Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stay Tooned! Issue Number Four

The ever intrepid John Read has just released the latest issue of the ever excellent Stay Tooned, which features a nine-page interview with yours truly. (Can you spot me?)

Also featured in the issue: Sergio Aragones, Paul Coker, Jack Davis. Don Edwing, John Kovaleski, Ted Rall, and Tom Richmond (who also provides the incredible cover illustration!).

Order yours today from John's website!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

20 Questions with Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson is not only the creator of the syndicated comic strip W.T. DUCK (formerly known as WHAT THE DUCK), but also the inventor of the SHAM-WOW (at least according to Wikipedia).

Check out W.T. DUCK at GoComics, buy the latest collection, beg to be Aaron's Facebook friend, and visit the official website for the complete WTD experience.

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

I had wanted to be a cartoonist early on. In my early teens, the desire morphed into animation.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

At age 7-ish, I had an uncle commission me to draw a seductive portrait of my aunt. The profits went straight to a psychologist.

3. W.T. DUCK began as an online comic (WHAT THE DUCK). Describe the process you went through to get it syndicated with Universal Press.

I can only describe the creation (and journey) of the strip as a completely serendipitous experience. I never intended to be a cartoonist, much less syndicated. The strip was created on a whim and was only intended to run five days. Around day three, my inbox was flooded by readers urging me to "keep it going."

Not too long after that, several magazines contacted me about publishing the strip. That led to "Syndication Bingo," a tongue-in-cheek feature on the web site where I tracked the progress (or lack-thereof) of syndicated newspaper submissions. In the end, Universal came to me with an offer.

4. You create the strip under a pseudonym. Any reason?

I didn't really create it under a "pseudonym," but I did intentionally not bring attention to my name. The strip has always been signed "Aaron" and my full name was always in the copyright line. I wanted the strip itself to be the focus, and not the redheaded, pasty-faced, dork behind it.

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

I'll let you know. I've been fortunate enough to not have one yet. I take that back... I tried to have the main character hang himself.

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

Yawn... it's like debating who's the biggest kernel of corn in a turd. I guess I could care less because I don't feel a kinship with either "side."

I've never been to a comic con and I've never been to an NCS event. And after this interview... it will probably stay that way.

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 haven't found it limiting. My approach has been to keep doing what I was doing and let the editors determine the best alternative for the word "poo." I find it liberating, knowing that I can always post the "directors cut" on the WTD site.

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

BLOOM COUNTY, Ub Iwerks, Winsor McCay, Fred Moore, John Kricfalusi ('89-'92)

9. Who would win in a cage match, your ducks or Alex Hallatt’s penguins?

The ARCTIC CIRCLE penguins would be pacifists, right?

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

Words first. I always carry a digital voice recorder. Sometimes I use it. I type all the strip's dialogue into a TextEdit window and have the computer read it back to me in a sexy, synthesized voice. If she can make me laugh, it's gold.

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

For the first two years, I thought about that every single day. Now I've learned to trust in my natural ebbs and flows and save my worrying for more important things like -- why am I getting these periodic, crazy long, eyebrow hairs?

12. When you draw humans in the strip, their heads are cropped out of frame or obscured by word balloons -- effectively “cut off.” Is this a photography in-joke, and will we ever see a full human face in W.T. DUCK?

The purpose of the "guillotine approach" is threefold:
1. Economy
2. It keeps the perspective of the strip at the ducks' point of view
3. It lets readers project their own ideas of what each human character looks like.

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

I prefer the laissez-faire editor that constantly blows sunshine up my bum. If you know of any, let me know.

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

I don't like to single out "favorites" because it discriminates against other things I like. That being said, I have requested the Weezer song, "Say It Ain't So" to be played at my funeral.

15. What are your tools of the trade?
MacBook Pro and Adobe Illustrator.

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

Fans. When people stop reading it, I'll stop making it.

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

I've made it a point to meet Berkeley Breathed. He was a huge influence on me at a pivotal point in my childhood. BLOOM COUNTY's heyday coincided perfectly at a time when I was really getting into cartooning, illustration, etc. He draws a damn good tree. Circumstance: I was #236 in line, at a book signing.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Do something that you'd love to do, even if no one ever reads it. Because chances are...

19. How important are awards?

As a three-time "World's Greatest Narcissist Champion"... not very.

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

I haven't worn jeans since 1994.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

20 Questions with Terri Libenson

Terri Libenson, creator of the very funny syndicated comic, THE PAJAMA DIARIES, is a triple threat: she can write, draw and snap a man's back with a single bear hug. (Okay, so I made up that last part.)

