Greg Cravens Interview

One of the nice things about the GoComics site is that they display other strips at random on the entry page. Occasionally, I’ll see a strip that I hadn’t been following, click on it, and get completely swept up by it. That’s what happened to me with Hubris. Suddenly, I’d found a comic whose main character likes a lot of the things I do – going outdoors, hiking, cycling, and rock climbing. Plus, he has his own equipment store, which I’m jealous about. The artwork is clean, the characters are easily recognizable, and the jokes are funny, and often downright hilarious. On the other hand, Hubris, his half-brother Paste, and his girl-friend Kara Biner, are all clumsy in their own ways, and when they take a spill, you have to cringe and say, “ooooh, that’s GOTTA sting.” Later on, I discovered that the artist, Greg Cravens, also draws and writes The Buckets (having taken the strip over from Scott Stantis). Since I live in Japan, and the English papers don’t run many of the American newspaper comics, I wasn’t able to read The Buckets until I found them on GoComics. I read them now, though. (Oh, and a Disclaimer: I show up in the pages of the Great Stanky Creek Snake Oil Outdoorfest. I’m the guy that never gets to climb the rock wall. See below.)

BC: Please introduce yourself.
GC: My phone answering message used to (and should again) start with “Hello, I’m Greg your cartoonist.” That says it all, really.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
GC: Eergh. Probably nothing that can’t be immediately understood after reading a couple of weeks of both my cartoons.  Husband, Father, Mortgage Payer, who would really, really like to be riding a bike or skating instead of most things that I actually do.  I’m from Tennessee, which doesn’t help because the image people have of Tennessee isn’t usually any more accurate than the image people have of any other time or place.  I might take a leaf out of Frank Buckets’ book and just say, “I’m from the 70’s”.  That’s probably more helpful.  My background is that I grew up comic-book and comic-strip obsessed.  It’s what I wanted to do for a living, and I had no idea I was staring down the barrel of a cartooning world that was about to break down and reassemble itself.

BC: What do you consider yourself as?
GC: Cartoonist. All the way.  When I first graduated, I entered a work environment where other freelancers in my area were actively denying they were cartoonists.  They insisted on being called ‘Illustrators’, because that was how things worked then.  So I had cards (and rolodex cards – remember those) made up with “Cartoonist” all over them.  I wanted the ad agencies to think of me first when cartoons came up.

BC: But…?
GC: Comic strips were a dear love of mine, and I didn’t want to spend my career not having broken into that field somehow.  Also, advertising cartoons don’t belong to you.  I’d been doing good work for years that all belonged  to companies here and there.  None of it was ‘mine’ to reproduce or carry on with or build on.  Unfortunately, I got into The Buckets as the field was faltering.  I got into Hubris because the Web seemed to be where the field was going and I didn’t want to miss out on that.  Having done both projects for years now, I miss the money and the constantly changing challenges of advertising cartoons – bright, shiny new projects every few days is very engaging, and the business part of it isn’t MY part, really.  Hubris is probably a better business than I’ve made it, and I think Webcomics are just waiting for our William Randolph Hearst – the guy who turned newspaper comics into a powerhouse industry a century ago.

BC: How did you get your start then?
GC: I moved to Memphis to go to school (Graphic Design Degree), without a lot of plans on where to go next.  To pay for school, I started airbrushing Tshirts, which was a big deal in 1983.  They sold well back then, and University didn’t cost actual body parts back then.  By the time I graduated, the folks that owned the stores where I airbrushed shirts had opened a screen print operation to supply the shirt stores, and I was doing their artwork.  Upon graduating, everyone I had been to school with went off to become art directors at the various ad agencies around town, and I started getting phone calls from them. Also, a new tabloid/free press paper started up and a friend landed me some freelance work with them.  So, suddenly, I’m a cartoonist doing advertising cartoons, which I hadn’t known existed before.  The alternative involved Hallmark Cards and a move to Kansas City.  I still wonder how that would have turned out.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
GC: It was in 1991 that I finally took all the money I had in the bank, bought enough equipment for a PMT darkroom (people still wanted ‘camera ready’ art back then. Computers weren’t ubiquitous yet) and quit my day job to go draw advertising work every day all day.  That was a good break.  I landed a couple of good gigs – a series of posters got me enough money to ditch the darkroom and buy my first computer (back when a decent setup was $10,000 or more), and I started doing Shoney Bear (restaurant character) activity book/menus.  That was tremendous.  Lotta good stuff going on back then.

BC: What do you see as the future of The Buckets and Hubris, and do you have anything else going on now?
GC: The Buckets is primarily a ‘newspaper’ comic, so its future isn’t entirely in my hands.  Hubris has another four years planned out in general, at which point I have a spectacular final story laid out.  Honestly, the final story arc will probably take so long to spell out cartoon by cartoon that I should either start on it now and take four years to tell it, or assume that I’ll be doing Hubris for another ten years.  The only other pokers in the fire now are to shift a little back toward ad agency work.  The money is better and the day-to-day challenges of totally different, shifting, styles and messages are really exciting to me.  I love me some advertising cartoons.

BC: What are you most happy/proud of?
GC: I’m proud that I’ve made a career out of cartooning.  It’s encompassed a lot of jobs, like any career will.  I think right now I’m most pleased with what Hubris has become.  I’ve discovered a facility for stringing stories out that I like, but I’m least proud of how I’ve handled the business side of my comic strips. 

BC: I know you have books out. Where can readers find them?
GC: There are two Hubris books (I Meant To Do That and Stanky Creek) and one Buckets book available.  I have the cartoons for another Buckets book ready to go, but I don’t like the cover design I have, and I can’t manage to make time to fix it and get the book out.  Soon, though.

BC: How do start your next strip or panel?
GC: Wooo, don’t start with a blank sheet of paper.  I have, literally, boxes of notes that I jot down on all kinds of things – Post-It notes, legal pads, Moleskine notebooks, sketchbooks, my kids’ music lesson notes.  Grab up double-handfuls of those notes, re-arrange them, and let your mind wander over them. 90% of them are trash, but once you stumble onto that theme that you like the sound of or that one gag that suddenly lends itself to two or three strips, things gather momentum.  Then the characters voices pop into your head, saying lines that you don’t feel like you wrote.  It really is like hearing people having a discussion and you’re transcribing.  Then you edit and draw.

BC: Could you talk some more about your comics? I know you took over The Buckets from Scott Stantis, and that he also made the suggestion that resulted in the creation of Hubris. What else would you like to add about both comics?
GC: Yep, I was hired by Scott Stantis to do the art chores on The Buckets.  I think that was 2001.  It was on a trip to Birmingham to meet with him that he saw my Suburban stuffed with camping stuff, a bike, a kayak, a cruiser skateboard and a few other toys.  He told me that one of the syndicates was looking for an ‘Outdoors’ strip, and so I created Hubris with stars in my eyes.  I thought, “Not only will I be drawing The Buckets, but I’ll land this other syndicated strip!” Turns out the “Outdoors” strip the syndicate wanted was more hunting and fishing than kayaking and rock climbing. So Hubris was not syndicated.  Seeing where the writing and characters are now, and then seeing the original sales pitch, it’s easy to see how the syndicate wouldn’t draw a straight line between the two.  Of course, even if I offered Hubris as it is now, if the newspaper market hadn’t faltered, they still might not have wanted to syndicate it.  Who can say?  Syndication was King when I was younger – people used to devote endless hours of speculation and strategy to meticulously working out “What the syndicates will want, and how to get the editors to take a chance on it.”  Imagine a million comic book kids working out how they’re going to break into the ranks of Marvel and DC to become superstar artists.  Same thing.

