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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

20 Questions with Kieran Meehan

Kieran Meehan (pronounced "Meen") works both side of his cartoonist's brain, producing single-panel gags as well as the comic strip, PROS AND CONS, syndicated by King Features.

Check out the prowess of Mr. Meehan's comical cranium at the Daily Ink, home of PROS AND CONS, and also Kieran's website.

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

As long as I can remember I drew as a form of escapism. I had a vague notion that I would like to be a cartoonist, a cartoon animator or an artist but I never believed I could make a living out of any of these. Being a cartoonist still seems an unlikely career.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

It was a single panel cartoon published in Private Eye in 1991. I received £86, about $140 for it.

3. Describe the process you went through to get PROS AND CONS (formerly A DOCTOR, A LAWYER AND A COP) syndicated. Why the name change?

A LAWYER, A DOCTOR & A COP was Jay Kennedy's concept. Jay was the Comics Editor-in-Chief of King Features. The strip was based on three characters I created and who appeared regularly but independently of one another in MEEHAN STREAK. I liked the concept, but when I began developing the characters it occurred to me that Samuel and Lyndon were so different from Stan (the cop), he just wouldn't want to socialize with them. I suggested the introduction of a fourth character, Sophie, who is the sister of Stan and the long time friend of Samuel and Lyndon. She's the linchpin of the strip and even though she doesn't appear as often as the other three characters she makes the relationships work.

I always wanted to make the District Attorney a strong female character but her development was a later, more gradual process.

You've answered "Why the name change?" yourself when you called it, A DOCTOR, A LAWYER and A COP. People couldn't remember the order of the professions in the title.

4. Tell us about MEEHAN STREAK.

In 1990, Steve Way, the cartoon editor of Punch had written to me, saying that he thought my cartoons were more suited to the American market and suggested I send samples to THE NEW BREED in New York.

THE NEW BREED was a showcase feature King Features began as a way to discover and stay in touch with cartoonists who showed potential. Single cartoons were bought and syndicated on a freelance basis. I sent off a batch of 50 cartoons and four months later King Features took five of these for syndication. They also asked me to send 20 new cartoons each month for consideration.

About 100 of my single panel cartoons were syndicated under THE NEW BREED title before I received a phone call from Jay Kennedy in 1996. He liked my work and wanted to guide me in a different direction - a cartoon strip with regular characters as opposed to single panel cartoons.

I worked on several ideas, including THE WORKS and THE FAMILY TREE OF BOB PTOLEMY before coming up with MEEHAN STREAK in 1998. The concept was quite simple, the stand-alone comics I had been producing but in strip format. The fact Jay thought seriously about syndicating MEEHAN STREAK encouraged me to approach other syndicates and Tim Lange, at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate offered me a contract.

The strip was launched in 1999. In 2001, Los Angeles Times Syndicate was taken over by Tribune Media Services. International sales of MEEHAN STREAK were good but domestic sales were in decline and at my request, TMS relaunched the strip in 2003 as TRIBAL. The new format (a prehistory scenario with regular characters) made no difference to sales so we agreed to call it a day in 2005.

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

This one.

I came up with the basic idea in 1991 but refined and reworked it in 2005 for The Evening Times. It's a complex theme about actions and consequences. It took me an age to make it work and a full day to draw. The editor rejected it with the ultimate downer, "I don't get it." There's no response to that phrase.

I haven't had many comic strips rejected, though I've been asked to rework a few. When a comic strip is rejected, it usually confirms my own doubts about it. If I'm asked to rework a strip, it's invariably an improvement on the original.

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

On the sidelines, as a bemused observer. I don't see any conflict of interest. Every print comic is a potential web comic and most web comics would work in print. I went to a seminar at the NCS awards last month that touched on this very subject. The seminar was "The Future of Newspapers and Comics." Much of the seminar revolved around the growing impact the web has on newspapers and comics. It wasn't as pessimistic as I expected, but the one thought I came away with was that NO ONE knows for sure how things will pan out.

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

I find it limiting but not debilitating and a challenge but not a welcome challenge. I'd never use strong language in my cartoons anyway but a few ideas would be improved with the occasional "Damn."

7. How do you approach a single-panel cartoon vs. a comic strip?

The comic strip is character driven; the single panel cartoons are incident driven.

