Category Archives: Interview

Jeffrey C. Wells interview

This is the second half of the Shaenon Garrity/Jeffrey Wells interview. The part that has more Jeffrey and less Shaenon. Well, actually, Shaenon doesn’t show up here at all this time. It’s just the part with Jeffrey. The interview. I mean, the interview part with Shaenon and Jeffrey but without Shaenon. Just Jeffrey. And Basket Case. Yes, Basket Case is here, too. Doing the interviewing part of the interview. That is, it’s not an interview without the interviewing part. Right? Where was I?

BC: Who are you?
JW: Hi. My name is Jeffrey Wells. I co-write Skin Horse with Shaenon Garrity. I also write prose, although it must be said, a lot of that is fanfiction.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
JW: I was born, raised, and have spent the better part of my life in the Midwest, specifically Wisconsin. I have no particular qualifications to work in comics other than the fact that one time I wrote a very long fanfic for Shaenon’s previous major daily webcomic, a strip called Narbonic. For some reason, Shaenon was so pleased at my very long fanfic that she invited me to collaborate on her second major daily webcomic, the ongoing Skin Horse. I am still kind of at a loss as to how that happened.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
JW: I am very definitely a writer rather than any form of visual artist. One of the ongoing jokes behind the scenes of Skin Horse is that Shaenon thinks it would be an awesome idea if I were to draw the strip for a week, apparently unaware of the riots that would ensue were I to ever attempt to do so.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: How did you get your start as a writer?
JW: A couple decades ago now (!) when I was in college, I was working my way through a theater minor with a focus on acting and vocal performance. Unfortunately, the university I was attending did not have very much space in the acting courses they offered, and priority was always given to the theater majors. One semester I was faced with the fact that I was not going to graduate with my minor intact if I did not take an elective course somewhere in the department, and with all acting classes full, I signed up for an elementary playwriting class, thinking that I would tolerate it as a necessary evil in the interest of graduating on time. It turned out I enjoyed the process much more than expected, and started doing hobby work on the Internet in addition to my college assignments. The rest is history, I guess?

BC: How long have you been writing, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
JW: The incident described above occurred in 1997, and-disregarding dry spells and periods of writer’s block-I’ve been doing it fairly consistently since. My biggest break was, of course, Shaenon’s offering to collaborate on Skin Horse. It’s been an amazing nine years.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
JW: Skin Horse is pretty much it, for me! I also once wrote a serial novel about a novice superhero who daylights as a barista, and I’ll always have something of a soft spot for it despite the fact that it’s a bit more amateur a work.

BC: Where can readers get your collections?
JW: I imagine that Shaenon has answered this question to everyone’s satisfaction, but you can find collections of Skin Horse at the Couscous Collective store. If you’re curious about my prose work, you can check out my writing blog at Scrivnarium.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: What’s your process for working with Shaenon on Skin Horse? Do you scratch together some dialog, toss the sheet to her and then disappear for a long coffee break, or is it more interactive than that?
JW: The actual process has changed slightly over the years. At present, it goes a little something like this: one of us pitches a story idea, and we work together on a rough structure of how the story is going to unfold. Then, week by week, I provide a basic script to Shaenon. She takes it, improves the jokes, restructures some bits, and presents me with a series of revised thumbnails for my input if she feels the changes she’s made are more than just cosmetic. On my approval, Shaenon does the final art and ships the whole lot to our invaluable colorist and designer Pancha Diaz for coloring and last-minute edits.

BC: How far do you have the story planned out?
JW: The story has been basically planned out from the very beginning, which is weird because we’ve been waiting on some of these plot points to fire for almost a decade now. There’s been a lot of wiggle room on the path we take to get there, mind you, and the individual storylines are only plotted out before they begin, but to a greater or lesser extent they’ve all been in service of the long-term goal, which has not fundamentally changed.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: Are there any sub-plots or minor characters that you wanted to use that got cut for some reason?
JW: The one minor character who got lost to the cutting-room floor and who I’d like to see return someday was Tip’s Rumpelstiltskin-esque couturier, a rather sinister man named Mr. Tremotino. He was presented as a character who could work miracles with clothing but whose prices were steep and sometimes very strange. I enjoyed the love-hate relationship he and Tip had, but there just hasn’t been a place for him after he got cut out of the storyline in which he was originally featured.

BC: Do you and Shaenon ever argue about whether a joke is funny, or if the story is going in what seems to be the wrong direction?
JW: Shaenon and I rarely argue. I come from a theatrical background, and tend to treat Skin Horse as one big improv exercise. One of the worst things you can do in improv is say “no” to your partner; you say “yes, and…” instead. Retaining any individual joke or plot point is less important than sustaining the energy and being open to the new ideas your partner brings to the scene. This is not to say that we never go back and say, “argh, this isn’t working, can we re-do this?” to each other, it just rarely results in an actual locking of horns.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip or story page?
JW: With an acute sense of low-grade panic, mitigated only by my unwavering faith that Shaenon will invariably fix whatever I screw up.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be/sound like?
JW: Funny you should ask that! Our strip actually has several soundtrack albums. Shaenon makes a habit of compiling a new playlist album every time a new book comes out, and I usually find that the mix is as just as eclectic as you would expect from albums based on a motley crew of semi-competent misfits. Perhaps a disproportionate amount of 1970s funk. Because 1970s funk is pretty great, that’s why.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: What’s the deal with Tip and weird sexual situations? Is there a contest to see who can come up with the most outrageous situation that Tip would still tolerate as a sex machine?
JW: The joke is that Shaenon comes up with intimate situations that she’d like to see Tip in, and then I try and figure out how to make them happen. I tend to write the situations where Tip can’t make it work. I’m not sure what that says about me.

BC: Do you have any favorite Skin Horse characters? Any of them that more closely reflect your own personality or tastes?
JW: It’s no secret that neurotic little Sweetheart is my favorite character, and the one that I’ve most cruelly shifted away from Shaenon’s original conception. I think Sweetheart was originally intended to be sort of a responsible mother-hen to the others, but I saw “responsibility” and wrote “persnickety” instead, and have been steadily corrupting her into my own in-universe doppelganger ever since. If you see Sweetheart obsessively struggling over something in the comic, it is probably something that I have obsessively struggled over in real life, just magnified. A little. Sometimes not much at all.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: Are there any backstories still waiting to be told?
JW: Yes, but to tell more would be spoiling.

BC: Have you gotten any negative reactions from readers about the storytelling, character interactions, or the stuff that Tip does? How do you react to those, if they happen?
JW: I mean, you can’t go ten years without getting *any* negative reactions. Most people are pretty approving of Tip. That said, we try to be responsive to user complaints, and if people repeatedly call a character out for behavior that does not match up with the picture we’re trying to paint, we may try and introduce a story element that shows a different side of that character in a future storyline.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers (any genre)? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
JW: I don’t tend to have favorite authors as I do favorite individual books. I am a huge fan of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn reliably makes me cry. I am very bad at collecting dirt, however, and am not a good source for celebrity gossip!

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
JW: I regularly read Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and Her Unicorn, because I have a thing for unicorns, and Ms. Simpson does them exceptionally well. I am fascinated by Marigold the Unicorn’s unassailable ego, partially because I wonder what it feels like to be that confident of one’s own inherent quality. Achewood and Homestuck were maddeningly brilliant, and kept me coming back despite their amazingly inconsistent update schedule. It takes a certain genius to accomplish that. With Homestuck complete and Achewood on indefinite hiatus, my webcomic feeds are a bit dry of late.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
JW: Consistency is key. If I can’t get consistency, I look for people pushing the boundaries of the art form, creating humor in truly unique ways. I am a sucker for an author with a keen eye for finding organic, painfully real relationships in ridiculous contexts.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
JW: Strong character voice, and an art style that complements rather than distracts from same. A little audacity. Showing up to the page.

BC: On GoComics, there’s a constant thread about how hard it is to follow the storyline. Is that intentional? Do you have any comments for people that get confused easily?
JW: Skin Horse is something of a beast. It mixes my novice webcomicker’s tendency to go overboard on plotting with Shaenon’s love of obscure detail. We don’t set out to make a strip that’s hard to follow, of course. It’s just that we see the entire months-long arc of each story as a single element in our brains, not as something that unfolds a little bit every twenty-four hours. Unfortunately, this is how everyone else sees it, and by the time some of these plot elements come to completion, many weeks have passed since they were first seeded. It may be easier to enjoy some of these storylines in the collections, where they unfold at a more compressed pace.

JW: I hope it all makes some sort of sense by the end of things.

BC: What kinds of things do you have in store for Skin Horse in the future?
JW: Things start getting kind of weird from this point on, but I can’t say more about it right now.

BC: Will we ever get to learn more about Moustachio’s background? Will he ever get cute little legs to go with the cute little arms?
JW: We sometimes keep character backgrounds in reserve; they tend to make good subjects for Kickstarter bonus material. (Moustachio’s history was fleshed out a bit in one of the bonus prose pieces for Volume 3, for instance.)

JW: Moustachio’s original legs are, as noted, the property of the British government. Even Tigerlily Jones cannot understand his legs well enough to make replacements. I keep wanting to do a leg-retrieval storyline set in the U.K., if for no other reason than to show in-canon that Nigel the ferret (seen only in bonus content) survived Unity’s scouring of the department, but it seems increasingly unlikely. (A), Moustachio has horrible little spider legs on his detachable head now, and (B), his new paramour Hitty is fully motile and he rides around on her all the time. Who needs legs if you have a girlfriend who is also a hammer tank to ride around on top of?

JW: I love being able to write sentences like that.

BC: Or, how about the power cores?
JW: The function of the man-portable fusion reactors is classified. You are not cleared to know about the function of the man-portable fusion reactors.
BC: [garbled response as Nick’s swear filter kicks in.]


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: Will Sweetheart ever be able to go on a full-blown rampage?
JW: This has already happened in canon. She totally disrespected that wet cement down in New Orleans. What more do you want?

