Melissa Lomax Interboo

I was surfing through the GoComics index of strip titles when Melissa Lomax’s Doodle Town caught my eye. This is not your regular run-of-the-mill comic strip, in that it’s more a series of doodles with accompanying text. The doodles are whimsical, and often are autobiographical. Additionally, Melissa will make comments on other strips that she likes, which is a lot more interactive than most other artists get. She started running Halloween-themed drawings during October, which figured in perfectly for the Oct. 31st interview.

BC: Who are you?
ML: Hi! My name is Melissa Lomax. I’m a full time greeting card artist and have been working in the industry for almost twenty years… wow, I really can’t believe that! However, my first and longest creative-passion is illustration/doodling and the art of story telling. On a personal note, last October my boyfriend, Christian Patchell, and I got married! We’ve been together for a long time and I feel very blessed because he’s the love of my life as well as one of my best friends. In my personal-comic ‘Doodle Town’ he is affectionately referred to as ‘Patch the Pups’. Patch is also an artist and cartoonist, which makes spending time together that much more fun!

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
ML: I’ve been living in Philly since I graduated from the University of the Arts with my BFA in Illustration. When I moved into the city I found it to be very creatively inspiring and energizing. I still consider myself a bit of a ‘country mouse’ because my sister and I were born in Nebraska (mom was midwestern) and later my family moved to North Carolina (dad was southern). I’m not sure why that’s so important… I guess both places are beautiful in their own unique ways and made an impression on how I see things today. I’m also an ‘old soul who’s a kid at heart’ and I look back at my childhood with a lot of nostalgia and gratefulness. I’ve been drawing, doodling and cartooning since I was a very little girl. I found that by being creative I could “make my own fun,” and because of that, there would never be room for boredom! I also tend to have a positive-outlook on most things, and Patch and I try to find the ‘Silver Linings’ when times get tough. On that note, unfortunately, I lost both of my parents early in life. I do feel like they live on in our memories, our actions and now though my artwork. Whenever I get the chance, I like to write and draw about the people who mean the most to me! It’s an honor to have a place like GoComics to share these personal stories.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
ML: I guess because I like variety, I don’t totally define myself, but overall I’m mostly an illustrator and a cartoonist. It seems like all of the artistic things that I do for a living and for enjoyment inspire one another!

BC: How did you get your start as an illustrator?
ML: A year after I graduated from college in 1997, I landed a job in a greeting card studio where they primarily designed Christmas cards. I agreed to the interview thinking that they only needed an intern but was thrilled to find out that it was a paid full-time ‘junior artist’ position! This is the company where I also met Patch and we became best friends. It was definitely a life-changing experience for me! Ever since that job, I’ve been illustrating/designing greeting cards in some form or another.

ML: My career as a cartoonist took flight when I discovered ‘Doodle Town’. It started as a Valentine’s Day gift for Christian aka Patch. I doodled myself as a cat, Patch as a dog, and tried to capture some of our funniest and sweetest moments together. A year later, the gift sparked an idea for a handmade book called “Summer with You.” Patch and I took the book to the Small Press Expo in Baltimore during 2013, where Shena Wolf (the Acquisitions Editor at Universal Uclick) visited our table and took an interest in my work! I knew something “magical” was about to happen, but I wouldn’t fully realize the potential until I was posting biweekly on the GoComics site!

BC: What led up to your starting Doodle Town, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
ML: (Since I spoke about my start to Doodle Town I’ve included some other fun-things currently happening.)
Along with posting Doodle Town twice a week I’ve also been doodling creepy-cute artwork for #inktober, which is posted each day of the month in October. You can see all of this artwork on my Instagram: melissalomaxart, my site, or my FaceBook. It’s been really fun because I’m coming up with all sorts of weirdo-characters. Patch and I put together a book several years ago based on drawings like this called ‘Pretty Creepy‘. We plan on making a second book with our Halloween doodles called ‘Pretty Creepy Too‘ in 2017. Also in December, stay tuned online for my cheery Christmas doodles under the hashtag #decemberdoodle

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?

ML: It felt really nice to be able to capture a bit of the magic we experienced as children in this piece.


This comic makes me giggle because it highlights my ‘affair’ with coffee… there’s no stopping our love!


I enjoy illustrated collections, this piece makes me happy because it’s a ‘collections of moments’…


This piece has received a lot of attention, so obviously I’m not the only one who loves food drawings!

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
ML: Not at this time but funny you should ask, recently I’ve been thinking about collecting Doodle Town into a book!

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next doodle?
ML: Luckily I keep a folder that’s filled with idea starters. A lot of my concepts are thoughtfully written out on sheets of paper but I also have random post-it notes with two or three words scrawled on them as reminders! Sometimes a concept will come to me in the middle of the day, on my drive home from work or as I’m getting into bed. Because my comic is based on the ‘everyday’… inspiration is everywhere!

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
ML: I grew up on a wide range of music! So I would hand select tunes from… 1940’s swing-bands, 1950’s Oldies, 1970’s Classics, 1980’s everything, 1990’s Old School Rap & Grunge as well as some Indie Music from the last few years!

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
ML: I’d like to take this opportunity to mention two children’s book artists that I found extremely inspirational as a child and that still motivate me to this day!

ML: Beverly Komoda illustrated a magical book called Jellybeans for Breakfast.’ Her whimsical style fits the story perfectly and in all sincerity, that book made me want to become an illustrator! To boot, Beverly and I have become FaceBook friends… it’s like a dream come true for the seven year old me!

ML: My other longtime favorite is the children’s illustrator, Richard Scarry. I thought it was so neat that he used animals instead of people to tell stories. And within books such as the Best Storybook Ever he illustrated short stories that felt like mini-comics to me. He also drew cross-sections of buildings and houses… I always loved seeing what was happening ‘behind closed doors’!

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
ML: I’m following a lot a great artists on the GoComics site. A few of my favorites right now are:
Sarah’s Scribbles by Sarah Andersen. I like her loose style and honest self-deprecating humor!
‘Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand. This comic is a little odd-ball and it almost always makes me laugh out loud!
Winston by Andrew Hart. Andrew is a friend of mine and a fellow member of the Philadelphia Cartoonist Society. I like to think of his strip as a dark comedy and I find myself smiling every time I read it!
Jim Benton Cartoons is amazing, his artwork so up my alley and his sense of humor and irony are unparalleled!

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
ML: When I read someone else’s strip I like seeing a unique perspective and fun style… also I’m a total nerd for puns, so that always helps!

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
ML: I enjoy reading all kinds of comics but my favorite stories are either personal-comics like the works of Craig Thompson (among many others) or all-ages adventure and mystery based stories like books by Aaron Renier. I’ve met both of these guys at conventions and they were super-nice. That always makes the comic that much better for me!

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning?
ML: I’ve been considering a Patreon or a Kickstarter lately. I think it might be a good way for me to slowly grow my audience and down the road, be able to do even more of what I love to do the most! I like the idea that the public can support what they are passionate about and receive special bonuses and personal offers from artists that they appreciate. Since my comic started as a gift… I would love to keep that going!

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
ML: It’s been pretty busy lately but it’s a dream of mine to start collecting some of my Doodle Town comics and random doodles into a book. I’d love to be able to tell some longer stories and maybe include some activities as well. I guess I’m hoping if I put this in writing, it will commit me to making it happen!

ML: Because we were planning a DIY wedding last year, conventions were pretty hard to fit in but Patch and I are looking into some smaller conventions and craft shows for 2017. I’ll keep you up to date on events on my GoComics page and will definitely be posting these shows (once scheduled) on social media.

ML: Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview, it was a pleasure and you were a wonderful host!
BC: [blush…]

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Melissa Lomax © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)


Poll: Did you get enough candy for Halloween this year?

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Jim Benton Interview

Back in 2014, GoComics started carrying Jim Benton’s strips, and the editor’s blog focus in announcing the new title was Death showing up at an old woman’s front door on Halloween, and giving her a free pass. What else can you ask for in a joke? (see below.)

Jim has several book series out, including “Dear Dumb Diary,” “Franny K. Stein,” and “The End (Almost)“. I’ve read The Invisible Fran, which is a great kid’s book about a mad scientist school girl whose science is a bit more than she can control just yet. The artwork is cartoonish, which is what you want in a cartoon, but it’s clean, consistent, and supports the jokes (or stories) perfectly.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d been lucky with the GoComics contests in the past, but not since they changed their entry system last year. Right after that, GoComics had a contest on their Facebook page to celebrate the release of Jim’s newest book, Man, I Hate Cursive. I won a signed copy of the book, and it is really funny. Quite a few of the panels originally ran on Jim’s GoComics page, but there are still many comics that I hadn’t seen (or didn’t remember), too. It’s a big, beautiful book, and the humor alternates between crippling, biting, and heart warming. Some of the language may not be appropriate for small kids, but otherwise it’s highly recommended for anyone that likes The Far Side, Gahan Wilson and “what ate Waldo” (if that last one isn’t a real book, it should be).