THE PAJAMA DIARIES can be enjoyed in finer newspapers or online at The Daily Ink. Be sure to stop by Terri's most excellent website, too.

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

I always, always drew as a kid. I was such a timid thing, though, that I never got in trouble for it in school like other aspiring artists. Maybe my teachers took pity on me.

I always loved cartooning, but didn’t really know I wanted to pursue it as a career until college. But from then on, it became my driving force.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

In college, I created large-scale cartoon murals for a local pizza place in my hometown. I did it for the whopping sum of -- I kid you not -- $300. A businesswoman I wasn’t.

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

I developed the idea in ’04 after reading a lot of literature about the unique stresses of modern moms. Working and having small kids myself, this hit close to home. I modeled the strip after my own family and sent it (originally entitled THE MOMMY DIARIES) to several large syndicates. I took my time -- a good year -- to write and narrow down the 30 strips I wanted to send.

I received the usual rejections (with many hand-written notes of encouragement) until I got a phone call from Jay Kennedy at King. He wanted me to develop it further. After renaming the strip and modifying it to make it more universally appealing, I went through a second audition of sorts. After a few months, I got a wonderful call back from Jay saying he loved it and wanted to launch it. Talk about the stuff dreams are made of.

PD was originally set to launch, fittingly, on Mother’s Day, ’06. But then Aaron McGruder retired THE BOONDOCKS at the end of March, and my launch was bumped up in the hopes of gaining a few of his slots. I remember working frantically to get everything ready for the new launch date – so much for my little cushion of time. In the end it worked out. However, it did take me a good year to feel like I wasn’t bumping right against my deadlines.

I really didn’t enjoy the first months of the launch as much as I should have. This was mainly due to lack of sleep and constant feedback that was careening through the internet. It was a wave of highs and lows. Eventually I found my groove; I think a lot of it stemmed from maturing as a cartoonist and finally feeling comfortable with my own work. Although the launch was exciting, I’m much happier and content these days. I enjoy the lower-key day-to-day creative process and answering emails. Family life gives me enough excitement.

4. You also do greeting cards. How does that process differ from your work on the strip?

The main difference is that I no longer illustrate cards, I only write them. This allows more time to focus on the strip (as well as card concepts), but the trade off is I don’t get to add my signature to any finished cards.

The creative processes actually don’t differ much. I love playing around with visual ideas and/or copy in both cases; sometimes the visual comes first, sometimes the copy comes first. However, the cool thing about cards is that I can do single panel cartoons instead of multi-panel formats. It’s a nice change.

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

I have one that I threw on my blog for fun a few months ago. Not sure if it’s my favorite, but I like it because it completely crosses the line:

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

Newspapers are in a downward spiral. Yet web comics probably aren’t that financially viable yet. So it’s hard to say. I’m guessing someday there will be a merging of print and web comics in some capacity. In the meantime, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong side…everyone’s just trying to find their own outlet.

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

Sort of both. I’ve always gravitated toward risqué writing, but I admit I’ve grown to enjoy the challenge of balancing that fine line with newspaper comics. I do push the envelope sometimes, but I don’t base my writing simply on an off-color joke. With that said, PD does deal with marital sex. It’s something I think deserves to be addressed because it’s an honest part of a relationship and ties in with the stressed-out family syndrome.

My nine-year-old daughter reads my strip. I figure, if she’s old enough to read the comics and ask questions, then she’s old enough to deserve honest answers. Anyway, I use pretty innocuous innuendos, and most of it can be misconstrued with kissing or amorous behavior, not sex… and that’s usually how she interprets it.

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

This is hard, I love so many. Okay, I’ll categorize this way:

1. Charles Schulz (as a kid)
2. Berke Breathed (as an older kid)
3. Lynda Barry (as a college student)
4. Nina Paley (as an indie spirit)
5. Harvey Pekar (as an east-side Clevelander)

9. Who’s hotter, Prince Valiant or Rex Morgan, MD?

For my Jewish mother’s sake, I’ll go with the doc.

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

See question #4

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

I don’t worry about this as much as I did in the beginning. I’ve gotten used to the deadlines and I usually give myself plenty of time to get into a writing mode. I’m not the type to create one strip a day in its entirety (from writing to finished art). Instead, I do everything in groups: first the writing, then all the art. That way, if I have a bad writing session, I can usually make it up the next day.

That being said, I’m going through a nasty case of writer’s block today!

12. Who do you want to play Rob in THE PAJAMA DIARIES live-action movie?

I’m thinking the PC guy from those MAC commercials.

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

I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of girl. I’d say somewhere in between. But of course, my editor’s perfect. PERFECT! (hear that, Brendan?)

