Thursday, August 13, 2009

20 Questions with Scott Hilburn

Scott Hilburn’s fast track to the funny pages is a true Cinderella story.

Forced to scrub the floors while his ugly stepsisters went to the ball, he — oh, wait. That's not right.

I’ll let Scott tell it.

I first came upon THE ARGYLE SWEATER at GoComics and have been a fan ever since.

Scott is funny, talented, generous, modest — and he draws great piñatas.

THE ARGYLE SWEATER has also launched a slew of licensed products – calendars, greeting cards, books — who does this guy think he is, Gary Larson?

Be sure to read THE ARGYLE SWEATER in your daily newspaper or online at GoComics.

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

From the tender age of 7, I wanted to be a hand model. I was, unfortunately, told by a talent scout that I had unattractive cuticles. Since that day I looked for ways to hide my embarrassing digits. Holding a pen seemed to be simplest method for distracting people. It helped to avert eyes away from my hideous cuticles and onto my writing instrument. However, after a while, holding a pen for no apparent reason became somewhat of a sideshow in and of itself. I began to feel like Bob Dole...So, to keep my pen busy, I began cartooning.

At least that's what my Mom told me.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

GoComics, believe it or not, was my first paying cartoon gig. Exciting times indeed.

3. Yours is a real Cinderella story. Describe the process you went through to get THE ARGYLE SWEATER syndicated.

September 2006 - Launched my own website/sent off my submission packet to the syndicates.

Mid September 2006 - Began showing my work on Comics Sherpa.

Mid October 2006 - Was invited to move over to GoComics.

End of November 2006 - After receiving, looking over, signing and returning the contract, I launched on GoComics.

End of December 2006 - I receive an e-mail from John Glynn expressing Universal's interest in my panel. He said he would be in touch to discuss further after the holidays.

Early January 2007 - I'm offered a full-scale print syndication contract by Universal.

February 2007 - Contract negotiations/contract signed.

March 2007 - Development begins.

December 2007 - Development ends.

March 2008 (I think) - Offered a calendar deal with Borders.

April 2008 - The launch (I think they said I launched with something like 130 clients).

4. You draw great piñatas. Why aren’t there more piñata gags in the strip?

Thanks. I'm contractually prohibited from doing more than one pinata gag per year.

5. What’s your favorite rejected strip or gag? I have a ton of rejected gags already.

Some are too risque. Some have dated references. Some too gross. Not sure which is my favorite, but what am sure of is that after talking to my publisher, it's pretty likely that, at some point, we'll have a book of my rejected gags.

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

I started on the web, but I don't have the time, stamina, salesmanship, marketing savvy or desire to do all of the work that it requires to be a successful web comic. I'm in awe of the guys that can find the time to wear all of those hats and make a good living while putting out a great comic - unfortunately, that's just not me. I couldn't function without my syndicate.

They edit my work, promote my work, distribute my work and find other ways (outside of traditional newsprint) to make us both money.

I guess I'm not even sure what the debate is about... For me, the bottom line is, if you're making a living doing what you love, who gives a damn which avenue you employ to do it? On April 15th, I'm guessing none of us are "web" cartoonists or "print" cartoonists. We're just cartoonists.

I know, I know. I'm very profound.

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

It's VERY limiting. My humor tends to be pretty edgy. What I usually find funny is stuff that toes the line between what the rest of the world will think is hilarious and what might get me kicked out of newspapers. Again, I have to thank my syndicate (or more specifically, my editors).

As stifling as it feels at times having certain jokes censored, and as much as it pisses me off that some of my funniest stuff can't actually be seen by my general readership, I know that my editors have my best interests in mind and have saved my ass on countless occasions. Seriously.

Fortunately, being part of the Andrews McMeel family, In addition to newspapers, I've been afforded the opportunity to showcase my humor through some less conservative outlets. My syndicate is kind of an "all-under-one-roof" conglomeration, and as such, they have a hand in book and calendar publishing, greeting cards, online distribution, animation and miscellaneous licensing. As I said, I'm pretty sure at some point we'll do a rejection collection, I've been working (off and on) on a treatment for an animated series and Recycled Paper Greetings has already provided me an avenue to show some of my edgier work through a greeting card line.

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

PEARLS. Who the hell doesn't like PEARLS?

CUL DE SAC. Syndicated for less than two years and I already feel pretty confident in saying that Thompson is quite possibly one of the 5 most talented cartoonists in the last 30 years. I predict Reuben within another 5 years. I think he's that good.

POOCH CAFE. Paul is one of the funniest cartoonists working today.