BC: Who are you?
JB: Jim Benton.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to your readers?
JB: I’m here in Michigan where the temperatures make it very easy to stay inside and practice drawing for three months every year.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or a happy rabbit?
JB: All of those, plus a writer.


(from Jim Benton Cartoons)

BC: How did you get your start then?
JB: I worked in high school, little jobs: painted a sign here and there, did a drawing for a newspaper or something. My first full-time job as an artist was at a t-shirt shop.

BC: How long have you been at that?
JB: I’m still designing t-shirts! But that’s where I realized that you could draw it once and sell it a thousand times, and that seemed like a pretty good strategy. I’m sure that’s what set me on a course to pursue licensing.


(from Jim Benton Cartoons)

BC: What led up to your starting Jim Benton Cartoons, and Dear Dumb Diary?
JB: It’s hard to come up with a chronology. While I was drawing shirts, I was also doing more magazine illustration. In college, I was freelancing from my dorm room. My licenses got more and more successful and eventually People magazine did an article about me. I started expanding my thinking and I created a series for Fox Kids, and pitched a few book series – Franny K Stein, Dear Dumb Diary… Ten million books and a movie later, I’m still writing them.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with?
JB: The biggest commercial success is It’s Happy Bunny. It’s sold more than 3/4 of a billion dollars at retail. But I get email from parents telling me that my books launched their child’s love of reading, and that’s impossible to beat.

BC: Do you have books out, and where can readers find your books?
JB: Lots. Amazon has most of my stuff, and a new collection of cartoons just came out. It’s called MAN I HATE CURSIVE.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper?
JB: Different ways. Sometimes an idea will just come to me, and other times I’ll give myself an “assignment” like, do a cartoon about spiders.


(Doing one about spiders. from Jim Benton Cartoons)

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
JB: Hopefully every strip would be different. Some rock, some klesmer, some awkward finger strumming…

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Got any dirt on them?
JB: I’m kind of a big dumb fan of everything. But let’s see….dirt….well, R.L.Stein, author of Goosebumps, is actually a really funny guy. Dav Pilkey and his wife Sayuri are incredibly sweet and generous. This doesn’t really qualify as dirt, does it?

BC: Nope. Do you follow any other comic strips?
JB: I read everything I can find the time for. I hate to mention any in particular, because then I feel bad about the ones I didn’t call out.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
JB: Just a laugh, or a fresh observation.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
JB: I think the artist has to truly believe in it. Readers can tell if you’re faking it.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? Do you want to plug your sites?
JB: I don’t use either one. I have a Patreon, but I’m always concerned that it looks a bit like begging. My site is JimBenton.com, and you can see my stuff on gocomics.com and reddit where I post as /u/JimKB.


(from Jim Benton Cartoons)

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
JB: My new book MAN I HATE CURSIVE, a chapter book series called VICTOR SHMUD, and new It’s Happy Bunny stuff at Hot Topic. That’s right, he’s back.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Jim Benton © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)


Poll: Do you own any It’s Happy Bunny goods?

 

Davy Jones Interview

Basket Case continues to support the artists at Comics Sherpa as they ply their trade on their way up the ranks. I’m happy today to introduce Davy Jones, creator of Charmy’s Army. Davy –

BC: Who are you?
DJ: I am the creator of the comic strip Charmy’s Army. I am also the most determined amateur cartoonist you’ll ever meet. If I am not writing or drawing my comic strip, I am creating sketch covers, sketch cards or prints for my next comic con appearance.

BC: What do you want readers to know about you?
DJ: I have dreamed of being a syndicated cartoonist since I was seven years old. I always knew in my heart that I would make a living at this. I was a stupid kid. lol. After I grew up, I spent the next 30 years chasing this dream. I spent 15 years in the toy industry designing toys and toy packaging. It was fun, but it was not my dream. I want to make people laugh so hard they blow coffee out of their noses.

DJ: Recently, I have joined the Texas Branch of the National Cartoonist Society, which was my childhood dream. Until recently, I did not feel worthy. I landed my first paying newspaper gig six months ago in The Weekly Bulletin in Texas’s Brazoria County. The paper lands in 11 cities. Once I hit that six month mark, I joined the Texas Chapter of the National Cartoonist Society. I am hoping this is another huge stepping stone for my career.

BC: How did you get your start drawing Charmy’s Army? Did you work on anything else before that?
DJ: I labored on one strip for the past thirty years. It was called Okrapolis. I developed a few other strips along the way that went nowhere. Then one day I was in a nasty Chinese restaurant. As I doodled away, wondering if the food I was ingesting was going to make me sick, all I could think about was the kitchen and the hundreds of roaches that must be living there.

DJ: With that horrible thought on my mind, I began doodling a cockroach. I figured that maybe there was a cool cartoon character here. When I finished, I thought it looked more like an ant… so I drew an army helmet on him and made him an army ant. I immediately thought up the name Charmy’s Army and the little guy had a name… and my strip was born. Within a few months I had a few thousand followers on Facebook and the rest is history in the making.


(from Charmy’s Army.)

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
DJ: I get asked this question at every show I attend. People want a book! I did create an e-book a few years ago which was available online for free. I took it down though once I relaunched my strip. Currently, I am assembling a collection of my strips from the past 6 years into a book I will call “Basic Training”. This will chronicle my journey over the lifespan of Charmy’s Army. I will breakdown how my strip has developed and improved over time. It will be entertaining and enlightening. I want to have these published so I can sell and sign them at my comic con appearances.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
DJ: Oh man, I have one heck of a system. Every cartoonist has their “thing”. My process all begins with the gags and the storyboards. This is so easy for me. I wake up in the morning with a gag or two in my head. I wake up in the middle of the night with a gag in my head. I have to write these down as soon as they pop into my brain though or they are lost. I write on my lunch breaks at work. When I don’t have an idea for a gag, I simply draw four rectangles at the top of the page and start daydreaming. I stare at the first panel I just drew and things start popping in my head and I just write down what’s happening. Writing a strip just happens. God has Blessed me with this amazing gift. It is Awesome.

DJ: Drawing my strip has it’s own unique method as well. The finished product is a piece of hangable art! I do it all OLD SCHOOL. I hand letter and ink the entire comic strip on Bristol board. It looks amazing. I sell my original “art” at my comic con appearances. For $50, you get the original art, the original sketch and you get one heck of an investment. These strips will be worth a ton on eBay when I finally make it big. And I am going to make it big. $50 is so cheap!!!

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
DJ: Oh that is easy!!! Go to okracomics.com and click on the Videos tab. I wrote and recorded the music on the animation… which I also created and did the vocals on. The soundtrack would sound exactly like the bumper music I perform!!!! Oh, the girl’s voice is not mine. I am not that talented. Oh course, if I could afford it… the sound track would sound like Cheap Trick. I freaking LOVE Cheap Trick. If I could afford to hire them, the soundtrack would sound like a Cheap Trick album…. either like their first self-titled album or like their new album “Bang! Zoom! Crazy! Hello!!!” I would have Robin screaming like a mad man and Rick jamming uncontrollably while Tom spazzes out on his twelve string bass. Since Bun E is no longer with the band, I would have Daxx pounding away on the drums. It would be awesome and SO much better than the mess I recorded.


(from Charmy’s Army.)

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
DJ: As a kid, I loved reading Peanuts, Ms Peach and Henry when I was seven years old. I had a few Peanuts paperbacks that I read over and over and over again. I had the book “The Parables of Peanuts” which I read over and over again. I would read the Sunday funnies a few times over the course of the week, studying the strips. I would draw the characters over and over again. I wanted to be a cartoonist so badly.

DJ: As a teenager I discovered three things that totally warped my mind. At the age of 12, I purchased my first Mad magazine and discovered Don Martin. Oh my freaking gosh!!!! Talk about pure awe-inspiring talent. If you look into the eyes of Charmy, you will see Don Martin’s influence on my drawing style. I would draw his characters over and over again throughout my teenage years. I purchased every treasury Don Martin ever published. Then one day “the big three” emerged and swept me off my feet. Bloom County, The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes had me once again determined to be a cartoonist. I was obsessed with Bloom County and it inspired me to write my own strips. I was finally a writer!!! I was a very BAD writer, but that is okay. No one is a good writer when they begin.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
DJ: Nope. As I just told Bill Hinds the other day, I do not read other comic strips. I want to only be focused on my characters. Reading other strips is a distraction. I write better when I have a clear head. I want to lead the pack…. Not follow the pack. To be a leader, I need to stay focused on my own path..