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

TV: “The Daily Show,” “Colbert Report,” “Scrubs” and “Lost”

Songs: Hard to say, since the only thing I’m allowed to listen to is either “Radio Disney” or “Free To Be You And Me.” I even listen to the same songs I downloaded seven years ago on my MP3 player. Pathetic, I know. I also like NPR, so I rarely listen to substantial music anymore.

Books: I love reading, and much like comics, my taste is all over the place. Right now -- in honor of my pre-adolescent -- it’s The Wonder of Girls. I also love graphic novels. Haven’t read any in a while, but one of my all-time faves is Fun Home.

Films: I used to be a Star Wars fanatic (the originals). I’ll stop there.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I love my Micron pens. There’s nothing like achieving that perfect thick-to-thin line quality without smudging India ink all over myself. Also, Photoshop. I’m a pretty impatient colorist, so this meets my instant-gratification needs.

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

It’s probably a toss-up between writing and coloring the strip. The writing is fun and intense. The latter is purely relaxing. Also -- I won’t lie -- getting to meet cartoonists I admire is a definite perk.

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

I’ve met quite a few through the NCS and some comics festivals/symposiums. It’s always a thrill, sometimes intimidating.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

I had the luxury of getting published in steps: first just in my local paper, then weekly syndication (with a strip, GOT A LIFE), then daily with THE PAJAMA DIARIES. These steps helped me gain experience and momentum. If it’s possible, I highly recommend aspiring cartoonists to “start small” if there’s an opportunity. It definitely helps with the practice of meeting deadlines and idea-banking.

19. How important are awards?

It’s nice to be recognized, but that’s certainly not why I got into this. Maybe we all deserve awards -- or at least a few token newspaper slots.

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

Not many people know that I’m half-Turkish. And that I have an absurdly long tongue (unrelated, I think). Yes, fine, let the jokes fly.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

20 Questions with Randy Glasbergen

Randy Glasbergen is everywhere. Randy writes and draws THE BETTER HALF, syndicated by King Features, THIN LINES, syndicated by Creators Syndicate, and produces about a million gag cartoons for magazines, web sites, greeting cards, and T-shirts.

I believe Randy is not actual an human, but rather the very sophisticated robot known as CARTOONITRON-5000, created in the late 1960s by a cooperative of writers, artists, and the government.

Check out Randy’s work at his website and prepare to be amazed!

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

When I was a kid, I was always drawing. At first I copied characters from TV (Popeye, Hanna-Barbara and Jay Ward stuff) then I drew lots of Batman and Superman for a while. When I was around 14 (1971), I became more serious about becoming a cartoonist and started writing to my favorite cartoonists for advice and received many great replies. (Many years later, this was the inspiration for my book "How To Be A Successful Cartoonist") I tried gag cartooning around this time and started selling cartoons to many magazines when I was 15 years old, including Saturday Evening Post, Kipplinger's, Changing Times, Sports Afield, Good Housekeeping and Saturday Review. I also had my first children's book (Ickle McNoo) published around this time, copies of which can be found on eBay.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

My first published cartoon appeared in the New York State Conservationist magazine at age 14. My first paid cartoon was to Cartoon Carnival magazine for $5. (Trash collector to smirking dog: "Stop calling me a junkie!")

3. How did you get involved with the syndicated strip, THE BETTER HALF?

In the late 1970's I had a contract with Rupert Murdoch's syndicate (Murdoch News Service) for a panel called HOWIE, which appeared in a number of papers at that time. That syndicate folded and was acquired by The Register & Tribune Syndicate, which was a major syndicate at that time with FAMILY CIRCUS, SPIDER-MAN and other successful strips.

In the early 1980s, when RTS was ready to hire a new cartoonist for THE BETTER HALF, they knew my work well from the HOWIE panel and hired me based on that. I was in my early 20's and had virtually no time to prepare and had to hit the ground running almost immediately.

The early cartoons were awful (in my opinion) but I've gradually evolved TBHalf into something that is uniquely my own, not an imitation of another cartoonist's art or gags.

King Features syndicates THE BETTER HALF now and it's recently begun appearing in a large number of online newspapers where it's often ranked as one of the most popular strips and panels.

4. You’re one of the industry’s most prolific gag cartoonists. What’s your secret?

Ask any active freelancer like Harley Schwadron, Marty Bucella, Rex (Baloo) May or Mark (Andertoons) Anderson, and they'll probably tell you they draw 5-10 cartoons a day. It's not that uncommon. I average 6-8 cartoons a day, 5-6 days a week for a total of 30-45 cartoons per week, some for syndication, some for my website and freelance submissions.

