Saturday, December 25, 2010

Bono Saturnalia!

It's that magical time of year again...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

MAD #507

 The new MAD is out and, while I haven't seen it yet, apparently the latest issue features another contribution by the decidedly disturbed team of Lively & Nickel.

We have a DORK SIDE strip in the Strip Club section. Thankfully we aren't in the MAD 20 as one of the 20 dumbest events or people of 2010 (although I think we're in the top 100!) I'll post our strip once the issue goes off sale.

Added 12/25: Got my contributor's copies. The issue looks awesome!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

MAD #506 -- updated

The new issue of MAD (#507) ships December 22, so I think I'm safe posting my contribution to issue 506, which ran in the Fundalini pages.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

MAD #506

The latest issue off MAD is out, sporting a fun GLEE cover by the ever-excellent Mark Fredrickson and a great GLEE parody inside by Tom Richmond and Old School UGOI Arnie Kogen.

I have a cartoon in the Fundalini pages (which I'll post after the issue goes off sale).

This issue also features art from several legendary MAD men: Mort Drucker, Angelo Torres, Paul Coker, and Sam Viviano. More from these giants, I say! Unless of course, it means less of my stuff in MAD -- in which case, forget these guys! They had their time in the sun!

(NOTE: edited 10/22/10 to add Mark's name as cover artist )

Friday, October 8, 2010

MAD About Mort

Here's an awesome photo of my all-time favorite MAD artist, Mort Drucker, signing a copy of MAD #504 featuring my cover idea! The only thing that could make this any cooler is if Jack Davis (also my all-time favorite MAD artist) signed it as well!

Thanks to Kit Lively for alerting me to this amazing pic and to Ryan Flanders for posting it!

One more time: a bunch of people got to meet THE REAL MORT DR... on Twitpic

THIS JUST IN! Here's another, even MORE amazing photo!

Mort Drucker, autograph machine! The Sharpie never stopped mo... on Twitpic

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

LITTLE OTTO -- first new strips in 18 years!

I've been running my old (like really old -- created in 1991-1992) strip on GoComics.

Rather than recycling the strip indefinitely, I decided to do a couple of new LITTLE OTTO strips each week.

New episodes started on 9-20, but I particularly liked bringing Otto, Madison and Karen into the 21st century with this Lady Gaga joke on 9-28.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Commets, we get comments...

My blog gets a lot of comments. The majority or which, alas, are spam.

I usually just delete them, but this particular comment caught my eye and struck my funny bone, especially the first line:

"sex with donkeys cool .. took almost all)) cool .. took almost all)) Yeah, sure, that there still might say. The site just super, I will recommend to friends! share: but we have to work all pouvolnyali, and what to do now? Thanks to author a blog for the information provided. You can still search in Google .. You read this and think .... A salary of between 5% per day."

In fact, the entire thing reads like some sort of odd, stream-of-consciousness poetry. Or something from a recent stroke victim.

p.s. For everyone's safety, I deactivated the link to sex with donkeys. You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

MAD #505 - Dork Side

MAD #505 has been out for a few weeks, so I think it's safe to post the cartoon Kit Lively and I did for the issue.

Hopefully seeing this toon will compel those who haven't yet picked up the issue to move heaven and earth to get a copy. Or at least drive down to their local supermarket or Wal-Mart.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy September!

Apparently the GoComics blog site links to this page (among other creator's blogs), so I guess I should start posting more.



Actually, here's something worth mentioning: I just completed a longer interview with Michael Jantze for John Read's STAY TOONED magazine. Michael gave some great answers. I especially liked his thoughts about the late Jay Kennedy, my former editor at King when I worked on TRIPLE TAKE.

More later....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

MAD #505

The new MAD is out and it features a new Dork Side strip from the team of Nickel & Lively!

Run, don't  walk (okay, you can hop if you want) to the nearest magazine dispensing establishment and pick up a copy!

Friday, July 16, 2010

20 Questions with Michael Jantze

Michael Jantze, creator of the comic strip THE NORM, has pretty much done it all in the cartooning biz: comic strips, graphic novels, online comics, illustration, animation, teaching — and rumor has it that he was the inspiration for Bucky the cat in GET FUZZY.

I’ve long admired Michael’s work. I saw his cartooning in the early 1990s and recognized his talent immediately. Luckily others more important than me did too, and the rest, as they say, is history

For the full Michael Jantze experience, including awesome animation and a plethora of publishing, check out his wondrous website! That’s an order, True Believer! (Why am I suddenly writing like Stan Lee?)

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

Yes. I was "that" kid who could draw.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

High school, I think. I won a local contest for a print ad I designed through a school competition and got to stay on. It was a record store in Normal, IL and Champagne, IL. I drew the mascot for more than five years.

3. Describe the process you went through to get THE NORM syndicated.

I was working at a paper in Marin County as the senior graphic artist. I asked the editor if he'd make space for me on the comics page. I wanted to run it six days a week to “smooth off the edges” and get it in shape for syndication. The strip ran there for six months before I submitted to three syndicates. I got two contracts and chose King Features.