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

CALVIN AND HOBBES by Bill Watterson
SPEED BUMP by Dave Coverly
RETAIL by Norm Feuti
POOCH CAFE by Paul Gilligan
THE DUPLEX by Glen McCoy

9. Does Popeye take steroids or is there another reason for those abnormally large forearms?

I used to love Popeye. When I was 7 years old my young brother and I asked our mother to buy us a can of spinach. After eating it (gagging all the way) we waited for the results.

I'm not saying that Popeye's on steroids but he didn't get abnormally large forearms from eating spinach.

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

Words usually come first. The exceptions are visual ideas, like my favorite rejected gag, in which case it's drawing after drawing.

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

I worry continually about running out of GOOD ideas. I can wake up in a cold sweat when a deadline is approaching and I don't have a high proportion of good ideas.

12. Who do you want to play Ms. Jaggers in the PROS AND CONS live-action movie?

A young Glenn Close or Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren.

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

I prefer a hands-on editor. Laissez-faire to me translates as "Couldn't care less."

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

Books I'm reading and enjoying at the moment are - The Great Siege by Ernie Bradford. No Man's Land by John Toland. My favorite books are Patrick O'brian's novels in the Aubrey-Maturin series.

TV shows - Sergeant Bilko, Frasier, Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, The IT Crowd, Brideshead Revisited.

Songs - I'm out of touch with contemporary music, but I still like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Tamla Motown songs.

Films - It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, On The Waterfront, Dangerous Liaisons, L.A. Confidential, A Man For All Seasons.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Pilot pens on layout paper for roughs. Rotring Art Pens for the finished product. Tipp-Ex and Staedtler Lumocolor pens for corrections.

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

Getting up in the morning and remembering I don't have to go through rush hour traffic to spend another day working somewhere I don't want to be, doing something I don't want to do.

In short, looking forward to Monday instead of dreading it.

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

I'm too long in the tooth to have idols but I've met some genuinely nice people through the National Cartoonists Society.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

To draw for your own amusement and satisfaction (at least to begin with). When submitting work, be prepared for rejection on an epic scale and always be open to constructive criticism.

19. How important are awards?

I'd rather have two hundred newspaper clients, or even one hundred newspaper clients.

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

I was a fully qualified Irish dancing teacher and from 1978 to 1986 I took classes twice a week.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Absolutely brilliant!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

20 Questions with Carl Moore

The economy in shambles! The nation in crisis! What a perfect time for a politically-themed comic strip.

Carl Moore, creator of the syndicated strip, STATE OF THE UNION, was poking fun at the powers-that-be long before the current meltdown.

Check out the erudite Mr. Moore's strip for a daily dose of comical controversy.

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

No. I knew I liked to draw, but I never thought about being an artist or a cartoonist. Artists, to my way of thinking, were flakes and lived in poverty. Turns out, I was right!

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

The Peace Corps. Though I was trained to work with farm co-ops in Chile, when I landed in Santiago, the head honcho of the volunteers working with fishermen came up to me and said, "You're going to do audio-visual aids for my guys." I spent my Peace Corps time living in the capital city, working in a high-rise office building drawing cartoon-filled pamphlets and posters about what a wonderful thing fishing co-ops were. (They weren't) I ate in restaurants, went to the movies, bar-hopped on the weekends... all on $90 dollars a month. I was really roughing it. Hey, it's hard to be a playboy on $90 a month!

3. Describe the process you went through to get STATE OF THE UNION syndicated.

I had sold several political cartoons to various publications, most notably National Review, and was featured in David Horowitz and Peter Collier's political magazine Heterdoxy, but I wasn't making much money so I thought I'd try a strip.

My first attempt was called PSYCHOBABBLE in which I made fun of the whole therapy movement. (Yes, I've had therapy but, then, all cartoonists are a bit nuts, aren't they?) I received encouraging letters and phone calls, but no contract. My next effort was LUNA BEACH, which was a satirical look at politics and popular culture done from a conservative viewpoint. (In college, I was a leftist, but, fortunately, reading Milton Friedman woke me up).