BC: What’s the deal with the skin-horse.com URL text fragments (i.e. – “pull-the-intake”) and have they all been collected somewhere for people like the GoComics readers to read?
JW: Glad you asked! The ComicPress platform works best if the filename for each uploaded image is also its post date, but once it’s on the system, inquisitive users can see several strips in advance by just typing in the filename corresponding to that date. In order to prevent this, Shaenon tacks on a few hard-to-guess words at the end of the date, but they’re not random; each new day contains the next few words of a prose piece (written by Shaenon) about the early days of Project Skin Horse’s current staff. These are not officially compiled, but certain fans have taken it upon themselves to gather them up from time to time. At present, www.ci-n.com/~jcampbel/skinhorse.txt is the most complete archive that I know of, but there may be more.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
JW: We use both Patreon and Kickstarter, and have had good experiences with both. Services like this allow us to continue to produce free content for anyone to see, thus avoiding the commitment barrier inherent to subscription and pay-wall models and the technical constraints of microtransaction models. If someone enjoys our free content enough, services like Patreon and Kickstarter allow them to go the extra step and obtain exclusive perks and content that casual readers will miss out on, but the core strip remains accessible to readers of all levels of commitment. We are very grateful to all our Patreon and Kickstarter supporters. It makes a world of difference to us as creators!

BC: Appearances scheduled for conventions?
JW: My convention schedule is very much in flux at the moment. We’ll continue to announce upcoming convention appearances at skin-horse.com as we know more!

BC: Are you ever tempted to make contemporary political statements in Skin Horse? Why or why not?
JW: Skin Horse is kind of one big contemporary political statement, actually. It just goes down easier when you keep the references a little bit allegorical. I’d like to think that it doesn’t have one specific message that we’re hitting people over the head with; it’s just a metaphorical exploration on what it means to live in a post-millennial America.


(Skin Horse, the “Choose” chapter.)

BC: How would you characterize a typical Skin Horse reader?
JW: A typical Skin Horse reader is TOTALLY AWESOME. Next question.

BC: You have an open soapbox here. Anything you’d like to expound on, re: the current state of comics, web comics, convention goers, your fans? Unity’s inability to keep her hats on her head?
JW: Hats are funny. Fans are great. Friendship is magic. That is all.

(Skin Horse by Shaenon K. Garrity & Jeffrey C. Wells is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.)
(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.)

Jonathan and Elizabeth interview

I watch my Twitter feed very closely, and when an artist chooses to follow me, I try to find out who they are and to get a feel for their work. That’s what happened with the creators of War and Peas, a very funny, very thoughtful look at our world from various perspectives. I’d like to introduce Jonathan and Elizabeth today.

BC: Who are you?
JE: We’re Jonathan and Elizabeth, the minds behind War and Peas.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
JE: The most important personal detail is that we’re two different people, with two different styles. But we merged them a while back to create the War and Peas world. You can see proof that there are two of us above (and here www.boredpanda.com/war-and-peas/).

BC: How did the two of you first meet?
JE: At art school.

BC: Do you consider yourselves cartoonists, illustrators, artists, or somethings else?
JE: We usually refer to ourselves as comic artists.

BC: How did you get your start as that?
JE: We started this website in 2011 under the name linsedition. It started as an outlet for our silly doodles and nonsensical comics… and back then most of them were pretty bad, we’re not gonna lie. Then, after some time actual people started responding to it, telling us how funny they thought the comics were. That was really wonderful. So we started to straighten out the concept, both formally and content-wise.

BC: How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
JE: We’d say that there were three bigger breaks. The first was to make it a weekly thing and being disciplined about it (thanks to Barbara Yelin for mentoring us in that direction). The second was to limit ourselves to the four-panel format. This in addition to our artstyle make the comics more recognizable. The third was to change our name from L.I.N.S. to War and Peas. We prefer the sound of it and its meaning reflects us in a better way.

BC: What led up to your starting War and Peas, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
JE: War and Peas is definitely our flagship for now but Elizabeth is also responsible for the adventures of Fungirl and is working on a book. Jonathan publishes some doodles and artworks on his Instagram having no idea where it might lead him. He’s also busy teaching comics at Saarland art school.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
JE: There are a few good ones that we’re still happy with, mostly the more saddish ones. But like with most people who make stuff, we have a kind of conflicted relationship with our work. Sometimes we’re not happy with a comic at all but we know it’s still important to finish it and get it out there. Every comic is like a little milestone we have to make before going to the next. We just hope to get better again and again.

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
JE: We don’t, but we’re working on a book.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper when you decide to start your next strip?
JE: We usually start out with a situation. If we don’t have an idea already in mind, we think about our reoccurring characters and as they’re surprisingly eclectic, it’s not that hard to put them in an interesting situation. Most of our comics deal with unfulfilled desires or have some sort of sad-funny undertone. So a character might strive for something, and then an absurd plot twist might thwart those efforts. Usually that plot twist is the last and hardest part.

BC: Americans tend to prefer optimistic, or happy endings to their stories and comics, yet you have sad twist endings. How would you explain the appeal of that kind of ending to an American audience?
JE: There’s an interesting study showing that people prefer brutal movies and books in times when their country is at war or there’s lots of violence on the news. That explains the boom of horror movies during the Vietnam war. Maybe that’s also the explanation for why our biggest audience is from the States. Perhaps Americans are having a sad time at the moment and therefore prefer comics with sad punchlines.

BC: What’s the typical process for the two of you to put together a strip? That is, who handles what tasks, and how easy is it for you to work together? Are there any tasks that are easier/harder than others?
JE: We have different approaches when it comes to making a comic. Mostly it’s that one of us has an idea and we do the fine-tuning together. Sometimes we also start with a blank paper together and start a kind of ping-pong process, throwing ideas back and forth with increasing silliness. The drawing work gets cut in half and we alternate with one another from week to week. Being together on War and Peas is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time. It takes lots of communication and arguing but it works most of the time. It’s also amazing to have someone with the same sense of humour to discuss ideas with.

BC: What’s been the hardest part of producing War and Peas since you’ve started on it?
JE: Probably upholding a certain level of quality and meeting our reader’s expectations. But also managing the different channels we’re publishing on. We always have to keep an eye on messages and developments on each platform. But sometimes we’d just like to slip away and make comics all day.

BC: Do you tackle political or social issues in your strips? Which issues are you most concerned with as individuals?
JE: We had some political strips and stickers but we’re not that hipped to show our sentiment explicitly. Reading between the panels, you can surely see our world view and our opinions on social issues. We’re surely fascinated by topics such as sub- versus mainstream culture and the paradox form of isolation that comes with an increased connectivity in post-modern society. And sometimes it’s just about making a silly joke.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
JE: That’s a real good question. We both love music and listen to it frequently when working up a comic. There are several strips we could correlate with certain songs. But if we had to compose a soundtrack that fits all of them, it would probably be a rough mix of the excellent songs “I Like To Stay Home” by R. Stevie Moore, “Hey Moon!” by Molly Nilsson and the Golden Girls Theme.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
JE: Now and then we text with Chris McCoy from Safely Endangered and Alex Norris from Webcomic Name. Alex will be visiting in summer as he’ll be the guest of the Comic Symposium in Saarbrucken. No dirt so far, but ask again when we met in person.

BC: I’m currently interviewing Alex right now. Is there anything you’d like to ask him? Or give him a shout-out?
JE: Just that we will see him. Soon.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now? Why?
JE: We really enjoy the work of Kate Beaton and Nicholas Gurewitch. Obviously we love them because they’re hilarious. Kate Beaton’s storytelling is truly unique, and her facial expressions are the best! Nicholas Gurewitch has such a great sense of which style to choose to perfect each comic in it’s own way. Other than that, we follow several really great artists on our Instagram. They’re all worth checking out.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
JE: We’re very story-focused when it comes to webcomics. In the end, we always believe story wins over artwork. That doesn’t mean the two can’t go hand in hand. But if the artwork becomes a means of its own, it’s too distracting and hard to really immerse yourself into the storytelling. However, we also enjoy good artwork, but more in the context of an exhibition.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
JE: Another good question, and hard to answer! We think any good content is one that evokes a response. That can be a laugh, being touched, or maybe even mad (we’ve had some haters). In the end, its only credible if you believe your message as well. Just trying to provoke for provocation’s sake is an empty promise. If you can mash a meaningful message and a good punchline in a few panels we’d consider that as a good comic-strip. But if you’re able to combine that with heartwarming characters and your readers follow them and want to know what they’re going to do next… that’s art. We’re a little bit bored by all these flat characters that are considered relatable in this current comic strip trend, but we guess that’ll change soon.

BC: What strips, or topics, seem to produce the greatest reactions from your haters?
JE: We had a sticker once, head-lining “There’s a party in my burka”. It was just meant to be harmlessly silly, but some people didn’t like it. Sometimes the nerdesque community loves to critique our more geeky comics – pointing out little mistakes in the drawing or what not. All in all, you hardly get trolled when you’re writing about a ghost having an identity crisis. At least as long as it’s wearing a bed sheet as cover-up.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
JE: Yes, we do have a Patreon page but we’re thinking about closing it again. We offer a loveletter service for 5$/month and it’s a lot of fun but also very time-consuming.

BC: Do you want to plug your site?
JE: Sure: warandpeas.com, and here are some social media links:
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter

BC: Do you have any projects coming up?
JE: Just the War and Peas book thing and fungirl of course.

BC: To Elizabeth – How would you describe Fungirl to new readers?
JE: Fungirl is a comic revolving around the eponymous heroine. A girl in today’s postmodern wasteland, Fungirl has no direction, not so many friends, and is not up to much good. Yet, Fungirl seems just fine with how things are going. Every episode revolves around some absurd and unashamed shenanigan where we can watch Fungirl bravely deal with hurdles such as unrequited love, overflowing lust, and becoming a respectable and productive member of society.

BC: Any final words you’d like to add?
JE: Thank you for interviewing us 🙂 It was a pleasure.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artists. Copyright War and Peas (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.)

K.Garrison interview

I’ve been a fan of Jenner’s Doc Rat strip for several years, and for a while I was active in his comments forums over at The Cross Time Cafe. That’s where I first met K.Garrison, creator of Carry On, the best comic on the net starring hyenas. K –

BC: Who are you?
KG: Wow, going straight for the existential philosophical stuff, huh? Well, let’s see…I’m a farmer, an artist, an arm-chair philosopher, an admirer of animation, a country girl, a gardener, a journalist, an animal-lover, a photographer, a writer… but mostly, I’m a teller of jokes and stories. That’s what I am, a storyteller.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
KG: I’m a West Virginian who had the bad luck to have been born in New Jersey. That’s not entirely fair, though, because I had an idyllic childhood on the Jersey Shore, but I “grew up” in West Virginia. On one side of my family, we go back to the American Revolution; on the other side, we’re immigrants from Poland and Austria.

