K.Garrison interview

I’ve been a fan of Jenner’s Doc Rat strip for several years, and for a while I was active in his comments forums over at The Cross Time Cafe. That’s where I first met K.Garrison, creator of Carry On, the best comic on the net starring hyenas. K –

BC: Who are you?
KG: Wow, going straight for the existential philosophical stuff, huh? Well, let’s see…I’m a farmer, an artist, an arm-chair philosopher, an admirer of animation, a country girl, a gardener, a journalist, an animal-lover, a photographer, a writer… but mostly, I’m a teller of jokes and stories. That’s what I am, a storyteller.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
KG: I’m a West Virginian who had the bad luck to have been born in New Jersey. That’s not entirely fair, though, because I had an idyllic childhood on the Jersey Shore, but I “grew up” in West Virginia. On one side of my family, we go back to the American Revolution; on the other side, we’re immigrants from Poland and Austria.

KG: I’ve always loved animals; when I was three, I remember being asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, and my reply was “have a menagerie.” That became a desire to become a veterinarian. I couldn’t get into vet school, so I became a farmer instead. So in a way, I’ve realized that childhood ambition, because I certainly have a menagerie now.

KG: My other love was art. I had an early gift for it that manifested itself as three-dimensional finger-painting in kindergarten. I was the prodigy all my teachers loved to show off. It’s not bragging, it’s just the truth. I have to say that my seven-year-old niece has even more talent at her age than I had, so I’m hoping for great things from her. My paternal uncle is a fine-artist who has made a name for himself with his paintings. My mother and her paternal aunt were also talented artists. I have a great-grand-aunt who I’ve been told was a poet laureate of Poland. So I’ve got art in the blood, and as Sherlock Holmes said, it’s liable to take some strange forms.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
KG: I’d say I’m an artist, because I’m not restricted to any one form of expression. I’m primarily a cartoonist, but I also do illustrations, sculptures, sewn projects like dolls and doll clothes, miniature furniture, paintings, and sketches.

BC: How did you get your start as an artist? How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
KG: I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I was a big fan of cartoons and comics when I was little, and created my first comic strip when I was in the third grade. It was based on the adventures of some of my stuffed animals–today it would be called a “Peanuts” fan fic, I suppose, because the main character was a beagle named Henry who was Snoopy’s cousin. I can remember saying that my ambition was to one day take Charles Schulz’ place as a cartoonist.

KG: Cartoons are an ideal medium for me, because they combine illustration with storytelling, and a joke. I have a skewed way of looking at the world, and I almost can’t help cracking a joke, wanting to make people laugh–I got that from my dad–so creating comic strips just comes naturally. I’d have to say that my biggest break was learning that I could self-publish my work on the Internet. Up until around 2004, my audience was myself and a few select friends to whom I’d show my cartoons. But being put in touch with hundreds of people from around the world…well, it’d hard to describe the feeling of knowing I HAVE FANS!! And I really appreciate my fans. It amazes me to know that people in places as diverse as Indonesia, Finland, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Israel, Australia, and all points in between, read my comic strip. It’s humbling.

BC: What led up to your starting Carry On, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
KG: Before we started dating, my husband, Scott Kellogg, was drawing a comic strip called 21st Century Fox. In his main story line, his character Cecil, a giraffe, was getting ready to marry two lady giraffes and start a herd. I started sending Scott “fan art” and making suggestions for gags, most of which he politely declined to use because they didn’t fit into his concept of the storyline. He did, however, include a cameo of me in the strip–envisioned as a hyena, at my request. That was the first appearance of Kathy Grrsn in print. I then asked him if he would mind if I did a spin-off series using the gags I’d sent him, and he gave me permission to use his characters. That became the original series of Carry On, although at the time it was fan art.

KG: The idea of using a hyena stemmed from the dearth of “unattractive” animal characters being used in the comics of that time. There were plenty of foxes, tigers, lions, wolves, and even skunks, but no scavengers. So I decided that I was going to create a comic strip about a group of scavengers, and make them work at a big-city newspaper. As the comic progressed, Kathy got a sister who worked on a rescue squad, and a dad who was an undertaker. Kathy’s favorite cartoon character, Pepe The Fire Ant, was created because “nobody makes plushies of fire ants.”

KG: The title of the strip is a play on the word “carrion.” I knew very little about spotted hyenas when I first started the strip. I chose that animal because it scavenges stuff and has a raucous laugh–much like myself. Over time I’ve learned a lot about the animal, and despite the fact that they’re weird and kind of gross in their personal habits, I’ve come to love and admire spotted hyenas.

KG: As for other projects…I’ve done several other comic strips, I’ve written novels, and I’ve done some illustrations for other people’s works, but at the present moment, working on Carry On and running my farm takes most of my time. I submit stuff to my DeviantArt account on a regular basis. Coming up with the story for my comic strip, now that it’s changed from a gag-a-day into a serial, consumes most of my creativity. I’ve even stopped reading books in order to keep my mind focused on my own story.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with?
KG: Probably Carry On. I’m pleased to have the audience I’ve accumulated, and to have placed third in the 2015 Ursa Major Awards, which is a fan-based recognition among the “furry” art community. I have some as-yet unpublished novels, which I’m very pleased with, but I don’t know whether they’ll ever see distribution, because one is based on The Phantom of the Opera and the other is a series using the Russian folklore demon Koschei the Deathless as its inspiration. I’ll probably end up self-publishing them.

