Wednesday, June 24, 2009

20 Questions with Rick Stromoski

As with Jerry King, I first noticed Rick's greeting card work. His cards were always funny and wonderfully twisted.

Rick's pretty much done it all when it comes to cartooning: comic strips, gag cartoons, greeting cards, humorous illustration, and children's books. When the Pope comes to his senses and decides to add a cartoon mural to the Sistine Chapel, Rick would be the man for the job.

Check out the daily comic, Soup 2 Nutz, at and the rest of Rick's excellent work at his very professional website (way to make the rest of us look bad, Stromoski).

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

I always wanted to be a cartoonist and I constantly drew. I got immense enjoyment out of drawing funny pictures. At one point I wanted to be a sports illustrator along the lines of Bart Forbes and Bernie Fuchs but I couldn't control water color like those two did...they were masters. So I stuck with what I did best and focused on humorous illustration.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I sold a B/W spot cartoon to Hustler Humor magazine and I still have the check. It's framed and hanging in my studio...$7.50 signed by Lary Flynt. If it was $10, I probably would've cashed it and bought beer.

3. Describe the process you went through to get SOUP 2 NUTZ syndicated.

I'm pretty good friends with Amy Lago, who I met through attending the Reuben weekends over the years. I'd been syndicated before in the late 80's with Universal Press, but my freelance career was in full swing and I really didn't have the time to focus on developing a strip, but through gentle nudging Amy convinced me that I should give it another shot.

You're supposed to write what you know so I came up with this strip about a dysfunctional catholic family. I also wanted to create not just another family strip, but one that resonated with my childhood experiences where you built model airplanes and then set them on fire, found Playboy magazines in the woods and hid them under your mattress, have a beloved pet turtle die, bury it in the backyard and then dig him back up after a month....things you'd never see little Jeffy do in the FAMILY CIRCUS.

I also wanted to create a character you don't see in the comics pages but we all knew or were growing up as a kid in Andrew. Andrew is what you'd probably call a sissy or Nancy Boy. He plays with Barbies, sings show tunes, wears the occasional tutu, is pretty bad at sports but is the eternal optimist. His brother Royboy would bully him but nothing phases him...he's comfortable in his own skin and as he is. I get a lot of positive feedback from the gay community on Andrew.

4. You’re also an accomplished greeting card artist. How did you get started doing cards?

I always made my own birthday cards for my family members as a kid and just naturally gravitated towards that industry early in my career. The alternative card market was going full swing then and several companies were looking to freelancers to purchase designs.

I never signed an exclusive contract with any company since doing so would limit my options. Unless a company was willing to guarantee a certain amount of designs they'd buy from me, I insisted in keeping my options open. Some companies would want a right of first refusal so I'd negotiated a higher advance and/or royalty for that privilege.

Quite often a rejected design by the first company would be purchased by another on my list and become a bestseller.

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

I had to change the third panel to "maybe he has to wear rubber pants".... not as funny.

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

There's a debate? Like all industries, comics evolve and that evolution is leaning towards the web. When content is no longer given away for free, then creators will make a decent living there. Print will always be around.

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

I think there's room for more leniency regarding what could be seen on the comics pages, but I'd hate to see the day when the "F' bomb is acceptable. I see a lot of web comics that just drop profanity and scatology into the dialog for the only reason being because they can. I think it takes a greater skill to slip double entendres into the mix then to just hit readers over the head with a hammer. A gag is funnier if the reader is involved with figuring out the meaning, versus the anvil approach.

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

Lynda Barry is a brilliant writer. She can make you laugh and cry in the same strip; Hap Kliban was the FAR SIDE before there was a FAR SIDE and all the clones that followed; Oliver Christianson — wonderful deviant irreverence ...whenever I was looking through a magazine or collection and saw a Revilo cartoon was there, I knew I was going to be laughing out loud in about four seconds; Gahan Wilson — a complete original in style and outlook. Mell Lazarus — encouraged me when I was tending bar as a pup in L.A. He's older than dirt but is the last to go to bed Reuben weekend.

One Reubens, it was about 2:00 a.m., and Mell encouraged a group of us to raid our mini-bars and meet back down in the lobby to continue the party. At about 4:00, I announced I was going to my room when Mell said to me, "Where the hell do you think you're going?" I said, "To bed." His one word response: "pussy." I sheepishly returned to my chair... I love that man.

My favorite web cartoonist is Owen Dunne (YOU DAMN KID)...unbelievably funny man.

9. Should Sarge face a military tribunal for his incessant abuse of Beetle Bailey?

He should be waterboarded.

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

Usually the writing comes first, but sometimes I take the Scott Adams approach and just start drawing in the first panel and a gag develops out of nowhere. The idea is to narrow your focus. I pick a subject, like toast, and free associate or brainstorm...what're all the things that can be associated with toast? Toast can burn, butter knife in the toaster can electrocute, what do you put on toast, etc., etc.

Sometimes it works; other times I just go steal something from Mark Tatulli.

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

No. I worry more about whether the Pittsburgh Pirates will ever have another winning season in my lifetime.

12. Who do you want to play Royboy in the SOUP 2 NUTZ live-action film?

Steve McGarry, but he'd have to lose a few pounds.

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

I had the privilege to work with the best editors in the business over the years: Lee Salem, Jake Morrissey, Jay Kennedy and Amy Lago. They all had one thing in common, excellent instincts. I usually yielded to their take on issues.

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

Books — Chris Van Allsburg (he’s the Rod Serling of Children's books)
TV— Anything by Ricky Gervais
Songs — Sadao Watanabe’s "No Problem"
Films —Spartacus

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I draw on 500 series Strathmore three-ply Bristol; I draw with Speedball black waterproof India ink out of an antique inkwell with a hinged brass lid; I use Esterbrook Radio nibs of various sizes from the 1950s that I buy in bulk on eBay and various watercolor brushes.

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

The wheelbarrows of money that come in and the free donuts.

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

I met most of my cartooning contemporaries at NCS conventions and local chapter meetings. Pretty much to a person the nicest people you ever want to meet. To my surprise, some of the biggest names have the humblest of egos.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

There are easier ways to make a living, but in my mind no better way to make a living. …And avoid posting on bulletin just gets you in trouble.

19. How important are awards?

They are nice, but ultimately meaningless because of their subjectiveness. They also do nothing for your career. Your work is what's most important. The best award is one that says "Pay to the order of..."

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

I hit a golf ball through a stained glass window of the Catholic Church across the street from my house when I was a kid. I was whacking golf balls with a baseball bat and one errant shot went through the depiction of the tenth station of the cross where Jesus was stripped of his garments. I put a hole right through his belly button.

The following Sunday, Father Duffy's sermon was about rampant vandalism and the deteriorating morals of our youth. I squirmed in the pew as Father Duffy got redder and redder in the face. It was as if he was speaking directly to me.

I almost dramatically confessed in front of the entire congregation ala Claude Rains at the end of Mr. Smith goes to Washington...but I thought better of it.


Bear said...

Loving these interviews. And thanks for treating us as adults and not editing them for content.

Scott Nickel said...

Thanks, Bear. Glad you like 'em.

I'd never edit any of the interviews to remove "objectionable" language.

I find the candor and honesty refreshing!

emily said...

That's my uncle! :) He's the coolest!

adverse said...

I have just noticed rick has published about the autism vaccine issue,, rick you are way of the mark, if you think that 1 in 40 boys having autism in the uk is fair game you need to look again.
Vaccines do harm, and this is not a subject you should be making money from like Amanda Peet. it certainly will not win you any friends and fans of your work will suspect you of selling out.