I had sent a package to Brent Bozell, the conservative media columnist, and he recommended me to Creators Syndicate. They called and offered me a contract. I changed the name to CULTURE SHOCK. It ran for 2 1/2 years but didn't do well at all and I terminated it in '97. In the lead-up to the election of 2004, out of the blue, I got a call from Creators and they wanted me to fire it up again with the name changed to STATE OF THE UNION. It launched in 2004.

4. Are the labels “liberal” and “conservative” valid or do they oversimplify political discourse and lead to an “us vs. them” mentality?

If I tell you I'm a conservative, you know something about me immediately - I'm evil. Ha ha. Just kidding. We all know conservatives aren't totally evil, they're only slightly evil with a twist of weird... at least, that's what I'm reading on the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos. Actually, I call myself a "utilitarian libertarian," meaning if it works, it's good, if it doesn't work, it's bad. Big government doesn't work. Or put another way, if a politician proposes a new government program, kill it immediately before it multiplies like kudzu. Unfortunately, in the Obama era, we're seeing the biggest explosion of kudzu in history.

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

Several years ago, there was a flap about a female pilot in the Air Force claiming she was being sexually harrassed. I did a strip showing her piloting an airplane and her male co-pilot is saying to her, "Oh, you're the woman claiming sexual harrassment, aren't you?" Another plane is on top of hers as though having sex. It didn't fly. But I liked it a lot.

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

What's to debate? Print strips are clearly dinosaurs on their way to extinction along with the print newspaper business itself. It's hard to see how web cartoonists will make enough money to make a career of it. But, in time, I'd wager they'll make good money in some way (micro payments?) hard to see right now.

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

It's limiting, especially for a strip like STATE OF THE UNION that deals with controversial subjects such as racism, gay marriage, and making fun of the President's liberal policies (I try not to attack Obama ad hominem since, on a personal level, I like the guy a lot... who doesn't?) Surprisingly, I've learned editors don't like controversy, especially on the comic page. I had assumed when I started that the opposite would be true, but it's not. They get too many angry letters from readers threatening to cancel their subscription.

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

The late, great Jeff MacNelly, Charles Schultz, Bill Watterson, Johnny Hart, Michael Ramirez.

9. Who would win in a cage match, Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin?

Are you kidding? It's a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers vs. Miss America - a bloody rout!

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

Reading. Since my strip is about what's in the news, reading comes first. Sometimes an interesting or controversial quote will spark a gag. Sometimes a photograph. Often, I'll put two people in the news together who aren't normally thought of as interacting, such as Obama on the phone with Osama in his cave. Some critics think this is ridiculous, which it is, but I find it interesting. And, too, I don't always go for a funny gag. Sometimes I'll do a strip about something that is true but is not often talked about. I'm hoping the reader will say, "Oh, yeah, that's so true" and laugh at the recognition of that truth, even though it's not a conventional isn't-this-funny gag.

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

Not really. Ideas are plentiful. But I do worry about not coming up with good ideas. Not surprisingly, good ideas are much easier to do than ideas that are so-so. What's really satisfying, though, is having to begin drawing a so-so idea because of time constraints and in the middle of it, thinking of a change of dialogue or a tweak to the drawing that lifts that so-so sucker up to a Wow!

12. Have you ever received hate mail from any celebrity or political figure you’ve caricatured?

No. But that's understandable since most people don't like to think of themselves as unable to take a joke. I do get emails of the "You're stupid," "full of it," variety from outraged liberals (in my opinion, liberal whackos are every bit as vicious as conservative whackos). On the other hand, I have received several requests for the originals from people who liked my caricature of them, such as Judge Judy, Leslie Stahl, and Richard Simmons.

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

Hands-on. Some of the best stuff I've done was for Peter Collier's Heterdoxy. Peter was good at pulling the best out of me. It probably also had something to do with the fact that I didn't have to be concerned about the constraints of a family newspaper. I could get raunchy, which I'm good at.

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

Books: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Who Are We? by Samuel Huntington, Free To Choose by Milton Friedman, The Road To Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek.

TV Shows: Boston Legal, Charlie Rose, CBS Sunday Morning, the Superbowl.

Films: The Godfather, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Best Years Of Our Lives, Saving Private Ryan.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Strathmore vellum Bristol board; #2 Cirrus brush; Rapidograph pens; FW acrylic black and white ink (I find this brand best for using the white to cover the black in one application) and removable labels for the dialogue which I fiddle with and change often.