KG: I’ve developed an aversion to “fan fiction.” I used to write loads of it, until I found out that it’s better to be original rather than squander one’s creativity by using somebody else’s works. While I include plenty of shout-outs or cameos or homages in my comic strip, the story, the characters, and the general concept are totally original. And it’s letting me do some world-building.

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
KG: I do not yet have any collections available, but I hope to have something put together soon. A dear friend of mine in Germany assembled the first ten years of my comic strip and had them printed and bound as an anniversary gift; he also did the same thing for my husband’s comic strip. The books are beautiful, and as he’s given me the file, I hope to be able to find an American custom printer to publish them on demand.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip?
KG: Usually the ideas come first. I get ideas all the time–it’s like part of my mind is in some sort of continuous stream-of-consciousness state, and suddenly a joke will pop into my head, or a funny turn of phrase, or maybe I’ll walk into a tree or something while working around the yard (that happens surprisingly often to me) and I’ll go in and jot the idea down. Often, one idea begets others, and pretty soon I have a whole series of gags waiting to be drawn. The hard part is reading my own handwriting…or digging the appropriate notes out of the stacks of paper on the desk and kitchen table!

KG: Prior to starting the “Road To Rackenroon” arc, Carry On was a gag-a-day strip based on the daily life of the main character, Kathy Grrsn. She’s only loosely based on me. She lives in New Yak City, and her parents live about an hour away by train in Hyenasport. She has several co-workers with varying personalities, like Helen, the OCD office manager who is a raccoon; Calvin, the loathsome swine sportswriter; Walter, the editor, who is a vulture, gruff but nurturing of talent; and Scooter, her best friend, who was the staff artist and cartoonist for Pepe The Fire Ant. I added a few characters based on some real-life friends of mine. People are either tickled pink to have a cartoon cameo, or never speak to me again.

KG: Coming up with a gag a day got increasingly difficult. There were times when I had nothing at 9 PM the night before an update, so I’d either vamp with any old thing that came to mind, or put up some filler art, like cute pictures of my baby lambs. It was getting to the point where creating the strip wasn’t much fun anymore–it was feeling like work, and I was tempted to close it down. Then I got the inspiration to do a “Road Picture”-type storyline, where Kathy finds out she’s an heiress, travels to a distant country, and…heh, no spoilers. That initial concept was supposed to last only a couple of months.

KG: I had started the set-up, and then my husband had a stroke…which I incorporated into the storyline. I told you, I get jokes from everywhere. Anyway, as it went along, I got more involved in the backstory of this distant land, and of the Lieutenant who was to be Kathy’s unwillingly-betrothed husband. I started to like this new character to the point where he began to take over the direction of the strip, and finally I just handed him the reins and let him go with it. I know some people miss the old format and would like to see the New Yak City cast again, but I feel the strip has become much richer and more interesting.

KG: As for the actual mechanics of drawing the strip…I use regular 8.5 x 11 copy paper. I lay out the border with a .08 Micron archival ink pen and a triangle. Sometimes I make preliminary sketches if I have to work out a pose or an action sequence, but usually I start sketching the strip with a #2 pencil, after I’ve blocked it out in my head, breaking down the dialog into one to four panels. Recently I’ve been experimenting with longer sets of panels if I have too much for one strip with three frames, but not enough for two full strips.

KG: Usually I write out the dialog in script form, then do some editing to get it to fit. Creating a comic strip is like making a haiku–you need to be able to distill an idea to its essence, to pare it down into one to three frames, and still have it be funny. Funny, or thought-provoking. An ironic punch line is just as good as a funny one. Once the strip is blocked and sketched, I ink it with a #03 Micron pen. Then I scan it into Photoshop, clean it up, use bucket fills for the colors, shade and highlight it, add backgrounds, dialog balloons, and the text, and then flatten it, size it for the Web, and upload it to my comic site, Magpie House Design at Hirezfox.com. I’ve got very nice guys who take care of the nuts and bolts of the site for me–James, Carl, and Mako. I couldn’t do this without their help. And of course, my husband has always been there for support and to bounce ideas off of. If a joke makes him laugh, then I know I’ve got a winner.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
KG: Funny you should ask–I actually have a Carry On playlist. It ranges from classical music to contemporary pop. The song that changed things with the “Road To Rackenroon” storyline was “Makin’ Love Out Of Nothing At All” by Air Supply. Until I settled on that as the “love theme” for Kathy and Fred, the story as originally planned wasn’t working for me.

(Note: In case you’re interested, here’s the playlist–some of these I use for inspiration, or setting a mood, while others will be part of the storyline:
Just Good Friends, Fish
Storms in Africa, Enya
Raiders Theme, John Williams
The Music of the Night, Andrew Lloyd Webber
I’m In The Mood For Love, Nat King Cole
Makin’ Love Out Of Nothing At All, Air Supply
Duet version with Bonnie Tyler
Footloose, Kenny Loggins
Africa, Toto
The World Turned Upside Down, Coldplay
Incommunicado, Marillion
Fighter, Christina Aguilera
She’s Always A Woman, Billy Joel
The Heat Is On, Glenn Frey
The Glory of Love, Peter Cetera
Pachelbel’s Canon in D, for classical guitar
Two Less Lonely People, Air Supply
What About Love, Heart
Leave A Tender Moment Alone, Billy Joel
Call Me Al, Paul Simon
There Ain’t Nothin’ Bout you That Don’t Do Something For Me, Brooks & Dunn
Hooked On A Feeling, Blue Swede
I Will Always Love You, Dolly Parton
Leaving Port,” “Take Her To Sea, Mr. Murdoch,” and “The Sinking,” from James Horner’s “Titanic” soundtrack)