Working at home, I have two flights of stairs for my commute and no coworkers to distract me or waste my time, so staying busy and keeping organized is fairly easy for me.

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

If I have a favorite cartoon, I'll publish it on my website.

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

Print or web makes no difference to me. I do both. My web comics eventually become print comics and my print comics usually spend some time on the web. I don't see any great wall between the two.

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

This can be frustrating, especially when a word like "damn" would add some needed punch to a gagline. On the other hand, I purposely push the envelope a little bit with THE BETTER HALF with quite a bit of sexy banter between the two, physical affection, intimate talk...but without any of it being crude.

People who are unfamiliar with TBHalf assume it's a LOCKHORNS clone, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Lockhorns seem to despise each other, but THE BETTER HALF characters are as frisky as a couple can be trapped inside depressing middle-aged bodies.

On my website, I will be a bit more liberal with those cartoons, but I'm still careful not to offend anyone. My job is to entertain, not offend. Plus it's harder to sell a cartoon that offends and that is always a major consideration.

8. Name five of your favorite cartoonists.

Several cartoonists influenced me when I was getting started, among them Sam Gross, Dik Browne, Virgil Partch, Roger Bollen, Bob Weber, Russell Myers Charlie Rodrigues. Most of all, I was influenced by New Yorker cartoonist Henry Martin, not so much by his art but I loved his gags. Anybody who doesn't know his work should check eBay or maybe the archives of The Cartoon Bank online.

9. Should the Lockhorns try open marriage to spice up their relationship?

No comment.

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

Sometimes I write at the computer, looking at other cartoons or doing some sort of research online to stimulate ideas. For example, if I'm working on dog cartoons I'll Google "dogs" and see what pops up to help me get some ideas. Other times, I'll sit down with a yellow legal pad and a copy of Gag Recap and work until I get about 10 ideas (this usually takes 60-90 minutes). I usually write from 10:00 to 11:30 each morning, sometimes in my studio and other times out on our sunporch during good weather.

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

How can you run out of ideas? There are 10 billion words in the dictionary and each word can be the basis for a new gag. Cartoons grow from magazine articles, newspaper articles, conversations, observations, the sources are endless.

Each night at dinner I ask my wife, "Did you bring home a good work story?" and that often inspires a gag or two.

When I was starting out, Johnny Hart advised me to "Think Funny" and that may be the best advice I ever got.

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

I don't know.

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

I don't know. I took Spanish in high school. Ask my wife, she took French.

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

This question can probably be answered best by a quick visit to my Facebook or MySpace pages.

I like old Woody Allen movies, Marx Brothers, all of those movies with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Paker Posey, etc. I like Steve Martin's essays from The New Yorker.

I mostly read biographies and nonfiction books. And I love listening to Tiffany Granath on Sirius radio every afternoon...she always cracks me up, like a female Howard's an "adult" program, but it's okay because I'm an adult.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I work with very simple tools: heavy weight bond typing paper, Flair felt tip pens, a bottle of Liquid Paper and some Sharpies. After I draw my cartoons on a huge oak drawing table, I scan them into Photoshop on my Mac to colorize, digitize, etc. The computer has revolutionized both the art and business of cartooning. At least 95% of my sales come via computer now instead of the old method of putting cartoons in the mail for editors to review.

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

I like working in my pajamas half the day. I like having my dogs in the office with me. I enjoy the work and the business. I like interacting with new customers all day on the computer. I like the excitement of making a new sale or landing a cool project. I like the income potential of being a freelancer, not having the limitations of a salary. I like not having to deal with office politics or annoying coworkers. I like being able to watch TV while I draw. I like getting to the end of my work day wishing I had more time to get things done instead of staring at a clock in somebody's office aching for 5:00 to come so I can go home.

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

One of the first cartoonists I met was a hero of mine. When I saw him get out of a crummy rusty old car, it shattered a lot of my illusions about the profession. Until then, Cartoonist Profiles had convinced me that cartoonists were all rich guys who played golf all day in Connecticut. Some of my early heroes have called me up years later to ask me for advice -- that's the greatest feeling in the world.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

My advice to aspiring cartoonists is the same advice they get from Nike: "Just Do It." You'll learn as you go, trial and error, practice makes perfect. You can't force it or will it, you just have to DO it. You have to take action, not just talk about it or daydream about it. Take some kind of
action every day that will bring you closer to your SOMETHING.

19. How important are awards?

If I had some awards they would probably mean more to me than they do now.

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

I buy all that "As Seen On TV" crap. As a joke, I ordered a whole bunch of that stuff to give my brother and his wife for Christmas, Sham Wow, Miracle Knives, Mighty Putty, The Clapper, The Ov Glove, and lots more, all of it carefully researched online.