(from Charmy’s Army.)

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
DJ: On the rare occasion I read another strip, I look for strips that look like they are drawn by hand. If every panel looks identical, I won’t read it. If the lettering looks like a font, I won’t read it.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
DJ: Art that looks hand-drawn. That and originality.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
DJ: I have one last appearance scheduled this year. I will be in Artists Alley at Oni Con in Galveston October 28-30, 2016. I will be selling Sketch Covers, Sketch Cards, original strips and prints. This table was expensive! The show is an anime convention so I am taking a huge risk. I have a bad feeling I am going to bomb, but I figured it was worth a try.

DJ: Next year, I will do Comicpalooza and Amazing Comic Con in Houston. Those will be my only Houston shows. I try doing these little tiny shows that pop up and I lose so much money. Next year will be all about focus. I am going to focus on what is working. I may try a show in San Antonio called Alamo City. Everyone tells me I need to do that one. I would also like to try Staple in Dallas… but I am leery on spending so much money until I see how well I finish the year after Oni Con in a month.

DJ: I will be working on my first book, Basic Training over the next six months. I hope to find a publisher for this. If I cannot, I am going to look into Kickstarter.


(Bill Hinds and Davy Jones, charity event.)

BC: How did the charity event go? Did you have a chance to talk to Bill Hinds?
DJ: What a great day! I got to cartoon along side of the great Bill Hinds… albeit only for a few minutes before the sky opened up and drowned us. This was my first opportunity to impress one of the greats in this industry I so passionately want to pursue… and mother nature broke up our pairing as soon as the fun began.

DJ: I did get to spend about an hour talking with Bill. He was so extremely cordial. I was humbled just to be in his presence yet I felt like I was on his level of genius. I was not of course, but he made me feel as though I was as successful as he was.

DJ: CONCLUSION
Thanks for the interview!!! You are awesome and I appreciate everything you have done for struggle cartoonists wanting to live out their dreams.
BC: My pleasure.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Davy Jones © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)


 

Poll: Should army ants make love, not war?

 

Dana Simpson interview

Dana Simpson’s earlier comic, Ozy and Millie, started running on GoComics in 2013. I would read it off and on. I liked the character designs and artwork, but it didn’t really grab me because I wasn’t in the target demographic. But, Heavenly Nostrils began running on GoComics in 2012, and I was reading that more consistently because the character interactions are fun, and there’s a lot of imagination beyond the simple “Unicorn!” catch-phrase. When the strip was picked up for newspaper syndication last year, the name changed to Phoebe and Her Unicorn. There was a bit of reworking of the strips at that time to fit in with the paper version, but we’re back to original stories again. The premise: A young girl with fanboy parents finds a unicorn that tolerates her because she hits it with a rock. Are you ready?


(Ozy and Millie.)

DS: Okay, let’s take these on!

BC: Who are you?
DS: My name is Dana, and I draw unicorns for a living. I have a husband and a cat.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant?
DS: I’m originally from Seattle, Washington, but I currently live in Santa Barbara, California. Before I was a syndicated cartoonist, I was a web cartoonist, dating back to when I was in college. (I went to the Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington, a school that seems to produce a lot of cartoonists.)

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
DS: I consider myself a unicorn. And as a unicorn, I am not bound by your human limitations, and therefore I can be a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, AND a writer. It actually kind of fascinates me how cartooning is a kind of hybrid art form. I almost feel like “cinematographer” and “comedian” should be on the list as well.


(Phoebe and Her Unicorn.)

BC: How did you get your start as a unicorn?
DS: I’ve been drawing comics, or at least trying to, since I was a kid–I still have the first comic strip I ever drew. I was 5. It was about ghosts. Later, I drew a comic strip that ran in my middle school’s monthly, xeroxed newspaper. It was called “Skippy.”

DS: In college, I drew comics for the newspaper. I managed to become editor of the opinions page, which meant I could draw comics to put in whatever available spaces I could find, in addition to having a strip in the comics section (Ozy and Millie, which went on to be a web comic for ten years).

BC: How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
DS: I’m not going to tell you how long, because then you’ll be able to do the math and figure out my age, and, as a stereotypical woman, I don’t want to volunteer that information.
BC: Drat.


(Ozy and Millie.)

DS: But my single biggest break, ever, was winning the Comic Strip Superstar contest in 2009. That got me the development contract that led to Phoebe and Her Unicorn coming into being.

BC: What led up to your starting Ozy and Millie, then leading into Phoebe and Her Unicorn?
DS: Ozy and Millie were kind of characters I’d been doodling on stuff. They didn’t necessarily have names at first, even, but they were these two fox characters I’d started drawing. So when I considered my career options and thought “nothing sounds as appealing as cartooning for money,” they were there for me to build a strip around.

DS: I tried for years to get that strip syndicated, and when that never worked out, I figured I’d get out of comic strips and maybe become an illustrator. But while I was still getting THAT together, Comic Strip Superstar happened, and what do you know, syndication came calling after all. “Girl and her best friend the unicorn” just seemed like a strip that should exist. When I thought of that concept, it seemed weird that no one had done it, which I think is one of the signs of a good idea.

DS: The only other thing I’m working on right now is a sort of graphic novel memoir project. That’s due out in 2018. Apart from that, these days it’s all unicorns and their young human friends.


(Phoebe and Her Unicorn. First strip.)

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
DS: That question is a little like asking me to play favorites with my children.
BC: Why do cartoonists keep saying that?

DS: but…if you want to know what work I consider my best, I think I’m doing my best work right now, because I think I’m always learning and improving.

BC: I understand that taoism featured somewhat in Ozy and Millie. Can you talk a bit about that?
DS: I don’t wanna call taoism a “phase” because that seems dismissive of it, and it’s something I respect. But, it was something I was fascinated by when I was younger. I feel like I learned a lot from it then, but it’s not something I think about it as consciously now. Plus, honestly, when I look at the references to eastern religion in Ozy and Millie now, some of it feels like cultural appropriation–I’m a little bit surprised I didn’t get called on that more than I did.

DS: In Ozy and Millie I’d do jokes like Ozy’d be holding a blank piece of paper and say “it’s a zen map!” Which is a sort of riff on “doing through not doing,” which is actually a Taoist idea, so that’s me conflating two different things. Which people would, justifiably, point out to me. But, I dunno. It was part of what Ozy and Millie was. Its understanding of eastern religion was both sincere and muddled, because mine was, and ultimately art is self-portraiture.

DS: I did that strip in my teens and twenties, and so I had a lot of youthful inner chaos, and I found both Zen and Taoist ideas (in watered down, western pop culture form) comforting. They offered me some possibility of peace and calm. Now, in my upper [redacted]’s, I feel a lot more settled into myself, and I don’t have to go consciously seeking relief in the same way.

BC: So, where can readers find your books?
DS: Wherever books are sold! Usually in the children’s section.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
DS: There are various ways of breaking through writer’s block. Sometimes the characters themselves suggest things, as weird as that is. Sometimes I think of a situation, something from my own life or a friend’s or maybe just something I made up, and insert the characters and just see what they do. Sometimes I think of something I’d like to draw. (“A unicorn riding a unicycle! That would be fun!”) Then I write something that lets me draw that.


(Phoebe and Her Unicorn.)

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
DS: There’d be some girl punk, like Sleater-Kinney. And some happy girly alternative stuff, like the Sundays. Tegan and Sara would be on there somewhere for sure. Definite emphasis on female artists. I do think of what I do as feminist, in that I approach it with the deliberate aim of not treating male as a cultural default.

BC: You and your sister play music too, right?
DS: As far as music goes…I used to perform live, mostly at open mics but occasionally someone would actually pay me. In grad school I had a recurring gig at a coffee shop where they’d give me two drinks and $20 to fill two hours. That’d be me just solo, with an acoustic guitar.

DS: The stuff Nikki and I do would be a lot harder to reproduce live, because Nikki is an electronic musician and it’s really hard to do that well live. (She records solo as Boreal Network.) We have fun making music at home, but right now we have no plans to try and translate that into live performances. I’m probably too busy for the amount of work that would require, anyway.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
DS: A lot of my idea of what unicorns are like comes from The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Both the book and the animated film. I’ve actually gotten to be friends with Mr. Beagle, since then (he wrote the introduction to the first Phoebe book). If you want dirt on him, he…is apparently confused by revolving restaurants? But, you know. Those are tricky.


