New Comic Alert: Petunia & Dreby GoComics team
Good news for people who love NEUROTICA! Big Al, the Gal is back on GoComics. Petunia & Dre continues the adventures of our hapless NEUROTICA heroine. Now a mother, the challenges of life are even more complicated. And rewarding! We took some time to chat with Allison Garwood about her decision to return to the universe she created, and we got deep about life, family and what it’s all about.
What made you want to come back to this world?
It was hard to leave, but I needed to choose between two wonderful opportunities: my comic strip and building a healthy family. Who knew that decision would lead to Petunia & Dre, a strip based on our life?
We became a family through adoption, and going from no kids to a 2-year-old was a big adjustment. But going from an invisible white lady to a VERY visible white mom of a Haitian son was a HUGE adjustment. Add a catastrophic earthquake (January 10, 2010), rejection from ignorant family and friends, plus the truckload of inherent race issues parents of Black children face in this country...it was a lot!
I was fully ready to jump into adoption parenting but hadn’t anticipated all the questions, comments, and stares. And nobody anticipated the earthquake. Luc had been home about a month. In a blink “You look like Madonna” turned into “Did you get him from Haiti?” Global news outlets called and emailed me. Three days after the earthquake there was a fundraiser at Tigeorges’ (a favorite Haitian restaurant in LA). A literal wall of photographers faced us and wordlessly snapped a kajillion photos. It took a year to find out, but thankfully Luc’s biological family survived.
It was like learning to swim by diving off a cliff into a stormy ocean. But we swam! We’ve been through a ton in the past decade, but here we are healthy, strong, and together.
As kids get older they need their parents less. My 13-year-old is becoming increasingly independent and also mortified by my lameness. So I have more time to write and draw. On the first day of 7th grade he refused to smile for a photo, then told me he had to use the restroom. After about 20 minutes I realized he’d ditched me.
In 2020, I reached out to GoComics to submit a strip I thought was pure gold (it wasn’t). Shena Wolf declined but with her trademark kindness. She was absolutely right because “But When A Green Mamba Does It…” was the most repetitive idea of ever.
Around then, GoComics realized my retired comic, NEUROTICA, still had a following after all these years. (Ed note: the feature ran on GoComics from 2003 until 2006.) Amazing! It inspired me to combine my love for that strip with my years long wish to write something autobiographical. Shena was encouraging and enthusiastic, and here we are!
Have you noticed changes in the way you approach cartooning between when you stopped NEUROTICA and now?
YAAAAAS! In days of yore the gag was king for me, but that thinking caused some trouble. Replacing the “P” with an “H” on the Postage Room of a Cox Communications office is funnier in theory than in practice. Hot tip: DON’T try it.
Another change was an acceptance of myself, my style, and addressing race and social justice. It sounds hippy dippy, but if you don’t know and love yourself as is, how can you survive the double leg takedowns life has in store for you?
What did you do in that time between? What kinds of projects did you work on? Were you still doing comics and art?
I wrote and drew every day, but my first priority was to be an effective mom. So I have binders full of unfinished projects. Some were worth talking about and others not so much. I wrote a book called The Poop Monster, which extolled the importance of listening to the body when it needs to poop (and turned me into a super celeb with my son’s kindergarten class). First Letter was about some letters who fought over being first, and as they moved around they spelled new words. Haiku Ewe was a one-panel comic strip about a female sheep who spoke only in haiku, which ran on GoComics from 2007ish to 2009ish.
Burnout is real and I’m curious as to how you’ve handled creativity over the course of this last very challenging year.
Lockdown was bitter sweet. On one hand, remote school with a highly strong-willed, extroverted tween was hard. On the other hand—and sorry for getting too deep here—it felt like getting some of the time with my son back that was stolen from me at the beginning of his life. But make no mistake; it was hard.
In March 2020, I made a deliberate commitment to dive into writing whenever I felt sad or stressed. Needless to say LOTS of writing happened. I took a million Zoom classes, wrote two graphic novels, illustrated a comic book, and created two comic strips! The key to this process (and to life) is to get joy from progress more than from the end goal (and also to dive into your passion when you feel sad or stressed).
What excites you most as you dive into this new comic?
I’m excited to share the most important thing in my life: my family! My son and I are super close and I think our dynamic is unusual—probably because our family is unusual. I also want to share the blindside experiences we endure when bigots do their best to us. We live a happy life and are strong survivors. I’m excited to share all of it.
The therapy of getting negative feelings onto the page in a way that will make people laugh is an amazing experience. *Leroy the puppy is 100 percent fine*, but a guest left a glass of wine unattended and our puppy (Leroy) got drunk, squeezed through the gate, and ran around the neighborhood like a fraternity pledge questioning his life choices. Not much needed to be added to that story, so I wrote it as it happened. It made me laugh and chased away the mental what-ifs of our drunk puppy getting run over by a speeding minivan. *Again Leroy the puppy is fine and never got hit by anything.* Well, maybe a hangover.
What are other comics that inspire you?
My favorite cartoonists at this moment on this day are Keith Knight, Joel Christian Gill, Paige Braddock, Tauhid Bondia, Alison Bechdel, Lynda Barry, Roz Chast, Jackie Ormes, Dana Simpson, Steenz, Pete Docter, and Mike Luckovich. And so many more. Recently I stumbled upon an interesting site called Empathize This.
Funny stalker story: While living in San Francisco in 2000, I discovered the work of Keith Knight and fell in obsessive cartoonist love with him. I went to every presentation he did. He started to recognize me and we became best friends in my mind. In hindsight I wonder if he was a little scared? However, Keith was always genuinely kind. He introduced me to the uComics (now GoComics) editor who soon after picked up NEUROTICA! So, Keith is my hero on a lot of levels.
What advice do you have for cartoonists who might be struggling right now?
Get some notes. Notes are the greatest gift a person can give or receive. However, notes are only valuable when they make you gasp and say, “OMG that’s a great idea!!” If you get a note and don’t know what your next step is you should dismiss the note as unhelpful. No harm no foul, thanks anyway. No matter who that note is from.
Sometimes a good person accidentally says the wrong thing at the worst time. When I first met Charles Schulz (it was amazing!), he spent a lot of time looking at my work, but the only thing I remember him saying was “Your children [drawings] are ugly. And not funny ugly.” Tbh I was a little crushed. But wait! A year later, I saw him again and he asked to see my work. He looked through my portfolio, and not only remembered it but liked it! (I know right?!) When I reminded him he’d said my children were “ugly and not funny ugly” guess what his reaction was. He was incredulous. Couldn’t believe me. Then decided to trust me but wondered aloud why he would have said that. Then later that day, he turned to my husband and said, “You should be proud of your wife. She has a promising career ahead of her." (I know!! Right?!!) I’d wasted a whole year hating my drawings of children.
P.S. Buy Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons. Something about her books makes you want to draw immediately.
P.P.S. Take breaks to live. Life leads to story. Adversity leads to story. Jerks definitely lead to story.
P.P.P.S. How to solve all problems: Thirst for truth and always have the courage to face it, accept it, and DO something. “It’s not upon you to finish the task but you’re not absolved from trying.” (A teaching in the Torah I learned from United Shades Of America season five, episode one.)
Be sure to follow Petunia & Dre on GoComics, where it will be updated five days a week.