Friday, October 23, 2009

20 Questions with Paul Gilligan

Paul Gilligan is not related to the famous first mate of the SS Minnow. He’s the twisted mastermind behind POOCH CAFÉ, the syndicated strip chronicling the hilarious antics of Poncho and his pals.

POOCH CAFÉ is also my wife’s favorite dog strip, so I defer to her.

Read all about Paul, Poncho, Poo Poo and other things that start with “P” at Paul’s website, check out the strip, and buy lots of POOCH books.

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

In grade one I was in a split class, one and two, and there was a kid in grade two who used to pick on me quite bit. One day he brought in a MAD magazine, and we spent recess sitting against a wall drawing Don Martin cartoons out of it. Even if this had not appealed to me I probably would have faked interest in it, since this was a preferable change to the bully’s usual behavior, but the truth is I fell in love with drawing those faces immediately. From then on, I wanted to be a cartoonist. I later heard the bully became an animator.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

Around grade six I discovered superhero comics and got into them in a big way. I think my first paying gig was for a tiny underground comic book company that published horror, and when I say “paying” I think it was like $5 a page. I wrote and drew a story about a thief who steals a cursed amulet and slowly turns into a goat (I guess he couldn’t get the amulet off because his hands had turned into hooves).

3. Describe the process you went through to get POOCH CAFE syndicated.

I tried a few other strips before Pooch, first a one-panel called JOY BUZZER, then a strip about a naïve malcontent named PLANK, that I worked on a bit with Jay Kennedy at King. Then a strip about office life where all the workers had human bodies and various animal heads (I never even sent that one off -- I’ve never worked in an office so I don’t know what I thought I was doing). Then an even more ill-conceived one about a female lawyer (what?). Finally I just decided I’d try a dog strip, and things came together, sort of. I was originally with a small syndicate called Copley for three years. Then I got a break and hooked up with John Glynn and Universal.

4. You’re a frequent contributor to MAD magazine. How did you become one of the “Usual Gang of Idiots”?

I think someone from MAD approached Universal and asked if any of their cartoonists were interested in trying some stuff for their new “Strip Club” pages. They didn’t approach me directly. But it’s been great appearing in the pages that inspired both me and the bully by the wall all those years ago.

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

There aren’t many. There was one where Poncho was mixing a bowl of iced tea in the toilet on a hot summer day. And another that mentioned the word “vasectomy," apparently that’s a no-no.

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

I stumbled onto a chat room once where lots of angry words were being hurled between cartoonists. Some of it got pretty personal. I don’t have strong opinions on the subject, but I do have sensitive feelings. Mathematically that means I should steer clear.

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

For me the biggest challenge is getting the words to fit into the panels. I tell you, I can’t stand it. Sometimes I have to zoom in and outline words and squish them and then move panel borders over a little and then fix all the lines that were touching the drives me nuts.

Also, when a character is totally wigged out about something and he’s limited to screaming “darn!”, it really doesn’t get the flavor across. I got in some trouble with saying “Oh my God,” so I switched it to “Oh my gawd.” Well the religious folks cracked that code right away, so I had to stop using that, too. I came up with “Sweet biscuits!” and that seems to be okay so far.

I ranted a bit about language on the Pooch site.

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

My influences tend more towards underground cartoonists like Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, Chester Brown. Comic strip-wise I’m sort of influenced by everybody, I don’t dare start a list.

9. Who would win in a cage match, Poo Poo or Fred Basset?

Fred, unless he accused Poo Poo of having a Napoleon complex. That sends him into a rage.

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

Words. Definitely. Unless I’m in a pinch. Then I think of Poncho in a funny hat and then try to think of why he would be wearing said hat.

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

Actually, the comic strip market crashing, (or semi-crashing), has made it no longer necessary for me to worry about appealing to new readers or editors or the winning of polls. This has freed me to run with longer and more involved storylines, and to go farther off base. I don’t get many new papers these days, but regular readers get to follow the characters they know to bizarre places now. I would never have risked a tale about the dogs finding a magical realm in Droolia’s armpit if the strip was still in its launch years. And I recently had a kidnapping mystery that lasted 6 – 7 weeks. I’m considering trying a year-long storyline at some point, based on The Iliad. I have to read The Iliad first.

12. Who do you want to play Chazz in the POOCH CAFE live-action film?

Breckin Meyer. And I want Bill Murray to do Poncho’s voice. Wait…

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

Huh? Well, not hands-on, so whatever that second one is. My editor JG is perfect, he guides me just enough to keep me mostly out of trouble and isn’t afraid to tell me when something’s broke.

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

Does anybody ever read the answer to this question? I remember having one of those Big Little books with Goofy, and there was drawing of him growing into a giant (I don’t recall why) and his arms and legs were busting through the hull of a flying plane. It’s my earliest memory of a cartoon. Considering the forum, I’ll make that my favorite book. If they make it into a movie it’ll be my favorite movie, too. Actually they’ll probably ruin it.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

The usual stuff. But 2 or 3 of everything. I hate looking for things.

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

Oh, so many things to choose from! All of them! It’s a hundred-way tie!

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

Well, I almost met Jack Davis at the NCS awards when I accidentally stole his chair and he came after me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Excuse me, that chair is taken.” But it wasn’t him, just another old cartoonist who looked like him.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

If you’re still in high school, book reports and history projects go from C’s to B’s when you include a few drawings.

19. How important are awards?

I haven’t found out yet.

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

I’m actually much better looking than anyone thinks.


Anonymous said...

Pooch Cafe is one of the greatest strips of all time, in my opinion. It's consitently funny and has that pop culture edge that keeps it fresh. I'm LOVING the longer storylines. The recent on the lam with the cat story was freakin' awesome!! Good work Paul!

Anonymous said...

I love Pooch too ... how Get Fuzzy steals any of the spotlight from this superior in every way pet comic is typical of this industry.

Great work, Giligan.

Anonymous said...

Try it... you'll love it!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I look forward to seeing Pooch Cafe as much as I looked forward to seeing Calvin and Hobbs. I am ever so grateful.