Bill Barnes interview

I’m an electronics engineer, and I’ve done business applications programming for 10 years. I still write small application scripts to make running this blog easier, so I can appreciate good computer humor when I see it. I’ve been following Bill Barnes’ Not Invented Here on GoComics since Dec. 28, 2015. The story focuses on Desmond, a developer at a software company, and his less than competent colleagues, including Owen, the product manager; Fang, the dark tester; Umesh, the antagonistic fellow developer; the executive, Art; and Meatloaf, Desmond’s pet hamster. It’s a fun strip.


(from Unshelved)

BC: Who are you? What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you? How did you get your start as as a cartoonist? How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
BB: I’m Bill Barnes, a dad of two teenagers. I grew up in New York, Hong Kong, Lagos, and London, but I’ve been a naturalized citizen of Seattle for some time now. I grew up fascinated with comics and computers, and when I was applying to university I had to decide which way to go. I ended up studying computer science at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. Years later I swapped my job and my hobby and became a full-time cartoonist. In 2002 I started Unshelved with superlibrarian Gene Ambaum. Until recently we wrote it together and I drew it, and on November 11 we are shutting it down.

BB: Without question, we lucked out in choosing the subject matter for our strip. The library community embraced us and fed our children for many years.

BC: What was the motivating force behind the decision to end Unshelved?
BB: After 15 years we were both ready for something new. I have frequently mocked comic strips that dragged on beyond their sell-by date. I didn’t want to be in the situation where my grandchildren were recycling the same old jokes.


(from Not Invented Here)

BC: What led up to your starting Not Invented Here, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
BB: Even though I had fun writing the Unshelved characters, it was obviously more about about Gene’s work life than mine. After some awkward attempts to tell some of my stories I decided to launch a second comic strip set in the software industry. So I created Not Invented Here in 2009. I was primarily the writer, working first with Paul Southworth and then Jeff Zugale, both much more talented artists than I. It ran six years, until I decided to swap my job and my hobby yet again and return to work at Microsoft, where I’m having a ton of fun working with developers around the world at companies big and small. NIH is currently on hiatus. I can imagine returning for another round, and I’ve got a couple of novels in me, but right now I’m pretty focused on writing code.

BC: How do you feel about the differences in doing collaborations versus producing your own works solo? That is, what do you go through when writing or drawing for someone else compared to having full control over your strip but having to do the extra work on it?
BB: I really enjoy working with a partner. My brain tends to freeze up when I work on my own, and sometimes I need someone to bounce my ideas off of. This was especially true earlier in my career, when I wasn’t sure how my jokes would land on someone who wasn’t, well, me. But about halfway through my run on NIH I became confident of my ability to get the jokes right. I think if I were starting a new strip today I’d probably write it myself. As for working with an artist, I’ve grown to love having someone else draw. I lose a little control, but I gain a whole brain’s worth of creativity, and that is a fantastic tradeoff.


(from Not Invented Here)

BC: How many of the gags or situations in NIH were drawn from real life, and how much was pure fantasy?
BB: The characters are a mix of lots of real people I worked with, but I dialed up the incompetence. Mostly. I’ve been told that the situations in NIH are painfully realistic.

BC: Actually, how HAS the company lasted that long?
BB: They make up for the sheer stupidity in volume.

BC: What kind of audience did you have for NIH, and did it include many non-programmers?
BB: NIH is mostly not about the actual technology. Usually when I use a buzzword it’s just a macguffin I can build a plot around. A lot of our readers are not software people but people who know software people, so they recognize and enjoy the characters even if they aren’t conversant with the technology.

BC: Which of your works are you most proud of?
BB: I’m very proud of both my strips, but NIH definitely stretched me as a storyteller.

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
BB: Both strips ended up having significant merchandise operations, some the result of a number of successful Kickstarters. Unshelved has 11 books going on 12. NIH has two, and I’d love to make one more. They are generally available at the Unshelved Store.


(from Not Invented Here)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
BB: If I’m just writing a strip I start a conversation between two characters. Usually they take it in a funny direction. I used to hate authors who said stuff like that, but it’s absolutely true.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
BB: Showtunes. Always showtunes.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
BB: I grew up reading Garry Trudeau, and got to spend an afternoon with him many years ago giving him a tour of the Microsoft campus.


(from Unshelved)

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
BB: I always look for writing. I’m a huge fan of Dave Kellett’s work, which is awkward because we’re friends and when we get together I just kind of drool and squee the whole time. He manages to combine a sweet nature, sharp writing, and fantastic art. I have also fallen in love with the way Ryan Q. North writes everything. Both are cases of “I could never do that, so I don’t have to feel jealous.” Most recently Lunarbaboon has spoken to my middle-aged-husband-and-father parts.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
BB: Both Patreon and Kickstarter made several dreams come true for both my strips. Big fan.

BC: Do you have any appearances scheduled for conventions?
BB: In 14 years of nonstop conventioneering I burned out hard, it’ll be a while before that sounds like fun again.


(from Not Invented Here)

BC: In running NIH as a webcomic, if you just started it today, do you think there’s anything on the marketing or business side that you might do differently now, knowing what you do know about what works and what doesn’t to make it more financially successful?
BB: I have mixed feelings about that. What I learned is that, unlike the library community, software folk are already extremely well-served by a variety of media depicting and/or aimed at them. So it was a tough market to break into. On the other hand, I am extremely proud of my work on NIH. So I probably would have done it again, but lowered my expectations. And printed fewer books.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Overdue Media LLC © 2016 and/or NotInventedHere.com)
(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: Are you a software person?