LIO. Has another comic character risen to the near iconic status Lio has in such a short time?

BAD REPORTER. Don Asmussen is effing genius.

HOME AND AWAY. Yes, Steve's a friend of mine, and yes, I know that's actually 6 and not 5, but he's a great guy, and his humor and writing doesn't get the recognition it deserves.

9. Who’s more likely to cheat on his taxes, Dagwood or Rex Morgan, MD?

Rex Morgan. He just seems shady to me.

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

Concepts, which are kind of a combination of the two, come first. But after the concept is worked out, I refine the wording and then comes the drawing.

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

I worry more about running out of time. Deadlines are my worst enemy. I know my editors hate me. Not kidding.

12. THE ARGYLE SWEATER has been a licensing success. Are there any products you WON’T do?

I draw the line at personal lubricants. Call me old-fashioned.

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

Depends. Do I want to draw whatever I want? Or do I want to make money? Ha.

Actually, the easy answer for me, is hands-on. There's not a day-to-day dialogue that goes on between me and my editors (I know they have a lot of other things always going on and I always feel like I'm being a nuisance when I have to call or e-mail them, so I try to keep contact to a minimum), but where the rubber meets the road, they've been invaluable. Like I said, I couldn't function without them.

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

TV Shows: Family Guy, The Office, Rules of Engagement, Real Time with Bill Maher, Jeopardy

Music: Too many artists to name, but here's a few I like: John Legend, The Fray, G Love and Special Sauce, still love my old Rage Against the Machine CDs, Al Green, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Ben Folds, Theory of a Deadman, Ben Harper

Film: Anchorman is one of my all-time favorites, Castaway, 300, Pusuit of Happyness, The Godfather, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Fight Club, Office Space

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Strathmore Bristol Smooth, various sizes of Rotring Rapidograph pens and a lightbox. I grayscale my dailies and colorize my Sundays in photoshop. Oh, and for sketching and concepting, I use plain pens and typing paper. Lots and lots of typing paper.

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

The best part about being a cartoonist, is giving back to the community and making readers' dreams come true. For example, a few weeks ago, the sun was setting and I had just finished a long arduous day at the drawing table... I hadn't eaten anything all day, so I decided to head over to a local restaurant for a quick bite.

Leaving my home, tired and exhausted, a kid approached me to tell me how much he liked my work. I thanked him and continued walking. As I shuffled over to my car, he called out to me again and offered me his Coke. I hestitantly accepted his gift, and in return, to show my appreciation, I threw him my cartooning jersey.

We both smiled, gave each other the "thumbs up," and then I'm pretty sure some upbeat music started playing. That's gotta be the best part of being a cartoonist.

Either that or working in my underwear.

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

I was recently lucky enough to meet Lynn Johnston at her home. However, I have to admit it was brief. Local law enforcement escorted me away pretty quickly. Apparently, Canada had some kind of ridiculous "breaking and entering" law. Not being a citizen, how was I supposed to know?? Do I look like a Canadian legislator?

Seriously, though, I did meet and had dinner and drinks with Lynn, Mark Tatulli, Mark's wife Donna, Tom Wilson and Bob Mankoff aweek or two ago in New York. It was both fun and surreal at the same time. I can't wait for the chance to meet up again. They were all incredibly kind.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Don't draw in the rain.

19. How important are awards?

Not important at all. At least not until I'm nominated for one.

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

I've never tried Norwegian food.


Anonymous said...

I'm, uh, kinda surprised that Gary Larson wasn't mentioned in "five favorite cartoonists," as Hilburn's work is a virtual clone. In fact, it's a bit TOO close on the drawing side.

Unknown said...

I'm surprised Gary Larson wasn't mentioned, too. My husband said, "He wondered if Gary Larson was cartooning as The Argyle Sweater." That being said, after going through all the Gary Lawson Daily Calendars, we are certainly enjoying the "Argyle Sweater" every morning.

Anonymous said...

True 'nuf. My guess is he didn't mention him because he's always compared to him. There's no way he wasn't influenced by Larson. He should just own up to it--unless he is Larson under a fake name!

Anonymous said...

yup. First thing I thought when I got to the "favorite cartoonists" question is "will he mention Larson?"

...'Cause his drawing, and even humor, is extremely reminiscent of The Far Side...

Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of "Argyle Sweater" and can usually figure out the joke, however. this one has me stumped: Cartoon of 11-1-2011, two taxicabs rounding a curve nose to tail, the one in front running over a blob with two eyes?????? PLEASE EXPLAIN! it's driving me nuts!