Jenner Interview

Back when I first started reading Aaron Neathery’s Endtown, I was talking with him on Facebook and I asked what webcomics he liked to read. He very quickly replied, “Doc Rat“. At about the same time, I noticed someone in the Endtown comments section going by the name of “Jenner” and using the Doc Rat character as his avatar. Ultimately, I went through the Doc Rat archives, which took a couple weeks because there’s so many strips. That was fun. The artwork is very clean and the character designs are both professional-looking and distinctive; you know you’re not looking at something copied off of another artist. Initially, Doc Rat was a gag strip, with a joke-a-day pattern that goes on for a few years. After a while, the characters get fleshed-out and start “living their own lives.” At that point, the strip becomes more long-format, with a growing conflict between predator and prey species (a situation that Jenner has credited to the influence of Endtown). Doc Rat has grown and evolved since then into a living, breathing collection of characters, some with fairly painful back stories, but with significant high points as well, interspersed with the occasional gags.

(“Take Two.”)

Jenner runs a caption contest, and the winning entry receives the original artwork with their caption written in. I’ve won twice. I’m letting other people have their chances, now. But I’m not happy about it.

Basket Case interview – Jenner
17 September 2016

BC: Who are you?
J: I am an Australian cartoonist and writer, best known for the long-running comic strip Doc Rat. I’m fifty-six years old, and I live in Melbourne, Victoria with my wife, Julia. I’m also a full-time doctor in general practice (which in the USA would be known as a family physician).

(Craig, with his namesake.)

J: So why the name “Jenner”? For the purposes of my professional cartooning career that has a public face, I prefer to work under a pen-name. This is so I could have a ‘firewall’ of sorts between my two sides – it’s what I call an ethical courtesy to my patients. I take the confidentiality of my job as a doctor seriously, so when I create a funny comic strip about medical situations and predicaments, I prefer not to leave it open to be misunderstood. I would absolutely never use someone’s private story for a Doc Rat joke, and of course most people would understand that, but for the sake of those few who may be in doubt I’ve simply drawn a veil of secrecy, you know, just to be safe.

J: The secret of my real name isn’t watertight. Anyone could track it down on Google in less than a minute. So for the purposes of this interview, away from the usual domain of my patients, there’s no harm in revealing that in real life I’m Craig Hilton.

J: I grew up in Perth, Western Australia. That’s a very outdoors sort of place, great for small boat sailing. And very isolated from the rest of the world, especially back in the Sixties and Seventies. The most isolated capital city in the world. You live with the mindset that everything big that really exists only ever happens somewhere else. And so you make your own things happen, for yourself. You become self-sufficient. All through my childhood, my head was exploding with stories, jokes and wry observations. I think I was drawing madly from a young age, just to get onto paper what I could see in my head. At some stage in primary school, I systematically borrowed every how-to-draw book from the school library and drew every single lesson one by one, page by page. That’s where I learned shapes, perspective, shading, figure construction and all the other basic skills. In high school, I was taking the academic stream to maths and science with a view to entering Medicine in university, but I was also involved in the extra-curricular Special Art course. That briefed me in a wealth of techniques, and it also schooled me in the discipline of draw-draw-draw. Fill sketch block after sketch block.

J: At the University of Western Australia, in medical school, I learned whole new fields of education and more mature ways of thinking. Trade-off, though – there was less time for serious art such as painting and sculpture. Still, there was at least still time to draw cartoons. I compiled an annual magazine of my own jokes and comics called Leechcraft and sold it to my friends for the price of the photocopying. Later, when I discovered science fiction fandom, I learned people around the world were doing the same sort of thing and called them fanzines. I guess that was when I could say I found my tribe. That was in 1983.

J:I won the Australian Science Fiction (“Ditmar”) award for Best Australian Science Fiction or Fantasy Artist in 1987. I learned about the new trend in (then-called) funny animal comics when I saw the earliest issues of Critters and came face-to-face with the works, amongst others, of Steven A. Gallacci and Stan Sakai. It felt like coming home. This led to my hunting down the nascent furry fandom that was based mostly in the USA. A key part was the group called ROWRBRAZZLE, in which fifty or more creators shared their work in a quarterly publication. I learned a lot from the cross-pollination, and my style matured over the decade. I did cartoons about a secret agent bunny rabbit and, of course, lots of rats. That was when I came up with the name Doc Rat – initially it was a nickname for myself, but later I applied it to a GP doctor character in a series of single-panel gags I contributed to medical publications.

(Craig, in consultation, dear.)

J: My medical career took me all around the country, and over the decades my cartooning output was inconsistent. Sometimes nothing, and then for a year I drew a country town newspaper strip about coal mining, called DownUnderGround. I’ve been in Melbourne since 2001. I was greatly honoured to be inducted into the Furry Hall of Fame (Australian Fandom Conventions) in 2010. And I’m now heavily involved in helping run the Australian furry fan convention ConFurgence.

BC: Do you consider yourself a doctor-cartoonist, a doctor-illustrator, a doctor-artist, or something doctor-else?
J: My first profession is doctor. My second profession is cartoonist, illustrator, caricaturist and comic strip creator.

(from Doc Rat.)

J: In 2006, I decided to go professional as a cartoonist. That meant I set aside a dedicated day a week at a dedicated location and went about it with a professional seriousness. I set myself a work production target and committed myself to reach that target. I looked at the long-term goal of accumulating a body of work and brand recognition. And I solicited magazines, papers, web sites and professional word of mouth. I just put myself out there, at any time I could.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
J: Big breaks were when people approached me for work, thanks to my reputation as a medical cartoonist. The Medical Journal of Australia needed a cartoonist for a new caption competition series. The British Journal of General Practice contacted me to ask to run a Doc Rat strip once a month. And there was a time that Australian Doctor, a weekly magazine, was advertising for a political cartoonist. I sent in a portfolio and won the job.

BC: What led up to your starting Doc Rat?
J: Doc Rat had appeared as single panel gags non-professionally in various papers for many years. When I decided (in late 2005) that I could make a success with a comic strip on the Internet, it occurred to me that success depended on a big following, and a big following depended on a regular reading habit, and that meant daily without fail. Consequently, I knew I would have to put in a regular and substantial session of work, and set aside a dedicated time every week, and a dedicated place to do it in. Putting out the work out on-line could give me a cheap way of distribution, but how to get money from it would be the next step after that. I found it hard to solve that question (and I wasn’t alone there, and I’m still not), but whatever the solution could be, it kept coming back to a good-quality product with a big fan base. In other words, it wasn’t enough to have a web comic. It would have to be a GREAT web comic, ideally the BEST web comic. Because when a reader decides she only has time these days to follow her favourite three strips, Doc Rat would have to be one of those three. … No pressure.

J: Doc Rat is still my main body of work, right now. I’m happy to take some commissions, and I am trying to work on my caricature line of work. But I can’t take on too much, because my time is short and finite. I mean, I am also a full-time doctor – that takes up a lot of my days. Having said that, I intend to stock the web site’s archives fully. And I have a longer vision of putting out the Doc Rat books as e-books.

J: And alongside these, as well, last year I illustrated and published a collection of the writings of my old mentor, Dr Max Kamien: “Barcoo Rot, Sperm That Untie a Knot and Other Medical Tales from the Back o’ Bourke and Beyond“. It’s available by mail order, but if you do buy it from outside Australia you really should offer him more money for the international postage because otherwise he runs at a loss.

BC: Which of your works are you most proud of?
J: I was very proud in 2009 to see an enormous Doc Rat strip on the side of a building, as part of a public art project.

(Craig and the street art.)

J: And it’s very satisfying to read the strips as a story in one go. When I go through the phase of a short story arc or even a longer story, even though I have the overall structure planned out, it’s still a fraught process setting it down, strip by strip. Hoping there are no continuity errors or connections that are unclear to a new reader. I’ve just compiled the pages for Volume 17, telling the story of the eight-year-old boy Jarrad and his friends who, in the course of playing at being detectives, have to save the life of the teenage Quarrydog the wolf cub, who’s fallen down a deep hole. If they fail, he dies, and with him goes all hope of world peace. So having given the rescue their best shot, there’s a coda to take them through some reconciliation, growth and closure. People’s lives are hanging by a thread, and even though it’s only diligent mutual support of one conscientious person to the next that holds it all together, that’s still enough to deliver success at the end of the day: it’s a lesson for us all. And what pleased me most was just how well the story held together as a single unit.

J: I love stories where the compelling narrative to resolve a crisis is wrapped up in a larger issue, which itself is wrapped in an even larger one. I love multiple layers. I was very pleased with how Jarrad and the Detectives moved through the themes and layers, sort of wheels-within-wheels. (The book is titled It’s a Mystery, Doc – Doc Rat collection, Volume 17.)

