Category Archives: Interview

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…)

Man Martin interview

I’ve gotten quite a few requests for an interview with Man Martin, creator of Inkwell Forest. And I’m pleased to give you this little present for the holiday season. So…

Man Martin’s Inkwell Forest appears daily at www.gocomics.com/inkwell-forest as well as on Facebook and Man’s blog, Man Overboard.

BC: How did you get into cartooning?
MM: I’m dyslexic and got off to a rough start in first grade. (My teacher thought I was cognitively impaired in an era when the word for cognitive impairment wasn’t so politically correct.) Fortunately, my mother was a special education teacher and tutored me in reading using Mad Magazine and “Peanuts” comics. (My introduction to the classics of literature was through Mad parodies, and I believed Linus van Pelt was based on me.)


(Early cartoon, “Facing Reality”, at age 7 or 8)

MM: For years my aspiration was to be a syndicated cartoonist. I got my break in the 80’s when Lew Little syndicated my strip “Sibling Revelry,” to some thirty papers around the country. Universal Press picked it up, but being a family strip, it was against pretty stiff competition – “Foxtrot,” “Calvin and Hobbes,” “One Big Happy,” “For Better or Worse,” and – of course – “Peanuts.” We were losing papers, and Lew suggested I launch a second strip; he even had a premise and a title: “Hasty Pudding;” it was to be about pre-Revolutionary America. I threw myself into the project and discovered a wealth of material sure to delight any satirist. The colonies were a hotbed of rivalry and competing self-interests: whites, native Americans, French, British, land-owners, working poor, proto-feminists, and African slaves. Lew was delighted with what I came up with, as well as Lee Salem – who was head honcho of Universal in those days. My opening strips were on the topic of slavery – which at before the Revolution was legal in all thirteen colonies, and Lew and Lee agreed I was handling the subject with wit, taste, and intelligence. Our debut paper was The Los Angeles Daily News. The day the strip premiered – featuring an exchange between an African slave and his owner – the Rodney King Riots broke out. Needless to say, I was dropped like a radioactive potato, and the strip I’d worked so hard on and had such hopes for, died an abrupt undignified death.

MM: After that I was heartbroken, simply heartbroken. I left cartooning – I thought forever – and became a schoolteacher, turning my creative energy to writing. I’m gratified that my two novels – Days of the Endless Corvette and Paradise Dogs – each garnered a Georgia Author of the Year Award. My third, The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome, comes out Spring 2017 from Unbridled Books.

BC: What made you start cartooning again?
MM: I began having dreams about drawing a strip. I’d wake up and think, “Maybe I should start drawing a strip again,” and then, “Nawww.” But eventually I decided to listen to my dreams, and I’ve been having a blast with it ever since.


(from Inkwell Forest)

BC: So what is “Inkwell Forest” about anyways?
MM: It started as a riff on traditional fairytales, but it’s grown to be more than that. The central characters are Little Red and her talking chicken, Alice, who claims to lay golden eggs. The cast is filled out with various giants, gnomes, mad scientists, dodos, and assorted weirdos. But really, it’s about anything that strikes me as funny. It’s completely anarchic. One of my characters is the Almighty himself, who appears as a little pyramid with a floating eyeball, and another is Boss Duck, a conflation of Donald Duck and another Donald, who I believe has made a name for himself in politics. I also guest-star on occasion.


(The studio)

BC: What’s your work schedule?
MM: I wake up really early, between 5:00 and 5:30 and come up with six ideas. (They don’t have to be good ideas, and most of them aren’t, but they’re the slag heap from which I select the ones I like.) Then I draw a rough before going to my day job. On weekends, I draw finishes and scan them in, and then I colorize them on weeknights. It’s hard to believe I’m a workaholic, but I guess I must be. I’ve got a wonderful set-up in my studio with my finishes and roughs hanging on wires around the wall so I can review, re-arrange, and revise them.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
I have very idiosyncratic taste in music, but I likes what I likes. I listen a lot to Caro Emerald, Katzenjammer, the Puppini Sisters, and Good Lovelies. If any members of any of the above groups happen to read this, I am your fan. I believe I could listen to “Demon Kitty Rag” or “Jilted” every hour on the hour without ever getting tired of them. I can’t listen to music when I’m coming up with ideas, but that’s my soundtrack when I’m drawing.


(from Inkwell Forest)

BC: How do you approach that blank page?
MM: It is the most frightening thing I have to do on a regular basis. This is not just idle talk. It is really frightening to lie in bed thinking I’ll have to get up in a few minutes and come up with some ideas and realize I have… nothing. It’s only a cartoon, I know, so it’s not like lives are at stake; still, it’s pretty unnerving and I never sit at my desk without a feeling of dread and creeping insecurity. Jim Davis, who created Garfield, compared the creative process to stepping into a dark closet, but really it’s more like climbing the ladder to the high dive and hoping there’ll be water in the pool when you jump.

BC: Which comics are you reading now?
MM: My favorite strips at the moment are Amanda the Great and Lio.

BC: Can you talk a bit about your books?
MM: Endless Corvette is a story of true love, the mystery of life, and car repair. After losing the love of his life, mechanic Earl Mulvaney convinces himself that if he will take apart and rebuild the same classic 1959 Corvette, over and over again, saving the leftover pieces each time, eventually, he’ll have enough parts to construct an entire car. In the slightly off-center world of Humble County, that sort of thing is barely possible.

MM: In Paradise Dogs, real-estate speculator Adam Newman has a sure-fire way to reunite with his estranged ex-wife. He will pour a dozen loose diamonds in her lap with the words, “Take your pick, darlin’, we’ll set it in a ring later.” Unfortunately, he loses the diamonds – or does he? Perhaps they have been stolen by agents of the shadowy Compass East organization, which Adam believes may be a front for a communist conspiracy.

MM: In the Lemon Jell-O Syndrome – coming this May – Bone King suffers from a mysterious neurological malady – at times he is unable to go through doors. He consults the eminent neurologist Dr. Limongello (pronounced Lemon Jell-O) who gives him a chilling diagnosis: his very soul is becoming detached from his brain.

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

Amanda El-Dweek interview

I first learned about Amanda the Great when it was announced in November on the GoComics editor’s blog that AtG would be moving from Sherpa to the main site. Additionally, Amanda has been an active commenter here on Basket Case, and therefore I’d like to show my support to someone that has been supporting me. Amanda –

BC: Who are you?
AD: My name is Amanda El-Dweek, and I’m your friendly neighborhood cartoonist – creator of Amanda the Great on GoComics, and Shelly Fire on Tapastic.


(from Amanda the Great)

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
AD: I was born and raised in northeastern North Dakota, and my husband and I live in western North Dakota. I went to college for visual arts, and earned a BFA in 2002 concentrating in printmaking and painting. I’ve worked in a kitchen, a gas station, a garage, briefly in the music department at UND as a workstudy, in healthcare for almost 11 years, a law office, and a dental office (for one month). So, at the tender age of 39, I’ve finally become an employed cartoonist. It’s as great as I always thought it’d be, which is pretty great.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
AD: I consider myself a cartoonist first and an artist second – if you mean the “fine arts”. I think “artist” is the generic blanket we all get placed under, which is fine by me.


(from Amanda the Great)

BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist?
AD: I got started cartooning as a young child – I want to say maybe between the ages of 4 and 6 somewhere? Someone bought me a Garfield comic book, and that was it for me. I wanted to replicate that magic. I drew a comic about a man and his three cats (note the heavy Garfield influence), and then from there I drew all kinds of comics – family comics, cats, mermaid superheroes…all kinds!


(from Amanda the Great)

BC: How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
AD: So, thirty-some years I’ve been at the drawing board, but most of it probably wasn’t any good – haha! My biggest breaks are just starting – my comic “Amanda the Great” was just launched on GoComics.com. I’m trying to be cool about it, but I am hardly cool.

AD: I actually ran a version of Amanda the Great in the Dakota Student (the newspaper at the University of North Dakota) if you want to call that a “break”, but it was only for one semester in 2006 or 2007 (I can’t recall), and it was after I had graduated but was taking a class for S&Gs.


(Shelly Fire poster)

AD: When I used to work at the gas station in college, I was caught drawing in my sketchbook by a customer, and he really liked my stuff and asked if I’d do posters for his Fargo-based band. A local guy would take my originals to the band. He then asked if I’d draw posters for his own band, “Shelly Fire”. I created the Shelly Fire character from his description of what they wanted, and she was born. That was a good break!


(from Amanda the Great)

BC: What led up to your starting Amanda the Great, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
AD: I had the concept of Amanda the Great years ago, but didn’t draw it with any consistency or fervor. I would draw it once in a while when inspiration would strike, or something happened at work that I needed to make fun of on paper. I think what led to me actually drawing a comic about myself (versus a fictional character) was that I felt that if I could work the things out on paper that were happening to me, it might help give me some perspective. I could draw it, and then observe it as if I were someone else reading the comic. I also feel that the person I know best in the world is myself (most days), and so it is easy to draw and write me as a character. The only challenge is, I can’t include everything in my life – sometimes things are too personal for me or for others in my life. That said, I try to include some things that I think people can relate to. It’s also a nice way to vent frustrations.


(from Shelly Fire)

AD: I have a couple other things I am working on. I have a webcomic – Shelly Fire – on Tapastic right now. I don’t post as often as I’d like, and I hope that changes. Shelly is in full color, as opposed to my preference to work in black & white. I forgot how long it takes to color a full page of comics!


(Shelly Fire)

AD: I’m also working on another comic strip, which I haven’t settled on a name for yet, and I’m still figuring out some things with it. I’m also supposed to be painting Shelly Fire on my dad’s motorcycle tanks. He had an extra set, so I’m practicing on those.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
AD: I’m probably the most proud of Amanda the Great, as it has been the most successful so far. I’ve met a lot of great people because of that comic strip, so that is priceless. But I am happy about Shelly Fire, and also the as-of-yet unnamed strip I’ve been working on, as they are kind of like my children. They all progress at different rates.

BC: Do you have anything on the market?
AD: I do not have any collections out yet, but that might be a project for the future!


(from Amanda the Great)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
AD: I’ve never really had a problem with approaching the blank sheet of paper, inasmuch as Amanda the Great is concerned. I have a book that I write ideas and notes in, and sometimes I just wing it, but I always have an idea what I’m going to write because I’m writing my recent past. Shelly Fire is another matter – that’s fiction, and it’s trickier. I take that comic (Shelly) page by page. Amanda the Great I already know what’s going to happen!

AD: Now, when I’m trying to just draw something random, and for fun…then the blank paper is my Everest.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
AD: It’d be a wide range! There’d be some Beatles and Killers, a polka by Myron Floren, an old standard Catholic hymn, and then “Let Me Clear My Throat” by DJ Kool, and “Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton, not to put too fine a point on it. There’d have to be some old Shelly Fire (the band, not the comic) jam music, too. However, I’ve drawn more comics to Paul Simon’s Graceland album than any other music. Great album.


(from Amanda the Great)

BC: Can you tell us a little more about AtG and SF?
AD: Background for Amanda the Great:
AD: It’s a comic about me, and the timeline starts in late 2012, when I was living and working in Grand Forks, ND. In the strip, I chronicle the final months of Dan’s and my engagement (we lived in separate towns, so you will notice we travel to see each other often), our wedding, and our “big” move. I deal with some personal things within the comic strip, such as my doubts, fears, medical things, etc. with alter egos – I have a younger version of myself, Young Amanda; My temper is a monster-like character called Angermemnon; and there are some future/past Amanda things I do. I try to stay away from Dan’s personal stuff, though it’s hard because his life and mine intersect, obviously. It’s tricky sometimes. I include my family in there (my grandpa, my uncle, and my parents so far), but nothing that would embarrass or hurt them. But the things that I write about are true, save for the alter egos, and some of the lines are even verbatim – some are not, but the overall situations are.

AD: Background for Shelly Fire:
AD: Shelly is a great character, because she can say the things I want to say but don’t say and won’t say. I tried to make her less like me, but when you’re writing characters, they will always have your voice, no matter what.

AD: Shelly lives in fictional Banal Lake, MN, as does her family. Her mother and father are divorced, and both remarried. She has three siblings, and two half-siblings. She doesn’t get along famously with most of them, except her mom, who she listens to.

AD: She is an afflicted person, in some ways. She can see her guardian angel – in a different way than Saint Padre Pio – but she isn’t seen as blessed, but rather, troubled. She also carries around her stuffed rabbit, St. Vincent de Paul, in her backpack, and consults him on different things. St. Vincent de Paul and Jude (the angel) disagree on a lot of things, which doesn’t help Shelly. Shelly can also see demons, masquerading as real people.


(from Amanda the Great)

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
AD: My favorite fine artists are some folks I know from college: Eric A. Johnson is a printmaker in Fargo, ND – we have a print he did with Star Wallowing Bull hanging in our home and it is gorgeous.

AD: My good friend Keith Dobranski draws (they look photo-realistic, which I envy), and does mods of Hero Clix in Regina, Saskatchewan – he did a custom build and paint of my character Shelly Fire – he probably has more dirt on me than I have on him!

AD: My drawing professor from college, Brian Paulsen – his work is first-class.

AD: Cartoonists: Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant) – she is so talented! I started reading her comics when I worked at a law office a couple years ago, and I’d laugh right out loud until I was wheezy. I have never met her – maybe some day!

AD: I really like Wil Henry’s style (Wallace the Brave), and his strip is just…refreshing.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
AD: I follow a lot of comic strips and webcomics! Among them: Batch Rejection, Inkwell Forest, My Son is a Dog, Something About Celeste, Candace ‘n’ Company, Mister and Me, Mike du Jour, Buni, Breaking Cat News, Francis, Zen Pencils, Jake Likes Onions, Hark! A Vagrant, Pooch Cafe, Luann, Perry Bible Fellowship, Pearls Before Swine, Fox Trot, …there are really too many to probably list but I read a lot of comics. Not all the comics, but a lot!


(from Amanda the Great)

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
AD: I’m not sure what it is specifically – I do like some drawing styles more than others, I love to pore over some comics (like Calvin & Hobbes, Cul de Sac) – but I mostly just enjoy being entertained, and I like to laugh. I gravitate more towards character-driven strips, but I honestly enjoy and read all kinds.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
AD: From all the things I’ve read that other cartoonists have said is that good writing can carry bad art, but good art cannot carry bad writing. I agree with that. Being funny will always make for a good comic. Jokes that aren’t contrived, writing that doesn’t feel forced. But I like comics that are beautifully drawn, too. It’s a visual medium, after all. Not to gush too much about Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant“, but the drawing matches the humor, and it’s just a perfect amalgamation.


(from Amanda the Great)

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? Do you want to plug your site?
AD: I do not use any fund-raising sites as of right now. However, I feel like they are allowing people to earn a living from webcomics, and that is fantastic!

AD: I have sites to plug, though!
Amanda the Great on Gocomics
Shelly Fire on Tapastic
My website

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
AD: My projects are continuing producing Amanda the Great strips, Shelly Fire, and finalizing the new (unnamed) comic strip. I want to try my hand at editorial comics, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. I do not have any appearances for conventions – yet!

BC: Are you up for Shelly Fire bike tank meta jokes?
AD: To answer your question about the motorcycle tank, I might put it in the background of a comic someday to be funny, yeah!

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

Scott Meyer interview

You want information? I’ve got your information right here. Or, rather, I’ve got instructions, and they’re more in the direction of over there. For those of you with long memories (or google search), Scott is the guy that John “Last Kiss” Lustig likes (in a Platonic kind of way). (John likes Plato in a platonic way, too, so who am I to judge?)

BC: Who are you?
SM: I am Scott Meyer, creator of the web comic Basic Instructions, and the author of the Magic 2.0 series of novels, along with Master of Formalities and The Authorities.


(Basic Instructions)

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
SM: I’m originally from a tiny little farming community in eastern Washington state. I made a living as a stand-up comic for over a decade, and more recently I was a front-line cast member at Walt Disney World.

BC: Can you elaborate a little on the Walt Disney World gig? Was that more stand-up, or did you have to wear the Mickey outfit?
SM: I did a few jobs, all stuff where I dealt directly with the guests. The best job I had there was as a ride operator at The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
SM: I consider myself a writer. I figured out a way to fake the ability to draw, but it was primarily as a means of getting my words and ideas out in front of people.


(Basic Instructions)

BC: How did you get your start as…?
SM: As a comedian, a cartoonist, and a novelist, I got my start in exactly the same way: I just showed up and started doing it for free. In stand-up, you don’t get your first paying gig until you’ve put in a lot of time at open-mic nights where nobody really wants to hear from you, let alone give you any money. As a web cartoonist, you have to start producing the comic and putting it out there on the internet well before anybody knows you’re doing a comic at all, let alone whether they like it or not. When I wrote my first novel, I had to write the entire thing, which is months of work, before I had anything to show to anybody, let alone anything good enough to try to sell for money.

SM: I can’t speak for anybody else, but all of my greatest successes have come from finding something I’d be willing to do for free, then doing it for free until somebody else decided that they were willing to pay me to do it.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
SM: The biggest single break I have received, in any of my careers, was when Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) decided to point out my comic to his readers. I was slowly building a following on my own already, but he turbo-charged the process. I’ll never know if I would have done as well as I have without his intervention.