BC: Have they changed much over the years? Do you feel that Buckets is “your” strip now?
GC: Oh, yes. They’ve both changed.  Scott and I agreed when I took on the art chores that I’d start off drawing as close to his style as possible and try to keep it there, with the understanding that the artwork would evolve. It has, and of course, now that I’m writing and drawing it, it’s changed even more.  Not dramatically, I think.  But if I went back and read some of the things I did ten years and more ago, I might say differently. The Buckets is definitely MY strip now.  I’ve said and done things with it that Scott wouldn’t have, and that I’m proud of.     Hubris has changed, too.  Not just the storytelling, or the format, or the character descriptions… well, I’ve been the sole creator from ‘go’ on that one.  Believe me, things have changed.

BC: Do you identify with the characters? Do the characters identify with anyone else?
GC: I think any writer has to identify with the characters he or she is writing.  It’s easy to say that all the characters in The Buckets are me – some aspect of my head fits neatly in each of their personalities.  Some of the Hubris characters, however, are drawn from farther afield. The people you meet on the trail or on the river or in a campground are easily seen in the peripheral characters in Hubris.  I’ve got to have a handle on the little stuff – their motivations and their quirks – those things are the bits that are me. But other aspects are drawn from chance acquaintances, friends, family, and random people I’ve happened across over the years.

BC: Is it difficult maintaining two different drawing styles? Do you expect that someone else will take over Buckets some time in the future?
GC: No, the two different styles are part and parcel of their own things.  I tried drawing The Buckets with a brush, which is my preferred tool to work with.  This was after I’d learned to draw like Scott, and hopefully no one noticed the transition.  That was the plan.  Anyway, having learned what The Buckets was, and what style it was in… I couldn’t make the characters look like themselves with a brush.  Everyone looked and felt wrong. So, back to the pens and everyone was themselves again.

GC: I doubt anyone will take over The Buckets, or could afford to. The Buckets is tied to the newspaper industry, I think. If the Decline of the Newspapers suddenly becomes the Resurrection of the Newspaper Industry in some unforeseen fashion, it’s generally possible that someone would want to step into that place. More likely, though, young creators with family would rather create their own family strips than take over another one that’s 25 years and more old.

BC: If you were to start cartooning today, from scratch, what advice would you give yourself?
GC: That’s a hard one to answer.  I’d have been financially wiser to avoid steering my career toward comic strips, but the joy and fascination with them would still be here.  If I hadn’t turned toward newspaper, and then web, comics, I’d have been miserable for not having given it a shot.  My advice might have been to do more, business-wise, with both – though I don’t know where the time would have come from.  The advertising cartoons, though?  My advice would have been to do it the way I did it.

BC: If they were to start cartooning today, what advice would you give someone else?
GC: Be a business professional about it.  I’ve been complimented that I see my cartooning as a career and a small business.  It’s probably the reason I’ve had the career I’ve had so far.  A young cartoonist can’t treat cartooning as a hobby or obsession that you’ll dabble at until someone comes along and makes you famous, and they make you more money than your ‘day job’… that’s not likely to happen.  You’ve got to fight to make cartooning your job, and look for the opportunities and education that’ll get you to leaving that paycheck from another business behind.  YOU’RE the person who’s going to come along and make you a cartoonist.  And if you “don’t like all that business stuff, and going to meetings and accounting”? Tough.  It’s part of business.  Knuckle down and learn it.  Do it.  You’ll be proud and profitable when you do.

BC: You have the Hubris website, and the Gocomics site. Why do you think people prefer to stick with one site over the other, and which would you prefer people to visit?
GC: I’d much prefer that folks visit the Hubris site because that one makes me more money, but I’m perfectly happy to have the page views at GoComics rise, too.  Ideally, everyone should obsessively visit www.hubriscomics.com and click on all the ads, and read all the backlog of comics and funny stories and photos, and then all those people should tell all their friends and family to visit Hubris comics at the main site and again at www.gocomics.com/hubris, and www.gocomics.com/thebuckets, and share links to all their acquaintances on social media.  And buy the books.

BC: Has switching from a horizontal to a vertical panel format affected your storytelling process for Hubris?
GC: Yes, but it’s up to somebody else to say if it’s affected it for the better or worse.  The art seems to take longer, the conversation seems to flow better, the reveal of the story seems to work better, and I haven’t yet discovered how editing the panels for a book will affect anything.

BC: Have you gotten any push-back from readers on the change? Are there times you wished you still worked in a traditional 4-panel horizontal strip for Hubris? Why the change, and why did Hubris turn into a long-form story strip when The Buckets hasn’t?
GC: Mostly I seemed to hear good stuff about the change of format.  People said it’s easier to read.  Of course, I may have only remembered reading the ones that supported my decision to change and forgotten the ones who had points against it.  Hard to be objective, isn’t it?  Sometimes, when I’m running late, I wish I still worked in the smaller, horizontal format. It’s faster, and lends itself to quicker, less wordy gags.  The change came from me hearing a talk that Wiley Miller gave at the National Cartoonist Society’s SouthEast Chapter meeting a couple of years ago.  It’s the format his Sunday cartoons are in, and he said it lent itself to the web better than traditional comics, which is true.  Hubris turned into a long-form story strip when a singularly outraged young reader posted a rant in the comment section of the website.  After the apoplectic language was removed, what he was saying was, “I don’t like you doing gags, I like story arcs.” and my wife said she did, too.  So… The Great Stanky Creek OutdoorFest story arc kicked off, and I’ve enjoyed doing stories, so I continued.  There are gag strips sprinkled throughout, though.  I mean, it’s still a comic strip.

BC: If your strips had soundtracks, what would they be/sound like?
GC: If there are any sound editors reading this, and they know the answer, and they’d like to soundtrack Hubris, I’m all ears.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
GC: Artists… woo, well, that’s probably got more to do with when I grew up and my own nostalgia than anything.  I like old John Byrne, Michael Golden and Mike Mignola comic books.  I like Alphonse Mucha’s advertising and theater posters.  I like Masamune Shirow’s manga.  I like Hirshfeld’s caricatures.  I like some of Walter Anderson’s earlier stuff that looked Minoan or Etruscan, but not enough to pursue prints.  I like Peter De Seve’s advertising cartoon art.  I like Chris Sanders’ character drawings.