4. You took THE NORM online, initially offering it as a subscription-based feature. What did you learn from the experience? Is it a viable business model for comics?

It is viable. I know it helped that I had 8 years of emails in the mailing list to rally. And being syndicated offered wonderful credentials to the press as I tried it out. It's funny to see Kickstarter doing what we did in 2005, using crowd-sourcing to set it up. And my wife raised a lot of money...she more than doubled my syndicate income for the coming year. But to be honest, I got about six months into drawing the strip daily and had the thought “I'm still doing this daily? What was wrong with the newspaper income?”

So I decided to try writing a graphic novel-style book for the following year to do something that you could only do on the Web. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer that year so I shut it all down. Four years later, I'm finally editing the book. I'm not sure what to do with it next, though.

As for sub-based sites, no, I don't know if they can sustain themselves as a business model for everyone. I teach a business class at Savannah College of Art and Design on new media and Web-initiated cartoons and I'm not sure that even the kind of cartoon sites that are working today will be around in five years. I think social media is so powerful that cartoonists and businesses will have to adapt to where the readers go.

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

It's the one that showed up in a syndicated comic strip about three months after I had submitted it to a syndicate. I had submitted to one of the syndicates in the early 1990's, and their comics editor was a cartoonist who wrote for one of the “big” strips. My gag showed up panel for panel, nearly word for word in a Sunday strip. I remember standing on the front porch of my house in L.A. realizing the cartoon world is just as desperate as Hollywood and Madison Avenue. And no, I didn't get a check for my work.

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

Erase the adjectives. They're comics, period. The only comics I discriminate against are awful comics. You can find a fistful in both categories.

7. Tell us about Jantze Studios and your animation work.

We're a tiny studio focused on improving the IP for Social Media, Web and traditional markets. I work with animators and artists around the country to create the best possible short with the best possible characters. Some of our projects integrate with print and other more traditional media.

I'm currently working with Joe Murray Studio on KaBoing TV's “Frog in a Suit” animated shorts. We're creating three shorts that will debut on's Website.

I've worked with Jerry Scott, Rick Kirkman and Jim Borgman (and King Features) in the past two years developing some new projects to take advantage of the strength of comic -strip characters in new media markets. And of course, there's “Mr. Lux,” an original character created for LXR Resorts and Hotels (now Hilton Hotels) and the YouTube Bears short. We created these characters to help these companies talk to their audience in a fun way.

8. Name five of your favorite cartoonists.

Dupuy and Berberian, Joost Swaarte, Percy Crosby, Herge and Charles Schulz.

9. Who’s hotter, Sally Forth or Blondie?

You're kidding, right? Sally's a hag...but Blondie is like Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her; she must be stapled and glued in place. I'll go with Daisy the dog...

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

Sparky taught me both at the same time. It's amazing what happens when you use the strength of the medium to its fullest.

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

No. I'm afraid I'm the opposite. I want to get so many stories down, I think I'm going to have to switch to a studio setting to finish any of my projects.

12. You worked at Industrial Light and Magic. Was that the coolest job in the world?

It was a riot. I learned a lot about using all the aspects of my different careers to solve visual problems. Everything except rolling burritos at Taco Bell...that superpower I saved for my wife's first pregnancy.

I worked on a variety of projects and problems. I worked with directors like Ron Howard and Joe Johnstone and Stephen Summers and learned so much about story sequencing, character development, budgeting and production...they didn't teach any of that stuff in film school.

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

I like the kind person that answers the phone and has their own opinion. I guess that's a hands-on editor.

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

Oh, boy. I like history books. I'm reading one on Willie Mays right now. I don't watch a lot of television, but I do catch "Top Gear" and "Arrested Development" on Netflix from time to time.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I like Col-erase pencils. Ink and paper. Brushes, nibs, brush pens, Microns. Whatever, I don't worry about the materials and supplies as much as that I hate starting a drawing. I do some editing on the Cintiq and love it for coloring. I have three workstations, one for editing animation, one for production and one for business. But I still have my light boxes and taboret right next to my desk.

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

You get to write while having breakfast and then kill an hour “doing errands” when you're really just in a bookstore or library digging through the shelves.

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

I got to know Sparky while he was still with us. I've met most at NCS events or comic cons. I got to hang out years ago with Will Eisner at a San Diego Comic Con when I was doing some work for DC. Jack Davis at an NCS event last fall. Mort Drucker and his wife shared a table with me once and we talked for an hour or so. Garry Trudeau was alone at a Reuben cocktail party, so he and I talked without interruption (I think everyone was too afraid to approach).

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Don't quit. If you do anything long enough, everything happens...including success.

19. How important are awards?

Not important at all in our business. It doesn't get you more business or a higher paycheck like, say, winning an Oscar does in the film business. But did I mention I was nominated for a ... ?

