Sunday, June 28, 2009

20 Questions with Kevin Fagan

Kevin Fagan’s comic strip DRABBLE debuted in 1979. Thirty years later, it’s still as funny – if not funnier—than when it launched.

Just 21 when DRABBLE started, Kevin became the nation’s youngest syndicated cartoonist.

DRABBLE appears in more than 200 newspapers worldwide. If it’s not in yours, you can follow the antics of Norman, Dad Ralph, Mom June, siblings Patrick and Penny, and Weiner Dog Wally every day at

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

I always drew when I was a kid. When I was about 10, my dad suggested I become a comic strip artist.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

When I was at Cal State University Sacramento, I was the cartoonist for the school paper. They offered to pay me $5 per cartoon. Although I was broke, I said no thanks because I didn't want them to not run my work if they didn't have the money that week. It was exposure and experience I needed. I think the first time I got paid was when the Sacramento Union asked if they could run my cartoons now and then. They gave me $5 per cartoon. Then they went out of business. I've always felt guilty.

3. Describe the process you went through to get DRABBLE syndicated.

While in college, I sent a letter to Charles M. Schulz asking how to become syndicated. To my astonishment, he sent a reply, and included a list of newspaper syndicates. United Feature Syndicate was on that list, and nine months after my first submission, they flew out an executive with a contract. I was 21 and scared to death. But I signed it. So far, so good.

4. How much are you like Norman Drabble?

When DRABBLE started, I was exactly like Norman Drabble, except Norman had more going for him. Now that I'm older, I'm more like his dad Ralph.

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

I did a gag where Norman tried to lick the beaters that his mom was using to make a cake. Unfortunately, he didn't turn the beaters off first. My editor called to say it was too dangerous an idea, and might cause some of my readers (the incredibly stupid ones, I guess) to try it. She refused to let it go out. Less than a year later, Garfield did the same gag, coincidentally. Our editor must have thought Jim handled it more responsibly!

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

I don't really know what the debate is. I don't get out much.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Do you find this limiting or do you welcome the challenge?

It is more of a challenge, I believe, to be funny and family-friendly at the same time. It's not my nature to be over the top, anyway.

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

In no particular order, Schulz (PEANUTS) because he inspired me so much. I've always admired Bil Keane's FAMILY CIRCUS because a FAMILY CIRCUS book is much cheaper than going to family therapy. He makes those little things that drive parents crazy seem sweet and funny, which can be very helpful to stressed-out parents.

I love Mell Lazarus (MOMMA and MISS PEACH) because I don't know how one guy can draw and write two great strips all by himself. I loved the wild humor of Jim Unger's HERMAN. Completely hilarious. I admire the consistency of PICKLES by Brian Crane. There are several others I could mention, but you only asked for five.

9. Who would win in a donut-eating contest, Ralph Drabble or Homer Simpson?

I didn't watch TV much in the 90's when my kids were little, and I guess I still don't watch much now. When I realized that Homer was also a donut lover, I backed off a little with Ralph, lest anyone think I was imitating Homer.

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

Ideas come in a variety of ways. I try to remember that this is a visual medium and funny pictures are always good.

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

I remember the first time I felt like I had done every gag possible. I was a sophomore in college. I've learned since that it is impossible to run out of ideas. The problem is that we don't always recognize good ones when they come.

12. Mall cops are hot now. Who do you want to play Ralph in the live-action film?

The term "mall cop" originated in the DRABBLE strip. I can't think of a good live-action Ralph, off the top of my head.

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

I actually prefer the hands-on editors. I like to talk about my ideas sometimes.

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

Wow, that answer would require too much thinking.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Paper, pencils, a B-6 speedball pen, and some fine-line technical pens. And lots of White-Out.

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

The best part about being a cartoonist is being home for my kids. They might not agree, but I liked it. It's also neat to be kind of a celebrity, but being able to go anywhere because no one knows what I look like.

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

I have met many of them at various cartoonist functions. I got to know Sparky pretty well. That was neat.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Submit your work and hope for the best, and don't get discouraged easily.

19. How important are awards?

Awards are meaningless to me. Of course, if I ever win one, my opinions on the subject might change.

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

I don't know, either!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

20 Questions with Rick Stromoski

As with Jerry King, I first noticed Rick's greeting card work. His cards were always funny and wonderfully twisted.

Rick's pretty much done it all when it comes to cartooning: comic strips, gag cartoons, greeting cards, humorous illustration, and children's books. When the Pope comes to his senses and decides to add a cartoon mural to the Sistine Chapel, Rick would be the man for the job.

Check out the daily comic, Soup 2 Nutz, at and the rest of Rick's excellent work at his very professional website (way to make the rest of us look bad, Stromoski).

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

I always wanted to be a cartoonist and I constantly drew. I got immense enjoyment out of drawing funny pictures. At one point I wanted to be a sports illustrator along the lines of Bart Forbes and Bernie Fuchs but I couldn't control water color like those two did...they were masters. So I stuck with what I did best and focused on humorous illustration.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I sold a B/W spot cartoon to Hustler Humor magazine and I still have the check. It's framed and hanging in my studio...$7.50 signed by Lary Flynt. If it was $10, I probably would've cashed it and bought beer.

3. Describe the process you went through to get SOUP 2 NUTZ syndicated.

I'm pretty good friends with Amy Lago, who I met through attending the Reuben weekends over the years. I'd been syndicated before in the late 80's with Universal Press, but my freelance career was in full swing and I really didn't have the time to focus on developing a strip, but through gentle nudging Amy convinced me that I should give it another shot.