 

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Paige Braddock interview

I’ve long been a fan of alternative comics, and comicbook shops. Back in the 90’s, I was reading Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, which I liked for the strong characters and humor. Later, when I discovered Paige Braddock’s Jane’s World on GoComics, I was happy to run through the archives to discover an all-new set of strong characters, but with more slap-stick gags. Both are good strips. Paige has also drawn The Martian Confederacy, with Jason McNamara as writer, and the children’s book series Stinky Cecil. I’m pleased to present Paige today.


(Jane’s World #25 cover)

BC: Who are you?
PB: This is a very existential question… I’m a southerner, a cartoonist, a lover of vintage Mustangs, and a snack food aficionado.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
PB: I spend my days working as Creative Director at Charles Schulz’s studio. I spend nights and weekends working on Jane’s World. I co-created a science fiction graphic novel titled, The Martian Confederacy. I also write prose novels under a pen name, Missouri Vaun. That was my great-grandmother’s name. I even have her old typewriter circa 1920.


(Jane’s World, Dorothy and the cat.)

BC: How did you get your start as…?
PB: Let’s pick cartoonist since this is mostly about Jane’s World. I started drawing comics when I was in second grade and never looked back. I love comics. And I love drawing with ink. There’s nothing more pure to me than black ink on white paper. It just makes me feel good.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
PB: In high school I met Dave Graue, who at the time was writing and drawing Alley Oop. He invited me to come by his studio. He gave me my first nib pen, ink, a t-square… he basically gave me a crash course in how to create professional comics. My next big break came in college when I was introduced to Sarah Gillespie, Charles Schulz’s comic editor at United Media. She gave me some great feedback that I don’t think I fully understood until I was older.


(Jane’s World, Jane handles regression therapy well.)

BC: What led up to your starting Jane’s World, Martian Confederacy and Stinky Cecil?
PB: I started Jane’s World back in 1995 when cartoonists were first beginning to post online. The concept started as just something I was doing to entertain myself, but then the characters sort of took on a life of their own. The Martian Confederacy was just a germ of an idea, but I didn’t think I could write it myself. Then I met Jason McNamara, the funniest person I know. He took that germ of an idea, “rednecks on the red planet,” and turned it into something real. Stinky Cecil started as a web comic. I was basically writing the comic because I worry about how climate change is effecting amphibians. Then an editor, Andrea Colvin, discovered the web comic and we turned it into a book. The whole process was very organic.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
PB: I probably have the most history with Jane’s World, but it’d be hard to pick a favorite. I like them all for different reasons.


(Jane’s World, and the new title change.)

BC: Where can readers find your books?
PB: Comic shops, bookstores, Amazon and I sell some books via my website.

BC: Can you talk a bit more about Jane’s World?
PB: Jane’s World originally started as a single panel comic back in 1991, when I was working at the Chicago Tribune. But I prefer character-driven stories as opposed to gag a day writing. My friend, Hilary Price is very good at gag a day writing. Me, not so much.


(Jane’s World, and the shocking incident.)

BC: Is there anything you would change if you started Jane’s World over again?
PB: If I went back to do JW again I might not choose a black turtleneck. I did it simply for contrast so that the main character would stand out, but that’s limiting and I’ve been slowly changing her clothing over the years. I realized after I started printing the books that Mike Jantze, who does The Norm, also had his character in a black turtleneck. Probably for the same visual reason I chose to do that.


(The Martian Conspiracy, vol. 1 cover.)

BC: On GoComics, in the comments for Martian Chronicles there always seemed to be push-back from the readers. Do you see reactions like those from other forums?
PB: You’d have to give me a specific comment. I have to admit that I only occasionally read comments online. People say things without a filter sometimes and those comments can get in your head and mess you up… or sort of stall your creative process. I know some creators have turned off comments but I don’t want to do that because I feel that a big part of online content is the community that happens around that content. The creator doesn’t necessarily have to be part of that and sometimes it’s better if they aren’t. I do sort of wish that some readers of comics who post comments… and this goes for everything on social media and online… I wish they’d realize how vulnerable a creator is when they make art or write stories and then put that creation out there to the world. There’s a person on the other side of that creative project. Sometimes they aren’t famous or successful and a mean comment… a thoughtless criticism… can, if they are insecure or just getting started… that kind of negative comment can keep them from creating and improving.

BC: Has Jane’s World changed over the years? Is there anything you wish you could go back and change now? Which characters do you identify with the most? And why break the 4th wall so often?
PB: Jane is more “out” now than she was in the beginning. That may have more to do with me moving to the west coast than anything else. I definitely censored my work more when I was living in the Deep South. I probably identify with Jane the most, although every now and then Ethan voices what I think. And as for breaking the 4th wall… I’ve done it a few times so that I can respond to reader feedback in a funny way, but those days might be over. I might not do that so often moving forward. Last year I wrote a prose novel based on Jane’s World (Jane’s World and the case of the mail order bride). That was a very interesting process because I got to dive more deeply into the internal world of the characters. As I’m working on the comic strip again now I think my writing in the comic is going to be better because of what I learned during the novel writing process.


(Stinky Cecil cast.)

BC: How has the reception been for Stinky Cecil?
PB: Kids seem to love it when I do readings and I’ve heard from a few teachers and librarians… but it’s been hard to get a feel for how the books are doing in the market. There’s a lag time of several months between sales and royalty statements.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
PB: Panels first… then text… then VERY loose pencils. I like to mostly draw with the ink so that it has a freshness to it. I don’t want the inking to look as if I’m tracing something.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
PB: Indie folk.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
PB: Love Terry Moore as a person and an artist (I think his wife, Robyn is okay with this). Loved, loved, loved Darwyn Cooke’s work. I bought pretty much everything he did. And Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson. He was a comic genius. A couple of my new favorites are Giant Days and Lumberjanes, both from BOOM.