GC: I haven’t met any of those guys, but I’ve met some people I respect like crazy.  Mike Ramirez, Sergio Aragones, Nick Meglin, Hy Eisman, Roy Doty, Jeff McNelly, Will Eisner… I could name a huge number of people in the NCS (and nearly did) and not have any dirt on any of them.  Though I did hear a good one about Mike Peters in the Middle East.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
GC: Lots. Nearly forty on GoComics.com, and maybe twenty-five more that are all on their own sites on the web.  For the same reason anyone follows them.  I love reading comic strips and they make me laugh, or think, or both.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
GC: The ideas behind the gags, mostly.  The deeper meanings.  Jimmy Johnson’s Arlo N’ Janis is great for that.  There’s a little thought you have to put in, sometimes, in order to see where the humor came from and what it leads to.  In a harder, snarkier way, Nick Galifianakis’s panels are like that – you almost have to stop for a second and let the situation gel before the familiarity of the humor snaps into place.  I like that a lot.  Plus, it leads me to the notepad because seeing which direction one or two cartoonists go with an idea just highlights for you how you would have handled it differently.  Suddenly, you go from reading a comic strip someone else did about how hot it is outside to writing your own comic strip about a kid covered in red popsicle, looking like an accident victim.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
GC: Creativity in Point of View.  I’d have a better answer if I was the originator of The Buckets – the characters were there and their voices were provided to me when I was hired onto that one.  I think if I’d started it, there’d have been a different creativity to the situation … possibly one the syndicates would never have accepted.  Hubris is the strip where my own sense of what’s supposed to be there is cleanest.  If you see anything lacking or anything stupid or anything admirable in that strip, you can blame me and what I think makes for a good comic.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
GC: Yes, Patreon!  They’re changing the face of web cartooning by supporting it, or at least giving the creators and readers the means to support it.  We don’t yet have the William Randolph Hearst of the Web, suddenly turning web cartooning into a powerhouse industry.  Patreon allows people like me to get a few bucks every month and say, “Yeah, okay… my comic strip can continue for a while longer under these conditions, and maybe next month, it’ll be even better!”  Everyone please, please, please go to www.hubriscomics.com and peruse the cartoons there! You might want to click the big ‘back’ arrow and start at the beginning.  I understand that jumping into the strip now is more difficult because characters talk about and react to other characters by name without them even being in-panel, and it takes reading several strips to get a handle on things.  Sorry about that.  Biggest disadvantage of doing long-form comics.  Also, rush over to www.gocomics.com/thebuckets and check out my family comic.  There’s a new comic there every day of the year!  Yes!  Every Single Day!  Weird, huh?

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
GC: I need to find the time to do the next Beta test for the Hubris board game.  I got spectacular notes this last test, and the fixes will take a few days that I don’t have to give right now, but I’m looking forward to that.  I’ve only got local conventions on the list right now. The farthest afield I’ve traveled with my over-the-top Hubris booth is Charlotte NC’s HeroesCon.  It’s a good show, but comic strips are kinda tough in a comic book show, y’know?  I’d love to do more, but it’d take a re-tooling of the booth. (It’s actually TOO elaborate, and I’ve gotten great suggestions about it from nice people at cons who stop and chat about Hubris.  Apparently it needs MY name on it, too, which somehow I hadn’t realized when I designed it.)  I’d love to do some neat-looking Cons – Salt Like City, Emerald City… half a dozen more, but selling books doesn’t quite pay for the trips, and the bumps in readership aren’t as high as they need to be.  Doing caricatures helps, but I need to put more effort and time in to put it past the tipping point and into a money-making prospect.  Doing it as an advertising expense is okay for a Con or two, but the numbers aren’t supportable.  Hey, anyone want to set up and pretend to be me at your local Con?


(The Hubris cast.)

BC: Do you have new plans for Team Us in the future?
GC: Not yet, but I should start building that in.  And when I do, I’ll have to be much more organized about using them (us) effectively in the comic strip, so I don’t have to do all the extra content for the book collection.  That last one really got bogged down.

BC: When do you work on each strip?
GC: They each have their own time/space.  The Buckets goes on all the time with note-making, and script writing and all.  Also, I tend to write The Buckets in two and three week blocks.  Hubris is much more an evening project that tends to get plotted waaaay out in advance, then written in tiny bites, may be three or four days ahead.  Both systems have their benefits and detriments.

BC: How do you research stuff for Hubris? (climbing gear, cycling parts in the store, outdoor locations for camping or hiking, skylights?) You have a lot of really detailed artwork in Hubris. How do you keep making it come out looking realistic and convincing?
GC: Does it look realistic and convincing?  Oh, good.  It all comes out of me buying or trying out stuff over the years.  I’d probably be better at drawing a complete whitewater get-up from the nineties than a current set up, but there you go.  The tennis shoes I draw are probably from the late seventies.  I hung out in a bike shop for nearly a month once, doing a mural.  That probably shaped a lot of background elements.  I’ve watched a local outdoors store go from one location to five over the years of spending money with them.  I’m sure I’m still putting things in the strip that fell into my head while there.  I’ve outfitted boats and dis-assembled bikes and all the usual stuff you do.  Camped well and camped poorly.  All of it becomes shapes and ideas in your head.  It’s a pleasure to let them fall from there onto a page.

BC: Where do all the ideas for Hubris’ and Paste’s crazy stunts come from?
GC: My head. And from other people’s ideas, actions, and suggestions. For example: I used to ride either bikes or unicycles all over a great urban park we have here with a buddy.  Some days, the buddy’s fifteen or sixteen year old son would join us.  And once, the buddy’s son’s buddy comes along.  The two guys have a child’s bike that a neighbor was throwing out.  They resurrected it, patched the tires, got the chain moving again – little sixteen inch wheel thing for an elementary school age kid.  Aaaaand they took turns riding these mountain bike trails in the park with us.  It was hilarious – these guys were doing something so dumb.  Fun, but dumb.  The average person wouldn’t consider it.  You’d be exhausted, your knees would be banged up, you couldn’t keep up, which would piss off your riding partners… it’s just one of those ideas that you’d either have to be oblivious and stupid to do – or a sixteen year old boy who’s willing to give it a shot and see what happens.  They did, and we two adults egged them on.  “Hey!  Ride off that embankment into the lake!” and the kids didn’t say, “Oh, no, I wouldn’t want to ride the rest of the way with wet shoes and socks.  My feet would blister.”  They rode into the lake.  And they stayed wet after jumping into the lake over and over.  And they got blisters.  Why not? Everyone who spends any kind of time outside has stories like that, and they lend themselves to other stories or reinterpretation for variations on the stories. There’s always material for Hubris and Paste and stupid stunts. Years and years worth of good stories.

BC: What can we expect in the next year or so for either strip? Is Hubris ever going to go wildernessesing (it is a word, and it gets triple word score in Scrabble) outside the U.S.?
GC: I keep thinking Toby is going to be the main character for more stuff in The Buckets.  He’s at that age.  And so are my kids, more to the point.  I want to send Hubris far out into the crazy, but it’s going to be tricky – the more I try to write outdoors strips, the more I seem to spiral back indoors for the story lines.  Nekkid bicycling coming up, though.

(The guy that never gets to climb the wall.)

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Greg Cravens (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.)

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Berger and Wyse Interview

One of the other things I like about GoComics is that they’re constantly signing up “new” artists and strips to the site, and they announce the new ones in the editor’s blog. (I say “new” because B&W had been doing work for the Guardian for years before licensing with GoComics.) The best part of this is that I can immediately sample the strips and decide whether I want to follow them or not. So, when Berger&Wyse was announced, I was floored immediately. The art style is extremely clean and polished, and the jokes are wicked clever. Initially, they ran their food gags, but eventually we’ve been getting more of the other Guardian panels, too. Generally, they post on GoComics weekly, but there have been rather long gaps between updates, which are still well-worth waiting for.

BC: Expose yourselves.
We are Joe Berger and Pascal Wyse. Joe knows what he is – an illustrator and author. Pascal has spent many years doing many things, but has finally settled on creating music and sound for a living. Over the 15 or so years we have been working together, there have been a variety of projects for us, including animation, sketch writing and giving workshops on cartooning – but the constant over all that time has been a comic strip for the Guardian newspaper in the UK.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to your readers?
Pascal: I’m tempted to say very little, to be honest! I suppose it is worth admitting that I was never steeped in comics. I did love 2000AD as a kid, and avidly consumed Peanuts in the Observer, but as a grown up I never really bothered. Then I met Joe, and he put a Robert Crumb book in my hand, as well as introducing me to Alan Moore and others. In a sense I feel almost more interested in the mechanics of how comics – especially humorous ones – work than actually consuming them. Oh dear, I’d best get my coat…

BC: Don’t panic. The pillaging of your offices comes later.