You're supposed to write what you know so I came up with this strip about a dysfunctional catholic family. I also wanted to create not just another family strip, but one that resonated with my childhood experiences where you built model airplanes and then set them on fire, found Playboy magazines in the woods and hid them under your mattress, have a beloved pet turtle die, bury it in the backyard and then dig him back up after a month....things you'd never see little Jeffy do in the FAMILY CIRCUS.

I also wanted to create a character you don't see in the comics pages but we all knew or were growing up as a kid in Andrew. Andrew is what you'd probably call a sissy or Nancy Boy. He plays with Barbies, sings show tunes, wears the occasional tutu, is pretty bad at sports but is the eternal optimist. His brother Royboy would bully him but nothing phases him...he's comfortable in his own skin and as he is. I get a lot of positive feedback from the gay community on Andrew.

4. You’re also an accomplished greeting card artist. How did you get started doing cards?

I always made my own birthday cards for my family members as a kid and just naturally gravitated towards that industry early in my career. The alternative card market was going full swing then and several companies were looking to freelancers to purchase designs.

I never signed an exclusive contract with any company since doing so would limit my options. Unless a company was willing to guarantee a certain amount of designs they'd buy from me, I insisted in keeping my options open. Some companies would want a right of first refusal so I'd negotiated a higher advance and/or royalty for that privilege.

Quite often a rejected design by the first company would be purchased by another on my list and become a bestseller.

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

I had to change the third panel to "maybe he has to wear rubber pants".... not as funny.

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

There's a debate? Like all industries, comics evolve and that evolution is leaning towards the web. When content is no longer given away for free, then creators will make a decent living there. Print will always be around.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Do you find this limiting or do you welcome the challenge?

I think there's room for more leniency regarding what could be seen on the comics pages, but I'd hate to see the day when the "F' bomb is acceptable. I see a lot of web comics that just drop profanity and scatology into the dialog for the only reason being because they can. I think it takes a greater skill to slip double entendres into the mix then to just hit readers over the head with a hammer. A gag is funnier if the reader is involved with figuring out the meaning, versus the anvil approach.

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

Lynda Barry is a brilliant writer. She can make you laugh and cry in the same strip; Hap Kliban was the FAR SIDE before there was a FAR SIDE and all the clones that followed; Oliver Christianson — wonderful deviant irreverence ...whenever I was looking through a magazine or collection and saw a Revilo cartoon was there, I knew I was going to be laughing out loud in about four seconds; Gahan Wilson — a complete original in style and outlook. Mell Lazarus — encouraged me when I was tending bar as a pup in L.A. He's older than dirt but is the last to go to bed Reuben weekend.

One Reubens, it was about 2:00 a.m., and Mell encouraged a group of us to raid our mini-bars and meet back down in the lobby to continue the party. At about 4:00, I announced I was going to my room when Mell said to me, "Where the hell do you think you're going?" I said, "To bed." His one word response: "pussy." I sheepishly returned to my chair... I love that man.

My favorite web cartoonist is Owen Dunne (YOU DAMN KID)...unbelievably funny man.

9. Should Sarge face a military tribunal for his incessant abuse of Beetle Bailey?

He should be waterboarded.

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

Usually the writing comes first, but sometimes I take the Scott Adams approach and just start drawing in the first panel and a gag develops out of nowhere. The idea is to narrow your focus. I pick a subject, like toast, and free associate or brainstorm...what're all the things that can be associated with toast? Toast can burn, butter knife in the toaster can electrocute, what do you put on toast, etc., etc.

Sometimes it works; other times I just go steal something from Mark Tatulli.

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

No. I worry more about whether the Pittsburgh Pirates will ever have another winning season in my lifetime.

12. Who do you want to play Royboy in the SOUP 2 NUTZ live-action film?

Steve McGarry, but he'd have to lose a few pounds.

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

I had the privilege to work with the best editors in the business over the years: Lee Salem, Jake Morrissey, Jay Kennedy and Amy Lago. They all had one thing in common, excellent instincts. I usually yielded to their take on issues.

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

Books — Chris Van Allsburg (he’s the Rod Serling of Children's books)
TV— Anything by Ricky Gervais
Songs — Sadao Watanabe’s "No Problem"
Films —Spartacus

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I draw on 500 series Strathmore three-ply Bristol; I draw with Speedball black waterproof India ink out of an antique inkwell with a hinged brass lid; I use Esterbrook Radio nibs of various sizes from the 1950s that I buy in bulk on eBay and various watercolor brushes.

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

The wheelbarrows of money that come in and the free donuts.

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

I met most of my cartooning contemporaries at NCS conventions and local chapter meetings. Pretty much to a person the nicest people you ever want to meet. To my surprise, some of the biggest names have the humblest of egos.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

There are easier ways to make a living, but in my mind no better way to make a living. …And avoid posting on bulletin just gets you in trouble.

19. How important are awards?

They are nice, but ultimately meaningless because of their subjectiveness. They also do nothing for your career. Your work is what's most important. The best award is one that says "Pay to the order of..."

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

I hit a golf ball through a stained glass window of the Catholic Church across the street from my house when I was a kid. I was whacking golf balls with a baseball bat and one errant shot went through the depiction of the tenth station of the cross where Jesus was stripped of his garments. I put a hole right through his belly button.

The following Sunday, Father Duffy's sermon was about rampant vandalism and the deteriorating morals of our youth. I squirmed in the pew as Father Duffy got redder and redder in the face. It was as if he was speaking directly to me.

