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.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alexhallattcartoons
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alexhtweets
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alexhallattcartoons

(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.)

In search of good webcomics.