KG: I’ve always loved animals; when I was three, I remember being asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, and my reply was “have a menagerie.” That became a desire to become a veterinarian. I couldn’t get into vet school, so I became a farmer instead. So in a way, I’ve realized that childhood ambition, because I certainly have a menagerie now.

KG: My other love was art. I had an early gift for it that manifested itself as three-dimensional finger-painting in kindergarten. I was the prodigy all my teachers loved to show off. It’s not bragging, it’s just the truth. I have to say that my seven-year-old niece has even more talent at her age than I had, so I’m hoping for great things from her. My paternal uncle is a fine-artist who has made a name for himself with his paintings. My mother and her paternal aunt were also talented artists. I have a great-grand-aunt who I’ve been told was a poet laureate of Poland. So I’ve got art in the blood, and as Sherlock Holmes said, it’s liable to take some strange forms.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
KG: I’d say I’m an artist, because I’m not restricted to any one form of expression. I’m primarily a cartoonist, but I also do illustrations, sculptures, sewn projects like dolls and doll clothes, miniature furniture, paintings, and sketches.

BC: How did you get your start as an artist? How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
KG: I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I was a big fan of cartoons and comics when I was little, and created my first comic strip when I was in the third grade. It was based on the adventures of some of my stuffed animals–today it would be called a “Peanuts” fan fic, I suppose, because the main character was a beagle named Henry who was Snoopy’s cousin. I can remember saying that my ambition was to one day take Charles Schulz’ place as a cartoonist.

KG: Cartoons are an ideal medium for me, because they combine illustration with storytelling, and a joke. I have a skewed way of looking at the world, and I almost can’t help cracking a joke, wanting to make people laugh–I got that from my dad–so creating comic strips just comes naturally. I’d have to say that my biggest break was learning that I could self-publish my work on the Internet. Up until around 2004, my audience was myself and a few select friends to whom I’d show my cartoons. But being put in touch with hundreds of people from around the world…well, it’d hard to describe the feeling of knowing I HAVE FANS!! And I really appreciate my fans. It amazes me to know that people in places as diverse as Indonesia, Finland, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Israel, Australia, and all points in between, read my comic strip. It’s humbling.

BC: What led up to your starting Carry On, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
KG: Before we started dating, my husband, Scott Kellogg, was drawing a comic strip called 21st Century Fox. In his main story line, his character Cecil, a giraffe, was getting ready to marry two lady giraffes and start a herd. I started sending Scott “fan art” and making suggestions for gags, most of which he politely declined to use because they didn’t fit into his concept of the storyline. He did, however, include a cameo of me in the strip–envisioned as a hyena, at my request. That was the first appearance of Kathy Grrsn in print. I then asked him if he would mind if I did a spin-off series using the gags I’d sent him, and he gave me permission to use his characters. That became the original series of Carry On, although at the time it was fan art.

KG: The idea of using a hyena stemmed from the dearth of “unattractive” animal characters being used in the comics of that time. There were plenty of foxes, tigers, lions, wolves, and even skunks, but no scavengers. So I decided that I was going to create a comic strip about a group of scavengers, and make them work at a big-city newspaper. As the comic progressed, Kathy got a sister who worked on a rescue squad, and a dad who was an undertaker. Kathy’s favorite cartoon character, Pepe The Fire Ant, was created because “nobody makes plushies of fire ants.”

KG: The title of the strip is a play on the word “carrion.” I knew very little about spotted hyenas when I first started the strip. I chose that animal because it scavenges stuff and has a raucous laugh–much like myself. Over time I’ve learned a lot about the animal, and despite the fact that they’re weird and kind of gross in their personal habits, I’ve come to love and admire spotted hyenas.

KG: As for other projects…I’ve done several other comic strips, I’ve written novels, and I’ve done some illustrations for other people’s works, but at the present moment, working on Carry On and running my farm takes most of my time. I submit stuff to my DeviantArt account on a regular basis. Coming up with the story for my comic strip, now that it’s changed from a gag-a-day into a serial, consumes most of my creativity. I’ve even stopped reading books in order to keep my mind focused on my own story.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with?
KG: Probably Carry On. I’m pleased to have the audience I’ve accumulated, and to have placed third in the 2015 Ursa Major Awards, which is a fan-based recognition among the “furry” art community. I have some as-yet unpublished novels, which I’m very pleased with, but I don’t know whether they’ll ever see distribution, because one is based on The Phantom of the Opera and the other is a series using the Russian folklore demon Koschei the Deathless as its inspiration. I’ll probably end up self-publishing them.

KG: I’ve developed an aversion to “fan fiction.” I used to write loads of it, until I found out that it’s better to be original rather than squander one’s creativity by using somebody else’s works. While I include plenty of shout-outs or cameos or homages in my comic strip, the story, the characters, and the general concept are totally original. And it’s letting me do some world-building.

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
KG: I do not yet have any collections available, but I hope to have something put together soon. A dear friend of mine in Germany assembled the first ten years of my comic strip and had them printed and bound as an anniversary gift; he also did the same thing for my husband’s comic strip. The books are beautiful, and as he’s given me the file, I hope to be able to find an American custom printer to publish them on demand.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip?
KG: Usually the ideas come first. I get ideas all the time–it’s like part of my mind is in some sort of continuous stream-of-consciousness state, and suddenly a joke will pop into my head, or a funny turn of phrase, or maybe I’ll walk into a tree or something while working around the yard (that happens surprisingly often to me) and I’ll go in and jot the idea down. Often, one idea begets others, and pretty soon I have a whole series of gags waiting to be drawn. The hard part is reading my own handwriting…or digging the appropriate notes out of the stacks of paper on the desk and kitchen table!

KG: Prior to starting the “Road To Rackenroon” arc, Carry On was a gag-a-day strip based on the daily life of the main character, Kathy Grrsn. She’s only loosely based on me. She lives in New Yak City, and her parents live about an hour away by train in Hyenasport. She has several co-workers with varying personalities, like Helen, the OCD office manager who is a raccoon; Calvin, the loathsome swine sportswriter; Walter, the editor, who is a vulture, gruff but nurturing of talent; and Scooter, her best friend, who was the staff artist and cartoonist for Pepe The Fire Ant. I added a few characters based on some real-life friends of mine. People are either tickled pink to have a cartoon cameo, or never speak to me again.

KG: Coming up with a gag a day got increasingly difficult. There were times when I had nothing at 9 PM the night before an update, so I’d either vamp with any old thing that came to mind, or put up some filler art, like cute pictures of my baby lambs. It was getting to the point where creating the strip wasn’t much fun anymore–it was feeling like work, and I was tempted to close it down. Then I got the inspiration to do a “Road Picture”-type storyline, where Kathy finds out she’s an heiress, travels to a distant country, and…heh, no spoilers. That initial concept was supposed to last only a couple of months.

KG: I had started the set-up, and then my husband had a stroke…which I incorporated into the storyline. I told you, I get jokes from everywhere. Anyway, as it went along, I got more involved in the backstory of this distant land, and of the Lieutenant who was to be Kathy’s unwillingly-betrothed husband. I started to like this new character to the point where he began to take over the direction of the strip, and finally I just handed him the reins and let him go with it. I know some people miss the old format and would like to see the New Yak City cast again, but I feel the strip has become much richer and more interesting.

KG: As for the actual mechanics of drawing the strip…I use regular 8.5 x 11 copy paper. I lay out the border with a .08 Micron archival ink pen and a triangle. Sometimes I make preliminary sketches if I have to work out a pose or an action sequence, but usually I start sketching the strip with a #2 pencil, after I’ve blocked it out in my head, breaking down the dialog into one to four panels. Recently I’ve been experimenting with longer sets of panels if I have too much for one strip with three frames, but not enough for two full strips.

KG: Usually I write out the dialog in script form, then do some editing to get it to fit. Creating a comic strip is like making a haiku–you need to be able to distill an idea to its essence, to pare it down into one to three frames, and still have it be funny. Funny, or thought-provoking. An ironic punch line is just as good as a funny one. Once the strip is blocked and sketched, I ink it with a #03 Micron pen. Then I scan it into Photoshop, clean it up, use bucket fills for the colors, shade and highlight it, add backgrounds, dialog balloons, and the text, and then flatten it, size it for the Web, and upload it to my comic site, Magpie House Design at Hirezfox.com. I’ve got very nice guys who take care of the nuts and bolts of the site for me–James, Carl, and Mako. I couldn’t do this without their help. And of course, my husband has always been there for support and to bounce ideas off of. If a joke makes him laugh, then I know I’ve got a winner.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
KG: Funny you should ask–I actually have a Carry On playlist. It ranges from classical music to contemporary pop. The song that changed things with the “Road To Rackenroon” storyline was “Makin’ Love Out Of Nothing At All” by Air Supply. Until I settled on that as the “love theme” for Kathy and Fred, the story as originally planned wasn’t working for me.

