Artist's comics a labor of love
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:23 AM
"Some boys dye their hair and others get something pierced. Some tap into subculture music and others defy authority. For his part in teen rebellion, Port Orchard cartoonist Pat Moriarity took after his father.The elder Moriarity, Bill, enlisted in the Navy when he was 17. He had tattoos on his arms of a wolf's head, his girlfriend before he met Moriarity's mother and some related to the Navy, among many others. And he penned a comic strip called Seaweed Sam for the Spark and Quill, a Navy newsletter. After leaving the Navy in 1960, he enrolled in art school in Chicago, where he met the woman who would become Moriarity's mother - Karen Brown. I guess you could say I was the product of two horny art students, the younger Moriarity said.Moriarity is the second child and the oldest son, born to his parents on Father's Day, 1961. In keeping with tradition, Moriarity's son, Jack, was born on Father's Day, 2001.Moriarity remembers his father was always drawing around the house. He looked up to his dad, and, before long, he, too, picked up a pen. I took up cartooning almost out of rebellion, he said. It was not the most respectable profession.That comic book artistry is underappreciated bothers Moriarity. There are derogatory attitudes about comic books, he said. Fine arts is appreciated and literature is appreciated, but when you combine them, it's somehow less.When I look at the Sunday comics, I'm just depressed. I don't want to be any part of it. Strips are so small. Back in the day, strips were bigger. Now, strips are like Dilbert - they're the size of a postage stamp, and they're only four panels. You can see that a cartoonist is settling ... they're more susceptible to being controlled by the syndicate, he said.But as a kid, a penchant for artistry was almost genetic, particularly with two artists as parents. When he was 9, his parents divorced, and he moved with his mom to Greenfield, Iowa. He grew up and went to Iowa State University, where he majored in graphic design. Following graduation, he left for Minneapolis, where he freelanced for Twin Tones Records, drew artwork for Soul Asylum, reformatted some Replacements LPs into cd form and drew up countless flyers for shows, graphics for t-shirts and band posters. I'd always been into punk rock, he said.Eventually, he found his way to Seattle, where he broke into the underground comic scene writing comic books for Fantagraphics, including one called You and your Big Mouth. He became the art director for Fantagraphics, but not without same chafing at the realization they wanted him more for his graphic design skill than cartooning. After he stopped writing Big Mouth, he began penning the Loop-de-loop strip for the Rocket, a free, Seattle-based weekly publication that went under in 2000. He did the last, widely-distributed cover, but he said he never got paid for it.When he was writing comics, Moriarity said, he relied on a combination of personal experiences and conversations with other people, including Henry Rollins, Charles Bukowski and other cartoonists.Funny, though, wasn't always the point. I'm not always looking for humor, he said. I draw in a cartoony style, but sometimes the text is grim. And funny is in the eye of the beholder.The ball finally dropped in 1996, when Rolling Stone magazine named him the Hot Cartoonist of the Year. That changed my life, he said. It allowed me to quit my job. Then, in 2000, he and his wife, Lori, had a son.Last year, the Moriarities moved to Port Orchard from their tiny house in North Seattle, which they bought in 1995. Housing and real estate pushed us out of Seattle, he said. When Jack was born, we realized we couldn't live there anymore, but we couldn't afford to buy a house.Fortunately, the value of their home climbed steadily from 1995 to 2000. And this place we got for $25,000 less, he said, referring to their Port Orchard home, which overlooks Sinclair Inlet toward the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. It's twice the size and has a great view. I'm actually trying to recruit some of my artist pals to move out here. Seattle is getting so expensive.Fatherhood brought additional changes. My comic books are, like, rated R, and you can bet I'll be hiding (them) from my kid, he said. My outlook has changed a lot. It's not that I'm disowning that; I'm embracing a wider variety of things.And, also, when you're not married and don't have a kid, you can draw underground cartoons and you don't have to worry about making money. That was sobering for me. After I got married and had a kid, underground cartooning seemed selfish ... I could be helping out around the house or making some money, but instead, I'm drawing in my room. So I'm more financially motivated now, he saidBut, he added, choosing his work based on pay doesn't make him a sellout. Just because you get paid doesn't make it disrespectful, he said. Since when is it you should be paid less to have dignity? That's kind of weird.While his aim has shifted from underground comic books to freelance contract work, he said the companies he works for give him free rein. When I do something for Nickelodeon, I know not to put curse words in it, or genitalia, but I'm not controlled, he said. Now, when people get ahold of me, it's because they already know what I do.Now that he's done the comic book thing, Moriarity said he's leaning toward other genres, like fine arts and graphic novels. You've gotta keep up with what's going on, he said. There are so many different directions.Those directions aren't without their sacrifices and, even with great success in the comic world, artists find themselves strangers in the larger literary or art world. Sales of an underground comic that's really successful might be 5,000, he said. I know people who've paid their dues and they're still not anywhere and other people who shot straight to the top and just became the flavor of the month.Nowadays, Moriarity is a stay-at-home dad, watching Jack during the day while Lori is at work in Bremerton. When she comes home in the evening, they hand off the baby and Moriarity goes into his room to work on freelance work. It's an arrangement made possible by the Internet.He's sort of struggling to find his new direction among many options, not the least lucrative of which is the freelance work he's doing now. He has a coffee mug that says Success is loving what you do. I'm doing a lot of things, but I don't know if I want to be a jack-of-all-trades, he said.His words to those interested in comic book artistry are encouraging, but only as long as there are no illusions about the financial compensation in the field. If you're not married and don't have kids, go with your gut and don't let anyone control you. But, don't think it's the alternative to being a lawyer or a dentist. You can be the Picasso of comic books and still be starving. "