(Phoebe and Her Unicorn.)

DS: Phoebe herself is named for Holden Caulfield’s little sister in The Catcher in the Rye. Obviously I never had the pleasure of meeting J.D. Salinger. But I did get to meet Berkeley Breathed, of Bloom County, whose strip I absolutely obsessed over when I was a kid. He was sweet to me in our one encounter.

DS: More recently, Lauren Faust (of the My Little Pony reboot and other great shows) has become kind of a creative and feminist icon of mine. (She wrote the introduction to the second book.) I have no dirt on Lauren. I might not tell you if I did!

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
DS: I don’t actually read comics that much anymore. It’s too much like being at work. I tend to read a lot of nonfiction in my spare time. I really want to plug Breaking Cat News, though, an online strip that’s getting its syndicated launch in a few months, because it’s great and adorable and because creator Georgia Dunn has become a good friend of mine.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
DS: Something to connect to. Same as with any other kind of art. I mean, obviously it’s great if it makes me laugh, but even more than that I look for a bit of myself. One of the things I love about comic strips is, generally it’s an art form with a single creator, so you’re really seeing inside someone’s head. So when there’s something there that I connect with, it feels very personal.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
DS: Comics can be great in so many ways. A good story, an unexpected sense of humor, beautiful artwork. Any number of things can make a comic strip worth your attention. But like I said, I think the greatest thing is when there’s a human spark in there for me as a reader to connect to.


(Phoebe and Her Unicorn.)

BC: Do you want to plug your sites (Patreon/Kickstarter)?
DS: You can read my comics at GoComics.com. Ozy and Millie is also on GoComics, in reruns.

DS: I don’t use either Patreon or Kickstarter myself. I would have if they’d been around in the Ozy and Millie days. I bet I would have made much more money than I actually made back then. It’s nice that there are more ways to monetize comics now. That’s progress. But I don’t need to right now, because…not to be crass, but I’m doing okay through more conventional revenue streams nowadays.

BC: Appearances scheduled for conventions?
DS: I don’t think I’m doing any more conventions until Emerald City Comic Con, in Seattle in March. I used to do a lot more of them, but right now I’m sort of taking a break from it.

BC: Any other thoughts?
DS: Some soapboxing? Let’s see, what haven’t I discussed…

DS: We’re in an election season, so I’m going to touch on politics, specifically the absence of politics in Phoebe and Her Unicorn. My younger self would have found that strange. Ozy and Millie could get really political sometimes, to the point where some of it really had a limited shelf life. (The stuff I wrote during the 2000 presidential election recounts would be pretty boring and incomprehensible to anyone who didn’t know, or care about, that history.) Eventually I decided the strip had way too much of that, but I needed an outlet, so I started a second comic that was basically a weekly political cartoon, called I Drew This. Which I drew from 2004-2008, and it was mostly me taking humorous shots at George W. Bush and making arguments for progressive policy ideas.

DS: Frankly, after doing THAT for a few years, I kind of burned out on attempting political humor/commentary. I decided I didn’t want it to be my job to be angry. So now I get to spend my time thinking about unicorns. I still keep up on politics and I still have a lot of opinions, but I’m never going to make my current strip a mouthpiece for them. That’s not what I feel like doing anymore.

DS: Which isn’t to say there’s nothing political at all about Phoebe and Her Unicorn. I think of it as subversively feminist actually, being a strip starring two female leads. Little girls in entertainment tend to always be someone’s annoying little sister, or they’re just there to be cute. Or, there’s an ensemble cast, and there’s eight boys and one girl, and so her whole identity is that she’s The Girl. I try to make Phoebe a character a reader will actually identify with. (Which I accomplish by having her basically be me.) That itself is a statement, and maybe one more likely to have a positive impact on the world than if I were just yelling at Republicans.

And you know what I love? I wrote this very pink sparkly unicorn book, with a girl protagonist, and while most of the biggest fans of it tend to be girls, there are some boys there too. And they never seem to think there’s anything strange about that. I have tremendous optimism about this generation.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Dana Simpson © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)


Poll: Unicorn?

Jenner Interview

Back when I first started reading Aaron Neathery’s Endtown, I was talking with him on Facebook and I asked what webcomics he liked to read. He very quickly replied, “Doc Rat“. At about the same time, I noticed someone in the Endtown comments section going by the name of “Jenner” and using the Doc Rat character as his avatar. Ultimately, I went through the Doc Rat archives, which took a couple weeks because there’s so many strips. That was fun. The artwork is very clean and the character designs are both professional-looking and distinctive; you know you’re not looking at something copied off of another artist. Initially, Doc Rat was a gag strip, with a joke-a-day pattern that goes on for a few years. After a while, the characters get fleshed-out and start “living their own lives.” At that point, the strip becomes more long-format, with a growing conflict between predator and prey species (a situation that Jenner has credited to the influence of Endtown). Doc Rat has grown and evolved since then into a living, breathing collection of characters, some with fairly painful back stories, but with significant high points as well, interspersed with the occasional gags.


(“Take Two.”)

Jenner runs a caption contest, and the winning entry receives the original artwork with their caption written in. I’ve won twice. I’m letting other people have their chances, now. But I’m not happy about it.

Basket Case interview – Jenner
17 September 2016

BC: Who are you?
J: I am an Australian cartoonist and writer, best known for the long-running comic strip Doc Rat. I’m fifty-six years old, and I live in Melbourne, Victoria with my wife, Julia. I’m also a full-time doctor in general practice (which in the USA would be known as a family physician).


(Craig, with his namesake.)

J: So why the name “Jenner”? For the purposes of my professional cartooning career that has a public face, I prefer to work under a pen-name. This is so I could have a ‘firewall’ of sorts between my two sides – it’s what I call an ethical courtesy to my patients. I take the confidentiality of my job as a doctor seriously, so when I create a funny comic strip about medical situations and predicaments, I prefer not to leave it open to be misunderstood. I would absolutely never use someone’s private story for a Doc Rat joke, and of course most people would understand that, but for the sake of those few who may be in doubt I’ve simply drawn a veil of secrecy, you know, just to be safe.

J: The secret of my real name isn’t watertight. Anyone could track it down on Google in less than a minute. So for the purposes of this interview, away from the usual domain of my patients, there’s no harm in revealing that in real life I’m Craig Hilton.

J: I grew up in Perth, Western Australia. That’s a very outdoors sort of place, great for small boat sailing. And very isolated from the rest of the world, especially back in the Sixties and Seventies. The most isolated capital city in the world. You live with the mindset that everything big that really exists only ever happens somewhere else. And so you make your own things happen, for yourself. You become self-sufficient. All through my childhood, my head was exploding with stories, jokes and wry observations. I think I was drawing madly from a young age, just to get onto paper what I could see in my head. At some stage in primary school, I systematically borrowed every how-to-draw book from the school library and drew every single lesson one by one, page by page. That’s where I learned shapes, perspective, shading, figure construction and all the other basic skills. In high school, I was taking the academic stream to maths and science with a view to entering Medicine in university, but I was also involved in the extra-curricular Special Art course. That briefed me in a wealth of techniques, and it also schooled me in the discipline of draw-draw-draw. Fill sketch block after sketch block.

J: At the University of Western Australia, in medical school, I learned whole new fields of education and more mature ways of thinking. Trade-off, though – there was less time for serious art such as painting and sculpture. Still, there was at least still time to draw cartoons. I compiled an annual magazine of my own jokes and comics called Leechcraft and sold it to my friends for the price of the photocopying. Later, when I discovered science fiction fandom, I learned people around the world were doing the same sort of thing and called them fanzines. I guess that was when I could say I found my tribe. That was in 1983.

J:I won the Australian Science Fiction (“Ditmar”) award for Best Australian Science Fiction or Fantasy Artist in 1987. I learned about the new trend in (then-called) funny animal comics when I saw the earliest issues of Critters and came face-to-face with the works, amongst others, of Steven A. Gallacci and Stan Sakai. It felt like coming home. This led to my hunting down the nascent furry fandom that was based mostly in the USA. A key part was the group called ROWRBRAZZLE, in which fifty or more creators shared their work in a quarterly publication. I learned a lot from the cross-pollination, and my style matured over the decade. I did cartoons about a secret agent bunny rabbit and, of course, lots of rats. That was when I came up with the name Doc Rat – initially it was a nickname for myself, but later I applied it to a GP doctor character in a series of single-panel gags I contributed to medical publications.


