Monday, December 21, 2009

20 Questions with Danny Hellman

Danny Hellman (better know in some circles as “Dirty Danny”) is a helluva illustrator (pun intended). I love his slick line, use of color and the humor he brings to his work.

Danny is also behind the fine comics anthology TYPHON. And I just found out he’s a fellow MAD MEN fan, so I like him even more now.

Keep up with the latest (and greatest) from Danny at his blog.

1. When you were a kid, did you want to be an artist? Did you draw?

Most kids enjoy drawing. The real question is: Why do most kids stop drawing? Up until about Age 10, I drew with the same amount of interest as my playmates. After Age 10, it seemed as if the other kids were losing interest in drawing, while I was spending all my spare time filling one hardbound sketchbook after another with drawings and cartoon stories. I'm sure it had a lot to do with my Mom's encouragement. By Age 12, I knew that I wanted to draw for a living, although I had no idea what that meant.

2. What was your first paying cartoon or art job?

In the Summer of 1988, I collected a pile of music posters I'd drawn for the band Floor Kiss, and showed them to SCREW's Art Director Kevin Hein. I had no idea what to expect, but Kevin couldn't have been more approachable and easy-going, (as a multitude of NYC cartoonists will attest). We quickly established a close working relationship that lasted until SCREW's demise in 2006.

At SCREW, I learned how to meet deadlines, how to cut zip-a-tone, and how to do color separations. From there, I went to the Village Voice, the New York Press, Guitar World, Entertainment Weekly, and nearly every other publication you can name.

3. What's SCREW magazine's Al Goldstein really like?

The number of times I actually crossed paths with Goldstein can be counted on one hand. For most of it's existence, SCREW occupied two floors of a cruddy building on 14th Street, just West of Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Goldstein's office, the paper's business office, and the Midnight Blue studio were on a lower floor, while the art, editorial, and production departments were on a higher floor. Apart from the weekly editorial meeting, Goldstein rarely visited the upper floor, and the only time I visited the lower floor was when there was a hang-up about a check, which was pretty rare.

For a few months in the mid-90s, I had a weekly gig watching the press runs for SCREW. The paper had switched printers, and someone was needed to monitor the press runs to make sure the new printers didn't fuck things up too terribly. I was an awful choice for this job, because the press runs happened in the early morning, just a couple of hours after I typically went to sleep. The gig didn't last long, but somewhere in the midst of it, I was introduced to Goldstein for the first time. It was at a SCREW Christmas party at Pete's Tavern in Manhattan, when Managing Editor Manny Neuhaus presented me to the boss as "Danny, the guy who's watching the press for us," to which Goldstein replied, "so, he's semi-useful." And that's really the extent of my interaction with Goldstein.

There was another time I saw Goldstein. This was towards the end of SCREW, around 2005 or so. The paper had moved into much smaller digs, and Goldstein, who had recently lost his Sutton Place townhouse, was now co-habitating with his incredible shrinking SCREW staff. The paper was losing money, and Goldstein was fighting the employee harassment case that would eventually seal his doom. I stopped by the office one day to visit Kevin, and witnessed the sight of Goldstein, clad only in red shorts, stomping around in a large room strewn with cardboard boxes packed with his belongings, hollering, "I want to go home" like a three-year-old in mid-tantrum. The lesson I came away with? Live within your means, because the Golden Goose comes stamped with an expiration date.

4. Tell us a little about TYPHON.

TYPHON Vol. 1 is a full color, 192 page comics anthology featuring work by 42 of my favorite cartoonists from across the US, Canada, Japan, Europe & South America. The book's contents are eclectic; there's scary stuff, sexy stuff, funny stuff and artsy stuff. I think most alt comics readers will enjoy TYPHON, and I invite everyone to come check out a PDF preview here:

5. How important is it for an illustrator to have a website?

It's vital to have a website. When I started as an illustrator in the late 80s, we all had these unwieldy leather-bound portfolios, which we'd drop off endlessly magazines' reception desks all over Manhattan. Now, everything travels digitally, and an illustrator's website serves the same function that the portfolio once did. It's a place for art directors to see your work, and see where you've been published.

6. Name five of your favorite cartoonists.

Narrowing it down to five is tricky. My answers might be different if you asked me tomorrow, but for today, I'll say my top five are: Wally Wood, Jim Steranko, Will Eisner, Robert Crumb & Moebius.

7. How did you get the nickname "Dirty Danny"?

In the mid-90s, I drew illos for a wide variety of porn mags, from HUSTLER to LATIN INCHES. At that time, Sam Henderson decided to create a cartoon character based on me, which he named "Dirty Danny." Initially I wasn't overjoyed to see this character, but as the years have gone by, I've had no recourse but to embrace Dirty Danny. In the fullness of time, God will punish Sam Henderson in Hell for what he has done to me, and I will laugh, because God's Justice Is Always Funny.

8. Are you at liberty to discuss the story behind LEGAL ACTION COMICS?

Certainly. Legal Action Comics Volumes One & Two are B&W comics anthologies I published in 2000 and 2004 to help raise awareness about Rall v. Hellman, a nuisance lawsuit I struggled to fend off from 1999 to 2004, (or so).

Rall v. Hellman started in August of 1999, when the Village Voice published a feature story attacking MAUS author & RAW editor Art Spiegelman. The article was written by a political cartoonist named Ted Rall. In my opinion, Rall compensates for his meager cartooning skills with ceaseless efforts to stir up controversy, and I believe the Spiegelman attack piece was just one of those efforts. In his article, Rall jabbed at Spiegelman from every conceivable direction, but he primarily sought to paint Spiegelman, (one of the most respected figures in the field) as a petty tyrant who doled out plum assignments to his cronies, while blocking access to all other cartoonists who'd neglected to kiss the master's ring. To many cartoonists, myself included, the story rang false.

A few days after the Voice published the story, Rall and I exchanged a few snide emails, at which point I made the mistake of playing an email prank on him. I sent an email mimicking Rall's boastful writing style to approximately 35 cartoonist types, most of whom had seen, (or even engaged in) similar email pranks over the preceding months. I also sent the email, (titled "Ted Rall's Balls") to Rall, who apparently failed to see the humor in it. Within days, I was named the defendant in a $1.5 million dollar libel lawsuit, filed by Rall's attorney in NY State Supreme Court.

At first, I thought the lawsuit was some kind of prank itself, but it soon became clear that it was no joke. The lawsuit gave me a choice: hand Rall $10,000 to go away, or fight him in court. I chose to fight.

From 1999 to 2001, my defense personally cost me over ten thousand dollars, (plus thousands more raised at a benefit concert organized by NY Press editor John Strausbaugh, featuring the band Soul Coughing). When I ran out of money in the Summer of 2001, my first set of lawyers cut me loose. After a few months of floundering as a pro se defendant, a kindly lawyer named Erik Jacobs took pity on me and took up the case pro bono.

After many years of legal twists and turns, depositions, motions for summary judgment and appeals, the case finally halted in the mid-2000s when Rall's lawyer tragically died of brain cancer. Rall v. Hellman has never been officially dismissed, but I strongly doubt that Rall has the will or the cash to retain a new lawyer and resume a case that many saw to be a flimsy one.

9. What's the future of comics? Is it all going to go digital?

A lot of folks, (many of whom work in electronic media) seem to be excited about the so-called "death of print." I certainly won't argue that most of what gets printed amounts to an huge waste of trees. Having said that, I will now emphatically state that I love books. I love reading them, and I love making them. They are an important part of human culture. I have books on my shelf that are over a century old. Meanwhile, I have optical discs that have become unusable after just a few years of careful storage.

