Happy Birthday, Dad / by Justin Greenwood

My father was born on Pearl Harbor Day (day and year)  in Oakland,CA and he used to joke that it was a sign of things to come. This joke probably became bitter sweet at times in his life- he was strong-willed and independent, and lived his life on his own terms, good or bad, from a young age until the day he died.

My dad would have been 73 years old today. It occurs to me I don’t talk about him much publicly, despite his enormous impact on my art and life. It’s hard for me I guess- I like to think of myself as an open book but there are things I hold too dear to be casual about (probably to a fault). 

My father’s life had many phases but his art was always the through line. He did custom paint and pinstriping for a living and if there was one law he lived by it was to be true to yourself and do what you love. That part wasn’t specific to art but his art was that truth for him. You can definitely see it in how all his children conduct themselves and I hope that it is a legacy my own children will get through example.

He weathered many ups and downs in his career but was never phased or had doubts about his art. I don’t know if it was discipline, really- it was more that for him there wasn’t another way. So when I told him I wanted to go to art school and eventually draw for a living, he was an incredibly empowering influence. He’d always been encouraging when it came to drawing but was careful not to push me in a direction. I think on some level he had hoped I would take up pinstriping or custom paint like him but in truth I was never very good at it and comics had dug their way pretty deeply into my heart at a young age.

I think everyone can agree comics is not the easiest road though, and certainly not a linear type of endeavor. It took me years to finish school and find my way into this career, and he passed before my first work was published. When things got tough during his last year or so, I was still hitting conventions occasionally to show my work but it had taken a backseat to trying to help take care of him, and it probably wasn’t for another year or two that I got my first professional job, drawing RESURRECTION for Oni Press.

It’s been seven years since we lost him, but as I round off my first year drawing comics full time, I can’t help but think of him often. We definitely shared a passion for art but it’s not the only thing that defined our relationship- he was a complicated guy in some ways and I think we learned a lot from each other. But that one simple rule always stands out above the others- be true to yourself and the people around you. If you lead with that, the rest will fall into place and if it doesn’t then at least you failed doing what you know was right.

Well, anyway.

Happy Birthday, Dad. We miss you. I think I’ll spend it soaking up my wife and kids, catch up with my siblings a little. And maybe I’ll draw for a bit too. Certainly feels like the right day for it.