When I first came across this Buzzfeed article about John Kricfalusi, I got a lump in my throat. Soon, my eyes began to well up in tears. My husband walked up to me and asked me what was wrong? I started crying and told him all about the article. Needless to say, my husband was shocked, too.
Before I lived with John, I was a precocious sort of kid with poor, divorced parents who loved me and believed in me. I drew every day because I wanted to be a cartoonist. I was silly and a little obsessive. When I started my teens, I started breaking bad with my friends. But that’s normal right? John took me away from adolescence at 14, really, because he started promising me all these things. By the time I was 16 he’d prepared me to be his girlfriend. My parents didn’t know. They just thought I was getting an internship based on my talents, and they wanted me to get out of Arizona and have a better life.
What has the biggest misconception about what John did that you would like people to understand?
Like I mentioned, John trained me to be his girlfriend. This is called grooming, and it’s so important to recognize when this happens to young people. I wasn’t abused or sad or anything terrible before he wrote to me. But he seized on my obsessiveness and inexperience and molded me into what he wanted, all the while preparing me for sex by getting me used to the idea. People do this to kids. And when they finally begin a sexual relationship with that adult, it is not a “choice” or their “bad decision.” They can’t see what’s happening because they’ve been groomed. And as kids they are just doing what they think they are supposed to do. This happened to me and to other young women he dated as well. We’d never had an adult relationship before… so this was all normal, we thought. It infuriates me when anyone blames a young woman for her own abuse by a grown man with such power – physical, sexual, and emotional. Add fame on top of that and you’ve got a monster who thinks he can get away with anything. And he almost did!
Did John ever tell you anything malicious like, “Don’t tell anyone, no one will believe you,” or did you tell yourself that?
I told myself that. He never said anything like that because I honestly don’t think he ever understood what was wrong with him dating a kid. I mean, on one level he understood. Like he would say he was going to hell (he said this in an interview!) or that he was worried my mom wouldn’t let me come back. But on the other hand, he would show me off at public places like network parties and awards events! EVERYONE in animation saw me and he didn’t think they’d think a single thing about it, except that he was a sexy rebel or some crap like that. (Turns out they thought he was sick, but they never said anything.)
I told myself I wouldn’t be believed because of the life I have now. I am so far removed from what I used to do for a living all those years ago. I’m a nobody in animation. So when Katie started talking to me in 2008, and when we finally started thinking about speaking out last year, I felt like I had the ally I needed.
What has the healing process been like and how did you two get the courage to tell the media what happened?
Well, to answer the second part first… as I said, Katie and I needed each other’s strengths for this. She still knows a lot of people, could talk to guys who were still friendly with John, do the detective work, and use her good name for pull. Me on the other hand, even though I’m an unknown for 20 years, I have become stupidly brave about things like this. The healing process has brought me such courage that I was the one between us who was like WE HAVE TO DO THIS DON’T BACK DOWN! And I still haven’t backed down. She has a lot going on professionally, and while I do too, talking about animators isn’t going to hurt my career. So I’m out there on Twitter taking John down every opportunity I get.
I have been to three different therapists on three separate occasions. And while that might sound crazy, anyone with a good therapist knows they can be hard to find. The catalyst for seeking help about my age-old trauma was a second abusive relationship with a guy a lot like John. This guy was only 10 years older than me, but boy was he a nut case. First I found a therapist who wanted to tell me how to COPE with him! No thanks. Next, I found a loving therapist who helped me immediately with PTSD like symptoms. I was having anxiety attacks and panic attacks that I’d never had before, and I’d be triggered by the weirdest things. This therapist brought me some comfort but she couldn’t heal me much. I finally ended up with a more academic, goal-oriented lady who has helped me get medicated (for PTSD symptoms that won’t go away, and for your garden-variety depression) and really helped me understand how trauma and all the lies John made me believe about myself have affected my personal and professional life. I know that’s TMI… but I wanted to put the process out there because those who are struggling to find the right path need to know it takes time and they need the right guide on that journey.
What is your life like today?
Well, when you say “life” I think of work, since my career path has veered off in quite a different direction. Today I am a PhD candidate (I’m a medievalist and a Germanic philologist) which means I’m writing my dissertation. I expect to finish the doctorate in spring or summer of next year so I’m finally going on the academic job market this fall. The whole time I’ve been in grad school I’ve been teaching English and philosophy at a couple of universities and working with people I love who inspire me all the time. I couldn’t ask for a better job, but I am tired of being a broke grad student and look forward to (hopefully) full-time work.
It took a long time to get here, though. I got pregnant with my son about a year after leaving John and spent a few years trying to figure out who I’m supposed to be. I guess many PhD-earners are my age, but I feel like it’s been a long hard road of scrambling up to a middle class-ish life for my kids. It does make me wonder “what might have been,” but since that picture wouldn’t include my babies exactly the way they are – I don’t want it!
Are you back to being a cartoonist?
I am! It’s funny because I told this to the New York Times the week after the BuzzFeed article came out, and they made that the opening line of the article. “Robyn Byrd is drawing again.” So I was like, OH SHIT now I really have to do it! But I love a kick in the pants like that. It’s coming very slowly, since I’m always so busy with work and kids and music, but I am making progress and I’ll be able to start making my Patreon rewards by the end of next month.
How’s your personal life?
Hm, how would I describe that? I have two amazing kids, a girl who looks just like me (only cuter) and a boy who acts just like me. J I also have a supportive partner who is my sometime bandmate and is a dad himself. I have truly never had it better in the partner department.
For hobbies, I play the flute and sing lead in another local band called Radiator. Finally, I ride my bike FAR. I’m in better shape than ever and I’m pushing 40! So I’m very busy, of course!
What advice would you give someone who just got out of a similar situation you were unfairly in?
First and most importantly: NO CONTACT. Do not talk to your abuser. Talk through someone else if necessary, or not at all. This can be so difficult, and I had trouble avoiding it with John. The second time around I mastered it, and it made a world of difference.
Second: Know that no one is the cause of their own abuse. Don’t blame yourself. Even if you acted poorly yourself sometimes.
I could give SO much advice on this but maybe this isn’t the place. I always encourage people to reach out to me or other survivors on Twitter if they are in need of advice or just need to vent. Just know that now that #metoo is here, it’s not going away. You have support all over, so please reach out.