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.

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