Beutel (James) Interview

Back when Banana Triangle, drawn and written by Beutel (James), began running on GoComics, I had a little trouble getting into the art style, and I really wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that the main characters died half-way through the story and were turned into bony skeletons. Then, about 1 year ago, Greg Cravens mentioned on his site that he’s a big fan of BT, and that got me into going through the full Banana Triangle archives to try to get a better understanding of the comic as a whole.

Basically, we have 3 people, Tom, Scotty and Rosemary, who find themselves on a deserted island, after what seems to be the end of civilization. Initially, the main food source is mangoes, but whatever needs to be used at some point will suddenly be washed up on the beach in a crate. Later, other characters will stagger in (or row up on a raft), and everyone will fight over the limited resources, or the fact that nobody actually wants to do any of the work around there. Tom is the stoic one, and he suffers the most because of it. But, the others get their comeuppances off and on, too. The artwork is good, and the backgrounds will have skulls or bones scattered around sometimes. The gags are dark humored, but usually topical, and the disjointed storylines do make sense if you go back and reread them from the beginning of the arc. Not everyone is going to “get” Banana Triangle, but it is pretty funny if you do.

BC: Who are you?
BJ: I am Beutel (James), internationally famous creator of the webcomic Banana Triangle.

(The first Banana Triangle strip.)

BC: Reveal yourself.
BJ: I feel as though I’ve already said too much.

BC: Why “Beutel (James)”? Are there so many Beutels that you have to serialize yourselves to tell yourselves apart?
BJ: It’s a silly affectation. Nothing more, nothing less.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
BJ: A cartoonist mostly. And aren’t cartoonists artists? Sure they are! So I consider myself that too! But you’d never confuse me with an illustrator. Illustrators get paid for their efforts. An artist cares nothing for money!

BC: How did you get your start then?
BJ: I started drawing cartoons & comic books for my own amusement as a lonely 12 year old. A dozen years later I realized that there are people that actually make a living doing such things and became determined to find success in the world of syndicated newspaper comic strips.

BC: How long have you been at this?
BJ: Here’s where I will start to get a little “long-winded.”
Off and on over a period of twenty years I would find myself with bursts of inspiration and optimism. At these times I would gather up the courage to send my work off to be mostly ignored by the cruel, heartless syndicate editors. Despite their tendency towards cruel-heartlessness I would very occasionally find a kind comment scribbled on the corner of a rejection letter.

BJ: The late Jay Kennedy (one-time King Features Syndicate Comics Editor) was actually frequently “kind” in that way but kept trying to steer me towards publishers of alternative comics where he apparently thought my work would find a better fit. Somewhat later John Glynn (Current Comics Editor-God for one of the remaining newspaper syndicate conglomerates) expressed an interest for a while. I was hopeful and encouraged and… but it ultimately turned out to be a dead end.

BJ: BUT THEN!!!! Dut-dut-da-a-a-ah! MY BIG BREAK!
Seriously… I did get a “big break.” I, Beutel (James), was offered a contract to develop a comic strip for The Washington Post Writers Group! Not only that, but I would be working with Amy Lago, one-time “editor” of PEANUTS!! …of Charles Schulz!! …WOW!! My future was SET!!
So, after a brief period of negotiations (I actually engaged the services of an attorney who specialized in newspaper comic syndication. Yes, such a person exists), and when WPWG mailed me my first modest stipend I set to work at developing the soon-to-be-internationally-beloved newspaper comic: Sunny Hamlet.

(Sunny Hamlet.)

BJ: Well, (sigh…) my “big break” turned out to be a big, fat disappointment because after a year and a half I learned my feature was not going to make it to the funny pages. A crushing disappointment that Amy Lago attributed to the current miserable state of the economy (the “crash” of 2008 was in progress) or perhaps she was just making an effort to spare my feelings. (snif! snif!) At any rate I was now free to market my wares if I so chose and I did, sending Sunny Hamlet through the gauntlet once again. Bleh! At the same time I was working on a new (but not exactly new) strip that was by-no-means suitable for the daily newspaper funny pages. And seeing as I was now drawing with a pen tablet and using Photoshop to create what was originally called “The Island” it seemed natural to send it out on the internet. I created to see if I could find an audience there. Eventually this strip, now titled “Banana Triangle,” made its way to GoComics where it currently updates 3 days each week.