During my research, I learned that most of that stuff actually works very well. Since then, I'm hooked. "Now what did you order?!?" is my wife's most frequently asked question. But this crap is really good crap. Honest! Have you ever tried cooking a frozen turkey in a New Wave Oven----perfect every time, juicy, moist and tender!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

20 Questions with Cory Thomas

Cory Thomas is the young creator of WATCH YOUR HEAD, syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group.

Read Cory's strip in your daily paper or online at GoComics, check out Planet Cory, and pick up the first collection of WYH strips. That's an order!

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

I've been "drawing" since I was, maybe, two years old. My mother would give me a pen and some paper to keep me quiet in church. I don't know why I didn't toss the paper away or try to eat the ink. I was either a well-behaved baby or afraid of my mom.

I didn't grow up with dreams of being a cartoonist, though. I had dozens of those mini-paperback comic strip collections. Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, Andy Capp, Crock, etc. But, rather than comic strips, comic books were my true love. I always imagined grown-up me penciling stuff like the Justice League or the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Then again my own self-made comics always had a comedic bent, so I probably should've seen this coming.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

When I was an undergrad at Howard University, I'd look at the editorial cartoons in the school paper and silently judge them. Actually, I'd judge them out loud, but I didn't have any of those friend-people around to hear me. Despite my disdain, it never occurred to me that I could be doing that job. I didn't even have the inclination, because I never saw myself as a professional. I was just a guy that liked to draw.

Then one day, I happened upon an ad in the paper looking for a new cartoonist and I said, "why not?" Turned in my application with samples and they called me back the same day. The funny thing is that I'd probably have done it for free.

3. Describe the process you went through to get WATCH YOUR HEAD syndicated.

I always feel guilty about this story when I read about the years and years of torturous effort that so many people endure to be syndicated.

In addition to editorial work, I had a short-lived comic strip in my school paper, WATCH YOUR HEAD. Basically, the same as it is today, but with a drastically different art style. I never really tried my hand at a comic strip before, so I assumed everyone had to be drawn with childlike bodies and enormous heads.
When it came out, a couple I knew kept telling me how good they thought it was. The husband was a comic artist himself and he helped me smooth out the rough edges. But my mindset was still fixed on doing it for fun. They berated me for wasting talent and eventually convinced me to send out some samples.

A month and some rejection letters later, I got free lunch and a development offer from the WPWG. I can be easily bought with sandwiches.

4. The strip’s main character is named Cory. How much of WYH is based on you and your friends?

Not much. I was mostly a hermit in college, so there was none of that based-on-your-friends stuff. The main character was loosely based on me at first. And Robin was based on a girl I was in love with at the time. But they both evolved into their own personas. Now I just see Cory as a grown up version of the kid from the Bernie Mac show.

The other characters are based on different archetypes you’ll find at a Black college. However, like every creative work, there’s a bit of my personality in all of them. Even Jason.

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

This one needs some familiarity with the storyline to understand, but I'll give it a shot. Cory is secretly, hopelessly in love with Robin and convinced that they're meant to be together. But he finds out that Robin has a boyfriend and spends the weeks leading up to this strip in a miserable, self-pitying funk. Then I started the week off with this:

Which was perfectly fine (and I thought hilarious), except that I submitted it a couple of days before the Virginia Tech shootings, and, at the time, one of the speculations was that it was the work of a jilted lover. So this version of the strip never ran. I loved it, though.

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

It’s stupid. I’m not even sure what the argument is.

Is it about quality? Because anyone looking down on the quality of webcomics probably doesn’t read a lot of webcomics. Or newspapers for that matter. Is it the business model? Because, as someone on the lowest rungs of the syndication success ladder, I can confirm that a lot of us down here can learn a thing or twelve from those "T-shirt salesmen."

On the flip side, I’m positive that most of those artists snarkily proclaiming the death of print would make out with both their grandmothers if it meant signing a syndication deal.

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

Mostly the former. It’s especially frustrating when you write a comic about young adults in college. The kind of college students that say, “Gosh!” and “Heck!” and never have sex or drink. Not that I have any desire to put out 4 panels of curse-laden debauchery every day. I’d just like it if sometimes my characters were allowed to act their ages.

But, as frustrating as it is, sometimes trying to work within the limits does exercise your creative muscles. Sometimes the “clean” version turns out funnier than the original. Rarely, though.

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

I like way too many to choose a top five, so I’ll just name the first five that come into my head.



On a different day, there’d be a different five.