I have yet to see a Kindle, so I can't say whether or not the experience of reading text is diminished in any way by the digital format. Truth be told, I haven't physically read a book since my daughter was born in 2006. I get my news from NPR, and I do all of my long-form "reading" via audio books. I suspect that when the technology is perfected, reading digitally will be just as enjoyable as reading a book. However, I sneer at the idea of reading comics or looking at art on hand-held gizmos like the iPhone, (but maybe that's the sneer of an arthritic brontosaurus).

My gut tells me that as far as comics are concerned, most of the crap will quickly go digital, (superhero crap, amateur minicomics crap, and the crap that's already web-based). Meanwhile, the good stuff will remain in print, available to a small audience who are willing to pay for a quality format.

10. Do you have a favorite piece that you've drawn? A least favorite?

I've drawn a bunch of SCREW covers that I feel are holding up nicely as they age. I'm pretty happy with a 2 page spread drawing I did of our daughter Alice that's running in Glenn Head's upcoming anthology HOTWIRE #3. I'm also proud of a couple of illos I drew of Leslie Nielsen that will appear later this year in ROYAL FLUSH #6. I'm still satisfied with the drawings I did for DC's BIZARRO WORLD anthology in 2004.

On the flipside, I've done tons of drawings that make me cringe. Sometimes, short deadlines make it impossible to do good work, and at other times I'm just not feeling it.

11. Do you keep a sketchbook? If so, how often to you draw in it?

I have heaps of old sketchbooks that I filled in my twenties. Before I started drawing for a living, I thought of sketchbooks as precious accomplishments in themselves, but now I see sketches as utterly disposable steps in the process towards a finished drawing. These days, I do my rough sketches on loose sheets of paper, rather than in books. I used to toss them, but a couple of years ago, my friend Pshaw conned me into thinking that I might be able to sell them some day, so presently I'm letting them pile up in a big, flammable stack. Anyone who wants a rough sketch of co-op board members sitting around a conference table discussing building repairs can email their best offer to:

12. Who would win in a cage match, Pablo Picasso or Salvador Dali?

I think Picasso would pound Dali's ass in a fight. I'm not an expert on either Picasso or Dali, but Picasso strikes me as a tough guy when compared to Dali, who's just a simpering sissy with the world's stupidest moustache. I'm not a fight fan, but I'd gladly sit on a museum bench and stare at a painting by either of those guys.

13. What kind of art director or editor do you prefer, hands-on or laissez-faire?

I love an art director who says "great, it's perfect!" to every sketch I submit, but I also like an art director who comes to me with a fully-realized concept, thus allowing me to put my brain on auto-pilot and deliver exactly what they're looking for.

It's also great when I get an art director who sees my sketch and makes suggestions that actually improve the thing. Those are the really good ones, and they are rare indeed.

What I don't like is an art director who thinks they know what they want, only to change their mind once I sketch out their dumb, unworkable concept. Inevitably, these types put me through endless revisions until we arrive at something so lame that all concerned parties want to kill themselves.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that counts as one question.)

I'm drooling in expectation of reading Blood's A Rover, the final chapter in James Ellroy's American Underworld trilogy. I'm listening to the audiobook of Rick Perlstein's Nixonland right now, and enjoying the Hell out of it. These days, I try to stick to nonfiction, history, & political stuff. I read a lot of science fiction in my teens and twenties; authors like Phillip K Dick, Cordwainer Smith, Larry Niven, and Roger Zelazny, and I still remember that stuff fondly.

Our daughter doesn't allow my wife and I to watch much grownup TV, but we did catch ABC's Earth 2100 a couple of weeks ago, and found it riveting. The show features great cartoon art wrapped around information that no one should miss. Most of my favorite TV shows are old ones, like the original Star Trek, The Prisoner, Columbo, The Avengers, stuff like that. I thoroughly enjoyed The Sopranos and Rome on HBO.

With a few exceptions, I've largely lost the thread of contemporary pop music. I'm still listening to all the New Wave and Classic Rock crap that I grew up with, and I've always been a fan of classical music. Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Prokofiev, you can't go wrong with that.

I do watch a lot of movies, and it's as hard to list favorite movies as it is favorite cartoonists. Here's a few off the top of my head: Barry Lyndon, Zardoz, Strangers on a Train, Bedazzled (the original), The Bride of Frankenstein, The Asphalt Jungle, All About Eve, Blade Runner, Die Untergang, I could go on and on.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I draw with non-repro blue pencil and Koh-I-Noor rapidographs on Denril vellum.

16. What's the best part about being a cartoonist?

The best things about being a cartoonist would be the generous financial compensation for all that effort, and the teeming multitude of sophisticated, appreciative readers who support my work. But seriously, the best part of being a cartoonist for me is having the freedom to draw whatever I want to draw.

17. Have you met any of your idols? Under what circumstances?

When I was doing the Legal Action books, I reached out to a lot of folks for contributions, and as a result, I got to meet a bunch of my underground idols. I spent an afternoon with Spain Rodriguez out in San Francisco, a guy whose work I've always loved, and who turned out to be just the sweetest guy with the best stories. I also spent an afternoon with Art Spiegelman, who also turned out to be a wonderful guy who helped me out in a huge way. I hadn't really seen much of his work besides MAUS at that point, but I've since made the effort to take a wider look at his work, and he's done some truly amazing stuff, (I just saw some ultra-cool Spiegelman sketchbooks on sale at the Strand, and I need to go back and buy those).

I briefly met Robert Williams, and he also struck me as a swell guy. Skip Williamson came and stayed with us for a couple of days at our old place in the West Village a few years back, and he was another incredibly sweet guy with the most amazing stories about working in Adult Publishing when it was fun.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

I have three pieces of advice. First of all, learn to draw. Draw from nude models. Draw from photographs. Draw what's around you. I know there's a vogue right now for young hipster cartoonists who can't draw for shit. Personally, I'd rather be an dedicated craftsman with solid, respectable skills.

Advice for the short term: these are terrible times to be a commercial artist. Print media is writhing in what might be its death agony, and while there are a few exceptions, the internet doesn't use illustration. Don't enter the illustration field with the expectation that you'll make a living. The situation may improve when the economy gets back on its feet, but right now, things are brutal.

Advice for the long term: think very carefully about what you want to do. Do you want to create highly personal work, or do you want to be a commercial artist whose work gets widely seen? To put it another way, do you want to draw exactly what you want to draw after you clock out from your miserable day job, or do you want to suck at Corporate America's teat, and struggle to find some small satisfaction while grinding out some of the most insipid assignments imaginable? It can be tough to strike a balance between being an artist and making a living. I've had a lot of fun as an illustrator, but commercial art is, by its nature, disposable. I've watched my contemporaries crank out heaps of comic pages while I've only managed to eke out a few strips in-between illo gigs. While I enjoy illustration, I'd love to do more comics, but I don't know if I'll ever get the time. Think very carefully about what you want to do.

19. How important are awards?

I've never received an award, and as a result, I don't think awards are important.

20. What's something that nobody knows about you?

Tough question. While I'd like to confess that I'm a cross-dressing auto-erotic asphyxiator, I'm just not that interesting. How's this: only an ultra-exclusive, elite inner circle know that I'm not a bad cook.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

20 Questions with Justin Thompson

Justin Thompson is the mirthful mastermind behind the beautifully drawn and very funny strip, MYTHTICKLE, which runs on the GoComics website.

In addition to the strip, Justin works at the Charles Schulz studio, hosts the Comics Coast to Coast podcasts, and is a former actor and stuntman.

This is a guy I want to party with! (I’m serious, Justin. I’ll bring the snacks and beverages and meet you halfway between Indiana and California – how about Colorado?)

The first collection of MYTHTICKLE strips will be published in January. Check out Justin’s always informative and entertaining blog for more info.

