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!


Underground comix said...

Underground comix never "fizzled out". The scene is alive and well!

Scott Nickel said...

"Underground Comix" -- feel free to post links to your favorite small press, alternative and underground titles.

I'm a little out of touch with the current scene.



Dan said...

They did fizzle out, for a time. At least it seemed like they did.

Dan said...

Hey Underground comix, Comics Genesis looks cool! I've never seen it before.

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner said...

God blessa youse -Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL