Thursday, July 23, 2009

20 Questions with Ralph Hagen

Who knew a sarcastic bull and a dumb sheep could be so funny? Ralph Hagen, that’s who. His comic strip, THE BARN debuted in October 2008 and is syndicated by Creators.

THE BARN features Ralph’s offbeat humor and excellent draftsmanship and given new meaning to the words “animal husbandry.” (What does that mean? I have no idea.)

Check out THE BARN online at the Creators site and GoComics.

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

Yes and yes. From as early as I can remember I drew. I can remember cutting up grocery bags and using them for paper. After awhile my mother realized I liked to draw and started buying me drawing pads. My first character was the “one-eyed monster” from Lost in Space. I’d always tell people I wanted to be a jet pilot or a cartoonist. Luckily my inner ear problem didn’t affect my cartooning.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I was 16, so 1975. I was hired to do the weekly editorials for two local papers. Made $8 a cartoon! Looking at it now, prices haven’t changed much.

3. Describe the process you went through to get THE BARN syndicated.

I can’t remember the number of submissions I’ve made over the years. Strips about Vikings, nerds, toddlers, hockey players, etc, etc., and all of them had been carefully drawn, inked and meticulously scrutinized. Four weeks of dailies, two colored Sundays, cover letter, etc. Never had a bite, though.

THE BARN just happened in a bunch of scribbles one morning. Never planned it, just started drawing a sarcastic bull and a dumb sheep and the ideas started coming out. After a couple hours of scribbling, I had about twenty roughs. Put them in an envelope and mailed it out as-is. Three week later, got a call from Creators. They liked what they saw and sent me a contract. I started thinking, maybe I had always been spending too much time on the artwork, and not enough attention to the writing. I worked with John Newcombe for about 6 months. He was great and he helped me a lot, defining the two main characters and putting a kit together.

In July I got a call that the release date had been bumped up and in October 2008, a year after I got the phone call, it was launched. It was definitely a crazy year. I was born and raised on a farm so I had done “animal” cartoons since day one, just never submitted any until then.

4. You’re also a gag cartoonist. How do you approach gag cartooning vs. the comic strip

Pretty much the same; except, of course, with gags, you don’t have to worry about character development or what a character would or wouldn’t say. Just make the reader laugh in a single frame. I think keeping track of which ones you sent to which magazine, and what rights were sold, etc. is harder than the drawing part. At least for me. A bookkeeper I ain't!

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

Haven’t had a BARN rejected yet, too early. With gag cartooning, though, anything that doesn’t sell could be considered rejected I suppose. I did one aimed at Father’s Day and it has never sold. Probably never will.

Adolescent deer talking to the father deer. “You’ve always been there for me Dad, except for the time I was hit by a mini-van and you left me in the ditch for dead.”

Must be country humor.

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

I’m too busy to do much debating. There are lots of great cartoonists running their work off the web and making some good money and my hat is off to them. Whatever works — retail syndication, web comics, door-to-door — cartooning is all about diversifying and finding homes for your work. You do it your way and I'll do it mine.

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

Yes, Family Guy is on four times a night and I can’t say “booger” in my strip. Go figure, eh? It doesn’t bother me. It’s not like if they changed the rules tomorrow, Rory would start spouting expletives. Those that follow the comics pages do so because they enjoy them the way they are. I do think it’s more challenging in producing clean humor rather than depending on the shock factor.

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

I’m going to list from my youth. PEANUTS, WIZARD OF ID, B.C, FAR SIDE, HERMAN.

9. Is it true that Cow from COW AND BOY has been romantically linked with Stan the bull?

I’ve heard that rumor, too. A tussled bed of straw; that “working late in the pasture” excuse. Methinks it won’t be long before it’s COW AND BOY AND CALF!

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

Like most cartoonists will tell you, the ideas just happen. I’ll pick a scene in my head, let the movie roll and try to pick out the funny parts. I’m an early riser and I start at about 7:00 a.m. in the studio. I scribble out ideas in the morning and spend the afternoon drawing. For the most part, the idea comes first. There are times, though, I just start drawing and an idea will pop out. Sometimes those are the best ones.

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

Well not until NOW, Scott! Thanks a lot! ;)

12. In THE BARN live-action movie, what actor would you want to put in a sheep suit to play Rory?

Michael Cera would make a perfect Rory. Should I call him, or will you?

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

Laissez-faire. My wife handles the controlling part. (Insert rimshot here.) I have a wonderful editor at Creators, Jessica, who lets me do what I do, but helps me and offers advice when I need it.

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

Books: Sorry, don’t read. Not unless it’s the words under a picture.

TV shows: Anything with a Trek, or a “prime directive” in it. I love anything sci-fi, old or new; also comedies like Seinfeld, Everyone Loves Raymond, Malcolm in the Middle. Not into reality.

Songs: AC/DC, Eagles, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Fleetwood Mac, John Lennon

Movies: Same thing, comedies, sci-fi. Love the new Trek movie! Not into horror or crime stuff.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Nothing special. I draw on grocery bags, ink with a Micron 08 pen and color in Photoshop. Do they still make Zipatone??

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

It’s warm. I worked outside in the oilfield for 25 years, prior to calling it quits and going cartooning full time. I’m happy to say that since then, I have never experienced frostbite or cold toes and fingers. When it’s 40 below, I make a pot of coffee and sharpen my pencil. Life is good. Of course on top of this, it’s always fun making a living doing something you want to do, rather than something you have to.

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

Living where I do, in northern Alberta, it’s not easy to get to conventions, or meetings. There is a twice-a-year gathering of local cartoonists and illustrators here, where I have met and keep in touch with Gerry Rasmussen (BETTY), who lives in Edmonton. Great guy!

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Artwork is important, but the writing is more important. Aside from this, I'd say if you’re just in it for the money, find another job. If you cartoon because you love it and it makes you happy, you don’t need any advice. You’ll keep drawing until the lady at the nursing home takes your sharp pencils away.

19. How important are awards?

Not that I’ve ever received one, but I think awards are wonderful! Preferably large ones over four feet tall with colored gems and a small light that illuminates its splendor!

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

A distant relative of mine was the golfing legend, Walter Hagen. With this illustrious figure in the family tree, it was always assumed I would go into…cartooning?


Tom said...

Whatever they pay you I'm sure it's not enough. Rory and Stan are so funny, the cartoon makes my day. My unofficial job at work is to provide all my stressed out co-workers with a joke, cartoon, funny of the day. Many days it includes Rory the naive and Stan the sage. Thank heaven there are people like you with the wit, wisdom and creativity to keep us entertained. Thanks for all the laughs and please don't stop.
Tom Waye

Ralph Hagen said...

Like the great Charles Schulz said, "I just draw what I think is funny, and I hope other people think it is funny, too."
Say, how did you know thay don't pay me enough?

Ellen said...

I wouldn't miss a day of "The Barn". I always try to start the day with a smile, and your characters always do that for me. I relate to Rory...he's my kind of sheep! I always send your cartoon to my brother who also draws for a living and he thinks you're great! Keep them coming!!!

Ralph Hagen said...

Thanks Ellen! You're too kind.

Anonymous said...

As I'm the early riser in the house I'm often the first one to read The Barn' then around 9:00ish I make the call from work " Have you seen the sheep today?" and if the answer is no they take the hint, drop what they're doing and scuffle for the paper.
I gave a print of Rory, the Friendsheep" one Biggest hit of Christmas by far
My deepest thanks for providing a daily giggle...