1. When you were a kid, did you want to be a cartoonist? Did you draw?

Sure, I drew all of the time. Chalkboards, paper, walls, myself -- it was an innocent obsession. I really loved reading the comics in the newspaper as a kid. I remember cutting them out and collecting them -- taping the ones I really loved into notebooks. My favorites were PEANUTS, B.C., and FAMILY CIRCUS.

I get the artistic drive from my mom’s influence; she was an artist too and always really encouraged me to keep going with it and to always do better.

She wanted to be a commercial artist when she was first looking for a career and took the Art Instruction School correspondence courses back when Charles Schulz was involved with them. I found those old books of hers just last year and looked at the staff photos of AIS and there he was, Charles M. Schulz. She gave me those books long ago and now here I am, working at the Charles Schulz studio, going to work every day to the same building where he drew PEANUTS. That’s a nice cosmic circle.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

In high school. The hometown paper, The Phoenix Gazette, had a young people’s page in the Sunday supplements back then. I’m pretty sure that they threw me a few bucks for it, I don’t know, money never was a top priority for me as a kid.

I had a comic strip running in there, this was back in the late ’70s, it was called HOOPS. It was about a high school basketball team. When baseball season came around I changed it to DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, and it became about a high school baseball team. In my last semester of high school, The Arizona Republic, the sister paper there in town, hired me on as a freelance illustrator for special- interest stories. I did three or four; those were the first jobs I remember getting paid for.

3. How did you develop MYTHTICKLE? How has the strip changed over the years?

I distinctly remember getting the idea for the strip about five-and-a half years ago. I was driving along a stretch of I-80 out here in San Francisco’s notorious East Bay, a town called El Sobrante. I think about it every time I pass that stretch of road. I like to think of that idea as some little patch of fog hovering over the highway that I drove through and it just stuck in my head. All of a sudden I just up and decided that I wanted to create a comic strip with this dragon character that I had been doodling for a while.

Y’know it’s weird, I recently looked back into my old notebooks from Grad school, which contained far more sketches than notes, and saw that Dragon, my main character in MYTHTICKLE, sketched all over the place. These notebooks came from the late ’80s, almost twenty years before I got that idea for MYTHTICKLE. I hadn’t realized that my character Boody went that far back, I was surprised. But anyway, the name for the strip hit me at about the same time as the decision to do the strip, and as soon as I got home, I started trying to come up with a few more characters. The knight, Sir Dudley, was the second one I created. I figured start with two main characters, and see where that goes.

Let’s see, how has it changed over those past 5 years? I guess the biggest thing other than the transition to a brush pen would be that the characters have taken on stronger personalities. When it started the knight character was a nice guy; so was the dragon. I soon discovered that doesn’t exactly breed comic behavior. So I made the knight crass, cranky, and argumentative and dumbed the dragon down more, and made them classic opposites. That has made it all a lot more fun. I originally wanted to have them in a school with gods and deities from mythology but I had trouble with the school strips at first so I put that off a bit until I had the characters identities pinned down more.

Thor joined the group soon, then while eating with my family at our favorite Chinese Restaurant near Berkeley one afternoon, I remember thinking that the strip needed a Buddhist influence. So I created a little girl named Karma. She actually IS karma. A few more characters came about as the years went on and still do. I now feel much more comfortable with putting the characters in the classroom, since I know them so much better. I love having a character-driven strip.

4. How did being a stuntman prepare you for a career as a cartoonist?

Well it doesn’t really; the two careers couldn’t be farther apart. Tremendous focus would be something that they both might have in common. That’s something you have to have whether you’re doing motorcycle stunts dressed as Batman in the middle of summer, or trying to create an interesting and consistently readable comic strip from day to day. Start getting distracted or lazy and your productivity suffers. Only in stunt work, the suffering becomes more immediately tangible.

Actually, being a stuntman could have been detrimental to my being a cartoonist. I almost lost my drawing finger in a broadsword fight one day during a live show when I was playing Robin Hood. The Sheriff of Nottingham sliced a little low (or I parried a little high), and hit my hand under the hilt with the edge of his blade, and his sword cut all the way down to the bone. I had to rush to the hospital to get 4 stitches real fast so I could get back to the show before I had to joust. If that strike had hit me just a little bit harder, the comic strip and this interview never would have happened. So yeah, they’re different worlds, but I’ve always enjoyed hopping from planet to planet in my life, trying to find one that suited me best.

I miss acting and stunt work a lot. Cartooning is really fun though, and probably my best destiny. I love creating my MYTHTICKLE world.

5. What’s your all-time favorite strip or gag?

I love that FAR SIDE gag with the frog that latched his tongue to the bottom of a jet plane as it was taking off. Along with being maybe the funniest gag ever, it surely sends chills down the spine of anyone with a fear of success. He captured so much with such simple lines. Gary Larson is a miracle.

As for favorite strips, PEANUTS was my first love. I used to carry those old paperback reprint books from the ’60s everywhere I went as a kid. I adore so many things that Vaughn Bode did. CHEECH WIZARD and SUNPOT were huge for me. When I saw his work in National Lampoon back in the early ’70s, that was when I first knew that I had to become a cartoonist someday -- had to create worlds like that. That was when it all changed from having a winsome dream, into to a fervent drive.

Bode expanded my mind and inspired me to really reach when I create. He has been my biggest comic influence and I’m sure always will be. No one can touch Bode on creativity.

6. Where do you stand in the print comics vs. web comics debate?

I stand very far away from that pool and don’t want to get splashed. I do not read about this debate, I do not join in on this debate and I don’t want to know anything about it. I don’t see how getting heated up over all that can be very productive for anyone and it usually winds up being very mean. Debating something like that means nothing at the end of the day and breeds a whole lot of useless negativity. It creates division in a group that is so small, and really should be working together.

Cartoonists must be the last breed of American tradesmen who never unionized and...well, that’s a lame tangent, so I’ll get back on track: When I read these angry debates I end up absorbing all of that bickering in a bad way and it is impossible for me to work from a place of negativity and frustration. Maybe some people thrive on it, I don’t know, and for their sake -- if that’s where they work best from, then good for them. Let them scream and debate and fight and be as horrible as they can to each other so long as it helps them create. I just can’t be a part of it. I stay away from web boards for the same reason. We cartoonists are in big trouble. The old trusted well of income for cartoonists is drying up. Newspapers as we know them are fading away, and if you want to get anything published yourself it’s so expensive that it’s hardly worth doing.

The web hardly pays anything. So is the best, most constructive way for us to interact with each other right now to create hostility? When has that ever worked? If there is a solution out there that will save the careers of the traditional cartoonist, we sure aren’t going to come up with it by angrily debating the virtues of pen vs. pixel. Like what you like and enjoy it. I just can’t hang with the “mine is better, yours sucks” stuff. I’m too thin-skinned. I take things very personally; I can’t help it. I don’t take hostility or negative criticism particularly well. So I step back from debates like that.

Hmm, I seem to have “gone-off.” Did I just get splashed?

7. The web allows more freedom, but would you be interested in doing a newspaper strip?

Absolutely! I really believe if I could get that lucky to be in print nationally, I’d get a strong following. MYTHTICKLE is a unique strip. Not so much in its execution all the time, but in its concept. A lot of people have really responded to its themes of mythology and legend, and that stuff generally has gathered a much wider audience in the last decade. It’s starting for me, I’ve been on GoComics for about two years and I’m really happy with the nice little collection of subscribers the strip has generated in my short time there. I’m hoping it continues to rise. As to web syndication, it’s good. I wish I could reach more people though. I love being exposed to more people than I did for the three-and-a-half years I was on Comics Sherpa, but average people just aren’t used to going to a website to read comic strips. They are used to going to papers to get their comics. That’s where I would rather be. Ideally, a Sunday-only strip would fit best since my panels are so large, the drawings are sometimes detailed, and I color each one. Shrunk down, my frames would look like mud and I’m not changing the strip to fit some soulless, arbitrary constraint that is put upon cartoonists now n so many papers. So yeah, Sundays would be the only way that could happen, but that’s perfectly fine.