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

I hate balloons.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Since the cover has officially been revealed online, I guess I can spill the beans.

I submitted an article idea to MAD about "other uses for the iPad." The editors liked one gag in particular and decided to use it for the cover of the latest issue -- which features, of course, MAD's take on the latest Apple must-have gadget.

So I sold a cover idea -- my first -- to MAD. Is that cool or what?

I haven't actually seen the issue on the stands yet. I need to hit the local market and peruse a copy in person.

MAD might see a spike in circulation as I purchase every available copy in the Midwest.

UPDATE! Just got my subscription copy. Great even includes the latest episode of  my strip "Projectile Vomit Baby" --the world's cutest serial vomiter.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

20 Questions with Bob Scott

If you’re an animation fan, you’ve likely seen Bob Scott’s name in the credits of your favorite film.

Bob’s worked on WALL-E, Ratatouille, Cars, The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Ferngully, and Cats Don’t Dance, just to name a few. That’s quite a resume!

Bob’s also a comic strip creator. His strip, MOLLY AND THE BEAR, currently runs on Comics Sherpa.

The versatile Mr. Scott was gracious enough to submit to the 20 Questions treatment, although he still wouldn’t divulge the ending of Toy Story 3. Dang it!

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

My mom tells me that I was glued to cartoon shows from the time I was 9 months old. I think I wanted to BE a cartoon.  Early on I discovered drawing and spent hours in front of the TV drawing the characters from the screen. The Flintstones, Bugs Bunny and  Woody Woodpecker were on every day, and I tried not to miss an episode.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

Like most kids who draw, I had a teacher who encouraged me.  An eighth-grade teacher hired me to draw up things for her holiday bulletin boards. I don’t remember how much she paid me, but I liked seeing my drawings all laminated and on display.

I grew up in the Detroit area where there was always a fair or public picnic going on throughout the summers. My friend, Butch Hartman (Fairly OddParents creator) and I hit a gold mine when we started drawing caricatures at these fairs.  We were maybe 15 or 16 at the time, drawing these fast caricatures on white card stock with magic markers and ending the day with pockets absolutely stuffed with money.

Art, it seems, is a cool way to make a living.

3. You’ve worked at Pixar for about a decade. How did that come about, and is it, in fact, the coolest job in the world?

Yeah, almost 11 years.  Boy, that makes me feel old. A lot of my Cal Arts friends were already at Pixar when I was approached to “come North,” My family and I drove up for a visit and within a year we sold our house and moved. I really thought it would be a great place to work. I admired the films that they made and was inspired to give it a try. I feel very fortunate that I got in and I haven’t looked back since. 

And, yes, it’s a cool place to work.  

4. Can you take us through a typical day at Pixar?

I think the most remarkable thing about a day at Pixar is the constant feedback and support of so many topnotch artists.  We start off with dailies and the whole team is there. Everyone is welcome to speak up at this point, and this keeps us challenging ourselves and each other. It was a lot to get used to at first, but it’s a great thing. I love seeing what the other animators are doing with their scenes.

The artists are really committed to their craft, always working on growing and exploring.  Many of them have had their personal work published and shown in galleries. Quite a few of them are also gifted musicians, filmmakers, and actors on the side. It’s exciting to be around so much creativity and that keeps it from being “just a job.”

5. Computer animation seems to be the norm these days, although last year Disney released The Princess and the Frog, a film featuring traditional hand-drawn animation. Do you prefer one type over the other or does it depend upon the project?

I like both. My background is traditional animation, which I love, but I enjoy working on the computer as well. I am really lucky to have been able to work on the 2D projects that have come along at Pixar.  We had a VERY small crew for the end credits of Ratatouille and "Your Friend the Rat"."  To be able to bounce back and forth is the best of both worlds.

6. In addition to your animation work, you write and draw a comic strip on Comics Sherpa called MOLLY AND THE BEAR. Can you tell us about the strip?     

I’ve been drawing comic strips in my spare time going as far back as high school. (I have stacks of rejection letters from all the syndicates to prove it.)  Someone told me about Sherpa a couple years ago, which seemed like a good idea to me.  Finally, a way to get my strips out there without the syndicate gatekeepers! I started posting MYRON, a strip I’d been revisiting since my Cal Arts days when it was published in the Newhall Signal. 

After running MYRON on Sherpa for about 6 months, I switched to MOLLY AND THE BEAR, a strip about an 11-year-old girl and her giant pet Bear. Bear is the opposite of a real live 900-pound bear. He’s full of insecurities and fears. Molly is his caretaker and key to understanding the outside world. She’s his biggest coping mechanism.

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

I think that there’s room for both.  I guess if I HAD to choose, I’d pick print.  I like to read them as compilations.   

8. As someone who’s done both comic strips and animation, what’s the best part about each?

Strips are great because within a matter of a couple of hours you can sit back and look at something that is finished. I like the immediacy of the medium With very few tools, you can create something all by yourself that’s not a  massive undertaking. And with Sherpa, I can draw a strip, post it and have feedback first thing the next morning.  