J: I also like coming up with clever titles for the strips, which can be a joke that’s added over and above the joke in the strip itself. For example, nurse Mary was scolding Ben for knocking all the bandages off the shelf. The title: Ben gets a dressing down. And when Ben and Daniella finally kissed (and it lasted for three days), the title: Rodents kiss. (Their positioning is modeled on the famous sculpture by Rodin.)

J: When the strips’ serial numbers approximate a significant year, I tried to do a pertinent title and theme. DR1901 had a tribute to the Federation of Australia. DR1960 (my birth year) had a self-portrait. From that time onward until the present, I was putting in those date references really thick and fast. It was made harder by the fact I didn’t have the freedom to pick and choose subjects. This was right in the middle of a dramatic story: Daniella was walking home from work, heavily pregnant and starting to develop bleeding complications; Ben at home started reading a book of rabbit reconciliation poetry; Quarrydog found Danni in the park and offered to decoy the predators away from her. Every strip title was some yearly reference or song title or two. DR2014, when the strip numbers caught up with the date, was titled “Here and now”. DR2015 was titled “Hereafter”.

J: I’m pleased to get poetry in there, or to write in a poetic meter when it helps set the atmosphere. That’s almost like background music, the way the words are written. It evokes a mood subliminally. It works best when read out aloud.

J: And in Doc Rat, it’s a very important matter of principle to me that it shows General Practice performed to a high standard of craft. I’m proud of my profession. These are not jokes built on a greedy or inept doctor or at the expense of a disempowered patient. They are jokes where we laugh or cry side by side with one another in the process of the competent performance of ethical health care. In the adventure story arcs, the same moral and ethical values prevail.

BC: Where can readers find paper copies of Doc Rat?
J: Order them on-line from my web site. Sometimes there’s been a bit of an issue keeping it current, especially with the function that calculates the mailing costs. Any problems and you can e-mail me. Or of course you may buy them directly if you can catch me at a convention. I have plans to be at Anthrocon in July 2017.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
J: Look, that’s really not the problem many people think it is. I mean, imagine going to Michelangelo and saying: “You know that job for the Sistine Chapel ceiling, well I’ve got a great idea you can use. You should put God and Angels and clouds and stuff all over it. Well, I suppose I’ve done most of your work for you now. The really hard part’s coming up with the idea. So I’ll just swing by when you’re done and take my half of the proceeds, you know, for my contribution, all that intellectual capital I’ve given you.”

J: Coming up with an idea for a strip is EASY. You just come up with several and then pick the best one. If it’s a one-off joke, I take the ‘seed’ of a joke and stretch it, bend it, re-word it and re-interpret it – basically I turn it into a well-delivered comedy routine. The pacing, the set-up, the punch-line. And now you ask: Where does the ‘seed’ come from? Well, thoughts come to me any day, at any time – “Hospital sounds like Horse Spittle.” “Bees have hives.” “A giraffe is very tall.” There’s a joke in there. The real work comes when I try to work that into a comic strip. But that’s all it is: work.

J: I play with language. I mess around with words. I perform evil juxtapositions.

(from Doc Rat.)

J: And when I’m doing a sequence that’s telling a story about some of the existing characters, I go into daydreaming mode. I start with the premise, which is usually some values-based conflict, imagine the key scenes, sketch in the connection lines, and then progressively refine the plot. If it’s complex, I will draw out a timeline, to help ensure continuity. And then I’ll daydream the scenario, over and over again. Once the specifics of the events are fixed, I replay it with attention to the emotions, in what I call “the emotional symphony”. How does a character feel, and why? I’ll ‘stop the film’ and ‘take the characters aside’ one by one, and I’ll ‘interview them’ on what they think is happening right now. That way, I can get inside their heads, and thus I can write their actions to portray their actions in the most credible way.

J: When someone asks: “Where do you get all your ideas?”, it makes me sad for the poor, forlorn, interviewer’s barren existence. It makes me feel like replying “What’s it like not to have an imagination?”
BC: Ouch.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
J: Jazz, classical music and some Indy, particularly Australian. Some are very specific – I attached them quite deliberately to the particular moment. The character Daniella is named after the song of the same name by the John Butler Trio. And from there, I also attached Daniella’s personality to Girl U Want, by Devo, on the Tank Girl movie soundtrack album. This took me on to exploring other aspects of Daniella’s personality, following the other songs on the album, and that’s where I discovered she had some very angry phases in her past, and also some very sad ones, very dark. Roads, by Portishead. I would listen to that as I drew an emotional part of the story, and I’d be crying as I drew.

(Craig and Emma Pask.)

J: Miserere, by The Cat Empire. Push It Up by Cookin’ On Three Burners. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy by Cannonball Adderley. There was a local jazz compilation called Jazz in Melbourne (Volume 2) that was the soundtrack for the “I love Jaz” fishing trip story. The Man I Love, sung by Peggy Lee, was a specific song in the “Daniella’s secret” story. It’s a VERY sad song – it’s not about hope, it’s about despair. And of course that story is wrapped up by a performance by Emma Pask and James Morrison – cameo appearances of course. On the day I was in the process of drawing this, I had the incredibly lucky chance to attend an intimate jazz performance by Morrison and Pask, so I actually got the chance to collar them and ask their permission to use them in the story. So, from the album Emma, we had the play-out song No More Blues. Very happy music, at long last.

J: And finally, I can’t go past some movie soundtrack inspirations. The Bond movie Skyfall had a track called Tennyson. In the movie, M (Judy Dench) is defending herself in front of the interrogation-like court of a governmental inquiry, and even though she has just been quietly informed the assassin is on his way to kill her, she continues to hold her ground and recite the verse. Cinematically it cuts back and forth between the emotionally tense inquiry room and the frank violence of the hit squad approaching and storming the building. The music is restrained and insistent, like a ticking clock. All you can hear is music and poetry and yet it’s impossible to relax.

(Ben and Daniella, from Doc Rat.)

J: I tried to duplicate that ambiance in a segment of Doc Rat. I aimed to do in graphic novel form what I’d experienced in the cinema. It was a challenge. The music wasn’t there, but perhaps you could imagine it as I did. Ben reading to himself the verse from Daniella’s upcoming, rabbit-culture-styled apology ceremony and finally understanding why she’d been under such stress – the day she didn’t come home was the day he finally ‘got it’ – and there you the reader were watching something horrible Ben couldn’t see: Danni was starting to lose it, lose everything she had. I tried to write verses of poetry that would do it all justice, and I hoped people would be imagining music similar to that in the section of Skyfall. In one small token to that track, I made reference to Tennyson Street in the script. Check it out.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
J: Novels: John Le Carre writes in beautiful language with not a word wasted, and exceptional human observation; moreover his work is written to be read out loud. Paul Kidd writes adventure stories whose plots have solid bones and simply ooze pure joy. Terry Pratchett is a literary genius who can reveal the most serious human truths while secretly stealing your braces – I can’t get enough of his humour. Shakespeare – I intensively watched Henry V, both Branagh and Hiddleston, to see how I could use the techniques in the Agincourt speech to craft Boss Alpha Blutenstein’s ‘speech of his life’, as he persuaded his pack followers to convert from apex predators to pacifists who may still represent themselves on the top status rung.

J: Comics: Most definitely Aaron Neathery, who creates Endtown, in my opinion a master work of the genre. It’s surreal fantasy in the realm of the human condition. Think Mad Max meets Pogo meets Labyrinth meets The Bed-Sitting Room. I was hooked from the first pages, and I’m hooked still. And there’s Bill Holbrook, who creates Kevin and Kell, a semi-serious animal society daily strip. Gary Clark, with Swamp, a daily gag strip with a strike rate for new and funny jokes that I envy to death. Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido for Blacksad (writer and artist respectively) – for pity’s sake this series is good; it’s movie-length, cinematic-quality, full-page watercolour 1950’s detective fiction, from a part of the world (Spain/France) that wears the anthropomorphic animal genre like a well-fitting suit. Stan Sakai for Usagi Yojimbo, a long-running title that simply has no equal. Murray Ball, Charles Schulz, Tove Jansson, Ursula Vernon…
BC: I bought the first Blacksad hardcover on your recommendation, and I agree, it’s absolutely beautiful stuff (but, not for children).

J: For the record, I know Neathery, Holbrook, Clark and Sakai, and they are all splendid people.

J: And I want to give a prize to all the writers, artists, animators and producers of Zootopia.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips? What do you think makes for a good comic?
J: I want them to be very good at what they intend to do. If it’s a daily gag, I expect it to be a funny gag. More than that, I want to know it’s the best gag that could be done by a skilled exponent. I want to know the creator gives a damn… comes up with an idea, looks at it and says: “Very funny, Cartoonist, now throw it away, do it again and make it funnier.”

(from Doc Rat.)