9. Who’s hotter, Hagar the Horrible’s daughter, Honi, or Dagwood’s daughter, Cookie?

Cookie, hands down. I imagine Honi to be covered with a light coating of hair. Plus we already know what she’s going to look like when she gets older. Meanwhile, Cookie grows up to be Blondie.

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

I think in terms of story arcs, so the plot and dialog usually come first. The times I’ve tried to wrap a joke around a funny visual have mostly ended poorly.

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

I always have ideas. An endless stream. I just worry about finding punchlines for them.

12. Who do you want to play Quincy in the WATCH YOUR HEAD live-action film?

If Will Smith, Denzel and Morgan Freeman turn it down, I’m screwed. There are no other Black actors in Hollywood.

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

Is “in the middle” cheating? My current editors don’t stand over my shoulder, dictating every aspect of the strip, but they do show a genuine interest in what I do. Either that or they do a very good job of faking it. I appreciate knowing when I’ve done a good job or when a joke doesn’t quite work. It helps me get better.

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

Well, my choices in reading material haven’t progressed much beyond the Hardy Boys, so I’ll leave that out.

TV Shows: How I Met Your Mother, The Office, Criminal Minds, Law & Order: All of Them, Cold Case, The First 48 (Can you tell I like procedurals?)

Music (I’ll go with albums): Midnight Marauders, Ready to Die, Innervisions, OK Computer, Illmatic, The Blueprint

Movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The In-Laws, The Fugitive, Juice

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Mechanical pencil, blue lead, Strathmore smooth-plate 11x14 Bristol board, a PXB mini-drawing table, a ruler, adjustable set square, and a scanner. And my computer, also known as my entire right arm.

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

I love to draw. I love being a goofball. I love paying rent.

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

Nope. I’ve never even met any cartoonists that I’m ambivalent about. Did I mention that I’m largely a hermit?

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Don’t pin all your hopes on syndication. The nature of the game isn’t kind to most newcomers. Diversify. And go get me coffee!

19. How important are awards?

I’d love to be recognized in that way, but it isn’t what drives me.

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

I’m actually a team of comedy writers, Byron Cory and Thomas Ginsberg. The artwork is done by trained elephants.

Monday, September 7, 2009

20 Questions with Brian Crane

Brian Crane is the creator of the syndicated comic strip, PICKLES, which is now in more than 500 newspapers. Read PICKLES in your daily newspapers or online at GoComics.

And pick up the latest PICKLES collection.

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

I did draw a lot as a kid and aspired to be a cartoonist when and if I ever grew up. I did become a cartoonist, but I'm not sure if I ever grew up.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I did a few cartoons for my college newspaper, the BYU Daily Universe. I'm pretty sure I got paid for those, but not a whole lot.

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

Pretty simple; Think of premise for strip, draw samples of strip, send them in to syndicates, wait for rejection and discouragement to ensue. It actually wasn't that bad. I got rejected by the first 3 syndicates I submitted to. I gave up on the idea for awhile, but with the encouragement of my wife I sent it in to the Washington Post Writers Group and they decided to give it a chance.

4. The strip is now in more than 500 papers. Did you have any idea it would be so popular?

No, not at all. I thought if I ever got in 100 papers I would be very lucky.

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

I guess it would be my very first rejected strip, which had the dog, Roscoe, urinating on the TV set. I didn't realize you couldn't show dogs doing that in comic strips. At least back then. You probably can now.

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

I read my morning paper, including the comics, with my breakfast in the morning. I've done that since I was a kid and I see no reason to stop now.

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

No, I've never been one who wants to see how much trouble I can get into, or how controversial I can be. I like comics that make you think and smile, but I have no desire to offend. I still manage to do it sometimes anyway, though.

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

PEANUTS, POGO, POPEYE, PIRHANA CLUB, PEARLS BEFORE SWINE. As you can see, I have a thing for comics that start with the letter "P".

9. Who would win in a cage match, Heathcliff or Garfield?

My money would be on Heathcliff. I think he's probably pretty ticked off at all the attention Garfield gets.

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

The words always come first for me.

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

I have run out of ideas so many times that I would be worried if I stopped running out of ideas.

12. Who do you want to play Earl in the PICKLES live-action movie?

I hope there never is a PICKLES live-action movie, but if there were, maybe Hume Cronyn. He's dead, so it would be a long shot.

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

I have a great editor, Amy Lago, and she gives me a pretty long leash, which I appreciate.

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

I read mostly non-fiction history books, but lately I have been hooked reading the The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. On TV, I like Survivorman, Mythbusters, and The Office. I love old movies, The Thin Man series, High Noon. Also Young Frankenstein.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I sketch in pencil on Bristol board. Then I ink with a Hunt 22B pen nib and Higgins waterproof India ink. When I have finished three weeks worth of strips, I scan them and send them on to my editor.