8. Name five of your favorite cartoonists or comics.

I can’t just name five, but I’ll come close. Aside from Charles Schulz, who is a given and should be at the top of every single comic strip creator’s list, I’d have to say Vaughn Bode’s CHEECH WIZARD; Chris Sanders’ KISKALOO; BIZARRO is amazingly consistent and hilarious every single day; and I love Berke Breathed’s comic strips and children’s books. Alphonse Azpiri’s various works are dazzling. John Buscema was my favorite comic book artist; I would read anything he illustrated. His comic art seemed to move, like I was watching a film.

9. Who’d win in a cage match, Stephan Pastis or Mark Tatulli?

Aw, that’s cruel, both of them are my friends! Hmmmm, well Stephan is super-strong with a big height advantage but Tatulli is really scrappy and he bites. Also, Tatulli does two comic strips so his super-speed could be a factor over Pastis’ limited one-strip-at-a-time method. I’ve also noticed that since Mark’s strip has no words, his mind moves in sort of a silent hyper-drive. But where Tatulli has the warp-speed-head, Stephan’s mind is quite extraordinarily warped and thus both of their intellectual approaches to the fight would be negated. So I’d have to look at brute strength as being the determining factor in this match and therefore I would have to give the edge to Stephan, who would rise from the mat bloody and bitten, calling down to the pulped and pounded pantomime cartoonist, “Anything to say NOW?!”

10. How do you develop ideas? Which comes first, words or pictures?

Words, definitely. Charles Schulz always recommended just drawing and seeing what happens. He got a great many ideas just from doodling. I have tried doing this on occasion, but nothing ever happens. After 5 years of doing MYTHTICKLE, I’ve come up with maybe one or two strips this way. It’s frustrating and I’m too up-in-my-head, clearly. I wish I could work like that, but I just have to wait until ideas come to me then filter out all of the puns. Readers don’t like puns. They’ve let me know.

11. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

Every day. I have yet to come up with a method of writing, I’ve talked to many cartoonists and they all have writing routines but I’m completely haphazard. I keep a small Moleskin notebook with me all the time and when something finally comes to me I write it down. It gets very scary sometimes, just nothing there. Then occasionally I’ll get a nice little stream of three or four at once. I love the little charge I get out of writing, molding an idea into a script so that the joke makes sense. It’s a little shock of joy, and I really think I get more out of that than actually drawing and inking the strip.

12. What’s more important, raw talent or perseverance?

I wish I knew. All you can do is look at what’s out there and see what is successful and try to figure out why. I’ve seen plenty of web-only comics that are completely brilliant, and some syndicated stuff that is such crap it honestly depresses me. Perseverance is noble, and essential in any career, but if what you are repeatedly foisting upon editors just doesn’t turn them on, then you are not going to change their minds unless you change the material. But if you keep changing and modifying the material, what you wind up with isn’t really your own anymore anyway. You’ve created something purely for money and without soul. It might come down to just having a knack for what the syndicate editors are going to like, since they are the ones who green-light what gets syndicated, I don’t know. Is that the bigger talent than what you actually put down on the boards?

To qualify the question, I might ask; “Is perseverance more important, or the raw talent for being able to understand editors?” That’s more than talent; that’s a super-power.

13. Tell us about your day job at the Schulz studio.

There are only a handful of us working here, and what we do is work to preserve the integrity of Mr. Schulz’s art and vision when working with licensees that use PEANUTS on their products -- from books and treasuries, to shirts, figurines, and golf bags.

We make sure that the art looks right on the product and the characters are acting in accordance with their personalities. But at least one copy of every officially worldwide licensed item of any kind that has PEANUTS on it must first come through our studio offices for scrutiny and ultimately approval. We each have our groups of licensees that we deal with, and I handle Japan mostly. The biggest benefit of that, besides being able to see the awesome creativity and art that the Japanese licensers produce, is getting to go over there each year and meet with them. I also get to write and give a speech and presentation there and that’s just great. It’s the only chance I get to perform in front of an audience anymore. I completely love traveling in Japan. Getting to go there is a highlight of my life. I also get to do illustration work at the studio, I illustrated five PEANUTS children’s books last year which was a huge opportunity and honor.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that counts as one question.)

Favorite books are The Prince of Tides, Lonesome Dove, Shogun, Zen In The Art of Archery, and the Lone Wolf and Cub series of graphic novels. Those are the ones I’ve read the most times. I’m also a huge fan of The Count of Monte Cristo, and I love reading biographies.

Movies: Hana: The Tale of a Reluctant Samurai (2006), Henry V (1989), Fandango, Cannery Row, Phörpa (The Cup), Seven Samurai, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and all of Kevin Smith’s stuff.

Songs come and go for me, but the one that always remains is “A Pirate Looks at Forty”by Jimmy Buffett. It rings so true. I love Buffett; I’ve been a “Parrothead” since 1983.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I write my text and frames in Illustrator CS3, to get my spacing right. I then print those pages (two frames per regular copy paper page) and rough sketch the cartoons on that with a regular ballpoint pen. I go to my light table and take a couple more pieces of regular paper and trace those rough lines with a Japanese brush pen (I hate erasing). I scan that in, place the Illustrator-made text and frames into it, color it in Photoshop CS3, and that’s it. Instant mediocrity.

16. What’s the best part about being a cartoonist?

That’s a smart question because it’ll usually get a simple, one-item-answer. Now if you had asked, “What do you NOT like about being a cartoonist,” you’d probably get pages of stuff, lists of things, it would go very long and boring so I’m glad you asked what you asked because this whole thing is probably long and boring enough by now. The best part about doing this would be all of the great cartoonists I’ve been able to meet since I’ve been doing this. Because of my work at the Schulz studio and my “Comics Coast To Coast” podcast, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with Berke Breathed, Dan Piraro, Patrick McDonnell, Carlos Castellanos, Mark Tatulli, Wiley Miller, and Chris Sanders, just to name a few. I think that has been the most rewarding thing. I love talking with these geniuses and listening to how their minds work. Plus, being at the Schulz studio, I work just down the hall from PEARLS BEFORE SWINE creator, Stephan Pastis! Being able to be sitting quietly at my desk and have someone of Stephan’s caliber just pop around the corner and punch me in the ribs may be the very best part of being a cartoonist.

17. Have you met any of your cartoonist idols? Under what circumstances?

Oops, I’m afraid I might have answered this question in #16, but I’ll elaborate. Some of them I have met through doing my “Comics Coast To Coast” podcast with cartoonist Brian Dunaway. I don’t think any of that would have happened if I had not been hired to work for Creative Associates at the Charles Schulz studio. Here at the studio, we have a few brilliant cartoonists I’ve been able to learn a lot from; Stephan Pasts, Paige Braddock of JANE’S WORLD and Alexis Fajardo of the KID BEOWULF graphic novels. Through Jeannie Schulz, I was able to get in contact with Mark Bode – the son of Vaughn Bode, my favorite cartoonist -- and have actually hung out with him in San Francisco. He’s a wonderful guy and very talented in his own right as an artist and creator. He took me down to his basement and opened up a whole treasure chest of his father’s work and imagination. I saw pencil sketches, 3-D models Vaughn had made, and I even touched Vaughn Bode’s drawing table! Among other projects Mark is carrying on his father’s work with COBALT 60 and just doing a tremendous job with it. I can’t wait to see him again. It’s meeting creators like Mark that make my job the greatest I could ever possibly have.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Sign up with your comic strip on Comics and make yourself a schedule, such as “I will publish my strip every day, or five times a week or three times a week” –whatever -- and really stick to it. Make it mandatory for you, a top priority, and commit to it. Once you’ve created that real structure for yourself and made it a discipline, you’ll be surprised after a year how your work attitude will have changed and how much better you’ve gotten. After two years you’ll REALLY surprise yourself. Do not focus on fame, do not think about getting paid, do not listen to haters, just focus on creating your world and the characters within that world and getting better. If you do Comics Sherpa right like that, you will learn how to do this the right way and it’ll work. But you have to commit and allow yourself to change.

