Sunday, November 29, 2009

20 Questions with Stephanie McMillan









Stephanie McMillan is the cartoonist behind the thought-provoking, funny
and wonderfully subversive comic strip, MINIMUM SECURITY, which you
can read daily at the comic.com site or on Stephanie’s own site.

Be sure to check out Stephanie’s blog and pick up the
MINIMUM SECURITY books.



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

My earliest drawing memory is from age three. I drew a stick figure with
hands that were little circles with many long lines radiating from them. I
proudly showed it to my dad at the breakfast table. He tried his best to
be encouraging, but informed me that hands have only five fingers each.

When I was about 10, I fell in love with PEANUTS and traced them over
and over. I read comic books like RICHIE RICH and ARCHIE, but it was
PEANUTS that I became obsessed with (an obsession that shaped the dreams
and future careers of many of my generation of cartoonists -- we were
hopelessly brainwashed in our formative years).

I loved learning art in school, from finger-painting in pre-school through
anatomy classes in college. In fifth grade my wonderful art teacher Mrs.
Lihan taught us how shading works, and I still remember the thrill of
learning that secret.









2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

In the late 1980s, when I was still in college, I got a job painting cels
for short animated cartoon that was intended to motivate the sales team of
Huggies diapers in their competition with Pampers. We got $4 an hour and
worked 14-hour days. In 1992 I was offered a part-time job at a weekly
paper, and the editor, Stephen Wissink, offered me the opportunity to draw
a regular editorial cartoon. I did that for years before it ever occurred
to me to try to self-syndicate.

3. Describe the process you went through when you created your comic
strip, MINIMUM SECURITY.


When I started the strip in 1999, I didn't want to just to "be a
cartoonist" in the abstract. I'd been an activist/organizer since high
school (and the system didn't crumble, damn it!) After 15 years or so, I
finally got tired of handing out leaflets on street corners -- I wanted to
encourage resistance in a more efficient manner, and one more suited to my
personality.

MINIMUM SECURITY started as a political/editorial comic, formatted in
the style of my favorite alt-weekly comics: a multi-frame slightly
vertical rectangle, once a week, no recurring characters, very wordy.

When the U.S. started the war against Iraq (despite the largest global
protests in history), I fell into a period of despair. It seemed that
nothing I or anyone could do would make any difference. I stopped
drawing and started gardening. After nine months I got over it, and
started again with a single-panel editorial cartoon.

Soon I started toying with the idea of having regular characters and
continuous story lines. I figured that they might make the comic more
appealing, bring readers back to find out what happened to characters they
might grow to care about. I switched to a strip format, and Kranti first
appeared in 2004, saying something sarcastic to Uncle Sam about using
napalm. She looks a lot different now than she did then!

4. MINIMUM SECURITY is syndicated on United Media’s website. How did you
hook up with them?


Over the years I received many form rejection letters from all the major
syndicates. When Ted Rall became Editor of Acquisitions at United, with
the mission of bringing a new generation of cartoonists onto the comics
pages, he told me MINIMUM SECURITY was on his short list. I was
thrilled, of course. It started running on comics.com, and I increased the
pace to five days a week. It was in line to be syndicated in print when
the economy fell into decline, and newspapers began dropping more features
than they were buying.











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

Squarely on both sides. I want my cartoons to be everywhere.

I'm not going to reject methods of making a living from my work -- I try
it all. I've sold artwork on eBay. I have a website with advertising and
stuff for sale, and I'm striving to increase the income from that,
learning as much as I can from successful web cartoonists. At the same
time, print might be dying or it might not, but as long as it's still
around, I want my cartoons to be there. My comics appear in several print
publications, including a daily paper. I'm also negotiating right now with
another daily paper to run a regular editorial cartoon. I draw original
cartoons for magazines, and sell reprints. Presently I'm working on
coloring the pages for a French edition of my graphic novel. After that I
have another graphic novel in the pipeline, and illustrations for two
other books.

I think the "print vs. web" comics debate is ridiculous, frankly. Some
people obviously make money in each realm. Most don't. It's the work
that's important -- why would anyone want to limit where it appears?