(Basic Instructions)

BC: What led up to your starting Basic Instructions, discontinuing that, then writing your Magic 2.0 books, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
SM: I started Basic Instructions as a feature to draw people to my website when I was a stand-up comic. Then I burned out on stand-up, and Basic Instructions became my primary creative outlet. I discontinued Basic Instructions because after 12 years it was getting harder and harder to come up with ideas for it, and I was repeating myself. Literally. I wrote and drew an entire comic, and only as I was finishing up realized that it was an almost complete copy of a comic I’d done years before. I took that as a bad sign.

SM: I wrote Off to Be the Wizard while I was doing the comic, and I did it for a few reasons. I’d always wanted to write a novel, I had what I thought was a good idea, and I realized that thanks to the tools that are available now, it’s surprisingly easy to publish a book. The self-published author these days can produce and publish a novel for almost no money and make it available in the world’s largest international bookstore on an equal footing with classics and professionally published best sellers. The hard part is marketing it, but thanks to Basic Instructions, I had a ready-made audience I could advertise to just by typing a few words and a link beneath my comic.

SM: As for what irons I have in the fire now, I do have a new novel coming out soon. More on that in a bit.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
SM: It depends on what day you ask me. I’m very proud of how the Magic 2.0 books have turned out. I’m also proud of how many Basic Instructions comics I managed to crank out without the quality flagging too much.

BC: Where can readers find your books?
SM: All of my Basic Instructions compilations and all of my novels are available on Amazon. The novels are also available as audiobooks on Audible.


(Basic Instructions)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip, panel or story?
SM: I try not to be afraid of it. There are always days when the ideas flow easier than others, but even on my worst days I am aware that I am tremendously lucky to get to do this stuff. It’s a privilege and a challenge, not a chore. If I have a day when I feel like all of my ideas are garbage, I go ahead and use the ideas anyway. I am not in favor of creating garbage, mind you, but I don’t have to release what I create unless I’m happy with it, and I figure it’s better to try to make something out of what I have than to sit there producing nothing. Believe it or not, I created some of my better comics that way.

BC: If you went back and started Basic Instructions over from scratch, is there anything you’d do differently?
SM: I’d probably draw it in a more conventional manner. When I started the comic I thought I was being clever, getting out of the hard work of learning to draw better. After two years it occurred to me that by that point I probably would have been much better at drawing, and as such actually drawing things would have been easier and would have given me more freedom than still taking photos and tracing over the top of them.


(Basic Instructions)

BC: If your strip or the books had a soundtrack, what would they be?
SM: The soundtrack of the strips would be They Might Be Giants. The books would all sound different. The wizard books specifically might be a selection of pieces from the scores of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies played by a small, incompetent high school band.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
SM: It will surprise nobody who has read my books (or probably my comic either) that Douglas Adams was a huge big deal to me, and I did get to meet him! I attended a reading he did at the University of Washington. I wasn’t a student there, but I got in. Anyway, this was the early nineties, and the guy ahead of me in the book signing line afterwards asked Douglas Adams to sign his copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy not with his signature, but with his e-mail address, and Adams did it! I would have asked for the address too, but I didn’t have e-mail at that point.


(Basic Instructions)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
SM: Savage Chickens and Scenes from a Multiverse, because they are both really, really funny.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
SM: That they are consistently funny, in a way that surprises me. I have trouble stopping my brain from trying to figure out where a joke is going or where a story is headed, and I’m always happy if the person who made the comic thinks of something that didn’t occur to me.


(Basic Instructions)

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
SM: That’s in the eye of the beholder. For every successful comic there are people who will tell you that it’s great, and many people who will tell you that it’s crap. That’s why, if you think what you’re doing is good, it’s worth putting it out there and giving it a shot. You just might find your audience, and if you don’t, you’ll learn something.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
SM: I actually cobbled together my own subscription system a few months before Patreon launched, and it was a total game changer. The steady, predictable income my readers provided allowed me to go part-time at my day job, which allowed me to write my first novel. If you have a comic and a steady following, I strongly recommend giving the subscription model a shot.


(Basic Instructions)

BC: Have you gotten feedback from anyone on a specific Basic Instruction that would make for a good anecdote? (Like, has anyone from NASA told you they put a BI strip on the refrigerator on the ISS?)
SM: I did a comic about the show Ace of Cakes that ended up getting printed out and posted in a prominent spot in the bakery on the show. It’s visible in quite a few episodes. I also heard from one of the people on the show, who was very nice about it. The comic ended up getting reprinted in the foreword of the Ace of Cakes book.

BC: Do you want to plug your site?
SM: While I am no longer creating new comics, I am rerunning all of my past comics on my website, basicinstructions.net. I have three Facebook pages (Off to Be the Wizard, Basic Instructions, and Scott Meyer), and those have oddly become the place where things get updated most frequently.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
SM: I don’t have any plans on the books at the moment to attend any conventions, but I’m certainly not against it. As for future projects, I have a new novel coming out in June 2017 (If things go according to plan) called Run Program, about the rise of artificial intelligence.


(Basic Instructions)

BC: Want to let Missy plug her books, too?
SM: Sure! My wife has also written two novels that I think are awfully good (and the 4.5 star amazon review averages seem to agree) called We Could be Villains and Unsung Villains.

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

Melissa DeJesus interview

I’ve read My Cage on GoComics off and on, so I was familiar with the names Melissa DeJesus and Ed Power. When the GoComics editors announced that Ed and Melissa’s graphic novel, Santa versus Dracula was going to run a couple pages a week, I was interested to see what was going to unfold. Eventually, I bought the ebook for SvD, and it’s a good read. The idea is that Dracula wants Santa’s ability to enter people’s houses without needing an invitation, so he collects a bunch of other monsters and makes a raid on the North Pole. The artwork is anime-influenced, but there’s a lot of western cultural references, including Twilight, and Teen Wolf. My Cage is more of a gag-a-day strip where humans have been replaced by anthropomorphic animals that are now doing all the office work. Completely different art styles, but both are good in their own ways. Today I’m pleased to be talking with Melissa, the artist side of the duo.


(from My Cage)

BC: Who are you?
MD: Melissa DeJesus, artist for the My Cage comic strip and the Santa versus Dracula graphic novel.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
MD: I was born and raised in Queens, New York, and I currently live in Brooklyn. I was always an ambitious child. From early on I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I attended Art and Design High School in Manhattan and the School of Visual Arts for my undergrad and graduate degrees, also in Manhattan.

BC: Is there any relation to anime-influenced artist Robert Dejesus?
MD: None at all.


(from My Cage Returns)

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
MD: For as long as I can remember people would ask what I was and it kept changing – artist, cartoonist, comic artist, graphic novelist, animator, illustrator, designer, and educator. I’d like to add writer to that list one day but there are times when I feel more like one than the other. I’ve spent almost two decades doing all these things and I still don’t know what to call myself. It almost feels like an identity crisis for me.

BC: How did you get your start as whatever it is you are?
MD: Artist! I’m going to pick artist. I’ve been drawing since I was 4. I picked up different skills throughout the years through various experiences. Once you learn a new skill, you get work applying those new skill sets. For example, I started comics in high school and animation in college. I did both professionally for years, going back and forth between the two. When I started illustrating for King Features Syndicate, I had to relearn how to tell sequential stories in the newspaper comic strip format. It’s obviously different than comic pages when you first look at it, but the rules are vast and very specific.


(from My Cage Returns)

BC: What were your tasks before KFS bought the rights to My Cage?
MD: I was working on Sokora Refugees for Tokyopop at the time and other freelance gigs. When the editor approached me, he was already working with Ed on the strips. They were looking for an artist and he reached out to me.

BC: How long have you been artisting, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
MD: I’m still at it! Learning new things and working my craft. My biggest break was getting my first freelance gig while still in high school. Since I was a minor, 16 I think, my mother had to sign the contract as well. It’s kind of funny when I think back on it, but it was a great learning experience. I think every major point in my career were big breaks but the one in high school was the first.

BC: What led up to your starting My Cage, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
MD: I was contacted by Jay Kennedy back in 2006/2007. He was an editor at King Features Syndicate. He asked if I wanted to illustrate a newly acquired comic strip for newspapers. I said yes without thinking about it. That was a hard industry to get into and a rare opportunity. I jumped right on it. I spent over 3 years drawing My Cage daily for newspapers. I think I have about 1,200 strips accumulated, more now that we continued the series. Do I have any other pokers in the fire now? I always do.


