Liz Climo, YOU’RE DAD

Liz Climo, YOU’RE DAD

When cartoonist and animator Liz Climo set out to write You’re Dad —a hilarious follow-up to her book You’re Mom— she realized she wanted to start a conversation. While You’re Mom serves as more of a guide to parenting from someone who wanted one, You’re Dad takes a look at the different sizes and shapes families can come in. Liz talks with Zibby about her career in both animation and illustration, how to encourage children when they display a passion for art, and The Simpsons’ uncanny ability to predict the future.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Liz. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss You’re Dad.

Liz Climo: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here.

Zibby: We did our Instagram Live in the middle of the pandemic — do you even remember this? — about You’re Mom.

Liz: It feels like it was two weeks ago and two years ago all at the same time.

Zibby: I feel like you were wearing some really cool hat, though. Now you have long, brown hair. Weren’t you wearing some cool hat?

Liz: I feel like I probably was in some sort of a panic, “I have to put something on my head because I don’t know what’s happening” sort of mood, so probably a hat or a headband or something. Who knows? Today, I am wearing overalls. I actually just picked up my daughter from school. A kid walking out looked at me and looked me up and down and said, “I didn’t know adults could wear overalls.” Believe it. Here it is.

Zibby: From the mouth of babes. I feel like I would need such a supersize pair of overalls at this point to accommodate all the various — .

Liz: I know. I don’t want to just completely dismiss denim as a concept, but it’s nice not having any buttons anywhere except for right next to the shoulders.

Zibby: Your shoulders always fit.

Liz: It’s great. It’s very comfortable. I feel like I’m wearing something that isn’t just what I slept in, which is what the theme of this year has been for me.

Zibby: Very true. There you go. Before, during the pandemic, you came out with You’re Mom, which was a beautiful, slim, illustrated, funny book. Now you have You’re Dad — I just want to spell, Y-O-U-‘-R-E, instead of someone thinking you are actually dad or something — which is similarly amazing. You put in the introduction of this book how you were struggling at the beginning to even figure out what You’re Dad should be about. Your mother had passed away, so there was some beautiful sadness and all of that as well, a lot of extra — you were saying, how could you do — you know what? Why don’t I let you tell it?

Liz: No, you’re completely on the right track. I had You’re Mom come out last year. It was a book that I had the idea for and I wrote in — I had a couple concepts rattling around in my head, but actually physically sat and wrote the book in an afternoon at a coffee shop. It just poured out of me. It was almost like it had been waiting to be written this entire time. Like you said, my mother passed away when I was young. I wanted to speak to what it was like to lose my mom and then also become a mom and not have here to guide me. I did that. I have it right here. I did it in a little picture book for adults, basically, where I tried to keep it light and fun like I do in my comics, but also touch on some heavier stuff. I did it. I was very proud of it. I knew I was going to do a book about dads. When I sat down to write You’re Dad, it was a little bit like, oh, no, I already said all the stuff that I wanted to say. In a lot of ways, You’re Mom is just a book about parenting. It’s a book about being a mother, but it’s also a broader book about parenting or being a caretaker or being just anyone who has a significant role in someone’s life in that sort of caretaker sense. When it came to working on You’re Dad, I explored some different things I might want to say. In a lot of ways, it was sort of a continuation of the conversation about, again, parenting and the stuff that you run into when you’re a parent or a caretaker. Then I also thought it might be a nice opportunity to revisit and sort of redefine the classic dad roles. What’s the difference between a mom and a dad anyway? Is there a difference? What about families that don’t have a dad at all? They have two mother parents or two parents that aren’t — I wanted to talk about a continuation of the different ways that people can fill that role in someone’s life. Hopefully, that made sense.

Zibby: The thing that was great about this book, first of all, just the humor and all the different animals, and particularly — what was it, a racoon, who was falling asleep page after page? Was that a racoon?

Liz: A lemur. Sometimes I half-know what animal I’m drawing. Then other times, I’m like, you know what, it could be a racoon. It could be a lemur. Doesn’t matter at all.

Zibby: Okay, great. I don’t think I could recognize a lemur in a crowd if you paid me. Whatever it was, it looked like a racoon. You’re so funny talking about how tired parents are. This is like the ultimate show don’t tell. It’s like, getting more and more tired. Then you’re like, hello, are you still with me? He’s like, yes.

Liz: Yes, I’m here.

Zibby: Yes, I’m here. I can hear you. Then again at the end, it was so clever. Tell me a little bit about how you, if you don’t mind, got into illustrating and writing and doing all your comics and becoming this amazing career woman in this particular slice of book-dom, if you will.

Liz: In a way, it happened sort of accidentally. In a way, it’s something that I’ve been working towards my whole life. I’ve always loved to draw ever since I was little. I always, in particular, loved to draw comics. That was just the way I’ve always liked to draw. I like making people laugh. I loved Pictionary when I was little. I love it as an adult. It’s funny because I have a lot of friends who are really, really, really good artists. I would play Pictionary with them. They might not be as good at it because they have to spend more time making something beautiful. Whereas I’m like, I can do something in four seconds, and then I’m moving on. I couldn’t do that perfectly rendered drawing that they could do, but I can get the point across really fast. I always knew that I wanted to do comics. I loved the medium. I was working towards a degree of animation and illustration at San Jose State. I didn’t get accepted to the program, but I did get a job on The Simpsons very shortly after, which was a very big surprise. That was when I was around twenty-three. I worked in animation for a while. I moved down to LA, worked in animation for about fourteen years. Sorry to use a book analogy, but I definitely put the comics on a shelf for a bit so I could focus on animating.