6. The web affords a great deal of creative freedom. Would you be
interested in doing a traditional newspaper strip?


I've been drawing MINIMUM SECURITY in the visual style and form of a
traditional strip for more than two years, so absolutely yes. In spite of
the condition of newspapers, I still have the goal of getting it onto the
comics pages. I'm stubborn.

7. What’s the future of comics? The Internet? iTunes? The Kindle?

It could be any or all of these (and definitely cell phones), except that
we're in the process of not only an economic collapse, but also a
catastrophic ecological collapse -- which means human civilization is
going down too. In the future, when electronics are nothing more than
heaping mounds of toxic junk, the few survivors will draw cartoons on the
crumbling walls of abandoned houses.

In the meantime, though, people want to read comics online and on their
phones and ipods and everywhere they read everything else. People have a
primal need for jokes and stories. Of course, as a cartoonist I would like
more mechanisms to develop that would make it a paying profession for more
than a few people, no matter what the venue. Otherwise, as we see with the
decline of journalism, we'll end up with an endless cycle of young
hopefuls who struggle to squeeze a bit of coin from the vague promise of
"exposure" (or do it for love after earning money elsewhere), before
giving up in frustration and the next wave of young hopefuls takes their
place.

There are good and bad things about that cycle, which is already in play.
We gain an endless variety of comics blessed with freshness and
enthusiasm, but must sift through a lot of crap to find the good ones. The
art form has become more accessible and democratic, but we're losing some
of the pros who have spent years honing their craft. Some of the pros had
become lazy and deserve to fail; others will be missed.

All of the independent cartoonists I know, whether they focus on the web
or on print, talk and strategize endlessly about how to make a living. It
takes iron discipline and a lot of slogging hard work. They must develop
good business skills and configure multiple revenue streams. On the web,
it's advertising and merchandise (including books). In print, it's
cultivating clients, and doing illustration work or graphic novels on the
side. Usually (certainly in my case) it's a blend of everything, whatever
works. In either realm, making a living usually means that we have to
spend more of our time marketing and selling than actually creating
comics.

A lot of us didn't realize this when we decided to become cartoonists. In
our daydreams, we sit at our desks, left alone in peace to create soaring
works of genius while cash magically appears. Sadly, it's easier to win
the lottery than to achieve that glorious condition.

Comics as an art form is in transition, and flowering. There's so much
great work everywhere, and so much stupid crap as well. People will try
everything, display comics in a million places. I don't know what will end
up working and what won't -- the evolution of media is rapid and
unpredictable. With persistence, luck, and a determination to hone
business skills whether we like them or not, those who draw good comics
will find their audiences.









8. Tell us about your graphic novel, As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things
You Can Do to Stay in Denial.


I worked with the amazing writer Derrick Jensen. He wrote the bulk of it,
using the characters from MINIMUM SECURITY, and I illustrated it and
wrote a few of the sections.

It's a response to the lie that individual lifestyle changes are the
solution to ecocide. For example, Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth
lays out the problem very well, but at the end is the usual tired "what
you can do" list that everyone pushes because they don't impinge too much
on our "non-negotiable way of life." These lists always include things
like taking shorter showers and changing light bulbs to more
energy-efficient ones, and never include things like stopping industrial
production and overthrowing the system that puts profit ahead of a living
world.

In spite of its serious subject matter, As the World Burns is very funny
and involves space aliens who arrive to eat the planet and bunnies rounded
up and locked in detention centers.

9. Name five of your favorite cartoonists or comics.

Five that immediately come to mind (there are many more that I love also):

All of my Cartoonists With Attitude comrades, Matt Groening, Rene Engstrom
(ANDERS LOVES MARIA), Winsor McCay (LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND), Alison
Bechdel (DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR), Steven Cloud (BOY ON A STICK AND
SLITHER), Jim Meddick (MONTY), and Kate Beaton (HARK! A VAGRANT).

Oh, is that more than five? Oops.