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
KG: I have a long list of “favorite writers” whose works have inspired me. This is only a partial recollection of the people who have inspired me: There’s Marguerite Henry, who wrote the “Misty of Chincoteague” stories, and started me wanting to be a storyteller like her; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; J.R.R. Tolkein; J.K. Rowlings has my life; James Herriot; George Lucas, who was a brilliant director, until he turned to evil and betrayed and murdered his story; Alex Hirsch, who created “Gravity Falls” and who was born the year I graduated high school, I hate that guy; Derek Dick, who goes by the stage name Fish, whose work with the alt-rock band Marillion improved my writing skills; Steve Smith, aka Red Green; Anne McCaffrey; Bill Watterson, whose brilliant “Calvin & Hobbes” will live forever; Garrison Keillor; Norman Rockwell, who knew how to paint a good story; the guys who wrote “Back To The Future,” which I think is the most perfectly-written movie ever made; Nick Park and Aardman; Walt Disney and Chuck Jones, for inspiring my artistic style; Charles Addams, Dik Browne, Charles Schulz, Frank Cho, Gary Larson, Gary Trudeau, and Phil Foglio, for inspiring my cartooning style. The only one of these I’ve met is Phil Foglio, and I think he thinks I’m stalking him or something, because we kept bumping into each other at Dragon*Con a couple of years ago.

KG: And of course, there’s my husband, who is my co-conspirator, my sounding board, and my best friend. Without his patience, hard work, and understanding, I could never have created this comic strip. He not only tolerates me, he aids and abets me.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
KG: I have a handful of comics I read regularly, because I admire them, or because I know the artists personally–sometimes, both. I don’t have much time to read a lot of comics these days, and I’m paranoid about lifting ideas from other people–I’m a pretty bad intellectual kleptomaniac. “Great comics steal” and all that. I regularly follow “Freefall” by Mark Stanley, “Doc Rat,” by Jenner, “Girl Genius” by Phil and Kaja Foglio, “The Whiteboard” by Doc Nickel, “NEOCTC” by Sleepy John Reynolds, and “21st Century Fox” by my husband, Scott Kellogg. I contribute ideas and advice to “NEOCTC” and to “The Cross-Time Cafe,” and for the past few months I’ve been helping out my husband by drawing “21st Century Fox” for him due to his schedule at work making it difficult for him to devote the necessary time to it himself.

KG: I’m personal friends with Mark Stanley, who is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. I greatly admire Jenner’s artwork. Phil Foglio was an artistic inspiration to me back in high school after I saw his work in an anthology book titled “Startoons,” and I’ve been following Girl Genius since the black-and-white line art days. I’ve only recently started following The Whiteboard, after Doc included a cameo of one of my characters, and I thanked him by doing a little filler art for him. As far as syndicated strips go, I’ve been reading “Hagar,” “Peanuts,” “B.C.” “The Wizard of Id,” “Beetle Bailey,” “Hi & Lois,” “Blondie,” and a number of others, for ages. I’ve also recently started collecting the works of Sergio Arragones and Don Martin.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
KG: Storytelling, humor, and artwork, in that order. Very few comic strips have all three. A badly-drawn comic can make it on a good gag, but a beautifully-drawn comic strip with a poorly-told story will quickly lose my interest. There are several gorgeous strips whose storylines are so convoluted, or so dull, that I just can’t follow them. And I totally don’t get the dark and/or violent comic strips. That’s just not my taste.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
KG: Characters that come to life. A good, solid ability to tell a story, and to make it engrossing enough that I want to come back the next day to see what happens. The ability to tell a joke. A dedication on the part of the artist, not only to his readership, but to the characters he’s created. A cartoonist or a novelist is sort of like a god, calling people into being, breathing life into creatures of paper and ink, and he owes it to them to give them well-written personalities and great stories to tell. Other people won’t love your characters if you don’t love them first. My friend Sleepy John uses stick figures for his comic strip, but he has such a mastery over body language and comic timing that he produces one of the best comic strips around, as minimalist as the art is. His strip’s kind of like xkcd meets Zootopia, only that’s not an accurate description, as his strip is more original than that. Originality also draws my attention. I don’t understand the manga fad–why spend so much time learning how to draw in somebody else’s style, so that your artwork looks exactly like everyone else’s?

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? Do you want to plug your site?
KG: I do not currently use either of those, although I’ve considered getting an account with Patreon. To be brutally honest, I’d love to be able to get paid for what I’m doing. I got into comics just about the time when the newspapers and publishing houses were being killed off. Self-publishing allows anyone to get their work in front of an audience, but the Internet has in effect given typewriters to an infinite number of monkeys, and no one has yet come up with anything close to Shakespeare. I’m grateful to my fans for the gifts they’ve given me over the years. Perhaps their greatest gift has been their dedication and friendship. But dropping a buck in the jar once a week would help a lot, too! 😉

KG: I’m a lazy cartoonist–I could be doing a lot more to promote my site. Currently I’m on a small server. I’ve looked at trying to get onto an aggregator like GoComics, without much progress so far, mostly due to a lack of follow-up. I’ve gotten a Deviant Art account (kdnightstar) and have used it to post drawings, writing, and photographs. You can find my comic at www.hirezfox.com/km/co/index.html.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
KG: No. I’ve attended a few conventions, but I find the thought of attending as a behind-the-table personality to be daunting to the point of terrifying. I’m not ruling it out, but the logistics (I have a farm, remember) and the expense has put me off. Some projects I need to get to are, creating a searchable archive for my comic, and making up some new art to use as “thank you” gifts for donations, as well as finding out how to get some paper copies of my comic made available via print-on-demand.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Kathryn Garrison Kellogg (c) 2004-2017.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

Status, Feb. 13

Well, I’m back to having no backlog on the interviews again. Sorry about that.