I almost dramatically confessed in front of the entire congregation ala Claude Rains at the end of Mr. Smith goes to Washington...but I thought better of it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

20 Questions with Dan Thompson

If you like rock-’em, sock-’em action-adventure strips with a healthy helping of humor, hot babes, and talking dogs, you’ll love Dan Thompson’s RIP HAYWIRE.

Dan’s a great cartoonist (and a great guy), and like the best ’toonsmiths, he just draws funny.

If RIP isn’t in your local paper, bug the editor and ask firmly, yet politely, that it be added to the comics page. You can also read it online daily here.

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

I only did three things as a kid:
1) Play with Star Wars action figures
2) Watch the Brady Bunch, The Monkees, and Welcome Back Kotter (occasionally What's Happenin')
3) Draw

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I landed a sweet gig at an animation studio in Connecticut that created children's CD-ROM games, and some direct-to-video educational cartoons. I was hired along with ten other artists — all who went to big art and animation schools. I still scratch my head how I got the job with zero skills or schooling, but they kept me around, and I landed in the inking department. I did some character designs and conceptual work for them before they laid us off three or four years later.

3. Traditional continuity strips seem to be on the wane, but humorous takes like BREWSTER ROCKIT and RIP HAYWIRE seem to have breathed new life into the old format. Describe the process you went through to get RIP HAYWIRE syndicated.

At my wit’s end with rejection from the syndicates, I decided to do the comic I always dreamed of doing, which was the adventure strip but with a humorous twist. Once I created the main characters, I banged out my 24 comic strips, and sent them to the syndicates and even though it got rejected, I received great feedback from everyone I sent RIP HAYWIRE out to.

I felt I was on the right track doing Rip, so I worked on it for the next year, developed the characters, changed their looks, and sent it out almost a year to the day.

Two days after I sent out my submission, Ted Rall over at United Feature Syndicate called me and offered me a contract. We made a couple more changes to the characters (in the submission, I had Cobra's hair in a ponytail, and they felt she should always look beautiful, so I let her hair down. TNT was a Pomeranian, and they felt he should be anything but that, so, I changed him to a Collie.)

After a couple months, they sent me a contract, and almost a year to the day that Ted called me, I was having lunch with him and my editor Reed before the sales meeting in NYC in September 2008; I launched the first week of January 2009. So, technically I've been working on RIP HAYWIRE for almost two years, and it's been a blast.

4. Tell us a little bit about LOST SHEEP.

LOST SHEEP was about a little sheep named George who wanted to be more than just part of the flock, so he threw on some clothes, grabbed a backpack, and headed off to live in the city. He became roommates with Joe, and they rescued a Parrot named Frank from a pet store, and went off on silly little adventures together. I was about to send out the submission to the syndicates when I had heard about Comics Sherpa.

So, instead I bought my spot, and within six months I was on It was a lot of fun, but comic strips are time consuming, and I had my goal set on newspaper syndication, so I ended it.

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

I can't think of one off the top of my head. But with RIP HAYWIRE I haven't had anything rejected, probably because I'm still sending in my roughs and being edited closely. I'll keep you posted.

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

I'm Switzerland. Like most cartoonists, I get frustrated with some of the people who speak for print comics and who speak for web comics, but I can't sway either party on their feelings, so I stay out of it and do my work. It is all about money, which is very important. I'm a big fan of it.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Do you find this limiting or do you welcome the challenge?

This is a lot like having Grandma in the car while listening to DMX. While the younger people love it, Grandma is horrified. So trying to have new edgier comics and strips that were relevant in 1940 and 1950 on the same newspaper page will force the editor to try to appease the group who's going to complain the most, which is Grandma. But on the other hand, trying to appeal to a larger audience and not just a group you identify with, is a welcome challenge. I also think the people that don't understand the new edgy comics, forget that Dick Tracy was shooting people in the head, Captain Easy had naked women running around the jungle, Mickey Mouse tried to commit suicide, Olive Oyl was always talking about Popeye making love to her.

That stuff was pretty edgy for its time, and it made people laugh, and also sit on the edge of their seats. The main problem is space, and the amount of comics a newspaper is willing to buy. If that weren’t an issue, then probably there would be a kids’ section, and vintage section, and a section for edgier new strips.

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

I can name more than five:
Jim Borgman and Jerry Scott: ZITS
Brian Crane: PICKLES
Chester Gould: DICK TRACY

9. Who’s a bigger chick magnet, Steve Canyon or Prince Valiant?

Steve Canyon.

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

Words, and hopefully words that lead to action. I really dislike talking head strips in a medium that should have a lot more action and life in it. If you look at all the comics that are successful, nine times out of ten, they’re much more than talking heads. The artist can write visual ideas into his/her strip.

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

All the time; that's when you have to step back and try it from another direction.

12. Who do you want to play Cobra in the RIP HAYWIRE live-action film?

Megan Fox.

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

"Hands on" right now; I'm still in my first year, and I want to learn as much as I can from all their experience in crafting ideas. Ted Rall always told me his job was to AMP things up, and he and my current editor are hilarious.

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

Books: The Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy collections from the Library of American Comics Collection.

TV Shows: Burn Notice, Lost, 24, Ghost Hunters, and Cheyenne (Encore westerns -- yee-haw!)

Songs: Recently "We have all the time in the world" by Louis Armstrong from the James Bond movie Her Majesty's Secret Service.

All-time music: Anything from Pearl Jam, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Robert Cray and Dave Matthews.

Films: All the Indiana Jones movies, The first four James Bond movies, the first three Star Wars films, The Jason Bourne Movies, and any Clint Eastwood or John Wayne movie ever made.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I use Micron pens .05 .08 and a Pentel brush on either Bristol board or copy paper, and Photoshop

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

Working at home, working on projects that are fun, creative, and working your own hours.

