Hi! My name is Robin Childs, creator of the webcomics LeyLines!
|I’ve written a mini-memoir here for the deeply curious, but if there’s any subject I’ve left unexplored, feel free to ask! I’m also available as a creative coach, so if you have a dream story idea you’d like to to turn into a reality, I’d love to help you realize your passion! Whether it’s advice on development, editing, or funding your independent project, I am here to help. Just contact me!|
A Brief(ish) Biography
I was born in Ohio, but my memories of the state are few and far between before we moved out to Colorado. Mostly I remember the maple tree in the front yard, with leaves that hung down to the ground, which I pretended was a house in the summer. Fireflies would light it up in the evening, and I spent hours chasing them. There was a sprawling yard in the back where my mother had a large vegetable garden. I had secret routes through it, and up on fences, and into other yards where I wasn’t supposed to go, but did anyway. For the most part, I have pleasant memories of that place, punctuated by a few more disturbing events that I accepted as normal as a child, and questioned as an adult.
We moved when I was roughly seven, from a fairly isolated home to an exceptionally isolated one. The culture shock between the clannish, sleepy Midwest and the rough, individualist West was one that I never recovered from socially, and I didn’t have any close, healthy friendships until decades later. Part of that was how removed our house was from any other families. I lived on the side of a foothill, right next to a state park, and my walk home every day really was a mile and a half, all up-hill. For many years my sister and I would trek up the dusty, dirt road. Until the neighbor’s golden retriever was eaten by a mountain lion, that is. After that, our parents got us a used ATV. They didn’t seem too upset when the muffler blew out on it either. I later graduated to a kit-bashed dune-buggy. The front didn’t have enough weight, so my father welded on the front of an old cast-iron, wood-burning stove, and we put a box of sand behind it. I learned a lot about recovering a vehicle from a fish-tail, mostly by inducing them on sunny, break-neck summer drives.
When I was twelve, my house burned down. It was the oldest home on the hill, and of somewhat suspicious construction. The story went that it had been built by the college students of a professor at CSU, who offered extra credit in exchange for their labor. The truth of that story I’ve never known, but the electrical systems were certainly not built up to modern code. The breaker box was in the basement, set into a false wall, and a tree was planted in the ground above it. Unbeknownst to us, it had sent down roots and pried open the PVC pipe protecting all those electrical wires. When a 200-year flood hit the area, the rain soaked down, deep into the earth, right into that pipe and then into the breaker box. The box then ignited the false wall, and the house went up from there.
We only avoided dying that day by a matter of minutes. My mother, sister, and I were all at a swimming lesson at the time, at a pool that was closed shortly after we left due to flooding. My father had left to go check on his plane in its hanger down town, but had realized halfway there that he’d forgotten his key. He drove back, and found the house full of white smoke. He traced the source of it to the basement, opened the door, and the sudden inflow of oxygen made black smoke pour out as the fire spread in earnest.
The fire marshal later said that if my mother, sister, and I had opened that door just fifteen minutes later, the back draft would have caused an explosion, killing us all.
It’s little moments like that which make you wonder at coincidence.
In many ways, those were horrible and traumatic days. In others, they were the good ones. My mother always said that the family did best when it had a crisis to keep it occupied.
We were self-identified outsiders. My mother was from Austria, and all of her family had remained in Europe. She spoke three different languages, all learned through immersion schooling, as she was sent from one boarding school to another in her youth. Although she was exceptionally proud of her U.S. Citizenship, which she earned by taking the tests, she never seemed fully comfortable as an American. Or, rather, that she felt not all Americans were comfortable with her. My father’s family could trace their line back to the second ship after the Mayflower. Rumor has it that they backed the wrong side of a religious war, back in the old country. The pioneering clan traveled inland until they hit Kansas, and for reasons that always escaped me on the long, dull, colorless drive across those infinitely flat plains, the family stayed there until my father’s generation. Neither of them had much luck getting along with anyone for very long. Including each other. I was often told that I would never fit in anywhere, born as I was from a pair of misfits.