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

I think about where I want the story to go, break it down into small
steps, and then write jokes around each step. I work on them in batches of
five. Sometimes I have to lie down and take a nap for the ideas to develop
-- it's easiest when I'm about to fall asleep or when I just wake up.
Taking a walk sometimes helps too. I write out detailed scripts and then
edit them down as short as possible. Usually a few days later I draw the
whole batch at once.

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

I'm not worried about running out of topics and stories -- those are
infinite -- but I do often have trouble coming up with ways to make them
funny. Jokes don't come easy for me. Sometimes it's just impossible and I
have to take a break and come back another day.

12. What’s Ted Rall really like?

Ted is one of the best people I know, and I'm honored to call him a
friend. He has integrity, and has sacrificed personal gain for his
principles many times. He doesn't just care about art or writing for its
own sake, but strives to make a difference in the world. He cares about,
and constantly finds ways to assist, cartooning as an art form and
cartoonists as individuals. He's a brilliant editor, as everyone he's
worked with in that capacity would attest. He works incredibly hard -- I
have no idea how he finds time for everything he does. He has an
extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge of history and current
affairs. And he loves a good argument, which may not be a huge surprise to
many who've come in contact with him!










13. The web provides instant feedback from readers. Do comments influence the
direction of the strip or the subjects you write about?


Once in a while a reader will send me a great idea that I use. I always
give credit when that happens. Some people hate the politics of the strip
and send criticism that is not constructive, and I just ignore and delete
that. Occasionally someone will make a point that makes sense, and I might
think about it and take it into account, but I prefer to receive critical
feedback from people I know, when I ask for it. I respond best (as most
everyone does) to encouragement. My favorite comments come from people who
tell me that they've been strengthened by my work. That inspires me to
make it sharper.

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


I won't say all of these are absolute favorites, but ones I love and can
think of right now.

Books:
Derrick Jensen's Endgame, A Language Older Than Words and Culture of Make-Believe
How the Steel Was Tempered, Nikolai Ostrovosky
Mother, Maxim Gorky

TV shows:
Family Guy
The Sopranos
Buffy the Vampire Slayer


Songs:
"Paris Match," The Style Council
"Nothing Can Stop Us Now," St. Etienne
"Steppin' Out," Kaskade
"One More Time," Daft Punk
"Simply Beautiful," Queen Latifah and Al Green

Films:
Fun with Dick and Jane
Asoka
Lal Salaam
Reds
The White Rose


15. What are your tools of the trade?

I draw on smooth Bristol board, starting with a non-photo blue pencil. I
use a cut-out paper template to draw the strip's outline. The size is 9.5
x 3, so I can fit two on a sheet of 9x12 board (I draw kind of small so I
can take my materials anywhere without a lot of hassle). I use a varying
combination of pens that include Gelly Roll (medium for lettering and
drawing), Micron (05 for boxes, 005 for details), Faber-Castell brush (for
filling in black), and random ones like Le Pen. I've tried so many kinds
and they are all flawed. For example, the tips of Microns bend too much,
brush pens only look good if you draw huge, and Gelly Rolls skip over
pencil. I'm never satisfied with pens.

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

The absolute best thing, and the reason I do this, is when readers tell me
I've helped clarify issues for them, or have bolstered their strength to
resist the system. I love drawing cartoons, but if I could better assist
resistance by writing, I'd write. If I could better assist resistance by
washing windows, I'd wash windows.

The second best thing is to be in charge of my own work. I hated having a
job and being told what to do. I'm highly motivated and work hard, but if
someone with authority over me tells me what to do, I automatically don't
want to do it. I've always been contrary that way.










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

I've met cartoonists and others in the arts whose work I very much admire.
I go to conventions and discuss things with a group of lefty political
cartoonists called "Cartoonists With Attitude"
(cartoonistswithattitude.org), and I feel lucky to count them as friends.

Their work inspires me, some for many years.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

If you want to make a living at it, be prepared for a hard road. You must
be driven, determined, and love to write and draw. You should be willing
to learn business and marketing skills, and be flexible enough to adapt to
a constantly shifting media landscape. If you can be persistent, it's
incredibly rewarding to look back on a body of work that you can be proud
of.