(excerpt from Fan Art, a YA novel by Sarah Tregay)

BC: Anything you care to promote right now?
MD: I don’t have anything ready to promote since nothing is finished yet, but I am working on a few short stories, a comic and a game. Eventually, I’ll start posting announcements and updates on my projects at http://www.sketchypair.com/, which I need to be updated as well.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
MD: I’m always happy with my work. I learn from each experience and move on. Specifically, the works I’m most proud of were an animated short, Space Chase, I made in college with two of my girlfriends, and a comic strip, Vampire Zombies in Space, that I made for my husband a few years ago. I’m most proud of any original work I do on my own – and finish it.

BC: I know you have collections on the market – where can readers find them?
MD: You can find everything on Amazon. Haha.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper?
MD: It all starts in the head for me. Whether it’s my own idea or drawing from scripts Ed provides me, I picture it in my head first. Once I visualize it, I sketch it on paper. Easier said than done, right? Hah. You also have to be in the right mind set, too. You need that drive or spark that motivates you into working out that idea or comic, and how you want others to see that vision. Comics I draw for myself come out very differently than other freelance works I have done for various people and companies. It’s how I tell a story versus how the other person tells a story even though I’m the same person drawing it.

BC: Why use an anime-influenced character style? Is there anything that attracts you to that style over others? How do you pick a style to match a project you’re developing?
MD: I was originally attracted to the anime style through video games when I started high school. It was fun and unique and it fit how I wanted to express my art at the time. Over the years I tried to change and develop my style but with animation (at the time), it was a little hard to maintain the same look for hundreds of frames. I think with comics there’s a little more room for artistic development. Eventually your art becomes your signature and people will recognize it’s yours. Sometimes a job will request work based on a specific illustration I did in the past. Like with My Cage, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try something different but the editor specifically wanted an anime style for the strip. We went back and forth with designs and that’s how Norm got his crazy hair. Half bald and half spiky anime hair. When working on my own projects I take into account what format I’m going to work in; the best way to tell my story, whether it be traditional, digital, comics, or animation. I then decide what style will work best; something colorful and cartoony for a younger audience or something more serious drawn in black and white.

BC: Can you talk about the process for working with Ed? How do the two of you go from idea to finished strip, and do you always agree as to what works and what doesn’t? How is this different from doing your own works from scratch?
MD: With Ed, he writes a script. Every once in a while he’ll make a note if the character is doing something specific in a panel. All other times, I have the freedom to illustrate how the panels look. Sometimes I draw the characters doing something in the background or while they talk to each other. I think it helps add my signature to the strip.

BC: What’s the easiest and hardest parts about working on My Cage, and SvD?
MD: The easiest thing about working on My Cage is probably the repetition. Drawing the same characters and locations over and over again becomes easy and takes less time to draw. The hardest thing about My Cage is referencing specific characters or drawing celebrities as anthro characters. That becomes time consuming. SvD is the same. Drawing new characters, even if I designed them, I still need to reference them until I remember every detail. Consistency is important. Oh, and drawing groups of characters, that’s always a pain. Haha.


(from Santa versus Dracula)

BC: If you were to go back and start SvD from scratch, is there anything you’d change?
MD: I drew a few pages out of sequence, I wish I could go back and change them a bit, maybe some backgrounds too. But anything else I’d change? No, not really. I might have been more aggressive about getting the word out there but I’m pretty happy with it overall.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
MD: For My Cage? Silence.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
MD: I have many favorite artists and writers. My husband is a personal favorite of mine. Yes, I’m being biased but his art has always been a motivation and inspiration for me. When we’re drawing together, I’ll look over and think “Hmm, he drew that better than me. Let me try and draw it better.” Ha ha. In all honesty though, it’s not a competition as much as I like his vision or portrayal of something more than my own. It motivates me to try harder and explore my skills more.


(from Vampire Zombies in Space)

MD: But as an artist you’re always looking for new inspiration, whether it be new talent or old masters. Like anything else, your tastes change over the years and you find new favorites, so I try to find inspiration from everywhere. Yes, I have met and known a few artists and writers, and no, I don’t have dirt on them. I only have nice things to say.

BC: Do you follow any other strips right now?
MD: I don’t follow any comic strips right now. When you’re constantly working it’s hard to follow things. I always come across comics and animations though. When I do, I try to absorb as much as possible before I have to put it down again. I did recently read 6 volumes of Last Man, a French comic, and saw an animated short on youtube called I, Pet Goat II.


(from Sokora Refugees)

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
MD: Art always catches my attention first, but I do look for good writing and good storytelling. Unique content and subject matter will grab my attention, too. When I have time, I try to give everything a chance. Many times I pass up things I’m not interested in at first glance but end up really liking later.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
MD: The storytelling, writing and pacing. Without it, you have pretty pictures that make no sense. I mean, you can have pretty pictures perfectly drawn with no words, but if you can tell a story sequentially without words, then I’m impressed.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
MD: We used Kickstarter for Santa versus Dracula. It helped a lot at the time. We’re currently using Patreon for the new My Cage comic strips as well.


(from Sokora Refugees)

BC: How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning?
MD: I love drawing, and I love creating things. I could do it forever but I have bills and debt just like everyone else. We all need money to live and any artist would love to live off their craft. Sometimes an artist’s creative output doesn’t equal the income they need or deserve. Crowdfunding sites are giving creative people a chance to work on their craft and make it available to everyone. I really appreciate the opportunity they provide but I also have to thank the fans that understand this and help support the creative talent out there.

BC: Do you want to plug your site?
MD: Okay! Patreon.com/mycage
SketchyPair.com
Santavsdracula.com

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
MD: I don’t have any scheduled appearances at cons at the moment but I will be attending PAX. I’m focusing on a handful of projects right now and they need to be completed before I start showing my face again.


(example digital sketch)

BC: Anything else you want to expound upon?
MD: I find it interesting that fans of Sokora are not necessarily fans of My Cage and fans of My Cage aren’t necessarily fans of Santa versus Dracula. My fans over the years don’t follow every project I do. Either they don’t realize I’ve moved onto something completely different or they’re not interested in it. In the past, I’ve shown my youngest students my various artworks; some children will say one thing is ugly and the other really cute. I keep trying new things all the time and never really settled on anything. It’s hard to keep an audience like that. In the last few years I had to take a step back and really think what I was going to stick with. Hopefully the projects I’m working on now will reflect a little of everything about me and what I can do.

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


Poll: Who would win in a fair fight – Santa or Dracula?

 

Georgia Dunn interview

I like cats. I had three young cats living with me at one point, and they were some of the smartest, trickiest creatures I’ve ever met (one loved to play fetch with a rabbit’s foot keychain, another enjoyed tapping people on the shoulder from behind and then running away before the victim could turn around to see what was behind them, and both had figured out how to open doors). So, I have been eagerly following Breaking Cat News because I can easily see exactly this kind of thing happening with the three cats I knew, although my three would have been more likely to run an underground pirate radio station. Georgia?

BC: Who are you?
GD: I’m Georgia Dunn, the cartoonist behind ‘Breaking Cat News.’ I like to think of myself as the head of the world’s most adorable media network.


(from Breaking Cat News)

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
GD: I was born and raised in a small town by the sea in Rhode Island. It was filled with forests and I spent a lot of my childhood playing in the woods and writing stories. I loved comics, and read them voraciously. I have a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Rhode Island. These days I live outside of Seattle, WA, with my husband, our three year-old son, one year-old daughter, and three cats. During the day I’m home with our children, and at night I work on Breaking Cat News.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
GD: My background was originally in illustrating, but I’ve been working on one comic strip or another since I was a kid. I was always trying to break into illustrating children’s books and slowly comics took over, which has been a pretty terrific turn of events. A lot of readers often comment that the art in BCN looks like the pages of a storybook, and that’s not far from the truth. So… A little bit of an illustrator, a little bit of a cartoonist, and a little bit of a writer, too. The writing part is crucial, I don’t think my strip would be the same if I hadn’t spent a lot of years churning out stories.


(from Swan Eaters)

BC: How did you get your start as an illustooner?
GD: I started writing stories with a group of friends in sixth grade, and that took over the rest of my life pretty quick. High school turned into trying to get into the best English classes I could and doubling up on extra art classes instead of having study hall breaks. College started off with me getting into the URI journalism program (ironic, right?) for writing, and then switching to art and illustrating by the end of my freshman year. From middle school, to high school, to college, and beyond, my nightly schedule has been fairly consistent. I begin working on whatever current project I have on my plate around 7 pm and wrap up work around 1-2am. Sometimes it is writing, sometimes it’s painting, or an outline, maybe a series of jokes–the work changes and it stays interesting, thankfully! Since having children, I’ve tried to roll my bedtime back to 11:30-midnight, with mixed results. I’m incredibly lucky that both of my little kiddos are good sleepers and my husband supports my work and gets up with the kids at night when I am against deadlines.