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

Being your own boss and having your own hours. That, and being wrapped up in what's going on in the world, being creative and having a voice, however small, in the political chatter. It's hard work but fun.

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

I met Paul Conrad, who at that time was the editorial cartoonist for the L.A. Times, at an exhibition of his cartoons in a town not far from where I live. I wouldn't call him an "idol" of mine since I vehemently disagree with him on just about every issue out there, but I've always admired his ability to use and manipulate symbols to get across his liberal viewpoint.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Besides the usual -- be persistent, experiment, keep learning, read a lot -- I would stress the ability to write. What sets off good material from so-so is the writing, not the artwork. In fact, I'd say 90% of it is the concept and the writing and 10% the quality of the drawing. Just look at the great success of DILBERT. Scott Adams doesn't draw worth beans, but the concept is just right for the times and his writing is outstanding.

19. How important are awards?

I wouldn't know; I've never received one. But I'm sure it feels great to get a pat on the back and be recognized by your peers.

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

I have a severe hearing loss. In a room with more than two people, I can't understand a darn thing being said, so I avoid groups like the plague. Because of that, I've never been to any conventions or awards ceremonies for cartoonists.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

20 Questions with Benita Epstein

The lovely and talented Benita Epstein, the Friday chick in King Feature’s SIX CHIX daily comic, has been published in hundreds of magazines, including the New Yorker, Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, USA Weekend, and Reader’s Digest -- and she wields a mean table saw, too.

She’s also probably one of the only cartoonists to have studied yellow-fever mosquitoes, photosynthesis, lung surfactant, autism and purine metabolism.

Check out Benita’s website for a cornucopia of comical cartoons on everything from empowerment managing theory to genetic engineering.

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

I drew, but never considered cartooning as a career. My sister and I wrote these horrible cartoon books that poked fun of people we didn’t like (A Day in the Life of So-And-So). I was more interested in science and that‘s the direction I took.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

Within two weeks of deciding to become a cartoonist I sold a gag cartoon to American Scientist.

3. Your cartoons have been published by all the major markets, including the cartoonist’s Holy Grail – the New Yorker? Was it tough getting in?

It’s not tough getting in. It’s tough STAYING in.

4. You have a B.S. and an M.S. in Entomology. How did that lead to a career as a cartoonist?

There’s no connection at all. After about twenty years conducting scientific and medical research, I was due for a change. I had no idea what cartooning was all about. I abruptly changed careers and was positive it would work out.

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

I sent this duck waiter cartoon around to several places and never sold it. I thought it was funny. Maybe too corny. I eventually used it in DRAWING A CROWD, my panel with Creators.

6. How important is it for a cartoonist to have a website?

A professional cartoonist absolutely needs a website or a blog or both.

7. What’s the future of gag cartooning? The Internet?

Gag cartoons in print magazines are pretty much on their way out, except a few big magazines like Reader’s Digest or the New Yorker and a few trade magazines and association publications. However, there are so many opportunities on the Internet it is staggering. People love humor no matter what form it’s in.

8. Name five of your favorite cartoonists.

The other SIX CHIX! (Isabella Bannerman, Margaret Shulock, Rina Piccolo, Anne Gibbons and Stephanie Piro).

9. Should the Lockhorns try open marriage to spice up their relationship?


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

I have a vague idea of a scenario, then come words, jokes, how the caption sounds. Then comes the composition and drawing.

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

No. But, I worry about repeating my own ideas. I’ve done that before.

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

Perseverance. And for gag cartoons a real sense of what’s funny.

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

For assignments/commissions I like exact instructions. For my syndicated panels, Creators and King Features let me have free range (within reason).

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

BOOKS: The God of Small Things, A House for Mr. Biswas

TV: The Office

FILMS: The Godfather

SONGS: This is dating myself, but mostly songs from the 50’s-70’s.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Pencil on copy paper. Pigma Micro pen on HP laserjet paper, scan and Photoshop.

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

It’s not so much being a cartoonist as the freelance part. I have contracts and obligations, but there’s still plenty of time to do what I want, not stay in one field or get stuck in a rut. Plus all those years of marketing myself paid off.