Most importantly, make cartoons that give voice to what you most care
about. The world needs more art of all kinds created by people who are
passionate about their issues, and less meaningless crap created to target
the latest trendy marketing niche.

19. How important are awards?

Some editors like to know that the content they choose has been
pre-validated. If their boss complains the cartoon sucks, they can say,
"But it won a Magnificent Humor Quality Award!" and thus avoid
responsibility for making a bad decision.

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

Awhile back, trying to make enough money to quit my job, I tried day
trading and made a whopping fortune of $250 in only one year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

20 Questions with Lucas Turnbloom

Lucas Turnbloom is the imaginative cartoonist behind the comic strip IMAGINE THIS, currently available online at GoComics and at Lucas' fine website.

Lucas is also an editorial cartoonist for a San Diego newspaper and an avid marshmallow juggler.

Do yourself a favor and read IMAGINE THIS, or we'll be forced to send Clovis after you. (And belive me, you don't want that!)








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

Yes, and yes.

I drew all the time when I was a kid. Early on, my parents gave me those old Charlie Brown ‘cyclopedias and Garfield books for inspiration. I’d study the illustrations in those books for hours and copy them. I’ve filled volumes of sketchbooks with drawings of Snoopy, Garfield and Charlie Brown.

When I was about five, I developed my own panel strip (which was BRILLIANT). However, the syndicates turned it down. Imagine, a syndicate shooting down five-year-old! Yes, ladies and gents, this is the cold, cold business to which I now belong.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

Back in the mid ’90s, some guy (a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend) needed an illustration of a Cactus Man character he created. His particular idea for this character was quite asinine (I won’t bore you with the details), but I needed the money. So I drew it.

3. Describe how you developed IMAGINE THIS and got it on the GoComics site.

In 2007, my wife decorated my son’s bedroom with teddy bears -- lots of teddy bears. One bear in particular stood out because it looked a little disgruntled. This bear became the inspiration for Clovis. There were also some goofy stuffed dinosaurs in the mix, which eventually lead to the creation of Dewey. These two stuffed animals, with the addition of a serious lack of sleep, gave birth to the comic Imagine THIS – the story of a grown man who still talks to his childhood stuffed animals. Exciting!

After several months of posting the strip on my site and Comics Sherpa, I submitted it to the syndicates. Universal liked it and after talking about it for a few months, we thought it was right for online syndication with GoComics. It launched in April 2009.

I’m now a multi-millionaire living on a yacht surrounded by many fly honeys. Okay, not really. But I was able to buy a sandwich last week. A damn good sandwich.

My next goal is to get Scott Adams to promote the strip. I have a plan, and it involves buying him a sandwich. A damn good sandwich.

4. You work as an editorial cartoonist for a San Diego paper. What’s the future of editorial cartooning?

It doesn’t look promising, I’m afraid. Will the genre disappear? No. But many of the newspaper staff positions will, which is unfortunate. It’s an important art form.

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

I had one where Clovis dropped the S-bomb, but that was more self-restraint on my part, than rejection.

6. Where do you stand in the print comics vs. webcomics debate?
I’m in the middle. I believe print isn’t totally doomed, and webcomics aren’t irrelevant.

Print cartoonists are going to need the web, and web cartoonists are going to need print (in some form). It’s really that simple. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Like Dax on Star Trek (for all my trekker brethren out there).

7. The web allows more freedom, but would you be interested in doing a newspaper strip?

Absolutely. Let me say that again: ABSOLUTELY.












8. Name five of your favorite cartoonists or comics.

That’s difficult because I have too many. So, I’m going to list 10:

1.) CALVIN AND HOBBES
2.) THE FAR SIDE
3.) Matt Groening
4.) PEARLS BEFORE SWINE
5.) THE ARGYLE SWEATER
6.) LIO
7.) CUL DE SAC
8.) DILBERT
9.) PEANUTS
10.) THE DOOZIES

9. Who’d win in a cage match, Clovis or Garfield?

Garfield is a little too trustworthy when it comes to teddy bears, which gives Clovis the upper hand. So, I’d say Clovis.