Covert from Blackwatch Media on Vimeo.

Joe: I have always loved comics and cartoons. I grew up in Bristol UK in the 1980s, reading 2000AD, Mad Magazine and lots of Marvel and DC comics. So writers like Frank Miller and Alan Moore made a big impact on me. As well as strips like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes, and Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons. In my mid-teens I discovered the underground and indy side of comics; Crumb, Peter Bagge, Dan Clowes, Love and Rockets. My eyes were opened to what the humble comic book medium could aspire to. I really wanted to draw long-form comic stories, but I found the writing really hard, and usually gave up after a couple of pages. In my twenties I moved to London, and self-published a couple of comic books, before getting ‘sidetracked’ into freelance illustration and animation work. Pasc and I started the first incarnation of our Guardian slot around about 2000, so that was the point at which I could confidently call myself a cartoonist and comic strip creator, without the ‘aspiring’ prefix.

BC: Do you consider yourselves cartoonists, illustrators, artists, or somethings elses?
Pascal: I can’t draw to save my life. I think for me this is closest to writing, in micro form.

Joe: I consider myself a cartoonist for the Berger & Wyse cartoons, and a writer and illustrator at other times, because I also write and illustrate children’s books.


(The Pitchers)

BC: How did you get your starts then?
Pascal: I was working at the Guardian newspaper as a subeditor on the arts desk, on a supplement that was then called Film and Music. There was a comic strip in the section, which I heard was coming to an end, so I approached the editor and said, can I pitch something in that slot, and asked Joe if he fancied trying something. It needed to be related to film or music. What became of that was The Pitchers – a four panel strip based on the failing exploits of two enthusiastic but broadly rubbish Hollywood script writers called Chet and Foley. At first it was just them pitching awful movies, in the X-meets-Y formula, but it grew in to an ongoing soap with a whole cast … And ran for seven years.

Joe: Yep, that was our first foray into doing a four panel strip, and getting paid for it no less!


(The Pitchers)

BC: What were your biggest breaks?
Pascal: That was the break, getting in to the Guardian. It was also the first time I had ever tried writing a strip!

Joe: After seven years, the Guardian moved us into the magazine and we began doing a single panel cartoon about food. The work we put into the Pitchers really helped pave the way for doing a one panel, I think, which is a very different discipline. With the four panel strip, once we’d worked out the gag we’d have to write and draw up to the punchline, so the joke was often a little laboured. It was a real breath of fresh air doing the food cartoon, because once we had the gag, there was no extraneous dialogue or build up. It’s an even more distilled form of writing; like poetry, in a sense – pretentious as that might sound.


(This is where Basket Case started reading B&W on GoComics.)

BC: What led up to your starting Berger & Wyse, and what else do you have happening now?
Pascal: As a partnership, at the moment we have one poker in the fire: the weekly strip. Partly that is because we are both very busy with other projects, myself with music and sound. Over the years we have done title sequences, short animations and other kinds of writing, and hopefully we’ll do more of those other things if the diary frees up.

Joe: We’ve always wanted to do more as Berger & Wyse, and a lot of the other projects we’ve worked on have involved coming up with ideas together – that’s our main crossover. But as Pasc says, we’re both busy with our own work. I have a fantasy that we will one day be old men in Manhattan, publishing in the New Yorker. I haven’t shared that with Pasc, he might have other plans.


(Berger&Wyse)

Pascal: I can’t believe you chose such a public forum to reveal this wish.

BC: Which of your works do you like most?
Joe: I love the immediacy of the single panel cartoons – when we come up with a good one it’s hugely satisfying. And then it’s gone. The title sequences we did for the BBC drama series Hustle, and more recently Ambassadors, were a huge effort to produce, and I’m very proud of the results. I also periodically re-read the Pitchers strips and I really enjoy what we managed to create there, despite its (perhaps) more limited appeal than the food cartoon.

Pascal: It is always peculiar looking back over the work. Strips I thought were good at the time sometimes fall flat; others reveal aspects I hadn’t appreciated at the time. I’m with Joe on the single panel toons, plus a miniature spy animation we made called Covert – which we wrote together, and became my first wobbly steps in writing music for animation. Although it is long gone, I’m proud of the body of work the Pitchers represents. I got fond of those characters.


(Berger&Wyse)

BC: Do you have any paper or ebooks out? Where can readers find them?
Pascal: As Joe mentioned, for a while our cartoon was based exclusively on food, and a collection was made from that range, published in book form by Bloomsbury/Absolute. I’m afraid it is no longer in print … So harass the publishers! We also have an arrangement with a great card company in the UK called Woodmansterne, who make greetings cards of some of our toons.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next panel?
Pascal: With caution and a sawn-off shotgun … That, of course, is the most interesting question, and the one that weighs down the shelves of self-help writing manuals. I think for me it is about resisting the idea of any such formula, and withstanding – even relishing – the discomfort of not knowing if an idea is going to arrive. The last thing you need, if you reach crisis point, is to tense and lose mental flexibility. We have the benefit of being able to bounce ideas off each other. It’s amazing how, when you relax the thinking muscle and, say, go to the toilet or make a coffee, a solution will pop into your head – but it seems you have to have had that uncomfortable mental workout first. There’s an interesting little publication called A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb, that I think makes a similar point about how ideas come when you look away. I always have to work at persuading the editor or censor in my mind to just go away for a while and let ideas at least stand a chance. When it works, it is fab, but not being able to come up with a single idea that you like, when you know the paper is waiting, is quite a horrible sensation that can easily tip towards self loathing. Still, it is a deluxe problem.


(Berger&Wyse. Relax.)

Joe: The idea of ‘relaxing the thinking muscle and going to the toilet’ is a little disturbing – so that’s where ideas come from! But I totally agree – ideas tend to happen when you stop looking for them. I remember, for the first few years of the Pitchers, feeling hugely anxious every single week, thinking we would never be able to write another one. It took a long time to get used to that feeling, and to feel confident that we wouldn’t ever freeze up entirely. It’s still uncomfortable when we do get close to deadline without any inspiration though. I carry a notebook at all times, and try to come to our Monday morning Skype meeting with a few ideas. I often think about the fact that this is the one thing I do that has no editorial input – all my illustration and writing work involves submitting roughs for approval, whereas we are completely free to file whatever we want (within reason). That said, we perform that role for each other – any ideas I bring get parsed by Pasc, and vice-versa. And that keeps us on our toes – we’re neither of us happy to run with an idea that we don’t think is quite right, even if the other is enthusiastic. And that’s important.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be like?
Pascal: To quote Chris Morris, “Like a bomb made of jazz and feathers.”


Ambassadors from Pascal Wyse on Vimeo.

Joe: To be boring and semi-serious about it; last year we made short animations from a number of the single panel strips for the Guardian online, and adding sound to them was a really interesting experience. Just as with the drawing, the sound has a huge influence on the tone of the humour, and you have to work quite hard to avoid things becoming too slapstick or clownish. Generally, the single panel cartoon works by being read quickly, chuckled at and then moved on from. Adding sound and a fixed timing to that experience can labour the joke if you’re not careful.

Pascal: Oh yeah! I forgot about those. Turning a panel into a timed-out sequence is a great challenge, and it really shows you how sometimes the printed, single image is the best delivery for a certain kind of joke. I’m also fascinated by what sounds help humour in that context.

BC: Talk about your favorite artists/writers.
Pascal: I love Peter Blegvad‘s artwork, and he is one of the nicest humans you could meet, so no dirt there I’m afraid. Perhaps a bit more dirty is Modern Toss: when they hit the spot, they are bloody marvelous.