My workload tends to be unpredictable. For the last two weeks, it has been “heavy,” but I’ve reached a break point now and can focus more on the interviews. I’ve got 10 requests for interviews floating out in the ether right now, and I’m just waiting for replies back.

Anyway, I should have a couple free days to track down the addresses for more artists and send out the next batch of requests.

Also, if there are any other artists you’d like to see interviewed here, please contact them and send them over here. Thanks!

Doug Savage interview

Savage Chickens had been running on GoComics for a few months before the concept really started to grow on me – “chickens” + “Post-It notes”. In general SC is a single-panel gag series that occasionally grows to fill all available space. While the artwork is fairly minimalistic, the pop culture references and parodies, with chickens, and the ever-present Timmy Tofu, are dead-on.

(from Savage Chickens)

BC: Who are you?
DS: I’m Doug Savage, and I’m the creator of the comic Savage Chickens.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
DS: I’m Canadian. I was born outside of Ottawa and lived in small-town eastern Ontario before moving out here to Vancouver for a change of pace. I don’t have any formal artistic training. I just love drawing, so I keep doing it, and keep trying to get better at it. I’m also trying to get better at playing the ukulele, with less success.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
DS: I think of myself as a cartoonist more than anything else.

(from Savage Chickens)

BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist?
DS: I drew all the time as a kid, and I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up. As I got older, I did less art and gradually got more into creative writing and did an English Lit degree. And by the time I was working in an office as a technical writer, I had all but forgotten how to draw (except for chickens, which I drew on everybody’s whiteboards when they weren’t looking). I started drawing comics again in 2004. I didn’t get any formal training or anything – I just started drawing comics and sharing them with the world. And after a few years of that, it occurred to me that I had become a cartoonist. Success!

BC: How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
DS: Hmm, yeah, it’s been 12 years since I started Savage Chickens. Along the way, I’ve had a bunch of good things happen that I’d consider to be big breaks. Early on, my website got featured on a few popular blogs, including My Yahoo and Blogger. Later, I got my first book deal, my work started running on GoComics, and I got invited to San Diego Comic Con as a special guest. These days, I’ve branched out into graphic novels for kids, and I’m really excited about this new direction for my work. I feel like there’s never really a moment where you think “I’ve made it!” – it’s more of a series of gradual (and often unpredictable) milestones that, when you look back on them, seem to suggest that you’ve made it.

BC: What led up to your starting Savage Chickens, and do you have anything other pokers in the fire right now?
DS: I started Savage Chickens out of desperation. At the time, I was pretty unhappy about my boring day job, which was mind-numbingly uncreative. But it went beyond the usual office boredom when I started getting migraines and being genuinely concerned about my health. Savage Chickens came out of that stress and frustrated creativity. These days, my new comic projects are coming from a very different place of enthusiasm and excitement and exploring new things. I’m working on book 2 of Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy right now and I’m having a blast. So much fun!

BC: Savage Chickens is up to 2013 on GoComics. Any plans to run the more recent comics there, or are readers just going to have to wait a few weeks for that?
DS: For GoComics, I’ve always posted the comics from four years before the current date. I’ll probably keep it that way, just because it’s a nice way to introduce my archive to people and to showcase comics that might not have gotten noticed the first time around.

BC: What would you say have been the most popular of the Chickens strips?
DS: According to my site statistics, it’s “I Love You More“, but it’s really hard to tell these days with people viewing the comics in so many different places. The one that has been passed around the most on social media is probably “Spot the Differences“, which I still get a chuckle out of. Some people find that comic infuriating, but that was kind of the point.

BC: Do chickens have fingers?
DS: Mine do! I make the feathers look a bit like a hand whenever I need to, like, if the chicken’s holding a wine glass or something.

BC: Since Chickens are drawn on Post-It notes, do you stick them on the fridge when you’re done with them?
DS: Hey that’s a good idea, and more exciting than the real answer: I stow them away in portfolio books to keep them safe. I have a shelf full of post-it note portfolios.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
DS: Artists always seem to prefer their most recent work, and I’m no exception. I think Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy is the best thing I’ve ever made. I love the characters, and I loved the challenge of writing longer stories and doing full color.

BC: Do you have any paper or e-book collections on the market?
DS: I think there are still a few copies of my first book kicking around out there if you can find them: Savage Chickens: A Survival Kit for Life in the Coop. But more recently, GoComics and Universal Uclick created six little e-book collections of my work. You can find them here at Amazon. And there’s my new graphic novel, of course: Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy, which is in bookstores everywhere right now.