J: If it’s a story, I want it to add some richness to my life… you know, something I wouldn’t ordinarily have had myself from my own resources. Tell me a story to which I can’t guess the ending. A story that has a theme and an undertone as well as a plot. A story that passes on to me a little of the writer’s wisdom of life in the process of working the narrative’s crisis to its resolution. I want to come away enlightened. In that way, Swamp tells the funniest jokes, Kevin and Kell works the genre and Endtown succeeds with a sublime story on every level – it’s paradigm-challenging and perspective-changing.

J: Visually, I expect the artwork to be just as fresh and appealing. I want it to be drawn well, and I want each panel to offer something different and interesting. (Peanuts is the exception that proves the rule, of course.) I want something more than talking heads. And my maxim is: “Above all else, the story.” If it came to it, I’d prefer well-written and poorly-drawn over poorly-written and well-drawn, every time. So, when it takes so much longer to draw a comic than to write it, then please spend that extra bit of time on improving the writing. Edit, edit, edit. Cut out any words that don’t have to be in there. Comics are a visual medium, so whenever possible “show, don’t tell”. If the writer and artist are separate people, then they should communicate closely, because a solution can be found in the image that can help remove parts of the text.

(from Doc Rat.)

BC: What do you think of Patreon?
J: Patreon is a brilliant, new solution to the existing problem of how a comic creator can make a reliable income. Creators with a sufficiently popular product can get a regular payment from people who love their work above all others’. The old business models are withering, and some new one has to take over. There is still, though, the age-old caveat: if it were easy, everyone would be doing it! In the Golden Age, hopeful artists and writers would drag their portfolios around to comic publishers and newspapers, and it was possible in that way to get hired, but only the top percent would make the grade. Now, with Patreon, it’s still only the top percent who will make it. Even though the model is different, that part hasn’t changed.

J: Neathery, with merit, has a lot of loyal fans of Endtown, and the regular income from Patreon has been instrumental to his continuing to work as an Internet cartoonist for a living. But even so, his patrons have been promised rewards for their scheduled payments. He spends at least a day every month alone drawing and sending postcards, and writing a very long exclusive email, and there’s the cost of mailing prints and even original strip artwork to the larger supporters. Yes, Neathery does get that money, but he sure works for it – over and above what he does to keep the strip running.

J: Holbrook has a similar, self-run system of supporters and sponsors. He has something like 25,000 site visitors a month, so he can charge a good price for the ads. Of course, with the numbers he’s built up over twenty-plus years, his clients get value in what they pay for.

J: Neathery and Holbrook work full-time. I work very limited hours as a cartoonist and writer. My first priority is to completing five comics a week in the time available to me. Patreon or Kickstarter would be an idea for sometime in the future for me, but not right now. The last thing I’d want to do would be to promise extra benefits I’d fail to deliver. Supporters deserve to be treated with respect.

J: But please, folks, do visit Doc Rat daily. Or @DocRatComic on Twitter. And buy the books.

BC: Do you have any appearances scheduled for conventions?
J: I’ll be at ConFurgence 2017 in Melbourne, January 6 – 8, 2017. I’ll probably be at Anthrocon 2017 (June 29 – July 2, 2017), too.


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

Poll question: Do you eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away, or do you just like apples?


Justin Baglio interview

In an effort to provide exposure to cartoonists that haven’t hit the big time yet, I’m including comics that are currently running on GoComics’ Comic Sherpa. This time, I’d like to introduce Justin Baglio, creator of No Ordinary Life.


JB: Well, my name is Justin Baglio and I am 38 years old, married for 16 years and have three kids (15, 12 and 10).  I have the most exciting day job ever, buying food for Sysco Foods of Charlotte……I sit in a cubical….joy!  I coach wrestling for AAU youth wrestling, which both of my boys are a part of (they are the 12 and 10 year olds) and obviously I draw the No Ordinary Life comic strip.

JB: I’ve always been a doodler and drawerereer (how every you spell that) and have done it my whole life.  In classes growing up I was always the kid finishing work early and then drawing all sorts of things during the rest of the time.  I don’t have the best art in the world but I have a unique art to myself and good enough to be enjoyable.  How did I get into cartooning?  Well, I HATED to read anything but comics growing up, both superhero and cartoon comics.  My favorite (cartoon) comics were Beatle Bailey, Heathcliff, Hagar the Horrible, Garfield and the Farside.  I’ve always been a funny person (I make myself laugh) so in the early 2000’s I decided to start drawing a comic strip. I came up with the name No Ordinary Life and drew like 5-10 comics that year and then just daydreamed of being famous.  Then one day when I was on my lunch break reading a book in my car I realized that I was wasting my spare time reading what other people actually took the time to stop daydreaming and do.  So from that point on (back around 2010) I decided it was time to put down someone’s book and pick up my own pen and paper during my lunch break.

JB: So now, for the past few years, I go to Starbucks (mainly b/c it’s easy and available to sit and draw with a simple coffee purchase, like I’m renting a table for 2 dollars a day to draw) and draw my comic.  Another interesting note is I have never taken a single art or computer class, I have just fumbled my way through into drawing comics and I think I’ve finally gotten them to look how I want them.  I don’t draw them in any way, shape or form in a ‘normal’ way, I don’t sketch them, shadow box or any other way of pre-drawing.  I get the image into my head I want and I rule my box by eye, then start drawing my picture in finished pen. If I make a mistake I just fold it in half and start again.  Normally I get it how I want it in my first or second try. If I make a few minor mistakes I just fix them on my computer when I scan and edit.  My biggest challenge is grammar, I SUCK at grammar. I tell people that normally with prints if you find the one with the mistake it’s maybe worth more but with mine, if I ever make it big, if you find one of my comics without a mistake that will be the one worth more.

JB: So what is No Ordinary Life (NOL) about?  It’s about what’s in my head, what I think, what makes ME laugh out loud, because if it doesn’t make me laugh I can’t draw it to make others laugh.  NOL is a single panel comic strip that is just random humor, no rhyme (I’m not a poet) no reason (I’ve never had some), so humor.  I have random inspiration hit my thoughts and that is what I use when drawing my comics, I’m not an organized, planned person so my comic reflects that, I’m just funny.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
JB: Cartoonist. I stopped day dreaming about being a cartoonist and started working towards being a cartoonist.  I’ve always loved reading comics, I find humor in everything and I draw pretty good ‘cartoony’ looking people and animals so I decided to put all three together and draw my own comics.  I used to just do them for myself and share with my wife and a few choice friends and they all seemed to like them so after a while I started showing other acquaintances and they seemed to like them so I thought, I can do this.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
JB: June of 2013, I decided that I wanted to be a cartoonist, to truly get serious about it, I opened up my Sherpa account on GoComics and decided to unleash NOL (in it’s infancy at the time) for public consumption.  I then started drawing on my lunch breaks at the local Starbucks (because that was the best place to be left alone for 30 minutes to an hour and draw in peace and all it cost me was a small coffee.

JB: I would say my biggest break came when a local publisher from Raleigh, NC, Raburn Publishing, contacted me through social media and asked to publish a book of No Ordinary Life.  That told me that the public really does like my humor and my comic, the whole experience (a lot good and some bad) taught me a lot about my comic and helped me grow as a cartoonist.

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
JB: I have two books available on Amazon.  I have the very 1st one that Raburn Publishing did called Family Time, which is black and white and very roughly drawn compared to my current comics.  I did my own, self-published, book call, Why is the Coffee Always Gone, almost a year ago because I thought my comic had grown so much from my first book that I wanted to get a new and updated NOL available.  This book is full color and fewer pages, I kept it at less pages since adding the color makes the price higher and I couldn’t get as many comics in it and keep it affordable for readers to want to purchase it.

