Wondering how Pooch Café got its roots? Cartoonist Paul Gilligan shares the scoop!
I got into cartooning in about grade two because I was really bad at soccer. I copied Don Martin drawings out of MAD magazine and the other kids gathered around and cooed. My ego was porous, so it went to my head. I was given the impression that cartoonists had groupies, so I threw away my guitar and spent my recesses drawing while the other kids kicked the ball.
I cartooned away happily for the next five or six years, being influenced by MAD, Peanuts pocketbooks, and comics like Richie Rich, Casper and Archie. I spent the summers with my sister and two female cousins, so my comic reading reflected a girl-centric bias. Then one day I found this.
A boy comic! This comic sent me off in a bold new artistic direction: Drawing guys in capes punching stuff. I did that for the next eight years and headed off to Sheridan College with a portfolio full of drawings of Iron Man and Thor. They immediately told me to stop drawing like that, seeing as how most people in the world were more sensibly proportioned and wore much more comfortably fitting clothes. I agreed and spent four years coming up with styles that looked like this:
I did freelance illustration for many years without thinking much about syndicated cartooning. Then Gary Larson retired, and I -- along with every person who’d ever doodled in the margin of a notebook -- thought, Why, what a perfect time for me to become the next Far Side phenomenon and make a million dollars.
That didn’t work out, so I went back to not thinking about comic strips for more years, until one day it suddenly seemed like doing a comic was the best idea in the world. So I whipped up this character named “Plank,” a naïve man-child with a rutabaga-like head who reminisced about his childhood. I drew 24 strips and mailed them off. Five days later I got a message on my answering machine from Jay Kennedy telling me he loved my work and he wanted to talk about syndication. I thought, Well, that was easy.
But as you may have surmised from the fact that you’ve never heard of a comic strip called “Plank,” it wasn’t quite that easy. I came up with another strip about office life (I’ve never worked in an office) and another about a female lawyer (I’m not a female, and I don’t know anything about lawyers) before finally hitting on something that I might actually be able to write more than a week of jokes about: dogs. And Pooch Café was born.
The first strip:
I’ve also been fortunate enough to close the circle by having some of my own work appear in MAD.
As years went by, no groupies appeared, but I now get to spend my days coming up with jokes about drinking from the toilet and catapulting cats into the space. My years drawing superheroes have come in handy. And I rarely think about soccer at all.