(Jane’s World, and Ethan’s approach.)

BC: Could you talk more about Richard Thompson? Cul de Sac seems to be very polarizing, either people love it or hate it. What’s your opinion on this, and what draws you into that strip?
PB: I work with a guy who doesn’t like it at all. And I’ve asked him about it. He just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t think it’s funny. Whereas I think Cul de Sac is the funniest thing I’ve ever read. Maybe his (Richard’s) humor is odd. His humor is definitely specific to a particular suburban experience… maybe that’s what doesn’t resonate with some people. What I love about it is how he writes Alice (this little girl). Pure genius. She’s the glue that holds it all together. If you don’t “get” Alice then you probably aren’t going to like the strip.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
PB: Not regularly… but when I do, I go look for Rhymes with Orange by Hilary Price, and Bloom County which recently relaunched on Facebook. Also, Reza Farazmand, Poorly Drawn Lines is HILARIOUS.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
PB:A nice balance between art and writing. I’m not one of those cartoonists who can read a comic that’s badly drawn or vice versa.


(Jane’s World, and Rusty’s new winter coat.)

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
PB: Writing and drawing something real.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
PB: I’ve participated in anthologies that used Kickstarter. I think that’s a good thing because the site helps fund indie books that might never make it through traditional, mainstream publishing.


(Jane’s World, and the dilemma.)

BC: Do you want to plug your sites?
PB: PaigeBraddock.com
Twitter (@PaigeBraddock)
janesworld@mac.com

Stinky Cecil:
StinkyCecil.com
Twitter (@StinkyCecil)

BC: Do you have any projects coming up?
PB: I’m currently working on a graphic memoir. It’s been fun, but heart wrenching at the same time. I was a young gay kid in 1970 living near Birmingham, Alabama. There was a lot going on that I didn’t understand.


(Jane’s World, an on-going cavalcade.)

PB: Also, a new Jane’s World story begins online in early December.

BC: Appearances scheduled for conventions?
PB: Lumacon in Petaluma, California in January. This is a great, kid-focused con. A really fun show. I’ll be there with Stinky Cecil and his pals.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Paige Braddock © 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: Have you read Stinky Cecil? Or, have your children?

 

Garey McKee interview

In past polls, I have asked for the webcomics everyone reads, and suggestions for artists to interview. I do read your answers, and I do act on your suggestions, as I also contact artists that know me (and are more likely to answer back right away). One such request was for Garey McKee, creator of Batch Rejection, on Comic Sherpa.

BC: Garey, please introduce yourself.
GM: My name is Garey Mckee and I’m a cartoonist and writer.


(The first Batch Rejection in the GoComics archives.)

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
GM: I’m from Newark, Delaware. I spent the last 20 years in Philadelphia, PA, and have just recently moved back to Delaware.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
GM: I identify as a cartoonist and a writer. Although I think cartooning implies writing.

BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist?
GM: Starts in cartooning are ambiguous things. I’ve always drawn cartoons on the backs of tests papers in grade school, middle school newspapers, and then underground zines in high school.


(from Police Limit)

BC: How long have you been working as a cartoonist, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
GM: I started drawing a comic strip called Police Limit in 1996 as a sort of cathartic release from a job I had working in the Philadelphia Prison System. The realization that most of the stress in criminal justice jobs comes from top heavy management rather than any sort of criminal element was, and is, the central theme of the strip. The overwhelming response from those working in law enforcement spurred me on to continue the strip. I still draw Police Limit weekly for Praetorian Digital Publishing and their PoliceOne.com website. Writing this now makes me realize I have been drawing the strip for 21 years. Definitely time well spent!

BC: Do you still work in the criminal justice system, did you change fields, or are you now cartooning full-time?
GM: I was a teacher in the Philadelphia Prison System in the 90’s. After that I drifted around all sorts of jobs, usually orbiting around media driven work. Right now my main focus is cartooning.

BC: What led up to your starting Batch Rejection, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
GM: Batch Rejection has its origins in a few different thoughts. I have always loved older newspaper and magazine cartoons from the early to mid 20th century. Accomplished illustrators and humorists like Charles Dana Gibson and H.T. Webster fascinate me. They were the forerunners of cartoonists who shaped magazine cartooning like Helen Hokinson and Peter Arno. I thought how sad it was that we don’t see those types of cartoons anymore. Cartoons that were published in papers like the New York Tribune don’t seem to exist anymore. So I began thinking of a feature expressed in early to mid 20th century style, yet relevant to modern readers.

GM: When first starting Batch Rejection I had to “go back to school” so to speak. It’s not enough to lean on one’s own inherent abilities. I pushed myself with Batch Rejection. I went back and refreshed myself on figure drawing and composition, with a special eye toward dynamic symmetry. I think this effort shows in the end result. I think it’s very important for cartoonists, or any artist, to push themselves beyond what they are comfortable doing.

BC: Who is Philo Calhoun (mentioned in several strips)?
GM: Philo Calhoun was a friend of HT Webster. Webster’s style of cartooning was a starting point for me when first designing the look of Batch Rejection. Frank Casey is another friend of Webster’s whose name also appears a few times in Batch Rejection. Frank Casey was the art director for the old Life Magazine. More importantly, they are names that have a resonate quality of the time period. So that helped me, at least in my own mind, establish the early/mid century spirit I wanted to capture in the feature.


(from Batch Rejection)

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
GM: I like everything I’m doing right now with both Batch Rejection and Police Limit. Although I view success as a day to day ebb and flow. If one day I produce something I think is concise and focused then I am very proud. Other days if I produce something that seems forced then I’m not so proud.