BC: How do you start the panel?
JB: Before I draw a comic I get a good visual image in my mind of the comic idea that I find most visible and funny for the day.  Normally, I have a new idea I had just thought of within the last day or I have a lot that I have put into my phone waiting for that perfect mental image to join them.  Then, honestly, I sit down (at Starbucks), box in my frame with a sharpy and ruler and start drawing the images in my mind.  I try not to ‘try’ too hard because I tend to overlook and under draw when I do that.  I like to let my thoughts flow into the pen and onto the paper.  If I make a mistake that isn’t an easy editing fix with the computer later I just tear that paper out and start all over.  It’s really quite magical.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
JB: I think it would be sung by either They Might Be Giants or Bare Naked Ladies.  Both of those bands are fun, comical and extremely talented in whimsical ways.  In particular. the songs, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, “Women and Men”, “Whistling in the Dark”, “If I Had a Million Dollars”, “One Week” and “It’s All Been Done” to name a few.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met them? Do you have any dirt on them?
JB: I’m a bit of a Harry Potter dork so I would say J.K. Rowling (I’ve read each of the books 4 times now, twice to myself and once to my daughter and now I’m reading them with my boys).  And no I haven’t met her, would love to kick some dirt on her though.  I LOVE all things The Farside, Gary Larson is truly amazing!  There are others too, but those are the two that really stand out for me.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
JB: Currently I follow these outstanding strips–Speed Bump (Dave Coverly), the humor is well done and his art is some of the best I’ve seen.  Off the Mark (Mark Parisi), always a fun laugh.  The Flying McCoys and The Duplex (Glenn and Gary McCoy), their art is also extremely good and their single panel comic, The Flying McCoys, is impeccable. And then, The Duplex is fun to see what Eno and Fang are up to.  1 and Done (Eric Scott) is a relatively new addition to my viewing and I find that he has a unique style and some good off-the-wall humor that hits my funny bone. Argyle Sweater (Scott Hilburn) is another that is very similar to The Farside but has tendencies to be a lot more ‘pun’ny than anything.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
JB: How well it’s written and if the picture actually works with the gag.  I like the art to be memorable and the joke to actually be funny.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
JB: I think the best comics should be, to start with,…Funny!  To me the humor shouldn’t be too obvious, some jokes are supposed to be too obvious and the picture is more the punch line but a good rule is that a good comic is a little off the wall and makes you sometimes wonder if you’re missing something when you first read it.  The other thing I think makes for a good comic is not being ‘perfectly’ drawn (exception to this is Calvin and Hobbes, because Watterson is just that damn good at drawing).  If you look at The Farside, Peanuts, Garfield (when it first came out), Hagar the Horrible, Close to Home and In The Bleachers to name a few, these are not drawn perfectly, but instead they are drawn memorably; they stand out.  Hand-drawn comics with handwritten lettering stands out the most. Pair that with some good gag writing and that makes for a damn good comic.

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

Poll: Can bosses really “smell fear”?


Maiji/Mary Huang interview

Maiji/Mary Huang’s Now Recharging was just announced on GoComics at the end of September. I like the artwork, and I wanted to give the story a try. As I went through the comments on the first two pages, I was seeing the same pattern, with readers saying that they like what they’re seeing, then turning a little more impatient at having to wait a couple days to get past the splash pages. So, I found Maiji’s website and went through the archives for the first chapter of the story. Now Recharging is a manga-influenced series about a haphazard android named Emmie, and their less than successful attempts at finding their purpose in life. There’s a lot of light-hearted humor and child-like wonder in this comic that takes a bit of time to build up and establish itself. Be patient, Now Recharging is worth the wait.

BC: How often will NR update?
MMH: Now Recharging started in September, 2015, and continues to run there. The third chapter (numbered 2 thanks to my attempt at being clever with a chapter 0) just started September, 2016. Originally, updates were whenever I finished a page, but it’s since settled to twice a week, usually Mondays and Thursdays (sometimes I’ll stagger a post just to line it up with a certain date, like a holiday or an anniversary). The GoComics schedule is Mondays and Thursdays, starting from the very beginning of the comic.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
MMH: I’m a Taiwanese-Canadian artist and writer based out of Toronto. My name is rather common and has resulted in some identity confusion in the past. So in my creative work I go by “Maiji/Mary Huang”, or just Maiji. (The Maiji is a little squirrel-like creature I began drawing in elementary school that turned into a long-running in-joke with friends and family. It’s pretty much my avatar for everything!) This still seems to cause confusion at times in terms of name ordering, how many people I actually am, etc., but at least it’s a bit more distinct!

MMH: Mostly I think of myself as someone who loves communications – words, pictures, art, storytelling, design, media, language, books, etc. – and who makes things and babbles about stuff I like. I guess that counts as an artist! In some ways my creative work is “just” a hobby, as I have a different full-time job I also enjoy. But it’s really all a continuum of stuff I do. (I’ve written a long blog post on some of my thoughts on this, as well as how I work, for anyone who might be interested.)

MMH: I love comics in particular because they’re such a flexible, accessible and powerful communications medium. You don’t need anything fancy to tell an engaging and/or immersive story, and it always blows my mind how much you can do with it.

BC: How did you get your start then?
MMH: I’ve been drawing and reading comics for as long as I can remember. My sister is probably the reason I love both things so much. When we lived in Taiwan, my family had a manga rental store, so comics were simply a part of life growing up. I have lots of memories of my sister reading them to me, doing voices for all the characters.

MMH: My biggest break was being born. It’s easy to take that for granted, and it’s something I think about a lot (I realize this makes me sound like a blast at parties…) Next is having family and friends who are supportive of what I do, even if they don’t always necessarily understand it. It makes a world of difference! Then, probably my family coming to Canada – mainly because this event set the course for my experiences.

MMH: In terms of things more specific to comics, getting to exhibit at TCAF (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival) opened the door to many other things. This includes TCAF in Tokyo (exhibiting at Kaigai Manga Festa/Tokyo International Comic Festival and Design Festa); meeting and hanging out with other artists who really inspired me and helped me develop my thinking on where I want to go creatively; and this GoComics opportunity. I’m very excited – and a little nervous – to be able to share this little comic with more people!

(Nod, from the short story Sleeping Aid.)

BC: What led up to your starting Now Recharging?
MMH: Conceptually speaking, Now Recharging brings together various things that have bothered, amused, or comforted me for a long time. Even as a kid, existential fretting was and is something that comes all too naturally. Long story short, after working through a particularly intense bout of it last year, I ended up with the character of Emmie the android. The rest grew from there.

MMH: Technically speaking, I’ve always dreamed of creating a longer narrative comic, but I wasn’t sure if I could sustain something like that. I’ve made comics and zines for a long time, and I’ve also coordinated and participated in a couple of anthologies for Suddenly Sentai, a local comics collective of friends. These have largely been one-shots, not long-term projects. Now Recharging is the most involved thing I’ve been able to get off the ground to date. Right now there are over 100 completed pages in a box under my bed. Compared to many other creators’ outputs, that’s really nothing… but it’s something I never thought I’d manage, so I’m very proud of that!

(Zine cover for Wash my dreams with ink.)

MMH: Lately my creative focus and time has mostly been on Now Recharging, but I still have plans for other things. I do a couple of serial zines: My Life As A Maiji, which are silly autobio comics about my life, family and friends, and Wash My Dreams With Ink, which features brush pen stories, poetry and thoughts in comics form. A project of some sort about Taiwan has also been on my list for a while. I’m on the fence as to how much to talk about something before it’s realized. I’m a bit fickle. Sometimes talking about it seems to help make it happen, other times it just keeps getting deferred to eternity.

BC:What would you like people new to NR to know about it?
MMH: Now Recharging is intended to be like a collection of short stories, where each chapter – not always chronological – is relatively self-contained. The reader can assemble these pieces into a more unified vision of this world and these characters’ lives. (Think Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack.)

MMH: The central character, Emmie, is a rather scatterbrained robot who’s not really designed for any particular application. Like any person, they want to be useful and have purpose. Part of this story is about that search for meaning, as well as our own worries about what might – or might not – ultimately be behind it. And regardless of how much deep metaphysical talk you throw at something, life is still happening. This story is also about that: the ordinary, lovely little things about being alive in this world, and the people who accompany us on our journey. Chapter 2 introduces another robot, the other major character whose job and experiences will help add to Emmie’s perspective.

MMH: Many robot stories are more about ourselves than anything else – our own hopes and fears. My hope is to explore this in an amusing, charming, gentle way. There are specific things I’ve planned for, but there’s definitely some making stuff up as I go along, too.

BC: Why a sheep (Emmie’s stuffed toy)?
MMH: As for why sheep – well, androids and sheep have a bit of history, don’t they? There are a few nods to SF classics here and there, as well as other things I love. And there’s something very comforting about how fluffy and cute sheep can be when you draw them. It seems to me they’d be the perfect companion for an anxious little robot to hug while recharging!

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
MMH: You can see my self-published works, including the books/zines mentioned above, at my store (there’s some cute Now Recharging things there!) I also do conventions, comics and small press events, mostly in Toronto (Canada). There’s a list of upcoming events on my site!

MMH: I’m also trying out Pay What You Want digital downloads for some out-of-print works.

(Character art)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet when you start your next page?
MMH: For me, it’s a rather circular, overlapping, ongoing, organized chaos-type process. There’s too much going on for it to really be a blank sheet. I write down ideas and flesh things out whenever it comes to me, and whenever I have time – usually notes on my phone or in my sketchbook when I’m waiting, commuting, etc. For Now Recharging, these get consolidated into a Google doc of chapters and scenes that are gradually fleshed out into scripts.