Joe: Ben Katchor (Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer) was a strip that I really loved – recommended to me by Peter Blegvad, in fact. I don’t read much in the way of comics and graphic novels these days (though I am currently writing one), but I love Joff Winterhart’s book for Jonathan Cape, Days of the Bagnold Summer. And he’s working on a new graphic novel which is hugely promising.


(Berger&Wyse.)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
Pascal: See Modern Toss. And the New Yorker brigade are always an inspiration. The cartoon compilation books from that publication are never far away.

Joe: I do like Tony Carrillo’s F-Minus on GoComics. It doesn’t always hit the spot, but it’s got a good tone to it – it’s quite a rare thing. I also love Kate Beaton’s Hark, A Vagrant. She’s brilliantly funny, and her more personal stories are really lovely too.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
Pascal: Something I hadn’t thought of, and which annoys me that I never thought of it!

Joe: Genuine laughs – and they are few and far between. And yes, once you find them, it’s immediately annoying that you didn’t think of the idea yourself.


(Berger&Wyse.)

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
Joe: For me the art style is key – it’s the way in, and if I don’t like the drawing style or the characters I often can’t be bothered to get past that. With the exception of something like Doonesbury – despite the weird noses, I like the writing enough to not worry about it.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
Pascal: We don’t use those platforms, or at least haven’t yet. But you can catch up with us at www.bergerandwyse.com, www.joeberger.co.uk and www.pascalwyse.net.

Joe: Yes I’m not really au fait with those platforms.

BC: Do you have anything coming up?
Joe: My first graphic novel (I’m calling it a ‘cartoon story’ actually, because that feels less grand) is out in January 2017, published by Simon & Schuster in the UK and US. Lyttle Lies, book one: The Pudding Problem. You know, for kids. And Pasc and I are available to talk about the mysteries of cartooning for anyone who’ll pay our travel – shall I say this or is it naff?

Pascal: That’s naff.


(Berger&Wyse.)

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Berger&Wyse (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.)

Mike Shiell Interview

Disclaimer: Mike sent me his interview answers in a Word file using the following font and coloring. I tried copying the text as-is into WordPress, and it came out looking the same as the original document. So I kept it that way. I’m hoping that everyone’s browsers handle the font correctly. If not, oh well.

As mentioned in the John Lustig interview post, I’ve won a number of prizes from GoComics contests. One of the other ones was another signed print. Having gotten the print in May, 2015, I felt compelled to start reading the comic itself. This was The Wandering Melon, by Mike Shiell. I went back through the archives, and I’ve been a fan of the comic ever since. Mike definitely has a unique art style, unlike anything else on GoComics – clean, quirky, and often rather unflattering. But the jokes are dead-on. He even provided a new panel for the interview that exemplifies why I love the Melon.

BC: Talk to us
MS: A little bit about me: I have over 25 years’ experience providing cartoons, illustration, greeting cards and animation to clients such as National Lampoon, Reader’s Digest, Saturday Evening Post, Prospect Magazine, The Oldie, Nickelodeon, BBC, Spider Magazine, HIT Entertainment, CBS News, NobleWorks Greetings, Lucas Arts, Hallmark and King Features to name a few.

As well …
Some of my cartoons have been turned into animated shorts!
and my cartoon the
“Wandering Melon” is digitally syndicated on GoComics.

In my full-time job I am a director and animation supervisor. I have directed a number of children’s shows including the Emmy awarding winning “The Backyardigans”. Recently our show, “Mike the Knight” won an international Emmy. I currently work as an animation director at Corus Entertainment in Toronto.

BC: Keep talking.
MS: I consider myself a cartoonist, animator, director, illustrator and all-round “idea guy”.
BC: How did you get started with cartooning? Have you always been a cartoonist?
MS: Like most kids I liked to draw and once I started to get recognition for my drawings I drew more and more. I also liked to make people laugh so put those two together and in my case you’ve got a cartoonist on your hands.
As a kid, I wrote to many of the famous syndicated cartoonists of my day. Most of them wrote back and encouraged me to follow my dream. Today I make my full time living as an animator and director at Corus Entertainment in Toronto. I also illustrate the occasional book and sell my cartoons to a bunch of different markets including magazines, publishers, websites, and broadcasters. My cartoon, The Wandering Melon is also digitally syndicated by GoComics so I really have the best of both worlds.
On my most stressful and not-so-fun days at work I remind myself that I am making a living doing the thing that I dreamed of doing when I was a little kid.

BC: How did Wandering Melon come about?
MS: I had been creating gag cartoons for a number of years and sending them to syndicates. I had compiled them under a number of names for the various pitches. Finally in 2014, Shena Wolf at GoComics showed some interest and asked me to send some more cartoons. I wanted to come up with a catchy title for my cartoon and after some thought and back and forth with Shena, came up with the “Wandering Melon”. The Wandering Melon comic is a collection of “art” resulting from whatever ideas pop into my head. This makes it a little hard to categorize but it gives me the freedom to create cartoons with any kind of style, look or content that I feel like doing on a given day. It allows me to keep developing, experimenting and having fun when I am creating.

BC: What are you most proud of?
MS: I’m very happy with the creation of the Melon Shorts. I am also very pleased with my association with GoComics and the sales of my toons to places like National Lampoon, Reader’s Digest, Saturday Evening Post and a bunch of other publications.

BC: Do you have any paper or e-book collections on the market yet?
MS: I’m currently working on “Wandering Melon Cartoons – Volume # 1” and hope to have it ready sometime this fall. I will keep you posted. I do have a compilation of my animated shorts based on some of my cartoons. They are called the “Melon Shorts” and they can be found at Nimbletronic.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
MS: I usually come up with my ideas when I have a chance to completely clear my mind, like when I am walking, swimming, commuting. Since I am not on a tight schedule of producing a cartoon every day, I only create new cartoons when they make me smile. I try to do 2 – 3 cartoons per week.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers (any genre)?
MS: I’ve got lots of influences!: Ralph Steadman, National Lampoon Magazine and Mad Magazine, Woody Allen, Monty Python and Terry Gilliam, Far Side, Herman and Bros. Farrelly and Coen. No, unfortunately I haven’t met any of them.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
MS: Some of the cartoons that I am currently following are: The Argyle Sweater, Cornered, Eek, Loose Parts, Non-Sequitur, Reality Check and WuMo. I also look for consistency and that moment when you say, “Crap, I wish I had of thought of that gag!”

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
MS: No I haven’t tried these programs but it may be something that I will investigate.

(The first GoComics Wandering Melon.)

BC: Do you want to plug your site?
MS: Yes, I would like to plug the following two sites:

Some of my cartoons have been turned into animated shorts!
The Wandering Melon is digitally syndicated on GoComics!

BC: What’s next?
MS: More Melon shorts – I’ve got hundreds of ideas ready to go! I would also like to develop longer formats like series and features based on my cartoons and characters. I will continue to strive to create original content that makes people laugh (including myself) and I will be creating more WANDERING MELON cartoons based on whatever odd little ideas decide to wander my way.
(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist and is Property of Wandering Melon cartoons.)
(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.)

John Lustig Interview

One of the things I was pretty lucky with a couple years ago was GoComic’s contests. Back before they changed the way they handle entries, I was able to win at least 5 signed prints from different strips. One of the prints was used at the San Diego Comic Con in 2013, and was signed by the writer, John Lustig. I had been reading Last Kiss for close to 2 years by that point, so I was pretty happy to get that print. I ran an article about it on one of my other blogs and mentioned it to John. He then mentioned me on his blog. He’s a really nice guy that way. He agreed to be interviewed here, too. Really, he’s a nice guy.