Little by little, I started to get back into doing more of the stuff that I liked to do when I was younger, which was more comics. I just picked it back up in tandem with working on my day job. As an exercise in accountability, I started posting the comics online. In my mind, it was like, I have my career. I’m in animation. I’m so lucky. I’m so happy to be here. I can’t believe that I even got this job in the first place. The comics were more of just staying true to what I’ve always loved to do, but I never actually expected them to become a different career. When they did start to get some attention and some positive feedback and I was able to sign with an agency, it just sort of took off. I left animation and moved in this other direction. Now here I am. It’s interesting. If I hadn’t worked in animation, I would hear animation and illustration and think, how big of a difference could there actually be? There is actually a pretty significant difference. I am just better at doing concise jokes within a couple panels. Animating is this beautiful artform that you really have to be able to draw loose and flowy and rough. It’s this amazing thing that I never really caught onto because I’m over here drawing really, really careful little line drawings. That’s just how I like to draw. It’s what I like to do. I don’t know if from Pictionary to animation to illustration answers your question, but that’s sort of how I got here.

Zibby: I am going to buy like five boxes of Pictionary. I’m going to make all my kids — I’m like, maybe one day you can become — .

Liz: People will ask me sometimes, if they have children who are interested in art or drawing, what classes should I put them in? What sort of books should I buy? What should I do to really encourage them and teach them? I went in a different direction where I was just encouraged to draw in the exact way that I liked to do it. If you have a child who’s sitting in front of the TV — maybe not the TV, but anywhere and drawing pictures, if that’s what’s making them happy, then the mileage of just doing the work and doing what they love is what’s going to motivate them and, in essence, make them get better at the craft. That, and I always tell people to go to a zoo and sit and draw the animals at the zoo. If you can draw from life, that’s the foundation of all art, is being able to do that life drawing.

Zibby: I cannot draw from life at all.

Liz: I can’t either, if it makes you feel any better. I worked at it for a bit. Then I kind of left it behind. It’s harder for me to do more photorealistic drawings or drawing of people because you really have to exercise that muscle. I haven’t in a while, but I can draw a racoon/lemur in a cartoon.

Zibby: That is all you needed to write that, so there you go. Do people ask you about The Simpsons predicting the future? Do you know what I’m talking about?

Liz: Yes, I do. People do. There is a bit of distance between the writing aspect of The Simpsons and the animating aspect of The Simpsons. The artists would stay in a studio in Burbank. The writers and producers and everyone are at Fox. All the mindreading and future-predicting happens at Fox. We were just drawing. It is interesting. I don’t know if there’s another show like The Simpsons that had its finger on the pulse of pop culture the way that it has. Maybe, in a way, it is actually predicting the ridiculousness of where we are now. It is pretty wild. Some of the stuff that I’ve seen is like, that is insane.

Zibby: Yeah, crazy. My husband showed me some of the videos about how fifteen years ago or something they had Donald Trump as — I don’t even know. Anyway, whatever. It was pretty cool.

Liz: There was a photo of him going down the escalator that matched .

Zibby: Yes, that’s the one I was thinking of. Crazy.

Liz: Maybe it’s that it’s predicted the future. Maybe we’ve just entered The Simpsons timeline of human existence. Either way, it’s very interesting.

Zibby: Who knew back then that our life would become — art becomes life or whatever. So what are you working on now?

Liz: I have a couple books in the pipeline. It’s been a really busy year. On the one hand, I’m really grateful for that because I was able to keep working. Publishing is really slow, and so a lot of it was stuff that I had geared up a couple years ago. Then suddenly, it was like, oh, here’s all the work that you have been working towards for the past couple years. Also, your child is not in school anymore. Also, you don’t have a babysitter anymore because they had to move home. Also, you have to figure out how to do it. The year has been pretty crazy. I’ve had a lot of going on. I definitely have a couple more books that I haven’t announced yet that we’ll be announcing soon and that I’m working towards. I’m also trying to give myself a little space to just take a deep breath and then also try to get my daughter back into the social aspect safely. She’s been inside the house all year, as the rest of us. Kind of continuing the same trajectory. I will say that You’re Dad and You’re Mom have both been really fun. I’ve done comic compilations and I’ve done children’s books, but I haven’t really done adult-centric picture books. I’m really enjoying it. I think I’m going to probably try and do some more stuff like that. It’s exciting. We’ll see.

Zibby: You’re Grandma, You’re Grandpa, You’re a Kid, You’re Sister. I don’t know.

Liz: There’s so many different directions we could go.

Zibby: You don’t need my help on that.