MMH: As the idea or scene becomes more defined and coherent, the script gets broken down into pages, which I then start thumbnailing. I post wips/process photos on my instagram every so often if you’d like a peek! My thumbnails are very scratchy and terrible. Sometimes if I leave them too long I have no idea what’s going on anymore, but it takes the pressure off trying to recapture something perfectly when I start to draw the “real” page. And at the “real” page stage, sometimes I’ll redo the composition and even rework pagination as I go.

BC: What would NR sound like?
MMH: If Now Recharging were an anime, I’d love the opening and ending songs to be like Onitsuka Chihiro, Bastille, Streetlight Cadence. I imagine music with a bright or even cheerful quality and interesting vocals/instrumentation, while the lyrics are unusual, ambiguous, or simply not what you’d expect based on the sound of the song. Something that makes you feel happy even while the lyrics are not, exactly. Other than that, something cute, I guess?

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
MMH: Ahhh, this is hard. There are so many incredible artists and writers who have affected how I think or approach my own work. And I’m always stumbling upon new (and old) creators whose work astounds me. Here are a few who stand out in my mind at the moment. I haven’t met any of them (and some are sadly no longer around…), but I’ve gone back to their works time and time again for pleasure, refreshment and inspiration.

Osamu Tezuka. Frequently referred to as the “god of manga”.
Yoshihiro Togashi. The 90s manga/anime Yu Yu Hakusho was/is one of my biggest obsessions.
Isaac Asimov. I read a lot of his robot short stories when I was a kid.
Mary Oliver. I find her poetry evocative and just plain beautiful.

(Happy Lunar New Year.)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
MMH: Two I’m really into right now are Chirault by Ally Rom Colthoff (Varethane) / and Interstellar C.A.T. Crew by Sheharzad Arshad.

MMH: I actually learned about Chirault when I met the creator at a Toronto indie arts event a few years ago; we tabled back to back. Her commitment to this story and this world – over 9 years and over 1000 pages now – is breathtaking, and I love the character interactions. The artwork is beautiful, and she also works in traditional media.

MMH: I follow Sheharzad on instagram, and I’ve been getting my Interstellar C.A.T fix there! His style and focus are quite different from what I do. I find his work very clever, and I really like all the thoughtful, playful little touches he adds, like how the speech bubbles overlay the actual meowing of the Catilians (read the comic to see what I’m talking about!)

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
MMH: I’m a very visual person, so art is definitely the first thing that catches my eye! More than just the art style, however, it’s the skill in composing a page layout or panel sequence, and how the artist brings you into a scene or a moment, sometimes even viscerally. The skill sets are quite different. You can have comics with gorgeous art but less solid paneling that can make it hard to get into the story or the action and feel like it’s alive. Also, a well-done, cinematic action sequence (something I wrestle with) impresses the heck out of me! Shounen manga artists are particularly good at this.

MMH: Content-wise, it depends on the format and the story. There are lots of really charming and hilarious comic strips and strip-a-day works that just kill me with a great idea or punchline combined with brilliant and often understated execution. For longer narratives, I tend to be drawn to stories with strong character interaction and family-type relationships. I also love supernatural stuff, whether it’s paranormal or science or speculative fiction. And slice-of-life.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
MMH: I do! Not for myself at the moment, but to support and pledge to others’ work. Maybe in the future!

BC: Do you have any other projects coming up?

MMH: I’ll be at these events:
Anime North Doujinka Festival: Toronto, Oct. 28, 2016
Canzine: Toronto, Oct. 29, 2016

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

Poll: Do you like manga?


Lorie Ransom Interview

I first saw Lorie Ransom’s The Daily Drawing when GoComics announced they were going to carry it, back around Jan. 19, 2015. She had a strong, solid art style, which she used to present single-panel gags that required a bit of thought to figure out. That is, she didn’t feel compelled to spell the joke out for the slower readers. I liked it from the beginning, but it wasn’t until the April 18, 2015 panel with the hamster stretching for a run that I really fell in love with the strip. I enjoy the low-key approach to many of the strips, yet she can also be a bit macabre or jabbing when she wants to. TDD runs M-W-F.

(The Daily Drawing.)

BC: Who are you?
LR: I’m a smallish wife with 2 cats and a house in the soggy but beautiful Pacific Northwest. I do web design and development for my day job so I can afford to sit around making silly drawings in the evenings.

BC: How do you consider yourself as an artist?
LR: I consider myself a person who draws (the title “artist” has always seemed pretentious to me unless one is making a living at it), and a moonlighting cartoonist. I’ve always been inclined to make artsy stuff, but I tend to draw one-off, comic-type art because my short attention span won’t let me do anything more complicated. I also like for there to be an idea behind the stuff I create. Nice drawings are nice to look at, but I want it to be interesting, too. And I like to make people laugh, including myself. Comics seem to fit the bill.

(The Daily Drawing.)

BC: How did you get your start as a “drawer”?
LR: I’ve never been super driven to create. I’ve gone long stretches without doing any kind of art. I had one of those stretches about 3 years ago, and decided to try and snap myself out of it by committing (publicly, via Instagram and Facebook) to do a drawing a day for a year. I started doing random pencil sketches, slowly migrated to using ink and incorporating silly ideas. Eventually I started adding dialog. By the end of the year I had amassed quite a few comic-style pieces. I tidied them up and sent them off to the syndicates, and ended up getting signed by Uclick/GoComics.

(The Daily Drawing.)

BC: How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
LR: It’s been a little over a year and a half since I started posting on GoComics. That’s been my biggest (and only?) break!

BC: Do you have anything else going on right now?
LR: I would like to try and publish a book – I definitely have enough material at this point. The trick is dedicating the time to pursue it. So far it’s just an idea in my head.

(The Daily Drawing.)

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with?
LR: I like the panels that are equally weird and clever – and that make me laugh. These are usually the ones that are popular with other folks but not always. “The New Culinary Classics” was shared by Alton Brown, so that was pretty cool!

BC: How did you learn to draw? One of my favorite TDDs was the hamster warming up to start running on the little wheel (above). I thought that one was very well-done.
LR: Thank you! I’ve been inclined to draw as long as I can remember. I remember kindergarten teachers oohing and ahhing over my mad Crayon skills. I think I inherited it from my Mom who is a talented painter. I got a graphic design degree in college so I did get some formal art training there.

(The Daily Drawing.)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
LR: I usually sit down with a sketchbook and just start drawing. Sometimes the ideas come from just thinking about what could be funny, but more often they come from random doodling. The ideas come from me looking at the doodle and thinking “oh this looks like this other thing, which weirdly relates to this other thing. That’s kinda funny!”

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be/sound like?
LR: Some 70s sitcom with a bad laugh track.

(The Daily Drawing.)

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
LR: I absolutely love Monty Python. Their ridiculous humor kills me.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
LR: I follow a few – B.C. and Pickles are my top 2 favorites at the moment. I’ve been reading B.C. since I was a kid. Pickles is usually reliably funny and reminds me of my parents (hi Dad!)

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
LR: I like simplicity in the drawing style and typography. If it’s hard to read even a little bit I might skip it (going back to the aforementioned attention span issue).

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
LR: I think a good comic is reliably funny, and also has a “hook” – characters people love and can identify with, and makes them want to come back and read your strip again. I would hope my work is fairly consistent in the funny category, but I’m still seeking that hook. My panels are pretty random at the moment.

(The Daily Drawing.)

BC: Single-panel strips like F-Minus, the Far Side and Argyle Sweater seem to do fine with unrelated, disassociated gags. Is having a hook necessarily important in this context?
LR: Yes, I think a hook really helps but obviously isn’t necessary for comic rock stars. Gary Larson is an incredibly talented creator who also had the advantage of publishing a strip that was pretty unique for the time period. He did develop a bit of thematic continuity (cows, scientists, bugs) that perhaps helped “brand” his work so installment feels familiar to his audience. I don’t follow F-Minus and Argyle Sweater (I actually try to avoid other panel strips at this point because I’m afraid their ideas will sink into my subconscious and boil back up into ideas that I think are my own), but the panels I’ve seen are artistically wonderful and hilarious – all these artists have talent that I aspire to.

BC: Every so often, someone will come into the GoComics TDD comments, complain about TDD not being “daily” (then leave and never come back). How do you approach replying to this kind of person, and should we really care what the name of strip is?
LR: Ha! That’s hilarious. As a rule I don’t respond to negative comments, but I have seen a few commenters who seem genuinely curious about it. The strip is named The Daily Drawing because I didn’t really think too hard about how confusing it would be if I only posted 3 days a week. It made sense when I was approaching the syndicates, assuming if the strip were picked up then I would do daily installments. I’d love to do one every day but since it’s not a full-time gig, that’s more time than I can invest. My internal reaction to such comments is “Sorry it’s confusing, but oh well, it’s a comic, does it really need to make total sense?”