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
GM: There is a book of Police Limit cartoons available entitled Police Limit: The First Cluster. There is also a book of Batch Rejection cartoons available entitled Batch Rejection: New Century Modern. Both are on Amazon.


(from Batch Rejection)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
GM: I can’t stress enough how important writing is. Cartooning is writing. You have to write, write, write! If you sit down at your desk and think, “Hmmm, what am I going to draw?”, then you are unprepared. I spend a lot of time writing ideas. Sentences. Thought fragments. Scenarios. Anything and everything. Listening to other people’s conversations is a good way to write, too. My notepad app is full of little writing files. If you don’t write, you can’t draw.

BC: What is your process for creating both strips? Do you start with pencil on paper, then scan and do touch-up on the computer, or are you strictly digital?
GM: Batch Rejection was built from the start as a digital feature, which I thought ironic given the early magazine/newspaper nature I was trying to obtain. I draw with a stylus and use Photoshop. I even like to use older Adobe software like PhotoDeluxe. That may seem weird but I just really like that software. It turns out there is a whole little community of PhotoDeluxe users out there. Who knew?

GM: I used to draw Police Limit with pencil and ink and then scan the strips and clean them up. But now, like many others, I have moved over to digital production on Police Limit as well.


(from Police Limit)

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
GM: Batch Rejection’s soundtrack is definitely Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
GM: Again, cartooning is writing so it’s important to read. My reading list includes writers who are particularly good with dialogue. Elmore Leonard, Alice Munro, James Reid Parker, Emily Kimbrough, Anton Chekhov, John Cheever. The list goes on and on.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
GM: Well like everyone else, I read Peanuts. I like Richard Thompson’s work. Especially Richard’s Poor Almanac. Those expressive scratchy lines captivate me. I like Stephen Beals’ Adult Children. The idea of adults who are largely unprepared for what the world has to offer is a great concept. I enjoy Dark Side of The Horse by Samson. The visual humor there is universal. I love Theresa Sheppard’s Snow Sez. Her gentle, almost greeting card-style of cartooning makes me smile.


(from Batch Rejection)

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
GM: I like character-driven humor. I like the idea of truth in fiction, where a character earnestly believes what he or she is saying at that moment, no matter how ridiculous it is to the reader when taken out of context. Conversely, I DON’T like cheap gags or obvious visual puns. Staged vaudevillian humor does the artform a disservice. I usually skip any features where the words zany, offbeat or crazy appear in the description.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
GM: See above! Character driven writing!

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
GM: I do not use those services. I don’t know how I feel about them. Yes, I want to support artists and their work. But I also don’t want to have a tin can shaken in front of my face, digital or otherwise.


(from Police Limit)

BC: Do you have any projects coming up?
GM: Things are on the horizon but it’s too soon to reveal anything. Cryptic of me, I know. But please feel free to check out Batch Rejection and Police Limit both currently on the Sherpa side of GoComics. And consider giving the books a gander.

BC: Is there anyone you want to give a shout-out to?
GM: YEAAAHYYUUUUUHH!!! HOLLA AT MY CREW!

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Garey McKee © 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: Have you ever been involved with law enforcement?

 

Sam Hurt interview

I read. I read a lot. I read so much that sometimes I can’t remember exactly when I first encountered a particular title. I know that when I lived in Dallas, TX, that I’d see Sam Hurt’s Eyebeam in the Austin Statesman when I made occasional drives down to Austin on a weekend. I enjoyed the surreal elements, like Sally’s hair continuing through every panel, and Eyebeam’s “hallucinations”, as well as the artstyle as a whole. Eyebeam has a quirky, polished look that supports the activities taking place within this universe. I was very happy to see Eyebeam show up on GoComics and I’m beside myself (literally – the left me is typing the letter keys, and the right me focuses on Alt, Shift, Backspace and moving the mouse around) to have Sam here now.


(Eyebeam)

BC: Sam, what personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
SH: I was born in Austin, TX. Grew up in West Texas (Odessa/Midland), near where Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly lived. I used to joke that it was like spending 18 years in a sensory deprivation tank. Moved back to Austin in 1976 to attend University of Texas, and stayed for Law School. Then I just stayed. I’ve been here in Austin most of my life now. As a cartoonist, I’m an autodidact, having studied Liberal Arts and Law instead of art. But more accurately, I learned from the cartoonists I loved to read. (R. Crumb, Dr. Seuss, Quino, Schulz, Gilbert Shelton, Geo. Herriman, EC Segar, to name a few.)

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, or an artist?
SH: Cartoonist, former illustrator, painter.


(Sam Hurt painting – Lefty.)

BC: How did you get your start?
SH: Drawing for fun since an early age. Copying stuff I really liked. Padding thank-you notes to aunts and grandparents with drawings. Cartooning for my high school newspaper. Then cartooning for the UT student paper (The Daily Texan) which really took off and put me on the map later when I was in Law School.

BC: Some time back, I was following Eyebeam when I was still in the U.S., and I know you’ve been at this for a long time. What have your biggest challenges been? Your biggest breaks?
SH: First the breaks: After struggling for years to appear more regularly in The Daily Texan, there came a time when someone at the paper was a big fan and wanted me to contribute every day. (By then I was in Law School, 1980.) Then a year or two later, after Eyebeam had become established as a campus presence, I participated in a prank of sorts, where an Eyebeam character named Hank the Hallucination ran for student government president. Somehow this brought lots of press and attention, and one result was that the Austin’s daily paper, the Austin American Statesman asked to include Eyebeam on their comics page, which brought the strip out of the campus fishbowl. One challenge was after I graduated Law School and passed the bar exam, and drawing Eyebeam went from the thing I did to escape from studying to the thing I was supposed to do as a job. Somehow it became more of a chore. Also, I realized at that point that a campus strip has the advantage of having a very defined audience who all share a frame of reference, making it relatively easy to find common ground.

