Julie L. Negron, Cartoonist
Air Force Spouse
Julie Negron is the spouse of an active duty Air Force officer and the creator of the popular Jenny Spouse cartoons. Her cartoons appear in the Stars and Stripes, installation newspapers and on Military.com. Here she shares a little bit about her journey and some lessons learned.
How did you know what you wanted to do?
I've never wanted to do anything but draw. My earliest memory is of drawing (possibly age 4, judging from the house we lived in). I wanted to draw fashion, like what my Barbie dolls wore. But, when I was eight years old and living in the Philippines, I started reading the Sunday comics in the Stars & Stripes and was suddenly and forever hooked on comics. Comic strips, comic books, comic advertisements…You name it. I even cut up some of my clothes to match my favorite Alley Oop heroine, Ooola. My parents were not happy with my new infatuation with cartooning.
The next year, we moved to Taiwan where there was a much larger American presence and more amenities for families. I enrolled myself in a Saturday art class over at the Community Center and never stopped learning how to draw. I was 9 years old. To this day, I avidly study other artists and cartoonists. I'm a harsh critic of my own work but that's only because I know I can do better.
What was the most difficult lesson you learned?
The hardest lesson I ever learned was "Don't give up! No matter how bleak the future looks from down here in the trenches!"
After years of working as a freelance cartoonist for various publications and as an editorial cartoonist for different newspapers, I decided I wanted to brand myself with a style/product uniquely mine. I gave myself three years to get my illustration studio off the ground.
Frustrated after the first year and a half of countless rejection notices and zero contracts, I threw up my hands, packed up my studio, and PCSed to Okinawa where I planned on taking a long vacation from illustration. A few months later, the idea for "Jenny the Military Spouse" hit me and I had to buy all new art supplies, including some expensive computer accessories. I barely made my 3-year deadline but it was totally by accident.
I didn't feel triumphant about reaching my 3-year goal because I'd lost so much time. The only solace I could give myself is that maybe the idea wouldn't have come to me if I hadn't allowed my mind to be quiet and take a break. I believe in walking away from a project and coming back to it with a new "eye" or perspective, but in this case I'll never know if completely quitting was the right thing to do or not. Ideas for new illustrations were popping up everywhere but I pushed them out of my mind until the idea for "Jenny" came along and I couldn't ignore it anymore. It consumed me until I had no choice but to give in and allow this little comic strip to materialize.
Do you have any tips you can share with other military spouses?
As military spouses, we relocate quite often. If you're creatively inclined, you won't be able to put your passion on hold for any amount of time. It's always within you, straining to get out. Immediately upon landing in your new location, find like-minded groups or start one of your own. With the Internet available worldwide, you should be able to connect with your own special peers, as well as hunt for stores that carry the supplies you use, long before you PCS.
In my experience, if something is truly your passion, you can't not do it. Circumstance -- military or otherwise -- will always try to get in the way but your passion is always in you and can usually be found taking up too much space in the back of your mind. Bring it to the front and let it out. If you're lucky, it just might end up being your lifelong career.
What could be better than living your passion every day? And do me a favor. Don't call it your "Dream". Dreams end when we wake up and we quickly forget what that dream was about. Passion lives inside us and consumes our emotions. You cannot deny passion.
What were your biggest obstacles you had to overcome and how did you do it?
Two of my biggest obstacles have been time-management now that I work from home and overcoming my own guilt over my expenses. If I'm working on a project, I may not get to housework or errands as soon as I'd like. Or I spend more time on those than the art projects. I've had to teach myself to maintain working hours as if I were in an office. I'm still struggling with that. It's too easy to replace office hours with laundry or grocery shopping. But my dilemma is that I have to spend the evening in my studio and miss out on relaxing with my husband.
Guilt over expenses doesn't seem like an obstacle but it's something that has to be dealt with on a regular basis. Sometimes I require additional software, supplies, or I need to travel for career development, and the costs immediately come out of our household budget. The budget, however, can only be reconciled at tax-time because freelancing doesn't always produce a steady income…mostly it produces receipts. That's just a fact that my husband and I live with for now.
I think it's the same old story for women entrepreneurs: Is my business worth the time and money I'm taking away from my family?
Another obstacle has been dealing with the attitudes of friends and extended family. They don't consider "staying home and drawing all day" gainful employment. Now that I have a tangible product, i.e., "Jenny the Military Spouse", they act as though they've been on-board all along but I remember the days when they would actually ask me why I didn't get a real job. They never believed that my artistic endeavors were valid. Even now, some of them ask, "Are you still doing that cartooning thing?"
Is there anyone in particular that you look up to? Why?
I look up to and admire other female cartoonists and humorists. There aren't that many of us so, to me, finding women who can express themselves comedically -- whether through writing, speaking, or cartooning -- is like discovering my own passion living inside others. I see that what I'm doing has merit and possibilities and, most of all, an audience.
What important lessons have you learned from other military spouses?
Military Spouses have taught me the following: Let most things roll right off your back. Don't sweat the small stuff. Time with your family is precious and could be taken away at any moment…don't spend it fighting or bickering. Laugh through your troubles, work as a team, and find a way to deal with adversity together. If you're alone, turn to other spouses for support. They've been in your shoes or they know someone who has.
What is a significant moment or turning point in your journey that sticks out in your mind?
The most significant moment in my career was when I got my first job as Editorial Cartoonist. I'll never forget that final meeting for a job I'd been trying to get for at least a year. I was persistent, available, and finally "in the right place at the right time". I listened to what the editor wanted and showed him that I could make his words and ideas come across in a funny, ironic, or satiric way. And I delivered on the artwork. That's when I started thinking I might actually be able to live my passion of being a Cartoonist rather than just another commercial artist dwelling in the dark basements of the advertising industry, illustrating brochures and pamphlets that would surely be tossed away as soon as they were picked up. At age 27, I was finally a real, live, Professional Cartoonist.
Enjoy Julie's website at Jenny the Military Spouse