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

I’ve meet a lot of cartoonists at Reubens weekends, chapter meetings, the Ohio Cartoon Festival.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Get a lot of experience outside the cartoon world, travel, go to college.

19. How important are awards?

They’re important if you’re the one getting the award.

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

A few people know this. I have the grapheme form of synesthesia where letters and numbers are perceived as colors. Others with this are the physicist, Richard Feynman, Russian writer, Vladimir Nabokov.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

20 Questions with Guy Gilchrist

Guy Gilchrist is a syndicated cartoonist, children's book author and accomplished musician. I get tired just thinking about all the various projects Guy's juggling.

Check out NANCY in the newspaper or online and listen to his music at his website (Guy's on Facebook, too).

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

Yes. I wanted to be a The Most Famous, Greatest Cartoonist in the World, Roy Rogers' son, and left field and lefty cleanup hitter for the Boston Red Sox.

I drew constantly. First, characters I saw in comics in the newspaper, in Golden Books and on TV, and then my own, as most cartooning kids do. I made up my own worlds on paper.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

When I was 10, I hung up pictures I had drawn on shirt cardboard on a piece of rope with clothespins outside my stepfather's upholstery shop in Hartford and sat there on a box with my cardboard and pens also offering to draw anything to order.

When I was 12, I went to Phil Seuling's Comic Conventions in NYC at the Commodore Hotel. I stood in line with guys like Michael Whelan and George Perez.

My second year there I got a job pencilling an 8-page Teen Titans story...the old TT with Wonder Girl, Speedy, Kid Flash, and their cool little racing cars. I lied about my age because you had to be 16. I wanted to be a cartoonist and writer so bad I lied.

I also, between these times, got a job working as an inbetweener and clean-up artist for an animator, and as an illustrator for the West Hartford Board of Education, drawing educational visual aids for schools that I myself was attending.

I was paid one dollar a day for a half day's work after school, and given bonuses in the form of art supplies like magic markers and metal rulers and things like that I could not afford.

3. How did get the job doing the NANCY syndicated strip?

Gill Fox called me up and told me that he had heard through the grapevine that United was looking for a new cartoonist to write and draw NANCY because Jerry Scott was leaving because he was so busy with BABY BLUES and just had gotten a new comic strip, ZITS.

Initially, I didn't want the strip. I had done THE MUPPETS for Jim Henson and another feature called THE ROCK CHANNEL with my brother, Brad, and Greg Walker for the old Des Moines Register Syndicate.

I called David Hendin, who I had worked with at United Features on my Tiny Dinos book, toy, and TV Series, and had just recently left United to become a literary agent. He told me I should try drawing the strip. He thought it was a perfect fit. I didn't see it. But, David thought that, as a children's book writer, I was the guy that should write it.

After about a week, I tried drawing them, and found out I couldn't draw them. I could draw Fritzi, since I had always loved drawing pretty girls, but could not draw Nancy or Sluggo, and get a handle on the way Ernie Bushmiller drew and inked in his very unique style.

So, I turned it down. Told David to forget it, then, without telling anyone, started in drawing it night and day because I was determined to learn how Ernie had drawn it, and to try to do it for my own piece of mind, and I'm sure, ego. I don't like the idea of not being able to do something, and will be persistent until I accomplish that goal.

Finally, after a week or two of drawing basically nothing else, day after day, I had six dailies and surprised David with the news I would like to submit them. I was then told United had since done a development deal with someone else and was no longer in the market, but David took the samples to them anyway, since they were finished. Probably just to let them know I was open to working in syndication again, to start a dialogue about future projects, or something. Maybe just to let them know he had indeed gotten me to work on it. I know he really wanted me to work on the strip.

Anyway, a day later, I got a call from David saying they had seen my work, and wanted to give me the job. I then hired my brother Brad to come onboard and assist in writing material for the strips and to work on the color for the Sunday pages.

4. Tell us a little about your weekly syndicated comic, YOUR ANGELS SPEAK.

I had an idea that I, in a small way, wanted to make the world a better place. I am a spiritual man and have come to having a daily relationship with God and all He has blessed me with.