(Craig, in consultation, dear.)

J: My medical career took me all around the country, and over the decades my cartooning output was inconsistent. Sometimes nothing, and then for a year I drew a country town newspaper strip about coal mining, called DownUnderGround. I’ve been in Melbourne since 2001. I was greatly honoured to be inducted into the Furry Hall of Fame (Australian Fandom Conventions) in 2010. And I’m now heavily involved in helping run the Australian furry fan convention ConFurgence.

BC: Do you consider yourself a doctor-cartoonist, a doctor-illustrator, a doctor-artist, or something doctor-else?
J: My first profession is doctor. My second profession is cartoonist, illustrator, caricaturist and comic strip creator.


(from Doc Rat.)

J: In 2006, I decided to go professional as a cartoonist. That meant I set aside a dedicated day a week at a dedicated location and went about it with a professional seriousness. I set myself a work production target and committed myself to reach that target. I looked at the long-term goal of accumulating a body of work and brand recognition. And I solicited magazines, papers, web sites and professional word of mouth. I just put myself out there, at any time I could.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
J: Big breaks were when people approached me for work, thanks to my reputation as a medical cartoonist. The Medical Journal of Australia needed a cartoonist for a new caption competition series. The British Journal of General Practice contacted me to ask to run a Doc Rat strip once a month. And there was a time that Australian Doctor, a weekly magazine, was advertising for a political cartoonist. I sent in a portfolio and won the job.

BC: What led up to your starting Doc Rat?
J: Doc Rat had appeared as single panel gags non-professionally in various papers for many years. When I decided (in late 2005) that I could make a success with a comic strip on the Internet, it occurred to me that success depended on a big following, and a big following depended on a regular reading habit, and that meant daily without fail. Consequently, I knew I would have to put in a regular and substantial session of work, and set aside a dedicated time every week, and a dedicated place to do it in. Putting out the work out on-line could give me a cheap way of distribution, but how to get money from it would be the next step after that. I found it hard to solve that question (and I wasn’t alone there, and I’m still not), but whatever the solution could be, it kept coming back to a good-quality product with a big fan base. In other words, it wasn’t enough to have a web comic. It would have to be a GREAT web comic, ideally the BEST web comic. Because when a reader decides she only has time these days to follow her favourite three strips, Doc Rat would have to be one of those three. … No pressure.

J: Doc Rat is still my main body of work, right now. I’m happy to take some commissions, and I am trying to work on my caricature line of work. But I can’t take on too much, because my time is short and finite. I mean, I am also a full-time doctor – that takes up a lot of my days. Having said that, I intend to stock the web site’s archives fully. And I have a longer vision of putting out the Doc Rat books as e-books.

J: And alongside these, as well, last year I illustrated and published a collection of the writings of my old mentor, Dr Max Kamien: “Barcoo Rot, Sperm That Untie a Knot and Other Medical Tales from the Back o’ Bourke and Beyond“. It’s available by mail order, but if you do buy it from outside Australia you really should offer him more money for the international postage because otherwise he runs at a loss.

BC: Which of your works are you most proud of?
J: I was very proud in 2009 to see an enormous Doc Rat strip on the side of a building, as part of a public art project.


(Craig and the street art.)

J: And it’s very satisfying to read the strips as a story in one go. When I go through the phase of a short story arc or even a longer story, even though I have the overall structure planned out, it’s still a fraught process setting it down, strip by strip. Hoping there are no continuity errors or connections that are unclear to a new reader. I’ve just compiled the pages for Volume 17, telling the story of the eight-year-old boy Jarrad and his friends who, in the course of playing at being detectives, have to save the life of the teenage Quarrydog the wolf cub, who’s fallen down a deep hole. If they fail, he dies, and with him goes all hope of world peace. So having given the rescue their best shot, there’s a coda to take them through some reconciliation, growth and closure. People’s lives are hanging by a thread, and even though it’s only diligent mutual support of one conscientious person to the next that holds it all together, that’s still enough to deliver success at the end of the day: it’s a lesson for us all. And what pleased me most was just how well the story held together as a single unit.

J: I love stories where the compelling narrative to resolve a crisis is wrapped up in a larger issue, which itself is wrapped in an even larger one. I love multiple layers. I was very pleased with how Jarrad and the Detectives moved through the themes and layers, sort of wheels-within-wheels. (The book is titled It’s a Mystery, Doc – Doc Rat collection, Volume 17.)

J: I also like coming up with clever titles for the strips, which can be a joke that’s added over and above the joke in the strip itself. For example, nurse Mary was scolding Ben for knocking all the bandages off the shelf. The title: Ben gets a dressing down. And when Ben and Daniella finally kissed (and it lasted for three days), the title: Rodents kiss. (Their positioning is modeled on the famous sculpture by Rodin.)

J: When the strips’ serial numbers approximate a significant year, I tried to do a pertinent title and theme. DR1901 had a tribute to the Federation of Australia. DR1960 (my birth year) had a self-portrait. From that time onward until the present, I was putting in those date references really thick and fast. It was made harder by the fact I didn’t have the freedom to pick and choose subjects. This was right in the middle of a dramatic story: Daniella was walking home from work, heavily pregnant and starting to develop bleeding complications; Ben at home started reading a book of rabbit reconciliation poetry; Quarrydog found Danni in the park and offered to decoy the predators away from her. Every strip title was some yearly reference or song title or two. DR2014, when the strip numbers caught up with the date, was titled “Here and now”. DR2015 was titled “Hereafter”.

J: I’m pleased to get poetry in there, or to write in a poetic meter when it helps set the atmosphere. That’s almost like background music, the way the words are written. It evokes a mood subliminally. It works best when read out aloud.

J: And in Doc Rat, it’s a very important matter of principle to me that it shows General Practice performed to a high standard of craft. I’m proud of my profession. These are not jokes built on a greedy or inept doctor or at the expense of a disempowered patient. They are jokes where we laugh or cry side by side with one another in the process of the competent performance of ethical health care. In the adventure story arcs, the same moral and ethical values prevail.

BC: Where can readers find paper copies of Doc Rat?
J: Order them on-line from my web site. Sometimes there’s been a bit of an issue keeping it current, especially with the function that calculates the mailing costs. Any problems and you can e-mail me. Or of course you may buy them directly if you can catch me at a convention. I have plans to be at Anthrocon in July 2017.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
J: Look, that’s really not the problem many people think it is. I mean, imagine going to Michelangelo and saying: “You know that job for the Sistine Chapel ceiling, well I’ve got a great idea you can use. You should put God and Angels and clouds and stuff all over it. Well, I suppose I’ve done most of your work for you now. The really hard part’s coming up with the idea. So I’ll just swing by when you’re done and take my half of the proceeds, you know, for my contribution, all that intellectual capital I’ve given you.”

J: Coming up with an idea for a strip is EASY. You just come up with several and then pick the best one. If it’s a one-off joke, I take the ‘seed’ of a joke and stretch it, bend it, re-word it and re-interpret it – basically I turn it into a well-delivered comedy routine. The pacing, the set-up, the punch-line. And now you ask: Where does the ‘seed’ come from? Well, thoughts come to me any day, at any time – “Hospital sounds like Horse Spittle.” “Bees have hives.” “A giraffe is very tall.” There’s a joke in there. The real work comes when I try to work that into a comic strip. But that’s all it is: work.

J: I play with language. I mess around with words. I perform evil juxtapositions.


(from Doc Rat.)

J: And when I’m doing a sequence that’s telling a story about some of the existing characters, I go into daydreaming mode. I start with the premise, which is usually some values-based conflict, imagine the key scenes, sketch in the connection lines, and then progressively refine the plot. If it’s complex, I will draw out a timeline, to help ensure continuity. And then I’ll daydream the scenario, over and over again. Once the specifics of the events are fixed, I replay it with attention to the emotions, in what I call “the emotional symphony”. How does a character feel, and why? I’ll ‘stop the film’ and ‘take the characters aside’ one by one, and I’ll ‘interview them’ on what they think is happening right now. That way, I can get inside their heads, and thus I can write their actions to portray their actions in the most credible way.

J: When someone asks: “Where do you get all your ideas?”, it makes me sad for the poor, forlorn, interviewer’s barren existence. It makes me feel like replying “What’s it like not to have an imagination?”
BC: Ouch.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
J: Jazz, classical music and some Indy, particularly Australian. Some are very specific – I attached them quite deliberately to the particular moment. The character Daniella is named after the song of the same name by the John Butler Trio. And from there, I also attached Daniella’s personality to Girl U Want, by Devo, on the Tank Girl movie soundtrack album. This took me on to exploring other aspects of Daniella’s personality, following the other songs on the album, and that’s where I discovered she had some very angry phases in her past, and also some very sad ones, very dark. Roads, by Portishead. I would listen to that as I drew an emotional part of the story, and I’d be crying as I drew.


