Arts and Entertainment

The life of a cartoonist — The Moriarity Way

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Pat Moriarity’s 7-year-old son Jack is a sign person.

In one of the bathrooms at the Moriarity home in Port Orchard, one of Jack’s handmade signs hangs next to the sink with instructions on “Washing Your Hands, The Moriarity Way.”

Around the corner, hanging in the hallway is another treasured relic —a signed silk screen print of the ZAP comix #1 cover from legendary underground cartoonist R. Crumb — which dates back to the days that Moriarity senior was working as art director for Fantagraphics

Books and moonlighting as a comic book artist in early 1990’s Seattle.

In 1997, he stepped down from the Fantagraphics office job, moved from Seattle to Port Orchard with his wife Lori shortly thereafter, and has been living and working as a freelance illustrator ever since — The Moriarity Way.

“You’ve got to go into it knowing that there are better ways to make a living,” Moriarity said of freelancing, noting that he’s never been all that financially motivated. “A lot of the jobs I do aren’t even based on money ... When I die people aren’t going to remember how much money I made. I’ve always just wanted to do cool stuff.”

In the way of “cool stuff” he’s already succeeded.

Moriarity made the Rolling Stone magazine Hot List in 1996 for his comic book series “Big Mouth,” which featured his art with writers like Charles Bukowski, Harvey Pekar, Henry Rollins, even his own mother and his dentist (whomever made for interesting new characters to draw, he said).

Later, Moriarity did poster work for the burgeoning Warped Tour in 1997-99 and has done snippets of both poster and cover art for bands like Fat Tuesday, The Von Zippers, Pearl Jam and MxPx, in addition to illustrations for numerous publications like Seattle Weekly, Nickelodeon Magazine and National Geographic World Magazine for Kids.

Most recently, this past March, Moriarity was awarded an esteemed honor — The Golden Toonie, bestowed by the association Cartoonists Northwest signifying him as the Northwest’s Cartoonist of the Year for 2007.

But at the top of the list of his most prized accomplishments, Moriarity said, is simply making a living as an artist.

“I feel like I’ve found a way to make living without having to deal with the bureaucracy, without having to have a boss that controls my fate,” he said.

For some, like Moriarity, that’s worth more than gold.

Though he’s in his mid-40s, Moriarity is still a kid at heart. He still has long hair, still listens to punk rock and is still drawing monsters, dirty comics and other outlandishly whimsical cartoons in his garage-turned studio with a signed picture of the Meat Puppets on the wall.

While it definitely has its perks, especially when commissioned for a $1,000 piece for a national magazine or designing the cover for one of his favorite bands, the freelance lifestyle is also ripe with periods of uncertainty.

“And when the economy goes down, the first thing that goes in people’s budgets is the whimsical cartoons for their magazine,” Moriarity said with a nervous laugh.

But he’s has been keeping his head above water, taking it one gig at a time. Recent projects include illustrating a chapter of one of Pulitzer-Prize winning author Studs Terkel’s books called “Working,” designing a movie poster for a Big Foot-centric horror flick called “Paper Dolls” and creating the Seattle International Film Festival’s long-lost rejected mascot — a multiple-tongued, monocular, creature named Siffy who wears perforated plastic footwear and a black beret.

“Even though I do irrational drawings, there’s a rational reasoning behind them, like there was a reason to draw this monster,” he said, pointing to the SIFF mascot which will appear in the film festival’s program in May. “There’s a side of me that’s wacky and there’s a side of me that’s very rational.”

Case in point, Moriarity’s segue from the somewhat constricting but idyllic career of being solely a comic book artist in the city to the slightly more lucrative life of a quasi-famous freelance illustrator in Port Orchard.

“Getting paid for being a comic book artist is negligent ... it’s like being a poet,” Moriarity said. “Fame and money are not always connected, they’re almost polar opposites sometimes.”

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