I wanted to draw and write something that made a difference. Something that, say, if you were having a bad day -- worse, lost any faith you had once -- that there would be this painting of an angel with a thought or meditation for the day that you might ponder. I wanted the feature to be in the standard newspapers, not any religious ones. It was written from a Christian perspective, since I myself am a Christian, but was written in my most earnest and honest way to be as inclusive of all ideas and ideologies as I could. I truly wished I could draw one every day, but the drawings were so detailed, that i could only manage one painting per week.

The sayings, thoughts, were mostly my own, things I had thought about after reading The Bible. United Feature Syndicate took it on in 2002 in April that year, and ran it for two or three years. After that, I distributed it through DBR Media, and my own publishing and features company Guy Gilchrist Publishing, and Guy Gilchrist Features, for the next 3 or 4 years, finally sending all our remaining clients disks of strips they could continue to reprint. Besides THE MUPPETS, THE ANGELS is still the feature I get the most comments on. It helped some people through some tough times, I think. I wish I could have continued it, but with so many projects, eventually, I stopped doing new ones. There were two comic book collections, still available through my publishing company, and there will be a hardcover book sometime.

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

I once did a strip called REX, featuring a character that was a spin-off of my Rex character from my Tiny Dinos books. This Rex had a mom and dad, and moved from ancient times to a suburban town in the present day. It was very dark, and I thought, hysterical. I wrote it with Brad. We almost had deals with King and United, and even took it to TV. All the smart people that ran TV told me I couldn't write a dark, subversive cartoon that was animated in primetime. No network would buy it. A season or two later, The Simpsons debuted.

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

I like art, writing, and stories that are good. Wherever they come from.

7. In addition to being a cartoonist, you’re also an accomplished musician. How did you get involved in music?

I've written songs all my life. I wrote a song that broke the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980 or '81 for about a second and a half. It was also about that same week that I got the call from Henson with the job of working on THE MUPPETS comic strip.

So, as anyone with half a brain would go work for the most brilliant, creative mind in the world and his worldwide company, and thank God everyday for giving you this shot, and put your guitar down for parties, and playing around between artwork and writing jobs. I continued to co-write stuff, along with writing things on my own, writing a song with Dion in 1980 something; working on songs with Jett Williams, Hank Williams daughter; as well as working on a project that took my poems and turned them into songs for a project to benefit St Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis. I co-wrote and worked with Billy Swan ("I Can Help"), Hobie Hubbard from Sawyer Brown, Eddie Kilgallon of then Ricochet, and now of the Montgomery Gentry band, Charlie Daniels, and Suzy Bogguss.

Last year, in May, I went to Nashville finally to cut some demos after the songs were heard and I received encouragement to do so from Charlie, Jett, Eddie, and Chris Hillman of The Byrds....along with Keith Bilbrey, Host of The Grand Ole Opry and DJ on WSM Nashville. I moved here to continue to draw and write, but to write and sell songs again, and to perform some more.

It's been a blast. I recently released my first animated cartoon music video, JIM BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY that I did with Mike Cope. The song, singing is mine, and the band are buddies of mine playing with me from Montgomery Gentry.

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

Mort Walker, Walt Kelly, Jack Davis, Dik Browne, Milton Caniff, Will Eisner, Bob Kane, Jack Kirby, Howard Pyle, Stan Drake, Dave Coverly, Greg walker, Chance Browne, Walter Lantz, Ted Geisel -- oh, leave me alone. This cannot be done.

9. Who’s stronger, Superman or The Hulk?

Superman. He's Superman. That's all there is to it.

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

Almost always, the story. I'll sometimes times see a picture...and then work the gag around that...but in gags, poems, songs, I'm very much a stream of consciousness writer. I write down all my stuff, draw all my doodles, in those black-and-white Composition Books like we all had in school. I keep them once they're filled, and sometimes look through them, real old ones, and will find an idea that didn't quite gel whenever....but then clicks in.

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

Not any more. I used to. I really HAVE to write. Now that I've moved to Nashville, I have appointments with other songwriters to co-write songs...we hang out for two hours and try to come up with something good between us. It has come very natural to me. I guess because I've been writing "on demand" since around 1975.

I think that once you have a strip, or any continuing creative work schedule, you find a way.

