Tuesday, October 20, 2009

20 Questions with Kieran Meehan

Kieran Meehan (pronounced "Meen") works both side of his cartoonist's brain, producing single-panel gags as well as the comic strip, PROS AND CONS, syndicated by King Features.

Check out the prowess of Mr. Meehan's comical cranium at the Daily Ink, home of PROS AND CONS, and also Kieran's website.

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

As long as I can remember I drew as a form of escapism. I had a vague notion that I would like to be a cartoonist, a cartoon animator or an artist but I never believed I could make a living out of any of these. Being a cartoonist still seems an unlikely career.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

It was a single panel cartoon published in Private Eye in 1991. I received £86, about $140 for it.

3. Describe the process you went through to get PROS AND CONS (formerly A DOCTOR, A LAWYER AND A COP) syndicated. Why the name change?

A LAWYER, A DOCTOR & A COP was Jay Kennedy's concept. Jay was the Comics Editor-in-Chief of King Features. The strip was based on three characters I created and who appeared regularly but independently of one another in MEEHAN STREAK. I liked the concept, but when I began developing the characters it occurred to me that Samuel and Lyndon were so different from Stan (the cop), he just wouldn't want to socialize with them. I suggested the introduction of a fourth character, Sophie, who is the sister of Stan and the long time friend of Samuel and Lyndon. She's the linchpin of the strip and even though she doesn't appear as often as the other three characters she makes the relationships work.

I always wanted to make the District Attorney a strong female character but her development was a later, more gradual process.

You've answered "Why the name change?" yourself when you called it, A DOCTOR, A LAWYER and A COP. People couldn't remember the order of the professions in the title.

4. Tell us about MEEHAN STREAK.

In 1990, Steve Way, the cartoon editor of Punch had written to me, saying that he thought my cartoons were more suited to the American market and suggested I send samples to THE NEW BREED in New York.

THE NEW BREED was a showcase feature King Features began as a way to discover and stay in touch with cartoonists who showed potential. Single cartoons were bought and syndicated on a freelance basis. I sent off a batch of 50 cartoons and four months later King Features took five of these for syndication. They also asked me to send 20 new cartoons each month for consideration.

About 100 of my single panel cartoons were syndicated under THE NEW BREED title before I received a phone call from Jay Kennedy in 1996. He liked my work and wanted to guide me in a different direction - a cartoon strip with regular characters as opposed to single panel cartoons.

I worked on several ideas, including THE WORKS and THE FAMILY TREE OF BOB PTOLEMY before coming up with MEEHAN STREAK in 1998. The concept was quite simple, the stand-alone comics I had been producing but in strip format. The fact Jay thought seriously about syndicating MEEHAN STREAK encouraged me to approach other syndicates and Tim Lange, at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate offered me a contract.

The strip was launched in 1999. In 2001, Los Angeles Times Syndicate was taken over by Tribune Media Services. International sales of MEEHAN STREAK were good but domestic sales were in decline and at my request, TMS relaunched the strip in 2003 as TRIBAL. The new format (a prehistory scenario with regular characters) made no difference to sales so we agreed to call it a day in 2005.

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

This one.

I came up with the basic idea in 1991 but refined and reworked it in 2005 for The Evening Times. It's a complex theme about actions and consequences. It took me an age to make it work and a full day to draw. The editor rejected it with the ultimate downer, "I don't get it." There's no response to that phrase.

I haven't had many comic strips rejected, though I've been asked to rework a few. When a comic strip is rejected, it usually confirms my own doubts about it. If I'm asked to rework a strip, it's invariably an improvement on the original.

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

On the sidelines, as a bemused observer. I don't see any conflict of interest. Every print comic is a potential web comic and most web comics would work in print. I went to a seminar at the NCS awards last month that touched on this very subject. The seminar was "The Future of Newspapers and Comics." Much of the seminar revolved around the growing impact the web has on newspapers and comics. It wasn't as pessimistic as I expected, but the one thought I came away with was that NO ONE knows for sure how things will pan out.

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

I find it limiting but not debilitating and a challenge but not a welcome challenge. I'd never use strong language in my cartoons anyway but a few ideas would be improved with the occasional "Damn."

7. How do you approach a single-panel cartoon vs. a comic strip?

The comic strip is character driven; the single panel cartoons are incident driven.

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

CALVIN AND HOBBES by Bill Watterson
SPEED BUMP by Dave Coverly
RETAIL by Norm Feuti
POOCH CAFE by Paul Gilligan
THE DUPLEX by Glen McCoy

9. Does Popeye take steroids or is there another reason for those abnormally large forearms?

I used to love Popeye. When I was 7 years old my young brother and I asked our mother to buy us a can of spinach. After eating it (gagging all the way) we waited for the results.

I'm not saying that Popeye's on steroids but he didn't get abnormally large forearms from eating spinach.

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

Words usually come first. The exceptions are visual ideas, like my favorite rejected gag, in which case it's drawing after drawing.

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

I worry continually about running out of GOOD ideas. I can wake up in a cold sweat when a deadline is approaching and I don't have a high proportion of good ideas.

12. Who do you want to play Ms. Jaggers in the PROS AND CONS live-action movie?

A young Glenn Close or Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren.

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

I prefer a hands-on editor. Laissez-faire to me translates as "Couldn't care less."

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

Books I'm reading and enjoying at the moment are - The Great Siege by Ernie Bradford. No Man's Land by John Toland. My favorite books are Patrick O'brian's novels in the Aubrey-Maturin series.

TV shows - Sergeant Bilko, Frasier, Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, The IT Crowd, Brideshead Revisited.

Songs - I'm out of touch with contemporary music, but I still like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Tamla Motown songs.

Films - It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, On The Waterfront, Dangerous Liaisons, L.A. Confidential, A Man For All Seasons.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Pilot pens on layout paper for roughs. Rotring Art Pens for the finished product. Tipp-Ex and Staedtler Lumocolor pens for corrections.

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

Getting up in the morning and remembering I don't have to go through rush hour traffic to spend another day working somewhere I don't want to be, doing something I don't want to do.

In short, looking forward to Monday instead of dreading it.

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

I'm too long in the tooth to have idols but I've met some genuinely nice people through the National Cartoonists Society.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

To draw for your own amusement and satisfaction (at least to begin with). When submitting work, be prepared for rejection on an epic scale and always be open to constructive criticism.

19. How important are awards?

I'd rather have two hundred newspaper clients, or even one hundred newspaper clients.

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

I was a fully qualified Irish dancing teacher and from 1978 to 1986 I took classes twice a week.


John Platt said...

Pros and Cons is one of my favorite strips. Great interview.

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Kieran Meehan said...

I just changed my mind regarding question 18.
The answer SHOULD have been, 'Never try to colour up a Sunday strip in photoshop whilst totally inebriated.'