However, I believe Pooky would kick the crap out of Clovis.

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

I usually develop ideas by observing others in public places. Eavesdropping can really help the creative juices flow. Just don’t get caught.

And for me, the words always come first.

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

Long ago, I worried about that. But then I invented the character Robert the Plant. Whenever my brain farts, I just kill him off. You’d be amazed by how murdering a houseplant can help alleviate writer’s block.

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

Both. But I’d also like to mention the uber-importance of a good ass-kissing.

On an unrelated note, John Glynn looks extremely handsome today.

13. Tell us about your book The Clovax.

It’s a collection of just about every strip I’ve drawn during the comic’s first year. The title and cover art are based off of the 300th strip where Darin compares Clovis to the Dr. Seuss character, the Lorax. However, anyone who reads the strip regularly knows that Clovis is the anti-Lorax.

Buy your copy today!
Do it! Do it now!!

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

Okay, off the top of my head:

TV Shows:
Seinfeld
Simpsons
Ren and Stimpy
Night Court
Married With Children
Lost
Heroes
Anything Star Trek
Days of Our Lives


Books:
Harry Potter 1-7
The Tommyknockers
Catcher in the Rye
Dragon’s Blood
Animal Farm
To Kill a Mockingbird
Everyone Poops


Flicks:
The Dark Knight
Empire Strikes Back
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Return of the Jedi
Pulp Fiction
Matrix
Star Trek
(new flick)
Airplane
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians


Songs (that make me stop flipping through the radio stations):
I’ll listen to just about anything. However, I’d consider myself a rock/prog. metal kind of guy. So, anything from Metallica, Dream Theater, Queensryche, Megadeth, Alice in Chains, Rush, etc. Although, I do own an Air Supply CD.

What?










15. What are your tools of the trade?

Mechanical Pencils, Bristol Paper, Micron Pigma Pens, Photoshop, and anger. Lots and lots of anger.

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

Meeting people who “get” my lame sense of humor. It’s awesome. Rare, but awesome.
























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

At the Reubens this year, I got to meet several including Stephan Pastis and Mark Tatulli, which was awesome – very cool guys. However, I’d still REALLY like to meet Gary Larson, Bill Watterson, and Jim Davis one day. What cartoonist wouldn’t?

In 2005, Jim Davis was at Hallmark Galleries in La Jolla (near San Diego) signing Garfield art, which is about 15 minutes from my office. I’ll never forgive myself for not ditching work and going down there to meet him.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

There is a good possibility your work eclipses mine. So, make it easier for me and quit right now.

19. How important are awards?

I can only imagine having a Pulitzer or a Reuben would help a career. I’ll never know. (Tiny violin playing in the distance)

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

I’ve seen Howard the Duck not once, but twice...Don't judge me!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

20 Questions with Alex Hallatt

Alex Hallatt is the cartoonist behind the delightful comic strip, ARCTIC CIRCLE, syndicated by King Features.

Check out the daily strip and get fully Hallattized at her website.




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

Yes. I wanted to be a cartoonist since I was given a PEANUTS book at the age of six. I think all kids enjoy drawing. It's lucky for those of us who make a living out of it hat most people stop and we just kept on going.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I got fifty quid to design a bookplate at University - ooh, I thought - the road to riches...ahem.

3. Describe the process you went through to get ARCTIC CIRCLE syndicated.

I first came up with the concept when I was living in New Jersey, in 1992. It nearly got into the Morristown paper, but didn't and I stopped pushing it when I got a "proper job" in the pharmaceutical industry. It was resurrected in 2005 for a short run in the Australian Regional Press and that gave me enough new strips to have another go. I sent it to five syndicates and got four rejections and no answer from King Features.

The late, great Aussie cartoonist, James Kemsley suggested I send it to his syndicate contact and shortly after that I got an answer and a development contract from King in 2006.