BC: Who are you?
JL: John Lustig—“Comic book genius.” And it must be true because that’s what it says on my business card. I’ve written comics and humor for Disney, Viz, Marvel and others. Mostly these days, I concentrate on my own series—a webcomic called “Last Kiss.”

JL: It’s a strange series. I take vintage romance comic book art and replace all the old dialogue with humorous, often-risque quips. I mostly do Last Kiss as a one-panel comic. But I’ve done longer, multi-panel Last Kiss stories and even entire comic books in the past.

BC: What personal details do you want to give away?
JL: I was born in Seattle (1953) where I grew up in a rain puddle and still live. Before comics, I was a newspaper writer, editor, and columnist.

JL: Besides Last Kiss, I’m probably best known for all the Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, DuckTales and Mickey Mouse comics I wrote for decades for Disney.

JL: As for Last Kiss, that began back in 1987 when Charlton Comics was going out of business and selling off the rights to the last of its series. Thinking it’d be fun to re-dialogue some old comics, I looked for a series with the most issues for the most meager amount of money. I ended up buying a romance series called First Kiss (40 issues!) sight unseen for $400.

JL: It took me a few years, though, to figure out an approach to re-writing the material and actually find a market for it.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
JL: I’m a writer. But I often pretend to be an artist—even though I can’t draw anything. (Not even a check!)

JL: Over the years, though, I’ve taught myself Photoshop and other graphic programs. And so I spend insane amounts of time tweaking art—cleaning up images; modifying color; lettering new dialogue; erasing unwanted details; and adding new, sometimes-bizarre backgrounds. In short, just about everything that doesn’t require real drawing skill.

JL: At first I was just using the line art from First Kiss and when I needed it colored, I’d do it myself. But I later hired artists (Allen Freeman, Diego Jourdan Pereira and others) because they were faster and much better than me. That’s when color became a regular part of Last Kiss.

JL: Eventually, I also started using public domain comic book art. To get clean copies, I hired Diego, Allen and later Dan McConnell and Elite Avni-Sharon to redraw the old art for me. (Have I mentioned lately that I can’t draw? Not even a black hole in the dark!) To the best of my knowledge, none of them are doing webcomics of their own or assisting on any other webcomics, though.

JL: Because I license a lot of my Last Kiss panels for greeting cards and other merchandise, it’s been important to have clean, attractive art. And working with artists and using different genres of comics has really opened up what I can do.

BC: How did you get your start as a writer?
JL: I first tried to break into comics at Marvel when I was in high school. But I did it completely ass backwards. I took a Dr. Doom story written by Gerry Conway in Astonishing Tales #4 and re-dialogued it. Then I got my high school girlfriend (later my wife) Karen Lavik to re-letter the comic for me and then I mailed the whole comic to Marvel.

JL: This was wrong on so many levels. And my dialogue was horribly, embarrassingly over dramatic. So, of course, Marvel rejected it. Very gently and politely, I might add.

JL: Looking back, though, I’m astonished that the first script I ever did was very much in the Last Kiss mode in that it involved me taking an existing comic and re-writing the dialogue.
(What the ^%$# was I thinking?!!)

JL: As for actual success? Well, my first break came in 1977 (my last year in college). I read in Writer’s Market that Gold Key Comics (Western Publishers) was looking for writers. So I contacted Gold Key and was given a chance to write a Daffy Duck story.

JL: I sold the story and I was ecstatic. But shortly after that I got my first newspaper job and it was almost 10 years before I had the time (and energy) to write comics again.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
JL: Definitely a big break came in 1986 when I was at the San Diego Comic Con (now Comic-Con International). I was trying to break back into comics and I stopped at the Blackthorne table. The editor’s eyes lit up when I told him I was a former reporter and editor.

“Why… then you can spell,” he said excitedly.
(To this day, I’m not sure if he was joking.)

“How would you like to work on one of these,” he asked, pointing towards a couple of rip offs (I mean “homages”) of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

JL: I really wanted to write comics again, but the thought of doing a TMNT-homage (I mean “rip off”) made my brain hurt.

“Uh, sure—I guess I could,” I said. Then I spotted an issue of Nervous Rex on Blackthorne’s table. “But, uh… gee, I’d really rather work on something like this.”

JL: A gently funny series about a talking, hen-pecked tyrannosaurus, Rex was written and drawn by William (Bill) Van Horn. And—wonder of wonders—Bill was open to plot submissions.

JL: So, I wrote up some plots, submitted them and was thrilled when Bill bought two of them for what turned out to be the final issue of Rex.

JL: Despite my possibly killing off his series, Bill and I became good friends. So when he started writing and drawing Disney comics for Gladstone, he invited me to come along. With Bill’s encouragement and help, I wrote my first one-page Donald Duck comic and it was published in 1988. And that, in many ways, was the real start of my comics career.

JL: My other big break came in 1996 when I approached Comics Buyer’s Guide (CBG) with my first very crude samples of Last Kiss. Editor Maggie Thompson liked them and I started re-writing the old romance comics as spot comics for CBG. In 2000, Last Kiss became a full-fledged regular feature and ran in every issue of CBG through the paper’s demise in 2013.

JL: For many years CBG was widely read by both comic fans and professionals. Because of that I had a lot of exposure and that led to work at Viz and even a few scripts for Marvel as well as others.

JL: The [thing I did] for Marvel was very similar to what I do with Last Kiss. Marvel was taking some of its old romance comics and assigning different writers to re-dialogue them for laughs. I did three stories for the five issues of Marvel Romance Redux. I grew up loving Marvel. Stan Lee was my idol when I was a kid! So it was a hoot to finally be writing for the “House of Ideas.”

JL: The downside was that I was offered a horrible and frankly insulting page rate. Even though I had been writing comics for decades, I was offered Marvel’s “beginner rate” since I’d never worked at Marvel before. And – because I was “only” writing dialogue and the panel art already existed – I was only paid half the beginner rate. Given inflation, I actually made more per page writing that Daffy Duck story for Gold Key back in 1977.

JL: Still…
I got to add Marvel to my credits and I got to re-dialogue art by Jack Kirby, Don Heck and Gene Colan. So, it was worth it to me for that alone!

BC: Ok, so what else led up to your starting Last Kiss?
JL: I just wanted to have some oddball fun. And you don’t get much more oddball than Last Kiss.

JL: Plus, with Last Kiss, I have more control over my work. Sometimes I start with an existing image and write some dialogue for it. Other times, I write some dialogue and find art to go with it. Either way, I’m in charge. Oh, and I love writing funny dialogue. In some ways, Last Kiss is pure dialogue.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
JL: Jeepers! (Pardon me for swearing.) How can I pick? I know. I’ll cheat and pick three favorites.

JL: The most fun I ever had on a project was on Ultra Maniac—a five-book series for Viz, I was hired to take the raw English translation of the Japanese graphic novels and re-write the dialogue so that it was smooth and funny.

JL: It was tremendous fun to just concentrate on coming up with funny dialogue. And it was challenging to do it in a way that remained true to the Japanese novels.

JL: My daughter, Caitie, actually got me that job. When she was in her teens, Caitie was a huge manga fan and often accompanied me to conventions. She hung out at the Viz booth in San Diego and got to know one of the editors—Eric Searleman—a bit. Apparently, she talked me up quite a bit because Eric got curious enough to find out more about me, liked my work and offered me the Ultra Maniac gig. If Caitie still had time to go to comic conventions – she’s busy getting her doctorate in Information Science – I’d no doubt get offered more work!