Liz: No, this is good. I’m going to write them down. I’m just getting a piece of paper right now. Let me steal all of your ideas.

Zibby: Please. I can keep going. Maybe it should just become a total joke. You’re a Pain in the Ass. Then you can give someone that. You could just nicely leave that on someone’s desk. Here, thought this was hilarious, ha ha.

Liz: That would probably sell really well, actually.

Zibby: You can put me in the acknowledgments if you end up doing that one. Do it in the afternoon. Just whip it out. Actually, you know, if you want — I’m sort of kidding, sort of not. I have this Medium publication called Moms Don’t Have Time to Write. You could do even just a little box or two of a comic and put it up there if you wanted.

Liz: Ooh, that sounds fun.

Zibby: You wouldn’t commit to offending anyone with the whole book.

Liz: That’s always nice. I love avoiding offending people at all costs. That’s great.

Zibby: That is better. Does your daughter like to draw? Is she artistic in the way you are?

Liz: She does like to draw. My husband and I are both artists. We both work. We met working in animation. She’s definitely surrounded by a lot of art, a lot of artists. She does what I did. She will find a show or a comic or something that she loves, like a character that she loves, and then she’ll just sit and practice drawing them over and over, which I did with Calvin and Hobbes and The Simpsons. It actually really helped me as I got older. Even without a background in animation, it was like, I never animated, but I understand how The Simpsons — I understand the show. I think it helped me get a job there for that reason. We’re both encouraging her when she finds something she loves, like a character she loves, and she’s drawing. We’re like, “That’s a great way to practice.” She really likes it. She’s very good. She’s really good at drawing what she sees. She’s really good at copying — if she’s watching TV and there’s a character on TV, she can draw it, like SpongeBob, perfect SpongeBob. It’s kind of amazing. My husband and I would always joke that she’ll be an accountant, probably. Everyone says, your daughter will probably be an artist too. We didn’t want to put that pressure on her. Do whatever you want. Sure enough, she’s very interested in drawing. It happened anyway. None of us are good at math, so no accountant in this family.

Zibby: What advice would you have for, I would say aspiring authors, but author/illustrators or anyone trying to get into — or follow their dream, the skills that you love, the stuff you love to do, all of that. Give me some good inspiration.

Liz: I’ll start with, I find it’s really frustrating if you are comparing yourself to other people who you find are better than you. I still do that now. It’s really important to find what you love to do, whether it’s drawing or writing, and doing it in a style that feels right and feels authentic to you. Then just keep getting better and better at that. It’s going to be frustrating at first. There are a lot of things I look back on that I did that I’m kind of, I wish I had done this differently. I know how to do this, and I didn’t really know how to do this then. That’s fine. You want to get keep getting better and better. It’s important to draw inspiration from people around you, but not to let how good everybody is compared to you bring you down or make you feel like you’re not in the right place because maybe what you’re doing is something that nobody’s seen before. I feel like when I started out, I would criticize myself because everything felt much too cartoony. It ended up being a good thing because it’s the way that I draw. I’d say that. If you’re trying to get writing, this is something that I always say. It’s really just true to my own experience. This is not the way that everyone needs to do it. Having an agent been instrumental to everything that I’ve done. My agent’s wonderful. I’ve had the same agent for ten years. She’s really helped me deal with stuff, contracts and stuff that I just can’t wrap my brain around. She’s an advocate for me. She’ll help me manage my workload and stuff like that.

A good way to find an agent, it’s hard for me to speak to this because I was very lucky in that she actually reached out to me. She’s told me one good way, which sounds like this isn’t a real thing, but it’s a real thing. If you find a book that you feel like is in the same vein of what you would like to do, you can even just open up the first couple pages and oftentimes, the agent’s listed. You can reach out to that person and send a query letter. There’s a lot of great resources online about how to find an agent. That has been really helpful for me. I do know some people who are very successful in animation who have tried to pitch picture books and they don’t have an agent. It’s just difficult to get anyone to listen if you don’t have those connections. It can be hard. Again, not the only way to do it, but I always tell people that. That’s always my first piece of advice. Just get the logistical stuff worked out. Then try to work on the stuff that you like. Hopefully, bring those two things together. It takes a little time. It definitely took a few years of working on this stuff while also holding onto my day job. It’s a labor of love. It’s fun. It can be fun. It’s great. What am I saying? It can be fun. No, it’s great. It’s wonderful.

Zibby: Awesome. Liz, thank you. Thank you for You’re Dad, which I am going to give my dad for Father’s Day and I’m very excited about. Thanks for chatting. I’m going to think of you next time I’m at the zoo and try to draw something. Not that that will happen anytime soon.

Liz: Draw something. Keep drawing and drawing and drawing. It’s fun. It’s really fun.

Zibby: It is fun. That’s true. That’s for sure. Thanks for using your talent to entertain so many people. It’s very awesome.

Liz: Thank you so much for having me. This has been really fun.

Zibby: Good. I’m so glad. My pleasure. Have a great day.

Liz: You too. Thanks so much.

Zibby: Bye.

Liz: Bye.

Liz Climo, YOU’RE DAD

YOU’RE DAD by Liz Climo

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