(from Breaking Cat News)

BC: How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
GD: My first webcomic ‘The Quote Book’ started in 2007, and my second comic ‘Swan Eaters’ came along in 2011. Neither was very successful, but they each earned a small loyal following. When ‘Breaking Cat News’ began in 2014, readers from both of these comics immediately shared the first few strips. They tweeted, they posted on Reddit. ThinkGeek ended up retweeting the BCN strip about bacon, and my editor at GoComics found BCN on Reddit. These were huge breaks for me, and I’m very grateful to the people who have followed my work all these years and took the time to share it with others. Getting syndicated at GoComics in October, 2014, was the biggest break I’ve had so far. They offered me a development deal with newspapers and a book deal shortly after. They have been incredibly helpful; they made a lot of good things happen very quickly. I worked mostly alone at night–every night–for about 20 years, and once ‘Breaking Cat News’ began to take off, so many things fell into place. Syndication was a big part of that.

BC: What led up to your starting Breaking Cat News, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
GD: Total disaster, haha! My husband lost his job, we had to sell our house, we were preparing to move 3,000 miles back to our hometown to start over, and one night in the middle of the whole mess our cat Lupin knocked everything off a shelf. When our cats Elvis and Puck rushed over to tell us/supervise the clean up in that way that cats do, I started cracking jokes that they were old timey reporters. It was the worst possible time to start a new webcomic, but the more I shared sketches of the jokes, the more people responded positively. It felt like a really fun idea, and I couldn’t stop coming up with headlines. I checked if the domain name was available, and I let that make the decision for me. It was, so despite all the upheaval going on in our lives, I was just honest with readers and put the comic on pause whenever we had to move, as we chased work back and forth across the country for a couple of years. Now, recently, we’re back in Washington and things are more stable, thank goodness.

GD: I always have a few projects simmering on the back burner. I’d love to go back and wrap up my web comic ‘Swan Eaters’ one day. It was about witches and monsters and a traveling gypsy family in the 1940s, and it paused on a cliff hanger when my son was born in 2013. A friend and I have been drafting a children’s book this year. And my husband, our friends, and I staged a Halloween-themed video game marathon in 2012 and 2013 to raise money for cancer research, and we’re working to bring it back in 2017. It’s called Nightmarathon.


(from Breaking Cat News)

BC: Which of your works are you most proud of?
GD: Breaking Cat News, without a doubt. It’s not easy to write all-ages humor, and I try very hard to make the comic genuinely, unexpectedly laugh out-loud funny. I want children and old people to love it. I want your cheery co-worker and your most cynical friend from college to love it. And it’s a very warm, positive comic. I’m happy that of everything I’ve worked on, this is the thing that caught on. When I think about working on it for years to come, I can’t wait. It’s a lot of fun to write and it’s forced me to focus on good things and find humor during bad times, whatever is happening in the world or in my life, and that’s a good job to have.

BC: BCN is in re-runs on GoComics now. Is that going to change in the future with new strips? What can we expect in terms of new storylines?
GD: We’re still working on what that will look like, but right now we’re thinking that we’re going to leave the web archives up on GoComics and the original site, with new strips beginning around the newspaper launch in March. Readers have been so patient, and I hate to say there won’t be new strips until March, but it really helps me to build a backlog behind the scenes. I never had that before, I was painting 95% of the strips the night before and scrambling to post them in the middle of the night. So, the wait until March will really be helpful to ensure BCN continues strong… Plus, I may have a couple of surprises planned before then, too…


(from Breaking Cat News)

GD: In terms of new storylines, we’ll be expanding the world a bit from the beginning. I have a chance to go back and add things I wanted before that somehow did not happen. For example, I always meant for the vacuum and the mysterious red dot to be more of villains, but the strips got away from me and I wasn’t able to establish them as repeat characters as much as I wanted. We’ll be introducing the comic to new readers, and so in the beginning there will be a lot of strips we revisit. The art is updated and in a few places I’ve elaborated. For instance, in the first six weeks of the newspaper strips readers will see the first time any of the cats spotted Tommy in the backyard. We started off in another apartment in the original comic, and we do this time, too. Readers will be there when the Man and the Woman find out they got the apartment in “The Big Pink House,” and I’m hoping the move will have more meaning for long-time readers this time around. New folks will have the strips about box forts and riding in the car, and long-time readers will have strips describing the setting a little more. The Big Pink House has become a character in its own way, and long-time readers will see more of it in the beginning than I gave them before. That’s a good example of how the comic will come together at first. As we continue, there will be a visit to the BCN archives to see Lupin’s job interview with the station when he first started out. We’ll learn more about Sir Figaro Newton (who really, readers don’t know a lot about yet, even after all this time) and I hope to go into Natasha’s history and how she came to be in the Robber Mice gang. She hinted this summer that “her mice are not of these fields,” and that’s very true. As well as hard-hitting investigative reports about milk cap rings, sun prisms, bathroom countertops, and Elvis’ new nemesis–the Moon.


(from Breaking Cat News)

BC: Where can readers find your book?
GD: In many bookstores across the country, particularly Barnes & Noble on the humor shelf, and on Amazon and Indiebound.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next headline?
GD: If people see me out on the streets, I look like a crazy person. I’m one of those people who is usually muttering and laughing to myself. I approach 80% of the strips by just bouncing dialogue around in my head and imagining the characters talking to each other. When a line strikes me, I scribble it down or I type it into my phone. If a strip or storyline is action heavy vs talking, I let my mind wander while listening to music. Playing pretend is a big part of my writing/drawing process; I’m usually thinking of the characters reacting to things. And of course, it helps that the characters are all based on real cats and I can observe new stories and headlines play out in real life, too.

BC: In what media?
GD: I work in ink and watercolor on paper and then scan my work.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be/sound like?
GD: A lot of classic rock, probably, cut with the usual nightly news sounds and jingles. The Robber Mice causing trouble to ‘Thin Lizzy’, Elvis angrily investigating an empty food bowl to The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ Tommy running through the backyard to ELO, Lupin adventuring under the cabinets to ‘Queen’ and ‘Frank Zappa’, Puck climbing a laundry pile to David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, etc.


(from Breaking Cat News)

GD: I write a lot of the BCN specials to music. This summer I wrote a special about the Robber Mice and an old owl, and most of the special was written while listening to Peter Gabriel’s ‘San Jacinto’ and Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ over and over. A lot of the characters or their relationships to each other have songs in my head. Kit Chase, the star of the cat soap opera in the comic, is written to a lot of Childish Gambino tracks. ‘Watch Me Impress You’ by Hot Dad is a song I listen to when I write Tommy and Sophie storylines, because he is so happy and so hopeful to win her friendship whatever apathy she throws his way. Music is a huge part of writing for me.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
GD: It’s hard to narrow it down… Bill Watterson, Gary Larson, Sam Kieth, Tony DiTerlizzi, Jim Henson, and Frank Frazetta for sure. And James Howe (as I pulled on my Bunnicula tee-shirt this morning, I realized he is definitely up there too). I’ve never met any of them (sadly two obviously have passed on) but I sent Tony DiTerlizzi a letter once when I was right out of college and experiencing a lot of rejection from publishers. It was sort of a “do you have any advice for young illustrators?” kind of letter, I think I sounded a little sad writing it because he wrote me back a very warm, encouraging reply. I still have it. I’ve read that Gary Larson lives in Washington, too, and I’m always hoping we’ll somehow run into each other randomly. Like, I’ll come around an aisle at the grocery store covered in cats and see a man dressed like a cow wheeling a shopping cart full of bugs. …That’s pretty close to what I hope for, really.


(from Swan Eaters)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
GD: I enjoy Nedroid, Poorly Drawn Lines, Perry Bible Fellowship, Sarah’s Scribbles, Catbeard the Pirate (Matt Nelson just invited me to write the intro for his first book, actually!) and Phoebe and Her Unicorn! My kids are pretty crazy for Phoebe and Her Unicorn, too, which is kind of extra amazing because Dana and I met this summer and she’s become a fast friend and great comfort as I’ve been getting BCN ready for papers. She gets what I’ve been going through and can offer me insight and kind words. She is just as magical in real life as you would hope Marigold’s creator would be!

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
GD: It depends, but if the humor sort of catches you completely off-guard or has an unusual pacing, that seems to strike my fancy a lot. And then with some comics like ‘Calvin and Hobbes’, ‘Cul de Sac,’ ‘Foxtrot,’ or ‘Phoebe and her Unicorn,’ it’s very much the characters and watching how they interact with one another. A great comic feels like visiting an old friend.

