Sunday, November 8, 2009

20 Questions with John Kovaleski

Fellow MAD Magazine contributor John Kovaleski is the mirthful mastermind behind the syndicated comic strip BO NANAS, a whole slew of humorous illustration, and the new graphic novellette Great Scott: A Day in the Life.

Read about all things Kovaleski at John’s website.

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

I always wanted to be a cartoonist. Read the comics, glued myself to the TV for cartoons on Saturday morning (sometimes got up so early I'd watch the test pattern). I did draw but I have little memory of what.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

Unlike most cartoonists, it was pretty late in life before I was seriously doing cartoon work and getting paid. I did a weekly comic strip for City Newspaper in Rochester NY, (both during and after I was the Art Director there), but I did it in trade for a classified ad (in which I pimped T-shirts and caricature services). My next job was for a small design firm and they actually wanted a graphic designer/cartoonist so I guess that be the first real paying gig.

3. BO NANAS was syndicated for four years. Describe the process you went through to get syndicated.

I had been trying to get syndicated since the early 90s and it looked like it was never going to happen, so I was focusing my attention on freelance "humorous illustration" till I was able to quit my "real" job in 2001.

The Washington Post Writers Group was doing a program called The FineToon Fellowship which was a development deal where you got to meet other cartoonists, travel and learn stuff about the biz. Sounded like a great thing so on a whim I threw together some strips based on an idea I woke up with the year before while on vacation. (NOTE: this is a poor way to do anything.)

I was very disappointed with what I sent and forgot about it till Suzanne Whelton called me two months later to tell me I was one of two winners. The program started in early 2002 and in October they decided to syndicate me the next year.

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

I drew up a joke strip just for my editor Amy Lago and she thought I was seriously thinking of running it. The original had Bo coming upon a kid smoking. The kid says he wants to stunt his own growth so he can always fit into his favorite PJs (or something to that effect). Amy said I couldn't have the kid smoking. I said that I was showing it as being obviously bad. She said no dice, so I changed it to him drinking coffee.

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

No debate for me, I just wish there was more money in web comics.

6. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Did you find this limiting or was it a welcome challenge? Would you do another newspaper strip?

The "tameness" was never a problem for me since my writing isn't very "edgy." As for doing another strip, it's hard to say. It's tough to write in such a small space and "hit the funny." I think I like a bit more room to wander.

7. You contribute regularly to MAD. How did you become one of the “Usual Gang of Idiots”?

I saw a flier for their then new section "Strip Club" at the National Cartoonists Society's Reuben weekend. I always wanted to be in MAD but felt I couldn't fit in -- but strips, that I could do. I was going to be in NYC so I had a meeting with then editor Jon Bresman. He was very encouraging and I thought it wouldn't take me long to crack it -- but it took me a year.

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

(I'm going to purposing not include anyone I know so I don't insult any of my friends.)

PEANUTS by Charles Schulz
B.C. (early years) by Johnny Hart
CONCHY by James Childress
BLOOM COUNTY by Berkeley Breathed
CALVIN & HOBBES by Bill Watterson

9. If Hagar the Horrible and Broom Hilda bred, what would their love child look like?

Hmmm. Their genetics could cancel each other out. Hagar's daughter Honi turned out pretty OK.

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

It's always the idea first for me.

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

Sometimes. Less so after Bo ended since I no longer needed to do it 365.

12. Who do you want to play the Hot Dog Guy in the BO NANAS live-action movie?

Wow. A tough one. How about the guy who played Barry The Baptist in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Two problems -- he's English and he's dead.

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

I'm a fan of all thing French so laissez-faire. But, in retrospect, my strip may have needed more development before its launch.

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

Books: Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, George Chesbro

TV: The Office, MST3K on tape

Movies: My two favs - It's a Wonderful Life and Road Warrior

Music: Whatever my wife's playing (She's a pianist.)

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Canson bristol board. Cheapo Loew-Cornell brushes. Pentel pocket brush. Pilot disposable fountain pens.

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

No set hours. I stink at having a real job.

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

I met Charles Schulz at the Reubens. It was a big thrill, but I tried to take up little of his time since I know he got hounded.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Work hard. Read everything. Know what came before you.

19. How important are awards?

Not that important but nice to get. (Spoken as a man who hasn't gotten one. but if someone out there has an award and they just don't know who to give it to...)

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

I own an escape jacket...and can indeed escape from it.

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