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.


Phil Kammann said...

I have always thought Glenn was brilliant and have been envious of his ability to capture the complexity and humor of a situation in just one or 3 panels. I'm a devout reader of all of his stuff.

Dan Reynolds said...

Glenn McCoy puts "fun" back into the "funnies" He puts the "Mc" back into "coMc".

I don't use "comic genius" very often, but Glenn is one. The Theory of Comicality is "E=Mc2"...Entertainment equals McCoy times two.

As great as the humor is, his drawing style is the perfect marriage of form and figure. You're laughing at the drawing before the joke ever reaches your gray matter.

I could go on and on about his work, but a picture drawn by Glenn is worth a thousand laughs. Go and find his work NOW. Glenn's work and humor are the best medicine. I wholeheartedly prescribe an overdose.

I bow down to the master.

Anonymous said...

Glenn McCoy and Argyle Sweater are the best panel cartoonists in the business today!