SH: Then another break – in 1990, United Feature Syndicate syndicated a spin-off of Eyebeam called Queen of the Universe. Then a challenge – the strip was dropped after two years. I was pretty confused about where to go from there, and tried to do everything at once; animation, cartooning, illustration, teaching, and just about anything else I was offered. (Oh, yeah – practicing law…) Eventually, I settled on weekly cartooning, and painting. (I got out of the practice of law before I did any lasting damage.)


(Eyebeam)

BC: Did Hank the Hallucination win the student government president election? Would he be able to win the national election if he ran now? What would his platform be?
SH: Voters had to write in Hank, because he did not appear on the ballot. (Arguably appropriate, since, being non-existent, he does not actually appear anywhere.) He received more votes than any two human candidates, for a strong plurality. It gets a little fuzzy at this point, but Paul Begala won the runoff, and served as the next president. (In my opinion, he achieved this by use of political acumen that served him well in his later careers.) I don’t think Hank is crazy enough for this current election cycle. His platform would probably be “Get real.”


(Eyebeam)

BC: What led up to your starting Eyebeam, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
SH: I think I covered the first part, what led me into Eyebeam, above. Other poker in the fire is the “fine art” (as in art for people’s walls) I’m doing now: paintings, ink drawings, silkscreen prints.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with?
SH: I’m really happy with a lot of the old daily Eyebeams, when the strip became sort of a sit-com sci-fi soap opera. Robots and time machines, and love triangles. I’m also happy with the book Eyebeam Returns, which is some of my post-daily work, and includes some autobiographical works, but also reprises ongoing characters from Eyebeam and Queen of the Universe (particularly the League of Slime characters.) And I’m really pleased with some of the paintings I’ve done in the last 10 years. I’m really enjoying the open-ended aspect of paintings, which don’t require tying the tidy bow of a punchline, and allow the viewer to participate in the narrative.


(Eyebeam)

BC: Is the Eyebeam GoComics page going to go from weekly to more frequently? Are these new works, or reprints? Are you interested in rerunning the older Eyebeams on GoComics?
SH: I haven’t produced a daily comic strip since the end of Queen of the Universe’s run. After that, I started producing strips on a weekly basis. The current Eyebeam feature collects those strips, and will continue on a weekly basis. (Although you will spot occasional re-runs of the old daily strips among these.) I am working to prepare all the old daily strips (thousands of them!) for GoComics, to be released as an alternate feature. We will probably call it “Eyebeam Classic”, and it should be up in the next few months. Readers will have the option to read it daily, as if it were being produced that way.


(Eyebeam)

BC: Where can readers find your books?
SH: Try my new Etsy store

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
SH: One approach is to just start doodling. Then the next time you look at it, you can become an editor, which is so much easier than pulling something out of nothing. Other times, something from real life, or a wisecrack or an observation will provide the seed of an idea.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
SH: The music of Brave Combo would work nicely.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
SH: Shel Silverstein, Benjamin Franklin, Kurt Vonnegut…
SH: Writers I admire and also know: Matt Groening, Steve O’Donnell, Mark O’Donnell, Chris Ware, Shannon Wheeler, Mike Judge, Berkely Breathed, Lawrence Wright, Cornell Hurd, Carl Finch, Steve Adams, Chan Chandler, John Hawkes. (No dirt. They’re all squeaky clean, like me.)


(Sam Hurt painting – Read and Unread.)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
SH: I’m terrible about that for some reason, and don’t read comics regularly. When I do, I look for Baldo, Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Perry Bible Fellowship, Doonesbury, Outland, For Better or for Worse

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
SH: I guess I’m not looking for anything because I want to be surprised. Of course, with someone like Trudeau or Breathed, I’m interested to see what they’ll do with current events.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
SH: You just blew my mind. I’m gonna have to meditate in the dessert for a few weeks and get back to you on that. (Not desert. Dessert.) Actually, I think there are several different ways a strip can work well. Strong characters whose dialog come from their particular personalities rather than them just being gag-sources. Good, unexpected gags that you don’t see coming. Beautiful, intricate art, or art that’s deceptively simple.

BC: Do you want to plug your site?
SH: I’m trying to figure out how to get more traffic to my GoComics page.


(Sam Hurt painting – and For Worse.)

BC: If Eyebeam were in the room right now as part of the interview, what question would he ask you, and how would you answer it?
SH: He would ask “Why did you make my hair so weird?” I would answer “Just be grateful you exist at all. You’re welcome.”


(Sam Hurt painting – Canopy.)

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Sam Hurt © 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 turn your eyebeams off at night?

 

Michael Jantze interview

I used to do a lot of business travel back 10-12 years ago, and I always bought the papers of whatever city I was in to check out the comics pages. It amazed me, the variety of the comics that would appear in one paper, and not another. Along the way, I discovered THE NORM, which I liked for the self-deprecating humor and comments directed to the reader. Unfortunately, I’d go to another city and wouldn’t be able to follow along with any longer-running story arcs. When I started reading GoComics, I was very happy to find THE NORM there, but that was about the point where the creator, Michael Jantze, decided to retire the strip. I contented myself with the re-runs.