(Note: In case you’re interested, here’s the playlist–some of these I use for inspiration, or setting a mood, while others will be part of the storyline:
Just Good Friends, Fish
Storms in Africa, Enya
Raiders Theme, John Williams
The Music of the Night, Andrew Lloyd Webber
I’m In The Mood For Love, Nat King Cole
Makin’ Love Out Of Nothing At All, Air Supply
Duet version with Bonnie Tyler
Footloose, Kenny Loggins
Africa, Toto
The World Turned Upside Down, Coldplay
Incommunicado, Marillion
Fighter, Christina Aguilera
She’s Always A Woman, Billy Joel
The Heat Is On, Glenn Frey
The Glory of Love, Peter Cetera
Pachelbel’s Canon in D, for classical guitar
Two Less Lonely People, Air Supply
What About Love, Heart
Leave A Tender Moment Alone, Billy Joel
Call Me Al, Paul Simon
There Ain’t Nothin’ Bout you That Don’t Do Something For Me, Brooks & Dunn
Hooked On A Feeling, Blue Swede
I Will Always Love You, Dolly Parton
Leaving Port,” “Take Her To Sea, Mr. Murdoch,” and “The Sinking,” from James Horner’s “Titanic” soundtrack)

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
KG: I have a long list of “favorite writers” whose works have inspired me. This is only a partial recollection of the people who have inspired me: There’s Marguerite Henry, who wrote the “Misty of Chincoteague” stories, and started me wanting to be a storyteller like her; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; J.R.R. Tolkein; J.K. Rowlings has my life; James Herriot; George Lucas, who was a brilliant director, until he turned to evil and betrayed and murdered his story; Alex Hirsch, who created “Gravity Falls” and who was born the year I graduated high school, I hate that guy; Derek Dick, who goes by the stage name Fish, whose work with the alt-rock band Marillion improved my writing skills; Steve Smith, aka Red Green; Anne McCaffrey; Bill Watterson, whose brilliant “Calvin & Hobbes” will live forever; Garrison Keillor; Norman Rockwell, who knew how to paint a good story; the guys who wrote “Back To The Future,” which I think is the most perfectly-written movie ever made; Nick Park and Aardman; Walt Disney and Chuck Jones, for inspiring my artistic style; Charles Addams, Dik Browne, Charles Schulz, Frank Cho, Gary Larson, Gary Trudeau, and Phil Foglio, for inspiring my cartooning style. The only one of these I’ve met is Phil Foglio, and I think he thinks I’m stalking him or something, because we kept bumping into each other at Dragon*Con a couple of years ago.

KG: And of course, there’s my husband, who is my co-conspirator, my sounding board, and my best friend. Without his patience, hard work, and understanding, I could never have created this comic strip. He not only tolerates me, he aids and abets me.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
KG: I have a handful of comics I read regularly, because I admire them, or because I know the artists personally–sometimes, both. I don’t have much time to read a lot of comics these days, and I’m paranoid about lifting ideas from other people–I’m a pretty bad intellectual kleptomaniac. “Great comics steal” and all that. I regularly follow “Freefall” by Mark Stanley, “Doc Rat,” by Jenner, “Girl Genius” by Phil and Kaja Foglio, “The Whiteboard” by Doc Nickel, “NEOCTC” by Sleepy John Reynolds, and “21st Century Fox” by my husband, Scott Kellogg. I contribute ideas and advice to “NEOCTC” and to “The Cross-Time Cafe,” and for the past few months I’ve been helping out my husband by drawing “21st Century Fox” for him due to his schedule at work making it difficult for him to devote the necessary time to it himself.

KG: I’m personal friends with Mark Stanley, who is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. I greatly admire Jenner’s artwork. Phil Foglio was an artistic inspiration to me back in high school after I saw his work in an anthology book titled “Startoons,” and I’ve been following Girl Genius since the black-and-white line art days. I’ve only recently started following The Whiteboard, after Doc included a cameo of one of my characters, and I thanked him by doing a little filler art for him. As far as syndicated strips go, I’ve been reading “Hagar,” “Peanuts,” “B.C.” “The Wizard of Id,” “Beetle Bailey,” “Hi & Lois,” “Blondie,” and a number of others, for ages. I’ve also recently started collecting the works of Sergio Arragones and Don Martin.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
KG: Storytelling, humor, and artwork, in that order. Very few comic strips have all three. A badly-drawn comic can make it on a good gag, but a beautifully-drawn comic strip with a poorly-told story will quickly lose my interest. There are several gorgeous strips whose storylines are so convoluted, or so dull, that I just can’t follow them. And I totally don’t get the dark and/or violent comic strips. That’s just not my taste.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
KG: Characters that come to life. A good, solid ability to tell a story, and to make it engrossing enough that I want to come back the next day to see what happens. The ability to tell a joke. A dedication on the part of the artist, not only to his readership, but to the characters he’s created. A cartoonist or a novelist is sort of like a god, calling people into being, breathing life into creatures of paper and ink, and he owes it to them to give them well-written personalities and great stories to tell. Other people won’t love your characters if you don’t love them first. My friend Sleepy John uses stick figures for his comic strip, but he has such a mastery over body language and comic timing that he produces one of the best comic strips around, as minimalist as the art is. His strip’s kind of like xkcd meets Zootopia, only that’s not an accurate description, as his strip is more original than that. Originality also draws my attention. I don’t understand the manga fad–why spend so much time learning how to draw in somebody else’s style, so that your artwork looks exactly like everyone else’s?

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? Do you want to plug your site?
KG: I do not currently use either of those, although I’ve considered getting an account with Patreon. To be brutally honest, I’d love to be able to get paid for what I’m doing. I got into comics just about the time when the newspapers and publishing houses were being killed off. Self-publishing allows anyone to get their work in front of an audience, but the Internet has in effect given typewriters to an infinite number of monkeys, and no one has yet come up with anything close to Shakespeare. I’m grateful to my fans for the gifts they’ve given me over the years. Perhaps their greatest gift has been their dedication and friendship. But dropping a buck in the jar once a week would help a lot, too! 😉

KG: I’m a lazy cartoonist–I could be doing a lot more to promote my site. Currently I’m on a small server. I’ve looked at trying to get onto an aggregator like GoComics, without much progress so far, mostly due to a lack of follow-up. I’ve gotten a Deviant Art account (kdnightstar) and have used it to post drawings, writing, and photographs. You can find my comic at www.hirezfox.com/km/co/index.html.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
KG: No. I’ve attended a few conventions, but I find the thought of attending as a behind-the-table personality to be daunting to the point of terrifying. I’m not ruling it out, but the logistics (I have a farm, remember) and the expense has put me off. Some projects I need to get to are, creating a searchable archive for my comic, and making up some new art to use as “thank you” gifts for donations, as well as finding out how to get some paper copies of my comic made available via print-on-demand.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Kathryn Garrison Kellogg (c) 2004-2017.)
(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.)

Doug Savage interview

Savage Chickens had been running on GoComics for a few months before the concept really started to grow on me – “chickens” + “Post-It notes”. In general SC is a single-panel gag series that occasionally grows to fill all available space. While the artwork is fairly minimalistic, the pop culture references and parodies, with chickens, and the ever-present Timmy Tofu, are dead-on.


(from Savage Chickens)

BC: Who are you?
DS: I’m Doug Savage, and I’m the creator of the comic Savage Chickens.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
DS: I’m Canadian. I was born outside of Ottawa and lived in small-town eastern Ontario before moving out here to Vancouver for a change of pace. I don’t have any formal artistic training. I just love drawing, so I keep doing it, and keep trying to get better at it. I’m also trying to get better at playing the ukulele, with less success.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
DS: I think of myself as a cartoonist more than anything else.


(from Savage Chickens)

BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist?
DS: I drew all the time as a kid, and I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up. As I got older, I did less art and gradually got more into creative writing and did an English Lit degree. And by the time I was working in an office as a technical writer, I had all but forgotten how to draw (except for chickens, which I drew on everybody’s whiteboards when they weren’t looking). I started drawing comics again in 2004. I didn’t get any formal training or anything – I just started drawing comics and sharing them with the world. And after a few years of that, it occurred to me that I had become a cartoonist. Success!

BC: How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
DS: Hmm, yeah, it’s been 12 years since I started Savage Chickens. Along the way, I’ve had a bunch of good things happen that I’d consider to be big breaks. Early on, my website got featured on a few popular blogs, including My Yahoo and Blogger. Later, I got my first book deal, my work started running on GoComics, and I got invited to San Diego Comic Con as a special guest. These days, I’ve branched out into graphic novels for kids, and I’m really excited about this new direction for my work. I feel like there’s never really a moment where you think “I’ve made it!” – it’s more of a series of gradual (and often unpredictable) milestones that, when you look back on them, seem to suggest that you’ve made it.

BC: What led up to your starting Savage Chickens, and do you have anything other pokers in the fire right now?
DS: I started Savage Chickens out of desperation. At the time, I was pretty unhappy about my boring day job, which was mind-numbingly uncreative. But it went beyond the usual office boredom when I started getting migraines and being genuinely concerned about my health. Savage Chickens came out of that stress and frustrated creativity. These days, my new comic projects are coming from a very different place of enthusiasm and excitement and exploring new things. I’m working on book 2 of Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy right now and I’m having a blast. So much fun!

BC: Savage Chickens is up to 2013 on GoComics. Any plans to run the more recent comics there, or are readers just going to have to wait a few weeks for that?
DS: For GoComics, I’ve always posted the comics from four years before the current date. I’ll probably keep it that way, just because it’s a nice way to introduce my archive to people and to showcase comics that might not have gotten noticed the first time around.

BC: What would you say have been the most popular of the Chickens strips?
DS: According to my site statistics, it’s “I Love You More“, but it’s really hard to tell these days with people viewing the comics in so many different places. The one that has been passed around the most on social media is probably “Spot the Differences“, which I still get a chuckle out of. Some people find that comic infuriating, but that was kind of the point.

BC: Do chickens have fingers?
DS: Mine do! I make the feathers look a bit like a hand whenever I need to, like, if the chicken’s holding a wine glass or something.

BC: Since Chickens are drawn on Post-It notes, do you stick them on the fridge when you’re done with them?
DS: Hey that’s a good idea, and more exciting than the real answer: I stow them away in portfolio books to keep them safe. I have a shelf full of post-it note portfolios.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
DS: Artists always seem to prefer their most recent work, and I’m no exception. I think Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy is the best thing I’ve ever made. I love the characters, and I loved the challenge of writing longer stories and doing full color.

BC: Do you have any paper or e-book collections on the market?
DS: I think there are still a few copies of my first book kicking around out there if you can find them: Savage Chickens: A Survival Kit for Life in the Coop. But more recently, GoComics and Universal Uclick created six little e-book collections of my work. You can find them here at Amazon. And there’s my new graphic novel, of course: Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy, which is in bookstores everywhere right now.