BC: Do you get much reader feedback on either Chickens or Laser Moose? Is it mostly positive?
DS: I’ve been lucky to receive overwhelming positive feedback for both. For Savage Chickens, I get emails every day from my readers and I love hearing that my work makes people laugh – especially when people let me know that the chickens helped them smile and get through a tough time. Laser Moose has only been out a few months, but the feedback has been great so far. It was especially fun to see the reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of yellow paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
DS: I usually start with writing rather than drawing. I scribble down a couple of topics, or I’ll use a random word generator from the internet. And then I’ll just think about that word or topic and think about how I feel about it, and what my associations are with it. If nothing comes to mind, I’ll try to combine it with a different topic or word, to see if the combination triggers any ideas. A lot of humor comes from putting two things together that don’t belong together, so that can be a fun way to generate ideas. I don’t really have time to ruminate over the blank page for long. No time for writer’s block! Deadlines can be a wonderful way to exercise your creative brain.

(Laser Moose, the book. Vol. 1.)

BC: Why a laser moose? Why not a death ray squirrel or a blaster frog? That is, what led up to the creation of Laser Moose?
DS: It started as a single joke on Savage Chickens. I liked the idea of a superhero who destroyed the thing that he was trying to protect, and that thought led to Laser Moose somehow. I’ve always been fascinated by moose – they’re so majestic, and I associate them with strength and bravery – you know, heroic-type stuff.

BC: Could you talk about LM a little, as an introduction for new readers?
DS: Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy is a 144-page full-color graphic novel, aimed at ages 7-12, but written for pretty much anybody, really. It’s about a moose who, you guessed it, shoots lasers out of his eyes, and his little rabbit sidekick. The rabbit doesn’t have any superpowers, except for a sort of stubborn optimism. They get in all sorts of adventures, and defend their forest from a bunch of villains, including a mutant fish-bear and a cyborg porcupine.

(Laser Moose, the not-a-book version.)

BC: Are there any significant differences between your approach to drawing on sticky notes, and on a regular sheet for children’s books? Any challenges or issues when you were first starting out with LM?
DS: It was hard to get used to the larger format, at first. Drawing on post-it notes for so many years, I’ve become pretty accustomed to tiny drawings. For Laser Moose, I got to draw on a larger space. But the book was a huge leap forward for me in all sorts of ways: it was my first time telling longer narrative stories, my first time writing for a younger audience, my first time doing full color. I learned so much from the experience, and it was really fun trying new things.

BC: Would you say the LM stories have a moral or hidden message for kids? Or, are they just cute stories about two animal friends from vastly different species?
DS: I tend to avoid overt moral messages, because I think readers can smell that sort of thing a mile away. I think you can get a lot of ideas across just by showing characters in conflict – with each other and within themselves. By showing how your characters resolve those conflicts, you end up showing something true and interesting about human nature. Or moose nature, in this case.

(from Savage Chickens)

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be like?
DS: I’d ask Andrew Huang to compose a funky soundtrack performed on office supplies.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
DS: Here are a few of my favorite creative folks of all time: Jim Henson, Gary Larson, Steve Martin, Matt Groening, Lawren Harris, Andy Goldsworthy, Nick Park, Douglas Adams, Weird Al Yankovic. And I have been lucky to meet a few of my cartooning heroes. I met Dan Piraro in San Diego – he was a big help to me in the early days of the chickens, so it was great to hang out with him. Last spring, I interviewed Lynn Johnston at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival – it was great to meet her and we had a great chat about her cartooning adventures. Very inspiring! I find that cartoonists are a really friendly bunch and we all tend to look out for each other. It’s a nice bunch of people.

BC: Got any dirt on them?
DS: Hahaha! No. And if I did, I wouldn’t tell. Us cartoonists have gotta stick together.

(from Savage Chickens)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
DS: Lately, I’m really enjoying Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmund, Dorris McComics by Alex Norris, Sketchshark Comics by Megan Dong, Up and Out by Julia Kaye, Jim Benton’s comics, and anything by Tom Gauld, and I could go on and on. There’s so much great stuff out there. It’s really inspiring.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips? What do you think makes for a good comic?
DS: I don’t really consciously look for anything, but I tend to be drawn to comics that are cleverly written, regardless of artistic style. I tire quickly of comics that use shock humor. And I’m not big on insult jokes. I’d rather laugh together about silly old human nature than laugh at somebody else’s expense.

(When your moose friend is a Laser Moose.)

BC: Are there any lessons you’ve learned over the last 12 years that you’d be willing to pass on to cartoonists just starting out?
DS: Oh geez, there are so many things. If anybody has any questions, submit them to me via my contact form and I’ll answer your question in detail there. (I’ve answered a few already.) But there’s one thing that I tell everybody who wants to be a cartoonist: be persistent. Extremely stubbornly persistent. It can be difficult to get your work noticed and find opportunities. For every project I’ve done that worked out, there are a dozen projects that didn’t work out. You just have to keep doing the work. Keep putting yourself out there and pushing yourself artistically and creating work that you’re proud of.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning?
DS: I haven’t used them yet. I keep meaning to, but haven’t had time. I do think they’re changing the face of cartooning in all forms. It’s so much fun to see somebody’s pet project become a reality because fans got behind it. It feels very democratic. The main things I’ve heard from friends who’ve had success with crowd-funding: be organized, put time into a good intro video, and don’t overextend yourself with the rewards.

(from Savage Chickens)

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
DS: Like I said, I’m working on the sequel to Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy, due out later in 2017. No appearances scheduled right now, but I’ll definitely be doing some book promotion stuff in the fall.

