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We asked seven indie artists one question: How has your family influenced your work?

By Broken Pencil

Heze Douglas
Editor of S/he’s Got Labe
I didn’t grow up with the idea that I could be anything I wanted. However, my family didn’t discourage my dreams either. At one point I did think growing up to be a donkey would be pretty cool, and a little guidance could’ve helped, but kudos to them for not cramping my imagination.

University was their idea, and college mine. I satisfied us both. By the time I was finishing up my feminist counselling degree I was due to start my own family. My last days of community placement at the local sexual health clinic were spent chasing buttons that were bursting off my maxed-out overalls.

After giving birth to my lil’ lady I found myself dragging my heels back to work. The last thing I wanted to do was crisis counselling only to return home with the weight of the world on my shoulders and my baby on my breast. Instead I retreated to the back lines as a support worker, supporting midwives to support their clients.

I soon found that my creative side was wanting for more. I hooked up with another young and creative mom and together we launched the first issue of s/he’s got labe (a zine about sexuality, gender, and the body) and in its wake came my writing career. Every now and then I stress about the way my family and work intersect. I sweat a little the days I find myself pasting in an article detailing my latest adventures at the queer bathhouse alongside a piece about my daughter and her developing ideas of gender. Then I realize there is no other way I would want it.

My daughter hasn’t mentioned any dreams of becoming a donkey, but there are a lot of things she does want to do that’ll make me proud.

Sean Lerner
Creator of and founder of Yip!
I’m having difficulty making the connection from my family to transit, and this is kind of egotistical, but if I turn the question around and ask, “how has my work influenced my family?” I see a budding transit fan in the making. The other day, maybe for the first time, I took my four-year old son on the University-Spadina subway line. He would excitedly say, “Look, it’s a new station!” as we passed Dupont, St. Clair West, Eglinton West. To his amazement, there was a continuous stream of brand new stations. A few weeks earlier I brought home some buttons promoting the new TTC subway cars scheduled to arrive in 2009. He proudly put one on his school bag and asked a classmate if they’d like a subway button too, but his classmate seemed totally uninterested in the gem. And then it’s always great to hear him when we board a bus he’s particularly fond of: “Hey, this is my favourite bus!”

Joe Ollman
Cartoonist, creator of Wag!
When I was drawing comics and my two older daughters were younger, I tended to keep it all squeaky clean. They used to climb up on my drawing table and look at my “work.” So I made sure there were: No swears, No sex and No violence. (My kids refute all of this, even going as far as saying that I actually swore out loud in front of them; “You can hear what is being said in the front seat, Dad.” but who ya gonna believe, them or me?)

When they were old enough, it happened naturally that I started adding the odd swear and in my longer comics for books even dared to write about vaguely sexual stuff, knowing they would possibly read them eventually.

So it was really freeing to be able to, you know, fucking write about sex and shit.

But now, as my daughters are 23 and 19, I’ve come into the possession of a new brother for them. So I’m back in the swear closet soon or I just choose to do with him what I do with my parents: never let them see any of my work ever.


Nathaniel G. Moore
Author of Bowlbrawl!
My family’s initial behaviour in my life during the late ’80s and early ’90s shaped the mentally ill plateau of my artistic life forever. They remain an unparalleled resource. In 2003, for Jon Paul Fiorentino’s Career Sucide! humour anthology, I wrote a fiction piece called “Randy Savage’s Moustache,” which was all about fighting with my father during my teenage years. Wrestling and family basically have shaped most of my art. I performed a version of this story on ZeD TV in 20004 and we had footage of my brother and I playfighting in the background on three huge screens. It was very cathartic and creepy. I used to watch pro wrestling and fantasize that they would protect me from my father’s abuse. “Violence is a calm that disturbs you,” wrote Jean Genet, and I think that is my mantra. This influenced my writing, especially when writing about a young child who wants to exorcise his childhood by starting a violent bowling league (Bowlbrawl).

My father unfortunately takes this all very personally and doesn’t approve of my work, largely because I told him from an early age that I would exploit the abuse that I went through in a comedic and or powerful way-that he was only fuelling the future. Creepy, eh? My mother and I get a long a bit better these days, though during the height of the split in the mid-1990s I was not very popular. Now, though, she enjoys my stand-up depressive routine. But my father really has been my muse. In “Planned To Marry Dead Girl,” my first and, I think, only published fiction piece in a Canadian magazine (B+A New Fiction), I retell the real life story of how my father’s fiancé died at the hands of my grandfather’s neglect in a Toronto-based Anglican cult. It’s the fucking truth. And I haven’t spoken to my brother since the 1990s. He works on King Street in Toronto and avoids me at all costs. He wouldn’t even drive me to our grandfather’s funeral a couple of years ago. I am a bit of a cliché, astrologically. The Cancerian is possessed in many ways by the stability or approval of his family. I’m sure they’ll love this article.

Matthew Godden
Writer, and father of Anna Bowness’s upcoming child (see editor’s note)
I have one measly paragraph to describe my family’s influence on my work? I could fill libraries and barely scratch the surface-my family both makes me AND breaks me as an artist. I had one grandfather who was a sort of difficult musical-genius type, and I’ve probably taken after him in a straightforward way. With everyone else, it’s trickier and more subtle. I’ve tried to amplify the good parts of their various influences-an intelligence here, an independence there, a proud streak, a willingness to be seen as somewhat kooky or wilful. And I’ve fought hard to avoid falling prey to some of their weaknesses-emotional dullness, and a willingness to settle for a mainstream life, for example. Every day I feel my family in there working on me, firing me up and giving me strength but also trying to drag me down with them. My family are both my God and my Devil.

David Collier
Illustrator, creator of Hamilton Sketchbook
If you grew up like me, raising a family wasn’t even on your radar. My wife, Jennifer Hambleton, was very active as a painter in the Montreal art scene of the ’90s. She also says she never thought of having kids, all that time she was running around the Plateau.

Even after we got together, the debate about whether to be a couple and have a kid was endless.

We had read a few books and were independent and it was tough to give up control to each other, let alone to a third, unknowable force. The discussion went on for four solid months, finally coming to a head during a marathon 8-hour march across Seattle, from Green Lake to Beacon Hill. All up and down those hills we talked, until finally I said, “Look, some form of marriage exists in every culture on earth, from the jungles of New Guinea to the cities of Iceland-us getting together isn’t totally weird, y’know.” That was our courtship. It was as if all the walking and talking was a way of testing each other by pushing our bodies and minds. And it was a good thing we found each other mentally and physically fit, because we needed every thing we had for what came next. And we still don’t know what challenges lie ahead.

Emily Pohl-Weary
Author of Strange Times at Western High and Iron-on Constellations
My family provides the backdrop for my writing. People I love and have loved haunt me, taunt me, speak all at once in my brain, push and pull my fingers across the keyboard. Depending on the day I’m having, nothing is good enough and/or everything is fabulous in their eyes. Their reputations, traumas and obsessions create roadblocks for me to get past, hurdles to jump over, swamps to wade through, and stories I must return to again and again.

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