19. How important are awards?

If I ever win one, I’ll let you know. I would think that winning an award would give you extra clout with newspaper editors who, say, might be looking to trim a few strips from their comic page. If you find yourself on the bubble between another strip, the editor might say, “well I’ll keep this one, they just won a Reuben Award.” And there ya go. You get to stay another month. Of course, being acknowledged by your peers is huge. That HAS to make you feel good I really hope that happens someday. Legitimacy is a wonderful thing.

I’ve won a few acting awards back when I was doing that, but those only come about because of the incredible amount of support you get from fellow actors and directors making you look good. It’s more of an ensemble. I have only won one award completely by myself. I took first place in a fencing tournament in college back at Arizona State. I have no idea where that award is right now, but I am very proud of it.

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

I have not advertised it much because I don’t have it in my hands yet. Until that time I’m not crowing about it, but by the time this interview sees print it just might be a reality so I’ll mention here: My very first book is being printed right now and should be available by early or mid January of 2010. It’s a collection of my strips from its first year plus a bonus story. It’s titled One: The First MythTickle Collection and I am thrilled about it and can’t wait to see it. As I mentioned before, legitimacy is a wonderful thing.

Other than that, I’ve been pretty open about everything else in my life through Facebook, my blog and my podcast. The people who go there regularly know I’m vegetarian, was adopted, and am a crazy Denver Broncos fan...there is something that I haven’t talked about in any cartooning circles so I might as well blab: I was in therapy for a time and still suffer from clinical depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. I’m doing pretty well with both now but sometimes still struggle.

The particular issue I dealt with in therapy is also dealt with in a story I wrote once called “Yochi, A Samurai Tale.” Coincidentally, I have illustrated this story and included it in this first book of mine that’s coming out, One: The First MythTickle Collection. So you can read that story and try to figure out my little bit of darkness. How’s that for a marketing strategy?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

20 Questions with Kit Lively

Kit Lively is my kind of cartoonist. He’s one sick puppy.

Kit’s work is irreverent, outrageous and always funny. He’s collaborated extensively with Noel Anderson and has also worked with Joe Bob Briggs and Hustler magazine. Rumor has it that Kit is the secret lovechild of either Lenny Bruce or L. Ron Hubbard.

You can see more of Kit’s crazy cartooning at his website and buy his book.

1. When you were a kid, did you want to be a cartoonist? Did you draw?

A cartoonist was the first, and pretty much only, thing I ever wanted to be. I was drawing from an early age, and as soon as I discovered MAD, CRACKED and similar magazines, I was drawing my own, less than hilarious versions. My mom is the only one to still have copies of these efforts, and that reason alone is good enough to keep her rantings and ravings confined to the fruit cellar.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

It was a handful of single-panel cartoons sold to Joe Bob Briggs for his WE ARE THE WEIRD magazine.

3. You do a lot of work with Noel Anderson. What’s the best part about collaborations? What’s the worst part?

I guess the best part would be how our collaborations serve my almost crippling laziness. I get to have the fun of coming up with the gag or idea, then Noel has to actually sit down and draw it. The worst part is that Noel is a much better artist than I, so the cartoon comes out much better than if I had drawn it. I guess I’ll always secretly hate him for that. Whoops, cats out of the bag!

4. Why is the single panel gag superior to the comic strip?

I like a good comic strip, and have even dabbled in the form here and there, but I do tend to personally prefer the single-panel. This may have to do with my having a short attention span, but also has to do with the fact that a single-panel cartoon HAS to be funny in order to work. It can’t hide behind (admittedly otherwise important) things like characterization and plot. The joke is king, and if its not funny, nothing else matters. And that’s the reason I got into cartooning in the first place: to make with the funny.

5. You’re known for your outrageous humor. Is there any subject you won’t do a cartoon on?

In general, I think that no subject should be off limits, as the only way humor and satire can genuinely work is if everything and everyone is fair game. Having said that, I personally am uncomfortable with making mean-spirited and hateful jabs at God, as although I’m not a big fan of organized religion (and will gladly poke fun at it), I have Christian beliefs. But I have no problem with others who choose to deal in that type of humor.

6. What’s your favorite rejected cartoon?

Well, there are so many to choose from! Many rejections it seems are sent back without explanation, so I tend to enjoy the ones that are specific about the offense. When I first began selling to the Hustler line of publications, the cartoon editor at the time would stick post-it notes onto my rejected cartoons, with “Too Gross” or “Too Sad” written on them. I got a kick out of the fact that I had managed to, even slightly, upset a Hustler cartoon editor.

7. What’s the future of gag cartooning? Magazines? The Internet?

I honestly don’t know, and have no problem admitting that scares me quite a bit. Quite a few of my markets have dried up over the years, and replacements are more and more difficult to come by. Quite honestly, just like with so much else, the future of cartooning will have to be via the internet. Having said that, I do hope that print doesn’t completely wither and die; old computers don’t smell nearly as good as old books and magazines.

8. Name five of your favorite cartoonists.

Although there are many cartoonists that I’ve discovered and enjoyed over the past twenty or more years, the guys whose work has stayed with me are the guys who influenced me at the beginning: Sam Gross, Tom Cheney, B. Kliban, PC Vey and Charles Rodriguez.

Since becoming an adult (still a long time ago) I’ve discovered and added Dan Collins, John Callahan and John Billette to the list.

9. Who would win in a cage match, R. Crumb or Gilbert Shelton?

Although I tend to prefer Crumb’s work, he honestly doesn’t seem like much of a fighter, and would simply use his cadaverous frame to slip between the bars of the cage and escape. So, the match goes to Shelton via forfeit.

10. How do you develop ideas? Which comes first, words or pictures?

The words almost always come first for me, but every so often an errant doodle will accidentally turn into an actual cartoon idea.

11. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

Yep, that’s a big fear of mine. I calm myself by attempting to believe that cartoonists get their ideas from their unique perspective, which hopefully is something that we get to hang onto for the duration of the ride (as long as it isn’t too dulled by time, alcohol abuse and overexposure to reality TV).

12 You’ve drawn cartoons for Hustler magazine. What’s Larry Flynt really like?

I’ve never actually met the guy, but many years ago I heard from a Hustler staff member that Larry found my artwork to be “too funky” (hard to argue with that). Of course, this also explains why I do better at the Hustler mags working with Noel.

13. What kind of editor do you prefer, hands-on or laissez-faire?

More hands-on, I’d say. My favorite editors have always been the ones who would call me up to discuss a project I’m working on, then would stay on the line in order to just chat about various stuff. It's always a bit more comfortable for me if I can sort of become friendly acquaintances with the people I’m working with/for.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that counts as one question.)

I recently read a book on founding National Lampoon editor Doug Kenney (A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever), which was an excellent book on a subject I’m fascinated with (the evolution of comedy in the late 60’s, early 70’s). I love books on the history of comedy and cartooning. I also love horror novels, anyone from Stephen King to Richard Laymon. Also, I read a lot of magazines and comics.

As far as TV, I love The Venture Bros., Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Whitest Kids U Know, Reno 911, etc. A lot of animated comedy and sketch comedy programs. Also The Office, 30 Rock, Weeds, Dexter and Lost.