BC: When you were at Viz, did you meet Shaenon Garrity (Skin Horse)?
JL: I did meet Shaenon once very, very briefly, but not in connection with Viz.

JL: I’m also tremendously proud of many of the Disney stories I’ve written. Perhaps my favorite is “Romance at a Glance” a sort of love story gone wrong with Donald Duck competing in a male beauty pageant run by Daisy Duck’s women’s club. It features jealousy; ducky love; bad poetry; and lots of physical comedy. What more could you want?

JL: And, of course, I’m very pleased with many of the Last Kiss one-panel gags I’ve done—particularly the ones that have become images on merchandise and made me money!

BC: Do you have any paper or e-book collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
JL: Andrews McMeel’s Udig imprint did three small e-books featuring my Last Kiss one-panel gags. You can find them on Amazon.

JL: And I will definitely be coming out with some new collections in 2017. In the reprint category, first up will be a collection of my Last Kiss comic book series. Then I’ll put together a collection of my CBG comics.

BC: How do you approach those blank word balloons when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
JL: For Last Kiss, I’ll sometimes just look at an image and try to come up with something funny for the characters to say. But more and more I just start writing any phrase that pops into my head until I come up with something funny. Then I find an image that goes with the dialogue. And then, I’ll often go back and tweak the dialogue to take advantage of some aspect of the art.

BC: If Last Kiss had a soundtrack, what would it be?
JL: I think it’d be the sound of my head banging against my computer screen as I listen to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
JL: Oh, Jeepers! (Again.) I guess I’ll go with the comic giants—Carl Barks, John Stanley and Will Eisner. No dirt [on them]. But I did meet Will Eisner briefly. And I knew Carl Barks. In fact, I was able to spend a couple of days with him. Since his death, I’ve even gotten to finish the scripts on some of his uncompleted Disney duck stories. One of ’em just came out in IDW’s Uncle Scrooge #17.


(Carl Barks, Garé, John L. and Bill Van Horn)

BC: Any stories about Carl Barks you could relate here?
JL: The first time I ever met Carl was a few months after Carl’s 90th birthday. I’d written to Carl and he invited me and Bill Van Horn to come visit him in his home in Grant’s Pass. Our wives (Shelagh Lustig and Elaine Van Horn) went with us and spent most of their time hanging out with Carl’s wife Garé Barks.

JL: Carl was very diplomatic and never said anything truly negative about anyone at Disney or anyone doing Disney comics. Meanwhile, Garé was telling Shelagh and Elaine all the dirt that Carl wouldn’t tell us!

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
JL: The first thing most people notice when they look at comics is the art. If it’s great art then you’re more likely to give it a chance.

JL: I suppose I’m no different. But for me to keep reading, the writing has to be clever and the characters interesting. I’m also drawn to experimental and innovative approaches. For example—although the art isn’t great—I think Scott Meyer’s Basic Instructions webcomic is brilliant, funny and totally unique.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
JL: I think having a strong viewpoint and interesting characters is important. And—despite all my harping on dialogue—knowing how to tell a story and understanding plot structure is crucial if you’re doing anything more than a one-panel gag.

JL: The most important thing I learned about writing comic books came from studying the stories of Carl Barks. The best of Carl’s plots were brilliant. Same with John Stanley’s and Will Eisner’s stories.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
JL: Not so far. But I’m sure I will—particularly Kickstarter when I go to print some collections.

BC: Do you want to plug your site?
JL: Absolutely. My own website is: www.lastkisscomics.com.
But lots of people also follow my work on GoComics phenomenally popular site

BC: Do you have any projects coming up?
JL: I’m working on a Last Kiss coloring book. (Gorgeous art & risque humor—just add color.) I’m not ready to announce a publishing date yet. But it’s coming soon.

JL: I also recently did a story with artist Andrew Pepoy that will probably scorch a few eyeballs. Princess Passion is a romantic comedy involving burlesque dancers in 1950s Chicago. We don’t have a home for it yet. If we don’t find a publisher for it then it’ll go into one of the Last Kiss collections I’ll be working on when I finish up the coloring book.

BC: Appearances scheduled for conventions?
JL: I’ll have a table at GeekGirlCon here in Seattle on Oct. 8 & 9 2016.
I’ll be at The Northwest Press booth in Seattle during all four days of Emerald City ComicCon from March 2-5, 2017.
And I’ll be at the Prism Comics booth at Comic-Con International in San Diego from July 20-23.

(All Last Kiss and Princess Passion art is ©Last Kiss Inc. All other art is copyright the respective copyright holders.)
(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.)

Got Press Kit?

When I started sending out emails to the various webcomic artists, I pretty much expected that when I asked for basic personal background information I’d be directed to read some attached press (media) kit. From my point of view, I wouldn’t be wasting the artist’s time having them repeat the same information to me that they’d given to every other interviewer ad nauseum. But, that hasn’t happened yet. I mean, yeah, linking me to an online press kit in the artist’s blog is the cheap way out, but still, doesn’t ANYONE have one?

Anyway, a couple weeks ago, goodreads.com sent me their email newsletter, and their lead story was on the importance of having a good media kit. So, I went to their site just now, and I can’t find the blog article there anywhere. I’ve then been running google searches on media kit articles, and there’s really not that much on the net (beyond a couple companies trying to sell pre-made templates) for instructions on making ago author’s press kit.

I did find one page, though, and I’m going to mention it here. Writing World’s press kit page. Maybe someone will find it useful.

——-

Next poll question: Do you like seeing photos of your favorite writer?
Is it important for you to know what they look like?

Drive sketch

I like getting art from webcomic artists that I like. This one is of Nosh, from Dave Kellett’s SF strip, Drive

If you also like Drive, you may be interested in getting in on Dave’s kickstarter for the first hard cover print version of the book. Looks to be pretty awesome. Deadline is the end of Sept.

—————

Next poll question: Do you own any original webcomic artwork?
If so, what is it?

Alex Hallatt interview

Yes! Basket Case has it’s first showcase interview. It’s with Alex Hallatt, creator of Arctic Circle and Human Cull. Human Cull first came to my attention in 2013, when it started running on GoComics. I loved the idea of jerks being identified as such, and I’ve been an avid reader of the strip ever since. It’s a simple premise, with simple, easy to look at graphics. The punchline comes when you locate Alien Admin, and see how he’s eying his target. I’ll let Alex talk more about it below. I’m very please to introduce her here.

–B-C–

BC: Who are you (to Alex, and to Little Alien Guy)?
AH: I’m (Alex) the cartoonist behind Human Cull, the web comic and Arctic Circle, the syndicated comic strip.
AA: Alien Admin has been tasked with culling humans from Earth. It is being done very reasonably, as only the really annoying people will be painlessly vaporised, based on the list put forward by humans themselves.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
AH: I grew up in the UK and lived for a couple of years in New Jersey in the 90s. More recently, I’ve been living in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Spain. The internet makes a cartoonist’s life pretty idyllic, as you can work anywhere with an internet connection.

BC: What do you consider yourself to be?
AH: I’m a cartoonist and writer. I find the writing a lot easier than the drawing, but I love the end result of putting my words into pictures.

BC: How did you get your start?
AH: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid and haven’t stopped, though my first real break into professional cartooning was when I got taken on as the staff cartoonist for a local paper in Brighton in the UK. That was in 1999.

BC: How long have you been at it, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
AH: (Doing the maths….) …17 years. Getting syndicated by King Features in 2006 (Arctic Circle launched in 2007) was my biggest break and I still love being a syndicated cartoonist, even though newspapers seem to be in a bit of a death spiral.