In contrast, animation takes years to finish a film. But what’s exciting about animation is seeing all the extraordinary work done by your colleagues. I get so much from working with others. The most exciting part of animating is creating a performance.  I still love to see characters come alive on the screen. That never gets old to me.
9. Many may not know this, but you worked for Jim Davis back in the 1980s. Tell us about the job and your time in Indiana.

I was hired right out of Cal Arts to relieve Gary Barker from drawing the U.S.ACRES strip.  (He was penciling the Garfield strip AND all the merchandise art as well as U.S.ACRES!!) My good friend Brett Koth (creator of DIAMOND LIL) and I were working at Marvel Animation when we heard that Jim Davis was looking for an assistant. Brett and I were the only two people that applied. 

To make a long story short, Jim flew us out for an interview and ended up hiring both of us. Brett and I penciled the strip together. My wife, Vicki Scott, was hired shortly after to ink the strip and draw Garfield for merchandise. 

Gary, Vicki, Brett, and I all sat next to each other in the Paws bullpen and had a great time drawing and laughing a lot. It was a very fun atmosphere, and I will always be grateful to Jim for giving me the rare privilege of drawing one of his strips. 

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

My top five strips of all time are: PEANUTS, BLOOM COUNTY, DOONESBURY,  

Of the more recent strips my favorites are DIAMOND LIL, CUL DE SAC, KISKALOO, CITIZEN DOG and  MONTY.

11. Can you divulge the ending of Toy Story 3? Seriously, we won’t tell anyone. 

I’ll tell you all about it after it opens on June 18. I will say this though: Woody and Buzz are in it.

12. Do you think animation will ever replace static comics?

I don’t think so, at least I hope not. I’m not a big fan of the motion comics being done for the web these days. When I read a comic strip, I want to be able to just read it the way it is. Adding mediocre flash animation and sound effects actually takes away from the beauty of the art form to me.  

Now, if someone makes a well-animated cartoon based on a strip, that’s great! The Charlie Brown Christmas is brilliant, but it’s not trying to be a comic strip anymore; it’s an actual animated film. It’s well executed and entertaining on its own terms, independent from the strip. If someone just took the art from a Charles Schulz daily comic and slid the poses around to simulate some kind of animation, that doesn’t work for me.  

I’ve seen motion comics done right, though. Tony Fucile did an animated piece for his wonderful children’s book Let’s do Nothing! And Ann Telnaes does a great job with the  animated versions of her political cartoons.

13. What’s more important, talent or perseverance?

I’m a firm believer in working at something you enjoy. If it gives you personal satisfaction, chances are you’ll keep doing it and you’ll keep getting better naturally. Are you better because you’re more talented than someone else or because you just kept drawing?  I don’t have an answer.

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

I mostly read biographies. I recently finished Harpo Speaks, which I really loved.  Of course this means I had to see all the Marx Brothers’ movies again. Duck Soup is genius!  

Recently I’ve been on a Bill Cosby kick, revisiting the 1980’s The Cosby Show which I think is hilarious. I also can’t get enough of his original 1969 sitcom, The Bill Cosby Show.  That show is highly underrated and absolutely incredible. 

I’m a huge hip hop fan. Eminem, Jay-Z. Mostly old school rap. Public Enemy, Beastie Boys,  3rd Bass, Run –DMC.

15. What are the tools of your trade -- for MOLLY and your work at Pixar?

 I draw my strips the way I always have, with plain old white Bristol board, blue pencil, and really good India ink. And white out. Some days more white out than others. 

I don’t think I can disclose what we use at Pixar. They have their  own proprietary software for animation. When working in story, everyone draws on Cintiques and uses Photoshop now. All new school.

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

Just getting to draw funny pictures, I guess. Even at 45 I still love to draw. It also gives me a chance to write.  

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

One of the benefits of being in the industry for twenty-some years is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the inspiring pioneers of animation.  While working at the Warner Brothers’ shorts unit, I got to meet Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Maurice Noble. It was thrilling to meet these living legends.

A friend of mine took me to lunch with Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. That was an incredible day! We went to their homes and hung out for a bit. I even saw the trains in their back yards.  

Jim Davis introduced me to Jim Henson at the Emmys once. I was actually nominated for an Emmy that year, and the hands-down highlight of the evening was being introduced to Jim Henson. He’s been my hero ever since I was 5 years old when I saw Sesame Street for the first time. He was such a nice person, very warm.  

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a living doing what you love. Draw all the time and most of all, enjoy yourself. You’ll find a way to work in this business somehow.  
19. How important are awards?

Well, not very important. Although they may seem like a good thing, they actually get in the way of the creative process.  I believe Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar in his lifetime.

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

In Monsters Inc., the monster who said, “I tried to run from it, but it picked me up with its mind powers and shook me like a doll!” was me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

20 Questions with Rob Harrell

What do clowns, a poodle and Oprah have in common?