With movies, I tend to drift towards comedy and horror for the most part. My favorite comedies are Wet, Hot, American Summer, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Office Space, Lost in America, There’s Something About Mary, and too many others to list. Horror-wise I love the original (not remake) versions of Black Christmas, Halloween and Dawn of the Dead. I also love me a good trashy B-movie, which thankfully is never hard to come by.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I use a black ultra-fine Sharpie marker, good quality copy paper and a drawing board that I sit on my lap or on the floor; the same stuff that I’ve been using since my teen years, sadly enough.

16. What’s the best part about being a cartoonist?

The fact that I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do (being a cartoonist), and doing it for many of the same places that I loved and were such a big influence on me in the first place. Also, having had the chance to have my work published alongside many of the industry’s greats, and again, people who had a huge influence on my work, is about the coolest thing that I can think of.

17. Have you met any of your cartoonist idols? Under what circumstances?

I’ve communicated via e-mail and regular mail with quite a few cartoonists who I greatly admire. I also interviewed John Callahan for the sadly short-lived humor magazine Rubber Chicken, which went under before the interview saw print. I’ve never gotten the chance to hang out with any of my cartooning idols, though (considering that many of them are dead, I guess that’s a good thing).

Although I did have a dream recently where I was using warm pimento cheese in generous amounts to massage the upper back and shoulders of the guy who draws SALLY FORTH. Does that count?

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

I’ve always believed that cartoonists are born, not bred. So, I would say “head towards that odd triangle of light” and “try to breathe when the man swats your bottom."

19. How important are awards?

Well, I won a “Most Improved Hygiene” award when I was a sophomore in high school, and to celebrate, my mom and this guy she was seeing took me to Burger King for dinner. That was a pretty good day. So, I guess I’d say they can be important.

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

That while I’ve been answering these questions, I’ve also been putting together an entire three-bean casserole using my feet (and a wooden spoon; don’t freak out).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

MAD #502

I have a few 'toons in the latest MAD (three(!) strips, to be precise).

Out of fairness to the mag, I won't post them here for awhile. If you want to see my latest contribution, MAD is available at finer (and crappier) stores everywhere.

Here's the cover, which includes a detail I didn’t even notice when I received my comp copies.

Check out Tom Richmond's site for the whole scoop.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

20 Questions with Dan Reynolds

Some cartoonists amaze you with their consistency. Dan Reynolds is one such cartoonist. You can guarantee a laugh with one of Dan’s cartoons.

They’re quirky, offbeat, playful and always, always funny.

I’ve admired Dan’s work for years, especially his cow cartoons. Dan is the master of bovine humor.

Check out REYNOLDS UNWRAPPED and all the other comic goodness on Dan’s website.

1. When you were a kid, did you want to be a cartoonist? Did you draw?

No. I didn’t want to be a cartoonist. I had “draw-aphobia." I knew people who could draw, but it didn’t look like anything I could do in a million years…well, okay it was almost 30 years before I even began to draw. I’m kind of the Grandma Moses of cartoonists. I spent my years as a youth planning on becoming a major league baseball player. You can see where that got me.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

That’s a tough one. I really don’t know. I spend most of my time wondering what my NEXT paying cartoon job will be.

3. Tell us about REYNOLDS UNWRAPPED.

This December, I will be celebrating 20 years as a cartoonist. For 10 years, my cartoon was called OVER THE EDGE.

Ten years ago, I decided to change the name to make it more personal. REYNOLDS UNWRAPPED is nothing more, nothing less than the visual and semantic musings of my mind. I aim for my cartoon to be a daily exercise of thinking outside of the box. I’ve always thought of my cartoon as being an outward extension of how I think, kind of an opportunity to allow readers to run around in the playground of my mind.

4. You have a degree in psychology. How did you get involved in cartooning?

I like Steve Martin’s take on his being a philosophy major, and I’d like to apply it to my degree in psychology...I learned just enough psychology to screw me up for the rest of my life.

In 1989, my first child was a few months old, and I decided to illustrate a poem I had written years earlier called, “A Christmouse Story." I had absolutely NO experience whatsoever in drawing. I could draw a bath, the covers, and a breath, but that was about the extent of my drawing experience.

Well, I went to work and found the experience very enjoyable. I was always a reader of the Sunday comics and I would often spend my share of time standing and laughing in front of the humorous greeting cards section.

So, one day shortly after completing the “Christmouse Story," I decided to draw a single-panel cartoon. I think I did so because I liked to read single-panel cartoons. The first cartoon was about a caveman holding a spear with a cat tied to the end of it. He was pointing the spear at a prehistoric mouse. Underneath the panel the caption read, “Og Invents the First Functioning Mousetrap." I brought it into my office and everyone got a kick out of it. That was the day I became a cartoonist. I began drawing cartoons non-stop.

5. What’s your favorite rejected strip or gag?

I once had a development deal with UPS for a cartoon strip I did called LITTLE MONSTERS. It was THIS close to becoming syndicated. It came down to my strip or another and mine wasn’t picked. If I do say so myself, it was a darn good strip. I did about a year’s worth of work. I got addicted to it and couldn’t stop. Finally, I gave up the ghost and buried the characters in my backyard, next to the cartoon editor that rejected it…er…ah… I mean my dog. To take a look at a number of LITTLE MONSTERS cartoons, go here.

6. Where do you stand in the print comics vs. web comics debate?

I’ve heard of people being successful in both mediums. I hink things are changing and change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that with it come growing pains. For some, there’s more pain than others. The nice thing about this profession is there is always various avenues to reinvent yourself.

7. Why is the single panel gag superior to the comic strip?

I don’t know that it’s superior as much as it is just different. I think a good strip writes itself because the characters all have (or should have) a personality which dictates what they say and do. A single panel can be more demanding because it does not rely on recurring characters. Every time a new cartoon is created, it has to stand on its own. A whole new world and character(s) begins anew.

Doing this 365 days a year, years in and out and being consistently funny is a monumental task. Almost anyone can come up with a few good ideas, but do it every day and make a living at it – THAT’S tough.

8. Name five of your favorite comics or cartoonists.

Being a single-panel cartoonist, it won’t be a surprise that my favorite cartoonists are single-panel cartoonists. This list is not all inclusive. I’d need to make a list of 30 to get them all in. In no particular order…

Charles Addams, Sam Gross, Gary Larson, Dave Coverly, and Glenn McCoy.
I have to include Bill Watterson because, well, he’s the greatest cartoonist who’s ever lived, in my opinion.

9. Who would win in a drinking contest, Rex Morgan, MD, or Mary Worth?

Rex Morgan, because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…wasn’t his father Captain Morgan? Despite the rumors, Blood Mary has nothing to do with Mary Worth.

10. How do you develop ideas? Which comes first, words or pictures?

The words and the pictures. When I first began to cartoon, the cartoon ideas flooded in. Drawing was the hard part. Then, at some point there was a shift. Once I was really comfortable and could basically draw just about anything out of my head, the ideas started to be harder won. Today, the ideas are the work part (but the most rewarding and hardest to achieve) and the drawing is the fun part.

11. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

I don’t know a cartoonist who doesn’t. I still surprise myself every day that I can still come up with new ideas.

12. What’s the future of gag cartooning? Print? The Internet? Cranial implants?

I think gag cartooning is a permanent fixture in our daily lives. It’s everywhere. The newspapers are going away in the same way people have chosen to drive cars instead of ride horses. The newspapers cannot compete with the internet. Like the difference in the speed between the car and horse, the newspapers are just too slow. Though the mode of transportation changed, the need for transportation remained. The need for humor is not unlike the need for transportation. It is a need and it will be fulfilled. Gag cartooning, for me personally, exploded with the onset of the internet. Not just online, but also in print forms as a result of the internet.