I didn't have to make too many changes, so I was a few months ahead on strips when I launched in 2007. Boy, I wish I had that lead now (I'm exactly on deadline for dailies, which are about five weeks ahead of publication date).









4. You’ve done single-panel cartoons, too. How is creating a gag cartoon different from a comic strip?

The timing is different, obviously, but I can't put my finger on how I write differently for each. Because you get to control the set up of the gag for a strip, I find it more straightforward. That said, if I were doing a single panel every day, I'm sure my gag joke brain neurons would get into better shape.

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

A series about a flying carpet, which was deemed too "out in left field.” I'm keeping hold of it until my editor stops paying attention.

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

It is the height of daftness. People should be judged on the quality of the work and not the medium of distribution.

How you make that judgement is the issue. In the print world, we have editors and in the web world, it seems to be eyeballs, though there are some eyeballs that are respected more than others (e.g., Tom Spurgeon and Fleen's Gary Tyrell).









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

Given that my strip has always been family-friendly, it rarely bothers me, but sometimes, when you are reaching for a really good expletive, "DARN!" doesn't cut it, and I get really tired of drawing the cartoon swearing.

I got away with "bloody" the other day and was amazed, as that is still quite a rude modifier in the UK. At least I think I did - it hasn't gone to print yet.

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

OLLIE AND QUENTIN (Piers Baker), CUL DE SAC (Richard Thompson), SWAMP (Gary Clark), PEARLS BEFORE SWINE (Stephan Pastis), TINA'S GROOVE (Rina Piccolo)... but five is really limiting! Now I've pissed off some of the other cartoonists whose work I love. I hate that kind of question...

9. Who’s more likely to under-tip, Scrooge McDuck or Daddy Warbucks?

I don't know because I'm too lazy to look up who Daddy Warbucks is on the Internet...is he something to do with LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE? Will my cartooning license be revoked if he's not?

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

Words usually, pictures sometimes. I have one or two days a week where I make time to putz around, get in the right headspace, walk to the beach, daydream in cafes and doodle, but the best ideas come out of nowhere.

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

I only worry about running out of good, printable ones.











12. Who do you want to play the voice of Oscar in the ARCTIC CIRCLE animated movie?

He hasn't been born yet, I'm sure.

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

I love the one I have at King Features. Brendan Burford is the perfect sounding board. He doesn't interfere unless he thinks the strip isn't funny, will be misunderstood or someone will sue us.

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

Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy (radio show and book), To Kill A Mockingbird (book and film), Beautiful Girls (film), Star Wars IV to VI, State of Play (TV show and film), Seinfeld, Sky Blue and Black (Jackson Browne song), Andrew Bird's latest album, half of Josh Rouse's stuff and just about anything by Beck.

15. What are your tools of the trade?


Dip pen and Windsor & Newton India Ink on cartridge paper that I can put through the printer for blue-lining roughs and fit on an A4 scanner. So I work small. Then colour in PhotoShop.

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

It's mid morning and I'm about to down tools to see my cartooning buddy Jason Chatfield (GINGER MEGGS) for coffee before a walk along the beach and I don't have to get permission from anyone to leave the studio for a few hours.

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

Paul Gilligan (POOCH CAFE) spent three months here in Melbourne and we got to be good drinking buddies.

























18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Draw a lot. Put your stuff on the web. Don't give up when you aren't an overnight success.

19. How important are awards?

Trivial until you get one.

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

I was really trying to answer this honestly and that was delaying me sending this off to you. I'm ashamed to say that I'm an open book.

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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

20 Questions with Glenn McCoy

Glenn McCoy draws funny.

And that's the highest compliment you can give a cartoonist.

He also makes drawing funny seem effortless. (And we all know it isn't.)

Glenn's one of the most prolific cartoonists working today. He created the daily comic strip, THE DUPLEX, and splits creative duties with his brother, Gary, for the Universal Press Syndicate panel, THE FLYING MCCOYS.

Not satisfied with having two daily strips, Glenn also draws editorial cartoons, greeting cards, gag cartoons and creates art for TV and movies. Rumor has it that Glenn is doing a mural for the Great Wall of China. All 5,500 miles of it!