However, Michael started up a new series, initially mixed in with the older strips, that eventually moved to its own site on Feb. 23rd, 2015. Called THE NORM 4.0, updating on Mondays – Norm is older, wiser, but no more grown-up than before. The artwork is extremely clean, the jokes are sardonic, and family life seems to suit him. I’m extremely happy to present Michael here.

BC: Who are you?
MJ: Michael Jantze.


(from THE NORM 1.0)

BC: Where are you from, what is your background?
MJ: I was born on the East Coast, raised in the Midwest and live on the West Coast, that means I’ll probably die in Japan. I live in Marin County, north of San Francisco.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
MJ: I always tell people I’m a writer who draws. But that’s what a cartoonist is by definition.

BC: How did you get your start as a write-drawer?
MJ: I studied film and writing in college. One of my film professors, Ben Brady, encouraged me towards writing and I learned so much from him on structure and character. Once out of college, I freelanced in L.A., doing everything from animation to documentary and educational film making and illustration, you know, a hand-to-mouth kind of creative existence. I started cartooning my old college strip in my spare time and eventually self-published a book and sent some of the strips off to the syndicates.

BC: How long have you been at it, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
MJ: I think for artists, we’ve “always been at that”, so much of our personal experiences seep into our work so that when the big breaks do show themselves, we’re ready to act on them. Most young artists plan on their futures coming to them one day, instead of working on them today. My big breaks only showed up because I imagined myself in that role and then did the things TODAY that that role would one day require. I’ve had a lot of job titles, but basically I’ve always done the same work: I use character and story to connect people to the world.


(from THE NORM 4.0)

BC: What led up to your starting THE NORM, and THE NORM 4.0?
MJ: Like most cartoonists of my generation, I grew up on Charles Schulz’ Peanuts. By the 1970s, I had rediscovered Pogo in book reprints and worshiped Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury. So in high school, I wrote and drew editorial cartoons for the school paper and then did that at college, too.

MJ: I was always drawing, but in junior high school, I traded an old 12” inch G.I. Joe doll for an 8mm movie camera, and then American Graffiti and Jaws came out in theaters and Monty Python was on TV and I was hooked. I made miles of movies and studied all the old films I could check out on 8mm film at the public libraries in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. I was always trying to put enough people together to make “bigger” movies and animation projects but most folks weren’t as into it as I was. So film got in the way of the cartooning for a long time, but post-college, I reconnected with it because I liked that I could “make movies” alone, without budgets and trucks and crews.

MJ: I really liked the raunchiness of Bloom County while I was in college, but I think when Calvin and Hobbes debuted I saw a new golden age of comics may be coming. The first strip I submitted to the syndicates was a continuation of my college strip and I wanted it to be a continuity strip but the syndicates said they couldn’t sell anything but gag strip. I got off track with an original DC Comics project (unpublished) and didn’t really know much about the business of comic syndication, so it took a while to learn to write short-form gags. I got there with the help of several syndicated cartoonists. I had mailed them my syndicated submission and asked for any tips on the writing and drawing and proper next steps. Surprisingly, all of them wrote back!

MJ: By the time I met my wife, I had gotten a bit lost on my goals. I was busy as a newspaper graphics editor and was renegotiating with DC on the book format and had had an unsuccessful development contract with a syndicate. I was “close” but couldn’t figure out what was next. So I took some time off, kept a journal, got married and just relaxed a bit. The drawings in the journal became THE NORM, just everyday observations about love, life and work. I broke the fourth wall because I always admired that in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and The Gary Shandling Show. I sent a batch of strips in and two syndicates offered me contracts. THE NORM 4.0 is the same idea, except now there’s four of them. It’s weekly, it’s my fun thing to do every week. It’s my selfish project.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
MJ: I don’t have that many works published, just THE NORM, really. But I do have more stories for Norm and other stories I’ve tinkered on. My other stories are either bigger stories or really smaller stories. As an animation director, I’m enjoying the educational animation I’m doing for Cengage Learning, it’s classic cartoon animation in the spirit of Disney educational films and UPA.


(from THE NORM 1.0)

BC: Where can readers find your books?
MJ: The books are all out of print except “THE NORM IN COLOR”, a collection of Sunday strips from THE NORM’s ten year run in papers. But there are ebooks and print on demand books on Amazon Kindle and iTunes Bookstore. KNOCKED OUT LOADED, a graphic novel featuring THE NORM, is available as an ebook and the limited print edition is in China currently being printed. It was a benefit for the Indiegogo campaign I ran on it two years ago.

Direct youtube link

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
MJ: I write in sketchbooks, it’s not as daunting. And I use a piece of advice I got from Charles Schulz, just draw your characters doing things. It really works! I annoyingly made a hashtag for it called #drawriting.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
MJ: Definitely jazz, but I really really like music, so it’d be a mess of a mix.

BC: Does Norm have an actual personal philosophy, or is he pretty much “go with the flow”?
MJ: It’s a serious world, someone has to make fun of it.
BC: (I knew that.)

BC: Norm seems to be a big baseball fan. Or, at least, he likes to play back-lot ball himself. Is this a reflection of your own interests?
MJ: I think baseball is the perfect definition of humanity in sport. It’s a team game filled with so many opportunities for an individual to be better than themselves and to add to the excellence of the group. The pace of the game allows the players and the spectators to engage in conversation. And then there’s the dirt and grass. I love a well-tended garden.


(from THE NORM 1.0)

BC: Most of the Norm 4.0 strips have centered around Norm. In the original series, Rene took over as a guest host for a week or so. Will we see something like this in 4.0 with Reine, the kids, or The Dog?
MJ: ALL of the strip are centered around Norm, except for the two week series you mentioned. I only did that to give the viewer a peak into Reine’s motivations for the year-long plot in “My Friend Reine” – currently in reruns in 2016 on gocomics.com/thenorm – I felt folks might think her a bit too “flat” and it gave me a chance to dance with that idea.