BC: I’ve asked a couple other artists about Cul de Sac before. Richard Thompson seems to be a very polarizing artist. Readers either hate him or love him. What attracts you to his strips?
GD: I’m in the love category. I’m new to his work, admittedly. My editor, who also happened to be his editor, introduced me to his work a couple of years back. For someone who works in inks and watercolors it was love at first sight. His line work, the energy in his sketches, and the warmth in his storylines and dialogue are all amazing. One of the unexpected perks of working with GoComics–and really, my editor–is that I’ve been lucky enough to be introduced to some of my comics heroes. I’ve met Nick Galifianakis, Bill Amend, and Dana Simpson and they have all been terrifically kind and welcoming to a new cartoonist, and answered my questions and given me advice. And thinking of that, I will always be saddened that I did not have a chance to somehow meet Richard, from what I hear he was as amazing as his work.


(from Swan Eaters)

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
GD: Characters draw me in the most, but the cartoonist’s personality interests me a lot, too. I think the best comics reflect the person working on them. It’s a really intimate medium; you’re doing your best to show someone what you are thinking as it plays out in your head and relying on their imagination to follow your cues. However sophisticated it gets, I think the best comics always still very much feel like they started in a notebook somewhere, be it paper or laptop.

BC: If you went back and started BCN over again, is there anything you’d want to change? Any advice you’d give yourself?
GD: It’s tough to say… It all took off so fast, and I was lucky to have it get as popular as it did when it did. So, I hesitate to wish I could have changed the timing–but if I could have known, say, a year in advance, I would have loved a backlog or a buffer of maybe six months of strips. I had that with ‘The Quote Book’ and ‘Swan Eaters,’ and ‘Breaking Cat News’ just rocketed out of nowhere and there was no time to prepare a buffer, especially with two tiny kids. The advice I’d give myself came later from Dana, and that was to let negative comments online fall away and give the good ones more weight.


(from Breaking Cat News)

BC: How close are the personalities of the BCN cast to that of their real-world inspirations?
GD: Very close! That helps me when writing them, because if I get stuck I can try to imagine how the real cat would actually react in a similar situation. I get asked a lot if Elvis really is that intense, and any of our house guests can tell you… Yes. Tabitha is a bit more of a sweetheart in real life. I mixed her personality with a couple of Alpha females I had as a child. And readers may be bummed to know that Puck is a little more rough and tumble in real life–he is a sensitive, sweet kitty, but he is the first to defend our home from any outsiders (spiders, flies, etc). Although, that comes out in the comic sometimes when he is the first to fight the electric razor to save the Man, so maybe they already sensed that….

GD: Tommy is even nicer in real life. Tommy is an outstanding cat. Though, in real life–and anyone who has seen a photo of him knows this–he looks a lot like an angry owl! Ha!! He is a total sweetie puff, though.


(from Breaking Cat News)

BC: Do you really have a Mexican cat crew living above you? Do they really have better production values than the BCN guys?
GD: Tabitha and Figaro are a mix of fact and fiction! The truth: They really did live in the Big Pink House (which is a real house in Rhode Island) in another apartment. They are good buddies, and awesome cats. Tabitha is clever and loves to drink cereal milk. Figaro is very friendly (he made our son’s day by gently head butting him once, ha!) he is incredibly sweet. The fiction: They lived below us, in real life Elvis, Puck, and Lupin were the ceiling cats. And their household is not Mexican in real life. For some time I had wanted to create a rival Spanish channel with a very capable lead lady anchor. I wanted it to be kind of like when you’re flipping through channels and happening upon another broadcast in a different language. They would sometimes be reporting on the same story, but from slightly different perspectives. When my friend moved into the apartment building and brought Tabitha and Figaro, I asked her if she would mind me basing a couple of BCN characters on her kitties, and she was kind enough to let me. When you see the Gatos de Noticias news crew and their People in the comic, my reasoning is that Tabitha and Figaro are two Spanish-speaking kitties who have been adopted by English-speaking People. They’re a blended family in the comic, and Tabitha is the only one in the household who understands everyone. The GN news team is meant to have nicer production values in part because Tabitha is very detail-oriented and one way I can show that to the reader at a glance is for their station to be managed just a little bit better. She is definitely making sure things run smooth and possibly taking on a little too much, but while Elvis would melt down under stress, Tabitha thrives on it.

BC: Who is running the cameras when all three cats are in front of the lens?
GD: Until Burt, the boys just have cameras running on self-timers, and the production value is pretty low at CN News. Once Burt comes into the story (and I’ve seen a reader refer to older strips as “BB–before Burt–strips,” and this is an excellent way to think of it) the station quality overall really improves. This was a way for me to explain why I was getting better at making the stories look more “news-y” and why things were starting to look better overall. Originally, I tried to write BCN like three cats inside an apartment who are secretly broadcasting news online–through the actual BCN website to the “viewers” who are of course, the readers. There’s an element of playing pretend for all of us; me writing it and viewers ‘watching’ it, or at least, that’s what I hoped for. Things sometimes went wrong on purpose; the teleprompter was an old model that only picked up vocals but didn’t explain tone and so Lupin (who is deaf) is occasionally left out of the loop, as the cricket strip finally explained. An unspoken piece to this is that my husband (the Man) is a video editor in real life; that’s his career. And so we often have weird old pieces of AV equipment around that he is in the middle of refurbishing (a hobby of his). We have a green screen kit. We have multiple microphones and a simple sound board. These are things the cats are really around a lot, and so I didn’t have to stretch my imagination much to think that when we weren’t paying attention they were live-streaming the news to cats all over the world.

GD: And readers ask all the time who “Camera One” is, and that will be revealed in the new strips at some point.


(from Breaking Cat News)

BC: Is it true that one of the cats is missing a leg? Is this ever going to turn into a Breaking Story itself?
GD: Yes, Puck is missing his hind foot. I debate going into it too much in the comic; in real life it is a sad-but-awesome story. Basically there were two neighbors; one (neighbor A) had a litter of kittens in their backyard and one (neighbor B) would sometimes watch the kittens play over their fence. One day, neighbor B noticed that one of them was terribly injured (the theory from our vet is that a predator bird attacked him). They waited for neighbor A to take the kitten to the vet, but it became clear they had decided to “let nature take its course” and were doing nothing to help the injured kitten. When neighbor B checked again a day or so later, the kitten was laying in the grass, not moving. And so neighbor B catnapped the kitten and took him to the vet. Puck’s leg was half torn off, and from the neglect an infection had spread. His leg had to be amputated to the hip. A shelter here in Washington called ‘Purrfect Pals’ has a special fund for cats in need of surgery, and they saved him. He recovered with a loving foster Mom named Sue and we were lucky enough to adopt him when he was 12 weeks old. Now–that’s a pretty great story about someone stepping in to do the right thing, and that’s why I try to tell it as often as I can… but I’m not sure if it will ever make its way into the comic. Maybe as a special report about bringing animals to receive vet care. It would be a hard thing to write, I think about drawing baby Puck laying in the grass and I pretty much never want to stop crying. I won’t say never though. In the comic, I may possibly find a different explanation for Puck’s leg, too; you never know.

BC: Some of the stories have revolved around cat rescues. Is this something you’re active in yourself?
GD: In so much that I try to encourage folks to adopt from shelters, and to give thought to adopting older cats, black cats, and cats with special needs in particular. I wrote a special report on this, which can be found on the original BCN site here, and there’s a poster of it over on Topataco. My husband and I have dreams of adopting an older kitty or two every few years to live their lives out in spoiled comfort, one day when we own a house and know we will not be moving for a long time. Puck and Lupin were both rescues and special needs kitties, (Puck with his missing foot and Lupin is deaf) and they’re awesome cats. Tommy’s real life Woman works with animal shelters as a manager, and I hate to say the amazing shelter she was working with recently had to close due to lack of funding. If you’re in the Massachusetts or Rhode Island area and you are looking to hire the best dang animal shelter manager ever, she’s looking for her next place to work her magic!


(from Breaking Cat News)

BC: How did you come about obtaining your three real-world cats? Are there any stories behind that, or anything the three cats have done in real-life that make for good stories?
GD: Elvis was adopted from a man in Massachusetts, and a friend of mine owns his very mellow brother, Merlin, and his very clever sister, Hazel. From the start, he was an intense cat. My sister and I were told he bit most of the other people who came to look at the kittens. Yet, when I picked him up, he touched my face, settled onto my chest, and fell asleep with a relieved sigh. I’ve had him since. He dislikes most people (it took my husband about a year to fully win him over) but somehow he is very loyal to me, which I am thankful for and humbled by. I like to say, “he’s a great cat, if you’re me.” He is endlessly patient and very good with our children, too, which was a pleasant surprise. Puck and Lupin were both rescues from Purrfect Pals in Washington state. They both had rough starts, and yet they’re tremendously friendly, sweet cats. Lupin was found by a realtor with his siblings locked in a closet in an empty apartment. They were all only a few weeks old. From the conditions, Lupin had a fever that cost him the tip of his tail and his hearing. (While many white cats are born deaf, Lupin has green eyes, not blue, and all of his siblings could hear. So it is believed by our vet that he lost his hearing from this terrible fever, rather than it being genetic). He survived, thanks to the love and care from his foster Mom Ruth, and we adopted him when he was about 10-12 weeks old. Before we adopted him, Lupin participated in a program at the shelter where he went out to area schools and events to raise awareness about adoption, and we credit his SUPER outgoing, travel-loving personality to this. He greets every house guest, handy man, and mail carrier as a life long friend. It’s a big reason why he is the anchor cat on BCN.


