to the inherently bizarre life of raising a child. But he's not mocking it from a place of cruelty, though. "We made it to help parents feel less alone in the challenging journey of parenting, from babies to toddlers, tweens, teens and beyond," he explains. "Humour is a great way for people to share experiences, and cartoons are the best vehicle for printed humour."
Created in collaboration with long-term writing partner Scott Dooley, the book covers everything from taking turns to dealing with childcare, contagious crying, and resenting people with tidy homes – all the scenarios that parents can nod and laugh at with bitter recognition.
Writing the book represented something of a creative gear change for Jason, as for the first time, he brought his careers as a comic and a cartoonist together. "I never used stand-up jokes in my cartoons, and I never used comic strip or panel gags on stage," he reveals. "These days, it's all just one inky blur between the two, and my comic voice on stage has bled into my drawings.
"I'm kind of an absurdist comedian, so my line has evolved to be a bit manic and frazzled. The unpredictable nature of a flex nib kind of plays well into the chaotic nature of my comedy. Once I get into a state of deep focus, there's no line between my comedy and cartooning brains; the two hemispheres just collide, and very silly things fall out of my pen."
Fortunately for Jason, his publisher allowed him immense leeway to help realise these crazy ideas. "I was very lucky to have creative freedom on the stylistic approach I wanted to take," he says. "I did months of preparatory work on drawing tools, paper, tablets, scanners and production processes to ensure I could replicate the same style and colour scheme across all of the book series.
"I landed on a hybrid process of drawing the illustrations by hand in pencil, then scanning in pencils for any edits on the draft round, then printing them onto a paper with a bit of tooth in cyan, and using a Hunt 101 Imperial dip pen nib to ink the illustrations, keeping the line-weights consistent, before scanning them in.
"I fed pages in batches of 10 pages to a colourist for the first time in my career and feel like an idiot for not doing it sooner. It is a huge help when you're doing hundreds of drawings at various levels of approval from the editor, and all I needed to do was go in and add textures, highlights, and other details once they sent the flats back in a layered Photoshop file."
As for their favourite illustrations from the book, opinions are split. Scott is drawn to the toddler section, particularly the gag surrounding dress codes. "The volume of kids we've seen dressed as Elsa at the shops or little boys dressed as their favourite Avenger sitting in the doctor's waiting room or similar is incalculable," says Jason.
"You know there's a story where the parents, in exasperation, just went, 'Bugger it, we're already late. Just get in the car, Spiderman'."
On the other hand, Jason was tickled by the cartoon, which looks at what parents could have been able to afford if they remained childless. "I had fun drawing all the stuff you have to buy as a parent at various stages into the shape of an F1 racing car."
Given the source material, it's perhaps unsurprising that Jason lifted many ideas from his personal experiences with kids. "My sister-in-law wouldn't be thrilled with me sharing this, but many of them were derived from my two nephews and wonderful niece," he concludes.
"We're very close and often share stories over our Whatsapp group with funny photos of their endless japery. My nephew, Zachary, found his dad's beard trimmer one morning and decided to shave a massive reverse mohawk strip out of his noggin. They stopped him before he found the dog."
The book, You're Not a Real Parent Until..., is available to order now.