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

Sadly, the majority of my cartoonist idols have passed away. I did meet a lot of cartoonists I really admire at the Reubens a couple years ago in Scottsdale, AZ: Bill Amend (FOXTROT), Paul Gilligan (POOCH CAFE), Dave Coverly (SPEED BUMP), Mark Pett (LUCKY COW), Rob Harrell (BIG TOP, ADAM@HOME), Mark Tatulli (LIO), Mark Parisi (OFF THE MARK), Glenn and Gary McCoy (THE FLYING MCCOYS, DUPLEX); (I roomed with Gary McCoy and Jerry King); Darrin Bell (CANDORVILLE, RUDY PARK) drove me to the airport.

I met a legend : Mell Lazarus walked into the bar I was sitting at and called me a sissy for drinking a Pina Colada.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Johnny Hart was quoted to say "think funny." And I don't think there's really anything else I could add to that.

19. How important are awards?

Well, I don't like to brag but I won a 2nd place ribbon back in 1st grade at my schools art fair, and a year later took honorable mention. So, winning awards is pretty commonplace to me.

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

My dream job would be to pilot those little transportation boats on the Seven Seas Lagoon/Bay Lake inside Walt Disney World. The ones that take you to and from the Magic Kingdom to your resort lodging.

My Slice of SciFi Interview

A few weeks back, the nice folks at Slice of SciFi interviewed my by phone for their online show. Slice of SciFi #218 is now up for your listening pleasure.

The show will also air on Sirius 117 and XM 163 several times during the week of June 28... Sunday 8 p.m., Tuesday 5 p.m., Wednesday 8 p.m. and Friday 12 noon (Pacific time). So all you satellite radio listeners, be sure to tune in.

Slice of SciFi runs news, interviews and all sorts of good stuff about the science-fiction, horror, and fantasy scene. They routinely speak to some rather prominent names in movies and TV, including Ray Wise (The Devil) from the TV show "Reaper"; Antonio Elias from "Star Trek"; Peter Knight, creator of Comedy Central's "Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire." Which was why I was genuinely surprised that they wanted to talk with me. Turns out, the show's host, Michael Mennenga, is a big fan of EEK!, and especially the brain-in-the-jar gags.

I was a little nervous about the interview -- I've never been "on the air" before. The good news is that I sound a lot less dorky than I feared I would.

Thanks again, Michael, Brian, and Summer!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

20 Questions with Todd Clark

Todd Clark is a gag machine.

In addition to producing the comic strip LOLA, created with Steve Dickenson and currently syndicated by United Media, Todd regularly writes gags for several other strips (I can’t divulge the names of said comics, lest Todd send some goon to break my drawing hand).

I experienced Todd’s gag writing prowess first hand when we worked together on TRIPLE TAKE.

I was developing the strip with Jay Kennedy in 2004 and Jay brought in Todd to work on the writing. Writing three punch lines for a daily strip is a daunting task, but one that Todd not only embraced but excelled at. I think if we’d called the strip OCTUPLE TAKE, Todd could’ve banged out the eight punch lines, done a week’s worth of LOLA, and written for his other clients without breaking a sweat.

Go here to buy some cool LOLA stuff. If LOLA isn’t in your local paper, you can catch her online here. And while you’re perusing the comics page, just remember there’s a good chance that Todd wrote at least half the gags you’re laughing at.

A MACHINE, I tell you!

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

I guess we have to define "kid" first. Initially I wanted to be beaten up less by my brother, but that probably wasn’t an actual career choice. I wanted to be an artist, but soon realized I wouldn’t be the next Dali after reaching college and seeing what others could do. I’ve ALWAYS drawn. My mother was a painter. I was the typical kid with drawings in all the margins of school papers.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I sold 4 cartoons to a regional Hunting/Fishing magazine called Dakota Country for $10 a piece. I thought it was pretty cool. When they were published my brother (that guy again) soon chastised me for flaws in my cartoon shotguns.

3. Describe the process you went through to get LOLA syndicated.

Steve Dickenson and I were working on a family strip and soon noticed we were giving all the good lines to the grandmother character, and just shifted the emphasis to be around her. King had interest, but wanted to change some things with Lola and her behavior. Tribune wanted her just how she was. We were in a brief competition with a couple other strips to get the contract and we won. I think we launched within a year of initial contact with the syndicates.

4. You’ve worked on a number of comic strips. Tell us about TRIPLE TAKE and RETRO GEEK.

Jay Kennedy approached me about writing TRIPLE TAKE. Man, that was a whirlwind from first conversation to actual launch. In hindsight, it might not have been fully ready to go out. Seems like we were still figuring the thing out. A LOT of jokes to come up with. Plus I was stuck working with a guy who was a complete sociopath nut job doing the art, and contributing gags. Oh, wait, that was you, Scott. I take it back.

RETRO GEEK was something Steve and I came up with using old ad images and putting punch lines to them. Not a brand new concept, but had never been done before on the comics pages. United wanted to do it as an online feature, and see about syndication down the road, Tribune was ready to offer a deal.

Luckily, United and Ted Rall were cool enough to let us go with Tribune. Very time consuming and costly. Every cartoonist we showed it to loved it. Even got a blurb and high praise from Berkley Breathed, but in the end, just not enough papers would pull the trigger and commit to it. Don’t blame Tribune at all. They gave it a fantastic effort. We still have things we’re doing with the strip.