BC: What spins would each character put on the strip then?
MJ: I don’t know. I haven’t ever thought about that. It’s Norm’s world. I like that we have to see his experiences only through him. And, to be honest, I LOVE that he lies to us sometimes. He’s not an angel.

BC: In the original THE NORM, you had the Norm calender pages and the variations on the old children’s books. Is this something you may return to in 4.0 some day?
MJ: Those were fun Sunday additions I did during print syndication with King Features. I love the old E. C. Segar THIMBLE THEATRE Sunday strips from the 1930’s that had all kinds of activities across the top of the feature. I did the “One Month at a Time” Calendars for a few years just to have some fun working outside the Sunday format, and to ruin calendar sales worldwide. I was 1 for 2 on that plan. Ha.

BC: Have Norm’s other psychoses completely faded away, or are they waiting for the children to get old enough to play with?
MJ: I still use SuperNorm and Boy Norm (his inner child) as they translate well in the family dynamic. I’ve had an idea for a new alter ego, but haven’t written the right gag for it, yet. So, they’ll be back…

BC: Can you talk about what you were going through at the time you retired THE NORM? Did that have any impact on your decisions when you returned with THE NORM 4.0? And what were you going through when you did start introducing new content in with the re-runs?
MJ: That was a big leap of faith to stop doing one thing and go back to another. I had signed a development deal for a TV show and really didn’t want to take my syndicate along for the ride as they had no experience in that sort of thing at all, and, in fact, had botched an early deal. I also was back to working in film and animation on odd jobs and the daily strip was just too much to do to get any traction – more importantly, keep promises for deadlines – so with the term break in my syndicate contract, I decided to ask for them to triple my guarantee. They wanted to continue distributing the strip but not with the promise of more income. And that’s not all they’re fault, either. No one was “quitting” their strips in 2004. Another cartoonist friend and I sat down and counted the “missed” opportunities of strips like Peanuts and For Better Or For Worse going into eternal reruns… it was thousands of new sales that the syndicates would never make.

MJ: I had launched in 38 papers and ten years later I was in about 68 total. It was time to move, do the hard thing and not be the one to turn out the lights. I didn’t think the strip was ever destined to be a “huge” success, and maybe it’s my predetermined thoughts that created that.

MJ: The jump was a bit easier as a freelance job creating some animation for a hotel turned into one job after another and I decided to open Jantze Studios as a think-tank cross-platform awesome shop. Some personal things were also going on with my family and there was a need to be the sole breadwinner again in 2008, so it ended up being the right decision for the four of us…


(from THE NORM 4.0)

MJ: Returning to THE NORM 4.0 was, or is, just a weekly fun thing to do. I am so busy these days producing and directing animation that I wanted to “tinker with something”. I thought of starting a new strip, but it seemed easier for me and anyone following my work to just fire up Norm plus three, hence THE NORM 4.0

BC: If Norm ran for President, what platform would he run on?
MJ: The iOS platform, of course.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
MJ: I think Jerry Scott is an amazing comic writer. I’ve always marveled that he could write about subjects he hadn’t “lived”. When he started Baby Blues, he didn’t have a baby! His partner Rick Kirkman did and they wrote it from Rick’s stories. I’ve known Rick and Jerry for over thirty years, they’ve both been such wonderful mentors; they were both so kind to a young rube. I like all the obvious choices in comics, but I really admire Gary Larson’s Far Side. It still cracks me up. I think there are so many really great comics out there right now, the problem is exposure.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
MJ: I read a handful each day. I’m not a big fan of “more comics is better”. I never believed anyone who said they liked all the comics on the funnies section, that’s just someone who has no taste.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
MJ: A gag is recommended, an idea is required, unfortunately most don’t have one.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
MJ: A clear voice, I think comics should say something, even just something silly. A lot of comics are just illustrated gags. I think the great comics push the uniqueness of the form: the interdependence of text and image.

BC: Do you use Patreon?
MJ: Yes, I have a Patreon page.

BC: Do you want to plug your sites?
MJ: Jantze.com has links to GoComics, Instagram, Facebook, Patreon, Twitter. But these days, with so many mobile users, I’ve basically set it up that everything pushes out from Patreon to Instagram, FB, Twitter, etc. The comics are at: THE NORM 1.0 and THE NORM 4.0

BC: How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning?
MJ: I think social media has killed advertising for online creators. People are reading content through so many portals and platforms, and work is being forwarded (without the ad that ran next to it on a creator’s site) that it’s changed how creators stay economically alive. Hence, Patreon. If folks want to support me, the ads on GoComics.com/jantze and my Patreon page are the only chunks of income I see from cartooning. When no one wants to pay for content, the quality of the content will degrade. It’s happened before as long ago as the late 1800’s with the penny dreadfuls.

Direct youtube link

(THE NORM READEO.)

BC: Is there anything you want to say to promote THE NORM readeos?
MJ: Good question.

MJ: It’s my personal brain project, trying to figure out if there’s a way to mix comics with film, reading with experiencing, but not going so far it becomes a “bad” film, just an enhanced comic. With THE NORM READEOS I’ve stripped it all down to comic language, film form and audio. The camera movements (meant to simulate a viewer’s eye tracking) and the audio shouldn’t be noticeable, except to add to the reader experience. Turn off the audio and you can still read the comics full frame, cut out the minimal film language (cuts, zip pans and little else) and you can STILL read the comic. The reading experience is first, all else supports it.