(from Swan Eaters)

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning? Do you want to plug your site?
GD: We’re working on a Patreon right now, actually, this week! Readers have been requesting one almost daily for the last six months, I’m grateful that they’ve been patient! I have not used Kickstarter yet, but sometimes I think maybe I will one day if I ever want to possibly fund plushies, fancier prints, etc. I think they’re terrific for webcartooning. The more that someone can get their work out to the world and in front of an audience, the better. I really think there is an audience for everyone, the tricky bit is just to find them. That’s one of the nicest things about the online world; however odd you think you may be, there are a bunch of awesome people ready to embrace your oddness. I didn’t think my job would one day be writing the daily broadcasts of a cat news station. I’m so happy this is something people wanted, because it’s so much fun to create. And the audience for something like that is everything. Patreon and Kickstarter connect a creator and an audience and give everyone a chance to be a part of creating the work. It’s awesome.


(from Breaking Cat News)

GD: And sure! My site is breakingcatnews.com, but it has been crashing a lot lately, sadly. It’s easier to see the comic on GoComics, so that link might work better!

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
GD: We only moved back to Washington in August, so I have been laying low for a bit and helping my kiddos and the cats adjust. I would love to start scheduling some appearances soon though; I enjoyed the ones I made in California this summer.


(from Breaking Cat News)

BC: If Elvis, Puck and Lupin got into a karaoke contest, who would win?
GD: Lupin, paws down. He is a VERY loud cat, and he loves to serenade us in the middle of the night. His personality is really outgoing and entertaining, too; he would work the crowd. Puck might come in a close second, he has a sweet sing-songy meow, especially if food is up for grabs. Poor Elvis would probably get a hot mic; he has a very strange, raspy not-quite-an-actual-meow-more-like-a-yell meow.

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


Poll: Do you have a cat news network in your home?

 

Harley Schwadron interview

I like business and financial cartoons. I’ve worked in the offices of a number of companies, both big and small, and I’ve witnessed a number of situations where management seemed to be out of their depth, and tried to cover that up in different ways. Business cartoons often reveal these mess-ups in glaring, hilarious detail. One cartoonist that’s been at this for a while is Harley Schwadron, creator of 9 to 5 on GoComics. He sent me his biog, which I’m taking the liberty of changing to “first person.”

BC: Harley, can you tell us about yourself?
HS: I draw cartoons for many publications, large and small, and I specialize in business and topical cartoons. My daily “9 to 5” business panel is syndicated by Tribune Content Agency, and my freelance cartoons appear in Barrons, Wall Street Journal, AARP Bulletin, Readers Digest, Harvard Business Review, Prospect, the Oldie, and many others.

HS: I’m based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but I previously worked as a reporter for the Hartford Times in Connecticut, as a weekly newspaper editor in Michigan, and for many years as an editor at University of Michigan News Service in Ann Arbor. While working at the university, I began freelancing cartoons to many publications and had most luck with business cartoons. When I left the U-M I had time to begin a syndicated panel. Originally titled ‘Big Biz‘, my business panel was first distributed by a small syndicate, Davey Associates. It was picked up by Los Angeles Times Syndicate in 1994 and since 2001 has been with Tribune Content Agency. Having done business cartoons for many years, it is easy for me to come up with ideas in this area. I also have a group of characters who appear in the strip.


(from 9 to 5)

HS: I also supply topical and investment cartoons directly to several newspapers, including business publications, as well as investment newsletters. They have appeared in many cartoon collections, including Punch Magazine diaries, “Barrons Book of Cartoons,” “Wall Street Journal Portfolio of Business Cartoons“, “Best Cartoons from the National Business Employment Weekly“, several Readers Digest “Laughter is the Best Medicine” collections, and many more.

HS: I have illustrated many books, including “101 President Jokes” (Scholastic), “l0l Cat and Dog Jokes” (Scholastic), “No Husband Should Be Without A Wife” (with humorist Dick Emmons), “The Money is the Gravy: Finding a Career that Nourishes You” (Times Warner), “Win By Not Losing” (with Dean Harman), two investment books with Edelman Financial Services, and many others.


(from 9 to 5)

BC: Are there any other cartoonists you like?
HS: I admire all cartoonists who can stick it out in this ruthlessly competitive field.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper?
HS: I am low tech. I use India ink on paper, and sometimes gray watercolor wash. For color I use watercolors. I scan both color and black and white cartoons for emailing.


(from 9 to 5)

BC: You are very well-versed in business, management and investment practices. What kind of research do you do before tackling a new business topic?
HS: I have done business and investment cartoons for many years, so I guess I have picked up a lot of information. I also read business newspapers and magazines regularly to follow business events and the stock market.

BC: Obviously, you’ve seen various business fads come and go. What fads have you seen?
HS: Cartoons on the Federal Reserve always seem humorous. When Greenspan, Bernanke, and Yellen were chairpersons of the Fed, I had done many cartoons on them. Government dysfunction is a good topic, as well as taxes and budget deficits. When Bill Clinton was President, there was a budget surplus— a good topic for cartoons.


(from 9 to 5)

BC: What factor(s) would you attribute to your longevity as a business cartoonist?
HS: In the cartoon business, perseverance seems to be the important thing. And I really enjoy doing business cartoons.

BC: Have you received any push-back from business or investment executives that were offended by a specific panel or group of panels?
HS: If a cartoon is offensive, probably an editor wouldn’t buy it. I’ve done a lot of cartoons for Wall street Journal and sold the original art to many government officials, so I think some people have enjoyed my cartoons over the years.

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


Poll: Do you follow any business or investment cartoons?

 

Laurie Triefeldt interview

Even as an adult, I like glancing over the children’s activities sections in the newspapers. In part because I may pick up new vocabulary that I can use in my English teaching, partly because I just like to learn new things (which also helps in teaching English to Japanese adults), and a lot because I like word games and things like sudoku. About one year ago, I found World of Wonder on GoComics, and I’ve slowly been working my way through the archives. These are great introductions to a wide variety of different topics, and can be just as entertaining to adults as to children. The illustrations accompanying the information in the topics are clean and easy to understand visually, even as page space shrinks in the newspapers. Laurie?

BC: Who are you?
LT: Laurie Triefeldt, Creator of the Sunday Educational Feature ‘World of Wonder’. World of Wonder is a fun educational feature created for newspapers and enjoyed by kids of all ages. Since 1999, WOW has run in more than 100 papers.


(World of Wonder for Aug. 14, 2016)

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
LT: I was born and educated in Canada.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
LT: I consider myself to be an illustrator, designer, researcher, writer, author and crazy cat lady. I am not a cartoonist, but I hang out with plenty of them, and cartoonists seem to accept me as one of their own – I think this is because I draw my feature and it runs on Sundays. Another thing I have in common with the cartoonists – I have strict deadlines and it’s lonely work.

BC: How did you get your start as a crazy research illustrator?
LT: I have been drawing since I was a little kid. My mother bought me a chalk board, because she couldn’t afford to keep me in the amount of paper I would go through.

LT: I began a career in newspaper at the Windsor Star in Canada. I was an artist in the classified department, was promoted to retail advertising artist and eventually to editorial art director. I loved editorial work, and telling stories with pictures was exactly what I enjoyed most. After creating a illustrated time line on a grizzly murder I was hooked.

BC: How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
LT: I enjoyed a newspaper career for about 20 years, until 2008 when the economy tanked. World of Wonder has been syndicated for 16 years and I recently renewed my syndication contract, so we can look forward to a few more years yet.