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

Gary McCoy and I did a strip called TRAYLOR TRASH that I loved. Had some interest, but no one made a real move for it. Fox animation actually had us come out to L.A. and pitch it as a tv series to them not long ago. Had Gary not thrown up on the exec’s shoes from nerves, we might have got the gig.

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

To be honest I didn’t know there was one. I tend to stay in my own little world doing LOLA and writing for the people I do. I’m hoping someone figures out how to make the web stuff profitable, because I still LOVE doing comic strips.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Do you find this limiting or is it a welcome challenge?

It’s not that big a deal. I have an occasional gag I’d like to do in LOLA that I can’t, but it’s not all that often. It is mind-blowing what network prime-time shows can get away with that we can’t however.

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.


9. Blondie looks really hot! Do you think she has implants?

They’ve been in there an awful long time, not sure what they would have been filled with. Asbestos? I’m more concerned with Dagwood’s "There’s Something About Mary" hair.

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

I thumbnail sketches of each gag, so it’s a little of both. I can’t just "write" a gag. I have to see it while I’m writing it. A lot of coffee and staring at blank paper just like everyone.

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

Why? What have you heard? Actually Mike Peters told me once to think of the source of your gags as a river, not a pond. Or something like that. Pretty sure it was water-related.

12. Who do want to play Lola in the live-action movie?

Sean Connery.

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

I don’t mind suggestions here and there, but I’ve had some that wanted to rewrite everything. Not cool, and very frustrating.

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

Books? I’m all over the place. Anything by Christopher Moore is great. I’m currently reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

TV shows? Simpsons, Seinfeld are still my two tops. I’ve found since I got married and have kids I don’t seem to get the remote in MY hands too often anymore. However, I’ll NEVER miss a game my beloved Boise State Broncos are playing in.

Songs? Anything that allows me to break out the tap shoes.

Films? I pretty much watch comedies. Nothing jumps to mind as a favorite. Anything from Pixar is worth the ticket or rental.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Bristol board, PaperMate Flairs, VERY beat up old drawing table. Blue pencil, and of course, these days a computer to scan and send the work, and colorize Sundays.

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

Interviews where the questions are just sent to you and you don’t have to actually TALK to the person. I’m pretty pleased with the work uniform as well. I’m currently wearing a speedo, one black sock, and a beanie with a propeller.

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

Met Berkley Breathed at the San Francisco Reubens when he did a surprise seminar. He was cool enough to send me a drawing of Opus wearing a shirt with Lola’s picture on it. VERY cool. Unfortunately, I never got to meet Sparky, but Jeannie Schulz has always been extraordinarily nice when I’ve talked with her. A lot of my cartoonist idols are now my friends.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Don’t focus on print media! Do what people like Scott Nickel do! I’m serious! Try greeting cards, learn flash, get web savvy.

19. How important are awards?

HOW ABOUT JUST A $#%@@*! NOMINATION??!!!! Sorry, um, not really that important.

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

I invented "air quotes" or what some call "finger quotes." Sorry about that.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

20 Questions with Jerry King

All hail the King!

I’ve admired Jerry King’s work for years. I first noticed his greeting card gags back in the late 1980s when I was submitting card concepts to West Graphics, now owned by Kalan. And Jerry’s only gotten better.

His style is immediately recognizable and the best thing about his work is its immediacy, simplicity, and the fact that it’s just so damn funny. Jerry King draws funny. Even before you read the caption, you start to smile because the way he draws makes you laugh.

Jerry’s also prolific. Way prolific. I’m not talking "cartoon a day" prolific. I’m talking "cartoon an hour." Jerry can crank out 10-to-15 high-level, A-material cartoons a day. And he does, pretty much day after day. He truly is the King of cartooning, and I don’t feel worthy to refill his mechanical pencil.

Jerry is a pioneer in online cartooning and supplies material to a large number of website clients, in addition to his print customers. He’s also a regular contributor to Playboy, the Holy Grail of cartoon markets (along with The New Yorker).

Check out Jerry’s site and read his interview. Then think about this: In the time it took you to read those 20 questions, Jerry probably drew a half-dozen cartoons and played a round of golf.

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

Not really, I just knew I loved to draw. I actually had a dream of becoming a boxer. I won the Golden Gloves and shared the same trainer as heavyweight champ Buster Douglas.

But it was obvious I'm a lot better at cartooning. :)

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I landed a job while in high school illustrating children's books. They took a chance on me, and it really worked out.

3. You’ve done cartoons for magazines, websites, greeting cards, books. How did you get into the gag cartoon field?

Once my doodling got good enough, I just started submitting. I feel cartooning is 90% marketing, 10% creating. Creating a panel cartoon is easy; finding someone to buy it is the hard part.

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

Many comic strips are old, outdated and boring. Strips appeal to a demographic that dates back to '60s. Panels seem to be much funnier and hipper. I don't even read strips anymore.

5. You’re incredibly prolific. How many cartoons do you draw on an average day?

I can easily do around 10-15 cartoons a day. However, I work at home, and my kids are in my office all day, so I don't get as much done as I used to. I'm selling around 200 cartoons per month.

6. What’s your favorite rejected cartoon?

A dog says to his owner in a bar: "Sorry, but I can no longer go on with this charade. Not only am I not your best friend, I'm not even sure I like you at all."

This has sold, but it's been rejected more times than not.

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

The Internet!!!! Websites are magazine, they just happen to be online. I love doing for magazines, but websites buy more than one cartoon a month, sometimes on a daily or weekly basis. Magazine ads are suffering, and magazines buy maybe a cartoon per month.

