In case of emergency, recruit kids
Words and illustrations by Tina Funder
(With a little help from her junior recruits.)
We’ve all been there; on the receiving end of unnecessary, subjective feedback; deflecting the vitriol of a strung-out client or boss; under the pressure of an impossible deadline; working weekends and into the night, in the hope that our unborn concept sees the light of day.
Optimism is imperative for survival in our industry.
My career low was being made redundant on maternity leave. It was a stab in the heart. And the back for that matter.
It’s difficult to describe the exact emotions I went through, but it started with feeling unfairly judged whilst I was at my most vulnerable – out of the workplace and nurturing a newborn. I felt cheated for having wasted years on an agency that deemed it acceptable to dismiss someone who wasn’t even there to defend themselves. My confidence shattered into a million pieces and I began questioning my ability, and how I was going to come back from such a low point.
Then I got the Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction kind of rage.
“Say redundant again! Say redundant again motherfucker - I dare you, I double dare you… I’ll sue the shit out of your arse! Not just for me, but for all working mothers. I’ve got you on unfair dismissal and discrimi-fucking-nation bitches!”
Bit of Erin Brockovich coming into play there too. Yep, it was a low point for sure. And I needed a supercharged injection of optimism to get me back in the game.
So, I recruited my own creative team. They were on the junior side – aged five, three and one – but their positive energy was off-the-charts contagious.
The brief was simple: to write and illustrate a children’s book.
The creative ideation spanned over weeks of meal-time brainstorming sessions. We discussed and developed our plots, finally whittling them down to our three favourite working titles – ‘Max’s musical mango’, ‘Two poisonous but friendly monkeys’ and ‘Spider Claus’.
After much critiquing and spaghetti-flinging debate, we landed on Spider Claus. Namely because it was the only storyline that actually made sense, and there was a moral to it. We crafted the text and mapped out our illustrations.
Then, we went into production. I briefed two illustrators – the three-year-old’s sketch got up. We decided to print 24 illustrations on a traditional printing press, so I joined a local printmaking group consisting of mostly-female artists who were extremely talented at their craft. I was the most junior member by at least a decade.
The camaraderie, mentorship and creative therapy was exactly what I needed.
After six months of carving, hand-printing and colouring, we had our first draft. It was time to go into testing. By this stage, my eldest creative had started school, so we had our target market.
My creative team and I rehearsed and perfected our presentation. It was show time. We educated a class of five-year-old students on the craft of illustration, gave them their own prints to colour-in, then we read Spider Claus through twice before asking for feedback. It was a hit.
In fact, it went viral*.
We had requests from parents across the school to read the book to their kids’ classes. Mums were asking me where they could buy the book. I even overheard one girl saying, “Max’s mum is my favourite author”. Boom, we nailed it.
In retrospect, I realise how close I was to walking away from the industry all-together following the redundancy, but that would have been giving up on myself. As clichéd as it sounds, I kept thinking of the dismal statistics regarding senior females in creative departments and thinking, ‘I can’t let them get the better of me, I need to prove them wrong. I need to kick some creative arse for the young female talent out there’.
Spider Claus wasn’t just a kid’s book, it allowed me to channel my creativity into something positive and hopeful. And wouldn’t you know, not long after writing it, I landed one of my favourite contracts to date – working with some absolute legends of the industry, on some terrific pitches and briefs.
In fact, I was back feeling stronger and more resilient than ever having survived such a shitty experience. Proving that optimism can come from the most unassuming of places.
Tina made the move south from her Manly fanbase to Melbourne and is now a Creative Director at 10 Feet Tall. Spider Claus is still on the look out for a publisher.