BC: Do you get much reader feedback on either Chickens or Laser Moose? Is it mostly positive?
DS: I’ve been lucky to receive overwhelming positive feedback for both. For Savage Chickens, I get emails every day from my readers and I love hearing that my work makes people laugh – especially when people let me know that the chickens helped them smile and get through a tough time. Laser Moose has only been out a few months, but the feedback has been great so far. It was especially fun to see the reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of yellow paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
DS: I usually start with writing rather than drawing. I scribble down a couple of topics, or I’ll use a random word generator from the internet. And then I’ll just think about that word or topic and think about how I feel about it, and what my associations are with it. If nothing comes to mind, I’ll try to combine it with a different topic or word, to see if the combination triggers any ideas. A lot of humor comes from putting two things together that don’t belong together, so that can be a fun way to generate ideas. I don’t really have time to ruminate over the blank page for long. No time for writer’s block! Deadlines can be a wonderful way to exercise your creative brain.


(Laser Moose, the book. Vol. 1.)

BC: Why a laser moose? Why not a death ray squirrel or a blaster frog? That is, what led up to the creation of Laser Moose?
DS: It started as a single joke on Savage Chickens. I liked the idea of a superhero who destroyed the thing that he was trying to protect, and that thought led to Laser Moose somehow. I’ve always been fascinated by moose – they’re so majestic, and I associate them with strength and bravery – you know, heroic-type stuff.

BC: Could you talk about LM a little, as an introduction for new readers?
DS: Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy is a 144-page full-color graphic novel, aimed at ages 7-12, but written for pretty much anybody, really. It’s about a moose who, you guessed it, shoots lasers out of his eyes, and his little rabbit sidekick. The rabbit doesn’t have any superpowers, except for a sort of stubborn optimism. They get in all sorts of adventures, and defend their forest from a bunch of villains, including a mutant fish-bear and a cyborg porcupine.


(Laser Moose, the not-a-book version.)

BC: Are there any significant differences between your approach to drawing on sticky notes, and on a regular sheet for children’s books? Any challenges or issues when you were first starting out with LM?
DS: It was hard to get used to the larger format, at first. Drawing on post-it notes for so many years, I’ve become pretty accustomed to tiny drawings. For Laser Moose, I got to draw on a larger space. But the book was a huge leap forward for me in all sorts of ways: it was my first time telling longer narrative stories, my first time writing for a younger audience, my first time doing full color. I learned so much from the experience, and it was really fun trying new things.

BC: Would you say the LM stories have a moral or hidden message for kids? Or, are they just cute stories about two animal friends from vastly different species?
DS: I tend to avoid overt moral messages, because I think readers can smell that sort of thing a mile away. I think you can get a lot of ideas across just by showing characters in conflict – with each other and within themselves. By showing how your characters resolve those conflicts, you end up showing something true and interesting about human nature. Or moose nature, in this case.


(from Savage Chickens)

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be like?
DS: I’d ask Andrew Huang to compose a funky soundtrack performed on office supplies.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
DS: Here are a few of my favorite creative folks of all time: Jim Henson, Gary Larson, Steve Martin, Matt Groening, Lawren Harris, Andy Goldsworthy, Nick Park, Douglas Adams, Weird Al Yankovic. And I have been lucky to meet a few of my cartooning heroes. I met Dan Piraro in San Diego – he was a big help to me in the early days of the chickens, so it was great to hang out with him. Last spring, I interviewed Lynn Johnston at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival – it was great to meet her and we had a great chat about her cartooning adventures. Very inspiring! I find that cartoonists are a really friendly bunch and we all tend to look out for each other. It’s a nice bunch of people.

BC: Got any dirt on them?
DS: Hahaha! No. And if I did, I wouldn’t tell. Us cartoonists have gotta stick together.


(from Savage Chickens)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
DS: Lately, I’m really enjoying Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmund, Dorris McComics by Alex Norris, Sketchshark Comics by Megan Dong, Up and Out by Julia Kaye, Jim Benton’s comics, and anything by Tom Gauld, and I could go on and on. There’s so much great stuff out there. It’s really inspiring.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips? What do you think makes for a good comic?
DS: I don’t really consciously look for anything, but I tend to be drawn to comics that are cleverly written, regardless of artistic style. I tire quickly of comics that use shock humor. And I’m not big on insult jokes. I’d rather laugh together about silly old human nature than laugh at somebody else’s expense.


(When your moose friend is a Laser Moose.)

BC: Are there any lessons you’ve learned over the last 12 years that you’d be willing to pass on to cartoonists just starting out?
DS: Oh geez, there are so many things. If anybody has any questions, submit them to me via my contact form and I’ll answer your question in detail there. (I’ve answered a few already.) But there’s one thing that I tell everybody who wants to be a cartoonist: be persistent. Extremely stubbornly persistent. It can be difficult to get your work noticed and find opportunities. For every project I’ve done that worked out, there are a dozen projects that didn’t work out. You just have to keep doing the work. Keep putting yourself out there and pushing yourself artistically and creating work that you’re proud of.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning?
DS: I haven’t used them yet. I keep meaning to, but haven’t had time. I do think they’re changing the face of cartooning in all forms. It’s so much fun to see somebody’s pet project become a reality because fans got behind it. It feels very democratic. The main things I’ve heard from friends who’ve had success with crowd-funding: be organized, put time into a good intro video, and don’t overextend yourself with the rewards.


(from Savage Chickens)

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
DS: Like I said, I’m working on the sequel to Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy, due out later in 2017. No appearances scheduled right now, but I’ll definitely be doing some book promotion stuff in the fall.

BC: Anything else you want to rant about?
DS: Ha no… oh wait maybe there is… I just want to say that becoming an artist has completely changed my life for the better. Like I mentioned earlier, I was toiling away in an office job and being super-miserable to the point that I started to become physically harmed by it. If you’re a creative person and you are not doing something creative, then you are going against your fundamental nature. Go out there and make something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t need to get lots of Likes. Just do it for yourself, first and foremost. Make art because it’s fun and energizing and challenging. Make art because you have to.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Doug Savage (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.)

Dan Piraro interview

I’ve been a big fan of Dan Piraro’s Bizarro comic ever since it first started running in the papers in Minneapolis in the 80’s. I’ve always loved the surrealist humor, the highly detailed artwork, and the look of the characters. When Jim Horwitz’s interview ran at the beginning of January, Dan mentioned it on his blog, which prompted me to go visit there, and ask Dan for an interview, too. He graciously, and surprisingly, said, “Yes.” Which immediately put me in a bind – what do you ask a man that’s been asked every question imaginable already? Answer – … I’m still working on that.


(Dumpty Dan.)

BC: You’ve stated that you’re moving more into painting and establishing yourself as a fine artist. What’s the appeal of painting, to you as a cartoonist? Sam Hurt, of Eyebeam, has also taken up painting, and I’m sure you’re aware that famed funny man George W. Bush also tackled this profession after retiring from his stand up career. What makes painting so popular as an activity? Is it the work schedule, the lack of deadlines, or greater control of the licensing rights?
DP: I grew up wanting to be a painter but being raised in a small town in Oklahoma, didn’t have the slightest idea how to make money at it. To avoid minimum wage jobs, I gravitated towards commercial illustration in my early twenties and was fairly quickly able to make enough to live indoors and eat regularly and was happy with that for a while. It was certainly better than the random jobs I’d been doing since high school, but I didn’t enjoy the work. In fact, within a couple of years, I really hated it. In an effort to escape the world of ad agencies, I began drawing and submitting cartoons to syndicates. I got some interest fairly quickly, but it took a couple of years of trying before finally getting a small syndicate, Chronicle Features in San Francisco, to give me a try. I considered myself profoundly fortunate to have landed a syndication contract at the age of 26 but didn’t realize that the money would be very slow coming and so I was trapped in my commercial illustration job for quite a few more years, doing Bizarro at night and on weekends.


(“Four Clerics Ignoring a Vision”, Dan Piraro (1995) 48″x48″, oil on linen.)

DP: Though I’ve really enjoyed my cartoon career, I’ve always seen myself becoming a painter eventually. I find fine art to be very meditative and the easiest way to get into what people call “flow” or the “zone”. Unlike commercial art and cartooning, fine art is something you do entirely for yourself, without aiming it at an audience. Also, my fine art looks very little like my cartoon art so it’s a big change of pace for me.


(From the Creative Haven Bizarro Land coloring book.)

BC: When Trump gets his wall built, who will be the first to deface it – you, or Banksy?
DP: I’ve been saying that I’d be happy to pitch in to pay for and build that wall if it will keep Trump and his supporters out of Mexico. In reality, though, one can easily see it is going to be an impossibly expensive quagmire that will likely never be completed; Trump’s Tower of Babel. And, of course, if it ever is completed, all one needs to defeat a 25-foot wall is a 26-foot ladder.


(Baloney.)

BC: Speaking of Trump, his followers seem to be very quick in denouncing anti-Trump cartoons, and claiming to boycott the artists of said cartoons. What’s your view on this? Is it better to play it safe and stay away from political cartoons now? Should artists stand up for their beliefs regardless of the consequences, or should they remain neutral and then use the money they make off of Trump supporters to help fund the groups Trump targets?
DP: The old paradigm for syndicated cartoonists used to be to not do anything to offend anyone in an attempt to maintain the broadest possible appeal. But now, with newspapers in decline and the way the Internet works, the opposite is true. There is so much interesting content online that it is very hard to attract attention; one way to do so is to have a strong opinion, which serves to attract people with similar opinions, of which there are always enough to support you. I’ve been hammering Trump hard on an almost weekly basis and it has improved my visibility and popularity online, not diminished it. (I’ve also not received any complaints from my client newspapers, which was something I occasionally got when I would take a shot at W. Bush.) I think it is important to remember that less than 1/4 of Americans voted for Trump. Who knows what the half of the country that did not vote at all think, but I’m guessing it’s safe to assume that a clear majority of Americans despise him and want him gone as quickly as possible. So I suspect trashing him isn’t that dangerous to any one person’s career. Even if it were, I refuse to remain silent during what is inarguably the darkest time in America’s history in a century. All of us need to call out this lying carnival barker and his cabinet of Simpsons billionaires.


(Baloney.)

BC: Can you talk about your stand-up comedy experiences? Were there any high- or low-lights that really stand out or make for good stories?
DP: I loved doing my one-man show and stand-up back in the day. There is nothing like the immediate gratification of hearing a roomful of people laugh at your comedy. Cartoonists don’t usually get that.