(Craig and Emma Pask.)

J: Miserere, by The Cat Empire. Push It Up by Cookin’ On Three Burners. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy by Cannonball Adderley. There was a local jazz compilation called Jazz in Melbourne (Volume 2) that was the soundtrack for the “I love Jaz” fishing trip story. The Man I Love, sung by Peggy Lee, was a specific song in the “Daniella’s secret” story. It’s a VERY sad song – it’s not about hope, it’s about despair. And of course that story is wrapped up by a performance by Emma Pask and James Morrison – cameo appearances of course. On the day I was in the process of drawing this, I had the incredibly lucky chance to attend an intimate jazz performance by Morrison and Pask, so I actually got the chance to collar them and ask their permission to use them in the story. So, from the album Emma, we had the play-out song No More Blues. Very happy music, at long last.

J: And finally, I can’t go past some movie soundtrack inspirations. The Bond movie Skyfall had a track called Tennyson. In the movie, M (Judy Dench) is defending herself in front of the interrogation-like court of a governmental inquiry, and even though she has just been quietly informed the assassin is on his way to kill her, she continues to hold her ground and recite the verse. Cinematically it cuts back and forth between the emotionally tense inquiry room and the frank violence of the hit squad approaching and storming the building. The music is restrained and insistent, like a ticking clock. All you can hear is music and poetry and yet it’s impossible to relax.


(Ben and Daniella, from Doc Rat.)

J: I tried to duplicate that ambiance in a segment of Doc Rat. I aimed to do in graphic novel form what I’d experienced in the cinema. It was a challenge. The music wasn’t there, but perhaps you could imagine it as I did. Ben reading to himself the verse from Daniella’s upcoming, rabbit-culture-styled apology ceremony and finally understanding why she’d been under such stress – the day she didn’t come home was the day he finally ‘got it’ – and there you the reader were watching something horrible Ben couldn’t see: Danni was starting to lose it, lose everything she had. I tried to write verses of poetry that would do it all justice, and I hoped people would be imagining music similar to that in the section of Skyfall. In one small token to that track, I made reference to Tennyson Street in the script. Check it out.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
J: Novels: John Le Carre writes in beautiful language with not a word wasted, and exceptional human observation; moreover his work is written to be read out loud. Paul Kidd writes adventure stories whose plots have solid bones and simply ooze pure joy. Terry Pratchett is a literary genius who can reveal the most serious human truths while secretly stealing your braces – I can’t get enough of his humour. Shakespeare – I intensively watched Henry V, both Branagh and Hiddleston, to see how I could use the techniques in the Agincourt speech to craft Boss Alpha Blutenstein’s ‘speech of his life’, as he persuaded his pack followers to convert from apex predators to pacifists who may still represent themselves on the top status rung.

J: Comics: Most definitely Aaron Neathery, who creates Endtown, in my opinion a master work of the genre. It’s surreal fantasy in the realm of the human condition. Think Mad Max meets Pogo meets Labyrinth meets The Bed-Sitting Room. I was hooked from the first pages, and I’m hooked still. And there’s Bill Holbrook, who creates Kevin and Kell, a semi-serious animal society daily strip. Gary Clark, with Swamp, a daily gag strip with a strike rate for new and funny jokes that I envy to death. Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido for Blacksad (writer and artist respectively) – for pity’s sake this series is good; it’s movie-length, cinematic-quality, full-page watercolour 1950’s detective fiction, from a part of the world (Spain/France) that wears the anthropomorphic animal genre like a well-fitting suit. Stan Sakai for Usagi Yojimbo, a long-running title that simply has no equal. Murray Ball, Charles Schulz, Tove Jansson, Ursula Vernon…
BC: I bought the first Blacksad hardcover on your recommendation, and I agree, it’s absolutely beautiful stuff (but, not for children).

J: For the record, I know Neathery, Holbrook, Clark and Sakai, and they are all splendid people.

J: And I want to give a prize to all the writers, artists, animators and producers of Zootopia.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips? What do you think makes for a good comic?
J: I want them to be very good at what they intend to do. If it’s a daily gag, I expect it to be a funny gag. More than that, I want to know it’s the best gag that could be done by a skilled exponent. I want to know the creator gives a damn… comes up with an idea, looks at it and says: “Very funny, Cartoonist, now throw it away, do it again and make it funnier.”


(from Doc Rat.)

J: If it’s a story, I want it to add some richness to my life… you know, something I wouldn’t ordinarily have had myself from my own resources. Tell me a story to which I can’t guess the ending. A story that has a theme and an undertone as well as a plot. A story that passes on to me a little of the writer’s wisdom of life in the process of working the narrative’s crisis to its resolution. I want to come away enlightened. In that way, Swamp tells the funniest jokes, Kevin and Kell works the genre and Endtown succeeds with a sublime story on every level – it’s paradigm-challenging and perspective-changing.

J: Visually, I expect the artwork to be just as fresh and appealing. I want it to be drawn well, and I want each panel to offer something different and interesting. (Peanuts is the exception that proves the rule, of course.) I want something more than talking heads. And my maxim is: “Above all else, the story.” If it came to it, I’d prefer well-written and poorly-drawn over poorly-written and well-drawn, every time. So, when it takes so much longer to draw a comic than to write it, then please spend that extra bit of time on improving the writing. Edit, edit, edit. Cut out any words that don’t have to be in there. Comics are a visual medium, so whenever possible “show, don’t tell”. If the writer and artist are separate people, then they should communicate closely, because a solution can be found in the image that can help remove parts of the text.


(from Doc Rat.)

BC: What do you think of Patreon?
J: Patreon is a brilliant, new solution to the existing problem of how a comic creator can make a reliable income. Creators with a sufficiently popular product can get a regular payment from people who love their work above all others’. The old business models are withering, and some new one has to take over. There is still, though, the age-old caveat: if it were easy, everyone would be doing it! In the Golden Age, hopeful artists and writers would drag their portfolios around to comic publishers and newspapers, and it was possible in that way to get hired, but only the top percent would make the grade. Now, with Patreon, it’s still only the top percent who will make it. Even though the model is different, that part hasn’t changed.

J: Neathery, with merit, has a lot of loyal fans of Endtown, and the regular income from Patreon has been instrumental to his continuing to work as an Internet cartoonist for a living. But even so, his patrons have been promised rewards for their scheduled payments. He spends at least a day every month alone drawing and sending postcards, and writing a very long exclusive email, and there’s the cost of mailing prints and even original strip artwork to the larger supporters. Yes, Neathery does get that money, but he sure works for it – over and above what he does to keep the strip running.

J: Holbrook has a similar, self-run system of supporters and sponsors. He has something like 25,000 site visitors a month, so he can charge a good price for the ads. Of course, with the numbers he’s built up over twenty-plus years, his clients get value in what they pay for.

J: Neathery and Holbrook work full-time. I work very limited hours as a cartoonist and writer. My first priority is to completing five comics a week in the time available to me. Patreon or Kickstarter would be an idea for sometime in the future for me, but not right now. The last thing I’d want to do would be to promise extra benefits I’d fail to deliver. Supporters deserve to be treated with respect.

J: But please, folks, do visit Doc Rat daily. Or @DocRatComic on Twitter. And buy the books.

BC: Do you have any appearances scheduled for conventions?
J: I’ll be at ConFurgence 2017 in Melbourne, January 6 – 8, 2017. I’ll probably be at Anthrocon 2017 (June 29 – July 2, 2017), too.

Jenner.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Jenner © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)


Poll question: Do you eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away, or do you just like apples?

Justin Baglio interview

In an effort to provide exposure to cartoonists that haven’t hit the big time yet, I’m including comics that are currently running on GoComics’ Comic Sherpa. This time, I’d like to introduce Justin Baglio, creator of No Ordinary Life.

———

JB: Well, my name is Justin Baglio and I am 38 years old, married for 16 years and have three kids (15, 12 and 10).  I have the most exciting day job ever, buying food for Sysco Foods of Charlotte……I sit in a cubical….joy!  I coach wrestling for AAU youth wrestling, which both of my boys are a part of (they are the 12 and 10 year olds) and obviously I draw the No Ordinary Life comic strip.