From what I can gather, neither had the happiest of childhoods, and they carried those wounds, shrouded in mystery, into their adulthood. The past of my parents always felt obscured in fog, with brief and sometimes unsettling snippets exposed at family reunions or chance conversations. As an adult looking back, I wonder at the strange and sad duality of my parents. Sometimes they were remarkable people. Other times, they became figures of explosive or seething rage, wearing the masks of monstrous, maladaptive coping behaviors they never moved beyond. As a child, I always was trying to play the mediator. Smoothing things over between mom and dad. Listening, advising, trying to somehow find the right words to say that would fix them. Only as an adult did I realize that it is, and always was, an impossible task for anyone, except themselves. In my mid-twenties, I estranged myself from the family, finding the dynamic to be increasingly toxic and destructive.
Readers of my work might find such a family dynamic somewhat unsurprising, given how much of my stories revolve around broken and toxic families. The struggle between one’s future and the demands of one’s family is a theme that nearly every character in LeyLines explores in some fashion, although many of them come to different conclusions.
For my own path, I have always secretly been a storyteller. Secretly, because I did not admit to myself that this was the case until my twenties. My father was an engineer, and while it was never explicitly stated that I needed to follow the same path, it was oddly implied that any other occupation would end in a life of misery and poverty. Art was an indulgence that the foolish pursued as a career. The wise kept art strictly as a hobby, and didn’t commit to any serious work on creative endeavors until retirement. So I believed, growing up. It was a strange contradiction, because my mother was very artistic and creative, and encouraged and enjoyed my drawings and stories. My father was proud of them as well, when the work could be presented as an achievement, in the form of an award or finished product. So I drew and wrote from a very young age, but didn’t admit to myself that I cared about either. As a result, I always resented the implication that I should “find my passion!” It seemed that every TV program, poster, teacher, or book wanted kids to “follow their dreams,” and I was very concerned that I did not have any. At twelve, it was my firm belief that I would study until I graduated, then work until I retired, and finally die alone. Of course, it was also my suspicion that I would not live past the age of twenty-five.
Fortunately, none of my teenage convictions proved to be true.
In high school I avoided art classes and doubled-up on the sciences. After that, I did not go to college for anything creative. Rather, I studied at Colorado School of Mines to become an engineer, and I worked as one for five long years. I have always enjoyed math and science, just as much as I enjoyed English, and far more than I liked history. Only recently, when I realized that history is more than a collection of dates to be memorized, and is in fact a relative, cultural narrative, did I begin to like history. Throughout my time in the educational system, I drew. Mostly, because the alternative was falling asleep in class. Starting in a remarkably poorly taught eighth-grade English class, I had one page for notes and one page for drawing. I learned quickly how to create both at the same time, following the instruction with one ear while I let my imagination roam with my pencil. Once teachers realized that I was in fact paying attention, they seemed resigned to let me draw to my heart’s content. This skill has actually come in handy at comic conventions in my present, as I hold conversations with visitors while sketching for them.
Comics held a long and enduring appeal for me. First discovered at the local grocery, back when there were enough comics safe for a younger audience to merit a place next to the magazines at a King Soopers, the monthly floppy of Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Marvel’s Amazing Spider-man were a coveted treat. Later I found a local comic store, Marshaks, which sadly has since closed, as well as the graphic novels in my local library. I fell in love with Finder and ElfQuest, with a strong dash of Crimson and Poison Elves, and a smattering of indie titles which had lifespans that could be counted in months. I admired their unique audacity and voice, and soon began creating comics of my own.