No, not one of Stedman’s weirder fantasies, but a very funny episode in a very funny comic strip, BIG TOP, the work of cartoonist Rob Harrell.

Rob had Dusty, the poodle, kidnap Oprah. The famous talk show hostess was always off-panel, but one of the funniest strips had Dusty yelling at her “It puts the lotion on its skin, or it gets the hose again.”

Rob is not only a great cartoonist; he’s also an excellent painter. Check out his paintings online and his current gig working with Brian Bassett on ADAM @HOME.

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

I did. All the time. It was about 4th grade when my friend Steve Farris and I got really serious about it. We’d hide out in his basement and draw comics for hours. We’d save up our allowances and buy ‘How to Draw Cartoons’ books from a craft store at the mall.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

Technically, it was in 4th grade. Three of us started a “magazine” called Freak Out. It was going to be our monthly Mad-style humor rag. It was mostly Mad gags and Lunch Pail Kids cards, just barely changed. We charged 25 cents for a subscription. I think only one issue came out, and we got in trouble…

3. How did you get involved with the ADAM@HOME strip?

Well, that sort of came out of the blue. After BIG TOP, I had been working on some other concepts with Universal, but I never felt strongly enough about them to dive in. So, I think when they were looking for an artist, they already had a relationship with me (knew I could hit deadlines), and also knew I was looking for work. It’s been tough. I know a lot of people hated the change in style (especially in the very beginning when, I admit, I was fumbling around trying to merge our styles). 

Brian has this great, deceptively simple linework. It was like trying to copy someone’s hand-writing. But I finally decided I had more of a responsibility to make it look "right" to me, and the comments have been much, much kinder lately. For a while there, I was ready to flee the country, though.

4. BIG TOP ran for 5 years. Describe the process you went through to get the strip syndicated.

The idea came to me on a plane trip to San Francisco. I was doing some quick drawings for a little girl that was sitting by me. I drew her a bear, a clown and a monkey, and something clicked. I then REALLY quickly burned out a month of strips, I was so excited about the idea. Submitted them and waited… I started out developing the strip for another syndicate, but when I got the call from Universal and they liked it the way it was, that was it. I jumped up and down a lot that afternoon.
5. What’s your favorite rejected strip or gag?

Hmm. The only thing that comes to mind was a series that made fun of Scientology. The way I remember it, we ended up taking a lot of the bite out of that series. Probably wise, but at the time I thought I was being all edgy.

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

I’m really sort of staying out of it. I would love to do BIG TOP as a web comic at some point, if I could figure out a way to do it that would work for me. I know a lot of people have done really well, and I think that’s fantastic. It’s such a cool art form, so I just hope it keeps going in whatever format.

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 liked the challenge. Most of the time, that is. I would have liked to have Dusty be able to say something sucked. Or blew. "Stinks" just doesn’t feel right. But it did force me to be a little more creative with my language.

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


9. Who would win in a cage match, Dusty or Snoopy?

Probably Snoopy, as he’s older and wiser, but Dusty would fight dirty and definitely give him a good run.

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

Words. I don’t really come up with much until I’m sitting down with a pad and pen. Not many great ideas coming to me while I’m grocery shopping, etc. I really like to just start writing dialogue, write myself into a corner and then try to find a funny way out. The real fun comes when you get to know your characters well enough that you can kind of hear what they’d say.

11. Tell us about your paintings.

Mostly figurative, oil on canvas. I’ve shown at some great galleries around the country, which is fun. It’s therapeutic, although when I’m painting I tend to feel guilty that I’m not cartooning, and feel guilty when I’m cartooning that I’m not painting. I’m very good at guilt. And worry.

12. You’re a contributor to MAD Magazine. How did you become one of the “Usual Gang of Idiots”?

Again, that sort of came to me. They were looking for some new blood, and I guess someone got hold of the BIG TOP book. That’s one of the coolest calls I’ve gotten. I grew up devouring that magazine from cover to cover, so it’s such an honor when I get to see something of mine in there.

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

Well, my editor on BIG TOP (Lisa) was fantastic. She kind of let me do my thing, with just gentle nudges here and there when something ‘seemed kind of lame’. And that seemed to work great. Despite BIG TOP not being around anymore, I’m really happy with the strips I put out there.

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

Books – John Irving, Tom Wolfe, Updike. I loved The Pillars of the Earth and its sequel. Roots. The Time Traveler's Wife. I could go on for awhile. I’m kind of a book nerd.

Movies – The Graduate, Diner, Annie Hall. I loved There Will Be Blood. Boogie Nights has a special place. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. TV shows – Arrested Development! LOST, 30 Rock

Music – I listen to a LOT of music – Right now it’s The XX, Say Hi, Them Crooked Vultures, Late of the Pier, Blitzen Trapper. But Elvis Costello will always be my guy.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I’m working on a Wacom right now, but I’m really starting to miss pen and paper. Love Micron pens, especially after the tip breaks a little.