BC: Has TDD helped you get over not being driven to be creative?
LR: Somewhat – I’m definitely compelled to create now for the deadlines but I wouldn’t say I’m any more driven! The good news is I feel like I’ve honed in on a style and it’s been fun to work and grow within that.

BC: What do your friends and family think of TDD? Do they always get the jokes, or do you have to explain the punchlines to them?
LR: Some think they’re hilarious, others don’t really get them, which is fine. You can’t please everyone!

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

Poll: Can you get the joke in the last panel of the interview, without help?


Beutel (James) Interview

Back when Banana Triangle, drawn and written by Beutel (James), began running on GoComics, I had a little trouble getting into the art style, and I really wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that the main characters died half-way through the story and were turned into bony skeletons. Then, about 1 year ago, Greg Cravens mentioned on his site that he’s a big fan of BT, and that got me into going through the full Banana Triangle archives to try to get a better understanding of the comic as a whole.

Basically, we have 3 people, Tom, Scotty and Rosemary, who find themselves on a deserted island, after what seems to be the end of civilization. Initially, the main food source is mangoes, but whatever needs to be used at some point will suddenly be washed up on the beach in a crate. Later, other characters will stagger in (or row up on a raft), and everyone will fight over the limited resources, or the fact that nobody actually wants to do any of the work around there. Tom is the stoic one, and he suffers the most because of it. But, the others get their comeuppances off and on, too. The artwork is good, and the backgrounds will have skulls or bones scattered around sometimes. The gags are dark humored, but usually topical, and the disjointed storylines do make sense if you go back and reread them from the beginning of the arc. Not everyone is going to “get” Banana Triangle, but it is pretty funny if you do.

BC: Who are you?
BJ: I am Beutel (James), internationally famous creator of the webcomic Banana Triangle.

(The first Banana Triangle strip.)

BC: Reveal yourself.
BJ: I feel as though I’ve already said too much.

BC: Why “Beutel (James)”? Are there so many Beutels that you have to serialize yourselves to tell yourselves apart?
BJ: It’s a silly affectation. Nothing more, nothing less.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
BJ: A cartoonist mostly. And aren’t cartoonists artists? Sure they are! So I consider myself that too! But you’d never confuse me with an illustrator. Illustrators get paid for their efforts. An artist cares nothing for money!

BC: How did you get your start then?
BJ: I started drawing cartoons & comic books for my own amusement as a lonely 12 year old. A dozen years later I realized that there are people that actually make a living doing such things and became determined to find success in the world of syndicated newspaper comic strips.

BC: How long have you been at this?
BJ: Here’s where I will start to get a little “long-winded.”
Off and on over a period of twenty years I would find myself with bursts of inspiration and optimism. At these times I would gather up the courage to send my work off to be mostly ignored by the cruel, heartless syndicate editors. Despite their tendency towards cruel-heartlessness I would very occasionally find a kind comment scribbled on the corner of a rejection letter.

BJ: The late Jay Kennedy (one-time King Features Syndicate Comics Editor) was actually frequently “kind” in that way but kept trying to steer me towards publishers of alternative comics where he apparently thought my work would find a better fit. Somewhat later John Glynn (Current Comics Editor-God for one of the remaining newspaper syndicate conglomerates) expressed an interest for a while. I was hopeful and encouraged and… but it ultimately turned out to be a dead end.

BJ: BUT THEN!!!! Dut-dut-da-a-a-ah! MY BIG BREAK!
Seriously… I did get a “big break.” I, Beutel (James), was offered a contract to develop a comic strip for The Washington Post Writers Group! Not only that, but I would be working with Amy Lago, one-time “editor” of PEANUTS!! …of Charles Schulz!! …WOW!! My future was SET!!
So, after a brief period of negotiations (I actually engaged the services of an attorney who specialized in newspaper comic syndication. Yes, such a person exists), and when WPWG mailed me my first modest stipend I set to work at developing the soon-to-be-internationally-beloved newspaper comic: Sunny Hamlet.

(Sunny Hamlet.)

BJ: Well, (sigh…) my “big break” turned out to be a big, fat disappointment because after a year and a half I learned my feature was not going to make it to the funny pages. A crushing disappointment that Amy Lago attributed to the current miserable state of the economy (the “crash” of 2008 was in progress) or perhaps she was just making an effort to spare my feelings. (snif! snif!) At any rate I was now free to market my wares if I so chose and I did, sending Sunny Hamlet through the gauntlet once again. Bleh! At the same time I was working on a new (but not exactly new) strip that was by-no-means suitable for the daily newspaper funny pages. And seeing as I was now drawing with a pen tablet and using Photoshop to create what was originally called “The Island” it seemed natural to send it out on the internet. I created to see if I could find an audience there. Eventually this strip, now titled “Banana Triangle,” made its way to GoComics where it currently updates 3 days each week.

BC: Ok then, what led up to starting Banana Triangle? Do you have any other pokers in the fire?
BJ: Oops! I think I mostly covered this in my response to the previous question. As to pokers, I do have a couple but not much fire. However I would very much like to get my many, many years of Sunny Hamlet out there on the web somehow, but that would require endless hours of tedious scanning. Additionally I hope to wake up one day and discover that someone has made my website look more professional and up to date. I know I can’t do it!

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with?
BJ: Creating Banana Triangle gives me tremendous satisfaction.

(Banana Triangle.)

BC: But, why Banana Triangle (nee the Island)? That is, what was the process that brought you to the conclusion that cannibalism could be funny?
BJ: There was no “process,” per se. The early days of Banana Triangle were all about establishing the personalities and motivations of the main characters and to do so within the confines of the circumstances in which they find themselves. They wake up to find themselves on a small island with limited resources, i.e. food. They’re hungry…starving! Very quickly “what’s for dinner” becomes “who’s for dinner.” The characters are all thinking about it but one of them simply has no filter between her mind and her voice box. Is it funny? Not really but I try to portray it so.

BC: For readers that haven’t tried it yet, what’s your pitch to reel them in?
BJ: I have no idea. How about “You’ll come for the bucolic sunsets. You’ll stay ‘cuz we ate your legs.”

BC: For readers that ran away the first time Tom got killed (or Scotty threw up bad creamed corn), what words do you have for them?
BJ: Metaphor! Metaphor! C’mon… it’s just metaphor!

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
BJ: Nope! However I hope to one day wake up and find…

(Banana Triangle.)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
BJ: I don’t have a simple answer for this, I’m afraid. I do find that going for long walks (alone) can be very fruitful.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
BJ: Actually WordPress/ Comicpress, the content management system I use for my website, has the ability to add a small amount of sound/music but I couldn’t get it to work. The “music” I was attempting to add was the sound of gentle waves slowly lapping the shore of an empty beach.
Perhaps one day I shall wake up to find…

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Do you have any dirt on them?
BJ: So many “favorites.” Too many. I’ve never met any, however. I take it for granted that they are all dirty to some degree. Filthy dirty! Some are dead and literally covered with dirt.

BC: What other comic strips do you follow?
BJ: I always check out XKCD. It makes feel smart when I “get it.” I adore Perry Bible Fellowship. I follow Buni on GoComics cuz’ it’s dark and funny and it was launched there immediately before Banana Triangle. David Malki!’s Wondermark is delightful. And Hark! A Vagrant? So clever! Others too!

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
BJ: Initially I am attracted to and/or intrigued by the “look.” From there the wit, originality and depth will keep me interested.

(Banana Triangle.)

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
BJ: See above.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning?
BJ: I don’t know if I’d recognize the face of webcartooning if it was standing directly in front of me so any changes just confuse me. Kickstarter? Patreon? Could using these “products” result in Banana Triangle earning money for it’s creator? That’d be nice!
BC: No guarantees…

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
BJ: I lead a quiet life.

BC: Coming back to Banana Triangle, could you give us an insight to the motivations and personalities of the four main characters, Tom, Scotty, Rosemary and/or the briefcase?
BJ: Ay yi yi! I probably shouldn’t try. Just know that like me Tom is extremely introverted. And I… No! I’ve said too much already!

BC: How far ahead do you plot the stories, arcs, sub-plots, etc.?
BJ: I generally manage to maintain a six month “buffer” but the story arcs are largely unplanned and I pray that readers will forgive the incoherence that results.

BC: How much of what happens to the trio mirrors something happening in real life at the time you draw the strip?
BJ: More than I am conscious of, I think.

BC: Is Banana Triangle farce, parody, surrealism or just really repulsive stuff (like someone that keeps picking their scabs on live TV and the audience is too disgusted to change the channel)?
BJ: I hope it is a little bit of all the first three things. It would make me terribly sad if it were thought to be the last.

(Banana Triangle.)

BC: I gave Banana Triangle a second try because of the recommendations by Greg Cravens (The Buckets, Hubris). Any words for Greg?
BJ: Nothing pleases me more than when someone whose work I admire thinks what I do is worthy of attention. So… Thanks, Greg!