As I am not syndicated in newspapers, the downsizing of comic features in the newspapers has had no effect on what I do.

As far as cranial implants, I’d like a double-D size.

13. What kind of editor do you prefer, hands-on or laissez-faire?

Hands-on, but not too hands-on. I think there should be a happy medium. When you’re a professional cartoonist or a professional anything, you want to be respected enough to have an editor know that you know, for the most part, what you’re doing.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that counts as one question.)

Good question…

Books – as a child: Where The Wild Things Are, as an adult: cartoon books

TV Shows: Nature shows, Red Sox games

Films: Udder Terror -- I wrote and acted in this blockbuster film. See it on YouTube.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Uniball Vision (fine), Bristol paper, Pastels, colored pencils, markers, and a secret ingredient.

16. What’s the best part about being a cartoonist?

The look on people’s faces when you first meet them and they ask, “Now, what do you do?” They always have one of two facial expressions….a deer in the headlights…or “Wow, you must be, like, rich and famous.” Shows how much they know about being a cartoonist.

17. Have you met any of your cartoonist idols? Under what circumstances?

Face to face, I’d say Sam Gross and Gahan Wilson. We had lunch together with some other New Yorker cartoonists.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

The only advice you can really give it just practice. The ironic thing about being a cartoonist is that people think it’s kind of an easy fun job, and it IS fun, but it is not easy. You’d be surprised how tiring thinking is. I mean 24/7 thinking. If you don’t like working 80 hours a week, you need not apply.

19. How important are awards?

Not at all. A real award for cartooning consists of walking into an office and see one of your cartoons on a cubicle or go to someone’s home and see your cartoon on a refrigerator door or your book on their shelf. That’s a REAL award.

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

There’s a lot of things people don’t know about me as I typically don’t mingle much, but spend my life at home in my studio.

A few tidbits...all true...

1. I rode around the great pyramid of Egypt on a horse, bareback, at full gallop, hanging sideways. I had never been on a horse before. It wasn’t planned. The Egyptian who yelled “YA!” (in Egyptian, of course) thought he had a great sense of humor.

2. I once caught a foul ball in the air at a professional baseball game.

3. I have cartoon work as part of the archives of Cooperstown’s National Baseball of Hall museum.

4. I am left-handed when I sit down and right-handed when I stand up (except for ping pong and pool).

5. When I met my wife, her bank pin code number was the exact number of my birthday – 72660 (it’s not the same now – so don’t bother trying it!) I guess she had my number.

6. I play the guitar. I also play the radio.

7. I helped build my first house from beginning to end. It took 9 months.

8. I once considered being a priest. That was before getting married and having four sons.

9. I knew and was trained how to use a computer while in the Navy by Michael Walker. You may have heard of him.

10. I once saved a child using CPR after he nearly drowned. The child was my third son.

11. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer last year. For more on this, go here.

12. I had the oldest man in the world do the foreword for my book, How Aging Affects Belt Height.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

20 Questions with Stephanie McMillan

Stephanie McMillan is the cartoonist behind the thought-provoking, funny
and wonderfully subversive comic strip, MINIMUM SECURITY, which you
can read daily at the site or on Stephanie’s own site.

Be sure to check out Stephanie’s blog and pick up the

1. When you were a kid, did you want to be a cartoonist? Did you draw?

My earliest drawing memory is from age three. I drew a stick figure with
hands that were little circles with many long lines radiating from them. I
proudly showed it to my dad at the breakfast table. He tried his best to
be encouraging, but informed me that hands have only five fingers each.

When I was about 10, I fell in love with PEANUTS and traced them over
and over. I read comic books like RICHIE RICH and ARCHIE, but it was
PEANUTS that I became obsessed with (an obsession that shaped the dreams
and future careers of many of my generation of cartoonists -- we were
hopelessly brainwashed in our formative years).

I loved learning art in school, from finger-painting in pre-school through
anatomy classes in college. In fifth grade my wonderful art teacher Mrs.
Lihan taught us how shading works, and I still remember the thrill of
learning that secret.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

In the late 1980s, when I was still in college, I got a job painting cels
for short animated cartoon that was intended to motivate the sales team of
Huggies diapers in their competition with Pampers. We got $4 an hour and
worked 14-hour days. In 1992 I was offered a part-time job at a weekly
paper, and the editor, Stephen Wissink, offered me the opportunity to draw
a regular editorial cartoon. I did that for years before it ever occurred
to me to try to self-syndicate.

3. Describe the process you went through when you created your comic

When I started the strip in 1999, I didn't want to just to "be a
cartoonist" in the abstract. I'd been an activist/organizer since high
school (and the system didn't crumble, damn it!) After 15 years or so, I
finally got tired of handing out leaflets on street corners -- I wanted to
encourage resistance in a more efficient manner, and one more suited to my

MINIMUM SECURITY started as a political/editorial comic, formatted in
the style of my favorite alt-weekly comics: a multi-frame slightly
vertical rectangle, once a week, no recurring characters, very wordy.

When the U.S. started the war against Iraq (despite the largest global
protests in history), I fell into a period of despair. It seemed that
nothing I or anyone could do would make any difference. I stopped
drawing and started gardening. After nine months I got over it, and
started again with a single-panel editorial cartoon.

Soon I started toying with the idea of having regular characters and
continuous story lines. I figured that they might make the comic more
appealing, bring readers back to find out what happened to characters they
might grow to care about. I switched to a strip format, and Kranti first
appeared in 2004, saying something sarcastic to Uncle Sam about using
napalm. She looks a lot different now than she did then!

4. MINIMUM SECURITY is syndicated on United Media’s website. How did you
hook up with them?

Over the years I received many form rejection letters from all the major
syndicates. When Ted Rall became Editor of Acquisitions at United, with
the mission of bringing a new generation of cartoonists onto the comics
pages, he told me MINIMUM SECURITY was on his short list. I was
thrilled, of course. It started running on, and I increased the
pace to five days a week. It was in line to be syndicated in print when
the economy fell into decline, and newspapers began dropping more features
than they were buying.

5. Where do you stand in the print comics vs. web comics debate?

Squarely on both sides. I want my cartoons to be everywhere.

I'm not going to reject methods of making a living from my work -- I try
it all. I've sold artwork on eBay. I have a website with advertising and
stuff for sale, and I'm striving to increase the income from that,
learning as much as I can from successful web cartoonists. At the same
time, print might be dying or it might not, but as long as it's still
around, I want my cartoons to be there. My comics appear in several print
publications, including a daily paper. I'm also negotiating right now with
another daily paper to run a regular editorial cartoon. I draw original
cartoons for magazines, and sell reprints. Presently I'm working on
coloring the pages for a French edition of my graphic novel. After that I
have another graphic novel in the pipeline, and illustrations for two
other books.

I think the "print vs. web" comics debate is ridiculous, frankly. Some
people obviously make money in each realm. Most don't. It's the work
that's important -- why would anyone want to limit where it appears?

6. The web affords a great deal of creative freedom. Would you be
interested in doing a traditional newspaper strip?

I've been drawing MINIMUM SECURITY in the visual style and form of a
traditional strip for more than two years, so absolutely yes. In spite of
the condition of newspapers, I still have the goal of getting it onto the
comics pages. I'm stubborn.

7. What’s the future of comics? The Internet? iTunes? The Kindle?

It could be any or all of these (and definitely cell phones), except that
we're in the process of not only an economic collapse, but also a
catastrophic ecological collapse -- which means human civilization is
going down too. In the future, when electronics are nothing more than
heaping mounds of toxic junk, the few survivors will draw cartoons on the
crumbling walls of abandoned houses.