At first I imagined sending them into anthology projects, but once AOL came into our household and the world of the consumer-friendly wide web began to open, I found new influences. Tracy Butler’s early work, years away from her current (and fantastic) Lackadaisy, inspired me to challenge myself to draw in more realistic styles. Meanwhile, I watched comics like Sluggy Freelance, PVP, and Zebra Girl reach out and directly connect with audiences that could not have existed several years before. The idea of sending my work in a physical format seemed progressively more ridiculous. The future was living on the internet.
Still, I might never have taken the plunge if it hadn’t been for a fellow named Ian Flynn, or Ian Potto, as I knew him in those days. He had started a fan comic, called Other M, and at thirteen I thought I was ready to be a comic artist. I sent him some samples, and he very kindly replied with some targeted feedback and asked that I send him some revisions. I did, and suddenly one of the artists he was working with dropped out halfway through an issue on very short notice. He asked if I could finish up the issue by the deadline, and in short order I had churned out nearly twenty pages. It became the first artwork I’d ever had online. Although I cringe to look at the material now, I was exceptionally proud of it then, and still remember the project, and the other work I did for it later, with fondness.
With two years of drawing for Ian under my belt, I felt confident enough to start a story of my own. So at fifteen, with all the preparation of three doodles and a vague idea, I started a webcomic called Shades of Grey. The story followed a woman named Grace as she traveled through the two dystopias of Heaven and Hell, and every realm in between. The comic was my constant companion all through high school and college, taking me eight years and eight-hundred pages to complete. It likely kept me sane, and over the years I slowly started to find my own voice. In the beginning, I was trying very hard to be edgy and original, like the stories I was reading, and as a result managed to mostly be crass and embarrassing. That said, it was a very personal, and a very important, story to me. I learned a lot about my own sense of values and morals by exploring the perspectives and worlds of these imaginary characters.
Shades of Grey was, in many ways, about seeing the nuances of the world, instead of the absolutes. Very few characters in it were wholly good or evil, with some wicked exceptions. This became a trend in all of my stories. I don’t enjoy writing about perfect people. I like them to be a little ugly. Characters that try their best to become better, but still stumble over bad habits and limited views. Cory, my husband, has said that I’m the kind of personality that likes to challenge people. I think that is true for my characters, my readers, and myself. I like people to think and to question. One of my favorite tricks is to make a character that people write off as bad, and by the end of the story have them rooting for that character to become something better.
This was the case with my character Frost, who I started to write for as part of a storytelling competition in 2009, initially concurrent with the last chapter of Shades of Grey. The competition was called the Oberon’s Garden Original Character Tournament (OCT). I wanted to push myself to try something new, and my competitive nature felt that the OCT was just the place to test myself. I later won that competition, and Frost remains one of those characters that every now and again, I just want to write one more chapter for.
In the meantime, I had finished Shades of Grey. By that time I was working as an engineer for a consulting company. First in coal, then in wind power. On the good days, I found it sufficient as an occupation. On the bad days…well, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that, had I stayed, I think that job would have killed me. Or driven me crazy. Or both.
Don’t get me wrong, I was a decent engineer. Maybe even a good one.
The problem was, deep down, I didn’t want to be a good engineer. I wanted to be a great storyteller.
I just hadn’t admitted it to myself yet.
In 2011 I had finished the OCT and finished Shades of Grey. It seemed that, at last, my “foolish hobbies” had come to an end. I could start “my real work” at last and focus on my engineering career.
And it felt like I was suffocating.
I realized then that creating stories felt as vital to me as breathing. I needed them, on a base, survival level. They meant more than just a casual hobby would, and I knew then with an unshakable certainty that I would be making stories for the rest of my life.
I could finally admit to myself that I had a passion. Once I knew that, I felt I had to commit to it.
In 2012, I started a company called Moko Press, LLC, with my then-boyfriend-of-seven-years and now-husband, Cory. We started a company and bought a house together before we got married, not to mention published two volumes of LeyLines. Which is why “by Robin Dempsey” changes to “by Robin Childs” between the covers of volume two and volume three, for those of you who have noticed that little detail. We started going to conventions to sell our books and illustrations, began plotting another series that someday in the hopefully-near-future we’ll share, and even ran three OCTs of our own.
