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.
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.
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.
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.
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?