8. Name five of your favorite cartoonists.

Glenn McCoy, Dan Thompson (very prolific), Gary Larson, New Yorker cartoonists Weber and Stevenson. And me :)

9. Who’s hotter, the mom in FAMILY CIRCUS or the mom in DENNIS THE MENACE?

I'd do them both, but Dennis' mom.

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

Mostly the words comes first, but not all the time.

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


12. You’ve had a lot of work published in Playboy. What’s Hugh Hefner really like?

Never met him, but he's been choosing my cartoons for 15 years now.

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

I like an editor who gives me direction.

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

I really don't read books, even though I was an English major. I'm a classic rock guy, Motown, some Country. Mob movies. I hate chick flicks. I'm pretty shallow. ;)

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Typing paper, mechanical pencil, computer, scanner, Photoshop.

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

Working at home. Drawing funny pictures and getting paid for it. It's the best job on earth.

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

Nope. I'd rather meet a paying client than another cartoonist.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

DO NOT listen to syndicates, they have no clue what they're doing. There are markets out there that will buy your work. Newspapers are failing, and they pay like sh*t! So, get on the Internet, and start selling cartoons to niche markets.

19. How important are awards?

Awards are a frickin' joke. Jimmy Buffet once said he had never won so much as a talent contest (he finally won in 2003), but we all love his work. But, Britney Spears has won a lot. I have over 20 awards on my wall. I love them, but none of them came with $$.

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

I come off as silly, but when it comes to my career, I'm a very serious business man.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

20 Questions with Peter Bagge

Peter Bagge is one of the best cartoonists of his generation. And that’s a natural fact.

In the mid-1980s, when Pete was still in his twenties, Robert Crumb handed over the editorial reigns of his legendary comix anthology, WEIRDO, to the young cartoonist.

At about the same time, Fantagraphics published NEAT STUFF, a hilarious alternative comics series that showcased some of Pete’s craziest and funniest characters: Girly Girl, Studs Kirby, Martini Baton, Junior, The Goon in the Moon, and, of course, Buddy Bradley and the delightfully dysfunctional Bradley clan.

Pete had Buddy leave home and move to Seattle and chronicled the slacker’s adventures in the pages of HATE, a sprawling series that epitomized the very best of 1990s alternative comics.

If you’re unfamiliar with HATE or Buddy Bradley, I won’t spoil the story for you. Get over to Amazon and load up on these essential collections.

In recent years, Pete has branched out, spoofing Marvel’s Spider-Man and Hulk, lampooning syndicated cartoonists in SWEATSHOP, chronicling the tabloid-terrific adventures of Bat Boy, exploring the end of the world in APOCALYPSE NERD, and investigating social and political issues with his always edifying "cartoonitorials" for REASON magazine. He’s also a frequent contributor to MAD.

I first encountered Pete’s work when he was editing WEIRDO, and I was hooked. (Pete also inspired my brief ’80s career as an alt-comix creator, but that’s a story for another time…)

Check out all things Bagge at his web site, including his soon-to-be released collection of REASON work. That’s an order!

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

I drew for as long as I can remember, but never as compulsively or diligently as I wish I had in retrospect. I mainly drew comics to keep up and bond with my older brother, who was much more of a natural cartoonist than I was.

The idea of being a cartoonist was an appealing one to me as a kid, though not as appealing as being a rock star or baseball player.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

A half-page "Junior" strip that I sold to HIGH TIMES magazine back in 1980 or ’81. They had a comic section of sorts back then, and their art director liked my work.

3. Your most famous creation is Buddy Bradley and the Bradley family. The Bradleys first appeared in WEIRDO and then NEAT STUFF, published in the 1980s by Fantagraphics. Later, Buddy starred in his own book, HATE. Can you tell us the story behind this wonderfully dysfunctional family, and to what extent is Buddy Bradley autobiographical?

Me, my wife Joanne and our old roommate, David, used to sit around and draw comics to amuse each other back in the late 1970s/early '80s. I drew a one-page strip called "Meet the Bradleys," where I presented a family similar to my own, only presented them as if they were the Brady Bunch. I so amused myself with this idea that I did more strips about them. Seeing how Buddy was the most autobiographical of them all, he eventually took over.

4. You’re a frequent contributor to MAD magazine. How did you become one of the "Usual Gang of Idiots"?

The art director, Sam Viviano, is an old acquaintance of mine. He started offering me work about five-to-ten years ago. The editorial staff has never offered me any work, however, which is why I've only drawn for them and never written anything for them.

5. You’ve done alternative comics (WEIRDO, NEAT STUFF, HATE, APOCALYPSE NERD), mainstream comics (THE MEGALOMANIACAL SPIDER-MAN, SWEATSHOP, BAT BOY), and political comics on the Internet (REASON); what have you liked best and least about each type?

The Bat Boy strips were the most fun of the bunch, since I was given total creative freedom by the WEEKLY WORLD NEWS editors and took full advantage of it by thoroughly indulging myself. There’s nothing the least bit memorable or profound about those strips, but I liked the way they turned out regardless. I'm particularly happy with my art on them.

The REASON work was the most exhausting of them all, since I was reporting and opinionating on important issues, so it was vital for me to keep my facts straight and express myself as concisely as possible. A tall order!

6. Of all your characters, who’s your favorite? Who can’t you stand?

Out of the HATE cast, my favorite is Lisa. She's very complex, yet there's a consistency to her inconsistency. She's also the most unpredictable of the bunch.