It's a true pleasure to showcase Glenn's talents (the gags accompanying this interview are some of the many I've saved on my computer over the last couple of years) and learn more about the man behind the funny drawings.

Check out THE DUPLEX and THE FLYING MCCOYS online at GoComics (or your favorite newspaper), and see some of Glenn's editorial cartoons here.



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

My Grandpa started me drawing when I was four. He had a very unique way of teaching me. He sat me down next to him at his small kitchen table with a blank sheet of paper. He had a sheet of paper as well. My Grandpa would draw a line and then he’d tell me to draw the same line. Then he’d draw another line and I would match him line for line for an hour or so until we had two beautiful drawings of a naked woman. Around that time my Grandma would see what we were up to and chase us both out of the kitchen.

My brother Gary kept me drawing because he would always draw and I wanted to do whatever he was doing. We both collected PEANUTS paperbacks, memorizing each punch line and studying the structure of the gags. Other favorites were DENNIS THE MENACE, FAMILY CIRCUS, B.C., and the WIZARD OF ID.

I think we both decided early on that cartooning was in our destiny. I drew constantly through my childhood and was the cartoonist for my grade school, high school and college papers.













2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

Although I drummed up small freelance jobs through high school, like asking a local pizza place if I could illustrate their place mats for a few bucks, my first steady cartooning gig was when I landed the job of editorial cartoonist at my hometown paper The Belleville News-Democrat.

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

It’s a long story, but I’ll try to be brief. When I was just out of college I won a national talent search contest sponsored by King Features Syndicate and USA Today. At that point I had the interest of several syndicates that were asking me for comic strip ideas. I found myself in the awkward situation of having to work up ideas with syndicates looking over my shoulder, which resulted in some horrible early efforts.

Just when I was at the point where I was going to take a break from the submission process, I drew a goofy-looking character in my sketchbook I felt had a lot of personality. It was my first sketch of Eno Camino and I immediately knew from my sketch who he was and how he would act.

I then just needed to come up with a funny environment to place him in. Since I perceived him as a lady’s man wannabe, I came up with the idea of placing him in a duplex where the other side was rented out to a young attractive female, thus setting up the "When Worlds collide" premise of THE DUPLEX. The dogs, Fang and Mitzi, sort of evolved during the development of the strip.









4. You also do THE FLYING MCCOYS with your brother. How did that strip come about?

I had been drawing gag cartoons for magazines and greeting cards for years for which I had won several NCS awards. Universal asked if I wanted to take a stab at a panel. My deadlines with the editorial cartoons, DUPLEX strips, TV and film work, and assorted freelance gigs had me worried as to if I could keep another plate spinning.

My brother Gary and I always wanted to work together on a project and THE FLYING MCCOYS seemed like the perfect project. We had both worked for the same magazines and greeting card companies in the past but this was the first thing we had ever worked on jointly. Since we’re both so close in our sense of humor and drawing styles it seemed like a no-brainer.

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

I submitted a gag for THE FLYING MCCOYS showing a little kid saying to his dog, "What did I tell you about sitting on my toys?!" The drawing showed that the dog had sat on the kid’s Mr. Potato Head pieces so that a toothy mouth with goofy lips was stuck to the dog’s butt. I guess my editor didn’t like the suggestion that the little peg on the back of the mouth was in the dog’s anus.













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

I’m not sure what the debate is, so I can’t really speak to this issue. I know that the print cartoonists, which I guess I’m one of, are doing a lot more work for the web but that seems to be dictated by the market and where technology is taking us. I just draw goofy pictures and let others decide where they’ll be printed.

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

I don’t think about it much. There’s a little voice in my head that reminds me when a DUPLEX or FLYING MCCOYS gag is going to far. Luckily I work for other markets like Playboy that I can sell my edgier stuff.

