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.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy "Lola" in our Jonesboro, AR paper, "The Jonesboro Sun". Can you tell me, Todd...why the shriveled right arm? Today, it was normal again. And, sometimes it looks as though it isn't there at all! Would appreciate your reply. Nadine Runsick

Scott Nickel said...

Nadine, Todd was you mean Lola's arm or his arm?

Nan C Row said...

May I ask a couple of questions of my own?

First, why hasn't anyone done up a Wikipedia page about Todd and "Lola"?

Second, I LOVE reading the Lola strips that come in my Lion Brand newsletter. How did that partnership come about?

Okay, that's two. Hope I get an answer.