BC: Ok then, what led up to starting Banana Triangle? Do you have any other pokers in the fire?
BJ: Oops! I think I mostly covered this in my response to the previous question. As to pokers, I do have a couple but not much fire. However I would very much like to get my many, many years of Sunny Hamlet out there on the web somehow, but that would require endless hours of tedious scanning. Additionally I hope to wake up one day and discover that someone has made my website look more professional and up to date. I know I can’t do it!

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with?
BJ: Creating Banana Triangle gives me tremendous satisfaction.

(Banana Triangle.)

BC: But, why Banana Triangle (nee the Island)? That is, what was the process that brought you to the conclusion that cannibalism could be funny?
BJ: There was no “process,” per se. The early days of Banana Triangle were all about establishing the personalities and motivations of the main characters and to do so within the confines of the circumstances in which they find themselves. They wake up to find themselves on a small island with limited resources, i.e. food. They’re hungry…starving! Very quickly “what’s for dinner” becomes “who’s for dinner.” The characters are all thinking about it but one of them simply has no filter between her mind and her voice box. Is it funny? Not really but I try to portray it so.

BC: For readers that haven’t tried it yet, what’s your pitch to reel them in?
BJ: I have no idea. How about “You’ll come for the bucolic sunsets. You’ll stay ‘cuz we ate your legs.”

BC: For readers that ran away the first time Tom got killed (or Scotty threw up bad creamed corn), what words do you have for them?
BJ: Metaphor! Metaphor! C’mon… it’s just metaphor!

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
BJ: Nope! However I hope to one day wake up and find…

(Banana Triangle.)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
BJ: I don’t have a simple answer for this, I’m afraid. I do find that going for long walks (alone) can be very fruitful.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
BJ: Actually WordPress/ Comicpress, the content management system I use for my website, has the ability to add a small amount of sound/music but I couldn’t get it to work. The “music” I was attempting to add was the sound of gentle waves slowly lapping the shore of an empty beach.
Perhaps one day I shall wake up to find…

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Do you have any dirt on them?
BJ: So many “favorites.” Too many. I’ve never met any, however. I take it for granted that they are all dirty to some degree. Filthy dirty! Some are dead and literally covered with dirt.

BC: What other comic strips do you follow?
BJ: I always check out XKCD. It makes feel smart when I “get it.” I adore Perry Bible Fellowship. I follow Buni on GoComics cuz’ it’s dark and funny and it was launched there immediately before Banana Triangle. David Malki!’s Wondermark is delightful. And Hark! A Vagrant? So clever! Others too!

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
BJ: Initially I am attracted to and/or intrigued by the “look.” From there the wit, originality and depth will keep me interested.

(Banana Triangle.)

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
BJ: See above.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning?
BJ: I don’t know if I’d recognize the face of webcartooning if it was standing directly in front of me so any changes just confuse me. Kickstarter? Patreon? Could using these “products” result in Banana Triangle earning money for it’s creator? That’d be nice!
BC: No guarantees…

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
BJ: I lead a quiet life.

BC: Coming back to Banana Triangle, could you give us an insight to the motivations and personalities of the four main characters, Tom, Scotty, Rosemary and/or the briefcase?
BJ: Ay yi yi! I probably shouldn’t try. Just know that like me Tom is extremely introverted. And I… No! I’ve said too much already!

BC: How far ahead do you plot the stories, arcs, sub-plots, etc.?
BJ: I generally manage to maintain a six month “buffer” but the story arcs are largely unplanned and I pray that readers will forgive the incoherence that results.

BC: How much of what happens to the trio mirrors something happening in real life at the time you draw the strip?
BJ: More than I am conscious of, I think.

BC: Is Banana Triangle farce, parody, surrealism or just really repulsive stuff (like someone that keeps picking their scabs on live TV and the audience is too disgusted to change the channel)?
BJ: I hope it is a little bit of all the first three things. It would make me terribly sad if it were thought to be the last.

(Banana Triangle.)

