Today, we hear from Dave Kellett, co-director of the recently debuted STRIPPED film. Considered a love letter to comics, Dave explains how the film got its roots.
As a cartoonist, I never would’ve guessed that the best thing I’d ever do in my cartooning would be … in film. But, sometimes life leads you down interesting paths.
STRIPPED is a documentary on comic strips that I’ve been working on for four years – and debuted on iTunes in April (…as the No. 1 doc, no less! Which was cool!).
As a professional cartoonist, the project has been a dream come true. I got to travel around the U.S. and Canada with my friend and co-director Fred Schroeder, interviewing cartooning heroes from our childhood. We gathered more than 300 hours of interviews, including the first-ever recorded words from Bill Watterson, who also generously created the poster for the film.
STRIPPED sits down with everyone from Jim Davis of Garfield, Cathy Guisewite of Cathy, Mort Walker of Beetle Bailey, Kate Beaton of Hark! A Vagrant, Matt Inman of The Oatmeal, Mike and Jerry of Penny Arcade and well over 60 more. We talked comics, daily deadlines, creativity and how the art form can be so powerful in the right hands. We also talked about the future of comics: where this art form goes in the painful switch from newsprint to pixels.
More than anything else, though, the conversations – and the movie itself – ended up being a giant love-letter to comics.
Which is appropriate … because, like so many of you, I have always loved comics. I love how these carefully crafted little panels can be so immersive and powerful. And I love how one person – a single, solitary person – can create and populate these worlds on a daily basis, for decades on end.
I’ve always known I wanted to be a cartoonist. And like so many cartoonists my age (I’m 40), I always assumed that my career would find its footing on the newspaper page. That was the brass ring of comic strips: The shining outlet where my heroes Schulz and Watterson and Breathed and Larson produced amazing work.
My path ended up being different, though.
After college, two stints in grad school, and an eight-year run working in the toy industry, I ended up finding my cartooning career in webcomics. Specifically, with two strips – SHELDON, a daily gag-a-day strip, and DRIVE, a long-form sci-fi strip.
Like every good parent, I love both my children equally: Sheldon allows for all sorts of jokes on pop culture, literature, history, pets, coffee and more. It can be single-panel, stand-alone goofiness … or long, emotional, character-based storylines that go on for weeks. And Sheldon allows for changes in art styles, too: Over the years I’ve used inks, watercolors, washes, digital painting, you name it. It’s a really fun strip to draw.
DRIVE, on the other hand, is more the storyteller’s strip, and channels my inner sci-fi nerd. I’m really enjoying writing the seven-year arc it’ll take me to finish the story. Drive combines my love for dark, serious sci-fi like Frank Herbert’s Dune, with goofy characters and stories, like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series.
With both these strips, I have no editor, no distributor, no layers between myself and my audience. Which is both the greatest thing ever, and a tricky balancing act. Because, ultimately, I have to wear all the hats in my career: I have to handle the accounting, the legal, the business minutiae, manage an office employee – and still have time for the creative stuff I live for.
Which in part is why STRIPPED got made: I wanted to talk about how cartooning is both flourishing during this time of change, but also changing drastically. Something fundamental is changing about comics: There are more voices, speaking to more people, about more topics – but we no longer have the four or five “water cooler” comics that folks can talk about at the office. It’s a fragmented world for comics, with more cartoonists making a living from their art, but speaking to far smaller audiences – and that’s both good and bad.
But ultimately, STRIPPED is my chance to sort of … give back … to an art form that’s given me so much in my life. Comics taught me to read, kept me company as a shy kid, helped me learn joke construction and art composition, and lifted me up through good times and bad. And if this film can channel even a tiny slice of the joy I’ve gotten from comics over the years – both as a reader and as a cartoonist – then I’ll consider it a success.