While raising his daughter and pitching animation studios, the Audubon illustrator channels his anxiety into webcomics about his experiences as a developing artist.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 23, 2023
For all his life, 28-year-old Keith Glidewell has been an artist.
A doodler who would draw “the craziest things I could think of” throughout elementary and high school in Florence, he parlayed those interests into an interactive multimedia degree at the College of New Jersey.
There, Glidewell added skills like printmaking, filmmaking, digital illustration, and computer programming to his repertoire, but still dreamed of becoming a professional cartoonist.
“I took a character design class and had a great professor, Phil Sanders,” Glidewell remembers. “He really taught me a lot about dimension and shape, and how that can influence someone’s perception of a character.
“That got me to want to be a character designer for animation, and got me thinking about 2D animation, and what my role could be for that,” he said.
“Now I’m interested in storyboarding,” Glidewell said. “I don’t have any professional experience in that role, but that’s where I would like to be eventually.”
Glidewell may not have had any professional experience as an animator, but he’s a working videographer and freelance artist with something of a pedigree. His uncle, Mark Tatulli, is the artist behind the syndicated comics Liō and Heart of the City, and Glidewell cites Tatulli’s career as a living example to him that “this is a thing people could do and survive doing it.”
Nonetheless, it wasn’t until the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic of 2020 that Glidewell began to draw and compile comic strip stories as a means of coping with the anxiety of the moment.
“It started out as a form of journaling,” he said.
“It was the height of pandemic; the height of civil unrest.
“I found out that my fiancée (now wife) was pregnant,” Glidewell said.
“I thought, ‘People might relate to this, so why not start sharing it?’ And it just caught on.”
Glidewell collected a small chapbook of what he calls “diary comics I made instead of going to therapy,” as In Between Places.
It chronicles his real-life stressors — job hunting, parenting a toddler, creative blocks — as well as broader worries about the state of the world and his place within it.
The Glidewell that appears on the page is an exaggerated self-representation, but fundamentally honest in its expression of his fears and aspirations.
He describes it as communicating “a little bit of social anxiety [and] existential dread,” as well as his feelings of broader complicity in the systems that are causing him such grief.
“A lot of it will come out of conversations with my wife, Michelle,” Glidewell said. “She’s an ER nurse. She’ll come home and talk to me about how her day was, and we’ll both look at each other and say, ‘What is going on in this world?’
“What are we all doing?” he said. “There’s no real pressure on us; we made it all up. We’re all pretending that this society we’ve created is normal, that it’s okay. And as much as we want to protest it, this is what it is. Now we’re just alive in it, and responsible for it.”
Glidewell’s work also tries to subvert expectations of the worst of the conclusions that it reaches. Some of the most ominous setups pay off with an unexpectedly gentle punchline. What emerges most from the page is a portrait of a young father just slightly out of step with his idea of what adulthood would be like, teetering equally on the brink of collapse and victory.
“I think my overall goal is retaining innocence,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll lead the reader to think I’m going somewhere dark with it, and it never is. That’s just not true to what I am. I always like to look for the best in people.
“I want the zen of Buddhism to find its way in there,” Glidewell said. “I want that feeling in my work. If I can continue to do that, I’ll be making the thing I think I should be making.”
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While he waits for his break in animation or cartooning to come through, Glidewell’s days are largely spent raising his two-year-old daughter, Lucille. Being a stay-at-home dad means he must adhere to a strict personal schedule to get work done, whether it’s publishing a new comic on his iPad, keeping physically active, or reaching out to producers to pitch himself and his work.
Glidewell also plays bass in a local band, Ditz; the family moved to Audubon in the past year after he began practicing at his bandmate’s house there. He said its hometown charm is exactly what they were looking for in a community, and reminds him of the close-knit feel of his childhood in Florence.
“Audubon’s the best,” Glidewell said. “When it came time for us to buy a house, that’s where we wanted to be. There’s a lot of characters in these towns.”
Until his next opportunity opens up — or Lucille starts school — Glidewell will continue to hone his skills, and build his portfolio of work, which includes a character-driven, fully fictional comic called Side Streets. Fans of In Between Places and his diary-style comics can expect more installments as well. Even if they lack a publisher or producer, Glidewell said they have found an audience with whom they resonate.
“The diary comics are very cathartic for me, and I get a lot of nice messages that they struck a chord with somebody,” he said. “I feel like I need to make those, too.
“Ultimately, if I can continue making comics and grow, I want people to connect to the work,” Glidewell said. “That’s my goal. I’m going to keep making stuff that’s true to me.”
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