In 2013, I left my job as an engineer and started working part-time as a paraprofessional at a local elementary school. I was able to see first-hand how kids as young as nine responded to my work. Teaching has been an amazing and educational experience. Often I think I learn more from them than they learn from me, although I like to believe I’ve helped a few future writers ignite their creative spark along the way. I’ve taught creative writing courses to put the fun back into the work of writing, and that in turn has lead me to wonder what kinds of courses I could teach on writing of my own online.
As I write this in 2015, I am not sure what the future holds for me or LeyLines. Will I become a teacher? A freelance artist? A storytelling coach? Or will my work gain the support it needs for this tale to become my full-time occupation?
The answers are uncertain, but I do know one thing for sure. Storytelling will be a part of who I am, no matter what path my life takes.
Thank you for joining me on that journey.
Shades of Grey was the first webcomic I created starting in 2002 and finished in 2010. The story explores the power of perspective and the discovery of self through Grace’s journey from Heaven to Hell and beyond. Since I know many people really loved SoG, I have kept it available through the LeyLines site. You can find the complete story here.
|Frost’s Guide for Making Enemies and Pissing Off Powerful People
In 2009 and 2010 I was a contestant in the Oberon’s Garden OCT (more on OCTs below). All my entries were in comic form, and followed the maladjusted, knife-at-a-gun-fight, Urban Winter Fae named Frost. You can read his adventures here along with the Fiction Series that takes place after the tournament concluded.
Original Character Tournaments
I am hopelessly addicted to Original Character Tournaments aka OCTs! They’re a great way to test and advance your skills, and the communities that I’ve become a part of have always been awesome! After participating as a contestant in Oberon’s Garden with my character Frost I decided to run my own! In fact, I decided to run an OCT every single year!
What the heck is an OCT? It’s like a single-elimination sports tournament, only for storytelling. The host creates an environment and scenario. The contestants submit an original character (OC) of their own creation and a story entering that OC into the host’s world. Each round, two creators are paired up against one another. Each creator writes their own version of events in which the two OCs meet and interact. At the end, a panel of judges vote on who the winner is. That creator’s story is what “really happened” and they get to continue on in the tournament. So it’s one part competition, one part role-playing game, and one part telephone. Still not sure how it works? I made a goofy “how to” that walks you through the process here.
My OCTs are designed to promote storytelling, creativity, and character depth over flashy technique, and are open to all types of creators, including writers, artists, and animators. Detailed and frank feed-back from judges is a feature of all the OCTs I run, in order to help storytellers advance their skills!
Project Hades OCT. 2012 – 2013. The Greek Underworld is pulling in souls from all sorts of strange places, and the gods from Egyptian, Norse, Japanese, and Voodoo pantheons have come to collect their dead. Before they can leave, the Ferryman vanishes, trapping everyone in Hades — even the gods! The administration enlists you, the recently dead, to find the Ferryman, but the other gods have more in mind. Each of them came to Hades with an ulterior motive, and they’re recruiting. Juggle different missions and solve the mystery in Project Hades — No one gets in alive.
The Book of Stories OCT (TBOS). 2011 – 2012.
While Lady Ink and Mudd gather Champions to prevent the Unwriting of the Worlds, The Book is sucking people into the chaotic realm of Stories! Each round, a random genre of fiction will be chosen as the realm of Stories shifts. TBOS is free-form, with no win condition — everything is up to you!
Project Minotaur OCT (PMOCT). 2010 – 2011.
In a world where legends and mythological creatures have become enslaved by science, contestants must fight to survive a deadly virus that causes frightening and mystical mutations. Entrants must work their way through a dangerous, tangled, technological maze, uncovering secret plots, facing other contestants and delving deep into the mysteries that lurk at the heart of Labyrinth Labs.