Out of all my non-HATE characters, I'm most proud of the cast of SWEATSHOP, a title I created for DC that was cancelled way too soon. I had many, many more ideas for them.I always "hated" Junior, but then he was designed to be loathsome. At the time I created him, he represented everything I disliked about myself, and I drew him in part to "exorcise" him from me!

7. What’s the future of alternative comics?

Graphic Novels, obviously. Changes in the market and in distribution has suddenly turned every single cartoonist into a novelist!

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips/comic books or cartoonists.

My three all-time favorite cartoonists are Robert Crumb, Charles M. Schulz and Dan Clowes, albeit for very different reasons. Picking two more would be tough, but I'll say Harvey Kurtzman and Basil Wolverton.

9. Who’s hotter, the mom in FAMILY CIRCUS or the mom in DENNIS THE MENACE?

Dennis' mom. What are you, blind?!

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

When coming up with a character, drawings first. For story ideas, words first.

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

No. GOOD ideas, maybe, but I always have lots of story and project ideas.

12. Who do you want to play Buddy in the inevitable HATE live-action film?

No one. I'd much prefer it to be animated -- and a TV show.

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

It totally depends on what their input is, but less input is always better than too much.

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

Gah! Too many to list, and my "favorites" change all the time. If I did make a list, I'm sure most of it would still be from the late sixties and early ’70s (my "formative years").

15. What are your tools of the trade?

The usual. Smooth Bristol paper, pencils, brushes, technical pens, white-out, tracing paper -- and tissue paper to wipe away my tears of frustration!

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

Working at home, plus the low overhead.

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

I was working with Crumb when I first met him. That was the only time I was nervous. I also was too shy to say anything to Don Martin when I met him.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Be patient, persistent and true to yourself.

19. How important are awards?

They aren't important at all. They're obnoxious distractions that divide people into "winners" and "losers" for the most arbitrary and subjective of reasons, depending on how in vogue your work is at any given moment. I also think they encourage young artists to create a certain type of work that they might not create otherwise, in the hopes of winning one.

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

I'm wearing a green T-shirt that says "Capitalist Pig" on it at the moment -- something I'd never wear in public!

Friday, June 5, 2009

20 Questions: Who Should We Interview?

What cartoonists do you want to see interviewed? I'm trying to include creators from all disciplines -- newspaper comic strips, the web, editorial cartoons, comic books, gag cartooning, etc.

I have a rather extensive list of prospects, and I've contacted a good number of them, but there's always someone I've missed -- especially when it comes to web cartoonists.

Suggestions welcomed and encouraged.

Leave a comment or email me at


20 Questions: Who's Next?

Next week's interviewees will be Peter Bagge (HATE, REASON, SWEATSHOP) and Pab Sungenis (THE NEW ADVENTURES OF QUEEN VICTORIA).

Upcoming subjects include: Todd Clark, Rick Stromoski, Dan Thompson, Jerry King and Andrew Feinstein.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

20 Questions with Lincoln Peirce

Lincoln Peirce writes and draws the syndicated strip, BIG NATE, which was launched by United Media in January 1991.

If your local paper doesn’t carry this consistently funny and charming comic, you can follow it online at

I started reading BIG NATE shortly after its debut and have been a fan ever since.

I traded originals with Lincoln a couple of years ago, and his strip occupies a place of honor in my family room, right next to a Bud Blake TIGER original from 1968 (which I didn't trade for but bought on ebay).

Thanks to Lincoln for his detailed, informative and thoroughly entertaining answers.

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

The notion of becoming a cartoonist began in about third grade. My family was staying at the house of a teaching colleague of my dad's, and the kids in this family had piles and piles of PEANUTS books -- the old Fawcett paperback compilations that sold for 25 or 50 cents.

I'd seen PEANUTS before, of course, but that was the first time I really began reading comics obsessively. And of course the logical step after that was to begin trying to copy Sparky's drawings, so I began teaching myself how to draw Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

By the time I was a fifth or sixth grader, I was beginning to invent my own characters.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I think it was in 1988 or so. A friend of mine was opening a sports bar in Brooklyn (I lived in Brooklyn and taught high school art in Manhattan at the time), and he asked me to create a little character for the menus and advertising. The bar was called the Brooklyn Dodger and the character I came up with was sort of an Artful Dodger type.

Then my friend and his partners got sued by the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, I was subpoenaed and had to give was very dramatic.

I can't remember what my friend paid me, but it wasn't enough.

3. Describe the process you went through to get BIG NATE syndicated.

It was exactly the same process everyone else goes through. I was in college, doing a strip for my school newspaper. I got myself a copy of The Artist's Market, found the mailing addresses of all the major syndicates, and started submitting stuff. I submitted a bunch of strips in sporadic fashion while I was in college and graduate school. Eventually I began receiving some of those so-called "encouraging" rejection letters, one of them from United Media in response to a strip called NEIGHBORHOOD COMIX.

Sarah Gillespie, who was to become my first editor, invited me to lunch and made a few suggestions, the most important of which was that I choose one character from the ensemble cast of NEIGHBORHOOD COMIX and put that character front and center. So I chose a character named Nate, re-named the strip, and ended up getting an offer of a development deal.

4. You've done some animation work. How does it compare to doing a comic strip?

I should clarify here that I'm not an animator. I write stories, design characters, and create storyboards. I enjoy the process of writing a story that will play out over 7 or 11 minutes; it's an entirely different style of writing compared to doing a comic strip. But it's ultimately a frustrating and confusing process, because so many people at the network (I've done stuff for both Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon) read your stuff, and they all have notes for you -- and often the notes are contradictory.

