My work on the ORP comics was a long time coming. Probably over ten years.
My last “real” job before I made my living with doodles was working in a group home with developmentally and behaviorally challenged kids. It was tough. You get bit. Hit. Spit at. You stop wearing decent clothes or shirts with buttons cause it’ll get ripped up and you spend the rest of your shift with an open shirt. But it was also really rewarding. I loved that job. And those kids. I could tell I was helping to inject positive change into their lives.
When these books with ORP came through I was so stoked to get an opportunity to use my drawing to make a similar impact. I came up with all kinds of concepts and ideas. I knew it would be tricky to portray a relatively negative situation in a positive or welcoming manner so that the kids would want to read them and come away feeling better and not more depressed. How could I portray something that a kid (or anyone, really) would naturally recoil from in a manner that they would actually get into it and be drawn to it?
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I had the idea that negative things are easier to digest if they’re more removed from the reality. Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff is funny. Some dude falling off a cliff is a tragedy. So I pitched having these characters as animals and after some thought, we went in that direction. And I was elated. I’d spent months developing a children’s book style and now I got to use it and I was so sure it would work.
Twenty two pages later, however…
I always second guess. I always over analyze. This book was no different. I kept thinking, Why am I drawing cute pink bunnies? I’m not that guy. I don’t draw bunnies. Why did they let me do this? What’s a kid going to think reading this? Is this working? Holy crap. What if I finish it and it falls flat? Etc., etc. For three days, I was doing this. And just as my existential angst was reaching it’s crescendo, I got an email from Corey with some feedback from the folks at ORP.
The girl who they showed the book to hit on every point I was trying to make. She could read and follow it (with some minor word edits). The drawings made her “happy”. She could relate to the characters, even though they were bunnies and birds. I was so relieved.
When I was working in the group home, as much as I may have helped, once the kid or I moved on, that was it. I couldn’t do anything with or for them again. But these books will reach more kids (and parents and caregivers and teachers) than I ever could as an individual. They’ll be around long after I’m gone.
Part of me has always felt like I abandoned those kids whenever I transferred to a new house and when I left the field. But I like to think that these books we’re creating are also for them.