Ever read Break of Day? It’s good stuff. Ever meet Nate Fakes? Here’s your chance.
BC: Who are you?
NF: Nathanael Fakes – aka Nate Fakes (I’ve been known as The Frustrated Cartoonist as well). I am the creator of the syndicated series, Break of Day. I also have cartoons in MAD, Parade magazine and numerous other publications. I’m also the owner of Nate Fakes Studios, that has divisions such as www.natefakescartoons.com, www.bizcomics.club, and www.vettoons.com that all specialize in creating custom cartoons for clients and companies.
BC: How is your last name pronounced? Are you tired of “are you drawing under a fake name” jokes yet?
NF: I’m one of the last of the Mohicans; I like to say, in regards to my last name. There aren’t many Fakes’ out there. But it’s pronounced like it sounds. “Nate fakes out the defense.”
NF: I get asked all the time, “Is that your REAL name?” I haven’t come up with a snappy answer yet, so I give the lame response of, “Yes.” Then the person usually walks away disappointed that there wasn’t any funny story behind it. All this being said, I like being a Fakes. I just hope it’s my real last name, and not Fake.
BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
NF: I was born and raised in Ohio. I attended Wright State University where I majored in Fine Art. I could always draw, but thought art might be fun to major in and I might pick-up a few tips along the way. As a student, I became the graphic artist and staff cartoonist for the school newspaper, The Guardian.
NF: The Guardian job landed me an internship with MAD Magazine in New York City. I spent a crazy summer hanging out with “The Usual Gang of Idiots” and then became one myself when I started getting articles and cartoons published in the magazine. I believe the MAD experience has helped tremendously with my current work – which is syndication, corporate clients and other publications.
BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
NF: I always thought it would sound more sophisticated to say I was an artist, but really, I’m definitely a cartoonist.
BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist then?
NF: I started drawing when I was in diapers and never stopped. Crayons were used constantly as a child drawing on anything and everything. I was really influenced growing up with old Disney cartoons, Garfield, and people like Mozart. Mozart you say? Well, anyone that could “make it” and really be good at something was inspiring. I watched the movie Amadeus and that sort of creativity really blew me away.
NF: I was your typical young cartoonist. I drew things I saw out of the newspaper, drew in class instead of paying attention and loved getting comic books from the library. And it just never stopped.
BC: How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
NF: I’ve been drawing my whole life, so I guess you can say I’ve always been at it. That being said, I’ve had NUMEROUS day jobs along the way as I grew as a cartoonist. And admittedly, I slacked off a bit in my mid-20’s when I was more focused on having fun than drawing (I say to this day I’m about ten years behind). So, it has taken me awhile to become professional. I was lucky and got some honest (and brutal) critiques along the way that really helped me grow. One mistake many people make is listening to friends and family tell you how good you are at something. You really need honest feedback from a professional to get better. I thought I was really great at cartooning until I learned that I had a ways to go and my drawing actually stunk on a professional level.
BC: Can you share some examples of those critiques, and the changes you made to address them?
NF: “Gross”- Roy Doty.
Roy Doty was my biggest, toughest critic of all time. He passed away awhile back. This post talks a lot about the critiques and how it helped me improve. Quoting: “However, he liked the material and was glad I developed a style. Yes, he let me know it wasn’t up to his standards. And it wasn’t. But he was hoping to see my work go somewhere. Roy really helped my career.”
NF: My big break was drawing the yearbook cover for my elementary school when I was in 5th grade. I was paid a whopping five dollars – but boy, that made me more determined than ever to become a cartoonist. And then MAD Magazine was definitely my BIGGEST break. I grew up with MAD, so it’s a cool factor in my life to say that I interned with them and have that connection. Those guys are the greatest.
NF: Last year I was accepted into the NCS (National Cartoonists Society) and I feel on some level that was a major break as well. All my colleagues that I admire are members, so it feels like a real accomplishment to be there as well.
BC: What would you say you learned the most from interning at Mad?
NF: MAD was great (and – of course – still is). As an example, there was nothing like having a serous meeting discussing what word was funnier: bra or panty? At MAD, there again I learned a lot about improving. I showcased a lot of my art, and at that time, it was very mediocre. It was years later after my internship until I got a cartoon actually printed. But I began to notice how much further I needed to develop before I could ever become “professional”. Sam Viviano (MAD’s art director) was extremely honest and helpful. He even loaned me some books during my internship that showcased cartoonists’ artistic styles to pay attention to.
NF: All this being said, the writing process was what I focused on more than the art while interning. I spent most of the time with the editorial department, so it was really great to see how a magazine all came together and everything behind the scenes. There’s a ton that goes into each issue.
NF: The one thing I regret about my internship was I tried too hard. I really wanted to stay in NYC, work with MAD at the office and not head home after the internship. I didn’t have a return ticket home. It was NYC or nothing. I felt like I kind of wasn’t myself because I wasn’t relaxed. I was too focused on, “Okay, gotta make an impression.” I wish I would’ve chilled out more and just thought of the internship as it was – an internship.
NF: Naturally, when the internship was over – it was over! As you know, I continued a relationship with MAD (and still have one to this day), but I wasn’t hired to work in the office. So, I ended up a few days later waiting tables at a pizza restaurant in Jersey to make ends meet. Several months later, it dawned on me that I should head back home to Ohio, focus on my work, improving, etc. and get back to what I needed to do. There was no point staying on the east coast as a career move (even though the pizza was delicious).
