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.

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