MJ: By doing this it does two things: One, it keeps the comic as a comic at the center, no running off and turning it into its prettier cousin (animation). Comics and film grew up together in the early 20th century, my idea is to use only what enhances the comic reading experience, and leave the 800-lb gorillas out of the experience. No voice over, no theme music, no animation, very little motion, no synchronous anything. Secondly, removing so many of the production “values” keeps the time to produce a comic readeo to a minimum, something that even the comic creator could do on her own with a bit of practice.

BC: Do you have other any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
MJ: I’m too busy and too shy for any of that. I am writing some projects in fits and starts, but I think they’re a few years from anything being public. The animation is keeping me very busy.

MJ: And I did my time at comic conventions 15 years ago. I like meeting people, but that’s a really crappy way to do it and I think the “meet the author” exchange is awful. The “fan” has to pretend to like me, and I have to pretend I’m important. Blech. If folks want to “hang out” with me, that’s what my Patreon page is for… there’s a monthly online studio hang out.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Michael Jantze © 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.)


Do you own a turtleneck?

 

Isaac Wooten Interview

As mentioned before, Basket Case supports the artists at Comics Sherpa as they ply their trade on their way up the ranks. Today, I’m happy to introduce Isaac Wooten, creator of The Magic Forest. Isaac, the floor is yours.


IW: Drawing comics is something I knew I wanted to pursue from a very young age – My introduction to making them came from a young man I knew at the age of six or seven named Michael Ledingham. He worked as a volunteer at a makeshift daycare center that was run out of a large house belonging to a neighborhood mom. He drew a weekly strip based on the daily goings on of the actual house full of kids. Every kid and adult involved in the center was represented in crude caricature as greatly exaggerated versions of themselves. Michael told me that making comics was easy – all you had to do was draw a sequence of squares or lines to represent or divide panels, make words, and draw pictures.


(from The Magic Forest.)

IW: Obviously it was a very a simple explanation of a very sophisticated medium. Comics are of course not only an art form, but in many ways, the form they take becomes a language. Anything can be communicated through comics, from rudimentary instructions about setting a table or donning a life jacket, to great long stories that require effective communication of ideas, emotions, thoughts and conflict. I was taught this over the course of my adolescence by Bill Watterson’s classic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. Comics never meant superheroes and spandex to me as a child. Comics meant Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, Baby Blues, Zits, and short 1 x 3 rectangles stacked near each other. Newspaper comics were read daily in my household.

IW: My mother bought me most of the comics I read at that age. Rather then investing in Super Hero comics and material she deemed too violent, she instead picked out several titles that you might find in the “Alternative” section of a comic store. These included Spiegleman’s Pulitzer prize-winning “Maus,” Peter Kuper‘s adaptation of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” and a few anthologies containing work by Alison Bechdel, Roz Chast, Ivan Brunetti, Gilbert Hernandez, and Peter Bagge. While these books weren’t always violent, (they often were, not to the knowledge of my oblivious mother) they did carry very adult themes. Here I was at 10 or 11 years old reading stories about rape survival, the holocaust, Lust, Greed, Sin, drug use, watching your parents slowly decay and die, and a million other things.


(from The Magic Forest.)

IW: I love comics. They’re such a huge part of my childhood, my adolescence and newly found adulthood. Their blend of word and image allow them to carry all the mysterious beauty of poetry and written narrative and the brilliance, detail, and imagination of a great drawing. They take two of the most respected forms of expression and fuse them into one form capable of articulating just about anything. There’s really nothing like them.

IW: Comics are incredible and possibly one of the greatest art forms there are, with oceans of potential and tragically unrecognized talent.


(from The Magic Forest.)

IW: And all of mine are incredibly silly and arguably stupid.

IW: I’ve always loved making people laugh in any way I can, and I’ve always been in love with gag cartoons and newspaper comics. My strip is called “The Magic Forest” and is currently run online via Universal Uclick’s Comics Sherpa service. Maybe I’ll start a Tumblr or blog where I’ll post them later, but for now they’re up right next to a whole lot of other comics drawn by similar people with similar aspirations.


(from The Magic Forest.)

IW: “The Magic Forest” gets its name from a spot in the woods in northern Seattle’s Maple Leaf neighborhood. If you go down 106th street you’ll find a spot where a trail begins and leads through tough brambles and branches into a little clearing with a creek and pretty scenery. The neighborhood high schoolers would often gather here to smoke pot, take hallucinogenics, drink stolen beers, and act cooler than they really were. They spray painted “The Magic Forest” on tree branches and while they did their fair share of littering and destruction of property, they always loved the forest and treated it as a sanctuary where they could live out their vices.

IW: Working with characters that happen to be animals allows me to make jokes and exercise humor about very real and controversial human topics. I did a story in the comic once that offered thinly veiled opinions on the gun control debate, a strip about the death penalty, the current election season, and I’ve done more than a few jokes about alcoholism, drugs, divorce, and addiction. Someday, I hope to tackle race relations, the war on terror, and police brutality. I’ve always believed that there is nothing at all that can’t be laughed at, and ESPECIALLY nothing that shouldn’t be laughed at. The more serious a subject is, the more a subject makes us scream, and the more a subject makes us cry out and feel mad, sad, or hopeless, the more we need to be able to laugh at it. Humor helps us process things logically and in a lot of cases can even help us find solutions.


(from The Magic Forest.)

IW: My characters are extremely flawed individuals. Their logic is always wrong, their decision making skills never seem to work, and they’re never aware that they’re making things worse. They’re set in their ways, they never mature, they never change, they never learn, and because of this, the humor and jokes are never ending.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Isaac Wooten © 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: Have you ever been to the Seattle Magic Forest?