BC: Anything else you want to rant about?
DS: Ha no… oh wait maybe there is… I just want to say that becoming an artist has completely changed my life for the better. Like I mentioned earlier, I was toiling away in an office job and being super-miserable to the point that I started to become physically harmed by it. If you’re a creative person and you are not doing something creative, then you are going against your fundamental nature. Go out there and make something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t need to get lots of Likes. Just do it for yourself, first and foremost. Make art because it’s fun and energizing and challenging. Make art because you have to.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Doug Savage (c) 2017.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

Dan Piraro interview

I’ve been a big fan of Dan Piraro’s Bizarro comic ever since it first started running in the papers in Minneapolis in the 80’s. I’ve always loved the surrealist humor, the highly detailed artwork, and the look of the characters. When Jim Horwitz’s interview ran at the beginning of January, Dan mentioned it on his blog, which prompted me to go visit there, and ask Dan for an interview, too. He graciously, and surprisingly, said, “Yes.” Which immediately put me in a bind – what do you ask a man that’s been asked every question imaginable already? Answer – … I’m still working on that.

(Dumpty Dan.)

BC: You’ve stated that you’re moving more into painting and establishing yourself as a fine artist. What’s the appeal of painting, to you as a cartoonist? Sam Hurt, of Eyebeam, has also taken up painting, and I’m sure you’re aware that famed funny man George W. Bush also tackled this profession after retiring from his stand up career. What makes painting so popular as an activity? Is it the work schedule, the lack of deadlines, or greater control of the licensing rights?
DP: I grew up wanting to be a painter but being raised in a small town in Oklahoma, didn’t have the slightest idea how to make money at it. To avoid minimum wage jobs, I gravitated towards commercial illustration in my early twenties and was fairly quickly able to make enough to live indoors and eat regularly and was happy with that for a while. It was certainly better than the random jobs I’d been doing since high school, but I didn’t enjoy the work. In fact, within a couple of years, I really hated it. In an effort to escape the world of ad agencies, I began drawing and submitting cartoons to syndicates. I got some interest fairly quickly, but it took a couple of years of trying before finally getting a small syndicate, Chronicle Features in San Francisco, to give me a try. I considered myself profoundly fortunate to have landed a syndication contract at the age of 26 but didn’t realize that the money would be very slow coming and so I was trapped in my commercial illustration job for quite a few more years, doing Bizarro at night and on weekends.

(“Four Clerics Ignoring a Vision”, Dan Piraro (1995) 48″x48″, oil on linen.)

DP: Though I’ve really enjoyed my cartoon career, I’ve always seen myself becoming a painter eventually. I find fine art to be very meditative and the easiest way to get into what people call “flow” or the “zone”. Unlike commercial art and cartooning, fine art is something you do entirely for yourself, without aiming it at an audience. Also, my fine art looks very little like my cartoon art so it’s a big change of pace for me.

(From the Creative Haven Bizarro Land coloring book.)

BC: When Trump gets his wall built, who will be the first to deface it – you, or Banksy?
DP: I’ve been saying that I’d be happy to pitch in to pay for and build that wall if it will keep Trump and his supporters out of Mexico. In reality, though, one can easily see it is going to be an impossibly expensive quagmire that will likely never be completed; Trump’s Tower of Babel. And, of course, if it ever is completed, all one needs to defeat a 25-foot wall is a 26-foot ladder.


BC: Speaking of Trump, his followers seem to be very quick in denouncing anti-Trump cartoons, and claiming to boycott the artists of said cartoons. What’s your view on this? Is it better to play it safe and stay away from political cartoons now? Should artists stand up for their beliefs regardless of the consequences, or should they remain neutral and then use the money they make off of Trump supporters to help fund the groups Trump targets?
DP: The old paradigm for syndicated cartoonists used to be to not do anything to offend anyone in an attempt to maintain the broadest possible appeal. But now, with newspapers in decline and the way the Internet works, the opposite is true. There is so much interesting content online that it is very hard to attract attention; one way to do so is to have a strong opinion, which serves to attract people with similar opinions, of which there are always enough to support you. I’ve been hammering Trump hard on an almost weekly basis and it has improved my visibility and popularity online, not diminished it. (I’ve also not received any complaints from my client newspapers, which was something I occasionally got when I would take a shot at W. Bush.) I think it is important to remember that less than 1/4 of Americans voted for Trump. Who knows what the half of the country that did not vote at all think, but I’m guessing it’s safe to assume that a clear majority of Americans despise him and want him gone as quickly as possible. So I suspect trashing him isn’t that dangerous to any one person’s career. Even if it were, I refuse to remain silent during what is inarguably the darkest time in America’s history in a century. All of us need to call out this lying carnival barker and his cabinet of Simpsons billionaires.


BC: Can you talk about your stand-up comedy experiences? Were there any high- or low-lights that really stand out or make for good stories?
DP: I loved doing my one-man show and stand-up back in the day. There is nothing like the immediate gratification of hearing a roomful of people laugh at your comedy. Cartoonists don’t usually get that.

Direct youtube link

DP: My best and worst memories of those days belong to a single tour I did in about 2005 with my relatively new wife and my eldest daughter, Krapuzar. (She and her sister, Krelspeth, are who the hidden “K2” in my cartoons are a shout-out to.) My daughter was in her early 20s and was onstage with me during “The Bizarro Baloney Show,” which entailed songs, puppets, stand-up, video, some audience interaction, sets, costumes, props, and a few other bits of vaudevillian shenanigans. She played violin during the songs, did a bit of improvisational back-and-forth with me, and together we sang and danced to the big finale number. Audiences loved it and those shows are among my favorite memories of our time spent together.