The other harsh reality of writing for a network is that their ultimate goal isn't necessarily making a smart, funny cartoon; their ultimate goal is to find cartoon properties that they can successfully brand and merchandise on a global scale, a la Spongebob.

I've come relatively close to getting a project "green-lighted" to become a series on a couple of occasions, but in each case I ended up being told that my stuff wasn't lovable enough, seemed a little too old for their demographic, etc., etc.

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

When I first started BIG NATE, one of the devices I employed quite frequently (but don't any longer) was Nate writing and drawing his own comics in his school notebook. I'd draw the way a sixth-grader could draw, and I wrote the sort of sophomoric jokes a sixth-grader would write.
One of Nate's comic creations was ACTION CAT. The gag was that the only thing Action Cat ever did was get hit by cars. I found these gags hilarious, but my editor told me that people didn't want to read about roadkill with their morning coffee.

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

I can't really speak to it, because I almost never read comics online. That's not an indictment of web comics in any way; I just happen to be a person who dislikes logging time in front of a computer screen. I resent having to click and scroll repeatedly to read a handful of comic strips; and so I've never really read any of the web comics that are out there.

I realize that, as newspapers continue to wither and die, I'll probably have to start getting my comics online along with the rest of the world; but for now I continue to read the comics on newsprint.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Do you find this limiting or do you welcome the challenge?


8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

Ben Katchor, Tom Toles, Richard Thompson, Jim Meddick, Darby Conley. Those are my faves among contemporaries. But I'm also a huge fan of a lot of strips from cartooning's golden era: KRAZY KAT, POLLY & HER PALS, LI'L ABNER, etc. Popeye is probably my all-time favorite comic strip character.

And a totally forgotten cartoonist named Francis W. Dahl, who did very clever cartoons/social commentaries for the Boston Herald back in the 30's, 40's and 50's, was a huge favorite of mine when I was a boy. My grandparents had some collections of his work, and I read them over and over.

9. Who’s stronger, Superman or The Hulk?

Duh. Superman.

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

Words, always. I usually come up with ideas by sitting quietly and trying to imagine lines of dialogue, or trying to invent a situation or an environment in which Nate might find himself. Usually I end up thinking of the punchline first; then I construct whatever dialogue I need to get me to that punchline.

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

I worry about running out of FUNNY ideas. I come up with plenty of unfunny ones.

12. Who do you want to play Mrs. Godfrey in the BIG NATE live-action film?

At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, I pray that there's never a Big Nate live-action film. I think it's always problematic when flesh-and-blood actors depict cartoon characters. It's not nearly as jarring when you're talking about the superhero realm, because -- visually speaking -- actors can approximate the look of comic book characters. But if I were watching a child actor -- a normally proportioned kid with ten fingers, whose head isn't the same size as his torso -- and that child actor were playing the role of Big Nate, I know that would upset me.

But climbing down off my soapbox, I think a younger Cathy Bates would make a pretty good Mrs. Godfrey.

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

I've never had a hands-on editor, so I can't really answer the question. For me, what's most important is feeling that I can trust the person, and that he/she genuinely cares about comics and isn't simply a numbers cruncher or failed salesperson who landed in an editorial position by accident.

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

Good lord. Well, in the books and TV show categories, the ones I remember most vividly are from my childhood. Two books that were very significant to me were Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman and A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The first I read for the first time when I was about 12, and I read it many, many times throughout my teens. The second was published in 1980, when I was a junior in high school, and (this sounds a little corny) it really changed the way I looked at the world.

I watched a fair amount of television as a child and watch almost none now. Back then I loved Bonanza, Hawaii Five-0, and the Bob Newhart Show. I was very fond of the show Barney Miller. I watched reruns of old shows like The Rifleman and Perry Mason. I loved staying up and watching The Tonight Show. And, of course, those early years of Saturday Night Live were pretty great. In recent years, the only show I really watched religiously was a show called Homicide.

I host a radio show every week devoted to vintage country music, so I have hundreds of favorite songs. But if I had to choose one, it would be Neil Young's "Heart of Gold."

My favorite movie is Tender Mercies, starring Robert Duvall.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Non-photo blue pencils, Staedtler pigment liners, smooth-plate 2-ply Bristol board, a ruler, and a radio. And the computer, I guess. That's about it.

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

Although I love people and am blessed to have many friends, I'm a solitary person in many ways; I enjoy working alone, trying to create a consistently funny and authentic product without having to jump through hoops or operate as part of some sort of work team. I'm very grateful that my profession does not ask me to go on "team-building" retreats where a bunch of people have to pass an orange around a circle without using their hands or feet. That is my idea of hell. That and being a museum guard.

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

I had a number of phone conversations with Charles Schulz over the years, and that was always a thrill. I finally met him in person at the 1996 Reubens, which is the only Reubens weekend I've ever attended. That was the year Garry Trudeau won the Reuben -- finally -- and I had the chance to meet him briefly.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

I always equate cartooning to baseball. There's an adage that baseball is 90% pitching. I think cartooning is 90% writing. You see a lot of disappointed faces when you tell a group of young cartoonists to concentrate on their writing, but that's the key as far as I'm concerned. There are countless examples of great strips in which the artwork is simple, rough, or downright mediocre -- but the writing is outstanding, which makes the strip outstanding.

Look at Trudeau's original Yale cartoons. The artwork is very scratchy, almost primitive -- but it's 100% appropriate for the tenor and tone of the strip, and the writing is great. MORE than great. Trudeau really revolutionized comic strip writing in some ways.

19. How important are awards?

I've never won any, so I'll say not at all.

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

With only one more hole in my JiffyLube punch card, I will receive a free oil change.