Direct youtube link

DP: My best and worst memories of those days belong to a single tour I did in about 2005 with my relatively new wife and my eldest daughter, Krapuzar. (She and her sister, Krelspeth, are who the hidden “K2” in my cartoons are a shout-out to.) My daughter was in her early 20s and was onstage with me during “The Bizarro Baloney Show,” which entailed songs, puppets, stand-up, video, some audience interaction, sets, costumes, props, and a few other bits of vaudevillian shenanigans. She played violin during the songs, did a bit of improvisational back-and-forth with me, and together we sang and danced to the big finale number. Audiences loved it and those shows are among my favorite memories of our time spent together.


(Baloney promo shot.)

DP: On the dark side, there were only the three of us on that tour and we had to manage the props, costumes and sets, the hotel and transportation arrangements, the tickets, sales of products, everything. It was exhausting and–without the payoff of the adulation onstage–my wife came to hate it and developed a major case of jealousy over my relationship with my daughter. She became increasingly surly and the tension between her and us was tremendous. It was such a drag that I got a stress zit in the middle of my forehead that would not go away. I looked like a religious Hindu for weeks. I still have a prominent scar there to this day, which I hate. Fortunately, the marriage didn’t last as long as the scar.


(From the Creative Haven Bizarro Land coloring book.)

BC: Since, you’re talking about retiring, looking back on your career as a cartoonist, are there any things that really stand out, good or bad, things that make you shake your head and say “what were they thinking” or “what was I thinking?” People you’ve met in the industry that you’ve become friends with that have stories worth repeating?
DP: I’m not sure this is what you’re asking for but this story occurs to me as a highlight: I was at the Montreal Just For Laughs comedy festival (as an audience member, not a performer) and I went to see Zach Galifianakis perform. I’ve long been a huge fan of both his stand-up and his TV and film work. Halfway through his set he walked through the audience and did some question/answer improv with random people. It was one of those old theaters that had cocktail tables on the floor and seats in the balcony. He happened by my table and asked the typical questions of me, looking for ways to improvise something funny.
“What’s your name?”…Dan.
“What do you do?” …I’m a syndicated cartoonist.
“Oh, really? Is it anything I might know?” …I do “Bizarro”.
At this, completely unexpected, the audience erupted in applause. This was hugely satisfying to me, of course. Then Zach said, “No way! I love your cartoons!” This was even more hugely satisfying. We chatted for another 30 seconds or so then he moved on. After the show I went backstage and met him, we exchanged email addresses and have very loosely stayed in touch via email since. I was hoping we’d become best friends and I’d end up getting a part in one of his films but that never happened, of course. :^}


(Baloney.)

BC: Other than just becoming older, how do you think you’ve changed as a cartoonist over the years? Are there types of jokes that you’ve done before that just don’t seem funny anymore? Or, do you think your audiences have changed since you started out? Who are your favorite cartoonists for doing guest appearances in the Bizarro strip? Any artists that you’d love to work with again, given the chance?
DP: I’ve learned a lot about what makes a funny cartoon and what misses. About three quarters of my first couple years of work now seems clumsy and amateurish to me and I’m a bit embarrassed by much of it. Fortunately, that was in the late 80s, before everything you did appeared on the Internet for eternity.

BC: Aww, those were the ones that attracted me to you in the first place. So… um… can we still be friends?
DP: If you’re comfortable being friends with a self-loathing person, sure.


(From the Creative Haven Bizarro Land coloring book.)

DP: Regarding guest cartoonists, I’ve only done that a handful of times (Wayno, J.C.Duffy, and Francesco Marciuliano are the only three I can think of right now. GOD, I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone!) and have always been happy with what they did. I chose them because I loved their work in the first place, and I was not disappointed by their efforts. One cartoonist I would have loved to have known but did not meet was the late, great B. Kliban.

BC: I like Dave Kellett’s work on Drive, and Sheldon, although I have yet to see Stripped (since I live in Japan). What was it like being interviewed by him for Stripped, and was there anything you talked about with Dave that you would have liked to have seen get into the movie?
DP: Dave’s film was mostly about the changing world of cartoons and the transition between newspapers and the Internet. I’ve learned a lot from his perspective on it, and have found his ideas on how to make the Internet more lucrative for cartoonists to be invaluable. Luckily, I’m still making a decent living off of newspapers so I’ve not had to rely too much on making money online, but as that day approaches, I’ve found myself using a lot of his advice. I spent a few years in LA before I moved to Mexico and was able to become friends with Kellett and pick his brain a bit about the topic. He’s a super talented and smart guy, and is always happy to help other cartoonists succeed.


(Dan, trying to draw a crowd.)

BC: As a last resort question, how about, “If you kept a daily diary, what would a typical entry look like for one day in a Bizarro life?”
DP: People are usually disappointed to hear about my average day. I think they hope it will be surreal and zany, but in truth, I’m a creature of routine and my days are pretty average and domestic. I begin by reading my emails and news articles online as I sip a cup of piping hot whiskey. Around noon, I put away my laptop, climb out of the pallet of straw that I use for a bed, and take my dog for a walk through our rural, Mexican neighborhood to secure the first meal of the day. She’s good at finding edibles in lots of places that I’m too large to get to, like tunnels and the crevices of collapsed buildings. Once we’ve both had enough to eat, we go back to my hut and I get to work on cartoons. Around 5pm, I fire up my motorcycle and buzz through the cobblestone streets of town as fast as I can without hitting any donkey carts, and throw tequila balloons at tourists. (They’re just like water balloons but with tequila. You can get top shelf tequila here for super cheap so it’s very affordable. Most tourists get pissed off but some shout “Thanks, mister!”) This takes about 45 minutes. On the way home, I stop off at the local shaman’s tent and stock up on ayahuasca and peyote. Once home, I chase the iguanas out of my house and remind myself I need to build a door, then I pour myself a balloon of tequila (the iguanas keep breaking my glassware so I drink from balloons) take the ayahuasca and peyote, and spend the rest of the evening talking to creatures from another dimension. I’m not sure what time I go to bed but I wake up in my straw pile each morning at the same time and the whole boring rut starts all over again.


(Baloney.)

BC: I got it! A question that has never been asked before! Do you accept house guests? Credit cards?
DP: One of the things people who move to exotic locations have nightmares about is people whom they don’t necessarily want as house guests inviting themselves to come stay. I can recommend some lovely hotels in the area that accept credit cards, however.


(From the Creative Haven Bizarro Land coloring book.)

BC: In a criminally inept world controlled by unbelievably ill-informed leadership, Dan provides an insanely reasonably priced book of adult coloration for only $5.99. The above illustrations have been from Creative Haven Bizarro Land. The ink fumes alone are worth the price of the book.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Dan Piraro (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.)


Poll: Do the hotels you stay at change the straw every three days?

 

Kevin Vassey interview

I’ve been reading Legend of Bill ever since it started running on GoComics. A few months ago, it was joined by The Gnome Syndicate, and I started reading that because I like the concept. Both strips have simple, clean artwork, and funny, rambling storylines. Bill is an accountant that decides to become a professional barbarian. While in Gnome Syndicate, we have 13, a less than elegant agent out to battle an evil force that has infiltrated his agency.

BC: Who are you?
KV: “Kevin Vassey is a 13 year veteran of the feature animation industry, where he worked on such film franchises as Shrek, Madagascar, and How To Train Your Dragon. While working on many fun animated films, he continued to pursue his passion for cartooning, and making art. In 2011, he started the Gnome Syndicate to help expand the world surrounding Legend of Bill. Now, while continuing to work in the video game industry, Kevin writes and draws both Legend of Bill and the Gnome Syndicate twice a week at legendofbill.com/.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
KV: I would say definitely an artist, and still working on the cartoonist part.

BC: How did you get your start as an artoonist?
KV: I started drawing at 4 or 5 years old and haven’t stopped. I was lucky to have family that supported my love of art and music.


(from The Gnome Syndicate)

BC: How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
KV: I’ve been a professional artist since I was 18, when I sold my first commissioned piece. But my big breaks came from working at Disney and making friends from co-workers there. It’s all who you know, seriously.

BC: What led up to your working on Gnome Syndicate, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
KV: I did a guest strip for David Reddick, the creator of Legend of Bill, around the time I was working on ‘How To Train Your Dragon‘. From there, he asked if I’d like to do a spin-off strip about the Gnomes, etc. from the Legend of Bill world. I said YES!!! Then a few years later, he got syndicated with Intelligent Life and asked me to take over on Legend of Bill. So, I’m actually writing and drawing both of those strips now. Oh, I have a lot of other comic ideas, and cartoons, etc, but I just need more time.

BC: What’s the status of Legend of Bill on GoComics? Is that going to start updating again?
KV: I actually don’t handle the uploading for Legend of Bill(LoB) on GoComics, even though I write and draw it now. That’s still the responsibility of the creator, David Reddick.


(from The Gnome Syndicate)

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
KV: Of course I’m proud of all my film and animation work, but I think I’m the most proud of Gnome Syndicate. We are going on seven years of work now and it makes me really happy to see how much I’ve grown as an artist and cartoonist while working on it. Progress feels good, but there’s still sooo much more to learn.

BC: Do you see any differences in the artistic processes of animating and drawing comics? Is one intellectually easier to create than the other? Or, do they both have similar challenges?
KV: They are actually really similar in my eyes, and both have similar challenges. You are always thinking about staging, posing, expression, and how to pace the scene. A lot of the poses I draw in the strip would be key frame poses if I were animating the scene traditionally.


(from Legend of Bill)

BC: How did you get your start as an animator?
KV: I knew I wanted to be in animation when I was 11 years old. I had always been drawing, and then figured out that my drawings could come to life. I was on a trip to Disney World when that happened and that became my goal.

BC: And, do you prefer working with paper, cels or a tablet?
KV: I love working with paper, but these days, I couldn’t live without my Wacom Cintiq. I have a very old model, a 21UX that I’ve had for about 8 years. It’s still chugging along, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


(from Legend of Bill)

BC: Are you fully responsible for both Gnome and Bill? That is, do you handle the writing as well as the drawing?
KV: Yes, I handle both the writing and drawing for BOTH strips. Gnome Syndicate since late 2010, and Bill since late 2013. I usually do a quick ‘flatting’ pass on the colors and then the amazing Don Keuhn does the final colors.