BC: Do you have any long-term game plan for the BT trio?
BJ: Survival. That’s what it’s all about!

BC: How would you characterize your readers on your main site compared with the ones on GoComics? Has their reception of BT been positive on the whole? Neutral? Negative? How do you respond to people that don’t “get” BT and the BT jokes?
BJ: My response to this question is largely based on assumptions I make because I don’t have all that many readers who comment with regularity. With GoComics I can see how many people subscribe to have Banana Triangle emailed to them when it updates (a number that grows very slowly) but I have no idea how many additional eyeballs it gets in front of. Every so often a reader there will leave in a huff and broadcast the fact in the comments section. At those times I will feel a brief pang of disappointment.

BJ: On my own website I can track page views and stuff as well as see what portion of those readers are return guests but I have only a few dependable but intermittent commenters. Fewer still are those that hang with it and make (much appreciated) comments along the way as they follow the strip. What seems to happen more often than not is that someone will find Banana Triangle somehow and consume it in its entirety in one or two sittings. Their comments are generally very positive but I seldom hear from them again and I assume they forget about its existence. I can’t blame them because it’s happened to me with many webcomics I’ve read over the years.

BJ: It seems to me that the most successful (measured by volume of readers) webcomics are those that offer multiple reasons for a person to go and visit their site. Certainly more than simply the latest update of the strip. Some readers really seem to value interaction with the creator(s). I don’t see myself doing more of that sort of thing than the small amount I currently do.

(Banana Triangle. Exclusive to Basket Case.)

BC: Scotty, Tommy and Rosemary vs. Gilligan, The Skipper and the rest?
BJ: Sorry I [can’t] indulge your desire for a Rosemary VS Ginger cage match. I just can’t make it work in my head. I mean… Gilligan’s Island is fictional!

BC: What can we expect in BT in the next 3 months or so?
BJ: Nice try!

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

Poll question: Would you want live on a desert island and eat bloody bananas?


Brian Anderson interview

Comic Sherpa is the site GoComics uses to let upcoming artists test their chops. I’ve sampled it occasionally, but there’s nothing there that I read consistently (although, a few of the Sherpa strips that DID make it to GoComics, such as Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics, have become favorites of mine). I had seen Dog Eat Doug a few times before, and it seemed to be a nice, simple story about 2 parents with a baby (Doug) and a dog (Sophie). However, in 2013 (and I really can’t believe it’s been that long now), GoComics in its Recent Comics section on the main page ran one of Brian’s DeD strips with Sophie commenting on some neighbors that like recreating Japanese rubbersuit movies (see below). Because the science kit publisher, Gakken, had just released a close-up webcamera for making forced-perspective shot movies, the timing was perfect. I went back through the archives, and now I’m a fan of Sophie and the techno kitties. The artwork is much more solid now, the timing and pacing of the jokes are dead-on, and Brian’s love of pop culture (especially regarding Hellboy and anything by Tim Burton) shines through most of the strips.

Additionally, in 2013, Brian started running a second strip on GoComics – an illustrated prequel to a novel he’s working on, called The Conjurers. Conjurers is set in its own universe, where stage magic was developed to disguise the fact that real magicians live among us, but they have been hiding in the shadows because of constant persecution. Brian uses a completely different style for the character designs and backgrounds, and his monsters and other-worldly creatures could easily come from Burton’s nightmares. It’s very well-done, and I am looking forward to the book release.

(from Dog Eat Doug)

BC: Brian, what’s your line?
BA: Storyteller, martial artist, magician. With dreams of becoming a real puppet.

BC: What should we know about you?
BA: Oooo. Not sure what would really interest people. Spent most of my life in Mass. Picked up and moved to NC four years ago. Love dogs, cats, have a bunch of both. Addicted to pens and notebooks that fit in my pocket.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
BA: I think I’m a storyteller. I just let the story pick the right medium.

BC: How did you get started?
BA: Started drawing when I was 2. My dad was a great cartoonist and my mom was artistic. It’s something I always did. My dad never did anything past high school and college strips, though.

BC: How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
BA: Basically been at it since as long as I can remember. Biggest break was really never giving up.

BC: Is there much of a difference between being on Comic Sherpa and the main GoComics site?
BA: That’s a hard one. I’m not sure. Both are great exposure if you interact with your readers. Personally, I read a ton on both, don’t really notice the division. I ended up leaving Sherpa because Dog Eat Doug was picked up by Creators. So it made it’s way to GoComics that way.

(from Dog Eat Doug)

BC: What led up to your starting Dog Eat Doug (DeD) and The Conjurers?
BA: DeD was inspired by my dog, Sophie. I was working on developing two other strips, not feeling either. Looked at my dog and the whole concept popped into my head. The Conjurers comes from my magic background. I’ve been practicing and performing since second grade. Always wanted to tell a fictional story about magicians that was based on real magicians and magic. Something that was far removed from wizards and spells.

BC: Initially, DeD seems to have been simply a “cute” baby plays with puppy story. Then, suddenly Sophie becomes a big fan of popular culture and Doug plays with Hellboy figures. What brought about the expansion into pop culture?
BA: That came from me. Initially I started dropping in Neil Gaiman easter eggs. Then added some for Clive Barker and Hellboy. Now, all my favorite geek references find their way in someway.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
BA: That’s hard. But I’d have to say Prince’s New Pet and Monster Chefs.

BC: Where can readers find your books?
BA: Everything available is listed on my site. But, with the advent of ebooks, I hope to release a lot more smaller projects.

(The first Dog Eat Doug)

BC: Could you talk a bit more about each of these titles?
BA: Dog eat Doug – My syndicated strip based on my real dog, Sophie. Been doing it for ten years, and recently started publishing my own collections.
Prince’s New Pet – Probably my favorite published work so far. A mostly black and white, slightly gothic picture book.
The Conjurers – This is a three book series coming out from Crown at Penguin/Random House. It’s been a trying project as I was doing something different with illustrated novels. So me and my editorial team were learning as we went. The companion webcomic came out of the desire to do another comic. Couldn’t justify putting the time into a separate project so I decided to have it tie in with the books. This way I can tell stories related to the Conjurers between book releases.

BC: I’ve seen Monster Chefs mentioned on Goodreads. What do you want to tell your readers about it and Prince’s New Pet that could convince them to go buy the books?
BA: Always hard to talk up your own books. I never do preachy books, or talk down to kids. I let the characters have their day and do what they’re going to do. I’m certain readers get a sense of the theme though, but it’s never done in a heavy-handed fashion. If you control the story, your characters never come to life. The best way to describe them is a mash up between Tim Burton and a Pixar movie.

(The first Conjurers page.)

BC: For The Conjurers – what’s the basic plot?
BA: I’ve been a magician since second grade and no one had created a fantasy world based around actual magicians. Then I thought, what if the sleight of hand and gimmicks were created to hide the real secret – that magic was real. Magicians have been prosecuted throughout history across all cultures. So what if they came up with ways to explain their powers and avoid the executioner? From there I created the Conjurian, a sanctuary world for magicians. Lots of references to real life magicians and actual tricks.

BC:How does the comic tie into the book(s)? How much longer do you expect the comic to run?
BA: Savachia, the main character in the comic, is featured prominently in the book series. His story will pick back up with book one. I have to say, the comic has been an experiment, mostly in the art department. I couldn’t spend more than an hour on each page. I think I have a good feel for the style going forward. This upcoming story arc will switch over to other characters, both of whom appear in the first book. The comic will run as long as the books.

(from The Conjurers)

BC: What are the skull-head creatures Scarface keeps as guard dogs, and when are you going to release plushie versions of them?
BA: Now that’s a great idea. They are called Rag-O-Rocs and you’ll have to wait for book one to find out more.

BC: What can you tell us about Stephen (supporting character in The Conjurers)? What are his motivations and background? He looks very Victorian – has he been around on Earth a long time? (Yes, he’s one of my favorite characters.)
BA: Stephen was a surprise to me too. He has a slightly shady background, which I think will be explored in the next story arc. So he will be the only character that crosses over.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper?
BA: I never leave it blank. Doodling, both with drawings and words. Eventually something takes shape.

BC: If DeD or Conjurers had soundtracks, what would they be?
BA: That’s really hard. 90% of what I listen to are soundtracks. DeD would probably be composed by Jim Dooley. I would have to go with a mosh-up of Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman for the Conjurers.

(from Dog Eat Doug)

BC: Who are your favorite people?
BA: Favorite writers are Neil Gaiman, Susan Hill, and Clive Barker. Haven’t met them but have gotten to chat with a couple of them online.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
BA: Lots. Many on GoComics and Tapastic. Imagine This has always been a favorite. Vinny the Vampire is a new strip I’ve been reading. Everything by Gary and Glen McCoy. Imy is always great.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
BA: Usually I don’t know what I’m looking for until I find it. By that I mean I’ll read anything. Some things click, some don’t. But when a cartoonist has a true passion for their work it comes through.