12. You’ve written more than 40 children’s books. Tell us about Tiny Dinos and Mudpie.

Mudpie was my first book series that I ever sold. It took five years of peddling my first stories all over NYC in the 70s. Mudpie is a mischievous, messy little kitten who's stories originally centered around his Mom, Dad, and Sister. I eventually wrote 8 children's books with Mudpie. Then, I had him grow up a bit and created a comic strip around him. That ran from 1998 on. I just retired the NIGHT LIGHTS & FAIRY FLIGHTS feature that he was a part of.

The Tiny Dinos were favorites. They were all different species of baby dinosaur that became a family, with the English Explorer/Professor that discovered the eggs on an uncharted island becoming the English Nanny. It was all about unconditional love, and unconventional families. I wanted to create a series of stories that brought people of all nationalities together. Kind of a prehistoric, cartoon "one world, one love" thing. I wrote 20 of those books in the late '80s.

The nice thing about children’s books is, that you get read and reread...and become a part of the family. Some of the books that are out of print...I get letters looking for them now, from those kids from the 70s and eighties who are now parents themselves, and looking for the titles for their kids....or I get old crayon-marked copies to sign. I love that. I have such fond memories of the books, TV shows, and cartoons of my's really neat to think I could be part of someone's childhood.

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

I like my editor at United right now, Reed Jackson. He and I have a great give and take. We both enjoy talking character.

I've really been blessed. Amy Lago was great when I got started on NANCY at United...just an awesome editor and good friend, too. And on my MUPPETS job, when I was learning as I wrote and drew...just young and scared to death, I had the incredible Bill Yates. He was a great editor. Great writer and cartoonist. Great, great friend. Anyone that ever had Bill as a friend, editor, or golf partner...will never forget him and his gentle humor.

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

I enjoy books about the martial arts and zen theory, books on the early years of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis, Sun Records, Hank Williams, and I study The Bible.

TV: I like 24, Red Sox games, Austin City Limits, and reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, The Honeymooners and Walker, Texas Ranger.. I watch lots of old Westerns and serials and Bandstand, Shindig, Sci-Fi when I can. Roy Rogers is the greatest.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I use Strathmore Bristol, plate finish on the NANCY strips. I use Hunt 102s and 107s...but I also use all kinds of old Esterbrooks, RadioPens, all kinds of pen points I find on ebay. The old pens are hard to find, but worth it.

I draw my Fairies and more detailed artwork for my Sundays and commissions with a black Bic pen on bond paper. I use Windsor Newton Series 7 Red Sable brushes for all my brush work. They are the only brushes I'll ever use.

I also use dyes, watercolors, gouache, and acrylics in various mixes for my color paintings.

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

Having that dream you had come true...and find out it was tougher, and more wonderful than you could have ever dreamed.

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

Almost all of them. Cartoonists are the greatest group of giving people...along with songwriters.

I became friends with Mort Walker when he had the museum in Portchester, NY. He's my friend, a golfing partner, the father of two of my best friends...but still...he is Mort Walker.

I corresponded with Ted Geisel. He was incredibly kind to me, and encouraging to me at a crucial time.

Walter Lantz wrote me back when I was ten years old and I had sent him a bunch of my artwork. He encouraged me, telling me I had a lot of talent for my age, and urged me to keep it up, practice very hard, do my homework, and someday I might become a famous cartoonist. When I went "big leagues" years later, I wrote him back and shared my story of what that meant to me. He drew me a Woody Woodpecker and signed a photo of himself "To The Kid Who Made Good."

Milton Caniff , Dik Browne, John Cullen Murphy, Jim Aparo...were all there encouraging me early on.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

I wrote a whole web book that is still on my old Cartoonist's Academy Website called Drawn To Success. I hope, if anyone wants any advice from me, they might take the time to read some of that. I had an art school for 6 years trying to encourage and educate.

I guess, in one sentence, to remember that there are no limits to the artist who doesn't acknowledge any.

19. How important are awards?

Awesome when you win. Awesome when one of your students win....a complete sham otherwise. I mean, come on. They're meaningless -- wait a minute. What have you heard? Did

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

If I'm really under the gun, and I really need to cruise and get any project done...and I'm really exhausted, I make a cup of tea with three tea bags, and put on The Drifters 1958 through 1966 40 Greatest Hits CD, and play it over and over until I'm done.