BC: Any challenges in switching between the two stories all the time?
KV: Yes, a little. It can be tough world building, and trying my best to keep both narratives interesting. It takes planning, for sure.

BC: How do you keep the character voices separated between the two, so that 13 doesn’t start talking like Bill, etc?
KV: That part isn’t too bad, actually. The Bill characters were so well defined, I have a harder time making sure they are living up to the amazing work that came before me. With the Gnomes, I have a lot of freedom and have sort of grown up with the characters. In both cases though, sometimes, the characters write themselves.

BC: How would you describe the sense of humor in either/both strips?
KV: I think Bill can be a little lighter than the Gnomes. Although Bill has been in some dark areas, and the story has had serious undertones, ultimately, his personality sort of sets the tone, which is bumbling and good-hearted. He started out as an accountant after all. The Gnome Syndicate started out as an expansion to LoB dealing with office humor, and more sit-com style jokes. Then, my film background sort of took over, and it morphed into quite the soap opera. It has a large over-arching plot and I’m using the time to try and grow the characters and their relationships. Although 13 is definitely the star, the cast has each had their spotlight through the years. You could say LoB has the ability to operate in a long form story mode as well as a gag-a-day format, where the Gnome Syndicate is more serialized, where you have a harder time jumping in. That was a wordy answer.


(from Legend of Bill)

BC: That’s ok, interviews are built on words. Which one do you think is the most fun to draw/write for?
KV: I think the Gnome Syndicate is a little easier just because of being the creator of the characters, and the number of years I’ve been doing it. But, Bill offers such a breath of fresh air, and the characters are such a challenge to draw. I try my best not to stray too far into my style with the characters, and keep a lot of what makes David Reddick’s work so appealing. He has this amazing skill with the shapes of the characters and how the rhythm of those shapes play off each other in the face, etc. It’s actually really complex, and trying to capture that appeal in my drawings of the characters is crazy fun. Also, as an aside, it’s one of the reason’s I love webcomics as a medium. It’s always amazing to see an artist grow in skill with the characters. My early work on Gnomes and Bill is super hard to look at now. As an artist, I don’t think you can ever stop improving….ever.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper?
KV: I try my very best to have at least some idea of what needs to be there. Often times, when inspiration hits, I pull out my phone and write, or sketch panels quickly with my finger. Since I work digitally, it makes it pretty easy to transfer that and get to work. The blank page has always been a nemesis of mine.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
KV: It would definitely be something orchestral from Hans Zimmer, John Williams, or James Horner.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
KV: Wow, hmm, …ok here’s just a few… Monet, Degas, Picasso, Dali, Norman Rockwell, Sargent, Schiele, Schulz, Watterson, Kelly, Jeff Smith, Walt Disney, Glen, Jeff and Claire Keane, Trey Finney, Aaron Blaise, Goro Fujita, Shannon Jefferies, Kendal Cronkhite, Travis Koller, Mark Behm… I could go on and on. And yes, some of these I’ve worked closely with in the animation industry. They’re just all so inspiring, sometimes I have to make myself stop looking at their work and make some myself.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
KV: I follow Intelligent Life, PVP, Table Titans, Girls with Slingshots, Wonderella, XKCD, Rip Haywire… the list goes on and on. I follow all these great strips because I love seeing the diversity in the work and hopefully to learn a thing or two.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
KV: I don’t think I’m looking for anything in particular. If the strip hooks me, it just kind of happens.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
KV: Oh I wish I knew this one. It would make it much easier to be a huge success. Hahaha. I think you have to make the comic for yourself, using your voice, and just maybe it’ll catch on.

BC: Do you use Patreon?
KV: I definitely use Patreon, and I think it’s great… now if I just had a few more patrons. Seriously though, I think the patronage system is an awesome way to go, but I also believe you need to have a comic that targets an audience that is comfortable with online spending and has some disposable income. Here’s my page if anyone is interested: www.patreon.com/kmvassey.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
KV: Well, definitely another great year of Legend of Bill and Gnome Syndicate. I will be at SC Comicon in Greenville SC on March 25-26, as well as a few local library events here in the Raleigh, NC, area.

BC: Anything you want to add to address potential new readers?
KV: Please check out Legend of Bill and Gnome Syndicate, and feel free to join me every Monday night at 9pm EST for my art stream on Twitch. I am usually inking and coloring a strip and chatting with people about comics, animation, movies, etc. Here’s the link: www.twitch.tv/kmvassey. And if you miss my stream, you can usually catch a copy of it here, on YouTube.

(Pokemon fan artwork covered under the legal agreement at www.pokemon.com/us/legal/)
(All other artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Kevin Vassey (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.)

Jim Horwitz Interview – WATSON

Watson is the creation of artist and writer Jim Horwitz, a suave, mysterious young man who it’s my pleasure to have finally met and to then introduce to you, the readers, by using a sentence that has no ending, only beginnings, much like a Groundhog Day New Year, and that originally started when

I discovered Watson, a topical weekly webcomic that features the titular character, Watson the dog, and the children he guards in the Good Haven neighborhood and uses a variety of art styles and cameo appearances by other characters, brilliantly drawn by Jim Horwitz, a strange, sophisticated

young man who


(from Watson.)

BC: Who are you?
JH: I’m the real Jim Horwitz. It’s really me.

BC: Are there many imitators?
JH: At least seven, nationally, that I know of. There’s one in Japan who created a Watson knock-off site called American Funny Dog; his English is very poor. He calls himself Jim “Hot-wires,” which is funny because that’s what MS-Word spell-checks my last name into. – He may be running Word-2010 on his computer. …I don’t know.


(from American Funny Dog.)

BC: How do the fakers do in-person? Have you ever met any of them?
JH: Most fakers have trouble navigating the chemistry of my warmness with my neurotica. Most fans can usually spot fakers at events, but not always. Supposedly, there’s a Jim Horwitz in Canada who does very well. From what I hear, he hasn’t paid for a meal or hotel room since 2012. A friend with connections to the Ontario police tells me he has a specially designated ambulance he uses to zip through traffic if he’s in a hurry. He also does stand-up at the Elk’s lodge every other Tuesday.

BC: Where is there an Elk’s Lodge in Ontario?
JH: There’s one in Echo Bay on Church Street. The Elks are very big in Ontario. There’s at least 15 chapters; maybe 20.


(from Watson.)

BC: What kind of comedy does the fake Jim Horwitz do at the Elk’s lodge?
JH: Shticky Jewish stuff, from what I’ve heard. Getting the bagel caught in the elevator door. Forgetting to milk the chicken. The usual drill. – You know.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
JH: I consider myself a cartoonist. That’s the best of the four, I feel. I once tried to get a table at Elaine’s telling them I was something else and it went very badly. I got a terrible table by the kitchen.

BC: What did you tell them you were?
JH: A platypus.


(Jim Horwitz as a platypus.)

BC: Did you get to eat?
JH: Eventually. I made the mistake of going there the night the restaurant was closing for good. I had no idea. It was wall-to-wall people. I remember Gay Talese and Alec Baldwin were having dinner at the table right next to me. Eventually, Gay vouched for me and the platypus thing was soon forgotten.

BC: Did you get a better table?
JH: No. They threw me out.

BC: Why.
JH: No one likes a smart-ass platypus.


(Smart-ass platypus at Elaine’s.)

BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist?
JH: I started doodling when I was young and just kept with it. I think that’s good advice for any field. Just keep at it, keep learning, and, in time, you’ll probably improve.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
JH: Not getting syndicated when I was 22.

BC: What’s the story?
JH: In the late 90s, Universal Press was interested in my college strip and we talked steadily for six months. I kept sending them new stuff and we kept talking every few weeks to fine-tune it. It was super exciting, but I was very young. The strip was very elaborate visually and I’m almost certain I would’ve burned out after a few years. Had that happened, I fear it might’ve warped my sensibility about a life in comics. I’m glad things worked out as they did. I’m having more fun now than I ever have before.

BC: Is it true you have a bar in your studio?
JH: Yes, that’s true. Many artists have strange rituals they follow when they work.

JH: Charles Schulz had a favorite pen-nib he used: the Esterbrook Radio 914. When he found out the company was going under, he bought up every last box of pen tips, enough to finish out his career.


(from Watson.)

BC: What an interesting story. Are there more like that?
JH: The short-story writer John Cheever used to dress in a full suit each morning, take the elevator down to the boiler room of his apartment building, strip down to his boxers, and type for hours at a folding card table. Nabakov, I know, also wrote his novels on index cards and laid them out on the floor in front of him.

JH: There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 pencil, I know. Supposedly, it was a favorite of Nabakov, John Steinbeck, Stanley Kubrick, and Truman Capote. People in Hollywood seemed to think it had magical properties. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I enjoy the idea of rituals and understand why people have them. They make life a lot more fun.


(from Watson.)

BC: Do you have any cartooning rituals you swear by?
JH: I do write my gags on diner checks, the kinds of little pads waitresses use to take your order at restaurants.

BC: That’s unusual. Why those specifically?
JH: There’s not a lot of space to write, so it encourages simplicity and economy. It also reminds me that readers are coming and going and have places to be, like workers in the city grabbing a sandwich. “…Whatever you’re gonna say, make it good and make it fast.” – Something kind of like that.

BC: And, you also have a special kind of coffee cup that you like to use.
JH : Yes. They’re the blue-and-white Greek Anthora coffee cups. I like them as well for the same reason. They’re hard to find, so I have to order them specially from New York. The pads and the cups kind of go together. Whenever I travel I bring both with me. Whenever I stay at a hotel, I always have them in my room. The coffee at some hotels is very good and I don’t like the idea of putting it in a paper cup, but if I’m at some little place I have no problem switching out one of my cups for the cup and saucer on the table. I like to have things a certain way.


(Guests check in…)

BC: What sort of tools do you use when you draw?
JH: I draw on paper that’s very large because I don’t like feeling crowded when I draw. I don’t like to feel the edges of the paper creeping in. I always like to feel that I have more room to fiddle and explore. I also don’t draw everything on one page. I cut things out.

BC: I’m confused. What do you mean?
JH: I don’t draw my strips on a single page. I used to, but when I made mistakes too much erasing caused the paper to wear and thin. Now, I draw all the elements separately on one large sheet like a shopping list, and then cut them out with a scissors arranging them how I like. If something needs to be changed I can just switch things out.

