About Home Free
Growing up in an active construction site, my inspiration for Home Free is very close to home, so to speak. It seemed like there was always a renovation project happening around our house. Converting the garage into a second bedroom (illegally) so that my sister and I wouldn't have to share a bunkbed as teenagers. Knocking out a retaining wall and attaching a covered deck (semi-legally). Building a studio in our backyard without any professional help (mostly legally). For a while, I remember my parents were considering tearing the roof off our house and adding a second story—a project which, to this day, I'm thankful never got underway.
It was this crazy blend of grandiose ambition, dogged self-reliance, and extreme inconvenience that formed the atmosphere of my upbringing. And it forms the humor at the heart of Home Free.
For Milo, the youngest child in the Szabo family, their disastrous home renovation is actually a dream come true. He's always been a nature boy at heart, so camping out in the backyard is like returning to his natural habitat. And no sooner does Milo venture into the woods bordering his family's property than he makes an incredible discovery: he can talk to animals! Or rather, they decide to talk to him. Since the Szabos are obviously going to be stuck outdoors for a long time, the local critters strike up a friendship with the most approachable member of the odd human crew. Milo, guileless and charming, quickly wins them over, and they form a ragtag team that gets into all sorts of mischief. But straddling these two worlds also puts Milo in the awkward position of having to mediate disputes that flare up between the free-wheeling fauna and his frazzled family. The solutions Milo comes up with are ridiculously convoluted—but that's life in the wild for you! And he wouldn't have it any other way.
Then there's Milo's big sister, Julia. She is not on board with her family's whole "roughing it outdoors" thing. A far cry from the bliss experienced by her little brother, Julia feels trapped in a living nightmare. Here she is, on the cusp of high school, and suddenly sleeping in a tent! Going whole weeks without a shower! It's literally the worst thing that's ever happened to her. And it won't stop happening. With Mr. Szabo's compulsive penny-pinching, on top of Mrs. Szabo's perfectionism, Julia knows their house is doomed to remain uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. Her only choice is to run away… somewhere down the block. Julie undertakes a kind of couch-surfing crusade around the neighborhood. But in order to ingratiate herself with people and escape the embarrassing indignities of her insane family, Julia must temper her sardonic attitude and learn to play nice with others.
Meanwhile their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Szabo, struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life in impossible circumstances. They put on a brave face for the kids (and for the increasingly unsympathetic Home Owners Association), while barely holding things together. Every once in a while their demolished home will taunt them with completion—only for the contractors to encounter some new and diabolical setback. But, to be fair, the Szabos don't do themselves any favors. Mr. Szabo fancies himself a handyman and he'll often butt into the builders' business, inevitably causing mayhem. Or, to save a buck, he'll undertake portions of the renovation himself—only to create even costlier problems. And for her part, Mrs. Szabo is an uncompromising aesthete. She figures that if they're blowing their life savings on a remodel, it had better meet her rigorous (some might say unachievable) standards. But with the project unlikely to be finished anytime soon, they both must learn to cope as best they can. Mr. Szabo adapts by reverting to his rural Eastern European roots—much to his family's chagrin. And Mrs. Szabo tries to adopt a pared-down approach to life. Minimalism. Simplicity. Zen…
But it's easier said than done! The good news is, they'll have plenty of time to keep trying. The irresolvable conflict between the Szabo's hopes and aspirations for their dream home, and the harsh realities that they're forced to wrestle with day-to-day, is the comedic tension at the heart of Home Free. Much like a pristine blueprint spread out on a pile of rubble.
Tom Toro is a cartoonist and author. His cartoons appear regularly in the New Yorker, and they've also appeared in the New York Times, the Paris Review, Wired, and Playboy. His books include How to Potty Train Your Porcupine (Little, Brown), A User's Guide to Democracy (Celadon), Tiny Hands (Dock Street Press), and a picture book collaboration with Simon Rich, I'm Terrified of Bath Time (Little, Brown). Tom was a finalist for the 2019 Reuben Award for gag cartoonist of the year. His literary fiction has been short-listed for the Disquiet International Literary Prize, and he's been awarded writing residencies at the Orchard Project Episodic Lab in screenwriting and the Berkeley Repertory Theater Ground Floor in playwrighting. Tom attended NYU Graduate Film School, where he co-created films that played at Cannes, Sundance and Tribeca. He graduated cum laude from Yale, where he received the Betts Prize for his writing, while also drawing and editing cartoons for the Yale Herald. Tom lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, kid, and cat.