BC: What led up to your starting Human Cull?
AH: Um… some people are really annoying and there are too many of them on this blue-green planet of ours. It seemed the logical next step.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
AH: It’s usually my latest creation. Right now, it is FAB (Friends Against Bullying) Club, an illustrated chapter book for kids.

BC: Do you have any paper or e-book collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
AH: Yes – both Arctic Circle and Human Cull have introductory ebooks available on Amazon and in the iBook Store.
Arctic Circle: amazon iBook
Human Cull: amazon iBook

AH: And I’ll be working on a bumper collection of Human Cull comics for a real print book soon….

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
AH: I rarely start with a blank sheet of paper. I usually note down some topics of interest and go for a walk and then the ideas come to me. It is magic that I don’t want to understand. I’m lucky with Human Cull that lots of people send me suggestions of who to cull. Unfortunately, some of the culls would include me.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
AH: I think Alien Admin would listen to Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers (any genre)? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
AH: When I was delivering newspapers as a kid, I read Bloom County (Berke Breathed – he has relaunched it online and it runs on GoComics – go look!), Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson) and Far Side (Gary Larson). They were the holy trinity of cartooning in the 1980s and I’ve never met any of them.

AH: I have met some of my contemporary heroes, including the late, great Richard Thompson, who drew Cul de Sac. If that strip had launched in the 80s, it would have been HUGE. Other noteworthy cartoonists I hang out with off and online include Paul Gilligan (Pooch Cafe), Jonathan Lemon (Rabbits Against Magic), Rina Piccolo (Tina’s Groove and Six Chix), Jonathan Mahood (Bleeker), Michael Jantze (The Norm), Gary Clark (Swamp), Sandra Bell-Lundy (Between Friends) and Norm Feuti (Gil).  I could go on and on, as I’ve missed out loads. As for dishing dirt – no way – what happens at the Reubens, stays at the Reubens!

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now (which ones? why?)
AH: Apart from the above, I check in every couple of weeks (if it was daily, I’d get lost down the rabbit hole and never work) on GoComics and gorge on Pearls Before Swine, Speed Bump and Dark Side of the Horse. They are all superbly written and the art matches the writing style.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
AH: Something that makes me laugh or think. After that, the art, but the idea is more important than the art. You can’t save a bad idea with good drawing.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
AH: It has to resonate with the reader. It might be a visceral, belly-laugh kind of thing, or it could be the sensibility of the strip. I’m sorry that Eric Gapstur didn’t have enough time to continue with Wyatt – beautifully drawn, with a great concept and some lovely story-telling. I hope he comes back.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
AH: No, I don’t, at least not yet. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I feel I would have to give something really special to demand cash from readers who are used to getting everything on the internet for free.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
AH: My kids’ book, FAB Club, officially launches on October 3rd (but is up on Amazon – take a look!), so I’ll be all over the social media universe when that happens. Getting to physical conventions is difficult from where I am right now, but I’d love to go to some in the future. Recommendations, please!

BC: And thanks for the suggestion to change the blog domain name. I’ll start working on that. (Alex said I should register webcomicsinterviews.com, which was one of the best things I’ve done so far.)
AH: I see you did – cool!

BC: Do you get any push-back for Human Cull, commenters that object to the entire concept, or to individual cull ideas? How do you handle that? Any comments for those people?
AH: Most people who don’t like the concept, don’t look at the cartoon, as it is pretty self-explanatory. However, there are people who enjoy the cartoon until it touches on the hot-button topic that they have a different view on. I did a cull about guns (you can see the cartoon and the comments there) and that lost me some readers! It is their choice and I would rather be true to myself than try and please everyone. Freedom of speech is important, as long as no one gets hurt.

BC: Do you see any differences between the Comics Kingdom and GoComics environments, as an artist? Do you get many comments in email or snail mail? How would you characterize your reader response for both strips?
AH: There is a MASSIVE difference. Comics Kingdom is more like old school newspaper comics. GoComics welcomes all kinds of comics. There is no way that Human Cull would get printed in a regular newspaper! Mind you, the comments section of Comics Kingdom tends to be more civilised as well… I get a lot more comments on GoComics than Comics Kingdom and I love the feedback. These days, I get very few emails and even fewer snail mails (they are usually just standardised letters asking for free signed art, which I normally put straight in the recycling).


(Alex makes an appearance in Arctic Circle.)

BC: How did the idea for Arctic Circle come about, and has the strip changed much over time? In what ways?
AH: I came up with the idea in 1992, when I was working as a waitress in an Irish pub in New Jersey. Those days, daily comics were usually in black and white, so I chose penguins and a polar bear as the main character. I also thought the white space of the Arctic would cut down on the drawing – I was a lot less confident at drawing then!

BC: Could you talk a little more about FAB Club?
AH: I was bullied a lot in middle grade. Very little physical stuff, but I was teased, or ignored and struggled to make real friends. I used to hate going to school and escaped into books and comics when I came home. I wanted to write the book I would have liked to have read during that time. The first draft was one of the easiest things I’ve ever written. It seemed to flow out of me with very little effort. The editing took a lot longer, but the essence of the book has remained the same.

AH (talking about the book): When Ravi, Toby and Jake get bullied at school, they start the FAB (Friends Against Bullying) Club. Their lives improve dramatically, as they support each other to stop the bullies picking on them. They reach out to help other kids like Ruth, who joins the club and helps them build an amazing treehouse to meet in. FAB Club becomes a popular meme at school, which infuriates the bullies. When they destroy the treehouse, it looks like FAB Club might be lost. But their friendship is strong enough to keep FAB together and when a new member brings her skills to the club, they find the perfect way to bring the bullies to justice.

AH: I pitched FAB Club to a publisher in the US and they loved the illustrations and writing style, but they struggled with some aspects of the book because of the US audience. For example, they didn’t think it was a good idea to have the police involved with the children at one point because of the recent shootings of kids by police! In the end, I decided that the book was too important to me to change it and that self-publishing would be a better option.

BC: Could you talk more about Richard Thompson? He seems pretty polarizing – either people love him, or they hate the artwork and understated storylines. The most vocal of his supporters seem to be other artists. What do you like about Cul de Sac (or Richard’s Poor Almanac)?
AH: His art is something that wouldn’t have appealed to me when I was younger. Like Quentin Blake, he has a slapdash style that belies the incredible amount of work that goes into it. If you look at the creation of the cartoon world of Cul de Sac, you can see how well-constructed it is. And the writing is the closest I’ve seen to Charles Schulz. It is subtle, but it is clever, clever stuff. He was able to remember what it was like to be a kid. And his lettering! It shouldn’t work, but it does. Most cartoonists use upper case only, so it is easy to fit in the word balloons. Richard hand-lettered with mixed case and still managed to make it fit, make it look right and make it readable. That is HARD. (Alex suggests the following two strips as examples, which I don’t yet have permission to reprint: 2007/09/28 and 2007/10/15.)

BC: Finally, you’ve traveled a lot. Would Alien Admin be confused over the cull requests between countries? Are there stupid behaviors that show up more in one place than the others? Behaviors that wouldn’t be considered cullable in a specific city? Or, is stupidity a universal constant?
AH: Alien Admin uses the Babel fish translating technique described by Douglas Adams to understand all languages. Most of the requests come in from the UK and the US and the US seems to care a lot more about shopping and driving behaviour! But some things are universally stupid. Like people who drop litter, or don’t pick up after their dog, or let their kids run riot in restaurants, or…. I better not go on – you can see more at GoComics!

All the best.

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(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Alex Hallatt (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.)