BC: What led up to your starting World of Wonder, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
LT: Way back… when I was an Art Director and Graphic Artist at the Courier Post in Cherry Hill (c1990) I was wishing for a way that I could draw more cool things than maps and icons. I knew I had to have a sellable niche and thought that an Education Page might be just the thing. I was able to sell the idea to my editors and the paper began to run a weekly Educational Feature called ‘BrainStorm’. BrainStorm was a hit with readers of all ages and regularly brought the paper additional ad revenue. However when I joined the Courier Post I signed an agreement that all properties I created belonged to them. When I went to work with Gannett News Service in Arlington, Va., I was not allowed to bring BrainStorm with me. (Boo-Hiss)

LT: So I created a new Educational Feature called ‘World of Wonder’. (Yaaa!) For a year, I made the page weekly and tried to self-syndicate with little success. When asked who else was running the feature, I was able to tell ‘WoW’s’ first paper (The Springfield Union News) that at the moment… ‘they had an exclusive’. (LOL)

LT: Friends and family began to question my sanity… Why was I working so hard on something that was not selling… They started to tease me, nicknaming my feature “World of Blunder“. (Big meanies.) But I was not to be deterred and was convinced WoW was a great feature.

LT: The big break came when I went to work for the Star-Ledger in Newark, NJ. Lisa Klem Wilson, VP of the United Media syndicate was visiting the Star-Ledger office one day, saw the WoW page and loved it. She invited me to a meeting in NY later that week and I signed a very long (and cruel) contract. Suddenly WoW was running in about 100 newspapers around the world. United Media syndicated the page for about 10 years and then passed the feature (and its contract) onto Universal Uclick. I recently signed a much kinder contract with Universal Uclick. (Thank you guys!)

BC: Which of your works are you most proud of?
LT: I am probably most proud of my National Cartoonist Society – best of – illustration award. It means a lot to have your peers judge your work to be great. I also get a hoot that World of Wonder has been published in Macau for many years (the gambling mecca near Hong Kong – what’s with that!)

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
LT: There are 3 World of Wonder printed books out there. One was published by The Star Ledger and Kean University and is called World of Wonder – this book is rare and hard to come by, it was a small edition, mostly available only in NJ. Plants and Animals, and People and Places by Quill Driver Press are World of Wonder compilations. I think you can still order them on Amazon.

LT: I also have 2 coloring books just out. The Elegant Tea Party and Boudoirs by Quill Driver Press. These books are definitely available from bookstores, gift shops and Amazon. (They make Great Gifts, Everybody!)

LT: People can find my work at Facebook, GoComics, and my website.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next WoW?
LT: I usually make the entire WoW topic list for the year ahead of time. I choose topics based on reader requests, teacher requests and curriculum, and my own interests. My nephews like to play a game where they try to think of a topic that World of Wonder has not covered… It’s not as easy as it sounds… I have covered more than 700 topics, but sometimes they come up with some great unique ideas. And because I have been making WoW for so long, I can revisit topics with fresh facts for another generation. I love it when readers ask me for a topic and I can accommodate them. Just this year a reader asked for a page on the Ninja…. I had never done one and it was great fun.

LT: One of the biggest considerations a WoW topic has to take into account is how visual is it. Every now and then I find myself struggling with a topic. I once did a page on sound… which did not lend itself easily to visuals. I also try to keep WoW happy and upbeat, I rarely approach topics that are sad or may be distressing to young readers. The feature is called World of Wonder after all.


(World of Wonder for Jan. 10, 2016)

BC: Have you done Wow pages on the National Cartoonist Society, the illustration award, the city of Macau or on gambling?
LT: No, I have never done a WoW page on the National Cartoonist Society (wouldn’t know where to start). No, I have never done a WoW page on the NCS illustration award (not much good at blowing my own horn). And… No, I have never done a WoW page on the city of Macau or on gambling. I don’t think gambling would be a very good topic for my younger readers – I wouldn’t want to encourage potentially bad behavior. I have however done a page on Hong Kong, billiards, cards and chess (those topics are kind of close).

BC: Are there differences in how you approach the drawings for the coloring books compared to WoW? Do you think the work you’ve done on WoW had an influence (positive or negative) on the pictures for the coloring books? Why do you think adult coloring books are so popular now, and does it tie in to your own emotional responses as an illustrator?
LT: My black and white coloring book art is probably heavily influenced by years of creating line art for WoW. Although WoW art is created in color, it does rely on clean outlines. The coloring book art reflects a love of detail and design that is also present in World of Wonder illustration.

LT: I think coloring books are so popular now because people have given themselves permission to get lost in a hobby that allows them to relax and make creative decisions. They have discovered that playing with colors is fun, it is not difficult and the final artwork can be very beautiful. For many, coloring allows them to achieve a Zen-like meditative state. I know that when I draw, hours can go by in what seems like minutes, while I happily focus on the drawing at hand.

BC: Do you have a tracking system for WoW? When your nephews try to pick a new topic, how long does it take to determine if it is new?
LT: I do have all the years, topics, and dates recorded and I update the list annually. However, I usually remember making a page, although not necessarily when I made it. So when a nephew asks have I done a page on tulips, I can respond no, but I have done a page on the poetic language of flowers and on wildflowers, and on poisonous plants, and on carnivorous plants, and on trees. (You get the idea).

LT: However, when Universal Uclick asks have I done a page on South America and when… I can tell them I have done several South American countries, but not the continent itself. I would have to look up the dates.

BC: Do you have any WoW horror stories?
LT: There was a time when I was a good six months ahead of my deadlines (because I had been making WoW for so long before syndication). Then, one night, working late, and overly tired…. I managed to delete all of my finished, unpublished World of Wonder pages… They were irretrievable and I was heartbroken. I have been working pretty much on deadline ever since. (Sigh.)

LT: I also lost a few finished and published pages while I was transferring files to secondary drives during a job change. Something went wrong and quite a few pages did not make it into my archives. I like to think that the syndicate has copies of these, but it is possible that someone might ask for an old page and I would not be able to provide it. (So sad!)

BC: If readers want to locate a specific topic that you have covered, is there a way to do a search for it?
LT: Nope, if a reader wants a specific topic they will have to find me and ask. I am always impressed by readers who go out of their way to contact me for one reason or another. Some folks want to point out an error or to disagree with a statement. Others missed a topic and want a copy to share with a friend or loved one. I value my readers and will always take the time to listen to them and address any concern or request they might have.

BC: Could you walk us through the process of making a WoW page? Say I suggest a new topic that you decide to use, like “large array telescopes and the Hubble Deep Field Survey.” How would you do the research? Do you have knowledge experts you regularly go to? What do you use for informational and illustrative references? How do you ensure that the information is factually accurate? etc.
LT: In the old days, if I wanted to do a page on ‘large array telescopes’, I would have headed to the library. Today the Internet is the source of much of my material. I have a subscription to the Online World Book Encyclopedia, and that helps me double check a lot of facts. The Internet also provides photo references for many of my illustrations – I have to know what a Bermuda Blue Angelfish looks like before I can draw it. Sometimes, but not always, I will contact a specialist for a particular topic. For example, when I did the page on (WASPs) “Women’s Army Service Pilots” I was able to find a WWII member who was happy to provide details and help fact check. When I did a page on collecting sports cards, I contacted several sports card manufacturers for their assistance. Pages on the Red Cross, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts also required contacting those organizations for information and permission to use some images. United Media and Universal Uclick have editors that check for grammar and spelling, and fact checking. But despite our best efforts errors do occasionally find their way onto a WoW page. Usually it’s a reader who points out the problem, and then we correct the fact for future reference.

LT: The process: First I research the facts and decide what is most interesting or important about a topic (I condense topics into a page that entire books have been written about) then I write a bit, and research some art. This process repeats itself as I design the page around the facts and illustrations. I am often forced to edit out a lot of facts, but a finished illustration is rarely omitted (they take too much time and effort to be left off).


(World of Wonder for Jan. 10, 2016)

BC: If your strip had a sound track, what would it sound like?
LT: Mmmmm… A whale song maybe (UOOOHYYYHEE-OOOOOHHHUUUU)
I usually have the TV news on in the background when I work, it seems to keep me company.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
LT: As a member of the National Cartoonist Society I have the opportunity to meet and hang out with many cartoon greats. I have had drinks with Stan Lee (Spiderman), Patrick McDonald (Mutts), Lynn Johnson (for Better or Worse) and so many more it is impossible to list them all. (I dare not share any dirt, in case they in turn, share dirt on me… LOL)

LT: When I was little, my sister and I pretended we were the dynamic duo (Batman and Robin) for years. Imagine my excitement when I had the great fortune to meet Jerry Robinson, who played a large role in creating Robin and the Joker characters. Jerry grew up in Trenton, NJ, (where I live now). I had dinner with him several times and he was always great to hang with. He passed away a couple of years ago and I still think of him and miss him very much.

BC: Do you have any stories (non-dirt ones) about Jerry Robinson that you’d like to pass on to your readers?
LT: Jerry liked to talk about the old days in Trenton. His father owned several movie theaters, you know the gorgeous huge ones with lots of gilding.

LT: Additional thoughts:
It has been a great joy and incredibly rewarding to share my love of art and learning with curious minds of all ages.

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


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