In the meantime, though, people want to read comics online and on their
phones and ipods and everywhere they read everything else. People have a
primal need for jokes and stories. Of course, as a cartoonist I would like
more mechanisms to develop that would make it a paying profession for more
than a few people, no matter what the venue. Otherwise, as we see with the
decline of journalism, we'll end up with an endless cycle of young
hopefuls who struggle to squeeze a bit of coin from the vague promise of
"exposure" (or do it for love after earning money elsewhere), before
giving up in frustration and the next wave of young hopefuls takes their

There are good and bad things about that cycle, which is already in play.
We gain an endless variety of comics blessed with freshness and
enthusiasm, but must sift through a lot of crap to find the good ones. The
art form has become more accessible and democratic, but we're losing some
of the pros who have spent years honing their craft. Some of the pros had
become lazy and deserve to fail; others will be missed.

All of the independent cartoonists I know, whether they focus on the web
or on print, talk and strategize endlessly about how to make a living. It
takes iron discipline and a lot of slogging hard work. They must develop
good business skills and configure multiple revenue streams. On the web,
it's advertising and merchandise (including books). In print, it's
cultivating clients, and doing illustration work or graphic novels on the
side. Usually (certainly in my case) it's a blend of everything, whatever
works. In either realm, making a living usually means that we have to
spend more of our time marketing and selling than actually creating

A lot of us didn't realize this when we decided to become cartoonists. In
our daydreams, we sit at our desks, left alone in peace to create soaring
works of genius while cash magically appears. Sadly, it's easier to win
the lottery than to achieve that glorious condition.

Comics as an art form is in transition, and flowering. There's so much
great work everywhere, and so much stupid crap as well. People will try
everything, display comics in a million places. I don't know what will end
up working and what won't -- the evolution of media is rapid and
unpredictable. With persistence, luck, and a determination to hone
business skills whether we like them or not, those who draw good comics
will find their audiences.

8. Tell us about your graphic novel, As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things
You Can Do to Stay in Denial.

I worked with the amazing writer Derrick Jensen. He wrote the bulk of it,
using the characters from MINIMUM SECURITY, and I illustrated it and
wrote a few of the sections.

It's a response to the lie that individual lifestyle changes are the
solution to ecocide. For example, Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth
lays out the problem very well, but at the end is the usual tired "what
you can do" list that everyone pushes because they don't impinge too much
on our "non-negotiable way of life." These lists always include things
like taking shorter showers and changing light bulbs to more
energy-efficient ones, and never include things like stopping industrial
production and overthrowing the system that puts profit ahead of a living

In spite of its serious subject matter, As the World Burns is very funny
and involves space aliens who arrive to eat the planet and bunnies rounded
up and locked in detention centers.

9. Name five of your favorite cartoonists or comics.

Five that immediately come to mind (there are many more that I love also):

All of my Cartoonists With Attitude comrades, Matt Groening, Rene Engstrom
SLITHER), Jim Meddick (MONTY), and Kate Beaton (HARK! A VAGRANT).

Oh, is that more than five? Oops.

10. How do you develop ideas? Which comes first, words or pictures?

I think about where I want the story to go, break it down into small
steps, and then write jokes around each step. I work on them in batches of
five. Sometimes I have to lie down and take a nap for the ideas to develop
-- it's easiest when I'm about to fall asleep or when I just wake up.
Taking a walk sometimes helps too. I write out detailed scripts and then
edit them down as short as possible. Usually a few days later I draw the
whole batch at once.

11. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

I'm not worried about running out of topics and stories -- those are
infinite -- but I do often have trouble coming up with ways to make them
funny. Jokes don't come easy for me. Sometimes it's just impossible and I
have to take a break and come back another day.

12. What’s Ted Rall really like?

Ted is one of the best people I know, and I'm honored to call him a
friend. He has integrity, and has sacrificed personal gain for his
principles many times. He doesn't just care about art or writing for its
own sake, but strives to make a difference in the world. He cares about,
and constantly finds ways to assist, cartooning as an art form and
cartoonists as individuals. He's a brilliant editor, as everyone he's
worked with in that capacity would attest. He works incredibly hard -- I
have no idea how he finds time for everything he does. He has an
extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge of history and current
affairs. And he loves a good argument, which may not be a huge surprise to
many who've come in contact with him!

13. The web provides instant feedback from readers. Do comments influence the
direction of the strip or the subjects you write about?

Once in a while a reader will send me a great idea that I use. I always
give credit when that happens. Some people hate the politics of the strip
and send criticism that is not constructive, and I just ignore and delete
that. Occasionally someone will make a point that makes sense, and I might
think about it and take it into account, but I prefer to receive critical
feedback from people I know, when I ask for it. I respond best (as most
everyone does) to encouragement. My favorite comments come from people who
tell me that they've been strengthened by my work. That inspires me to
make it sharper.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that
counts as one question.)

I won't say all of these are absolute favorites, but ones I love and can
think of right now.

Derrick Jensen's Endgame, A Language Older Than Words and Culture of Make-Believe
How the Steel Was Tempered, Nikolai Ostrovosky
Mother, Maxim Gorky

TV shows:
Family Guy
The Sopranos
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

"Paris Match," The Style Council
"Nothing Can Stop Us Now," St. Etienne
"Steppin' Out," Kaskade
"One More Time," Daft Punk
"Simply Beautiful," Queen Latifah and Al Green

Fun with Dick and Jane
Lal Salaam
The White Rose

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I draw on smooth Bristol board, starting with a non-photo blue pencil. I
use a cut-out paper template to draw the strip's outline. The size is 9.5
x 3, so I can fit two on a sheet of 9x12 board (I draw kind of small so I
can take my materials anywhere without a lot of hassle). I use a varying
combination of pens that include Gelly Roll (medium for lettering and
drawing), Micron (05 for boxes, 005 for details), Faber-Castell brush (for
filling in black), and random ones like Le Pen. I've tried so many kinds
and they are all flawed. For example, the tips of Microns bend too much,
brush pens only look good if you draw huge, and Gelly Rolls skip over
pencil. I'm never satisfied with pens.

16. What’s the best part about being a cartoonist?

The absolute best thing, and the reason I do this, is when readers tell me
I've helped clarify issues for them, or have bolstered their strength to
resist the system. I love drawing cartoons, but if I could better assist
resistance by writing, I'd write. If I could better assist resistance by
washing windows, I'd wash windows.

The second best thing is to be in charge of my own work. I hated having a
job and being told what to do. I'm highly motivated and work hard, but if
someone with authority over me tells me what to do, I automatically don't
want to do it. I've always been contrary that way.

17. Have you met any of your cartoonist idols? Under what circumstances?

I've met cartoonists and others in the arts whose work I very much admire.
I go to conventions and discuss things with a group of lefty political
cartoonists called "Cartoonists With Attitude"
(, and I feel lucky to count them as friends.

Their work inspires me, some for many years.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

If you want to make a living at it, be prepared for a hard road. You must
be driven, determined, and love to write and draw. You should be willing
to learn business and marketing skills, and be flexible enough to adapt to
a constantly shifting media landscape. If you can be persistent, it's
incredibly rewarding to look back on a body of work that you can be proud

Most importantly, make cartoons that give voice to what you most care
about. The world needs more art of all kinds created by people who are
passionate about their issues, and less meaningless crap created to target
the latest trendy marketing niche.

19. How important are awards?

Some editors like to know that the content they choose has been
pre-validated. If their boss complains the cartoon sucks, they can say,
"But it won a Magnificent Humor Quality Award!" and thus avoid
responsibility for making a bad decision.

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

Awhile back, trying to make enough money to quit my job, I tried day
trading and made a whopping fortune of $250 in only one year.