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

Getting to try to be funny. The actual job of trying to sit down and come up with something that makes you laugh is invaluable in the effort to not take things too seriously. I sometimes default to "miserable," and it’s really hard to do that when you’re writing gags.

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

The one that jumps out the most is Garry Trudeau. I met him at the NCS Reubens weekend, and couldn’t believe I was standing there having a conversation with him. Really surreal, but he couldn’t have been nicer. I don’t think I’ve met a cartoonist yet that I didn’t like.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Learn investment banking, or become a specialized surgeon. Actually, no, I’d say to keep drawing, but more importantly keep writing. The best drawn cartoon in the world won’t work if it doesn’t have solid writing, or at least thinking, behind it. And keep your day job. Seriously.

19. How important are awards?

I hope not very, as I haven’t come close yet.

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

Hmm. I went to Africa for five weeks on the day BIG TOP started in papers, so I didn’t get to see it in print till I got back. Caught Malaria while I was over there, but it cleared up nicely so I could hit the road running when I got back. Deadlines, always deadlines.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

20 Questions with Brett Koth

I’ve worked with Brett Koth for fourteen years and, frankly, I’m sick of him.

He’s always writing and drawing funny strips and creating brilliant sight gags. He’s prolific, professional, and has a seemingly endless imagination. On top of that, he’s a helluva nice guy.

Cut it out, Koth.

In all seriousness, Brett Koth is a one amazing cartoonist -- a born funnyman with drawing chops right up there with the best in the business.  Brett’s worked with Jim Davis on GARFIELD for over 20 years and he recently got the green light for his own syndicated strip: DIAMOND LIL. You can check out LIL on the Creators website and at Brett’s new blog. The strip is scheduled to launch March 1, 2010.

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

It’s all I ever wanted to do.  I was five or six when I took the birthday dollar grandma had sent me, and bought the book MORE PEANUTS with it — it cost a dollar — and that was it for me.  I was with my father (he paid the tax — thanks, dad), and I still remember the drug store where I bought it.  I even remember what the bookrack looked like, and where it was in the store.  If it had been any closer to the ice cream counter I might never have become a cartoonist.

I always drew, and was always encouraged to.  I had a drawing table in my bedroom before I was ten, so I guess you could say I was focused.  I drew bulletin boards in school, drew for the school newspaper, the whole nine yards.  I’m still a compulsive doodler to this day. In fact, I tend to prefer my doodles to my finished work.

And, by the way, I still have that book.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

Doing caricatures at Southern California amusement parks.  I started out at Movieland Wax Museum (gone now) in Buena Park, and then moved down the street to Knott’s Berry Farm, where I worked for a company called Harvin Artists, which had a booth there, and two more at Universal Studios in Hollywood.  I think there were about ten of us on staff, and our schedules rotated between both parks.  We were also available for private parties, conventions, etc.  I actually put myself through Cal Arts doing this for four summers and weekends/holidays during school, that’s how well it paid.  We did two-minute quick sketch profile (big head/little body) caricatures with stinky bullet point black Design Art Markers on gloss stock, and I could do 150 to 250 of these on a busy day.  It turned out to be good training for the real world, too, as those $2.25 (what we charged for a sketch then) art critics were still among the most brutal I’ve ever encountered.

3. You’ve worked with Jim Davis for over 20 years.  How did that come about?

In early 1986 I was working at Marvel Productions in L.A. on a CBS half-hour BLONDIE special, the only memory of which I retain is meeting Penny Singleton when she toured the studio.  It was one morning during the 10 a.m. union break, out at the “roach coach” in the parking lot that I first heard Jim Davis was looking for a new assistant.  The hitch was, you had to move to Indiana.

Jim had put out the word through Phil Roman, the producer of his television specials in California, that he was seeking someone to assist on the art for his then new second strip, U.S.ACRES, who had animation experience as well, so they could also assist in the storyboarding of future TV projects.  As far as I know, Bob Scott, myself and another name I’ve forgotten forever were the only three people in Los Angeles to apply for this job.  Bob was a fellow “Cal-Artian” working at Marvel too at the time — I believe on the MUPPET BABIES series.

The three of us applied at Phil’s studio; he Xeroxed copies out of our portfolios and Fed-Xed them to Jim, and the next day, Bob and I got phone calls from him inviting us out to Indiana for interviews.  So my wife Mona and I, and Bob and his then fiancĂ©e Vicki  all flew out together, wondering which one of us would get the job.  Jim hired us both.

Long story short, Bob and I split the drawing duties on U.S.ACRES for the rest of its run.  Eventually, I fell into the writing side of things for both strips, and Bob ended up returning to animation in California.  He’s worked at Pixar, in Northern California for many years now, and has a great new strip, MOLLY AND THE BEAR, running on Comics Sherpa.  I continued to work with Jim, and still do, from my home in Virginia.

4. Your new comic strip, DIAMOND LIL, distributed by Creators, launches March 1.  Can you tell us about the strip, and how it got syndicated?