BC: I gave Banana Triangle a second try because of the recommendations by Greg Cravens (The Buckets, Hubris). Any words for Greg?
BJ: Nothing pleases me more than when someone whose work I admire thinks what I do is worthy of attention. So… Thanks, Greg!

BC: Do you have any long-term game plan for the BT trio?
BJ: Survival. That’s what it’s all about!

BC: How would you characterize your readers on your main site compared with the ones on GoComics? Has their reception of BT been positive on the whole? Neutral? Negative? How do you respond to people that don’t “get” BT and the BT jokes?
BJ: My response to this question is largely based on assumptions I make because I don’t have all that many readers who comment with regularity. With GoComics I can see how many people subscribe to have Banana Triangle emailed to them when it updates (a number that grows very slowly) but I have no idea how many additional eyeballs it gets in front of. Every so often a reader there will leave in a huff and broadcast the fact in the comments section. At those times I will feel a brief pang of disappointment.

BJ: On my own website I can track page views and stuff as well as see what portion of those readers are return guests but I have only a few dependable but intermittent commenters. Fewer still are those that hang with it and make (much appreciated) comments along the way as they follow the strip. What seems to happen more often than not is that someone will find Banana Triangle somehow and consume it in its entirety in one or two sittings. Their comments are generally very positive but I seldom hear from them again and I assume they forget about its existence. I can’t blame them because it’s happened to me with many webcomics I’ve read over the years.

BJ: It seems to me that the most successful (measured by volume of readers) webcomics are those that offer multiple reasons for a person to go and visit their site. Certainly more than simply the latest update of the strip. Some readers really seem to value interaction with the creator(s). I don’t see myself doing more of that sort of thing than the small amount I currently do.

(Banana Triangle. Exclusive to Basket Case.)

BC: Scotty, Tommy and Rosemary vs. Gilligan, The Skipper and the rest?
BJ: Sorry I [can’t] indulge your desire for a Rosemary VS Ginger cage match. I just can’t make it work in my head. I mean… Gilligan’s Island is fictional!

BC: What can we expect in BT in the next 3 months or so?
BJ: Nice try!

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

Poll question: Would you want live on a desert island and eat bloody bananas?


10 thoughts on “Beutel (James) Interview”

  1. Are you Brit? in that case, “bloody bananas” would be like “damned bananas” to a real person, and hey – I like bananas. Or would we be talking about possessed bananas. Does the island have an exorcist?

    If you mean bananas that actually bleed, this is interesting. I’ve eaten many a banana in my day (all 24,090 of them – days, that is, not bananas), and I’ve never encountered one that actually bled.

    I think that would depend on how I was using the banana.

    On cereal, I doubt the blood would mix well with the milk.

    On a peanut-butter-nana sandwich (Elvis’ fave) it might not be too bad.

    Raw, I dunno; it would depend upon just how much blood was involved, and the reaction it elicited from any observers.

    In Bananas Foster, bleed away – the flaming liquor will take care of it.

  2. Hello, Joseph, and thank you for the comment.
    I’m American, but I am familiar with the British expression. It was part of the influence in my choice of wording. If you look at the last image of the interview, the trio are eating bananas that are actually bleeding. So, I guess that your suggestion of Bananas Foster would be a good option.

    1. Jeez – you’re right … I just noticed the blood. I’ve been following BT since it started – Beutel has created a masterpiece.

      I don’t know if you follow it, but GoComics has a strip called “The Other End,” which is also on the strange side. I just started reading it this week, but went back to its origins (June, 2016) and read through to the current story arc. Like Banana Triangle it has a deliciously twisted angle to it.

      I look forward to reading more of your interviews.

      Many thanks

      1. I have read “The Other End” a little bit. I’m giving it a few weeks longer to build up more of an archive, then I’ll go back and binge-read it to get a better feel for the humor involved. Thanks for the recommendation.

        I hope to have more interviews for everyone to enjoy (at least, I hope people have been “enjoying” the ones so far. I picked up 4 more artist interviews this week, and I’ll update the interview schedule (in the header bar menu) this weekend.

  3. Wonderful to know more about the amazing Mr. B. I have been enjoying his work since I “discovered” it a couple of years ago. (I know, I’m the Mrs. Columbus of comics.)
    Thanks BC, for giving The Suitcase the person-hood it deserves.