JB: I’ve always been a doodler and drawerereer (how every you spell that) and have done it my whole life.  In classes growing up I was always the kid finishing work early and then drawing all sorts of things during the rest of the time.  I don’t have the best art in the world but I have a unique art to myself and good enough to be enjoyable.  How did I get into cartooning?  Well, I HATED to read anything but comics growing up, both superhero and cartoon comics.  My favorite (cartoon) comics were Beatle Bailey, Heathcliff, Hagar the Horrible, Garfield and the Farside.  I’ve always been a funny person (I make myself laugh) so in the early 2000’s I decided to start drawing a comic strip. I came up with the name No Ordinary Life and drew like 5-10 comics that year and then just daydreamed of being famous.  Then one day when I was on my lunch break reading a book in my car I realized that I was wasting my spare time reading what other people actually took the time to stop daydreaming and do.  So from that point on (back around 2010) I decided it was time to put down someone’s book and pick up my own pen and paper during my lunch break.

JB: So now, for the past few years, I go to Starbucks (mainly b/c it’s easy and available to sit and draw with a simple coffee purchase, like I’m renting a table for 2 dollars a day to draw) and draw my comic.  Another interesting note is I have never taken a single art or computer class, I have just fumbled my way through into drawing comics and I think I’ve finally gotten them to look how I want them.  I don’t draw them in any way, shape or form in a ‘normal’ way, I don’t sketch them, shadow box or any other way of pre-drawing.  I get the image into my head I want and I rule my box by eye, then start drawing my picture in finished pen. If I make a mistake I just fold it in half and start again.  Normally I get it how I want it in my first or second try. If I make a few minor mistakes I just fix them on my computer when I scan and edit.  My biggest challenge is grammar, I SUCK at grammar. I tell people that normally with prints if you find the one with the mistake it’s maybe worth more but with mine, if I ever make it big, if you find one of my comics without a mistake that will be the one worth more.

JB: So what is No Ordinary Life (NOL) about?  It’s about what’s in my head, what I think, what makes ME laugh out loud, because if it doesn’t make me laugh I can’t draw it to make others laugh.  NOL is a single panel comic strip that is just random humor, no rhyme (I’m not a poet) no reason (I’ve never had some), so humor.  I have random inspiration hit my thoughts and that is what I use when drawing my comics, I’m not an organized, planned person so my comic reflects that, I’m just funny.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
JB: Cartoonist. I stopped day dreaming about being a cartoonist and started working towards being a cartoonist.  I’ve always loved reading comics, I find humor in everything and I draw pretty good ‘cartoony’ looking people and animals so I decided to put all three together and draw my own comics.  I used to just do them for myself and share with my wife and a few choice friends and they all seemed to like them so after a while I started showing other acquaintances and they seemed to like them so I thought, I can do this.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
JB: June of 2013, I decided that I wanted to be a cartoonist, to truly get serious about it, I opened up my Sherpa account on GoComics and decided to unleash NOL (in it’s infancy at the time) for public consumption.  I then started drawing on my lunch breaks at the local Starbucks (because that was the best place to be left alone for 30 minutes to an hour and draw in peace and all it cost me was a small coffee.

JB: I would say my biggest break came when a local publisher from Raleigh, NC, Raburn Publishing, contacted me through social media and asked to publish a book of No Ordinary Life.  That told me that the public really does like my humor and my comic, the whole experience (a lot good and some bad) taught me a lot about my comic and helped me grow as a cartoonist.

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
JB: I have two books available on Amazon.  I have the very 1st one that Raburn Publishing did called Family Time, which is black and white and very roughly drawn compared to my current comics.  I did my own, self-published, book call, Why is the Coffee Always Gone, almost a year ago because I thought my comic had grown so much from my first book that I wanted to get a new and updated NOL available.  This book is full color and fewer pages, I kept it at less pages since adding the color makes the price higher and I couldn’t get as many comics in it and keep it affordable for readers to want to purchase it.

BC: How do you start the panel?
JB: Before I draw a comic I get a good visual image in my mind of the comic idea that I find most visible and funny for the day.  Normally, I have a new idea I had just thought of within the last day or I have a lot that I have put into my phone waiting for that perfect mental image to join them.  Then, honestly, I sit down (at Starbucks), box in my frame with a sharpy and ruler and start drawing the images in my mind.  I try not to ‘try’ too hard because I tend to overlook and under draw when I do that.  I like to let my thoughts flow into the pen and onto the paper.  If I make a mistake that isn’t an easy editing fix with the computer later I just tear that paper out and start all over.  It’s really quite magical.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
JB: I think it would be sung by either They Might Be Giants or Bare Naked Ladies.  Both of those bands are fun, comical and extremely talented in whimsical ways.  In particular. the songs, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, “Women and Men”, “Whistling in the Dark”, “If I Had a Million Dollars”, “One Week” and “It’s All Been Done” to name a few.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met them? Do you have any dirt on them?
JB: I’m a bit of a Harry Potter dork so I would say J.K. Rowling (I’ve read each of the books 4 times now, twice to myself and once to my daughter and now I’m reading them with my boys).  And no I haven’t met her, would love to kick some dirt on her though.  I LOVE all things The Farside, Gary Larson is truly amazing!  There are others too, but those are the two that really stand out for me.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
JB: Currently I follow these outstanding strips–Speed Bump (Dave Coverly), the humor is well done and his art is some of the best I’ve seen.  Off the Mark (Mark Parisi), always a fun laugh.  The Flying McCoys and The Duplex (Glenn and Gary McCoy), their art is also extremely good and their single panel comic, The Flying McCoys, is impeccable. And then, The Duplex is fun to see what Eno and Fang are up to.  1 and Done (Eric Scott) is a relatively new addition to my viewing and I find that he has a unique style and some good off-the-wall humor that hits my funny bone. Argyle Sweater (Scott Hilburn) is another that is very similar to The Farside but has tendencies to be a lot more ‘pun’ny than anything.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
JB: How well it’s written and if the picture actually works with the gag.  I like the art to be memorable and the joke to actually be funny.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
JB: I think the best comics should be, to start with,…Funny!  To me the humor shouldn’t be too obvious, some jokes are supposed to be too obvious and the picture is more the punch line but a good rule is that a good comic is a little off the wall and makes you sometimes wonder if you’re missing something when you first read it.  The other thing I think makes for a good comic is not being ‘perfectly’ drawn (exception to this is Calvin and Hobbes, because Watterson is just that damn good at drawing).  If you look at The Farside, Peanuts, Garfield (when it first came out), Hagar the Horrible, Close to Home and In The Bleachers to name a few, these are not drawn perfectly, but instead they are drawn memorably; they stand out.  Hand-drawn comics with handwritten lettering stands out the most. Pair that with some good gag writing and that makes for a damn good comic.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Justin Baglio © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)


Poll: Can bosses really “smell fear”?

 

Maiji/Mary Huang interview

Maiji/Mary Huang’s Now Recharging was just announced on GoComics at the end of September. I like the artwork, and I wanted to give the story a try. As I went through the comments on the first two pages, I was seeing the same pattern, with readers saying that they like what they’re seeing, then turning a little more impatient at having to wait a couple days to get past the splash pages. So, I found Maiji’s website and went through the archives for the first chapter of the story. Now Recharging is a manga-influenced series about a haphazard android named Emmie, and their less than successful attempts at finding their purpose in life. There’s a lot of light-hearted humor and child-like wonder in this comic that takes a bit of time to build up and establish itself. Be patient, Now Recharging is worth the wait.

BC: How often will NR update?
MMH: Now Recharging started in September, 2015, and continues to run there. The third chapter (numbered 2 thanks to my attempt at being clever with a chapter 0) just started September, 2016. Originally, updates were whenever I finished a page, but it’s since settled to twice a week, usually Mondays and Thursdays (sometimes I’ll stagger a post just to line it up with a certain date, like a holiday or an anniversary). The GoComics schedule is Mondays and Thursdays, starting from the very beginning of the comic.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
MMH: I’m a Taiwanese-Canadian artist and writer based out of Toronto. My name is rather common and has resulted in some identity confusion in the past. So in my creative work I go by “Maiji/Mary Huang”, or just Maiji. (The Maiji is a little squirrel-like creature I began drawing in elementary school that turned into a long-running in-joke with friends and family. It’s pretty much my avatar for everything!) This still seems to cause confusion at times in terms of name ordering, how many people I actually am, etc., but at least it’s a bit more distinct!