LIL took me by surprise.  After years of many carefully thought out submissions, she just seemed to fall out of my head one day.  The writing came so fast that I had a package ready to send out in only two months, and that had never happened before.  I sent it in November of 2008, and got the call from Creators in February. 

Lillian Bilious is a blue-haired 75-year-old widow who has lived in the same house in the same small town all her life (Turkey Knuckle, Indiana).  She enjoys saying exactly what’s on her mind, because let’s face it, who’s going to tell an old lady to shut up?   She’s a mash-up of many older ladies I’ve known in my life.  I had a great aunt Lillian, who was a character, and I’ve always loved that name.  The “Diamond” in the title refers to her age, and the fact that she’s the hardest substance known to man.

Samples of the strip are now up and running daily on the Creators website under “New” comics, and the newspaper launch is set for March 1st. Somebody pinch me.

5. You’ve been involved with several strips, including U.S.ACRES and BUGS BUNNY.  What can you do with animal characters that you can’t do with people?

Interesting question, because in the writing I never thought of them as animals, unless the gag was animal-specific.  I suppose you do have more latitude with animals, since belief is already suspended once they start talking or walking around on their hind legs, but as long as the personalities of the characters are strong enough, it shouldn’t make a difference who’s doing the talking — you write to the character, not the species.  Although it is more fun to blow up a rooster than a farmer.


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

That’s a tough one, because there have been so many over the years.  I’d have to say it was probably a horrific pun.  I love puns, but we can’t use wordplay in GARFIELD, as it won’t translate into other languages.

There was another one, too — a television gag where Garfield was watching a talk show, and the guest had a mole on his thigh shaped like Morey Amsterdam.  Proper names of public people are verboten in the strip, too, so that one died a quiet death, although I think the rough did turn up in one of the anniversary books.  I always liked the punch line in that strip — “Some people just shouldn’t wear bicycle shorts.”

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

I’m in agreement with several of your other interviewees — I see them as apples and oranges, so why not have both?  Good work always speaks for itself, and I think the web is a great venue for that.

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

Oh, yeah, it’s extremely limiting.  And the challenge is to try to stretch those limits without setting off too many alarm bells. My approach is to simply write what I like, and if there are objections, pick my battles.  Sometimes I find it’s simply best to just kill a gag rather than go back and monkey with it, just for the sake of appropriateness (I had a friend in college who used to call this “murdering my babies,” a term I love). 

And sometimes what constitutes “appropriate” in a comic strip can cause forehead dents in a gagwriter’s drafting table. When I was writing the BUGS BUNNY  strip, rules came down from on high (after I had violated said rules) that Porky was not to stutter, and that Sam and Elmer could not carry firearms (although I could blow characters up — that was okay).  Now I ask you, what kind of a threat is Elmer Fudd without a shotgun in his hands?

Of course, this was almost 20 years ago, and I’ve gotten over it now.  Can you tell?

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

There are so many, but off the top of my head, Charles Schulz, Johnny Hart, George Herriman, Virgil Partch and George Booth.  There was also an animator I worked under for a short time at Disney named Chris Buck, who, just by watching him work, taught me more about drawing and posing characters in eight months than I learned at Cal Arts in three years.  He was amazing.

10. Who looks worse in a bikini, Cathy or Hagar the Horrible?

Well, my father in-law is a native Norwegian, and even though I’ve never seen him in a bikini (thank God), I’d still have to say Cathy looks worse.  I’d hate for “dad” to go all “Viking” on me.
11. How do you develop ideas?  Which comes first, words or pictures?

The GARFIELD gags are laid out as they’re written, so a little of both, depending on the gag — some are straight  pantomime.  I’m a doodler, so that often works, but sometimes it’s the words that provide the spark.

In general, I usually follow a writer named Gene Fowler’s advice.  He said, “Writing is easy, all you do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

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

You can’t.  That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.


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

I prefer a hands-on editor, but one that also trusts me.

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

The TV I watch anymore is baseball, and stuff like the History channel, the National Geographic channel and Ovation. 

Music would be jazz, blues and classic rock. 

Books would include anything by S.J. Perelman.  Also Robert Benchley, James Thurber, E.B. White, Raymond Chandler, Woody Allen, Roger Angell, David Sedaris, and Ian Frazier, to name a few.  There’s also a new author I enjoy a lot named Simon Rich.

Favorite movie, bar none, would have to be a 1967 Jerry Lewis epic called The Big Mouth. There, I’ve said it, and I’m proud.


15. What are the tools of your trade?

I will generally scribble on and with anything within reach.  I’ll confess to being somewhat of a pen freak, though.  For years now I’ve preferred sketching with a disposable fountain pen made by Pilot, called a Varsity.  For years before that, it was Rolling Writers.  Lately, I seem to have developed a strange fascination with mechanical pencils.  I still can’t figure that one out.