  4. Having several thousand more days and bananas under my belt (literally speaking) than does josephporter I am endowed with the kind of wisdom only obtained with age. I pronounce Banana Triangle one of the best! There! I am a permanent fan who will have sung these praises and spend the future lurking in the shadows in admiration. Thank you.

  5. Hi ya Curtis! Great interview! was jsut catching up on BT tomight nad saw the link for this. it’s nice to know a bit more about Beutel and how he got started. I have been reading also for a few years at least. I love it! I’m one of the people who post now and then on the comic website. I don’t read it on go comics, though It may be where I found it orignally, its been awhile so I’m not sure. It’s one of my very favorite comics though and I do read quite a few but I have a small handful of favorites BT being one of them . I also read “The Other End” too! along with “Scenes from a multiverse”. I love the twisted humor of all 3. As for a more traditional adventure like comic have any of you read Stand Still Stay Silent? the art work is beautiful! its written by a young woman who does it full time for a living and she has a huge following. ck it out and you will see why. Its amazing to see whats he has done with the comic genre and how she has managed to make a living doing it. it’s really impressive. HSe did a thing on not patron but the other one that you raise money on?forget the name of it, and made over 100 thou! yea! very impressive! She had another comic before that one and that’s where I found her at. It was her version of a Finish fairytale and her art work is just beautiful. I do hope you guys will go look at it. I like the story too. She is both a good writer and artist. I do point people to Beutels Comic though I love both kinds the shorter and longer but the ones with a weird storyline or a twisted sense of humor are my favorites. I am also an artist so I can appreciate all the work that goes into making one. I always thought If I had been born a lot later than I was I may have gone in this direction. I sculpt though and I’d love to do figurines someday of Tom and the gang! lol can you imagine? lol. I could do Tom with a bunch of bananas on his shoulder and Rosemary holding a bloody knife or something HAHAHAHAHA. Maybe Scotty picking his nose lol…
    Thanks both of you for doing this though I loved it! and I will be following along on the comic Beutel! I don’t always have time to post but I am reading!

  6. I truly enjoy Banana Triangle and admire how Beutel (James) has captured the beastly coils of venom at work in the poisoned minds of Rosemary and Scotti. While Tom might be cast as leader and provider, I feel his mission is to simply give over the case that means so much to Marcus Wallace who is presently in the Hock Shop of Horrors planning something awful.

    Please allow me to comment on the way you post your name. Is it James Beutel or Beutel James? I am just trying to save you from “The Royal Bruce Conniption.” That’s why I ask.

    The Royal Bruce Conniption
    Back in 59 or 60 I was in the eight grade. School was becoming split into periods and home rooms, and many forms needed filling; LAST NAME FIRST! I had a class mate called “Royal Bruce” which when written last name first came out to be “Bruce Royal” In those dark days, there were no young teachers just older women who could spot a wise guy a mile away and they hammered poor Royal until he grew transparent in flesh and visible as bone, but not the hard calcium kind that gives our body healthy heft; no this was jelly-like, and if Royal didn’t watch out he might slide from his seat, and should he catch a draft, might fly away. I think that might have been the case because one day he was just gone and no one ever said anything about the subject.
    All I meant to do was compliment “Banana Triangle”, but as I am an old man, I have told a story. It is a curse of age and I am sorry, so please read the comic “Banana Triangle” It is well done, humorous and smart.

  7. I’m a thrice weekly visitor to the website. This is strange and brilliant work. I would almost say “unique,” except there’s something about the feel of it that says, “Krazy Kat” to me.

    I’m fascinated to learn, from the interview, that the artist started the story with three characters in a situation and no idea of where it would lead. I write sf and crime fiction the same way. I salute a fellow seat-of-the-pantser.

    I hope BT continues and that I live long enough to learn what’s in the briefcase.

  8. I would pay big bucks for a “family tree” of the residents. This might include the various transmogrifications that have recently appeared. Five bucks seems fair and maybe 10 percent to me for the idea. C’mon, you’d have a lot of fun doing it!

Leave a Reply to Tomas Texino Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.