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

Wow, there are so many. Todd Clark’s LOLA is very consistent. Other names that come to mind are Kevin Fagan (DRABBLE), Bill Amend (FOXTROT), Dan Reynolds, Jerry King, Jeff Koterba, Rich Moyer ... I could go on forever. Ultimately the guys that helped me chart my cartooning course are Charles Schulz, Jim Unger, Jeff MacNelly, Chuck Jones, Robert Crumb ... is that five yet?

9. Who would win in a dog fight, Fang or Marmaduke?

Fang would be at a distinct disadvantage because he’d be holding a beer can in one paw. Eno would probably be cheering for Fang but secretly betting on Marmaduke.

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

Mostly the words come first. I usually write a week of ideas at once but I can’t describe a formula I use. Sometimes when I set out to write DUPLEX ideas I come up with ten FLYING MCCOYS gags and vice versa.

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

Only on deadline. However, the threat of not getting a paycheck is one hell of a motivator.























12. You also do greeting cards, magazine cartoons, and editorial cartoons. What do you like about each, and why?

Editorial cartoons are the easiest to write because you’re basically commenting on people and events that the readers are already familiar with. You’re basically just commenting on a news story. I also like how immediate editorial cartooning is. They’re usually published the day after you draw them, or the same day if it’s going on-line! The downside is that they can have a very short shelf life because political issues come and go so quickly.

Gag cartoons are great because it’s like a one-act play. You cast the characters, create the sets and write the dialogue. The challenge is that you only get one panel to pull it off but it’s a fun challenge.

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

I don’t like my editors to get too "handsy." My editors give me a lot of freedom for which I’m very grateful.






















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

Favorite Music:
Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Hank Williams, Ray Charles, Elvis, Elton John, Oasis, cool jazz, vintage country and blue grass

Favorite Books:
The Catcher in the Rye, Lonesome Dove, The Name of the Rose, The Martian Chronicles, The Last Lion, The Pillars of the Earth, Without Feathers, Huckleberry Finn

Favorite TV Shows:
Mad Men, The Office, The Bob Newhahart Show, The X-files, The Simpsons, Andy Griffith, Mythbusters, Survivor, Johnny Quest, Sunday news shows, anything sci-fi

Favorite Movies:
The Godfather I and II, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Young Frankenstein, The
Matrix, Spinal Tap, The Burbs, King Kong, Rear Window, Wizard of Oz, Goodfellas, Groundhog Day, Bride of Frankenstein
, Hammer Films, Wallace & Gromit, anything Pixar, John Ford westerns, Woody Allen comedies

Favorite Authors:
Larry McMurtry, Dennis Lehane, P.J. O'Rourke, Elmore Leonard, Stephen Ambrose, Richard Matheson, Mark Twain, Umberto Eco, Dashell Hammet, Phillip Dick, Michael Crichton, David McCollough, William Gibson, Preston Child, David Liss, Thomas Harris, Ray Bradbury, William Manchester, Charles Schulz













15. What are your tools of the trade?

Canson marker paper, Sharpies, Microns, mechanical pencils, assorted brushes, ballpoint pens, water colors, Photoshop.

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

"No Pants Fridays."

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

I’m lucky to have met or befriended just about everyone I can think of, except for Gary Larson and Bill Watterson.

I got to know my hero, Charles Schulz, late in his career. One of my most cherished memories is when my wife and I flew to Santa Rosa to have a magical three hour dinner with Sparky and his wife Jeanie. He had such a profound impact on my life, it was a mind-bending experience to be able to sit and discuss our love of cartooning together. I really miss having him in this world.






















18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Don’t try to tailor your writing for editors or a certain demographic group. Write stuff that makes you laugh. If you think it’s funny, than odds are there’s a group of people out there that share your sense of humor. These will be your most loyal fans because your work speaks to them specifically.

Also, try to make the process of drawing fun. If you have fun drawing a cartoon than the reader will pick up on this and it will be more fun to look at. If a drawing is labored it puts off a bad vibe. Trippy, huh?

19. How important are awards?

Not important at all. It’s ridiculous to think something as arbitrary as an award could mean anything more than a nice pat on the back.













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

I’m a man with an outy belly button trapped in the body of a man with an inny belly button.