BC: That seems kind of brilliant, but also very strange. Who else does that?
JH: No one that I know of.


(from Watson.)

BC: Do you ever re-use elements in your strips? Re-use clippings from other comics?
JH: Very rarely; not if I don’t have to. If I’m crunched for time, maybe I’ll re-use a little something, but I don’t like to do that. If you don’t re-create the elements of the strip, then the strip doesn’t grow. When you draw a comic strip, nearly every element of the strip changes with time. It’s seldom intentional. It’s just an inherent process of applying your mind to the same thing over and over again. It’s very much like a giant ship turning in the ocean or water boiling on the stove. The process is very gradual, but if you look back over time the differences are quite clear. I very seldom make conscious choices to change the look of the strip, but when you look back you can see that those changes are both gradual and inevitable. That’s why I like to keep drawing. When I do, I know that process is at work whether I want it to be or not. I’m interested in having it do the things it does, the small little turns that I don’t see happening. — I’m waiting for it to make the strip better.

BC: So, you draw the strip by hand and color it digitally?
JH: Yes. I color it in Photoshop.

BC: What kinds of pens do you use?
JH: Different kinds. I’ve been very into flexible-tipped brush pens for the past few years. They work very well. Although the brand I use is designed to be disposable, I’ve learned that I can leave the empties soaking upside down in a shot glass of ink so the internal inkwell refills. The ink I use is thinner than the ink that comes standard in the pens, but I’ve learned to correct my inking to manage it. I can always tell when I’m inking with a new pen or one that’s been refilled. The refilled pens glide much faster. I prefer a bit more drag when I ink. Using toothier paper also slows the pen down a bit. There are lots of little tricks one can use.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip?
JH: After I finish a strip, I usually give myself a few hours to relax, and then re-raise my mental antennae to start receiving new ideas. As long as I’m moving around and interacting with things, ideas usually come to me. I have a mental queue of about two-to-three jokes and fiddle with them a bit on my little pads before committing one to a strip. When it’s time to draw, whichever idea is the best makes it out into the world. I seldom come back to old ideas that were in the queue, but it happens every so often.


(from Watson.)

BC: How long have you been drawing Watson?
JH: It first stated appearing online in 2010, but I’d been working on it as early as 2007. It’s been at least 10 years, but it’s only really been up-to-speed in a way that I feel good about for the past 4-5 years. As an artist, my work is never done. As long as I’m producing the strip it will always continue to grow.

BC: Since 2010, it seems like the look of the strip has changed a lot. The strip has used different dimensions, paper quality, line-art, and tone. Where do these ideas for the shifts in the strip come from? What rules or schedule guides the changes?
JH: There’s no schedule, per se. Different ideas flow into the mix from many different places. If I stumble upon something that interests me and that idea can be represented visually, or in the context of the strip, then I’ll implement it to develop the strip as best I can.

JH: The old paper series that you mentioned was probably the most memorable period, visually, that I’ve worked on so far. I had this idea that we tend to experience most things as brand-new, and looking at old comics that are visually decayed, in a sense, plays with the readers’ sense of nostalgia, which I think is true. – Other visual elements have floated in and out, of course, and as I said the strip continues to grow. Visually, I like where the strip is right now, but I’m always open to new muses and ideas as they float in through the window.

BC: Your readers are called “Watsoneers,” correct?
JH: Yes.

BC: What’s the most common trait that Watsoneers share? Who reads Watson?
JH: Based on what I’ve seen, Watsoneers tend to be thoughtful, kind, open-hearted, and fun-loving. My readers are very good-natured, creative, kind, and sweet people. There are some who read, comment on, and share every strip I draw. In that sense I’m very lucky.

BC: Is it true you worked for The Onion?
JH: Yes. I was a headline writer from 2001-2004, when the offices where still in the Mid-West. It was a lot of fun.


(The *ni*n.)

BC: Any Onion stories?
JH: I was hired by the then Editor-in-Chief, Robert Siegel, who wrote the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated Mickey Rourke film “The Wrestler.” The Onion never published its address, so if you didn’t know where the office was you probably didn’t belong there. As I recall, it might’ve been against the rules for Onion staff to tell non-Onion people where the office was; that seems right. Most of The Onion people that I worked with have gone on to other areas: SNL, The Daily Show, Comedy Central, etc. – The Onion’s a good place to pass through if you’re a creative person, writers especially. Most people have heard of The Onion, so it’s a good resume-builder to help open doors if you need it.


(from Watson.)

BC: Have you opened any doors with it?
JH: I use it to open the bathroom door on occasion, and sometimes to rein in the Lazy Susan if it acts up.

BC: Do you have any favorite headlines that you wrote?
JH: None of my personal favorites were ever used because they were too dirty. The ones that were chosen were funny, but not as remarkable. I wrote a lot of headlines about the Silver Surfer. None of them were ever used, but submitting them always made me happy.

BC: Do you remember any of those?
JH: “Brittany Spears annuls marriage to Silver Surfer.” – Oh, that makes me giggle.


(from Watson)

BC: In the comic strip, what kind of dog is Watson supposed to be?
JH: A Labrador.

BC: He’s very floppy.
JH: When my friend Dan Piraro (“Bizarro“) did a cameo day for the strip he sent me a note that said: “For some reason, I always thought Watson was a bloodhound. But then, I thought Snoopy was a balloon animal.” – That made me laugh.


(from Watson)

BC: I get the feeling you draw Watson to be extra floppy on purpose. Is that the case?
JH: Of course. Who wants to hug a chair?

BC: I know you mentioned before that you went to art school. How important do you think it is for cartoonists or other artists to have formal training?
JH: Not too important. I had already been drawing comics for many years before I went to art school. I went as a change of pace, but not necessarily to learn how to draw. The most valuable resource I got from art school was just time to work. The social aspect, of course, was also very enjoyable. That said, I think the most important ingredient in most endeavors is probably just persistence. I think practice is the great equalizer in most things. I absolutely believe in the power of the 10,000-hour rule, the notion that one can become good at most anything with roughly ten years of study.

BC: So, in that sense, do you feel art school was a waste?
JH: Lord no. It was great fun. Amazing things happened there. I met amazing people and did things I never would’ve done otherwise. I have the fondest memories of that time.

BC: What are some stories you can tell us?
JH: In my first year, there was an event called “Studio Days,” where faculty members came around to artists’ studios to pop-in to see what folks were working on. I was told that it was common to have little treats waiting as a way to “entertain,” but I wasn’t sure what to get. Most of what I knew about professional artists came from TV and movies, so I wasn’t sure what tone to strike with my professors. I ended up preparing a folding card table with 40 plastic cups of Jack Daniels and 20 packages of Marlboro cigarettes. I thought that’s what artists liked.


(from Watson)

BC: How did that go over?
JH: Most of them thought it was a kind of installation piece, a kind of put-on or something. No one really knew what to make of it. – I do remember the visiting professor from Australia slammed a whole glass of whiskey after the other professors had left. He didn’t take any of the cigarettes, but he did like the booze.

BC: What happened to all the remaining whiskey?
JH: It went back into the bottles and slowly disappeared over the course of my first year.

BC: Was liquor allowed in the studios?
JH: Of course not. What fun is that?

BC: What kind of art did you make in art school? Were you drawing comics?
JH: I did a lot of different things. It was a great, aimless, meandering sort of adventure. At one point, I made a kind of art film that had a scene involving dead bodies. I remember I contacted the head of the anatomy lab at the medical school to see if he would sign-off on it. — We worked it out. He said I could film what I wanted, provided I kept towels over the faces of the cadavers to protect their identities, which I did. In the end, the bodies weren’t an integral part of the film, but it was still a memorable experience. In retrospect, I don’t think I did enough at art school. If I could do it all over again I’d have twice as much fun. I was much too sedate.

BC: What was the most important thing you learned in art school?
JH: How to make a martini.

BC: Funny. Who taught you that?
JH: My adviser, David Becker. Learning to mix a martini without bruising the gin can be tricky. Not everyone can do it.

BC: So, what’s the secret?
JH: Go to art school. — You’ll see.


(from Watson)

BC: Do you have any stories or gossip about other cartoonists you can tell us?
JH: I was very friendly with the late cartoonist Roy Doty. I would always see him once a year at the annual cartoonists’ event, The Reubens, which is like our version of The Oscars. One year, I told Roy that I was worried about my career and asked if there was any advice he could give me to help set my mind at ease. Roy put his hand on top of my head and said, “There! I’ve blessed you. Now you’ll be a success. You can stop worrying.” From then on that got to be our regular routine; whenever I saw him at The Reubens he would always bless me. He passed on in 2015. That was very sad. He was a lovely person.

BC: How many times did Roy bless you?
JH: Three.

BC: Did it work?
JH: Oh, yes.


(Jim and Dan.)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
JH: I follow the strips of my close friends as a way to see what they’re doing. I read “Bizarro” by Dan Piraro. “WaynoVision” by Wayno. “Arctic Circle” by Alex Hallat… And, a few others. I don’t spend as much time reading comics as I should. I’m a poo-poo head in that regard.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
JH: Honesty, clarity, and ingenuity. Personally, I enjoy strips that are a little more airy than overly tight. I like the idea of simplicity in a strip, even though I sometimes having trouble maintaining it myself.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
JH: Simplicity. Economy, And, the truth. – Big crazy hands are funny, too.

BC: Which of your works are you most proud of?
JH: My children.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
JH:I like the sound of a distant train at night. If there’s a slight current of howling wind underneath, that makes it even better. It’s not a song, per se, but it’s a sound I really like; it’s best heard from a dark room under a warm blanket.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up?
JH: I’ll be starting dinner in a few hours. I can set some extra plates, but I’ll need to know how many are coming.

BC: Want to promote your sites?
JH: Yes. Everyone should come visit the REAL JIM HORWITZ –
At the Facebooks: www.facebook.com/WatsonComics
And at the intertubes: www.watsonstrip.com

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Jim Horwitz (c) 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann and Jim Horwitz 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author(s).)
(The dinner was great, by the way. You should have been there. It was BYOB (Bring your own bagel). But, you really need to watch the elevators…)