(This is the Dog Eat Doug strip that hooked me.)

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
BA: Lots of things. It’s about the whole package. Doesn’t always have to have great art. But the best are the ones where the characters come alive. That’s hard to do.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
BA: I haven’t used either, except as a backer. I love both. I’ve discovered things that I would never have come across without those sites.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up?
BA: Right now, The Conjurers is on the front burner. I should have the official publication date for book one soon.

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


Poll: Do you read comics on Comic Sherpa?


Dave Kellett interview

I saw advertising for Dave Kellett’s and Frederick Schroeder’s documentary film about the cartooning industry, Stripped on the GoComics’ blog leading up to its release in 2014. I was in Japan at the time, so I wasn’t able to watch it. Then, on June 8, 2015, Dave began running Drive on GoComics. Because the site only updated on Mondays, I got impatient and went to the official Drive site and caught up on the full archive in a couple days. That was fun, but then I learned about Dave’s earlier strip, Sheldon and that took a lot longer to read through because it’s been around since 1998. It wasn’t until I was part of the way through Sheldon that I realized this Dave Kellett was the same Dave Kellett from Stripped. Dave’s got a very clean, very recognizable art style, and his sense of humor and comic timing is razor sharp. In Drive, his aliens are a lot of fun to study, and the ships look cool. Occasionally he’ll put in large blocks of text that some readers complain about, but I think they add a lot to the background and feel of his universe. I’ve been a fan of both Sheldon and Drive since 2015, and Basket Case is proud to have helped, in a small way, the Drive hardback kickstarter reach it’s final stretch goal of $100,000 (from an initial goal of $35,000) in September. Congrats, Dave!

(Nosh, from Drive.)

BC: Who are you?
DK: I’m Dave Kellett: A Los Angeles-based cartoonist whose work is found primarily on the web. I create the humor strip SHELDON (18 years), DRIVE (7 years), and co-directed the comic strip documentary STRIPPED with Fred Schroeder.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
DK: I loved cartooning from Grade 3 onward, and basically geared my life toward figuring out how to be a cartoonist. Both my Masters degrees are cartooning focused, in fact.

(from Sheldon.)

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
DK: A cartoonist. I love that job title.

BC: How did you get your start then?
DK: The San Diego Union-Tribune let me do two editorial cartoons a week, while I was in grad school – and that was a tremendous boost toward my goal. It was an emotional lift to get that chance in a major newspaper at 21.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
DK: I’ve been drawing in some form of publication or online since 1992. My college paper was my first regular strip, and that solidified that this is what I want to do with my life.

(from Sheldon.)

BC: What led up to your starting Sheldon (and, after that, Drive), and do you have anything else going on right now?
DK: Sheldon originally appeared in that college paper strip, and was the only character to carry over, post-graduation. He seemed interesting enough to focus an entire strip on, so I did. Drive came from a long desire to tell a long-form story…and the complete arc of it popped into my head one day, in 2008. After about a year of futzing around with it, I started it as a “Saturday Scifi” feature on Sheldon. A year or so after that, I spun it out into its own site.

BC: Which of your works are you most proud of?
DK: I love all my children equally. But! Because it’s so different from what I do on a daily basis, I’m really proud that I was able to make a solid documentary film, in STRIPPED. I think it did the cartooning art form justice, which was my biggest goal. I wanted that love of comics to really shine through.

(The first Drive strip.)

BC: Do you have any stories about the making of Stripped that you haven’t bored yourself silly retelling already? Anything you’d like to relate to your fans?
DK: Stripped was the joy of my adult professional life. To meet and talk to all of my heroes was amazing, and inspiring, and grounding, and humbling. I’ll never have anything else quite like it: I’m so, so happy I did it. There was one significant portion of Stripped that we cut, as it was too “Inside Baseball”. It was a lovely section about artists talking about their tools: What they use to make what they make. There was a particularly lovely portion with Meredith Gran (of Octopus Pie) talking about brushes, pens and inks that I was very sad to lose – but for the larger scope of the movie it just made sense.

DK: There were a few cartoonists who could warrant an entire documentary, they were so interesting to talk to. Stephan Pastis of PEARLS BEFORE SWINE, Dan Piraro of BIZARRO, (the late) Richard Thompson of CUL DE SAC, Mort Walker of BEETLE BAILEY – all fascinating cartoonists and histories that it would’ve been fun to delve into more.

BC: Where can readers find your books?
DK: On my site, – and in the bathroom book-reading bin next to the john in many fine houses.

BC: How do you start your next strip or panel?
DK: There are absolutely days where nothing comes…and you have to stir the pot by either getting out into the world and listening to voices, trying a new activity, or even reading your own past work to “re-find” your voice.

(Skitter and Captain Taneel, from Drive.)

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be/sound like?
DK: DRIVE would be a mix of Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War” and/or “Daft Punk’s “Tron”…and Sheldon would be something bouncy like Django Reinhardt.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
DK: I’ve been lucky enough to interact with most of my cartooning heroes: Bill Watterson, Jim Davis, Berke Breathed, Mort Walker, Cathy Guisewite, Bill Amend, Dan Piraro, Sergio Aragones, Mel Brooks….the list goes on and on. I’ve been very lucky to meet and thank so many cool creators. The one that got away, though, was Charles Schulz. Would’ve liked to have met him before he passed.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
DK: Not really, actually! I’m a bit too busy for casual reading.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
DK: Usually: A clear line style, and an ability to make me laugh. Those two rank paramount.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
DK: Joy. If the artist enjoyed doing it, and transmitted that joy well, it comes through. If they hate the title they’re working on, you can absolutely read that, too.

(Torvak, Vulcan party planner, from Sheldon.)

BC: Can you talk about Sheldon a bit more? How has the strip changed over the years, and will Sheldon ever return to his corporate offices again? Has the fate of his parents already been revealed within the strip, or the circumstances leading to Gramps adopting him?
DK: Sheldon has changed dramatically since it’s start, in 1998. For the first 5-7 years, it was mainly focused on Sheldon, as a 10-year billionaire in charge of a software company. But there are only so many times you can have Lucy pull away the football before the same storylines become….stale…so I’ve largely moved away from that. Now it’s focused mostly on Sheldon, Gramp, and Arthur, and the menagerie they share around the house.

DK: The fate of Sheldon’s parents has never been revealed, no, and I don’t have any plans to do so. Although, some of my favorite storylines have dealt with Sheldon and Gramp talking over bits and pieces of it: Such as when Gramp finds the camera with the unexposed family pictures from years ago.

(from Sheldon.)

DK: Sheldon’s incredibly fun to write, as it now has expanded to include one-off jokes, ridiculous storylines, and impossible appearances by pop culture figures and fictional characters. It’s a delightful platform, as a cartoonist – and I was really moved that it was honored as a 2016 Silver Reuben honoree from the National Cartoonist Society. That meant a lot to me.

(Anatomy of a Platypus, from Sheldon.)

BC: What’s the status of the Sheldon “animal anatomy” drawings?
DK: When there’s enough to be collected in a book, I’ll bring it to Kickstarter for a fun, short-run, full-color book.

BC: How about Drive? What can readers expect in the story line in the future? Did you think you’d clear the initial $35K goal for the hardcover Kickstarter?
DK: We’ve just wrapped up Act One of a three-act story, so DRIVE has about 5-10 more years in it. The second act will largely be the build-up of the tripartite war that will come to be known as “The Pilot’s War,” and will feature humanity versus The Continuum of Makers versus The Vinn. We’ve met (most) of the characters we’re bound to meet for the main cast, so now it’s a matter of where they go, and what they do, as chess pieces in this much larger war.

(from Drive.)

DK: As for the Kickstarter, I’m profoundly grateful and moved by the support that folks have shown the story. When you spend most of the year in your studio, alone, creating stories, it’s so wonderful to hear from a mass of people that they’re enjoying what you’re doing. It’s incredibly inspiring, and I’m so thankful.

BC: How do you think Patreon and Kickstarter are changing the face of webcartooning?
DK: They’re really empowering, to an artist! In a world where comic book shops and newspapers fall further and further from their previous perches, it’s so nice to have this direct line to readers, sans middlemen! I find it encouraging and delightful.

BC: Do you have any other projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
DK: I think in the coming year I’ll be appearing at Seattle’s ECCC and San Diego’s SDCC – both of which I love. I should have the new DRIVE hardcover book out by then, and will perhaps have my first SHELDON book for many years. It should be a nice year, looking ahead!

(Sheldon and Drive © Dave Kellett. Reproduced with permission.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

Poll: What would you do if you had $1 billion?


In search of good webcomics.