MMH: Mostly I think of myself as someone who loves communications – words, pictures, art, storytelling, design, media, language, books, etc. – and who makes things and babbles about stuff I like. I guess that counts as an artist! In some ways my creative work is “just” a hobby, as I have a different full-time job I also enjoy. But it’s really all a continuum of stuff I do. (I’ve written a long blog post on some of my thoughts on this, as well as how I work, for anyone who might be interested.)

MMH: I love comics in particular because they’re such a flexible, accessible and powerful communications medium. You don’t need anything fancy to tell an engaging and/or immersive story, and it always blows my mind how much you can do with it.

BC: How did you get your start then?
MMH: I’ve been drawing and reading comics for as long as I can remember. My sister is probably the reason I love both things so much. When we lived in Taiwan, my family had a manga rental store, so comics were simply a part of life growing up. I have lots of memories of my sister reading them to me, doing voices for all the characters.

MMH: My biggest break was being born. It’s easy to take that for granted, and it’s something I think about a lot (I realize this makes me sound like a blast at parties…) Next is having family and friends who are supportive of what I do, even if they don’t always necessarily understand it. It makes a world of difference! Then, probably my family coming to Canada – mainly because this event set the course for my experiences.

MMH: In terms of things more specific to comics, getting to exhibit at TCAF (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival) opened the door to many other things. This includes TCAF in Tokyo (exhibiting at Kaigai Manga Festa/Tokyo International Comic Festival and Design Festa); meeting and hanging out with other artists who really inspired me and helped me develop my thinking on where I want to go creatively; and this GoComics opportunity. I’m very excited – and a little nervous – to be able to share this little comic with more people!


(Nod, from the short story Sleeping Aid.)

BC: What led up to your starting Now Recharging?
MMH: Conceptually speaking, Now Recharging brings together various things that have bothered, amused, or comforted me for a long time. Even as a kid, existential fretting was and is something that comes all too naturally. Long story short, after working through a particularly intense bout of it last year, I ended up with the character of Emmie the android. The rest grew from there.

MMH: Technically speaking, I’ve always dreamed of creating a longer narrative comic, but I wasn’t sure if I could sustain something like that. I’ve made comics and zines for a long time, and I’ve also coordinated and participated in a couple of anthologies for Suddenly Sentai, a local comics collective of friends. These have largely been one-shots, not long-term projects. Now Recharging is the most involved thing I’ve been able to get off the ground to date. Right now there are over 100 completed pages in a box under my bed. Compared to many other creators’ outputs, that’s really nothing… but it’s something I never thought I’d manage, so I’m very proud of that!


(Zine cover for Wash my dreams with ink.)

MMH: Lately my creative focus and time has mostly been on Now Recharging, but I still have plans for other things. I do a couple of serial zines: My Life As A Maiji, which are silly autobio comics about my life, family and friends, and Wash My Dreams With Ink, which features brush pen stories, poetry and thoughts in comics form. A project of some sort about Taiwan has also been on my list for a while. I’m on the fence as to how much to talk about something before it’s realized. I’m a bit fickle. Sometimes talking about it seems to help make it happen, other times it just keeps getting deferred to eternity.

BC:What would you like people new to NR to know about it?
MMH: Now Recharging is intended to be like a collection of short stories, where each chapter – not always chronological – is relatively self-contained. The reader can assemble these pieces into a more unified vision of this world and these characters’ lives. (Think Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack.)

MMH: The central character, Emmie, is a rather scatterbrained robot who’s not really designed for any particular application. Like any person, they want to be useful and have purpose. Part of this story is about that search for meaning, as well as our own worries about what might – or might not – ultimately be behind it. And regardless of how much deep metaphysical talk you throw at something, life is still happening. This story is also about that: the ordinary, lovely little things about being alive in this world, and the people who accompany us on our journey. Chapter 2 introduces another robot, the other major character whose job and experiences will help add to Emmie’s perspective.

MMH: Many robot stories are more about ourselves than anything else – our own hopes and fears. My hope is to explore this in an amusing, charming, gentle way. There are specific things I’ve planned for, but there’s definitely some making stuff up as I go along, too.

BC: Why a sheep (Emmie’s stuffed toy)?
MMH: As for why sheep – well, androids and sheep have a bit of history, don’t they? There are a few nods to SF classics here and there, as well as other things I love. And there’s something very comforting about how fluffy and cute sheep can be when you draw them. It seems to me they’d be the perfect companion for an anxious little robot to hug while recharging!

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
MMH: You can see my self-published works, including the books/zines mentioned above, at my store (there’s some cute Now Recharging things there!) I also do conventions, comics and small press events, mostly in Toronto (Canada). There’s a list of upcoming events on my site!

MMH: I’m also trying out Pay What You Want digital downloads for some out-of-print works.


(Character art)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet when you start your next page?
MMH: For me, it’s a rather circular, overlapping, ongoing, organized chaos-type process. There’s too much going on for it to really be a blank sheet. I write down ideas and flesh things out whenever it comes to me, and whenever I have time – usually notes on my phone or in my sketchbook when I’m waiting, commuting, etc. For Now Recharging, these get consolidated into a Google doc of chapters and scenes that are gradually fleshed out into scripts.

MMH: As the idea or scene becomes more defined and coherent, the script gets broken down into pages, which I then start thumbnailing. I post wips/process photos on my instagram every so often if you’d like a peek! My thumbnails are very scratchy and terrible. Sometimes if I leave them too long I have no idea what’s going on anymore, but it takes the pressure off trying to recapture something perfectly when I start to draw the “real” page. And at the “real” page stage, sometimes I’ll redo the composition and even rework pagination as I go.

BC: What would NR sound like?
MMH: If Now Recharging were an anime, I’d love the opening and ending songs to be like Onitsuka Chihiro, Bastille, Streetlight Cadence. I imagine music with a bright or even cheerful quality and interesting vocals/instrumentation, while the lyrics are unusual, ambiguous, or simply not what you’d expect based on the sound of the song. Something that makes you feel happy even while the lyrics are not, exactly. Other than that, something cute, I guess?

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
MMH: Ahhh, this is hard. There are so many incredible artists and writers who have affected how I think or approach my own work. And I’m always stumbling upon new (and old) creators whose work astounds me. Here are a few who stand out in my mind at the moment. I haven’t met any of them (and some are sadly no longer around…), but I’ve gone back to their works time and time again for pleasure, refreshment and inspiration.

Osamu Tezuka. Frequently referred to as the “god of manga”.
Yoshihiro Togashi. The 90s manga/anime Yu Yu Hakusho was/is one of my biggest obsessions.
Isaac Asimov. I read a lot of his robot short stories when I was a kid.
Mary Oliver. I find her poetry evocative and just plain beautiful.


(Happy Lunar New Year.)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
MMH: Two I’m really into right now are Chirault by Ally Rom Colthoff (Varethane) / and Interstellar C.A.T. Crew by Sheharzad Arshad.

MMH: I actually learned about Chirault when I met the creator at a Toronto indie arts event a few years ago; we tabled back to back. Her commitment to this story and this world – over 9 years and over 1000 pages now – is breathtaking, and I love the character interactions. The artwork is beautiful, and she also works in traditional media.

MMH: I follow Sheharzad on instagram, and I’ve been getting my Interstellar C.A.T fix there! His style and focus are quite different from what I do. I find his work very clever, and I really like all the thoughtful, playful little touches he adds, like how the speech bubbles overlay the actual meowing of the Catilians (read the comic to see what I’m talking about!)

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
MMH: I’m a very visual person, so art is definitely the first thing that catches my eye! More than just the art style, however, it’s the skill in composing a page layout or panel sequence, and how the artist brings you into a scene or a moment, sometimes even viscerally. The skill sets are quite different. You can have comics with gorgeous art but less solid paneling that can make it hard to get into the story or the action and feel like it’s alive. Also, a well-done, cinematic action sequence (something I wrestle with) impresses the heck out of me! Shounen manga artists are particularly good at this.

MMH: Content-wise, it depends on the format and the story. There are lots of really charming and hilarious comic strips and strip-a-day works that just kill me with a great idea or punchline combined with brilliant and often understated execution. For longer narratives, I tend to be drawn to stories with strong character interaction and family-type relationships. I also love supernatural stuff, whether it’s paranormal or science or speculative fiction. And slice-of-life.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
MMH: I do! Not for myself at the moment, but to support and pledge to others’ work. Maybe in the future!

BC: Do you have any other projects coming up?

MMH: I’ll be at these events:
Anime North Doujinka Festival: Toronto, Oct. 28, 2016
Canzine: Toronto, Oct. 29, 2016

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Maiji/Mary Huang © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)


Poll: Do you like manga?