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

Getting up in the morning and knowing that I get to do a job I love. And I can do it in my pajamas if I want to.

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

I met Sparky (Schulz) at my first Reubens, at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC. That was probably one of the biggest thrills I've ever had.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Work hard, learn your craft well, but keep your day job in case things don't work out.

19. How important are awards?

They're useful for door stops or covering holes in the plaster.

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

I spent my 21st birthday in a South American jail, on suspicion of espionage.

Friday, September 4, 2009

20 Questions with Dan Collins

Dan Collins is a veteran cartoonist and has been drawing for Hustler magazine (among others) for more than three decades.

Check out all things Dan at his website.

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

I always drew. It has always been a part of my life no matter where I was or what I was doing. As a kid I would draw something and would run to show whoever was near what I had done and then wait for the pat on the head that would tell me that I was good at something.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I am sure I drew a cartoon and traded it for something I wanted as a kid, but I can’t recall anything specifically. I drew a strip for my high school paper, but, of course, that wasn’t for money.

I did a couple of cartoons for the Ohio State University Lantern, but I don’t think I got any money for those either.

Wait, I remember, I did a pamphlet for a bank on campus, a small three- or four-fold thing they would place in the area with the deposit slips with info about something. It had a cartoon character on it that looked heavily influenced by R. Crumb. College was where I discovered underground comics and I was amazed that you could actually draw stuff like that and it could get printed!

The possibility never even occurred to me before then. It was all downhill from there.

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

I tried to do an underground comic or two with no success and after a short time the underground movement started to fizzle out. I was still a rebel/longhair/artist with an itch for the forbidden, and one day I struck up a conversation with my neighbor, whom I had never spoken to in all the time we had lived in adjacent apartments.

I copped a squat in his living room and laying on the coffee table was a copy of probably the first Hustler magazine ever made. I flipped through it and somehow noticed the address, right there in Columbus, Ohio. I could catch a bus downtown and personally walk into the office and find out if they wanted to buy a cartoon. What could be better?

The cartoon editor was a drunk at the time, but he seemed genuinely interested in my drawings. However the first cartoon assignment he gave me, he took an excessive amount of interest in developing. I did about eight redraws of this same cartoon with the most miniscule changes, which were irrelevant to the gag at hand. Not just redraws, total full color finishes. It was my first shot at publishing in a national magazine, so I kept doing them until finally I convinced him that we had milked it for all it was worth; either that or he just got tired of the whole thing. It did make it in the book, along with another, and that was the start of a 34-year history with America’s preeminent first amendment publication (the nice way of putting it).

After that I tried some other magazines and succeeded in getting published in Boys' Life, Saturday Evening Post and others. I’m not a total perve.

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

To me the advantage lies in its freedom. Each one is its own universe. The next one can be about absolutely anything; the choices are as endless as the human experience. The style can change to fit the subject, the characters too. A comic strip is landlocked. You have your box with its subjects and rarely are you allowed to venture outside.

5. Tell us about Captain Hard-On.

Ah, perhaps the world’s only x-rated super hero. Actually he’s not that explicit compared to some comics I have seen. He’s more NC-17, I would say. He’s the hero of healthy sexual attitudes. He protects the world from those who would subjugate us with their repressive beliefs and outdated mores.

I studied Marvel comics as a boy, specifically Jack Kirby’s work, and so that was the style I knew how to draw heroes. It was also sort of a gag in drawing him in that way as The King would never have considered doing such a hero. I’m not sure what Jack would have said of the Cap. The anti-heroes were the part that was the most fun to do. Dr Poontang, The Sperminator, the Creature from the Pink Lagoon, the Glob. He ran for about 20+ episodes of usually five pages each. Fantagraphics put out the collected adventures in a book. They are still available on my website.

6. What’s your favorite rejected cartoon?

That’s tough one, there are so many! After doing 30 cartoons every single month for 32 years they tend to blur together.

Just off the top of my head: it’s a guy who is without any skin. Muscles, ligaments, etc., and he is staring at the bed as if trying to decide on what to wear. Laying on the bed are two "skin suits," one white and one black. I’m not sure what this means, but I left that for the viewer to decide. Leaving it open-ended is kind of fun.

Some people can’t stand that though. They seem to need you to have it make some sense, to have that verifiable endpoint. They just can’t fill in the blank themselves.

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

People need cartoons, one way or another. Print seems to be heading toward hard times. The web is a free for all with no real plan for earnings. If I knew the answer to that I would be hailed the king.