(Baloney promo shot.)

DP: On the dark side, there were only the three of us on that tour and we had to manage the props, costumes and sets, the hotel and transportation arrangements, the tickets, sales of products, everything. It was exhausting and–without the payoff of the adulation onstage–my wife came to hate it and developed a major case of jealousy over my relationship with my daughter. She became increasingly surly and the tension between her and us was tremendous. It was such a drag that I got a stress zit in the middle of my forehead that would not go away. I looked like a religious Hindu for weeks. I still have a prominent scar there to this day, which I hate. Fortunately, the marriage didn’t last as long as the scar.

(From the Creative Haven Bizarro Land coloring book.)

BC: Since, you’re talking about retiring, looking back on your career as a cartoonist, are there any things that really stand out, good or bad, things that make you shake your head and say “what were they thinking” or “what was I thinking?” People you’ve met in the industry that you’ve become friends with that have stories worth repeating?
DP: I’m not sure this is what you’re asking for but this story occurs to me as a highlight: I was at the Montreal Just For Laughs comedy festival (as an audience member, not a performer) and I went to see Zach Galifianakis perform. I’ve long been a huge fan of both his stand-up and his TV and film work. Halfway through his set he walked through the audience and did some question/answer improv with random people. It was one of those old theaters that had cocktail tables on the floor and seats in the balcony. He happened by my table and asked the typical questions of me, looking for ways to improvise something funny.
“What’s your name?”…Dan.
“What do you do?” …I’m a syndicated cartoonist.
“Oh, really? Is it anything I might know?” …I do “Bizarro”.
At this, completely unexpected, the audience erupted in applause. This was hugely satisfying to me, of course. Then Zach said, “No way! I love your cartoons!” This was even more hugely satisfying. We chatted for another 30 seconds or so then he moved on. After the show I went backstage and met him, we exchanged email addresses and have very loosely stayed in touch via email since. I was hoping we’d become best friends and I’d end up getting a part in one of his films but that never happened, of course. :^}


BC: Other than just becoming older, how do you think you’ve changed as a cartoonist over the years? Are there types of jokes that you’ve done before that just don’t seem funny anymore? Or, do you think your audiences have changed since you started out? Who are your favorite cartoonists for doing guest appearances in the Bizarro strip? Any artists that you’d love to work with again, given the chance?
DP: I’ve learned a lot about what makes a funny cartoon and what misses. About three quarters of my first couple years of work now seems clumsy and amateurish to me and I’m a bit embarrassed by much of it. Fortunately, that was in the late 80s, before everything you did appeared on the Internet for eternity.

BC: Aww, those were the ones that attracted me to you in the first place. So… um… can we still be friends?
DP: If you’re comfortable being friends with a self-loathing person, sure.

(From the Creative Haven Bizarro Land coloring book.)

DP: Regarding guest cartoonists, I’ve only done that a handful of times (Wayno, J.C.Duffy, and Francesco Marciuliano are the only three I can think of right now. GOD, I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone!) and have always been happy with what they did. I chose them because I loved their work in the first place, and I was not disappointed by their efforts. One cartoonist I would have loved to have known but did not meet was the late, great B. Kliban.

BC: I like Dave Kellett’s work on Drive, and Sheldon, although I have yet to see Stripped (since I live in Japan). What was it like being interviewed by him for Stripped, and was there anything you talked about with Dave that you would have liked to have seen get into the movie?
DP: Dave’s film was mostly about the changing world of cartoons and the transition between newspapers and the Internet. I’ve learned a lot from his perspective on it, and have found his ideas on how to make the Internet more lucrative for cartoonists to be invaluable. Luckily, I’m still making a decent living off of newspapers so I’ve not had to rely too much on making money online, but as that day approaches, I’ve found myself using a lot of his advice. I spent a few years in LA before I moved to Mexico and was able to become friends with Kellett and pick his brain a bit about the topic. He’s a super talented and smart guy, and is always happy to help other cartoonists succeed.

(Dan, trying to draw a crowd.)

BC: As a last resort question, how about, “If you kept a daily diary, what would a typical entry look like for one day in a Bizarro life?”
DP: People are usually disappointed to hear about my average day. I think they hope it will be surreal and zany, but in truth, I’m a creature of routine and my days are pretty average and domestic. I begin by reading my emails and news articles online as I sip a cup of piping hot whiskey. Around noon, I put away my laptop, climb out of the pallet of straw that I use for a bed, and take my dog for a walk through our rural, Mexican neighborhood to secure the first meal of the day. She’s good at finding edibles in lots of places that I’m too large to get to, like tunnels and the crevices of collapsed buildings. Once we’ve both had enough to eat, we go back to my hut and I get to work on cartoons. Around 5pm, I fire up my motorcycle and buzz through the cobblestone streets of town as fast as I can without hitting any donkey carts, and throw tequila balloons at tourists. (They’re just like water balloons but with tequila. You can get top shelf tequila here for super cheap so it’s very affordable. Most tourists get pissed off but some shout “Thanks, mister!”) This takes about 45 minutes. On the way home, I stop off at the local shaman’s tent and stock up on ayahuasca and peyote. Once home, I chase the iguanas out of my house and remind myself I need to build a door, then I pour myself a balloon of tequila (the iguanas keep breaking my glassware so I drink from balloons) take the ayahuasca and peyote, and spend the rest of the evening talking to creatures from another dimension. I’m not sure what time I go to bed but I wake up in my straw pile each morning at the same time and the whole boring rut starts all over again.