Up until a year ago all my strip writing was done in sketchbooks, but then the boss sent me a pen tablet called a Cintiq, made by Wacom.  Currently I do all my work on this.  I can sketch up an idea on it, and email it directly to Jim, who has one, too.  He can then make any changes or notes on the image, and zap it back to me.  The writing itself is done on whatever paper is handy — written in longhand with small sketches where necessary, but as little drawing as possible.  When I have the idea the way I want it, I take it to the Cintiq, so that when I draw it up, it’s for the first time.  This seems to work best for me. 

I work on a Mac, and the program I use is called Sketchbook Pro.  For other jobs that require finished art I remain Old School: blue pencil on 2-ply plate finish Bristol, Winsor & Newton #1 brush, Higgins Black Magic and white out.

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

Making a living doing the thing I love best.  I consider myself very lucky.

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

I met Sergio Aragones at a cartoonist’s meeting in L.A.  He was a big hero of mine growing up.  And during my college years I was lucky enough to have met Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett on different occasions.  Also Walter Lantz.  And, of course, I know Jim, but that’s about it.  I don’t get around much, do I?

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Something I read once:  “Great writing can save bad drawing, but great drawing can never save bad writing.”  I can’t remember who said that, but boy, is it ever true.  Also, never try to hand-letter the word “flick” in capitals.

19. How important are awards?

I don’t have any, so I wouldn’t know.  Jim has quite a few of them.  They look like they’d be tough to dust.

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

I’m Spider-Man.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

20 Questions with Leigh Rubin

I first saw Leigh Rubin's comic strip, RUBES, in the Antelope Valley Press in the early 90s. Always fresh, funny and inventive, RUBES showcases Leigh's wonderfully original sense of humor.

Check out all things RUBES at Leigh's website. You can get RUBES cards, RUBES books, RUBES calendars, and inquire about speaking engagements. For a generous donation, Leigh will even come to your house and clean out your fridge.

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

All the time. I think I was born with a pencil in my hand. That may explain why my mom had such a difficult labor.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I sold a greeting card (of my own design) off the counter of my father’s print shop. I made fifty cents. That was big money back in 1979.

3. Describe the process you went through to get RUBES syndicated.

It was a very long and tortuous ordeal. You’ll have to wait for the RUBES biopic starring Johnny Depp. Of course, you may be waiting for awhile so if you just buy me a beer, I’d be happy to tell you.

4. Vultures show up quite often in RUBES. Any particular reason why?

Because, unlike my kids, they actually clean up messes.

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

I haven’t had any. That’s because I reject them before anyone else can and into the trash can they go.

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

I take a neutral position. Whoever eventually wins the debate, that’s whose side I’m on?

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 enjoy the challenge of pushing the limit within the limits. So much of pop culture these days is “in your face,” and it leaves nothing to the imagination. Having some limits is a good thing because it tends to stretch your own imagination to be more clever.

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

I tend to read only what’s in my local paper but the ones I read consistently are ZITS, GET FUZZY, LUANNE, PEARLS BEFORE SWINE and DILBERT.

9. Who would win in a mud wrestling match, Gary Larson or Dan Piraro?

I would appreciate it if you would please try to keep your twisted fantasies out of my interview.

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

This is like the chicken and egg question isn’t it? Well, let’s see...I’ll have my chicken fried and my eggs over easy. The truth is that there is no magic formula. I just take whatever comes first and that’s that.

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

Only when I die...and at that point, who cares?

12. Who do you want to portray you in the inevitable biopic?

I don’t have a preference as long as I get 20 mil up front and 20% of the gross.

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

I prefer the kind of editor that puts my cartoon in his or her paper.

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

Since it’s a combo question I’ll give you a combo answer. On the weekends I watch/listen to a lot of CSPAN 2. (Book TV) It’s terrific as I can listen while I work since it’s mostly authors reading from their books and answering questions from the audience. I’m exposed to multiple viewpoints on politics and history and I can actually learn something at the same time. A couple of my recent favorite authors are Christopher Buckley and Christopher Moore though I just finished an interesting bit of fiction (Beat the Reaper) about a hit man turned M.D. by Josh Bazell. Interesting stuff.

I am partial to the TV shows Bones and NCIS. It’s fun to see David McCallum after all these years. My brother and I were big fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in the 60s.

As far as films go I am not a big action pic kind of guy. I like movies that are unpredictable without a lot of blood.

Oh, music. Mostly classic rock, which apparently my 14-year-old and friends also very much enjoy. The other day my son had on a Grateful Dead shirt and his friends had on Journey and Van Halen shirts. I asked them what new bands they liked and they said, “New bands suck”...Out of the mouths of babes, eh?

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Paper, pencils, pens, ink, lots of caffeine and the desire to avoid real work at any cost.

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

Being asked to do thought-provoking interviews.

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

Thou shalt not have any other idols before me.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Stay in school. Study hard. Become doctors and lawyers. I don’t need any more competition.

19. How important are awards?
Statues make good doorstops. Cash is better.

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

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