8. Name five of your favorite cartoonists.

Ronald Searle, Robert Crumb, Sam Gross, Al Capp and Charles Schulz.

9. What comic strip characters do you think have had implants?

Well, Mark Tatulli comes to mind, Stephan Pastis, possibly. I’m not saying what kinds of implants, I’m just saying. Blondie can’t possibly be so perky after all these years naturally. Garfield’s physique has changed a lot over the years, so I’m not ruling him out either. What kind of implant would a cat get? Oh well, as I said in one of my most ripped-off cartoons, “Beauty fades but implants are forever.”

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

A lot of the time the ideas are a result of something I hear or read or see and it instantly produces a gag, which for all intents and purposes falls out of the sky. Drawing that out is where I make conscious decisions on how to best present it. The funny stuff comes from somewhere in your brain, you can’t control it or force it, (or explain how to do it); it just happens. That’s why trying to be funny never works. They’ll just say, “Are you trying to be funny?”

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

I ALWAYS worry about that! Luckily people always keep coming up with new stuff to riff on so that’s not a real concern, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about it. Just about every month I do run out of ideas. Fortunately those times are offset by gluts of ideas. It all evens out.

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

Every year for the Christmas party, the on-staff cartoonists plus a few freelancers are flown out to L.A. and the day after the party we meet with Larry for lunch at the Four Seasons. This has been going on since the move to California in the early eighties. He is always glad to see us and has always been a very generous patron of the cartoon arts, with employee benefits and the like. I think I have a good relationship with him and he said last year that he thought I was the magazine’s greatest cartoonist. One never knows for sure if he means that or if he is just messing with you. He’s still an ornery fellow with a lot of energy despite all he’s been through. I choose to believe him on that point though. He is friendly and funny, not high and mighty like you might think. But he is a tough customer too. He is quite a complex person, very smart about the world and what’s really going on. He is an impressive speaker and his arguments are convincing. Had he not been injured there is no telling what he would have accomplished given what he has done despite it.

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

Sometimes it helps to have an editor who can improve things with their ideas but mostly I like them to be busy with something else. Most cartoonists are not particularly fond of editors because they reject our funny little drawings. Ironically my daughter has grown up to be one. Where did I go wrong?!

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

I don’t read a lot of fiction or nonfiction outside of a tech manual for a computer application. I read magazines and newspapers.

I don’t watch much TV outside of the news. I see movies occasionally, some faves are Cohen brothers movies, Mystery Men, offbeat stuff.

Music-wise I don’t follow the new stuff much. I listen to old Chet Atkins records and other fingerstyle artists, along with the old standards from my generation. An acoustic duo from the seventies, Batdorf and Rodney, are a favorite and I play their songs on the guitar along with some Chet numbers. I belong to the Ohio Fingerstyle Guitar Club here in Columbus, Ohio and have a couple of buddies who I get together with weekly to play in the basement.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I had been using the tech pens for a long time but lately I have gotten back to the Kohinor Art pen and a couple other fountain pens for inking. I will use a brush on occasion for inking. Colors used to be Dr. Martins, but now Painter11 is my brush and palette. After years and years of the old ways, I finally got interested in digital techniques and love them. I have a Mac Pro, a Cintiq Wacom and an A3 scanner. I’m starting to play with animation with Animate.

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

I think being on hand to see and be a part of my children growing up because I worked at home. Also the long walk up the stairs commute in the morning and the ability to go fishing on a moment’s notice. And people treat you like you are something special for some odd reason I can’t quite figure out. I think it's because they think you have a job that’s not really a job. Which is somewhat true. Or maybe because you can make people like you by making them laugh. That’s a powerful ability. And it gets you free drinks just about anywhere.

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

I have met a lot of cartoonists through the Cartoon Festivals OSU has held since the mid-eighties and since joining the NCS, but I don’t think I have met any of my idols I mentioned earlier except for Sam Gross. Sam was a crazy guy just like I imagined and he almost spilled wine on me. Cool.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

I would tell them the few words that Chet Atkins used to tell his aspirants, “Practice, that’s all I can tell you.”

19. How important are awards?

They are of no importance but I still need to have them. People can tell you you’re really funny but you never take it seriously until you get a small wooden plaque with the words inscribed in pot metal. Then you know it’s for real.

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

I sang in the church choir for a large part of my life. No, people know that. I have grown orchids since 1976. No they know that too. Hmm, this is a tough one. A cartoon of mine hangs in the basement of the Ohio State Capitol? Possibly. I was sent here to Earth as a baby by my real parents when our home planet was destroyed. Hey, even I didn’t know that!