BC: I got it! A question that has never been asked before! Do you accept house guests? Credit cards?
DP: One of the things people who move to exotic locations have nightmares about is people whom they don’t necessarily want as house guests inviting themselves to come stay. I can recommend some lovely hotels in the area that accept credit cards, however.

(From the Creative Haven Bizarro Land coloring book.)

BC: In a criminally inept world controlled by unbelievably ill-informed leadership, Dan provides an insanely reasonably priced book of adult coloration for only $5.99. The above illustrations have been from Creative Haven Bizarro Land. The ink fumes alone are worth the price of the book.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Dan Piraro (c) 2017.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

Poll: Do the hotels you stay at change the straw every three days?



Well, I’ve got the questions sent out to 4 different artists, one set of answers promised “soon”,  and I’m waiting for follow-up answers from one other artist. While I’m waiting for them to get back to me, I’ll run this article.

Andrew Hart, creator of the Winston webcomic, promised me something for Christmas. I was expecting a drawing.
I was only half-right.

The other half was a hand-made clay model of Winston himself. If you’re not familiar with this comic, Winston’s father was an inventor, but not a particularly good one. Through a series of bad choices, he drove his wife and son into financial ruin and they had to find a new place to live, and basically just survive. Winston himself is a product of his father’s work (hence the wheels for feet). His best friend is a crow named Kingsley. His mother’s constant companion is a big, green hobo-like manifestation of her despair, aptly named “Gloom”.

Winston’s main pastime is finding all new ways of making life interesting, albeit in a life-threatening way. It’s brilliant black humored satire, and one of my favorite strips on GoComics.

Winston here is going on my Christmas tree next year. If we last that long.

Gloom’s Facebook page.

Andrew Hart interview

If you’re not familiar Andrew Hart’s Winston, Winston is a young boy trying to make his way through life. His father was an inventor, but not a particularly good one. Through a series of bad choices, he put his wife and son into financial ruin and they had to find a new place to live, and basically just survive. Winston himself is a product of his father’s work (hence the wheels for feet). His best friend is a crow named Kingsley. His mother’s constant companion is a big, green hobo-like manifestation of her despair, aptly named “Gloom”. I love the dark humor of the strip, which is leavened with a twisted “up side”. The artwork is simple and clean, and the characters are easily identifiable.

(The introduction to the world of Winston.)

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
AH: I consider myself a cartoonist because all my artwork always comes back to cartooning.

BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist?
AH: It took awhile. I had two previous comic strips that, over the years, I submitted to the big five syndicates, that were rejected. It was an evolution combined with a burst of inspiration that created Winston.

(from Winston)

BC: How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
AH: I worked at cartooning off and on over a decade or so. When one door closed, I looked for another. I spent years as a graphic designer and illustrator. Even tried writing my own children’s book. As for cartooning, I’d say my first big break was drawing political cartoons for the Democrats for Education Reform. It was a great gig and my readership was all “in the Beltway.”

(proposed illustration for a children’s book)

BC: What led up to your starting Winston, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
AH: The City Paper held a Philadelphia comic strip contest and I wrote the first Winston as my submission. Even though my comic was not selected, I liked the idea enough to keep tooling with it. There are no other pokers in the fire. I feel any artistic capital I have right now should be invested in Winston.

(from Andrew’s travel journal)

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
AH: Aside from Winston, some my favorite pieces are the travel journals I’ve drawn over the years. It’s the spontaneity of these works, written on the fly during vacations, that I believe is a strong representation of the trip. An excerpt of one of these can be viewed here: andre-whart.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-italian-journal.html

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
AH: In college I co-founded a group called “The Philadelphia Cartoonist Society.” It’s an active group of local cartoonists supporting each other’s individual projects as well as combining our talents for group events. We’ve published three books as a collective and I believe Book 1 is available through Amazon. (Books 1 and 2 are available at the moment.)

(from Winston)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet when you decide to start your next strip?
AH: By the time I sit at the drawing table, the idea is already formed and ready to be executed.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
AH: Probably West Coast Jazz. I like to listen to instrumental music when I draw. Lately the list has included Weather Report, Takuya Kuroda, and Miles Davis’ “In A Silent Way.”

(from Andrew’s travel journal)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
AH: I actually don’t read any comic strips but I am reading Hellboy and Moebius.

BC: Which Mobius book are you reading? What appeals to you about it? I loved The Air Tight Garage, back in the 80’s, but it seems that modern webcomic audiences in the U.S. have less tolerance for that type of storytelling. And, why Hellboy?
AH: I’m reading Moebius’ Garden of Edena. The reason for reading this and Hellboy is this; Graphic Novels are a genre that I’ll never undertake. I can admire them and appreciate them without critical or self-evaluation.

(from Winston)

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
AH: I think a good comic strip creates a unique world or place. And a well-written strip isn’t just a simple gag with a twist of irony, but is more thoughtful than it appears. I’m still working at both these concepts. I think it’s a journey and a self-realization that leads to this. It’s not just drawing, but becoming a writer as well.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning?
AH: I can’t say I’m in touch with the digital cartooning landscape.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Andrew J. Hart (c) 2017.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

In search of good webcomics.