By day, Matt Nelson
works as price coordinator at a grocery store. But by night, he becomes the comic artist behind the adventures of Catbeard, a pirate cursed to have a beard made from a living cat as he hunts for the legendary treasure of Scurvy Skeen.
“I have to be honest, usually after I get past that first sentence,” Nelson said, “people are either sold — or like, 'Huh?'”
One day while watching TV with a friend in March of 2011, Nelson grabbed his cat Tiger and squished her against his face joking that he now had a beard. His friend joked that he was Catbeard, the pirate, and Nelson was hit with inspiration. Thus, the webcomic Catbeard the Pirate
“And I kid you not, it was like a bolt of lightning. I sat up,” Nelson said, ”and I was like, ‘I’m doing that — I have to do that!”
Nelson spends roughly two hours a day working on Catbeard. It takes him roughly a week to finish a single page, and each of his crowd-funded graphic novels contains around 120 of them. Every campaign allows Nelson to print off and sell another 100 or so of his books and brings a sigh of relief as the fear of failure never quite goes away for him.
“It’s nerve racking every time. Even though I’ve done four or five of them now,” Nelson said. “Holy crap, is this gonna be the one that fails?”
In July of 2015 while Nelson was away from home at work, he noticed that there was smoke coming from the direction of his apartment.
“And I just had this weird feeling. I called my landlord and was like ‘Hey, how’s it going. Just kind of wanna make sure that’s not us.’ And he said, ‘It is us!’” Nelson said. “It was pretty traumatic.”
While his unit was spared from the flames, there was a significant amount of smoke and water damage. Nelson lost a lot of his books, furniture and many other belongings, but his cat Jiji [a][b]made it out unharmed.
Many friends and fellow comic artists came to Nelson's aid. Nathan O’Brien
, founder of the annual Lilac City Comicon, started a GoFundMe
campaign to raise money for Nelson. They raised more than $3,000 for him.
“The comics community here in this town is really small,” Nelson said, “but really tight.”
The Kickstarter for the fifth book is set to launch in the next month. It’s dedicated to his cat Jiji who he had for 21 years and recently passed away.
Nelson plans to wrap up Catbeard
after seven books and move on to new projects. He’s considering writing a horror story or even working on a giant monster anthology.
“There’s a little part of me in the back of my head that’s like, ‘You’re gonna miss doing Catbeard
if you stop after seven books,’” Nelson said. “I just don’t wanna be the guy who does cat stuff forever.”