BC: What led up to your starting Nate Fakes Cartoons, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
NF: Nate Fakes Cartoons is part of Nate Fakes Studios. It’s the home base for everything I do. I wanted a site where people can check out my work and – if I’m a good fit – hire me. It’s important to have a website with a showcase of work if you’re in this field and you’re looking for clients. They need a place to go.
BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
NF: My syndicated series Break of Day I’m proud of because I worked very hard to get that series in the newspaper and syndicated online. That being said, anytime a cartoon is picked-up for MAD is always a proud moment. There’s nothing like opening up a magazine and seeing your work on the pages there.
BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
NF: I just self-published a small collection of cat cartoons called Laser Pointers, Hairballs, and Other Cat Stuff. Jim Davis, creator of Garfield, actually has a blurb on the front about it. It’s now currently available on Amazon.com and Nate Fakes Cartoons.
BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
NF: I’ve always written ideas first before drawing them. Typically, I try to write every day in the morning. Sometimes, a whole week of ideas pour out of me. Other days – nothing. Reading a lot of other comics does help sometimes. But, I always try to be as original as possible so I try not to do that too much and just put down on paper whatever comes to mind. Sometimes they’re hits – sometimes misses. If I think it’s decent though, I’ll usually end up drawing it.
BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
NF: That would be a mix between The Doors, Mozart and Pink Floyd: A bit weird, with some unexpected moments.
BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
NF: I’ve always been a fan of Garfield, so Jim Davis. I actually got a chance to visit his studio last January. It was amazing. Jim wasn’t available to meet, but we have corresponded via email (and he gave me that great mention of my book). The MAD Magazine artists are fantastic. Sam Viviano (art director for MAD) is one of the nicest guys out there. He helped me get into the NCS also (National Cartoonists Society). Roy Doty was a great help in offering constructive criticism. I was also influenced a lot by Walt Disney, Edward Gorey, Robert Crumb and Chas Addams. Since becoming a member of the NCS last December, I’m anxious and excited to start hanging out with more cartoonists.
BC: What do you like most about the works of Gorey, Crumb and Addams (the artists, not the law firm)?
NF: I really love the details they all add and their originality. I cherish cartoon art with lots of little details and elements to it, and their work really stands out. I used to really try to over-do-it and have since not added as much detail to my cartoons. But, if you really look at my comics, there are bits and pieces of all three of these guys.
BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
NF: I honestly don’t follow any specific comics anymore, really. I read a lot of them, but that’s it. I think there’s some good cartoons out there these days and others that I can’t believe are as popular as they are. It’s an interesting time in cartooning. I’m always amazed at what does well and what doesn’t.
BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
NF: I believe the writing is about 75% of what makes a good comic and the drawing is just 25% these days. It used to be the opposite (somewhat). I like good art. Some comics seem just thrown together, and I’m not a huge fan of that (unless the writing is spectacular). I like off-the-wall, odd and bizarre material that you don’t see much of. That’s one thing about writing a gag comic like I do. I feel like a lot of my material has been done before, so I try to separate it all as much as possible. I love writing and drawing really new ideas and I’m working on them constantly. A graphic novel is in my future, along with some kid books. I’m hoping to take the ideas for those and create something extremely new.
BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
NF: I tried a Kickstarter once for a graphic novel concept. It failed miserably. That being said, I went about it completely wrong. I asked for way too much money and had no clue what I was doing with it. I think Kickstarter and Patreon are a good idea for some, and not others. I found it kind of a frustrating experience and I didn’t like the hustle involved in it all. I think I have a Patreon account that I opened years ago, but I never did anything with it and it’s just sitting there. Maybe I should check it? There might be supporters on there unbeknownst to me.
BC: Do you have any projects coming up?
NF: I am excited about some new projects with BizComics and Vet Toons. There is great opportunity in the custom cartoon market these days, so those are all coming together this month and in the near future. I’m really anxious to write more books and produce a graphic novel. Kids books as well. I have dozens of books written and ready to go – just need to actually do them! My big goal as well is finding a literary agent and publisher to help with all of this. That part, I’m finding out, is not easy at all.
BC: What is involved with drawing custom cartons? Is the process any different from doing something like Break of Day?
NF: The custom cartoon market is an area that is really growing. I love working with clients and delivering them unique comics to use in marketing, promotions, social media, etc. I’ve worked with numerous corporate clients, and they all love cartoons.
NF: I make the process easy for clients. I get an idea of what they want by having a phone conversation – and take their ideas and run with them. I’ll come up with 3-5 ideas (or more, if I have them) and then they help decide what idea is best. From there, I’ll send them out a rough. Once approved, I move on to the final. I help with letting a client know what I think works best, and they tell me what they think works best. I try to research their company as much as possible before diving in.
NF: At the end of the day, there’s a finalized cartoon that (as far as I know) they’re happy with. I have a lot of clients that return, so it’s nice to have the regular work. I’m currently branching out to specific industries. An example is Vet Toons that caters specifically to veterinarians. Custom work is different than my syndicated work because I have more of a direction to base ideas on. With my daily gag comics, they’re kind of a free-for-all and I just create whatever comes to mind.
(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright of Nate Fakes (c) 2017.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)